Bono & Eugene Peterson on the Psalms

bono & eugene peterson psalms

Something of interest will take place in just under two weeks from now. Continue reading

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C.S. Lewis on Poetry

reflections on the psalmsFor my birthday, I was given a gift card to Barnes & Noble. It’s great to know the people in my life know me so well – coffee, beer and books. I’m pretty easy to please!

So I stopped in to Barnes & Noble over the weekend to browse the shelves to see if I might find a candidate worth purchasing with my gift card. I did find something. My choice fell to C.S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. I decided on it because a) I’m teaching Old Testament Survey this semester, and we’ll take a whole 3-hour session to cover biblical poetry and the Psalms and b) knowing I teach at a creative-hub, such as Visible Music College, it seems appropriate to share C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on the Psalms. Here was a creative and imaginative giant. More a philosopher and story-writer, over and above being a poet. Yet still, I believe he’ll have some beautiful thoughts to offer on the Psalms.

Here’s something I came across in the Intro chapter on God’s desire to speak, or incarnate, through poetry: Continue reading

In The Day of Your Power

One of the most quoted psalms in all of the New Testament is Psalm 110. It’s a very important psalm, a messianic psalm at that. The text from the ESV says this:

1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

A few years ago, God really highlighted vs3, specifically after dipping into the late Arthur Wallis’ book, In The Day of Thy Power.

Again, vs3 reads: Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

There are two interesting phrases at the beginning of this verse: 1) Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power and 2) Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power.

Pretty awesome things will take place in the day of God’s power, right? God’s people will offer themselves freely. Or, as the NASB states it, ‘Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power.’

You could literally translate this as God’s people being freewill offerings. No obligation, no duty. Just freely and wholly offering themselves unto God.

But, we are left asking one question: When is God’s day of power? For when it is such a day, we know what glorious act will take place.

The amazing thing is that I believe this psalm actually tells us when God’s day of power is. Where in the psalm? It’s in vs1: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

This psalm, and specifically vs1, is all about the enthronement of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, as emphasised in places like Matthew 22:41-46; Acts 2:22-36; Hebrews 1:13; etc. Thus, the day of God’s power began with the Son of God ascending back to the Father’s right hand, which was fully evidenced in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Read these words of Peter:

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)

One might question my train of thought so far and say that Psalm 110:3 speaks of God’s day of power, as if this, then, is focused into one specific day. But, though some might disagree, I don’t think it is out of bounds to see the word day as speaking of something longer than 24 hours, something like an age.

What makes me think such? In the passage about the armour of God (Ephesians 6), Paul speaks of standing against the work of the enemy and his forces in the ‘evil day’. I don’t think Paul is simply referring to one 24-hour period. He is rather speaking of the present evil age.

Thus, I see this day of God’s power as referring to the whole Messianic age in which the Messiah would reign over all of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) evidenced in the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh (again, see Acts 2 and its major importance).

And ever since that specific day of Pentecost, we have continued to enjoy the blessings of God’s great ‘day’ of power. Consequently, this day of power has continued now for almost 2,000 years as the people of God have been empowered by the Spirit of God:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Back to Psalm 110:3 – Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power. While this verse could be used by many Pentecostals and charismatics (of which I consider myself one) to preach a powerful message about the power of God’s Spirit in the day of God’s power, I see an opportunity to take time to emphasise something else.

What is that? It’s the simple, yet amazing, fact that God’s people are called to offer themselves freely (ESV), volunteer freely (NASB) or literally offer themselves as freewill offerings during His day of power. Of course, none of this could ever be accomplished apart from the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. But, while I believe in and have seen powerful and supernatural acts of healing and miracles, I believe it all starts with the foundation of a servant heart.

I mean, wasn’t that the way of the Son of God. Of course, He was used in great and powerful deeds – restoring sight to the blind, healing lepers, loosing the lame and even raising the dead. But, more than that, (yes, more than that), He was laying down His life by serving.

Thus, would it not make sense to follow in the servant footsteps of the One who initiated God’s day of power?

