Monday, July 6, 2015

With a Psalm in My Heart

Psalm 146
You may remember a couple of years ago I went to a cousin’s reunion in Texas.  Now it had been a while since we were all together and so you can imagine the yakking that went on.  We compared memories about our folks, we compared family medical histories now that we are old, and we talked about our children. 

One of my cousins had lost her daughter a few months before.  She shared with us her journey of living through such a sad experience, her loss, and her faith, how her husband and family were such amazing support, and then she said, “But you know, I was born with the happy gene”.  And so she continued to give God thanks and praise for her life and her other children.

That’s when I realized that the ‘happy gene’ was such a thing and that I was born with the happy gene too and a couple of other cousins had it as well.  That’s not to say that life is always good, or that we laugh off serious situations, no!  When awful things happen we manage to come through with a certain joy in knowing that life is good and Godly and so we can give praise to God in all circumstances of our life.  Bitterness doesn’t set in; we can still sing the song of our hearts.

Today we finish the series we’ve been pursuing entitled, ‘With a Psalm in My Heart’.  The series of six Psalms began with a Psalm of praise and it ends with a Psalm of praise.  And in fact Psalm 146 through the end of the Psalter which is the Book of Psalms all 150, are praise Psalms beginning with the same phrase, “Praise the Lord” which in Hebrew is Hallel or Hallelujah!

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Let’s have a quick look at what this Psalm is saying and its structure before we glean understanding of it’s meaning for your life.  The Psalmist begins by giving God all the praise, for every detail, every circumstance he pledges to praise God throughout his entire life.  He praises God because he puts his ultimate trust that God will always be there for him.  He cautions us not put our trust in human emperors or worldly ways because they will eventually crumble and their shards will blow away in the wind.  But not God!

You will be happy, he says, if you believe in God, the creator of humankind and the architect of justice, because food for the hungry, freed prisoners, and sight for the blind all bring healing, hope and renewal.  God will look kindly upon those who are suffering or alienated and because of that the Psalmist will praise God all his days.  Or, very simply put, the Psalmist offers praise, a word of caution; the might works of God and then praise again.

I think the Psalmist knows a few things about life.  That life can, and does get pretty raunchy at times, that tragedy strikes just as quickly as anything else can but that life gets better, and is better when you allow for God to be a part of it and to remember that God really is in the details, the crevices, cracks, and crags and the minutia of your life. And my friends, that’s where we spend a whole lot of our time.  And yet ‘sing’ the Psalmist says, sing to God like there is no tomorrow.  Sing as lovely and as happily as the birds of the morning.  Just sing a song of praise. 

Only four days after the horrific shooting in Mother Emmanuel AME church in South Carolina the faithful congregation gathered for worship.  And from what I understand it was not a solemn worship service.  African American worship is anything but somber; it is a very exuberant expression of profound joy and love for the Lord.  Israel sings in the face of powerful rulers and in exile and that’s why the Psalmist belts out praise.  Paul and Silas were in Philippi telling folks about Jesus and they were beaten and thrown in jail. Did they fret?  No!  They didn’t get angry, they sang and the other prisoners listened to them.  Would you?  Could you do the same?  It’s been said that to praise God is to live and to live is to praise God. 

There is one line in Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” that I’ve always loved. “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”  Be joyful yes, of course when life is really, really good, but also be joy filled when the facts of life weigh you down.

When you can do that your vision is cast in a different light.  You can know that there is hope even though you can’t really see it yet.  You can trust in the promise of Jesus Christ even when you don’t know what the next step will bring you.  

Being born with the happy gene, or developing the gene helps you to keep within your psyche and heart the ultimate hope that the end of heartbreak will come just as day follows night.  And this is why we should always praise the Lord.  Praise God from whom ALL of our blessings flow.

I pray that you will take these Psalms that we have looked at in the last few weeks and keep them in your heart.  They are songs of love to God about our brokenness and our joy, they express our inward most thoughts and desires and ultimately they help us to find our way in life.  And isn’t that what we all want?


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