# 38 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#6) Psalm 91 absolute security, living in “absolute dependence, absolute trust, absolute surrender”

According to Psalm 91:1 the safest place in the world to be is in a “shadow”! That’s what the psalmist suggests when he says:   “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Not only is the imagery of “feathers” and “wings” (see previous post) used describing our “secret hiding place” in God (Psalm 32:7), but also a “shadow”, and that being “the shadow of the Almighty”.

shade 002

If you have lived in a hot place, you will understand how important shade is. In the height of summer when you turn into the shopping centre carpark what do you search for? A parking spot under the shade of a tree, if possible. The sun, as wonderful as it is, can be very painful at times and we need to be protected from it by going into the shade – the shadow of another object. Like shade on a very hot day, is the shadow of the Almighty in times of trouble.

How much closer to someone can you get than their shadow? And that’s the point, I think. To be up close and personal with God (i.e. as close as under his shadow) is to be safe. My shadow wouldn’t bring anyone much comfort or shade, but God’s is different!

So, how is this possible? What is it about our relationship with God that can result in such incredible intimacy with the Creator of the universe and then mean we are under his protection no matter what comes our way? Well let’s see what the psalmist suggests.

  • Desire

 1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High     will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

If you … make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you…
Firstly, we need to have an attitude and desire to be close to God. In fact, a desire to “dwell” with God, to be at “rest” in his presence.

Other psalms express this deep longing to be in God’s presence, such as Psalm 42, where the psalmist says:

As the deer pants for streams of water,     so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.     When can I go and meet with God?

Do we have such a deep longing for our Father? If not, ask God to give you such a desire.

  • Faith.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,     my God, in whom I trust.”

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”     …10 no harm will overtake you,

Faith/trust is involved. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Do we really trust God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in today?

  1. Love
  1. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him…”

Jesus said the greatest commandment was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)

John in his first letter spoke of love. He said, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God…This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…God is love…This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…”    (1 John 3:1, 16; 4:8, 10)

Have we any reason to not love such an amazing Saviour God?

  • Acknowledgment

14 I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

Considering that:

…God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place     and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,     in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,     to the glory of God the Father

then acknowledging His name above all other names seems like pretty good advice!

  1. Prayer 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;

Breuggemann speaks of this promise as “the most striking formula [revealing God’s] profound commitment [to us]…’When he calls to me, I will answer him’.”

He continues, “The initiative of trust and petition belongs with the [psalmist]. But Yahweh is resolved to answer and is very sure…none will prevail against [our] God.” (see references # 2)

Jesus taught and lived a life of prayer and there is little doubt that he desires that we also should live this way

And, so the promise of God to us is that:

I will be with him in trouble,     I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him     and show him my salvation.”

But you may ask, how is all this possible? In myself I have so little desire for God, so little love, so weak a faith! The answer ultimately is “Christ in you”.

In “The Believer’s Secret of the Master’s Indwelling” by Andrew Murray, he quotes Colossians 3:4 which says, “Christ, who is our life”. He speaks of the relationship and source “of [the life of Jesus, the Son] before God [the Father].” He says, “It was a life of absolute dependence, absolute trust, absolute surrender” and this was the very “principle of His life” which we need to understand” and apply as we seek to live the Christian life. This is what the indwelling Christ in us, as believers, desires to teach us and live through us. Are you willing?

And then as we live “in Christ” we will begin to understand just how secure we are resting in the “shadow of the Almighty”.

# 37 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#5) Psalm 91 “matchless love … divine tenderness”

I went for a walk to our College farm today and when I came across the scene below I was reminded of the following verse in Psalm 91:4 that reads. The Lord “will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”

ducks 006

As mentioned before, the poetry of the Psalms often uses imagery to get the point across and this is one of those occasions.

Some other psalms that also use this same imagery are:

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (17:8)

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (36:7)

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (57:1)

“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (61:4)

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” (63:7)

I like what C.H. Spurgeon had to say about this imagery in his commentary on the Psalms (first published in 1870):

“…’He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.’ A wonderful expression! Had it been invented by an uninspired man it would have verged on blasphemy, for who would dare to apply such words to the Infinite God? But as He himself authorized, yea, dictated the language, we have here a transcendent condescension, such as it becomes us to admire and adore. Does the Lord speak of his feathers, as though he likened himself to a bird? Who will not see herein a matchless love, a divine tenderness, which should both woo and win our confidence? Even as a hen covers her chickens [or a duck her ducklings] so does the Lord protect [those] who dwell in him; [so] let us [shelter] down beneath him for comfort and for safety. Hawks in the sky and snares in the field are equally harmless when we nestle so near the Lord.” (see references # 28)

No wonder the psalmist can say, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” and then, that his people “take refuge in the shadow of [his] wings.” (36:7)

James encourages us to “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

It seems that sometimes ducklings are smarter than us human beings. They knew exactly where to be today when this dangerous looking creature with his camera was standing above them!

