Journey Through The Psalms: Shaping New Life

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. Psalm 34



It is good to see more of you beginning to return. And it's good to have hit rock bottom last week with Psalm 88. Here we have a little more enthusiasm and joy in the Psalm this morning as we hear the praise that is echoed in those words, and it is a day of praise for us as well. I don't know if many of you have paid attention to the calendar. But it was one year ago, this Sunday or today, that we began having to alter everything about life. Not just church, not just worship, but how all of you have done things through this time of shopping, going to the store, getting to doctor's appointments, and all of those things that we do and took for granted before. And so it is with praise that we come together today.


I think this Psalm is one that helps us to recognize the goodness of God through all that we've been through. This Psalm has the subtitle under it of praise for deliverance from trouble. And I think that we definitely owe God some praise for having been with us through this past year, because it hasn't been easy. It's been challenging. We have seats in the pews that will no longer be occupied by the people that were in them a year ago. because we've said goodbye to some loved ones. And so it's challenging, and yet we find that in the midst of challenges, there are opportunities for praise.


This Psalm points us to some of those things and shows us a little bit of what new life can look like, emerging from difficulties and challenges. I think verse 12 of this Psalm is really in my mind kind of the question that is being addressed in here. Because in verse 12, it says, “Which of you or who among you desires life and covets many days to enjoy good?” Who of you wants life? Well, I think the answer is probably all of us. As relevant as that question would have been for the audience of this Psalmist, it's still as relevant today as ever. Who of you desires life? Well we all do. And what's more after the year that we've had, we desire a life that is free from restrictions, free from worry and anxiety concern, a life that feels and looks a little more familiar to what we knew prior to all of this.


So the Psalmist says, “Who of you desires life?” And then the Psalmist begins to give us an example, a witness, a testimony about his experience. You see, this Psalm is a Psalm of David, as the subscription at the top would say. And it explains a little bit about the situation. It says of David when he fiend madness before Abimelech so that he drove him out and he went away. Now, there's a reference in 1 Samuel Chapter 20 to David going, it was a different king, and yet the situation seem similar. David was fleeing from Saul, went to this other kingdom, the king there recognized who David was. And David thought, ‘Oh, I've just gone from the frying pan into the fire.’ So he pretended to be insane. And the king looked upon him and said, ‘Who is this guy? That they bring him to me. I don't have enough mad men here already?’ And so David fled and was saved by that.


The superscription would say that David then composed this Psalm as a praise in response to that situation. But it's not as simple as David having been through this and then just uttering this song of praise for God having delivered him. Because this Psalm is one that has some eloquence, some complexity and sophistication to how it is put together. This particular Psalm is called an acrostic. Which means that the 22 verses each began with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet that has 22 characters. So every letter of the alphabet in order begins each of these verses in Hebrew. And what's more, even within that, there are certain verses, if you take each of those lines that spell other things out. And so it's a clever and well thought out and constructed Psalm, not just a spontaneous prayer that came from David's lips.


So why would that be? What does that tell us about this? Well, somebody really thought it out. But by having this type of a structure, it makes it memorable. Just like we have ROY G. BIV, to help us remember the colors of the rainbow in order, red, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. We have these acronyms, we have these mnemonic devices to help us remember things. And so part of the structure of this Psalm is to give it structure that helps it to be memorable for those who are going to hear it. It is an instructive tool. It's sometimes referred to as wisdom literature. Wisdom literature being those texts like Proverbs that instill and teach a significant lesson. And we find that as well in verse 11, where David says, ‘Come O little children, listen to me.’ It's almost as, hopefully, we'll be returning to but prior to the pandemic, when the children would come up for a children's moment and they come and they gather around, and I'd share a lesson or a story with them. David, saying ‘Everybody come in, come, come or here, listen to this, and I'm gonna tell you what I've discovered.’


