Psalm 124 – Our Help

Maker of Heaven and Earth by C Diane Alvarez

What if the Lord had not been on our side?
    Answer, O Israel!

“If the Lord had not been on our side
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us alive
    in their furious anger against us;
then the flood would have carried us away,
    the water would have covered us,
    the raging torrent would have drowned us.”

Let us thank the Lord,
    who has not let our enemies destroy us.
We have escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap;
    the trap is broken, and we are free!
Our help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (Good News Translation)

There are many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. It is a call to worship the G-d who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

When confronted with a new day, our attention needs some direction in the positive way of acknowledging that the eternal and ever-present G-d is ready and vigilant to guide us through our waking hours. 

Our ultimate help is in the Lord. Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our need for G-d. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; or ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these and all situations can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in G-d. Early in the morning, I deliberately profess truth about G-d, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of G-d sink firmly into my heart. 

For faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that G-d is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: what will happen tomorrow; how a situation will shake out in the end; whether a relationship will flower or wither; and a million other things which can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. However, there is one sure truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: G-d is with us. G-d’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV)

Not even the grave can limit G-d. With the Lord, death is defeated. The enemy is flat on his face. His power is abolished. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by almighty G-d. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness.  I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just.  Amen.

Psalm 111 – Praise

painting by P.J. Bruzzi

Shout praises to the Lord!
    With all my heart
I will thank the Lord
    when his people meet.
The Lord has done
    many wonderful things!
Everyone who is pleased
with God’s marvelous deeds
    will keep them in mind.
Everything the Lord does
    is glorious and majestic,
    and his power to bring justice
    will never end.

The Lord God is famous
for his wonderful deeds,
    and he is kind and merciful.
He gives food to his worshipers
    and always keeps his agreement
    with them.
He has shown his mighty power
    to his people
    and has given them the lands
    of other nations.

God is always honest and fair,
    and his laws can be trusted.
    They are true and right
    and will stand forever.
God rescued his people,
    and he will never break
his agreement with them.
    He is fearsome and holy.

Respect and obey the Lord!
This is the first step
    to wisdom and good sense.
    God will always be respected. (Contemporary English Version)

Sometimes we forget. Difficult challenges, heavy stress, or daunting responsibilities might become the focus of our lives to such a degree that we lose sight of the big picture. Today’s psalm helps us to back up the truck and take a sweeping panoramic view. The backdrop to all those concerns we presently experience is a Divine Being who is unfazed by any trouble. In other words, God’s got this.

The basis for this settled faith is a realization of who God is and what God has done.

Whereas change and loss is a reality all people must navigate, it is a comfort to know there are some things which never change. God is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God’s character is always right, just, and good. And God makes good on all promises.

Throughout the psalter, there are admonitions to praise the Lord. I personally do not believe the reason for this is because God requires adoration, like some self-centered narcissist. No, I think it has to do with God knowing we have a need to praise.

Our brains are complex organs. There is a lot we don’t know about it. Yet, what we now know is that things like gratitude, adoration, beauty, affirmation, and praise changes our brain chemistry in a healthy way.

Yes, praising the Lord perfectly syncs with our brains in such a way as to cause mental health.

People’s lives are improved when we are attentive to God’s law, God’s promises, and God’s works. Attention to these will surely result in praise. Everything God has created is good. All creation bears witness to the beauty and majesty of its Creator.

Believers throughout the millennia are a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to the veracity of God’s benevolent and gracious deeds. And together with them, we anticipate with confident faith the culmination of God’s promises when Jesus returns. This is basic Christian theology – and it is theology which is robustly sustains us through any type of trouble.

People need to delight in what is good, right, just, and beautiful.

Our brains are designed for it. The acknowledgment of the good is a sacred conduit which links us to the Designer of all that is good. Enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship with friends, participation in family life, and worshiping together with believers who share our most cherished spiritual values, is a gift from a benevolent God. It is worthy of offering praise.

God feeds us in many ways – with both physical and spiritual food. Pausing for gratefulness and thanksgiving is an appropriate and mentally healthy way of responding to the gift of nourishment. And acknowledging that all God’s commands and laws are trustworthy, through lifting prayers of gratitude for such a rich bounty of spiritual food, moves us into a healthy groove of wellness.

