Before you start reading this take a read through Psalm 103 – it forms the backbone for my thoughts 🙂
Having studied Psalms over the summer I decided to write an article on one of my favourite Psalms, 103, but I’m going to be honest – my brain nearly fried trying to put this together! Psalms are incredible, and as with all of them, there is so much in this Psalm.
As I usually do when writing on a passage I asked friends what their take home message would be from the Psalm – everyone sent me something different. I suppose that is the thing about Psalms or Mizmor as they are known in Hebrew. They’re not just a collection of 150 songs, Psalms are an anatomy of all the parts of the soul, they span the human experience, they paint Biblical pictures through emotional windows. We can come to them again and again and each time see something different – even in the same passage.
Now these Psalms that we are studying are two and half to three thousand years old, and though it might sound obvious, we need to remember ancient texts were not always ancient. This Psalm written by David was once a contemporary hymn for a particular community in a particular place and time.
When rabbis read scripture to the Jews…they had to translate the text and their translations certainly weren’t literal. Rather they would update the text, apply it to the changing context and put it in a contemporary idiom. The results of such interpretive exercises were called targums – extended paraphrases of the texts (more like sermons than reading a Bible passage) So I’m going to targum this Psalm for us and we’re going to reflect on it, and I’m going to need your help with that, so make sure you have your Bibles open and let’s go!
Praise the Lord, my soul!– Psalm 103v1
And all God’s people said “meh”! Let’s be honest, you could read this verse out in church and some people wouldn’t even bat an eyelid, the glaze wouldn’t lift from their face! The response by the way should have been AMEN or Hallejujah – said emphatically! So why is it that we are so quiet when it comes to praise and before we get into the fact that we are British, that we don’t celebrate things, and that isn’t proper lets look back at our Summer of Sport.
The Olympics – Mo Farrah running around the track the crowd “roaring him home”, the commentator shouting “Come on!”, the supposedly unbiased BBC calling the victory “Beautiful” and Steve Cram declaring “My words cannot do justice to how I feel”. Did the people in the crowd worry about chucking their hands in the air? Did any of them follow the health and safety ruling of not standing? No! We can praise – we were designed for it! The sad thing is that commentator offered better praise to Mo Farrah than I do sometimes on a Sunday morning to God. And that’s actually really sad. I mean what Mo did was impressive, but what God has done…
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. – Psalm 103v1
The soul in this context simply means everything about ourselves – not just a spiritual thing that we might think of nowadays, literally this is EVERYTHING. Don McMinn says “Our entire being is fashioned as an instrument of praise. Just as a master violin maker designs an instrument to produce maximum aesthetic results, so God tailor-made our bodies, souls and spirits to work together in consonance to produce pleasing expressions of praise and worship.” Don McMinn (McMinn, 1994)
So where did this praise go? Our praise of God, what has happened to it? Because I’m sure it was their at some point. As a new Christian maybe, or when we attended a big Christian festival, or a holiday camp, and we were so fired up and nothing could stop us! When through the years, people calmed us down. Now of course this is not true across the board of everyone, but for many of us, we start to loose our passion, our “first love”.
Maybe people tell you not to act that way, your faith and courage disappear. We start to label our dulling of praise being more “responsible” more “careful”. And maybe, just maybe we need to tell those voices to Shut up! After all we have a God who deserves our praise and not just praise from a bit of us but from our whole being – our soul – everything part of everything that we are!!
You might feel as though your praise isn’t good enough.
Let’s take my cousin’s son, who draws a picture, he’s spent a while in the bedroom working on this, you can tell by the furniture and the marks all over his face. He stands their beaming and hands his picture to his mother, it’s for he says “I love you”. Now I’m going to be honest – he’s no Picasso, by earthly standards what he’s just given his mother has devalued the paper on which it is drawn, but to her it is a gift of love from her son .
You might feel as though what you’re offering isn’t good enough, but if your bringing your best and giving it to God, he’ll love it. Stuff earthly standards, you have a Father in Heaven who when you bring your offering is going to stick it on His fridge and beam with pride!
Maybe for a few of you, that is what you need to read today. You bring it, bring your praise, bring your offering, stuff the earthly standards, forget the rules that you’ve been given on how to do it. Maybe to get praising God good, you need to realise you have a Lord, a Father, a God who loves you and who takes joy in every offering that you bring to him.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. – Psalm 103v2-5
Why is he worthy of praise? Cummon… what do these verses tell us about about God?
He is our forgiver, he is our healer, he is our redeemer, he is our provider, he is our lover, he is our everything – surely that deserves our praise!
