Perspective Matters (Psalm 34:1-8)

Psalm 34:1-3 confesses and encourages a buoyant life of grateful praise. In this God-crediting life we are bowing down before God in worship at all times and on all occasions. Our mouths continually express adoring appreciation to God. We are giving God credit for everything we have and everything we are. We cannot keep this life of grateful praise to ourselves; in fact our God-boasting is so compelling that broken people around us are drawn in and positively affected. We are magnifying God so noticeably that our God-magnification invites others to join us. We are lifting God up so irrepressibly that our God-exaltation invites others to join us.

WOW! The Psalmist sets the bar so high that it feels like pole-vaulting praise, doesn’t it? Carla follows a Twitter account called #ThoughtsOfDog. The account tries to capture in 280 characters what dogs might tweet if they could. One such tweet says, “Sometimes you have to spin in circles to appreciate all that’s around you.” Psalm 34 seems like that, doesn’t it?

But…

According to the superscription, David wrote these soaring words IN A CAVE!!! He was probably at the lowest point in his young life. King Saul was after him – again. David had wiped out many of Saul’s enemies but in doing so David had become more popular than Saul (we’ll call that oops #1). Insecure monarchs are easily threatened and they prioritize the decisive elimination of those threats. David had the advantage of being chased by a king who was a lousy aim with a spear. However, Saul was maniacally relentless, so much so that David and his friends were cornered and had to take refuge in Gath, which was Goliath’s hometown (we’ll call that oops #2). The Gathians didn’t want their giant’s killer living among them and they complained to their leader, King Achish (he is called Abimelech in the superscription). To save his skin, Goliath’s killer pretended he was insane, and he was so convincing that Achish told his people to chase Goliath’s drooling and pathetic killer out of Gath – he wasn’t worth the energy it would take to kill him.

Talk about a reversal of fortunes! David had gone from being Israel’s rising star to being a humiliated fugitive hunkered down with his buddies in the slimy confines of a cave. In such circumstances would you and I be lost in grateful praise to God? It’s important to understand that the context for a life of grateful praise is the triumphant internal movement of God’s Spirit in the midst of suffering. Perspective matters, and we always get to choose what perspective we take. Let’s keep perspective in mind as we read Psalm 34:4-8. In these verses, I have enclosed the Hebrew meaning of certain words in parentheses. David is taking us on a guided tour of the context for a life of grateful praise. The contexts are terror, shame, desperation, and vulnerability.

v.4) I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me (snatched me) from all my fears (haunts, terrors). Perspective matters when we are TERRIFIED or HAUNTED. David had ample reasons for both. God delivers our souls from terror and dread. 1st John 4:18 promises us that perfect love casts out fear. God in Christ loves the terror out of us, directly and through our relationships in the community of faith.

v.5) Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. Perspective matters when we are ASHAMED. David was shamed in Gath. If we are ashamed, it usually means somewhere back there in our history we have been shamed. But when we have been shamed, it does not mean we have to be ashamed. Being ashamed is a choice that quickly sets in as a malignant identity. According to this verse, faces are instrumental in recovery from shame. In the Hebrew Scriptures, relationship with God frequently plays out in some form of pre-technology facetime. God can and does heal our souls from shame, but these days God’s actual face is largely invisible. Our faces, however, are highly visible. Never underestimate what faces can do! God can use our faces to communicate divine love and grace. What if God heals shame through our facetime with each other? When I look into your eyes and I see the warmth of acceptance based on the love of Christ, there is in that look an invitation for me to “look into” the face of God and discover that there is no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  

v.6) This poor soul (desperately) cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. Perspective matters when we are DESPERATE. David was desperate. But did God really save David from every trouble? Does God really save us from EVERY trouble? Join me in pumping the brakes here, because on the surface we know God does not save us from every trouble. So what gives? Biblically speaking God does not promise to take care of the outside of us in the same way God promises to take care of the inside of us. People of faith still become sick, still have accidents, and still suffer the cruel sucker punches that are inevitable in a fallen world. People of faith still face death, not to mention whatever injury or health breakdown precedes death. God delivers our souls from the bigger trouble of desperation so that we become more than conquerors, sometimes in the ominous thick of the same difficulty that is making us desperate (Romans 8:28-39).

v.7) The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him (those who relate to God with reverent love), and delivers them. Perspective matters when we are VULNERABLE. I can only imagine how vulnerable David felt. God comes around us and brings to our souls a sense of secure peace that this world cannot take from us, and once again God does this in part through human relationships. Sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures the angel of the Lord is exactly that – an angel. At other times, however, the angel of the Lord is a manifestation of God in the Person of the preincarnate Christ. Psalm 34:7 promises us that God shows up in our vulnerabilities and delivers us by holding us through.

v.8) O taste (judge) and see (by experience) that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in (hide in) him. A God-crediting life starts here, where we choose the goodness of God. We decide God is good WHILE WE ARE STILL IN THE CAVE! Perspective matters.