All of this healthy living is the way of wisdom. Attention to God and God’s Word is the starting place for a wise way of being in the world. The biblical psalms are much like a tutor which teaches us the best paths to walk in our daily life.

When we take the narrow road of righteousness, we discover the gifts of understanding informed by wisdom, self-control established through sage counsel, and knowledge guided by love.

The activity which bookends and binds such gifts together is praise to the Lord. Praise is what opens us up to the possibilities of life as it is meant to be lived. To press the transformation and enjoyment even deeper, believers shout their praise with raucous noise.

For true spirituality is not always staid and silent. It is also boisterous and loud.

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 37:12-22 – Get Some Perspective

Merciless people make plots
against good people
    and snarl like animals,
but the Lord laughs and knows
    their time is coming soon.
The wicked kill with swords
and shoot arrows
to murder
    the poor and the needy
    and all who do right.
But they will be killed
    by their own swords,
    and their arrows
    will be broken.

It is better to live right
and be poor
    than to be sinful and rich.
The wicked will lose all
    of their power,
but the Lord gives strength
    to everyone who is good.

Those who obey the Lord
    are daily in his care,
    and what he has given them
    will be theirs forever.
They won’t be in trouble
    when times are bad,
    and they will have plenty
    when food is scarce.

Wicked people are enemies
    of the Lord
    and will vanish like smoke
    from a field on fire.

An evil person borrows
    and never pays back;
    a good person is generous
    and never stops giving.
Everyone the Lord blesses
    will receive the land;
    everyone the Lord curses
    will be destroyed.
(Contemporary English Version)

The angle from which we view things is really important.

Perspective is everything. 

Whenever some ornery cuss swears at us, or a group of people think the worst of us, or an organization takes advantage of us, we might feel like crumbling underneath the weight of stress.

Throw into the mix the state of world affairs: pandemic, natural disasters, war, poverty, human trafficking, and a legion of unjust victimization and oppression around the globe.

And add our own personal issues, whatever they are, of dealing with mental and physical health, and/or difficult relationships with family, co-workers, or neighbors.

Put it all together and it would be rather easy to believe evil is winning. Can we even begin to make a dent in the wickedness of injustice, abuse, and maltreatment?

When we infuse God to the menacing challenges of our world, it changes everything.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the creator of the ends of the earth.
    He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach.

Isaiah 40:28, CEB

The vantage of the psalmist is that all this immense malevolent plotting which exists cannot even begin to stand up to the even larger sovereign and benevolent God. 

It’s almost as if the Lord looks down from heaven at wicked people and says, “Well, now, isn’t that something, those tiny little yippee dogs thinking they can take on the big dog!” Truth is, the Lord laughs at the wicked, for God sees that their day is coming – and it won’t be pretty for them. 

Or we might picture some puny bugs on the ground making nefarious plans, completely oblivious to the hugeness of God that towers over them. They are about to be squished but are too busy going about their pathetic business to look up and see what is coming. The bugs are totally powerless in the face of such an awesome presence.

So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, MSG)

We humans who try our best to be good, do right, and live a spiritual life can become much too discouraged, far too easily. 

The remedy to the malady of such disillusionment is to be filled with a robust theology which wisely discerns God as far above all our problems and situations. 

“I am the Lord, the God of all people. Nothing is too difficult for me.”

Jeremiah 32:27, GNT

No matter how ominous the machinations of malicious corruption array against us, the spiritual believer is assured that God is in control, and, in the end, the wicked will get their comeuppance. 

And if we will have the spiritual eyes to see, that fearsome lion who scares the baloney out of us with his loud roar, is really an old toothless cat with no bite. Malicious and malevolent people typically make all kinds of noise and talk a big line, but all they really have is their belligerent bullying and ballyhoo.

No earthly power, no clever person, no loudmouth tormentor, and no human organization can ever go toe to toe with the gargantuan God we serve. 

Put all your circumstances beside this God and see if it changes your perspective.

