Praise the LORD!
What is a good example of something high and mighty being humble and brought low? As we read this Psalm, we are given several aspects of why and how we should praise the Lord. We often focus so much on music as the best form of worship, but there is so much more. Here are somethings we find in this Psalm:
Lifestyle – Can you remember when you were in love? Maybe it never worked out, maybe is more one sided and a bit obsessive. Maybe it led to marriage and all the rest, but can you remember what it was like? I met Bonnie on January 7, 1999. She was far away, but there was something right at the very beginning that clicked for me. It seemed that every waking hour was taken up with Bonnie, what she was doing, what she was thinking, and so on. There was an all-encompassing focus that came to my life. All the other stuff in my life went dull compared to what was going on with Bonnie. From the rising of the sun, to the setting of the same, my thoughts, my words, my life was focussed on Bonnie. I was in love and it consumed me.
That is why the Psalmist talks about that here in this Psalm. He was in love with God, and was consumed by His focus on the Creator. His life revolved around not just conversing with God, but living out the character of God in His life. You read of people like that throughout the Scriptures. You read the stories of people down through the ages who had surrendered their lives because nothing else made sense but to follow Jesus with all they had. Are you in love with Jesus? Has it changed your life, or have you slipped back into that place where He is just a common piece of a busy life. After 30 years of marriage the love can turn into the “same old, same old”. The emotion can get squashed under the cares and responsibilities and concerns of the broader relationship and the family. God is calling us back to that first love, that exciting sunrise to sunset love.
Humility – We talk about our need to surrender and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Sometimes we don’t get it, though, because we don’t really “get” the Gospel. There are many people, even people who have been Christians for a long time, who don’t get grace. They “feel” or “insist” that they have to “do” something to help them be worthy of such love. They have somehow negated grace by their life, their experiences, when it really isn’t about them at all. What is it about? It is about humility. Not my or your humility, but God’s. The very heart of the Gospel is that God humbled Himself. He is high above all nations, enthroned above; but draws near to you and I.
There is a new trend in wedding photography that happens after the wedding and honeymoon. The bride puts on her multi-thousand dollar dress and jumps in a pool, plays in the mud, allows the once white and pristine dress to be muddied and ripped and trashed. There’s that sense of moving from the uptight and prim and proper wedding day to the relaxation and freedom of real life. The dress is humbled as much as a symbol of the unreality of the wedding day being humbled to the reality of day to day life. It’s not a bad thing, though a woman may not want to spend so much on her wedding dress to begin with. God humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, temporarily giving up some of His divine rights voluntarily. This was done just so He could draw near to you and I.
Relationships – Politics is on every persons mind when every day is a struggle. You look at what is happening around the world and you see the truth of the power struggle. In Pakistan where some 20 million people (1/9 of the population) have been displaced by the recent flooding you see insurgents threatening aid agencies so they can control the population. The civilian government has been weakened greatly while the military has been looked at much more favourably. In war torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq it is the innocent bystanders, the civilian population that gets stuck in between the warring factions and bear the brunt of the conflicts’ results. Children especially are vulnerable, and life seems to become so cheap. Out of power struggles and class struggles in the early 1000’s arose the communist ideal, of a classless society where the playing field was level for all. 100 years later we see how utterly a failure it turned out, in large part to the corruption of the heart. Man cannot be altruistic on his own. He can’t do it. This guy takes a photograph of him and his family on vacation, and in the background of the picture you can see a thief picking up the man’s camera bag and running off. Go almost anywhere and you can see people being taken advantaged of. Yes, there are many, many instances of people being the proverbial “good Samaritan” but there are struggles everywhere.
But when you take all that mess and lay it up against the grace of God, the love of God, you see the priorities that God has much more clearly. Jesus is about relationships. You have this great big indescribable God who in humility steps out of that awesomeness to come near to you and I. His presence isn’t about just watching, or gloating, or judgement. He comes close for relationship. “He raises the poor from the dust, the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes…” At the very beginning of creation you see that emphasis of relationship between God and man. Man, made in the image of God Himself; man who walked in the cool of the evening talking to God. And God long before this had the path of redemption laid out for man’s inevitable Fall – so that the relationship could be fully restored even though it was fully broken.
While God does care about your life and your very basic needs, He is firstly and vitally concerned about your relationship with Him, your spiritual health. If you follow Ken Rutherford’s journal you know that even though God can and does heal He is much more about what we are doing with Him today. It is appointed man once to die, and after that the judgement. The judgement is not just about sin – it is about what we did with Jesus Christ today, about our relationship with Him.
Barrenness was a huge deal in ancient times as it was the children that look after the old, not the government. Community was important then, because it became your social net. If you were kicked out of the synagogue, it could be devastating. While my closest family is in Ontario, and my older brother Paul recently took a trip out to Banff and stopped by our place last Monday on his way back. It struck me that it had been some 5 years ago that we had the last recent visit from my family, when my dad flew in to Alberta to pick up a car in Lethbridge. While I have had the privilege of visiting my family several times out east, I was reminded of the family that is so important. When we moved here we left Bonnie’s parents in the town we moved from, and so our kids are growing up with very little experience of their grandparents. But when you read this Psalm you see God’s priority is about family, about community. The Psalmist writes that God “makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.” You and I are in the same family. That is what our church is meant to be. Regardless of my physical family, you are the grandparents and aunts and uncles and even brothers and sisters of Ben and Heather. I suppose if one of you really wanted to you could be the “mother-in-law”, but the point is we are a family united by the Spirit of God. Does that change how you relate to one another? Does that change what you feel is your responsibility to those sitting in the chairs beside you?
If God is so big on relationships, how about you? Are you doing whatever it takes to not just know God, but to build relationships with those around you? If relationships that build people up are such a high priority with God, shouldn’t they be for us? If we are called to walk like Jesus walked, if we say we are His follower, we have to make relationships our priority. This may mean you need to let go of the small stuff. It may mean you need to let go of the big stuff. I was talking with another pastor this week about the challenges of following Jesus, of discipleship. He made the observation that many people follow Jesus as long as they don’t have to change how they live. He reminded me that we are not living for ourselves, for the typical Canadian materialistic lifestyle. We are called to be sold out to Jesus, and don’t you think that will be life changing?