Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth…
-From “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam, English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth…
-From “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam, English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight
I appreciate the candour expressed in the Psalms of the Sons of Korah. In Psalm 84 they are experiencing the glory of the Lord and the beauty of being in his presence and going from strength to strength. In Psalm 85 they recognize that a distance has crept into their relationship with God. They are again falling back into the old default position of relating to him as an angry God. They cry out for revival, a fanning of embers that seem to be slowly losing their fire.
I’ve been there. Have you? As I’ve been meditating on this Psalm, I believe I am beginning to see a kind of map for renewing the desire to get back to the place of passionate love for the Lover of our souls. It looks like this:
-Worship God by choosing to focus on who he is and remembering what he has done.
-Assess the current state of your relationship and tell him how you feel. Honestly.
-Ask for what you need.
-Listen to his heart and pay attention to his many ways of communicating insight.
-Learn from his advice and seek ways to let it change you.
-Declare the outcome of what he has shown you.
Here it is in Psalm 85:
Worship and Remember
You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger. (verses 1 to 3 NASB)
Assess and tell him how you feel
Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations? (verses 4 and 5)
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation. (verses 6 and 7)
I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land. (verses 8 and 9)
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven. (verses 10 and 11)
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps. (verses 12 and 13)
I wondered what was meant by the psalmists use of the metaphor of righteousness and peace kissing each other. (verse 10) That lead me to do a word study.
The word translated kiss here is nashaq. This kind of kiss means a great deal more than romance or affection. We have difficulty understanding this kind of kiss in that culture. It’s not a western custom. The Bible describes the kiss of restoration of relationship when Esau kissed Jacob. The word nashaq is used for the public mark of authority Pharoah granted Joseph to prepare the land for coming famine (Genesis 41:40). We read it again when Israel gave his final blessing to his sons and grandsons. It is used when Aaron went out to meet his younger brother, Moses, as a sign of recognition of, and submission to, his calling (Exodus 4:27). It is used when describing the prophets who refused to kiss an idol and refused to give Baal any acknowledgment of authority or influence in their lives.
A nashaq kiss can symbolize a fastening to someone. It can indicate a restoration of order in relationships. Sometimes it was symbolic of a formal equipping with authority that could include power or weapons. This authority is publicly conferred upon the person receiving the kiss.
When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. They form a bond which is mutually empowering. Righteousness that comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ makes peace possible. The peace that Jesus gives is beyond understanding, but it enables righteousness to replace shame and guilt. Both, together, give us a place and a standing in the family of God, not by anything we have accomplished, but by God’s grace.
Faith-fullness (which also comes from God) gives us a means to receive and something to offer back to our heavenly Father. His response, his ‘anah (explained here), to our prayer made in faith that he will hear and answer, is the righteousness of Christ which came down from heaven. When we are born again, it is Christ’s in which we live and move and have our being. It is his righteousness which went before and prepared his steps and now goes before and prepares our steps toward greater intimacy with our Creator.
Because of God’s response to our earnest cries for his unfailing love to revive us again, we can declare with confidence, “The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest!”
I don’t know about you, but I have some talkin’ to do with the Lord. If you want to join me in worshipping, expressing, asking, listening, learning, and declaring restoration and revival for your own heart, for your family, for your household of faith, for your community or city, for your country and for the world, you are welcome.
Psalm 45 is called the Wedding Psalm because it describes a bridegroom and a bride. At first it seems like a flattering poem written by someone who is a bit over the top with enthusiasm.
Beautiful! Beautiful! Beyond the sons of men! Elegant grace pours out through every word you speak. (verses 2 and 3)
Then the praise seems to pole vault over esteem for any human I’ve heard of.
Awe-inspiring miracles are accomplished by your power, leaving everyone dazed and astonished! (verse4)
Wait. This is not about King David or King Solomon.
