Psalm 111 – Theology 101

Total Praise by Barbara Hayes

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    in the meeting of his good people.
The Lord does great things;
    those who enjoy them seek them.
What he does is glorious and splendid,
    and his goodness continues forever.
His miracles are unforgettable.
    The Lord is kind and merciful.
He gives food to those who fear him.
    He remembers his agreement forever.
He has shown his people his power
    when he gave them the lands of other nations.

Everything he does is good and fair;
    all his orders can be trusted.
They will continue forever.
    They were made true and right.
He sets his people free.
    He made his agreement everlasting.
    He is holy and wonderful.

Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord;
    those who obey his orders have good understanding.
    He should be praised forever. (NCV)

First and foremost, the psalms are about God. So then, the psalter is a rich description and repository of sound theology. As such, each psalm enlightens us about the Lord of the universe. Keep in mind that Christians are presently in the season of Epiphany. Although Lent is fast approaching with its own seasonal focus, we are still inhabiting the light shown for us – beginning with the star of Bethlehem and bringing all kinds of people to the Christ.

The Psalms are a wonderful source of light, leading us to discover, know, love, and serve the God who has shown grace to us by divine revelation. To read and pray the psalter is to have a crash course in Theology 101…

  • We pray because we believe we will be heard. 
  • We believe we will be heard because we believe there is a God who listens. 
  • We believe there is a God who listens because we believe the One who listens is always merciful, kind, and good. 

The basis of all prayer is our view of God.  Nobody sustains a prayer life to a fickle distant God who is only attentive whenever it strikes his fancy. But if God is really God – fair, just, committed, and full of good deeds – then, prayer is an effortless interaction, and we are eager to do it.

Notice the descriptions of God in today’s psalm. God’s attributes and character translate perfectly into just and loving action in the world:

God is full of glory, therefore everything the Lord does is splendid.

God is good all the time, therefore goodness never runs out of steam.

God does miracles so that we will not forget the accessibility of divine power.

God is kind and merciful as demonstrated by providing for human need and keeping divine promises.

God is honest and fair; therefore, humanity can trust in divine judgments.

God is free, and so, can set people free from their worst spiritual bondage and self-imposed prisons.

The way to access such incredible divine resources is through honoring and respecting the Lord. Because God is the very definition of merciful grace and steadfast love, human overtures of respect and obedience become willing and joyful. In other words, we obey God because we want to – not because we must.

Entrusting oneself to a benevolent God who makes and keeps promises to people is easy. No coercion or persuasion is necessary. All that need be done is to declare the good things God has done.

Loyal and gracious God, you always keep your promises, and there is never a time when you renege on them.  Thank you for promising deliverance from sin, death, and hell through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit benevolently reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Luke 5:1-11 – Generous

Miraculous Draught of Fishes by John Reilly

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they did, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So, they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him. (NIV)

One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is generosity. God’s benevolent nature defines the divine stance toward humanity. This may not seem overly remarkable with only cursory thoughts about God. Yet, when the infinite holiness of God intersects with the prideful arrogance of sinful people, gracious generosity is the unpredictable and amazing result.

Many people on planet earth have been raised with a god who is aloof and curmudgeonly. Such a god gets easily angry and zaps people with lightning or some natural disaster. It is no wonder so many persons have fled from belief in God. Can we, however, entertain the notion that the Creator God of the universe is quite the opposite? In Jesus, we have on display the basic disposition of the Divine.

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Belgian artist Erik Tanghe

On one occasion, Peter (a guy who could raise the ire of most gods) was going about his business fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Having not yet encountered Jesus but stopping to listen to his words, Peter ended up having this stranger literally get in the boat with him, uninvited. There was something remarkably different and compelling about Jesus since Peter did not immediately toss him out. Such a calm, confident, and gracious nature – nothing like Peter had expected. So, here is this plan fisherman face-to-face with the Christ of God. 

Jesus told Peter to put the boat out and cast the nets. Peter, an experienced fisherman and knowledgeable about the water, knew for certain that he would not catch anything. But, out of deference to Jesus, he did so, anyway. The result was such a large catch of fish that the nets nearly broke from the weight.

Peter’s response is instructive. He fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Peter came up against his own small faith. He rightly discerned that he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus, an overflowing abundance given to him despite his unbelief. In the face of such grace, in the vortex of an incredible mercy, having seen the generosity of God directed squarely at him, Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus.

So, here we have the nature and character of God before us. No cranky deity. No exasperated God ready to raise a storm and toss the boat over with Peter in it. No, Jesus, the Son of God, does not operate that way. There is no strong-arming people into faith. God’s tactics steer clear of manipulation through guilt, or mind-twisting others through shaming them. 

Instead, God is beautifully and simply present with people – showing grace and generosity in places where one would least expect to find it. When confronted with such love, what would you do?

