My Lord, you have been our home forever and ever. You were God before the mountains were born, before the earth and the world were made. You have always been and will always be God!
You bring people into this world, and you change them into dust again. To you, a thousand years is like yesterday, like a few hours in the night. Our life is like a dream that ends when morning comes. We are like grass that grows and looks so fresh in the morning, but in the evening it is dry and dying.
Lord, come back to us. Be kind to your servants…. Fill us with your love every morning. Let us be happy and enjoy our lives. For years you have made life hard for us and have given us many troubles. Now make us happy for just as long. Let your servants see the wonderful things you can do for them. And let their children see your glory. Lord, our God, be kind to us. Make everything we do successful. Yes, make it all successful. (ERV)
Holy Scripture is first and foremost a collection of writings about God. There are times we may become too focused on ourselves – our fears, inadequacies, weaknesses, failures – and lose sight of God’s huge immensity. Today’s psalm helps reorient us back again to the grand Sovereign of the universe. There is a decidedly theistic worldview espoused and embedded in the psalm. It is a cosmology dominated by the largeness of a Creator who is pictured as completely in control of creation.
When it comes to us, our lives are often a weird and complex concoction of fear and joy which could combust at any time. We swing from high to low, and low to high. If we are on an even keel, it is often only because we are currently in the middle of swaying from one extreme to another. Even the seemingly consistent introverts know this – it just happens to all take place inside their vast inner world instead of on the outside for all to see.
Psalm 90 grants us a grand vision of God to anchor and steady us through the vicissitudes of life. The high and transcendent God is also close and imminently near. Because of divine transcendence and immanence, nothing gets by God. The Lord Almighty always knows the score. And God is ready to graciously dispense kindness, mercy, and steadfast love to us in daily need of it.
The appropriate response to such a God is to number our days so that we may become wise. When we appropriate and incorporate a healthy theology into our lives, we learn to measure ourselves in fresh ways and live consistently moral lives with wholeness and integrity. Therefore, a regular regimen of the psalms is important to always have before us a stout view of God who always and forever exists as our heart’s truest home.
Mighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, satisfy me in the morning with your constant love so that I might rejoice and be glad all day, every day. Let your favor rest upon me and establish the work of my hands for the glory of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.
O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy.
I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely. (NLT)
Regular readers of this blog know I believe the book of Psalms to be a vast resource for devotion, worship, and prayer. In dark or distressing times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful and peaceful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; and, in every season of our lives, the psalms offer us robust theology, human emotion and need in all its vulnerable reality, and a connected path between the two.
Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent and murderous intent. David expressed his yearning desire and hope to connect with God and gain solace and guidance, step by step, by the Lord who sees and satisfies. David praised God within a life-and-death circumstance, longing to be satiated with spiritual food and drink.
Whatever situation we find ourselves in, and wherever our path takes us, the psalms help form and shape a profound spirituality of deep connection with the God we long to know and experience.
The psalms are so much more than ancient poems, prayers, and songs; they are words alive with the potential to bridge us to God. I often write my own translations and personally contemporize the psalms which helps me to approach God during my own wilderness experiences. So, here is my take on this psalm:
O God, you are my God; I am putting all my effort into seeking you.
my soul is thirsty for you.
my body is weak looking for you,
like in a desert where there is no water.
I am no stranger to you because I have seen you work before,
and I have gotten a glorious glimpse of your power in the past.
I have experienced that your steadfast love is better than life itself,
and I now bank on those times and praise you despite my trouble.
I choose to keep on remembering you and blessing your holy name.
In the mighty name of Jesus, I will lift my hands in praise, even if it looks weird to others.
I know that my soul will be satisfied in you, just like when I get a medium rare T-bone steak and corn on the cob.
And I will use my mouth to praise you with joy, no matter the circumstances,
when I remember you on my bed and cannot sleep,
and meditate on your wonderful grace as I lie there with my eyes wide open.
for you have always been my help,
and sitting on your lap I will be supremely confident and sing for joy.
Our ideas of God take shape in the many ways we live our lives. A God who is always right, fair, just, and loving in everything he says and does is a God we can trust. A cranky god who is aloof and indifferent does not help anyone. Yet, with the one true God we can be assured of strong spiritual support for any and every situation. When we have as our ally a robust theology which informs how we think and gives shape to how we act, then we can step forward with confidence knowing God has our back.
