Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us!
Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, how long will you be angry with our prayers? You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful. You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations. Our enemies treat us as a joke.
Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved….
Strengthen the man you love, the son of your choice. Then we will never abandon you again. Revive us so we can call on your name once more.
Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. (NLT)
Let us continually keep in mind that the psalms are quite Jewish. Yes, I often refer to the psalms as the Church’s Prayer Book and unabashedly see them through Christian eyes. Yet, the psalter, at its core, are prayers and songs of the Jewish experience.
The deep longings and yearnings of the Jewish people within a constant stream of hardship, difficulty, and persecution give voice to all humanity. In other words, the bearing of the Jewish soul as the people of God is the crying out on behalf of us all.
The Jews know a thing or two about lament. Today’s psalm is a lament, a prayer, longing for God to come and restore Israel, to no longer look upon them with anger. The people knew in their exposed vulnerability that they needed God. It is the Lord who would come to save and bring a revitalized nation.
Amid awful circumstances and emotional pain, it can be hard to focus with concentrated prayer. The Jews also help us here because they crafted and arranged the psalms in such a way as to enable and foster recall and memory. So, where many of us Gentiles can be rather more like pagans babbling on in our distress, the Jewish psalms offer us the ability of short, succinct, and staccato prayers. Early Christians called them “breath prayers.”
Throughout the day we can utter “Stir up your power, O God; come to save us.” The intention of saying it repeatedly in a day is not to get God’s attention because we already have it. No, the purpose is to connect us with Divine resources for deliverance. The purpose is to be in constant touch and continual communion with the One who can ultimately restore, renew, revitalize, and reform the world with justice and righteousness. It is to be longing for the flourishing of the earth and its inhabitants again, and to enjoy walking with God in the garden of fellowship, peace, and goodwill. It is to be restored.
Restoration is a beautiful thing. I rarely watch makeover shows on television, but if I am channel surfing and catch an old house which seems best suited for the wrecking ball getting restored to its original charm and beauty, I am hooked. We as people seem to resonate deeply with things being repaired and rejuvenated to looking brand new again.
Again, the Jewish people go before us, through the psalms, with the vision to see the old become new. Whereas some may get lost in the drab discouragement of a gray and dreary environment, forgetting the original shine of how things once were, Asaph, the consummate Jewish song leader, guided the people in remembering how God’s people enjoyed the covenant and the promises of God. But over time the relationship was not maintained and cared for; the people gradually slid into disrepair. Centuries of neglect brought a situation where it seemed the only recourse was to do away with the people and begin again.
I certainly do not want to make God angry. I would much rather learn my lesson from the Jewish experience throughout the millennia and enjoy Divine favor. I would also like this old fallen world to be restored to her original beauty. So, we must come to God – not once – but again and again, over, and over. Like the hammer of perseverance, pounding nail after nail, so we must offer our prayers morning, noon, and night, day after day, crying out to God with the great cry of the Jewish people: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
Merciful God of all nations bring restoration to our lives, our families, our faith communities, our workplaces, our human institutions, our neighborhoods, and our shared world. Send your Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy seasons of blessing again. Restore, renew, revive, and rejuvenate our disordered love. May your face shine upon us once again through the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
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.