The Psalms help us explore the song of the Lord in our lives.
I want to talk about exploring life-song in the Psalms. Psalms is the biggest book in the Bible. It has 150 chapters, 150 Psalms. A lot of times, if you open the Bible up to its midpoint, you’ll see the Psalms. The Psalms are such an important part of the church. Not only traditionally, but just in part because of the entire experience. They have so much to offer us. As far as the book itself is concerned, not only is it the biggest book of the Bible but 73 of the Psalms are attributed to David. That’s about half of them. Another 12 are attributed to a man named Asaph who was a song master and worship leader that was appointed by David. 11 of them are attributed to the Levitical family of Korah working under and with David. Two to Solomon, one to the Chief Musician and Worship Leader. I love this next name. What a Father’s Day name, Heman. See that Heman, the Ezrahite. Then a chief musician, worship leader, Ethan the Ezrahite, and another to Moses. The remaining 49 are unattributed but most of them are connected to David in some way. David is a big part of the Psalms.
The Psalms are prayers. They are poetry and songs. So prayers, poems, and songs. They clearly have been and will continue to be the Bible’s song and prayer book. Often, it’s the place that people turn when we’re working through life’s challenges. Jesus knew all the psalms. He referred to them frequently. Throughout the gospels, you’ll see Him making references to them and He sung them often. They’ve been a very important part, not only of the ancient church of Israel but all the way through the early church and into this day. People all over the world sing songs. They’re always moving in bits and pieces into the songs that we sing even now. I want to talk about that a little bit and lay a foundation for us. But before I even get there, I want to shift the gears a little bit and go back in time to an earlier part of the year.
Not everybody necessarily was here, but I want to talk about what I shared at the outset of the year and connect it. I’m not going to go into every detail, but in 2015, I had to go on a medical sabbatical. I shared in the Growing Through Adversity series how we can work through difficult places in our lives. I shared out of my own time in the dark place, if you will, how hard it was at a physical level. I had vocal surgery. It was also my body at a mental and emotional level that wasn’t doing well. I talked a lot about that. It was complicated. It was real. I had never faced anything like that for 30 years of ministry. I don’t want to sound melodramatic because that’s not what I’m trying to do, but I was forced to fight through a lot of fear and doubt. Not so much about God, but just about myself. I had to learn what I called new spiritual survival skills. I don’t want to rehash.
In our lives, we have traumatic seasons. Maybe some of us are in one now. I don’t know. It’s possible that no one would necessarily know it, but you may be going through a very difficult time. Or there’s a lot of fear, real anxiety, or stress connected to some issue that’s going on. Maybe you’ve just come out of a traumatic season. Maybe you’re still feeling the effects of something, a season that hit you years before and you’re still having to deal with the repercussions of that. Sometimes we do okay and sometimes we don’t do so well. What I’m saying is these are real things. The more I interact with people, the more I’ve come to realize that it is the rare bird indeed who knows no pain and no struggle. In fact, I don’t know if it’s true of any of us. There isn’t any of us that has no temptation to fight through any adversity that we have to face. We all have something that is happening. We all have blind spots and weak zones. We all have areas of unique vulnerability where we are prone to either sinful or addictive behavior that is destructive. We know it. We don’t even like it, but we turn to it.
There are going to be times when we’re going to need specific grace at a certain time in our life for God to be able to help us grow through that place. Not just survive, but grow through it. I want to talk about some survival principles. Part of what I’m doing right now is laying out some things that I call my little toolkit. It’s not exhaustive, but it might help. It might actually help some of us who may either be in a difficult place right now. Or know someone who’s in a difficult place. Or when we get into a place where it’s difficult to trust God, get out of a funk, or get away from that cloud that seems to be hovering over us. How do you do that? How do you fight through it a little bit? I want to talk about it. I have a reason for bringing it up. I want to throw a couple of things out there. This is what I did. When I was in that place, one of the things I did was start immersing myself in His word. I had plenty of time. I was on a medical sabbatical. So I had to figure out what to do. Lord, help me, help me to figure out how to move through this thing without letting it define me. I spent a lot of time in His Word.