Sound theology needs to be identified, nurtured, and expressed in daily life. The Old Testament psalms are pregnant with vigorous views of God, as well as being the Church’s prayer book. Each individual psalm invites us to see God in a new or fresh way and inspires us to pray. Using the psalms as boots-on-the-ground prayer provides a firm foundation from which to know, worship, and serve God.
Here is my own translation of Psalm 99, which is meant to capture the spirit of the text. I encourage you to pray it over slowly, several times, and with appropriate emotional flavor behind the words:
The LORD rules everything; let all people everywhere who live unjustly, shake in their boots!
God sits enthroned above all creation; let the earth rumble on its foundation!
The LORD is great among his people.
In fact, God is far above all people.
Let everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, praise Your great and awesome name. God is holy!
Mighty Ruler, the lover of everything that is just and right,
You are the One who established what is fair and equitable.
You labored behind the scenes for causes which are just and right,
and brought harmonious relations to folks at odds with each other.
Magnify the LORD, our God!
Approach the Divine with great and mindful humility!
God is holy!
Godly people of old such as Moses and Aaron were among the Lord’s devout followers.
Those like Samuel were among the humble who called on God’s Name.
People from times long ago have cried out to the LORD and have gotten an answer.
God spoke to the ancient Israelites in a great pillar of cloud.
They sought to keep and entrust the divine rules given to them.
O LORD our God, you answered them.
You were a forgiving God to them,
yet, you also were the One who held them accountable when they slid off the rails.
Magnify the LORD our God!
Humble yourselves and worship at God’s holy mountain,
because no one is like the LORD our God, a holy Helper!
Let’s get some hearty divine beliefs under our belt with the help of Psalm 99 so that we can live by faith, hope, and love…
God is Universal
A healthy view of God enables us to live with confidence no matter the circumstances. There is no place we can go where God is not there already. The Lord is universal – not tied to any distinct location, culture, class, race, gender, ethnicity, or group of people. God reigns supreme as Lord of all, not just some. The Lord is everywhere:
Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean— even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you! (Psalm 139:7-12, CEB)
God is not only our God but everyone’s God – which means you will find God amongst both Democrats and Republicans, upper class and lower class, black and white, American and Asian, in every nation of the world, and within all societies. No one group of people have the corner on God, for God is much too big for that – which also means God is not limited to looking just like an old white northern European heritage male Protestant minister.
God is Just
It is important to have a proper definition of biblical justice. In the way many use the word, it refers to punishing those who do wrong and deserve incarceration. Although this idea is included in the meaning, it is only a secondary understanding of justice. The primary essence of justice is ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive and flourish on this earth – that there are no obstacles to people realizing their full humanity in God’s image.
Conversely, injustice means someone, a group of people, or even a nation is withholding resources and blocking persons, either knowingly or unknowingly, from thriving in life. A punitive implication of justice comes into play here. Unjust authorities must be replaced or even punished for their gross negligence in failing to provide for the common good of all persons under their responsibility.
Throughout Holy Scripture God spotlights those who are underprivileged and under resourced through no fault of their own. Those who love justice seek to rise above ignorance; be non-judgmental; use power on behalf of others; and are vigilant to operate fairly and equitably in all things.
The reason aliens, strangers, widows, and orphans are oft mentioned in the Bible is because they were the most vulnerable people in the ancient world to unjust actions and policies. God acts on their behalf so they will experience a fair distribution of resources instead of retribution from others.
The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe. He makes sure orphans and widows receive justice. He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothes. So, you should love foreigners, because you were foreigners living in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, GW)
“You must defend those who are helpless and have no hope. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, CEV)
“I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos 5:24, NLT)
God is Relational
The Lord graciously gives guidance. God has spoken in the past in answer to those who called upon the name of the Lord. God’s presence was with the Israelites in their desert sojourn. God provided laws and promises to help them. And it was all done with the intimacy of a father and mother to a beloved child.