Recently I noticed a wall plaque that contains the popular expression, “It’s all good.” I’ve used the expression before. It can be a positive affirmation, but we also use it to counter the reality that it’s NOT all good. Life can be bad. Life can stink. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” is not a form of denial or a way to blunt the edges of suffering. When it is not all good, but we can still affirm that God is good, the cave becomes a holy place.

Sometimes God demonstrates divine goodness by eliminating our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. Most of the time God demonstrates divine goodness by being present in us more deeply than our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. In either scenario, and in all of the scenarios between those two extremes, God is good.

Verses 7 and 8 belong together. Verse 7 says God holds us. Our affirmation that God is good motivates us to take refuge, which means we want to be held by the One holding us, like an upset baby who while crying eventually relaxes into mom’s strong and warm embrace and becomes calm. In this state of being we enter a God crediting life, which loops us back into verses 1-3.

I don’t think David and his buddies were throwing a pity party in the cave. I think they were worshiping. It reminds me of Paul and Silas singing praise songs in a Philippian jail after the city officials had them stripped naked and severely beaten with rods because Paul and Silas had cooperated with the Lord Jesus in delivering a young girl from demons and depriving the economy of the girl’s “entertaining” ways. Oh – the jail where Paul and Silas were chained and bleeding on the floor was a cave the Romans had converted to a jail.

David’s faith friends were right there with him in the cave. Nothing in Psalm 34 is individualistic. God calls us to be in this Christ-following life together, no matter where it takes us. Paul’s admonition to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) tells us the most powerful gift we can offer one another is the gift of our facetime willingness to keep company with each other in life’s existential caves. Our companionship with one another in those caves can become the way we start discovering God’s goodness.

In 1st Peter, Simon Peter comes alongside David when he says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1st Peter 2:2-3) In this passage the Lord is the second member of the trinity, Jesus Christ. We know Jesus is good because He atoned for our sins on the cross and three days later busted out of…a cave.

Are you in a cave? What is the name of your cave? Taking Psalm 34 to heart – when we are in a cave the most significant battle may be the battle to keep the cave out of us. How? We taste and see that the Lord is good. How do you know God is good? Go on a spiritual treasure hunt. Where are the signs of God’s goodness in your life these days? Take notes. Ask around. Choose God’s goodness. That choice can transform your perspective, whether you are in the cave, out of the cave, or trying to not cave in.

Can it be this simple? There is one way to find out, and I believe the goodness of God is a decent place to start.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)  

 

Guitar Picks and Flexible Gratitude (Psalm 34:1-3)

Due to nerve damage I sustained in a January 2015 automobile accident, I lost the ability to play guitar with a pick. I’ve adapted to playing nylon string guitar with my fingers.

During the past 3½ years I have occasionally visited guitar stores, purchased all kinds of guitar picks, and tried again to play that way, to no avail. I can’t feel the pick, so it falls to the floor. A couple of Fridays ago I tried one more time. I stopped at one of my favorite musical instrument stores. This time I saw a kind of pick I had not come across before. In fact, Rob at Music Gear told me these picks are no longer made. The wide end of the pick is rough so that you can hold on better, but plenty of picks have rough edges. This pick has a little scooped out indentation for the thumb. I tried it in my hand and it stayed! I bought the last two they had.

I was very thankful to God that I had found these picks! I was thinking that maybe now I could return to playing steel string acoustic guitar which would give me more versatility and enable our band to get back together. I showed Carla the picks as soon as she got home. I sat down and started playing. Sure enough, the pick didn’t sail across the room or fall out of my hand. But the loss of sensation in my fingertips and thumb prevented me from keeping the pick where it needed to be, even though I had found one I could hold. I tried and tried that evening, but eventually I realized no amount of practice would change the reality that I could not control the pick anymore. I was disappointed but I realized my little adventure answered once-and-for-all the question about playing guitar with a pick. Once that realization sank in I was very thankful to God for what I had learned, because now I can exclusively concentrate on the way I AM able to play guitar. I’m actually quite excited.

Does it seem to you that the first gratitude should have canceled out the second gratitude? I mean, how can I be thankful for both of those developments? For me, there is no contradiction, because it was never about the picks or my hands. It was always about my heart. With God, everything becomes an inside job.

David begins Psalm 34 by saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together!” (Psalm 34:1-3) The apostle Paul declares something very similar. In Ephesians 5:20 Paul says, “And give thanks for everything to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1st Thessalonians Paul says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

On that Friday my heart won twice, because I chose to be grateful twice. A life that gives credit to God is a life that can flex and breathe.

What do Psalm 34:1-3, Ephesians 5:20, and 1st Thessalonians 5:18 say to you about gratitude? How do these passages stretch you in your life of faith?

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

Here is our YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA/featured

 

Psalm 34:3 and Real Estate

In Psalm 34:3 David issues this invitation: “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.” In Hebrew, “magnify” means “to enlarge, boost, or glorify.”

Lately I have been picturing our minds as neighborhoods full of For Sale signs. Whatever dominates our thought life buys up real estate. Magnified thoughts buy up real estate. For those among us who tend to obsess, a recurring thought pattern can monopolize the neighborhood.

