Suffering and Psalm 63

If you are suffering today, or this week, or this year, and you haven’t spent time in Psalm 63 recently, I encourage you to do it! David’s words are refreshingly realistic and filled with hope and God-centered joy in the midst of dryness and weariness. On the Desiring God website, staff writer Marshall Segal has written a helpful meditation upon this psalm entitled, “The Joy We Know Only in Suffering.” Make use of it as you walk through the wildernesses. God is present even there, and our longing for Him demonstrates how satisfying He is.

Thanks to ruling elder Adam Adcock for recommending this article.

Reflections on the Psalms

In preparation for our recent concert on the Psalms, I asked the members of the choir to write down which Psalm is their favorite and why. Their comments were so encouraging that I thought you all would like the opportunity to read some of them.  The choir as a whole was blessed in our preparation for the concert as we sang the words of Psalms 98, 121, 23, 130, 51and 84 over and over again each week. Familiarity brought warmth and life to the words as they increasingly became a part of us.  We encountered the joy of praising the Lord with His own words, the deep wells of lament, the brokenness of repentance, and we were renewed in our confidence in the Lord of Hosts, our Shepherd, our Refuge, our Helper and Keeper. Here are some thoughts on particular Psalms.  Which Psalm is your favorite?                                        

Psalm 1
Debbie Barnes

Psalm 1 has probably been my favorite psalm since college.  I have enjoyed singing it in church, over the years, as the familiar words are always new and refreshing to me. In the Psalm, the writer contrasts the righteous and the wicked.  He gives us two vivid examples to ponder.  I was reminded of these verses recently when we were in the country.  Standing in a field, I plucked a head of wheat to see what the seeds looked like. No sooner than I had it in my hand, the chaff started blowing in all directions.   Immediately, I thought of this verse – “But they (the wicked) are like chaff which the wind blows away”. (v.4)  Then, as I looked at the trees around me, I was reminded of this verse: “He (the righteous) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (V.3) In summary, “The way of the wicked will perish,” (v.6), “But blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (v. 1&2) In Neil’s wedding band are inscribed in two words – Psalm One.

Psalm 51
Christy Walker

Psalm 51 has always been special to me.  Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba and how God sent Nathan to bring David to repentance.  Well, I have my own “Nathan” in my life.  My sophomore year at MSU, I was going through some very difficult times, slipping into depression and wanting to control areas that I couldn’t control.  That spring, I sat down in my new history class and recognized a girl that had also been in my previous semester’s class.  One day this girl said, “I think you live by me.”  You may be thinking that this would be common on a university campus.  However, no one could see my apartment from the road.  You literally had to know that the apartment existed to say you knew where I lived.  What evolved from that statement was a friendship.  What came from that friendship was an invitation to RUF where I heard the Gospel for the first time.  I had “graced” the pews of a church my entire life (Free Will Baptist) but I didn’t know Christ.  I don’t know how long after I started attending RUF that I had the “infamous” Brian Habig (RUF campus minister) talk.  He had a gift for really getting to the heart of the issue.  I remember sitting in the middle of the university bakery with tears streaming down my face. There I realized that I didn’t need the world or society to define who I was or where my hope/freedom should be; only through Christ could I find true freedom and security.  This was the turning point in my life. Today, as I reflect, I am amazed to think about how our Sovereign God literally placed Amy in two of my classes at such a precise moment in my life, how I just “happened” to start renting an apartment from the Eshee family, and how Amy literally lived right around the corner from me. All these details are not by chance.  I also can’t help but be in awe that when so many in my family are unbelievers, God chose me!!!!  Amy is my “Nathan” and I pray that one day I may be someone else’s “Nathan.”

Psalm 88
Mary Hope Bryant

Psalm 88 is an unusual “favorite psalm” because it is kind of depressing, but that is why I love it. The speaker, though he is a believer, feels lonely, abandoned by his friends, guilty, overwhelmed, and even assaulted by God. He sees no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope to ease his suffering. In fact, the psalm ends by saying, “You (God) have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; darkness is my only companion.” He knows God is gracious, wonderful, wise, etc. He is aware of the fact that God is a source of comfort and mercy to the troubled. But his experience is the opposite. And yet - God could put that believer’s experience in Scripture because, despite what the speaker felt at that moment (however long that moment was), God had guaranteed hope for him in Jesus Christ. I am thankful for this honest, despairing believer’s song, because I have had periods in my life in which I was not cognizant of God’s grace and care, and in which I felt incapable of escaping my own sin. This psalm reassures me that those experiences do not change God’s great love for me or his salvation of my soul. Instead, in ways beyond my understanding, they are actually part of his gracious provision, and no amount of weakness on my part can change the fact that he loves me and has redeemed my soul for his eternal kingdom.

 Psalm 23
Jackie Shelt

Many entire books have been written about the beauty and truth of Psalm 23 so speaking about it in 2-3 minutes is like having a quarter of one of those little Sam's quiches and calling it an appetizer.  But here is a taste for you to meditate on and consider later.  Psalm 23 is my favorite Psalm not just because it is true, beautiful, and comforting.  It is all those things. But even more because in six short and beautifully crafted verses it encompasses the entire gospel and the entire Christian life.  It speaks of the shepherd meeting my deepest need:  soul restoration--which Christ purchased for me by walking through the Valley of the Shadow of death.  It speaks of the shepherd's work in my sanctification, leading me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his great name and glory.  It speaks of the glorious ending--which is the real beginning--dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.  Consider too the position and presence of our good shepherd, Immanuel:  leading us in paths of righteousness, with us in the Valley of the Shadow, pursuing us with his goodness and mercy, and ultimately allowing us redeemed sinners to sit at his victorious banquet table in the presence of His and our enemies, declaring for all eternity:  "She's with me."   In my own wobbly and storm-tossed journey to the Celestial City, God has used these magnificent words which signify wonderful solid realities to lead, keep, pursue, strengthen, comfort, discipline, and rescue me.  

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John Calvin on the Beauty and Advantages of the Psalms

We are beginning a new Sunday evening sermon series on some selected Psalms this coming Lord's Day. In my preparation this week for the introductory sermon, I read again John Calvin's preface to his commentary on the Psalms. I encourage you to read it for yourself, so that you might be spurred on to spend more time in God's hymnal:

The varied and resplendent riches which are contained in this treasure it is no easy matter to express in words; so much so, that I well know that whatever I shall be able to say will be far from approaching the excellence of the subject. But as it is better to give my readers some taste, however small, of the wonderful advantages they will derive from the study of this book, than to be entirely silent on the point, I may be permitted briefly to advert to a matter, the greatness of which does not admit of being fully unfolded.

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, "An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;" for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the man vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.

Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds. Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts.

In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others - that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities, which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

Besides, there is also here prescribed to us an infallible rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odor. There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the father providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendor of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.

Moreover, although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross; and the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him. In one word, not only will we here find general commendations of the goodness of God, which may teach men to repose themselves in him alone, and to seek all their happiness solely in him; and which are intended to teach true believers with their whole hearts confidently to look to him for help in all their necessities; but we will also find that the free remission of sins, which alone reconciles God towards us, and procures for us settled peace with him, is so set forth and magnified, as that here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation.