A Sacred Service Announcement (Psalm 117)

Praise the Lord, all you nations.
    Praise him, all you people of the earth.
For his unfailing love for us is powerful;
    the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. (New Living Translation)

The Lord is God of the nations – and not only of you and me – whether they recognize it, or not.

All nations, not just the good ones, are invited to praise the Lord. Everyone is encouraged to glory in the love and faithfulness they see.

Since God is present, faithful, just, right, good, loving, and gracious – all the time – those very same dynamics are continually operating in God’s big world. Just as the storm clouds rain on both the righteous and the wicked, and just as the sun shines over every nation and people group on the earth, so the Lord’s great love is a powerful force which encompasses the entire world.

God’s faithfulness and steadfast love never ends. Let that sink in…. Ruminate on it for a bit…. 

What does it mean? How does it work itself out? Is God faithful to me? 

As a Pastor and Chaplain, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things I see people struggling with is if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives. 

Many times, we have a strong faith for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives. Yet when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing. My faith is like a wet noodle. We wonder if anything can really change. *Sigh*

Just as we hear public service announcements, it is good to hear the sacred service announcements which are just as important. We need our spiritual awareness raised so that we can make some behavioral changes and adjustments.

We need the reminder, and continual announcement, that God makes good on divine promises. The Lord will accomplish all the decrees and promises made, no matter how long ago they were uttered.

It certainly might seem like God is strolling through the park, burning away precious time, being agonizingly slow in moving on our behalf. 

But know this: As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth. The sovereign Lord of all creation doesn’t only work in other places amongst other people. Jesus is presently building his church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

There is no handwringing, nail-biting, or eye-rolling in heaven. The Lord is sovereign and limitless, and so, reaches into every geographical locale amongst every people group – and does it all with love.

I know God is a healer because I have seen him heal. I know the Lord is a deliverer because I’ve been delivered. I know God is a provider because I see the Lord’s merciful abundance every day. All this, and more, is reason to offer praise, glory, and honor to the great Sovereign who is worthy of it.

From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through every land by every tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.

– Isaac Watts, From All That Dwell Below the Skies

Since God can and does work everywhere, the Lord will show up in your life and your family and your church and your community, just like what has been happening throughout all eras, in all places, and in all times.

If you are waiting and watching for that to happen, perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what is going to happen. Have some vision to look ahead, give thanks ahead of time, and praise the Lord for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that will occur in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend. How will you trust him today?

Let every nation praise you, Lord,
each with its different tongue;
in every language learn your word,
and let your name be sung.

Let our unceasing songs now show
the mercies of our Lord;
and make succeeding ages know
how faithful is your word.

Your mercy reigns through every land;
your grace is spread abroad;
forever firm, your truth shall stand.
We’ll praise our faithful God!

– Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

God Is Both Near and Far (Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21)

God giving life to Adam, by Michelangelo (1475-1564) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works….

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever. (New International Version)

The Lord is both near and far. The God of Holy Scripture is, at the same time, both:

  • approachable and aloof
  • close and distant
  • beside us and beyond us
  • available and elusive
  • revealing and remote
  • warm and cool
  • knowable and mysterious
  • readily at hand and at arm’s length
  • a good neighbor next door and a politician over in a city you’ve never been

The technical theological terms for describing God in such a way is that the Lord is both immanent and transcendent. And that is a good thing. We need the Lord to be both.

This psalm is a hymn of praise to God. The psalmist, David, celebrates the attributes and the actions of the Lord. David understood, better than most, that God is so far above humanity in divine majesty that miracles are always possible. Because God is God, the Lord’s arm is never too short to extend help and deliverance.

David knew that God’s powerful ability and God’s loving affection go hand-in-hand together; God’s mighty strength and God’s compassionate spirit work together harmoniously for our benefit.

They did not conquer the land with their swords;
    it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory.
It was your right hand and strong arm
    and the blinding light from your face that helped them,
    for you loved them. (Psalm 44:3, NLT)

God’s interventions, wonders, and miracles are never done dispassionately; the Lord’s arm is extended with deep concern and loving care for people.

The Lord acts as a close relative, like a parent, exhibiting qualities of both father and mother. God is close enough to not only hear our verbal prayers but to also hear our faint whispers. Indeed, the Lord is so close that we don’t even have to speak for the prayers of our heart to be heard.

The righteous call to the Lord, and he listens;
    he rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who are discouraged;
    he saves those who have lost all hope.

Good people suffer many troubles,
    but the Lord saves them from them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, GNT)

In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus gave us instruction on how to address God: “Our Father in heaven.” Not just “my” Father, but “our” Father. We are to pray with the mindful sense of our union with the Lord, as well as our connection with one another as believers.

The Lord sits in heaven as the Most High God, the transcendent Lord of me, you, and all people – watching over and protecting all whose hearts are in the right place, and effectively guarding us from a lofty divine vantage point.

My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. (Psalm 7:10, NIV)

Clap your hands, all you nations;
    shout to God with cries of joy.