Your glory-kingdom, O God, endures forever,
for you are enthroned to rule with a justice-scepter in your hand!
You are passionate for righteousness, and you hate lawlessness.
This is why God, your God,
crowns you with bliss above your fellow kings.
He has anointed you, more than any other,
with his oil of fervent joy,
the very fragrance of heaven’s gladness. (verses 6&7)
Going back to the introduction, it appears the author/s were not merely exaggerating to gain political points. This was no meeting of a deadline to write something extra nice for a royal wedding. What the son or sons of Korah experienced here was a spiritual experience beyond what most people knew. I’m quoting from The Passion Version because it attempts to include emotional content.
My heart is on fire, boiling over with passion.
Bubbling up within me are these beautiful lyrics
as a lovely poem to be sung for the King.
Like a river bursting its banks, I’m overflowing with words,
spilling out into this sacred story. (verse 1)
I have no trouble imagining someone who limited their concept of God to intellectual debate accosting the singer/songwriters with the question, “Who is this king you are calling God? And where is this in the Torah?”
They might have been especially upset when the song mentioned this God-King marrying a pure and glorified bride.
And standing beside you,
glistening in your pure and golden glory,
is the beautiful bride-to-be!
Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.
Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,
even those who once were close to you!
For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.
Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord! (verses 9b -11)
Other prophets wrote about feeling overwhelmed when the Holy Spirit came upon them for a purpose. They called it fire in the bones, or an intense need to be purified, or falling as though dead. Sometimes they needed days to recover. The writer of Hebrews verifies that this psalm is indeed about Jesus, God’s son.
But about his Son, he called him “God,” saying,
“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever
and you will rule your kingdom
with justice and righteousness,
For you have cherished righteousness
and detested lawlessness.
For this reason, God, your God, has anointed you
and poured out the oil of bliss on you
more than on any of your friends.”
This was a glimpse of the future, but by itself the meaning of the psalm remained a mystery for a very long time. The writer of Hebrews explains:
Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways. The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these last days, and now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time. (Hebrews 1:1 & 2)
Psalm 45 is a prophetic word picture of an event that wouldn’t be explained until John, who wrote down his vision in the book of Revelation, told us about the great marriage celebration of Jesus and his bride, the purified, sanctified, glorified ones he came to redeem.
For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!
Let us rejoice and exalt him and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come.
And his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, shining bright and clear,
has been given to her to wear,
and the fine linen represents
the righteous deeds of his holy believers.” (Revelation 19:6b – 8)
The Psalms of the Sons of Korah are probably not in chronological order of the dates they were written. That tends to be a western way of organizing things. It’s hard to tell where this ecstatic bank-bursting overflowing words experience occurred on the road back from shame that began with the rebellion of their ancestor in the desert, but I’m often surprised by God’s timing and who he picks to pass on these fragments that over millennia create a fuller picture of who he is and reveal his plan since the beginning of creation. I think one of the purposes of prophecy is not to give us a program with a list of events in order of appearance. A lot of prophetic words won’t make sense until the time comes to recognize that this thing happening now was foretold. This is that. Through prophecy, God gives his people re-assurance that he knows all about it. He’s been in it all along. He’s not surprised or anxious. He’s got this.
I’m very grateful he leaves clues for us like a trail of mysterious crumbs that urge us to find the one who left them there. Perhaps the Sons of Korah needed to get their eyes off the pain that is so evident in some of their psalms and venture out, taking steps of faith toward him by singing a song that must have made people at the time scratch their heads.
Encounters with God can be scary out-of-the-box events for which we have no grid, but they create a hunger that makes us want more.
And there is more.
“What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.“
Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing!(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)
Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.
When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”
I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!
When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.
When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.
It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Psalm 112, 4,5 NIV
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.”Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27, 28)
What if what is missing in the lives of people who hate you, who want to see you silenced, cancelled, dismissed is an experience of grace? What if people who don’t deserve it (like all of us) experience the goodness of God through the blessings of those they shun?