The powerful, living Spirit of God is available to us today, as well. The fallen nature of this world and our own sin is overcome through the grace of forgiveness in Christ. Even Jesus himself closely identifies with us and offers prayers on our behalf:
Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” (John 17:1-10, NIV)
God is Holy
God is pure, set apart from injustice, wickedness, and sin. There are no impurities of mixed motives or malevolent plans with God. God’s holiness is the ground of the divine Being. In other words, the Lord does not simply act holy in all responses, plans, and works; the very essence and character of God is holiness. Therefore, God only acts consistent with this inherent personhood. Sacred words and actions come from the holy God.
And this is what engenders trust with the psalmist and caused him to acknowledge the great and wonderful help God gives. God’s holiness encompasses both divine transcendence and immanence, that is, the Lord is both far and near at the same time, all the time. And that theological understanding is of great worth to the worshiping and devout believer.
Each Sunday Christians all over the world gather and pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” God is as near as a parent to a child and also reigns in heaven far above all – at the same time, all the time. God maintains a close and intimate relationship with humanity while also keeping a distance from injustice and unrighteousness.
Let us, along with the multitudes of heaven, proclaim God’s holiness:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come… You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:8, 11, NIV)
Our holy God lives forever in the highest heavens, and this is what he says: “Though I live high above in the holy place, I am here to help those who are humble and depend only on me.” (Isaiah 57:15, CEV)
God is our holy Helper. The Lord’s assistance is available, abundant, and awesome. So, let us take courage and pray with confidence and boldness to the God who listens and answers.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (NIV)
Apparently, the Apostle James was not trying to win friends. But he was trying to influence people, specifically those who are proud. So, please understand from the outset that James was going tough after haughty persons because it takes a hammer to break a hard heart. And so, his approach ought only to be emulated in the unique context of handling persons stuck in their own destructive hubris. Nevertheless, there is much instruction in these verses to help us all.
Throughout the Bible, a marriage metaphor is used to liken the relationship of God to the people much like a lover. God’s covenant relationship is at the heart of understanding the whole of Scripture. Whenever people stray from divine promises, God is offended and hurt.
Yes, God feels pain. God is an emotional Being, which is why we have emotions as God’s image-bearers. One way to view the Bible is that it is a book about God, the jilted lover. The Lord set affection and love upon people, yet many people have spurned their lover’s advance. And this situation pains God.
When Adam and Eve, decided to find satisfaction outside of God, the Lord was hurt. When people went on to have children and raise them, they did so largely apart from the God who loved them. People strayed so far from God that it caused pain:
The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:5-6, NCV).
Yet, God was gracious. The Lord took a group of Noah’s descendants, Abraham’s family, and set a covenant affection on them. God hoped to restore the world to right relationship through the Israelites. However, they too, came to set their affections on others. So, nearly half of the Old Testament is devoted to communicating the Lord’s hurt and disappointment.
Like a jilted lover, God longed for Israel to remain faithful. The prophecy of Hosea is a case in point. Hosea had an unfaithful wife, Gomer, and their relationship mirrored the relationship between God and Israel. Just as Hosea did not give up on his wife, even though she was brazenly unfaithful, so God looked at Israel as a spouse and could not bear to give her up.
Israel spurned their lover’s grace and kindness and actively sought other lovers, causing God anger and agony. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God recounted the history of unfaithfulness:
“At every crossroad you built your platform and degraded your beauty by spreading your legs to all comers. And so, you encouraged even more promiscuity. You prostituted yourself with the Egyptians, your neighbors with the large sexual organs, and as you added to your seductions, you provoked me to anger…. Still not satisfied, you prostituted yourself to the Assyrians, but they were not enough for you either. So, you prostituted yourself with the Babylonians, the land of traders, but again you were not satisfied. How sick was your heart that you could do all these things, the deeds of a hardened prostitute?… You are like an adulterous wife: you take in strangers instead of your husband. Ordinary prostitutes are given gifts, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers. From every direction you even bribed them to come to you for your sexual favors. As a prostitute, you were more perverse than other women. No one approached you for sexual favors, but you yourself gave gifts instead of receiving them.” (Ezekiel 16:25-34, CEB)
Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God extended grace to the beloved spouse:
“I am taking you back! I rejected you for a while, but with love and tenderness I will embrace you again. For a while, I turned away in furious anger. Now I will have mercy and love you forever! I, your protector and Lord, make this promise.” (Isaiah 54:6-8, CEV)
The Old Testament ends with God still longing for return:
The Lord proclaims: “I care passionately about Zion; I burn with passion for her.” (Zechariah 8:2, CEB)
All this theological awareness was in the heart of James when he wrote his letter to the hard-hearted. He knew they were flirting with the world and wanted them to stop and return to the God who longed to show them grace, if they only would but humble themselves.