I have always loved these words concerning Jesus found in the Gospels:

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

This was the divine Son! He even knew that God had given all things into His hands! So, what does He do? He strips down to his underwear, gets a towel and basin, and begins to perform the act of the lowest of servants. For me, this is incredible, as it should be for the whole body. But, unfortunately, we don’t see this response from many Christians, especially those who have been ‘given all things’.

So, we read that in God’s day of power His people will volunteer freely, offer themselves completely, not out of obligation, but from a freely motivated heart.

I don’t know why we miss it so much. So many people get caught up in platforms, stages and microphones. For many, this is power. Way too many envision greatness as coming through fame and/or fortune (I’m talking about Christians here, not those of the world). Or we get caught up in asking what others can offer us rather than how we can serve.

But imagine this. What if the people of God started choosing a local church to be a part of not based upon what it could offer them, but based upon what we could offer by serving? I think we might just see some kind of radical movement in the church in the west. But, unfortunately, we can only ponder these things for now.

Jesus made it very clear about how one becomes great in the kingdom of God:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

It’s simple – serve and be great (though you probably won’t care if you are great or not). This actually means the whole of the body of Christ could step into true greatness, as defined by our King.

I am very much excited that we are in the day of God’s power. I hope such a reality encourages you greatly. But what does it say will happen in that day? God’s people will offer themselves freely.

It’s not really a novel idea, since the words of Psalm 110 were penned thousands of years ago. But it might just be novel for many Christians today.

Oh, that we might understand the heart of God to serve and offer ourselves freely, in the power of the Spirit, during this great day of God’s power. This is the heart of God for His people during the reign of God’s Messiah, the great servant. If only we would catch a glimpse of such truth. Then I believe we would begin to see a greater release of the power of God.

I also preached a message a few weeks back on this at Cornerstone. You can download it by clicking here.

A Complement to Devotional Times

Much of spirituality within evangelical Christianity is centred around the renowned quiet time. This practice can work itself out in various ways in the lives of Christians, but, typically, most are encouraged that a few specific things be involved in the process:

  • Spend a little time in the Scripture, or possibly another devotional book like My Utmost For His Highest.
  • Possibly have a journal out to record certain things that you sense God highlight in the Scripture.
  • Spend time interacting with God through prayer, as well as many more are now emphasising the reality of not only speaking to God, but also hearing from Him.

Furthermore, most are encouraged to do this in the morning. But, thankfully, most realise that such a practice can be done at any time of the day since veil has been ripped and we have access into the holy of holies at all times through Christ’s blood. The night owls give a big hearty cheer!

While such a practice of quiet time, or devotional time, or whatever you want to call it, is usually quite instrumental in our own personal walk and growth in God, I would say that spiritual growth should not be completely summed up in such a practice.

Why? Well, let me share something that I believe will complement such devotional times, something that is on the heart of God.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in some articles over the last couple of weeks, I have slowly been reading through the Psalms. I’m not really trying to read one a day, though if I can, that would be great. I’m just reading through them, soaking up what God would highlight from these differing inspired songs.

Not too long ago it was time to read Psalm 16. This is quite a familiar psalm, at least for me, but probably for many a Christians. It’s filled with a few well-known verses even though it is a mere 11 verses long. One such passage is the Messianic promise found in verse 10:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
Or let your holy one see corruption.

This is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:27 and by Paul in Acts 13:35.

The final verse of Psalm 16 is another memorable passage:

You make known to me the path of life:
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

And that might even be one of my most favourite Scriptures in all of the Bible. I am frequently reminded of its truth, and knowing such, I am tempted to share some thoughts on this verse. But I will restrain myself for now.

Yet, another passage my heart is drawn to, one that continually draws me into the heart of God, is embedded right in the middle of the psalm. Its verse 8:

I have set the LORD always before me;
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Even more specifically, it’s the first half of the verse that really speaks to me. The intimate psalmist, David, makes a beautiful statement about his desire to always set Yahweh before Him. I have set the LORD always before me. Yes, I just want to set Him right before me, in my mind’s eye, in my heart of hearts, that I might be continually drawn into His grace and love and transforming power.