What if we prayed for and not against all the people Jesus loved so much that he gave his life to reconcile them to their creator?
What if those of us who know what it means to have been loved by the Lover of our souls while we were still far from him come out and demonstrate? What if we come alongside our haters in radical demonstrations of the love he has poured out for us?
Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It would take a radical shift in our first-reaction mindsets.
But what if Christians believed Jesus? How would culture shift?
Jesus Christ, the ultimate revolutionary.
So I’ve learned from my experience
that God protects the vulnerable.
For I was broken and brought low,
but he answered me and came to my rescue!
Now I can say to myself and to all,
“Relax and rest, be confident and serene,
for the Lord rewards fully those who simply trust in him.”
Psalm 116:6,7 TPT
On the way back from an appointment with a medical specialist, (an eleven hour return trip for me) I stopped by this reservoir on the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta. On that day two years ago, I received more information about another complication in my already complex health condition. It didn’t help that I forgot the backpack with my wallet in it at the place I was staying. I needed it for my health insurance card for the hospital and my credit card to leave my car in the underground parking maze. I went back for it, praying the whole time I wouldn’t miss my appointment and arrived, frazzled, with seconds to spare. (Have you noticed God is right on time but never early?)
On the trip home, I stopped in this beautiful place and had a chat with God. I felt anxious and very vulnerable. I reflected upon the reflection and realized the water could never produce the beauty it bore. Like the water I didn’t have to manufacture my own peace. I simply needed to keep my eyes on the giver of peace, whose nature is peace. I don’t know how to relax and rest when I know I can forget important things like my wallet. Serenity is not a natural trait. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace because he IS peace.
Back in the car, a song played these words, “It’s not the end. It’s not the end. You’re gonna be ok.”*
If I am in him and he is in me, then his peace is my peace. This is more than reflection. This is absorption. Learning that I am loved and accepted allows me to become what I am not without him – and I m not without him because he promised to never leave. I am changing.
This season brings more challenges. We have decided to move to another part of the province to be closer to adult children. They have pointed out that we are aging and need more help. They are urging us to let them do that for us. I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the daunting task of fixing up our property to sell, de-cluttering, and looking at finding a new place to live in a city where real estate prices are double what they are here. The process of parting with a houseful of stuff with so many memories attached is emotionally daunting. The prospect of parting with good friends made over 36 years in this place I love is even more daunting.
For the past few months I have felt the Lord telling us to prepare for a change. What that change was I didn’t know. The thought of moving into a place without stairs, where it would be easier for me to get around, felt like preparing for the end, like seeing a sign my exit ramp loomed up ahead. Then a little while ago, a prophetic artist had a painting for me. It was of a woman joyfully walking beside a lake. She said, “God wants you to know it’s not over yet. He has more for you.”
Today I choose to walk in God’s peace. I may be surrounded by half-sorted boxes of art supplies, music books, sewing fabric, and writing materials potential, but like the woman walking beside still water that day at the reservoir, and the woman dancing beside a sun-dappled lake in the painting, I will simply trust, leave the past behind, and take one step at a time toward the next thing.
Care to join me?
*”It’s Gonna Be Okay” by Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, and Seth Mosley
You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it
and very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
for your tender love is blended into everything you do.(Psalm 145:8,9 TPT)
When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”
Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.
Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.
I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.
Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.
For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.
Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.
David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.
The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.
This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.
That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever?
How much longer, Lord?
Will you look the other way when I’m in need?
How much longer must I cling to this constant grief?
I’ve endured this shaking of my soul.
So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?
Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me!
Breathe your life into my spirit.
Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness
or I will sleep the sleep of death.
Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.”
For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall.
I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me.
I will spin in a circle of joy
when your salvation lifts me up.
I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh,
for in all of this you have strengthened my soul.
My enemies say that I have no Savior,
but I know that I have one in you!
We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”