# 36 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#4) Psalm 91 Have you ever felt vulnerable?

Psalm 91 is considered to fall into the category of Psalms of Thanksgiving, but it is quite different to Psalm 30. I seem to have heard many times from missionaries (and others) who have mentioned how God used this psalm to encourage them in their lives at a particularly difficult time. One example was my sister-in-law, Grace, who worked as a medical missionary in Africa for many years. The particular country she served in has often been politically unstable and this occasionally has resulted in civil war. And in the midst of one of these wars, when there was a very real risk of injury or death to missionaries and others, some remained. Grace was one of those who stayed and I remember her relating later how Psalm 91 had been such a comfort to her during those uncertain and dangerous days. Not surprisingly when we spend time considering its content:

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”    (NIV)

So, this psalm raises a question. And that is, have you ever felt vulnerable? I certainly have and have no doubt about you! In fact, that’s ok and life begins that way. The day we leave the relative safety of our mother’s uterus we are incredibly vulnerable to so many possible “enemies”, whether physical (disease, injury, abuse) or spiritual (“spiritual forces of evil.” Eph 6:13). The psalmists understood this vulnerability very well.

Living in the relative safety and peace of Australia ( a “haven” compared to so many unstable nations around the world in these days), it is not always easy to appreciate this aspect of the psalms. But leave Australia for a while and one begins to realize the reality for most people on earth. Having lived in Pakistan for a decade gave me a new understanding of what it means to feel vulnerable. I remember one occasion (and there were a number) driving home with my family and turning a corner only to discover we had driven into a riot of two fighting factions throwing stones at each other. When they saw us, they decided to also include us as one of their “enemies” and some of their rocks starting heading in our direction. Not a comfortable feeling, particularly being in a car with one’s wife and young children. Fortunately we escaped with little damage and no injury on that occasion, praise God.

Matthew Jacoby, in his book on the Psalms, also speaks of this “vulnerability” that people experienced in the days when the Psalms were written. He says, for example, “they lived in constant vulnerability to military invasion and banditry”. Not really much different to many people living in the Middle East in our day. He suggests that “there is a lot that can go wrong in life, and your imagination will no doubt have represented every possible scenario to you. The fear associated with vulnerability is the fear of being overpowered, of losing control. This for any person is the root of all fear.”

But then we come to the Psalms, and Psalm 91 is a perfect example, and there we find something quite incredible, in fact “one of the most remarkable experiences portrayed in the psalms is the experience of invulnerability.” In the psalms this is expressed in the use of a number of words and phrases used of God. For example God is called, “my refuge”, “my fortress”, “my strong tower”, “my hiding place”, “my rock”, just to name a few. The word “refuge” is used 98 times in the Bible and 45 of these are in the psalms.

But as Jacoby suggests, “The psalmists did not feel invulnerable because they believed nothing bad would ever happen to them. Their lack of fear was the result of an act of renunciation.” He continues, “Trusting God is much more than trusting God for something. It is the will to be overpowered by God, to entrust one’s life to God and thereby renounce the right to set the agendas for one’s own life.

By allowing themselves to be overpowered by God, the psalmists put themselves into a bigger picture. They stepped into the purpose of God, which cannot be thwarted. So whatever happened, even if they suffered loss for a time, they did not feel vulnerable or afraid because they recognized that they were in God’s purpose and God was sovereign over their circumstances. The safest place in the world is in the will of God.”

He continues that the psalmist’s, as they walked in the “paths of righteousness”, even if it was through “the valley of the shadow of death” recognized that “they were not in charge, and therefore they weren’t vulnerable. They were encased in God’s purpose, and they knew that was a sure thing.” (see reference # 8)

And so to the wonder of Psalm 91 which has been described as “the most impressive testimony in the Psalter to the strength that springs from trust in God.” (see references #  27)

“You will not fear…” says this poet of old.

# 35 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#3) Psalm 30 – ‘at the heart of what it means to be a Christian’.