God yearns, passionately, for us to find our needs met, and enjoyment found, in the loving divine embrace. Spiritual adultery hurts God deeply, like it would any jilted lover. God awaits with loving patience to show grace and compassion to wayward people.
Only the stance and attitude of humility can receive grace. Pride and hubris prevent people from receiving God’s good gift. So, the Apostle James rattled-off ten quick staccato commands to remain connected in a love relationship with God. We might frame these as resolutions to live by.
Submit to God.
Humble folk willingly place themselves under God’s authority because they are convinced God has their best interests at mind. One temptation when facing adversity is to entertain the belief that no one is going to look out for you except yourself. So, to avoid getting hurt too badly, we might become cynical, arrogant, and callous – self-protective strategies designed to keep the hurt away. This only creates hardness of heart. The alternative is faithful submission to God – knowing that God’s Spirit will protect and living with the conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
2. Resist the devil.
Satan is a bully. The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. We face down the temptation. Notice that James says we submit to God and resist the devil. We are not to be deceived into flipping it around by listening to Satan and avoiding submission to God.
3. Come near to God.
Like a loving parent, the Lord longingly looks out the window waiting for prodigals to return. Coming to God is the first thing we ought to do. When my daughter was young her bike was stolen. So, we sat down together in the backyard and came to God in prayer. I barely finished praying when a police cruiser pulled up in the alley behind our house. The policeman rolled down his window and said, “Hey, are you missing a bike?” We hopped in and he took us to where someone had ditched the bike. It was a tremendous lesson that when we come to God, God comes to us. I realize life does not always work that way, yet we can be assured that God listens, hears, and will respond.
4. Wash our hands.
We cannot approach God with blood on our hands. We must come to God squarely facing our sin and disobedience. We must deal with the wrong we have done without sweeping it under the rug. God wants us to admit our sin, receive grace, and deal with matters of restitution and reconciliation, without trying to save face when found out in a concern for “optics.”
5. Purify our hearts.
Whereas the previous resolution is mostly external, this one addresses the inner person, the heart. Not only do our actions need to be cleaned up through washing our hands, our attitudes must be purged of pollution. Our hearts cannot handle two masters. We are meant to be single-minded without mixed motives. There is an African proverb which says, “The man who tries to walk two roads will split his pants.”
The next four resolutions describe important emotional responses to sin….
Trying to move on without grieving and lamenting is called denial. Grief is not only an event; it is a process which takes time. Grieving is biblical. Sharing our stories with each other, giving testimony to God’s grace, and expressing ourselves is important. A loving God knows there cannot be healing apart from grief and lament.
Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). Mourning the emotional response to devastation of sin, and how much we need God. It is to see sin in all its foulness and degradation. People who do not mourn are or become hard-hearted and need deep spiritual transformation. Jesus offers the remedy: By his wounds we are healed.
We are to cry – more than cry – to wail. Whereas mourning might be more private and personal, wailing has a much more public dimension to it. I believe the great tragedy in many modern churches is an inordinate focus on victory and triumphalism. The result: Far too many Christians cry alone. No one should ever have to cry by themselves. We must weep with those who weep. If there ever was an appropriate place for crying, it should be amongst fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We cannot turn the clock back to some bygone idyllic era. We are to grasp the type of change which occurs in living for Jesus Christ and above sin. In other words, no casual cavalier attitudes toward sin. I once had a conversation with a young woman about heaven and hell. When we began the discussion, she expressed a desire to be wherever the better party going on. By the time we finished our conversation she was grieving, mourning, and crying. I never knew what became of her – I even forget her name now. But once she got just a glimpse of the gravity of sin, it undid her.
10. Be humble.
Humility sums up all these resolutions. The paradox is that through grieving, mourning, and wailing we become joyful and satisfied; through suffering there is glory; becoming last is to become first; entering the narrow gate leads to the broad open space of God’s eternal life.
Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.