Another thing I did was journal. It was the first time I really actually ever journaled. I wasn’t a big journaler. I would every now and then note things at certain times in my life. But like many of us, I was not necessarily a consistent journaler. I didn’t write things down and put daily entries in very much, maybe to mark things. What I ended up doing during that period, and one of the key ways I think the Lord can help us when we find ourselves in these dark, difficult, or suffering places is to begin to share my heart with the Lord and write things down. I wrote about my feelings. In some ways, I was trying to figure out why I was feeling what I was feeling. What it’d mean to trust God. I would write down different verses or phrases that really stood out to me. I tried to be honest, sit with it, and take a little bit of time thinking.
On top of that, I had devotionals. Some of you are familiar with the devotional. Sometimes I like to refer to it because I know not everyone necessarily knows what that is. When people who follow Jesus talk about having a devotional, they mean having some time with the Lord. Usually reading through a daily reading that has scripture. In my case, I had some scripture to read, a passage or two, and then a story or anecdotes or a little commentary usually. In one day’s entry, oftentimes devotionals will have a prayer or an affirmation connected to it just to set the day in motion. If any of you want to know a little bit more about how to get one or how to find them, it’s not difficult. You can get them online. You can ask any of our pastoral staff. Pastor Paul’s a great contact for that here at the Mission Campus as well.
If you have never had one, we have these three-month little Daily Breads that we make available for anybody. You can pick one up, take it with you. In fact, when I first started following the Lord, I remember as a teenager, the first devotion I ever had was A Little Daily Bread. I had gone to Sunday school, but I really didn’t know a lot about the Bible. So I’d read the passage. I would read a little bit of the story, an idea or two, and a quote. Then I would have a prayer. I would do that before I went to school. I remember doing that. So these Daily Breads are a real blessing.
Here’s another thing that is what I call part of that survival packet. I tried to challenge the way I was thinking. I worked on my thinking. I know it sounds strange. What do you mean, worked on your thinking? A lot of times when we’re in a hole, when we’re hurting, we can start to get ourselves into a cycle. We start to create problems that aren’t even there. Our worries get enlarged. We start catastrophizing. We start walking down the road and get dominated by negativity. I could feel that in me. This was trying to define me. I knew that wasn’t God’s will for me. One of the things I did, because I’m an over-thinker is, I said, “Lord, I need you to give me a verse for this season of my life. I need you to help me have a piece of scripture that I can hang onto that can counteract the, “I’m going to call it garbage or junk or negativity, that is trying to clog me up right now and make me afraid.” In my case, I prayed and looked at some different things in the scripture. I found a verse. Some of us may come across a verse and it might all of a sudden just resonate deeply with us. I found mine was Hebrews 13:5. I call it 5b. It was the second half of verse five and verse six. God has said never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. But the key, that was a promise. So one He’s with me. Two, so we may say with confidence, the Lord is my helper and I will not be afraid. That’s a quote from Psalm 113.
The psalms are embedded into the New Testament. The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? There was something about that passage that connected with me deeply. I ended up doing, for 21 days, five times a day, I tried to hammer that verse into my mind. That seasonal verse became a potent word for me. Every time I start to be afraid, I would say, I will not be afraid. It was important. The Lord is my helper. I did that and it was tremendously life-giving. I also continue with the little packet, stay active, and exercise regularly. I did one more thing. It’s the reason why I’m tying it all together here. I really engaged in the Psalms. After I collected prayers, I engaged the psalms. For me, the idea of prayer collection had to do with just asking people to pray with me. I didn’t want to be proud. When you’re hurting, don’t be proud. Don’t ever be proud, but when we’re hurting, we need to say, “Look, could you pray with me?” if I felt someone had a gift for prayer. They might not have been serving the Lord for a long time, maybe not even as long as I, it didn’t matter to me. If I trusted that relationship and believed in their heart, and I thought that they had a real desire and love for God, I would say, “The Lord can use this prayer to be a strength to me. It could be someone older or younger. It was okay.
I engaged the psalms. This brings us full circle because the psalms have so much real life in them. For 50 days, I tried to read. I made it a goal of mine. Somewhere around that time frame. I wanted to try to read one psalm a day and let it settle into my heart. I just wanted to go deep in there. I wanted to ponder and pray on it because I knew that this was the prayer book. This was the songbook. This is the place where you work through pain and struggle. It’s one of the amazing gifts to us, this book of Psalms. I remember starting out with Psalm 1. It was a psalm that I had memorized or gotten close to when I was just a teenager, starting to follow Jesus. I remember, I came to Psalm 1 and thought, okay, this is like a portal to this entire book. It starts out saying you can make a choice in life. To follow this way, we’ll call it the blessed path, and this way, the foolish path. This way leads to a blessing and fruitfulness in life. This way tends to lead to things that are disappointing and alienate us from God. That’s how the Psalmist opens up.