Mighty God, you bless those who are dedicated to you, and you put down those who rage against you.  Fortify my spirit and let me see just the train of your robe, and I will glimpse the large grandeur of your glory.  Let me know Jesus Christ risen and ascended far above all principalities and powers of this earth.  Amen.

Psalm 68:24-35 – A Mighty God Who Rides the Skies

O God, your march of triumph is seen by all,
    the procession of God, my king, into his sanctuary.
The singers are in front, the musicians are behind,
    in between are the young women beating the tambourines.
“Praise God in the meeting of his people;
    praise the Lord, all you descendants of Jacob!”
First comes Benjamin, the smallest tribe,
    then the leaders of Judah with their group,
    followed by the leaders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Show your power, O God,
    the power you have used on our behalf
    from your Temple in Jerusalem,
    where kings bring gifts to you.
Rebuke Egypt, that wild animal in the reeds;
    rebuke the nations, that herd of bulls with their calves,
    until they all bow down and offer you their silver.
Scatter those people who love to make war!
Ambassadors will come from Egypt;
    the Ethiopians will raise their hands in prayer to God.

Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,
    sing praise to the Lord,
    to him who rides in the sky,
    the ancient sky.
Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.
Proclaim God’s power;
    his majesty is over Israel,
    his might is in the skies.
How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—
    the God of Israel!
He gives strength and power to his people.

Praise God! (Good News Translation)

The biblical psalms are uniform in praising God for God’s inherent character and for how that character acts in the world.

Since God is an infinitely immense Being, our human language cannot begin to adequately contain or describe such divinity. Yet, words are what we have for trying to communicate the attributes of such an incredible and awesome God.

This is why the use of metaphors is significant. Whenever we can picture something we are familiar with, then imaginatively place God alongside it, it helps give us at least a rudimentary idea and feeling of who this God is, what this God is all about.

To gain a glimpse of God’s majesty and sovereignty over the universe, we are invited to see with our spiritual eyes, God riding the sky; to hear with our spiritual ears the thunderous shout which roars and reverberates throughout the cosmos.

We are also invited to respond to what we see and hear by using our power of words and speech to proclaim God’s power. And that power is well beyond our ability to describe. With all of the powerful forces in this world, they are but a mere puff of breath to the God who reigns supreme over all powers, both in heaven and on earth. God’s power is a thunderous beauty. God’s splendor and strength rise larger than thunderheads.

Having grown up in Midwest America, I’ve seen my share of large thunderheads (massive cumulus clouds which form just before a storm), thunderstorms replete with bright lightning and noise so awesome it shakes the farmhouse, and tornados with such force that they rip the roof off a barn as if it were a Lego building.

And God is bigger than that – stronger, louder, and brighter.

The appropriate response to such a God is to make music for the one who strides the ancient skies in a heavenly chariot yet stoops to listen and care about puny humans.

The reasonable response to such a God is to listen to the divine voice thundering in the world and submit to the sound which seems like it might split the heavens open.

To gain a mere glimpse of God’s strength and power will inevitably result in a response of giving up our all to the Lord of the universe, everything we have, and all that we are.

To know, even a tiny smidgeon, of such a God will bring our own loud shouts of proclaiming God’s goodness, grace, and generosity to anyone who will listen to us.

To glimpse what the psalmist sees will consume us with awe, as we intuitively connect with the glory which is constantly streaming from heaven.

God shares divine strength with people. God doesn’t have to do that. The Lord has no obligation to do so. Yet, it happens, despite our fickle praise and inconsistent devotion.

So, let’s give our highest praise to the God of the psalms. Let’s imbibe of God’s thunderous presence among us.

Then, we will likely be happier than a gopher in soft dirt; or a butcher’s dog; or a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

Eternal Trinity – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – the awesome God whom I serve: The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you. A massive thunderhead is but a small cloud next to you, the Godhead, the incredible Three-in-One.

Through you, almighty Lord, I shall come to know myself and my world. And that knowledge is a mighty love for humanity which spans longer and higher than the universe itself. May the love, unity, harmony, community, goodness, and power which is always present within yourself, mighty God, be present with me, your servant.

For just a molecule of You is enough to power me for eternity. Amen.

*Above photo by Moritz Bu00f6ing on Pexels.com