The reality of the first half of verse 8 becomes even more true when we consider the second half of the verse: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

God is truly at our right hand, or even more, as new covenant believers, He dwells within us. This was the promise of Christ in John 14:17:

You know him [the Spirit], for he dwells with you and will be in you.

So, we might even say we have an even greater advantage than David did in setting the Lord always before us since He has taken up residence within us. The One I am looking to continually set my heart on actually lives within. Just close your eyes and ponder that for a moment.

Therefore, while having set aside devotional times with the Lord is beautiful, strengthening and upbuilding, it should not stop there. When the Bible is closed, the journal is put back on the shelf and we head out the door to whatever awaits us, there is a sense in which our fellowship with God is not to stop.

Most of us know this. Most of us agree with it. It’s just simply a matter of praxis, or walking out that which we confess.

Sure, no doubt that intimacy with the Lord is not as regularly available in the midst of other activities of the day. There is work, kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and oh so much more to distract us. But the fellowship is available. [For those who have 100% conquered Psalm 16:8, please reserve your comments for elsewhere.]

I suppose it’s quite like the relationship between a husband and wife, though I am aware this imagery gets used quite frequently. Within the couple’s home, very close intimacy is available that is not as regularly available ‘out there’. I don’t just mean sexual intimacy, but conversation, physically embracing one another, enjoying a movie together, etc.

But, once the husband and/or wife head out the door into life and all its various aspects, such intimacy is not as available. Yet, there is still opportunity for expressing the relationship. A phone call during the day, thinking about the other partner at specific moments, and even an text message in these days. Or, if the two are out and about together, there is the opportunity for holding hands and enjoying conversation, even on the go. But, again, they are not involved in the very intimate closeness as was available in their own home.

And, I see this very similar to our relationship with the Lord. And, knowing such passages as Revelation 19:7 and 21:2, which refer to the corporate body of Christ as a Bride, I know the comparison is true.

Therefore, while we should be encouraged, and even challenged, in our intimacy with God, our time of stillness before Him, we should not forget the availability of relationship with Him the other 23 and half hours of the day (even in our sleep).

I have set the LORD always before me;
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

And, even this morning, I read Psalm 26 with the first half of verse 3 really catching my eye:

For your steadfast love is before my eyes.

What a way to keep the Lord always before us: by keeping His steadfast, covenant, committed love before us! There is no other love like this, for even Psalm 63:3 teaches us that God’s faithful love is better than life itself! What a way to draw us in to the heart of God even in the midst of emails, reports, deliveries, construction, and whatever else we are involved in.

With such musings above, many might be reminded of Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. Though his Roman Catholic theology comes through, there is no doubt he was a man that wanted to know God, to simply love Him through the smallest of activities. But, in all reality, most of us do not have the opportunity of living in such a convent community. We have real life to get on with, and we want to be ‘out and about’ so we can be salt and light. Nevertheless, it is an inspiring and challenging account.

But, as I bring this article to a close, I am reminded of another contemplative Christian, one of the Quaker tradition – Thomas Kelly. In his little book entitled A Testament of Devotion, amongst the first words he pens are these:

‘Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.’

Some might be tempted to red flag these words as sounding new age. But remember these are the words of a contemplative Quaker of the first half of the 1900’s. He is referring to an inner intimacy with the Lord.

Kelly goes on to encourage us:

‘There is a way of offering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of the external affairs. But deep within behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.’

I think these are in line with the words of Psalm 16:8:

I have set the LORD always before me;
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

So, let us keep drawing in through devotional, intimate time with the Lord. But let us also remember that the Eternal One awaits our affections throughout the day, even in the midst of our tedious work schedules. Hey, we might even start to become a little intimate Him as we are ‘out and about’.

Lord, draw us in.

A Theology of Sleep

So I am slowly wading my way through the Psalms these days, as well as reading a selection from the Pentateuch and Gospels. I shared some thoughts the other day from Psalm 1:3, particularly pointing out a phrase from the verse that had never previously spoken much to me, but God had highlighted it the other day.