And so he begins this Psalm by praising God and saying, ‘I am praising God, I am praising God for His goodness and what he's done. And I want all of you to join me in this praise.’ And he goes on and in verses 4 through 7, he remembers, he retells how God has been there, how God has been with him. And for David, I think that part of the telling of this is a reminding himself of God's goodness, of a discovery that he made along the way, that life was difficult. Situations were hard. He wasn't sure if he was going to get out of them. But he says, ‘I sought the Lord and he answered me. He delivered me from my fears.’ What’s more it says, ‘he even saved me from every trouble.’ So God in some way intervened on David's behalf. And made right the problems that David was facing. David says, ‘God can do this for you as well. I'm a standing living, breathing, witness and testimony to God's goodness. But you have to experience yourself.’


Because in verse 8, he extends that invitation where he says, ‘Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.’ It's a verse that maybe you've heard before, taste and see that the Lord is good. It's one that sometimes used in reference to communion, when communion is being offered to say taste and see that the Lord is good. But it goes so much deeper than that. We have these five senses that we take in experiences, life, and the world around us. And I think it's no accident that this verse is worded the way that it is. Sight is probably the sense that we rely upon the most, by and large, for the general population. we depend upon our sight probably more than any of our other senses. It's one in which allows us to perceive things near and far, and to take in what's going on. We use sight to say things like ‘seeing is believing’ that if it's in front of us and we can see it, then we know it to be true and real, even though we know that sometimes our sight can deceive us. It's like those mirages wavering on the road, we don't always, we should not always trust exactly what we see. But we put so much stock, so much weight on sight, that when we say that, we understand, if someone explains something to us, we'll say, Oh, I see. That sight and knowledge and understanding go hand-in-hand.


But the Psalmist says, taste. Taste and see. Well, taste and sight don't necessarily line up. It'd be like saying, smell and hear. It seems contradictory. But yet he says, taste and see. Well, I think that part of the emphasis here is on the extent to which we're being invited to experience the goodness of God for ourselves. With in many ways, the least of our senses. We can see things near and far away. We can hear things near and far away. Smells come to us from a distance. Touch becomes a little bit closer. It might be the wind blowing against us or the hand of a loved one rubbing against our arm. But taste, taste is one where we actually have to take something within our bodies to actually experience it. It's not just perceiving the world out there, but it's bringing the world out there within us. And I think that's why taste is the word that the Psalmist uses. That God is at times out there, but yet you need to draw near to God and allow God to draw near to you. As if God is coming within your very being, for you to experience God with the depth and the intimacy that I have.


It's not the type of relationship with God of, ‘Oh, well, my grandmother prays enough for all of us, so I don't need to do that. My wife goes to church enough for our whole family, so I don't need to bother showing up.’ It's not about being distant and removed and having somebody else's experience and connection be sufficient for us. But rather the invitation is you, every one of you need to experience God personally and first hand if you're truly going discover how good God is. And the goodness of God is something that David experienced and wanted others to share. And there's a double righteousness that we find him talking about. There's a righteousness that comes from being the people of God. There's a righteousness that comes as he begins explaining fearing the Lord, of refraining from evil, of seeking peace and seeking the things that are important to God.


But what's more? He says, ‘It's not just about you.’ Because in the closing verses of this Psalm, he then begins talking about the ways in which we are to participate in imparting, sharing, and bringing righteousness to others in this world. He talks about the fact that even the righteous are going to experience difficulties, but God's goodness still reins. So David's invitation is to a life of righteousness. And the invitation is one that begins with the fear of the Lord. But what does this word fear of the Lord mean? What exactly is David inviting us into? Because fear can have a lot of meanings. But yet this word, this phrasing fear of the Lord is one that we encounter quite often in Scripture. It's one that some people kind of bristle at and step back from.