Basically, it becomes the way of approaching all the psalms, God’s way, or the way that doesn’t work. Psalm 1 starts out by saying, “blessed is the man.” That was the vernacular of their day. “Blessed is the man, blessed is the woman. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the way of sinner nor sits in the seat of the scornful, those who scorn the things of God, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and His word. In that law, he meditates day and night, it becomes a part of who we are, this word.” The Psalms say that “a person will be like a tree that’s planted by the rivers of water. It brings forth its fruit in its season. It also will not wither. Whatever it does, it’s going to prosper in some way. The ungodly are not so, the psalmist says. They’re like the chaff, the wind dries it away. The ungodly will not stand on the day of judgment. No sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” It just talks about the way the righteous will live, but the way that the ungodly will perish and not last. This was Psalm 1. I reread Psalm 1. I sat with it, reread Psalm 2, and wrote some things down around it. But I remember on the third day I came to Psalm 3. This is the one in your handout.
This is a psalm that David wrote at a really bad time in his life because he was literally being chased down by his own son, whom he loved, who had led a coup against him, Absalom. One of the things we know about David is he had a blind spot as a father and it hurt him. If it wasn’t for a few good men and friends of David, David would’ve been killed by his own son in a coup. He’s running for his life at a time when he should have been settled in his life. He was at the prime of his life. David is running for his life like a scared animal being chased down by someone whom he loved deeply. Someone who turned on him and hurt him as no one else could. Part of him was saying, why is this happening to me, God? That’s the context of Psalm 3. He says, “Lord, how many are my foes? How did he rise up against me? Many are saying of me, God will not deliver him. But you Lord,” David reestablishes who God is in his life, “you, Lord, are a shield around me. You’re my glory. You’re the one who lifts my head high. I’ll call out to the Lord. He answers me from His holy mountain. I lie down and sleep. I wake up again because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands of people assail me on every side. No, I tell you arise, Lord, deliver me, my God. Strike all my enemies on the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked. For the Lord comes, delivers me. Your blessing be on your people.” It’s intense, it’s passionate.
Have you ever had a hard time sleeping because of anxiety? That’s what David has taught. I lie down and I can sleep in the midst of this hellish nightmare in my life. I remember how at the time, I was having a hard time sleeping. That’s what connected me. I remember I was reading this psalm and David says I will lie down and sleep. He said, “Oh Lord, help me to sleep.” I was in need of courage and faith because my enemies, though not literally like David’s were literal, but my enemies also were there. They were circling me, taunting me, seeking to define me, seeking to overwhelm me. They were my problems, my troubles, my bad ideas. In some cases, a spiritual foe as well. On top of all that, I needed deliverance. I needed His blessing. I needed Him to sustain me. Do you see how the psalms can work so well for us? How that sustained me, became my cry as well, and how it can become our cry. Sustain me, God. That’s real. That’s honest. It’s powerful.
One of the things the Psalms do is move us past our fears and failures into faith and promise. I think you know and I know that our fears and our failures can overwhelm our confidence. The Psalms remind us not to let our fears, troubles, and anxious thoughts be the final word in our life. God’s faithfulness is to be the final word. That’s part of what the psalms do. It reminds us that the dominant word over our life is to be the faithfulness of God, not the trouble we’re in.
When we read the Psalms, especially for the first time or when we’re just starting to read them, some of us might be taken aback a little bit by how honest they are. There are portions of them that just cry out in frustration, pain, and anger over the unfairness of life. Some of them even start to question God’s goodness. There are clearly prayers going out for these people who’ve hurt, wounded, or worked against me. Judge my enemy. You’re going to hear it all in there. God, where are you? Why are you forsaking me? It’s all over it. It’s like, God, I thought you promised you were going to bless me. Why aren’t you doing it? Why is this happening to me? Why are they turning them? It’s everywhere.