In my posts about psalms of thanksgiving so far, I have used the example of Psalm 30 and quoted some verses from that psalm. But, let’s have a good look at the whole psalm, which has so much to teach us. In fact, Longman suggests that, “As we turn to this thanksgiving psalm, we need to realize that we are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It surprises us to realize this. We sometimes think that what makes Christians different from non-Christians [or maybe, so-called ‘athiests’] is that we know that God exists. Certainly that’s crucial, but Romans 1:19-21 teaches us that everyone knows God [“…what may be known about God is plain…For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities  – his eternal power and divine nature – has been clearly seen…so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”].  Strikingly, Paul here tells us that the real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the former gives thanks to God…With this in mind, read this thanksgiving psalm of David.” (see references # 1)

The following is from “The Passion Translation – The Psalms – Poetry on Fire” by Dr Brian Simmons (Broadsheet 2014). If you are interested in this translation go to http://www.thepassiontranslation.com/

Psalm 30

King David’s poetic praise to God

A song for the Feast of Dedication of the dwelling place

1 Lord, I will exalt you and lift you high, For you have lifted me up on high! Over all my boasting, gloating enemies, you made me to triumph. 2 O Lord, my healing God, I cried out for a miracle and you healed me!  3 You brought me back from the brink of death, from the depths below. Now, here I am, alive and well, fully restored! 4 O sing and make melody, you steadfast lovers of God, Give thanks to him every time you reflect on his holiness! 5 I’ve learnt that his anger is short-lived, but his loving favour lasts a lifetime! We may weep through the night, But at daybreak it will turn into shouts of ecstatic joy.  6-7 I remember boasting, “I’ve got it made! Nothing can stop me now!  I’m God’s favoured one; he’s made me steady as a mountain!” But then suddenly, you hid your face from me.  I was panic-stricken and became so depressed. 8 Still I cried out to you, Lord God, I shouted out for mercy, saying: 9 “What would you gain in my death, if I were to go down To the depths of darkness? Will a grave sing your song? How could death’s dust declare your faithfulness?”  10 So hear me now, Lord, show me your famous mercy. O God, be my Saviour and rescue me! 11 Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing  Into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise! He has torn the veil and lifted from me The sad heaviness of mourning. He wrapped me in the glory-garments of gladness. 12 How could I be silent when it’s time to praise you? Now my heart sings out loud, bursting with joy –  A bliss inside that keeps me singing, “I can never thank you enough!”

A remarkably intimate prayer. A friend of mine suggests that reading the Psalms is like reading someone’s personal journal and this psalm is no exception.

Here David commences with praise to God for his miracle of healing (1-3); then exhortation to other ‘steadfast lovers of God’ to also praise the Lord (4-5); followed by a recognition of the foolishness of ‘boasting’ in one’s own abilities (6-7); and a lament to God for him to ‘show…your famous mercy…and rescue me” (8-10) and finally thanksgiving to God for graciously transforming his life from “wailing into…ecstatic praise” (11-12). As previously mentioned, this is a psalm that moves from orientation (6-7a), to dis-orientation (7b-10), to new orientation (11-12).

There is no doubt in this psalm who deserves to receive both the praise and the thanks. It is “the Lord”, Yahweh, the One to whom the psalmist initially credits the following action verbs when he says, “you…lifted me up on high” (1); “you healed me” (2); “you brought me back from…death” (3) and “you brought me…from the depths below” (3). Then later, in verse 11, he again celebrates “the decisive transforming actions of Yahweh” (Brueggemann). He says, you “broke through and transformed” and to Yahweh he concludes, “I can never thank you enough!” (12)

Because we are purposely left in the dark as to the circumstances of the psalmist’s dilemma and just how God delivered him and turned things around, we can make this psalm our own when we find ourselves in a similar situation. May we too recognize God’s “decisive transforming actions” in our lives as we call to him for help, and then when he answers our prayer, do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus, and that is, “give thanks to him” (Romans 1).

# 34 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#2) Divine transformation

‘Transformation’ seems to be the word that describes best what has happened in the lives of the writers of the Psalms of Thanksgiving. Often, the psalmist does not reveal how his situation was transformed, only that it was and that it was God who was the agent of this transformation. This being the reason why he then turns from lament to thanksgiving, from the problem to the resolution, from disorientation to new orientation.

Brueggemann suggests that “Israelite praise characteristically comes out of the depths, out of the Pit from which [he/she] is surprised to come, because the situation seemed unresolvable…[and so] the psalm of thanksgiving…is often a lament recited…from the side of resolution, but with the remembered trouble still quite visible…Israel sings songs of new orientation because the God of Israel is the one who hears and answers expressions of disorientation and resolves [these] experiences of disorientation…[they speak of] the intervening action of God to give life in a world where death seems to have the best and strongest way. The songs are not about the ‘natural’ outcome of trouble, but about the decisive transformation made possible by this God who causes new life where none seems possible.” (see references # 2)

I guess most of us who are followers of Jesus have experienced this in our own lives. I remember one such occasion some years ago when one of our students had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her leg. She was from overseas, in her mid 20’s and had only recently married. The staff and other students prayed together and poured out our hearts to God for his healing touch in her life and for him to transform this situation for his glory. It was a particularly powerful and moving time of prayer for her. The next time she went to the doctor there was no sign of the cancer! Certainly, following this, our conversation with God concerning our young friend turned from “mourning into dancing” and thanksgiving. (Psalm 30:11). We were able to say with David, we “will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted [her] out of the depths…[we] called to you for help, and you healed” her. (Psalm 30:1-2) Together we moved from a place of disorientation to new orientation and there was no doubt it was the result of a “decisive transformation made possible by…God who cause[d] new life where none seem[ed] possible.” Hallelujah!