Martin Luther actually, I think, did the church a great service in looking at and recognizing two types of fear of the Lord. One of them he termed servile fear. Which is, as another commentator on Luther called it, a fear that is actually more horror in which we repel in actual fear. Fear of consequences, fear of punishment, fear of abuse and violence. That's the kind of fear that a person cowers before someone strikes them. That's the kind of fear that builds animosity and even hatred. Now, there have been times in the history of the Christian church in which this was the type of fear that was used to manipulate people. These were the hellfire and brimstone sermons. Or as a classmate of mine in seminary put it a turn or burn sermon. You better repent, you better change your life or you will pay the price for your sins. That's a servile fear. That's one where we're gonna motivate you with something primal, something instinctive to run away and hide, because you don't want to experience that kind of hurt or pain.


But Luther also talked about filial fear, which is a fear that's rooted more in love, respect and awe. And the way that he described this type of fear is the fear that a child has of parents that are beloved. And it's not that the child fears messing up and being punished. But rather, when the child stumbles and fails, they're more fearful about disappointing the parent than the consequence. And so it is that he sees the fear of the Lord in that type of a configuration. That is children of God, our fear of the Lord should be that healthy reverence and awe of God. A fear that motivates us to not disappoint God rather than being scared of any penalty or consequences. Another quote that I ran across, attributed to Luther as well, said that, “I fear God because God could squash me, but I love God because God doesn't.” It's that idea that this is the God of all creation who spoke and brought everything that exists into being, and yet a God who by choice is on our side. David experienced that in God and recognized and invited others to join with him in that praise of a God who is mighty, but also loving and just.


In a reflection, on this Psalm a gentleman by the name of Peter Craggy said that this idea of the fear of the Lord establishes joy and fulfillment in all of life's experiences. He's saying it establishes joy and fulfillment in all of life's experiences, so those experiences that we would label as ‘Wonderful and let's do it again’, and ‘that was horrible I hope I never have to do that again.’ In all of those experiences of life, it establishes joy and fulfillment. “It may mend the broken heart, but it doesn't prevent the heart from being broken. It may restore the spiritually crushed, but it does not crush the forces that may create oppression. The Psalm if fully grasped, dispels the naivete of that faith, which does not contain within it, the strength to stand against the onslaught of evil.”


What David has experienced and discovered is that experiences in life, amid suffering, that we experience life amid suffering not beyond it. That having faith is not that wistful thinking of, ‘Okay, once I get to the other side, if only this were the situation, then everything would be okay.’ It's a faith that looks at the fact that this God, this awesome, mighty, powerful God is with us. And so in the midst of life and whatever experiences we find ourselves in, God is there. God's not on the other side of it saying, ‘Come on, you can do it, just get here. And then everything will be okay.’ It's God who is unswayed and undeterred, that is standing with us in the midst of life. In the midst of the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, it is God who is there with us. And it's this God that we often find when we look in the rearview mirror and see where we've been and realized that he was there with us all along.


David experienced that, and that experience is what re-oriented David's life. Of understanding that even though he was hard-pressed, even though people were pursuing him and attacking him and wanting to put him to death, even on the run, he realized that God was with them. And that allowed him to change how he lived. Because if God is with us, we don't need to worry about what's to come, and for that matter, we don't need to be overwhelmed by where we're at.


Just as that reflection by Peter Craggy said though ‘it may mend the broken heart, but it doesn't prevent the heart from breaking.’ It may see us through the difficulties in life, but it doesn't take the difficulties away. This past year was the year that it was. And no amount of faith, no amount of trust, no amount of calling upon God is to change any of that. But it can give us the strength and the resolve to stand firm and to know that God is with us. David says, ‘Come and learn from me, learn from my example that you might too, be able to experience God in the midst of this life that we live.’ Having our life, having our faith reshaped allows us to trust in this God, to stand tall and to press on even in the challenges of life. And so even though it's been a tough year, and even though it's been a long time since we've seen one another, we are here. We are lifting our voices today, and with David and all the saints that have gone before us, we continue to lift our voices and praise for the God who is with us.


Amen.


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