As I continue to mediate and think through what the Psalms have to offer us today in our worship practices, I have been reading this book by Tremper Longman. Here are a few thoughts on what it looks like to soak in these wonderful liturgical reminders of the character and nature of God.
God is present in every corner of his creation. He is with us whether or not we are at work or at home, shopping or studying, in the city or the country, at sea or on land. He is everywhere and with us no matter what we do.
Nonetheless, the Scriptures make it clear that though God’s presence permeates the world, he chooses to dwell in a special way in certain places and to make his presence known at certain times. For instance, the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20) in a special way at the time that Moses received the law. His presence was manifested and experienced in a way that was not repeated on any other mountain until he chose to dwell on Mount Zion in the time of Solomon.
These special places of God’s presence are places of intimate and at times fearful encounters with the God of the universe. The are places which demand human response; they demand worshipful prayer.
As we read the Psalms, we are entering into the sanctuary, the place where God meets men and women in a special way. We will see that the conversation between God and his people is direct, intense, intimate and, above all else honest.
Thus the Psalms are a kind of literary sanctuary in the Scripture. The place where God meets his people in a special way, where his people may address him with their praise and lament.
Who’s in Charge?
The Psalms challenge us to think through who is in charge. When our children demand something from us because of discomfort, boredom or hunger (among other reasons) we remind them that they have forgotten who is in charge. The Psalms make us pause, and back up for a minute to consider how our presumptuous living lacks sobriety. We are reminded in the Psalms that all of our existence comes from God. All of creation is sustained by his hand and all or our steps are directed by the Creator of the Universe.
This ought to affect our hearts and remind us of who we are. The Psalms encourage us to dig deep into the humanity of our spirituality and work us over in such a way that we either fall to our knees in adoration and worship of God or we fall to or knees in repentance and lament. Either way, we cannot walk away from them unchanged.
A thought from John Calvin on the Psalms.
What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury (Psalms), it were difficult to find words to describe…I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.
Calvin paints a wonderful picture of how the Psalms speak to every part of our soul. They hold up a mirror and incite in our hearts the eager longing to connect where we once thought we were isolated. Consider Psalm 35:22-23 where the Psalmist pleads for God’s intervention in his life in the midst of suffering at the hands of others, “Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord!”
The prayers offered in these verses reflect a desire for the incarnation of God. “Do not be far from me!” Draw near to me, the Psalmist cries out! As these words pour from the lips of the poet, who among us has not felt this same way? This mirror that Calvin speaks of is impossible to ignore once we see how physical these spiritual prayers are.
Not only do these Psalms speak of how God and man intersect they unceasingly point to the realized incarnation in Christ. For the Christian we not only read the Psalms with eyes to see the worship of God and ears to hear of his mighty hand, we also see the beauty of Christ and the redemption that we, by faith, eat and drink in his incarnation.
Consider the words of N.T. Wright here on Christ and the Psalms.
I am suggesting that the entire worldview that the Psalms are inculcating was to do with that intersection of our time, space, and matter with God’s, (time, space and matter) which Christians believe happen uniquely and dramatically in Jesus.
Taste and See…
When Time, Space and Matter collide the witnesses to this event are never the same. God came down. We see this incarnation played out fully in the Gospels but this incarnation was foreshadowed in the Psalms. Not only was Christ foreshadowed in the Psalms but It was through these practices, prayers and postures presented in the Psalms that [was] the “hymnbook that Jesus and his followers would have known by heart.” (N.T. Wright).
Allow the beauty of these Scriptural treasures to wash over you and your family. Take a moment and chew on the incarnational truth that the Psalms have to offer. Practicing this daily, for the believer who does so in faith, changes, shapes and moulds our hearts to be more like Christ’s.
Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
The command to taste and see is an incarnational call to know God in our humanity. This call to taste and see points us to the incarnational meal that God himself, in Christ shared with his disciples and with us with these words, “This is my body, given for you” and “This is the blood of the covenant, poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Soli Deo Gloria