Early in my life, I viewed God as some eternally bored deity who would occasionally get out his divine BB gun and shoot people in the rear, just for something to do. God, in my understanding, cared nothing for the real lived experiences of people on earth. But much like Peter of old, Jesus showed up unannounced in my life. And what I found was like Peter – a kind, benevolent Being who showered such generous love on me that my heart was immediately captured. I have never looked back since.

We intuitively know down in our gut, in our bones, when genuine Love is among us because it immediately connects with the deepest needs of our lives. No evangelist must convince us with offering free gold crosses or promised blessings. None of that matters when love incarnate is present, when the great God of all is among us. Peace, hope, and faith are the results of divine presence. They cannot be conjured or ginned up through excessive asceticism or extreme discipline. Love is a gift. Love is a person. And it is given generously and graciously from the One whose very nature is charitable and hospitable.

Gracious God, you sent your Son to me even though I was neither looking for him nor expecting anything from him. Thank you for breaking-in to my life so that I could break-out for you with glory, honor, and praise.  Amen

Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s Magnificat

The Magnificat, a woodcut by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (NLT)

Mary’s great song of praise, having grasped the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah, affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.”  Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts. It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith.  Mary neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and was clear-headed about the grace shown to her.

Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless. Mary was quite ordinary for her day. She had no wealth and nothing which would cause anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God. And her wonderful response to grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

What is more, Mary had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field so that all persons have what they need. Her son, the Messiah, would carry this into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

God is full of grace, mercy, and power to those who are powerless and in need of help. The Lord has our backs. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done we would realize the consistent blessing of the Lord. 

I encourage you to take some time today and journal the ways in which God has been good to you in this Advent season, and like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy. Mary exhibited no helplessness but had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.

Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Psalm 27 – Waiting Patiently

The Waiting Room by South African artist Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993)

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

 The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. (NLT)

The message of the Advent season is perfectly and succinctly encapsulated in this heartfelt psalm to wait patiently for the Lord. Oh, how impatient we can be as people!  Not only do we anticipate the celebration of Christmas with the coming Christ child, but we long for deliverance, courage, help, strength, and, of course, patience.

The way to wait patiently is through hope. And hope is one of those things which needs to be continually be fortified. Whatever it is that we desire to see realized – the return of a wayward son or daughter; revitalization and revival within the church; courage to face the high wall of adversity; protection and deliverance from mean-spirited people; an end to pandemic; freedom from racism and injustice – whatever the situation we long for, patience is to be our breakfast every morning to help us through each day, living one day at a time, putting one foot forward.

Apart from patience and faith in God, we will lose our spiritual zeal and settle for a mediocre existence with tepid relationships and lukewarm engagement of the world. God desires more for us than simply having a marriage in which two people only exist under the same roof; for church to be more than buildings, budgets, and butts in the pews; for our work to be more than a necessary evil to make a living; for our lives to be more than fear, worry, and anxiety; more than broken dreams, messed up relationships, and situations gone sideways.

The confident expectation of hope neither eliminates trouble from our lives nor magically makes everything better. Deep faith, like the psalmist expressed, does not change reality – but it does change us. The way in which we view and handle our troubles is understood differently through the filter of faith and the lens of hope. The mammoth adversity in our lives is no longer feared because of settled trust in God; the danger which lurks about has no teeth to hold us when we are secure in the Lord.

The actions we ourselves take toward God amidst the fallen nature of this world are to wait and hope, be strong and take courage. It is precisely when we are totally discombobulated that these actions are to take effect. “I believe…” and “I have confidence…” become the beginning pronoun and verbs to every sentence we utter. So, let us flesh out those words:

I believe the Lord is the Light which keeps me safe and illumines my path.

I believe the Lord is my Fortress, a castle to protect me.

I believe the Lord is an Army surrounding me, defending my life.

I believe the Lord is the Rock of my salvation, keeping me secure.

I believe the Lord is a Parent who holds me close and does not let go.

I believe the Lord is the righteous, just, and good Judge, always extending grace and mercy to me.

Therefore, I have confidence and courage to engage the world, knowing God has my back.

I have confidence God will handle malevolent persons, systemic evil, and sinister forces on my behalf.

I have confidence I can approach God, since God’s character is always gracious and loving.

I have confidence to pray with authority, understanding God is the Sovereign of the universe.

I have confidence better days are ahead, that the Christ is soon coming.

I have confidence God bends to attentively listen to me praying.

I have confidence God is neither angry at me nor hidden from me.

I have confidence God shall lead me, guide me, and teach me in the way I ought to go.

Rather than losing heart, we can be strengthened with solid theology. Making daily affirmations of faith, persevering in hope, and performing small acts of love are our daily tasks while we wait and watch….

Almighty and everlasting God, the One who sees, knows, and protects, by the power of your Holy Spirit, you are refining us, purifying our discipleship, pulling us into following Jesus in this scary new world of uncertainty. Grant us mercy and grace to trust you more deeply, for the only secure place is with you, our light and our salvation, the stronghold of our life. We pray in the name of Jesus, the first-born of your new creation, and our hope, our life. Amen.

Psalm 27 by British songwriter and producer Jonathan Ogden