Yet when you look at it, we’re constantly reminded that sometimes in raw and vivid detail is the reality of bad situations. The Psalms don’t leave us in the ash heap. They always push us. They push us into hope. They push us into trusting God. They acknowledge real life, broken life. The broken and the ugly underbelly of it. The Psalms don’t pretend it’s not there, but they don’t leave us there. They hit us in both directions. That’s what the psalms do. They don’t give us the luxury of denial pretending, oh, this is good when it’s not. At the same time, they don’t allow us to forget God’s essential goodness and faithfulness. It’s this beautiful, honest thing going on in the psalms. Don’t pretend. It’s honest words. At the same time, anchor it all in the goodness of God. Find a way. He will deliver you through this. It’s powerful. When we let it work, it’s powerful.
Another thing the Psalms do is remind us that worship, singing, and praise are indispensable aspects of the vibrant Christian life. It’s been said that one of the reasons the Psalms were created by God was for the purpose of being sung back to Him. If you think of it this way, the Psalms were given to us by God so that we could give them back to Him. Given to us so we can give them back to Him. They remind us at the core that we were made to praise. Let me show you a couple of examples. I’m going to pick a couple of psalms and show you what I’m talking about, about how they move us to praise.
Psalm 9, “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart. I will recount all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you. I will sing praises to your name, oh most high.” Look at Psalm 63. “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live. In your name, I will lift up my hands.” I’m just going to read the next one because it has a couple of little areas where we can get off course. If you want to join in, you can. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, oh, most high, to declare the steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night. To the music of the lute and the harp and the melody of the lyre.”
We don’t use those words. Those are ancient instruments. It’s a reminder that worshiping God with instruments, like a guitar, a keyboard, a stringed instrument, even a drum, are things that connect us back to worship. It says, “For you, oh, Lord have made me glad by your works and at the works of your hands, I sing for joy.” It’s clear the Psalms invite us into song, into worship, and praise. Again, they were the songbook of Israel. They were the songbook of Jesus. I would love for this Psalm series to also be a series for us where we stretch ourselves out as worshipers a little bit. We praise God a little bit more out of our comfort zone. We try to honor the Lord, do all things decently, and try to be sensitive so that I don’t stand out amongst the ‘we’ and create a distraction.
At the same time, the Bible is so clear that so many of the Psalms invite us into physical worship. The New Testament even builds on that, reminding us that singing the Psalms to the Lord period is an indispensable part of a vibrant Christian life and community. It’s a me and we thing. This is not just the Old Testament. Look at what it says in Ephesians 5, “do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery.” That’s a way of saying foolish and ruinous living that will mess us up. “Instead be filled with the spirit, addressing one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Look at that, may the Lord fill our heart with song. Then look at Colossians 3:16, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” There it is again, singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your heart. So just letting that verse linger, singing to the Lord with Psalms or phrases of psalms, which is what we do in our worship time, is actually something that is deeply embedded in the scripture itself.
In fact, if you look at it, it’s a big deal. For one, it’s not just an invitation, it’s a command for anyone who’s serious about following Jesus and anyone who is serious about the Christ-life will take note of it. Additionally, you see this verse, singing to the Lord in worship and praise. It’s not just a nice warmup for the message, which means you have to be on time for church. No, I’m saying that a lot of times we forget that the worship itself is a way of driving things deep into our hearts. If we engage in things sincerely as the Psalms invite us to do, then there is a powerful dynamic that is released in our life. In my opinion, some of the most powerful dynamics of worship are released when we’re feeling most broken. We call it the sacrifice of praise. Out of the broken place, when the praise goes up, a lot of times what happens is God just moves in you in an amazing way.
The Psalms talk about things that are physical. Things like kneeling before the Lord, lifting up our hands to the Lord, clapping to the Lord in joy, or saying in agreement or excitement or applause or saying, “Lord I’ve surrendered to you.” These are very physical. Shouting out to the Lord in a joyful song. These are very biblical ways of expressing our hearts to God. I’m going to say the more we can do that, the better it is in many ways. Just open up our hearts to new things that God wants to do. Someone said to me, “Well, why does God even need to be praised? What’s all this praise thing going on? Does God need his ego propped up?” I said, “No, no. I assure you God is far more secure than you’ll ever know. He doesn’t need our affirmation or our praises. Ego doesn’t have to be buttressed, supported because without it He’ll fall apart.” That’s not so. I said, “The truth is He allows Himself to be worshiped by us.” I said, “Worship is an expression of giving someone worth. When I worship God, I’m acknowledging who He is.”