Think of your favorite food. Imagine eating as much of it as you want. How’s the mental real estate going for you now? I’ll be here when you return from your snack.

Bitterness, shame, guilt, rage, anxiety, discouragement, eroticism – these are a few examples of toxic thought patterns that buy up the property between our ears. The larger problem materializes when they move in with all of their stuff! Those obsessive thoughts are no longer just thoughts – they are now feelings and choices. The neighborhood rapidly deteriorates into a reflection of the new owner’s values.

There are times when some form of therapy and/or medication is necessary. I rejoice that they exist! Where I am going next in no way diminishes the value of the medical community when we need help. Cognitive process therapy or thought field therapy are two of many ways we can upgrade our self-talk with some specialized support.

What if we can choose what we magnify in our minds? When we magnify a problem, we sign over to that problem an enormous amount of mental real estate, and the problem takes over. When we magnify God’s character and God’s promises, we sign over to God an enormous amount of mental real estate, and God takes over. Worship accesses the One Who made us and knows how we function best.

Worship works for my one-track mind like gangbusters. As a personal discipline it has become more of a delight than a discipline – my “ought-to” has become my “want-to.” And I have come to crave glorifying God in worship with other Christ-followers, in a variety of styles and settings. My mental health has never been better. I became sick and tired of signing my mind over to a revolting succession of tycoons and slumlords, and I started giving the Developer more attention, letting the crucified and risen Christ restore the neighborhood into a reflection of the rightful Owner’s values and heart.

“Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.”

How does this “worship therapy” work for you? You can reach me at rickjordankcmo@gmail.com.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)

Thanking Up (Psalm 100)

“Thanking Up” (Psalm 100)

The year Carla and I got married, we registered for stoneware place settings (matching plates, bowls, etc). That was 1979, and yes people ate off of plates back then. A few mornings ago I reached into a cabinet for a medium size plate. It touched something on the way out and exploded into shards, covering my hands with cuts. In that moment I learned that, after nearly four decades, stoneware becomes brittle. I was grabbing little pieces of plate before the dog walked on the floor while bleeding on the floor at the same time because multi-tasking has always been second nature to me.

Later that day I was scheduled to play guitar and sing in a church setting. As I examined my hands I realized every cut was located in an area of my hands that wouldn’t impede my ability to play guitar. I immediately thanked God.

Here’s where the slope becomes slippery for people who apply faith to life. Was God involved in that early morning kitchen episode? If so, in what way? Did God guide those jagged airborne pieces of plate so that they would only cut me where the damage couldn’t hinder my guitar playing? If so, what about all of the other faith-living people around the world who suffered cuts at around the same time? How many of them wound up in emergency rooms with serious injuries?

I am not among those who would insist God favorably directed the pieces of plate that morning, although I am definitely among those who believe God is capable of that and much more. Thanking God that morning was not about my fortuitously sliced hands; it was about my heart. Gratitude epitomizes who I aspire to be in Christ. Gratitude elevates my perspective and, ironically, strengthens my faith. I cannot explain where faith ends and gratitude begins any more than I can explain where the egg yolk ends and the egg white begins in scrambled eggs. I just know it works when I work it.

Psalm 100 animatedly describes this life of gratitude and praise. 




Lift up a great shout of joy to the Lord!

Go ahead and do it—everyone, everywhere!

As you serve him, be glad and worship him.

Sing your way into his presence with joy!

And realize what this really means—

we have the privilege of worshiping the Lord our God.

For he is our Creator and we belong to him.

We are the people of his pleasure.

You can pass through his open gates with the password of praise.

Come right into his presence with thanksgiving.

Come bring your thank offering to him

and affectionately bless his beautiful name!

For the Lord is always good and ready to receive you.

He’s so loving that it will amaze you—

so kind that it will astound you!

And he is famous for his faithfulness toward all.

Everyone knows our God can be trusted,

for he keeps his promises to every generation!

(The Passion Translation)



Psalm 100 is about, among other things, thanking up. When I thank up I am not practicing superstitious or presumptuous faith. I am putting into practice a Biblical command and I am following the example of Jesus. When I thank up, I am recognizing that everything comes from God and exists by God’s power and is intended for God’s glory (Romans 11:36). When I thank up, I am being true to my belief, reinforced by my experience, that God in Christ is over all and in all and through all (Ephesians 4:6). When I thank up, that vertical momentum pulls my head out of my flawed thought life (and out of other places). When I thank up, I allow God to deliver me, once again, from my narcissistic inclinations. When I thank up, it simplifies my hopelessly complicated inner life. When I thank up, I am more in alignment with who I am and Who God is.

Singing and playing guitar later that day in a worshiping community, I didn’t explain the bandages; I was too busy worshiping.

Keep Psalm 100 close to you for a week, and let it induce you to thank up. Monitor the effect it has on you, how it changes your heart. I hope you find, like I have, that it makes you measurably and sustainably better.

Oh - and be careful with old stoneware.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan

www.rickcarlajordan.com