Last night I was reading Psalms 3 and 4, two very short psalms. As a friend of mine had studied the Psalms a few years back, he noticed a particular theme arising in the first few psalms. In Psalms 1-6, it refers a handful of times to what God does in our sleep or on our beds.

  • Psalm 3:5 – I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
  • Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will both lied down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD.
  • Psalm 6:6 – I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.

Thus, my friend entitled these psalms the ‘sleep psalms’.

And when reading Psalm 4 last night, one particular phrase spoke to me – the second part of verse 4:

Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

How many of us lie in bed pondering? Or how many of us live our lives in a perpetual state of pondering? Well, that’s me. I love to ponder. I have a friend who loves to joke with me about it. But I do really like to think and ponder. Though I am an extrovert and very outgoing in public settings, I also am one who likes to roll ideas and thoughts over and over in my mind. A window to gaze out of is an open opportunity for pondering. I am very thankful for a gigantic window in my office so, if need be, I can just sit and stare out the window, contemplating life and God. And sometimes these things end up on my blog.

But, here, in Psalm 4:4, David is encouraging us to be people who ponder in our beds.

Now, I think this is somewhat different than lying awake all night worrying about a particular situation. No doubt this happens to us at times as well. A family member or friend has gone through a tragedy, your at odds with a co-worker and you dread going in to work, your child is struggling as they grow through the adolescent years, and there is a whole assortment of other possibilities.

Yet, in Psalm 4, I sense that David is speaking of something a little different: Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

This seems to speak of peaceful contemplation, not stressful worry. And there is something about lying our heads on our soft pillows, face up, to consider life and all its happenings. For me, I find it hard to ponder when I am on my side. Turning over on my side means it’s time to fall asleep, and I can’t seem to sleep on my back. So, face up, my back to the mattress, opens the way for Psalm 4:4 to become a reality.

Just as in Psalm 5:3 David encourages us to interact with God as we arise in the morning, here in Psalm 4, he encourages us to interact with our Father as we are going to sleep. It’s not a legalistic measure of making sure you have two ‘quiet times’ per day, one when you awake and one before you go to sleep. Rather, these words come in the midst of poems in which David is pouring out his affections and thoughts to the One who loves Him. This is a beautiful relationship.

And, thus, what better way can a day end than just lying in our beds, on our backs and face-up, pondering life and the things of God in our hearts. The verse also says, ‘be silent’, and I don’t imagine that being too difficult for us in such a position.

It’s almost like a meditative measure of communication with God. We think back over the day, think about family and friends, think about life, and all of these thoughts lead to meditations and contemplations and prayers. I don’t suppose great intercession will happen in such a restful state, but I do believe we will interact with the one who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:4).

I suppose this is even possible as we face trial and difficulty, for we definitely will face such things. But, as we do, we can look to embrace the practice of Psalm 4:4 so that we might experience the ‘peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians 4:8). The trials probably won’t go away, the difficulties might not immediately phase out. But practicing such contemplative measures will be like a healing balm to one’s wearied and worried mind.

No doubt this is not our de facto mode of operation. We would rather worry than rest. Or, if all is fine and dandy, we might just hit our pillows with the only thoughts being, ‘I’m exhausted.’ And that’s ok (the tired part, not the worrying). But I only write these words to remind us of the great possibilities available to us as we do climb into bed, slipping our feet under the cool covers, and lying our head on our soft pillows. There is opportunity for reflection and interaction with Abba.

And when one enters into such a meditative and restful mode, I can only imagine that they will find themselves drifting into a peaceful sleep, maybe even with Christ being their last thought. And then, seven hours later (or less), you might just find yourself awaking with a continued sense of His nearness, able to, in some measure or other, speak the words of Psalm 3:5:

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

So, be encouraged by these words of Psalm 4:4 – Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. As we know, our God cannot be relegated to times on our knees or only in Sunday gatherings. God is just as present in the night when we go to bed. And He continues to watch over You even as you drift into the land of dreams.