Jesus said, “Look, whether or not we acknowledge God, He is who He is.” Jesus’ critics said, “Why don’t you tell your people to be quiet because they praise you in ways they shouldn’t.” Jesus said, “If they don’t praise me, I’ll tell you the very rocks, nature itself will break forth in praise.” Nature praises God, creation praises God. You read the Psalms, everywhere in nature. The creation of God, the artistry of God praising God. But we are invited into that as the jewel of God’s creation, to praise in, not out of force, but out of invitation. We become like the things we worship. What I worship, I become like, so if I worship Him in the ways that I’m invited to do through the Psalms, I become more like Him. When I do it honestly. I actually think that singing honestly with intention is more important than the quality of the sound. If we have to choose, give me the one that’s honest and sincere with love, broken and true, over the one that’s on-pitch perfectly and disconnected. Jesus says, “Don’t call me, Lord, Lord, and then your heart is away from me.”
Praise is a way of giving our heart to Him. When we talk to someone and tell them, “I love you.” It could be a habit. That’s true. But over time it reinforces that in us. The same way that when we demean people, it reinforces that. They become what we say they are to us. So it is with praise. When I praise Him, it’s not because He has to have it. I think He delights in it, but that’s not the point. I have the privilege of praising Him. The power and presence of the Lord can work through my life in a very different way. I’ll leave it with this. I believe heading into these coming weeks that as we engage the Psalms, what we’re going to find is He’s going to put a new song in us. The Psalms invite us to explore the songs of the Lord for our lives and for the season of our life that we’re in. I’m convinced that as we read through these Psalms, and interact with them if we do it with intention, humility, sincerity, and some degree of passion, the natural result will be that God will fill us with a new song in our life.
One of the questions I have is what is the new song the Lord wants to sing through us? What is the new song He’s calling us to? He has something new He wants to sing. What does He want to sing through us to others? You’ll notice in the handout there, there’s Psalm 40. We’re going to close with this Psalm. David says, “I waited patiently for the Lord and He inclined to me. He heard my cry.” I love this psalm. “He brought me out of a horrible pit.” Have you ever been in trouble? David was in dark trouble. He was stuck. Out of the miry clay. That’s what that means. My feet were locked up in thick mud. I couldn’t get out of the hole. “He set my feet on a rock. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise, praise to our God and many will see it. Many will see it and they will fear. They will honor the Lord. They will revere Him for who He is and they will trust in the Lord.” God wants to put a new song in us. He has a song for us to sing.
Lord Jesus, help us to find the song that we’re supposed to sing in this season of our life. Let’s sing it. In your handout, you’ll see we put these little cards with a little hole in them. There’s a reason. We’re going to do something a little bit different. In the coming weeks, next week, actually, we’re going to have a board. We’re going to call it a Psalm board. We’re encouraging everyone to write a song, a poem, or your own kind of a psalm prayer to the Lord. You can put your name or you don’t have to, that’s not the point. Something small, but something that reflects your heart. When you come, we’re going to have a board and it’s going to have a little hook. You just hook them on. It becomes our song as a church individually, but together. I loved the idea when we were talking about it. I think it’s an amazing way for us to interact. So just be aware of that, engage it. Let’s pray together. Then we’ll close.
Lord, I thank you. I thank you for the focus and the attentiveness of those who’ve just been here together. We’ve been able to share this word and share this time. I ask that what would come out of it would be a strength and an encouragement for us in the days ahead. In these summer months, Lord, I pray that they would actually come, even as we’re coming in and out of travels and such, that they would come in an amazing way, new songs into our lives. As we sincerely engage your words, especially this amazing book that has affected people who love you for generations, may it also be something that affects us as well. We have new songs flowing in and out of our lives, but a new song of praise. We thank you, God. We look forward to what’s happening in the coming days, weeks, and months. May you be honored in our lives and move in fresh new ways. This is what we pray. Bless our closing time of giving and bless this song that we’re ending with, which is Psalm 40. I ask that we would just be attentive to this song as well and share it together in Jesus’ name. Amen.