# 33 Psalms of Thanksgiving (#1) From “wretchedness to joy”!

So, back to the types of Psalms as per Longman’s suggestion that there are “roughly seven basic types”,  these being “the hymn, the lament, the thanksgiving psalm, the psalm of remembrance, the psalm of confidence, the wisdom psalm and the kingship psalm.”

So far we have considered, even if only briefly, the first two. Although, if you have been following my posts you may think that I had a lot to say about the Psalms of Lament. I was tempted to continue but decided to move on. The reason for the time I did spend on these psalms was that I have found them very inspiring and relevant, and maybe as Brueggemann suggests, “because that is the part of the Psalter that has been most neglected in church use.” He also considers that in the present situation we find ourselves in, in the church and in the world around us, “it may be the part of the Psalter that is most helpful, because we live in a society of denial and cover-up, and these psalms provide a way for healing candor.” (see references # 2)

So let’s now consider the third one mentioned, the psalms of thanksgiving. A nice change from lamenting, although, generally, they follow on, and the thanks are usually related to having come through a time of trouble and lament. Brueggemann refers to this as moving from a place of disorientation to new orientation, and I’m sure we have all experienced this at certain times in our lives.

Longman suggests that “the thanksgiving psalm is a response to answered lament…to answered prayer…[and in] thanking the Lord for answered prayer, [the psalmist] bears witness to God’s great work in his life. He even calls on the rest of the congregation to join him in thanking the Lord.” (see references # 1)

Psalm 30 is a good example:

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths…I called to you for help and you healed me…you brought me up from the grave…to the Lord I cried for mercy…You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

In fact, in this psalm, the psalmist’s experience has been that he has moved from orientation – “…I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken’…you favoured me, you made my mountain stand firm.” (vs 6-7); to disorientation – “but when you hid your face, I was dismayed…to the Lord I cried for mercy…O, Lord, be my help.” (vs 7,8,10); and finally to new orientation – “You turned my wailing into dancing…I will give you thanks forever.” (vs 11,12).

I get the feeling that there have been times in all our lives when we could identify with this psalmist. In fact, I am presently somewhere between disorientation and new orientation. At least, at this time in my life anyway, I am heading in the right direction! The reason for this in my life is related primarily to the changes that are happening all around me where I serve in ministry. We have recently gone from a College fully accredited and soon to celebrate 60 years of training and ministry, to finding ourselves no longer able to operate in the way that has proved effective over this last decade. It’s time for a change, but a change that is inevitable (i.e. not what we would have chosen to do at this stage in our history). Yet, we have seen that God has provided the right people to enable that change, and we are moving on, but we are not there yet. There are still some hurdles to leap over before we reach the finish line. But, we sense God’s leading us on into new and good things, and as we depend on Him, we will undoubtedly be saying in the near future that He “turned our wailing into dancing…and clothed us with joy.” And to Him we will give all the thanks and praise. He is an awesome Father.

It is an interesting thing about life with God, and that is, as I have said many times, ‘He is full of surprises!’ And in these psalms of new orientation, they “regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected”, as Brueggemann puts it. The reality is, life and the psalmist are never the same again. Have you found that? Each time we have a situation in life when things have been difficult and we have lamented before God and then he has surprised us with provision of grace abundant to meet our needs, we grow a bit more, mature a bit more, are transformed a bit more into the person God desires us to be. That is the way it is supposed to be, if we cooperate with the Spirt at work in our lives.

In the words of Brueggemann, “That new orientation is not a return to the old stable orientation, for there is no such going back. The psalmists know that we can never go home again. Once there has been an exchange of candor, as there is here between Yahweh and Israel, there is no return to the precandor situation.”

So, the thanksgiving psalms move from “wretchedness to joy”, from the problem to “the resolution, culminating in praise and thanksgiving.” Although at times, we are not told what the resolution was or even how it occurred, only that it was “wrought by the inscrutable power and goodness of God.” And so the psalmist testifies in amazement and gratitude, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.” (see references # 2)