For the Lord Most High is awesome,
    the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us,
    peoples under our feet. (Psalm 47:1-3, NIV)

With our transcendent God always having a watchful eye over us, we need not fear anything or anyone. The Lord knows the score of how things are going in the world and in your life. And, what’s more, God knows the ropes in providing for us, protecting us, and powerfully handling any and all enemies to our souls.

Yet, at the same time, all the time, God is both our high holy King, and our close intimate Friend. Indeed, the Lord is graciously immanent as my Abba – the Father who is near and dear to our hearts.

Because you are [adopted] sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6-7, CEB)

Christians everywhere in the world, and throughout the ages, gather together and repeat the Lord’s Prayer, every Sunday, as well as in weekly small groups, and daily individual prayers. We cry out, “Our Father in heaven” as the most used phrase over the course of our Christian lives.

And that sort of repetition is a good thing. It is important to verbalize that God is transcendent – far above all earthly powers as the sovereign Lord of the universe; and to vocalize that God is immanent – near to us as a father to a child.

Just because a phrase can become vain repetition doesn’t mean that repeating it is a bad thing. Using our words to reiterate both the far distance and the close relation of God is a worthy activity which fortifies our faith, and which passes truth to successive generations of the faithful.

The best way I know of cultivating a healthy sense of God’s transcendence and immanence (outside of reading scripture and praying) is through clouds and kids – both of which require mature adults to practice some much needed humility.

There is nothing quite like putting clocks and schedules aside, stretching out a blanket on a hill, laying back, and watching the clouds roll by. The perspective of massive highness reminds us that our problems are neither as daunting nor as important as we thought.

In contrast to the high clouds, there’s also nothing quite like forgetting your age and getting on the ground to be eye level with a kid. Fortunately, I have rambunctious and curious grandsons who continually remind me that, the lower I get, the better I understand what’s truly most important.

Neither my kids nor my grandkids care all that much about the what’s in my life – what I do – my work, my hobbies, my angst, my daily activities. But they do care a great deal about who I am and why I’m with them.

Intentionally developing a sense of God as both far and near, helps us remember who we are and why are here.

Ironically, the closer I get in touch with the reality that I’m mere dust, and will return back to the ground, the better I’m able to see the Most High God. And, conversely, the more I gaze into the sky, the greater awareness I have of the people around me. I learn to love God and neighbor, as I ought.

There’s no better time than now to get out there and take advantage of the clouds and the kids. It will likely help you to know God better; and it will probably bring a greater awareness, clarity, and connection to the truly significant which is always around us.

Father God, you formed us from the dust of the earth. Remind us of our place as your creatures at home in your creation. Forgive us when we forget our connection to the earth, and our dependence upon the goodness of your world. Lord have mercy.

Brother Jesus, you were born into this world, and made your earthly home in Nazareth. Help us to know and love the people and places where you have set us. Forgive us when we fail to care for our homes, our communities, and your creation. Christ, have mercy.

Blessed Holy Spirit, you desire to grow in us your fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Forgive us when our roots are so shallow, and our hearts so restless, that our lives fail to bear fruit. Enable us to find our home in you, and in the places to which you call us. Lord have mercy.

Blessed Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – the God who is both far and near: Forgive us our sins, settle us in a place of belonging, and enable us to bear fruit for your kingdom. Amen.

How To Fortify Your Faith (Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.” (English Standard Version)

Continual Use

Reading and praying the psalms over and over again is a major way of fortifying faith for a lifetime of handling adversity. 

Psalms are meant to be constantly viewed and used, like watching a good movie several times. Lines from the film become etched in our thinking and vocabulary, not because we sought to memorize them, but because of the many viewings. 

Psalm 91 is a good psalm – one we can read and pray so many times that its theology and message are internalized. It can serve as a rock in times of trouble. Security, safety, and confidence eventually replace fear, worry, and insecurity. Let the divine words of the psalter become part of a routine regimen of facing down the troubles of life.

The Church’s Prayer Book

Historically, the Old Testament Psalms have been the church’s prayer book. The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become “professional” pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society.

Many of them lived a complete life of prayer, praying day and night. Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily “hours.” One of the first tasks required of novices was to memorize the Psalms – all of them – which took anywhere from six months to two years.

In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles needed to clarify their most sacred obligations, they decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The New Testament writers pray and quote the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

Praying the Psalms

The best introduction there is to the Psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray. Learning the Psalms means praying the Psalms, and praying the Psalms means praying them repeatedly.

If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the Psalms, let me offer some more reasons:

1. We learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises. It is both appropriate and necessary to acknowledge God’s promises, remind God of those promises, and look for God to fulfill them.

2. We pick up how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.

3. We discover that our hearts need some help with prayer.

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Our hearts can sometimes deceive us. Yet, if we can be mindful to tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can focus on what God has promised – and not simply on what we want or expect.

What’s more, by only following our hearts, we may only pray when we feel like it. 