Maybe sometimes we don’t give the praise because we forget these things, because we forget who God is, we forget his characteristics. I don’t know why it is you forget them, but for me, it’s because I get too focused on myself, my problems and my issues. I become so focussed on these things I forget my healing, redeeming, infinite, providing, sovereign, awe-inspiring, loving, forgiving, one-of-a-kind, righteous, strong, steadfast, unique, gracious, magnificent, wonderful, powerful, merciful, limitless, holy, everlasting, omnipotent, omnipresent, kick-ass, supreme, superlative-sapping, breathtaking, AWESOME God.
Maybe to get Praising God good, we need to get to know our God, or at least put our focus on Him, rather than the stuff going on in and around us.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. – Psalm 103v6-8
God brings justice, he helps the victims, doing what is right. He gave us the law, he has shown us throughout time through how He has walked with us what he is like: abounding in grace, compassion and love, not easily angered.
And let’s be honest, it’s says He is slow to anger, but I think God deserves to be angry with us. I mean let’s look at everything he’s done and how do we respond? Meh!
God has been there from before time was even created. He has done stuff AND he hasn’t actually stopped doing stuff! He promises you a place in heaven. He promises that he will overcome.
Maybe to get praising God good, we need look at what he has done, in scripture and in our lives, and the promises that he has given us.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger for ever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103v8-12
As I said when I asked my friends about this passage they all came back with different things. One of my friends loved the wholeness of the passage, The Lord of the world, the fact that Jesus is totally in this passage if not in words. Another loved the idea that God brings justice. Another the idea of just how forgiven we are.
For me one thing jumped out – fear. A word that appears three times in this Psalm, a Psalm of praise is fear. In his book The Explicit Gospel Matt Chandler looks at the character of God… “More often than not, we want [God] to have fairy wings and spread fairy dust and shine like a precious little star, like some hybrid of Tinker Bell and Aladdin’s Genie. But the God of the Bible, this God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, is a pillar of fire and a column of smoke. His glory is blinding. It undoes people. It takes people out. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31) He is wonderful and absolutely terrifying.” (Chandler, 2012)
In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S.Lewis uses a Lion to represent God. And there’s a couple of bit’s which give us an idea of this fear of God…
“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (C.S.Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, 1950)
And there’s a wonderful passage later in the book
But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly. (C.S.Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, 1950)
Have you got “all trembly” before your God?
As I said earlier. Some of us are scared coming across as silly and so we don’t praise God because of what someone else says, we might even fear someone’s response. But we need to fear God! Trying to serve man and turning our back on God is like running up the tree afraid of a kitten then turning around and slapping a Lion across the face. Will we fear man and flout God?
And yet, we’re talking about love in this context of fear. How we don’t get what we deserve. What God has done for us. One of my friends homed in on how as far as the heavens are above the earth – and that is a long way, I mean we can’t even measure or get our heads around the universe – that’s how much he loves us, how much he loves you. As far as East is from West, and in the time this was written when they believed the world was flat, that’s a long way, and even now if you think about it, if you headed West you would never stop going west, our sins, your sins have been flung away that far. That far. On the cross a God, God who we should rightly fear, showed us just how much he loved us, he showed us how he has taken our deserved punishment.
Maybe to get praising God good we need to understand fear and forgiveness.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. – Psalm 103v13-19
I recently saw a photo of some flowers at Yarmuth, on a hilltop near Israel, they appear very soon after the last rains of winter and yet they also disappear only a few weeks after with the first rays of hot sun. Here we are compared to these wild flowers, we are here only for a moment. But God. God created time, he existed before and he’ll exist after.
Maybe we need to remember that we are temporary but God is everlasting.
So we started by article looking at why we don’t praise God like we should. And I hope that this is something you go back and reflect on…
- Maybe to get praising God good, you need to realise you have a Lord, a Father, a God who loves you and who takes joy in every offering that you bring to him.
- Maybe to get Praising God good, you need to get to know God, or at least put our focus on Him, rather than the stuff going on in and around you.
- Maybe to get praising God good, you need look at what he has done, in scripture and in your life, and the promises that he has given you.
- Maybe to get praising God good you need to understand fear and forgiveness.
Whatever you need to do… “It’s time, as worshipers of God, to give him all we have. For when he is exalted, everything about me is decreased. So many times we stand in the way of really stepping into the secret place of worship with God. Just abandon tradition and the “expected” ways of Praise & Worship and get lost in the holy of holies with the sole intention of blessing the Fathers heart.” – Jessica Leah Springer (EXW Staff, 2012)
Why not take some time to pray…
Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul – Psalm 103v20-22
And all God’s people said…