A common temptation is to give up reading Scripture and praying whenever our enjoyment is gone. If we only do things when we feel like it, most of us would never get up in the morning. Prayer and Bible reading are important spiritual disciplines, even on the days we are not inspired to do so.

In truth, to enjoy the Word of God, we must continue to read it; and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read, the less we desire to read; and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

4. We attain confidence and joy in speaking with God, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.

5. We unearth direction and guidance for our lives; the Psalms are the GPS for our souls.

6. We join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures. Our spiritual forebears serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.

7. We realize the heart of God and adopt that heart as our own heart. In praying, we get to know who God is, and we discover the prayers the Lord delights to answer.

In summary, we bring our own situations and experiences to the Psalms and permit the psalter to reshape our thoughts and our prayers. 

This mentality and discipline forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans. 

The Psalms are meant to transform us. Repeated exposure to Holy Scripture and daily praying through the psalms will change the way we live our lives and our perspective on the world.

May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, the sinful nature, and the fear of both the known and unknown.

And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Psalm 60 – A Prayer for Deliverance

You have rejected us, God, and defeated us;
    you have been angry with us—but now turn back to us.
You have made the land tremble, and you have cut it open;
    now heal its wounds, because it is falling apart.
You have made your people suffer greatly;
    we stagger around as though we were drunk.
You have warned those who have reverence for you,
    so that they might escape destruction.
Save us by your might; answer our prayer,
    so that the people you love may be rescued.

From his sanctuary God has said,
    “In triumph I will divide Shechem
    and distribute Sukkoth Valley to my people.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh too;
    Ephraim is my helmet
    and Judah my royal scepter.
But I will use Moab as my washbowl,
    and I will throw my sandals on Edom,
    as a sign that I own it.
Did the Philistines think they would shout in triumph over me?”

Who, O God, will take me into the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you really rejected us?
    Aren’t you going to march out with our armies?
Help us against the enemy;
    human help is worthless.
With God on our side we will win;
    he will defeat our enemies. (Good News Translation)

When you are distressed, what do you do?

For the psalmist, David, a time of distress is always a time for prayer to God.

And whenever David prayed, it was real gut level prayer, sometimes raw, and always genuine.

Far too many religious folk seem to tip-toe around God, as if they fear raising the Lord’s ire about something. That’s not a healthy view of God, feeling like you’re walking on spiritual eggshells. In contrast, the God of the Psalms is a God big enough to take any sort of prayer – and David knew that.

The psalmist was not afraid to express his feelings of abandonment from God, as well as his heartfelt sense of trust in God. And in all things, David had a continual sense of utter dependence upon the Lord.

The perspective of the psalms is that any belief in an independent livelihood apart from God is flat-out delusional – not to mention the source of much human wickedness.

The God we have in today’s psalm, and throughout the psalter, is accessible to humans. God is even open to argumentation, accountability, and rebuke. This is astounding, considering that we are the puny creatures and God is the immensely huge Creator.

It’s high time we wisely discern that we can talk to God about anything; we can express any emotion to the Lord, without fear of retribution. Conversely, ignoring God altogether, and pursuing other gods, is the inaction likely to bring out divine disappointment and anger.

Despite the fact that God is the absolute Sovereign over all humanity, the Lord responds to our needs and shows solidarity with us. This, however, does not mean that God is always at our beck and call – which is why the psalmists sometimes complain and lament over divine silence in the face of trouble.

God is not a genie. Prayer is not rubbing a lamp and getting our wishes fulfilled. God is both absent and engaged according to divine purposes, not ours. Yet, the Lord is continually attentive, with full awareness of what’s going on.

If we need deliverance, we need deliverance. And just because God may not show up according to our timetable (now!) doesn’t mean the Lord is aloof or uncaring. It just means the deliverance is likely to come in a way we aren’t expecting. Whatever happens, we will make it to the strong walled City of God.

So, we must persevere in prayer. And the psalms help us voice those prayers for deliverance. Sometimes, when we are distressed and exhausted, the words of prayer simply don’t come. In those times, the psalms become our prayers, as well….

Look at my suffering and deliver me
    because I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.
Argue my case and redeem me.
    Make me live again by your word. (Psalm 119:153-154, CEB)

I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord!
    Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
    may your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:6-8, NRSV)

I am in deep distress.
    How long will it be?

Turn and come to my rescue.
Show your wonderful love
    and save me, Lord.
If I die, I cannot praise you
    or even remember you. (Psalm 6:3-5, CEV)

But you, Lord, my Lord!—
    act on my behalf for the sake of your name;
    deliver me because your faithful love is so good;
    because I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is broken. (Psalm 109:21-22, CEB)

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me. (Psalm 31:1-3, NIV)

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me
    or the deep swallow me up
    or the Pit close its mouth over me. (Psalm 69:13-15, NRSV)

Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people. (Psalm 82:3-4, NLT)

I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.

This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy! (Psalm 34:4-8, CEB)

These prayers are for us to use, over and over again. Say them aloud, often, with flavor.

May the God of life strengthen you for this day, and protect you through the coming night, through Jesus Christ our Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.