Lord’s Day 47: Always Honored and Praised

Catechism and Psalter

Perhaps it’s just because of the archaic language, but “Hallowed be thy name” has always seemed to me the most cryptic line out of the Lord’s Prayer.  In everyday terms, what does it mean for the Christian to hallow God’s Name—that is, to keep it holy?  In one concise question and answer, Lord’s Day 47 of the Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the ramifications of this request.  Today we’ll consider this Lord’s Day in our ongoing URC Psalmody series.

122 Q.  What does the first request mean?

A.  Hallowed be thy name means,

Help us to really know you,
to bless, worship, and praise you
for all your works
and for all that shines forth from them:
your almighty power, wisdom, kindness,
justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means,

Help us to direct all our living—
what we think, say, and do—
so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us
but always honored and praised.

Suggested Songs

280, “O Bless Our God with One Accord” (Psalm 134)

“Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them.”  The attitude described in this petition is one of wholehearted praise and devotion.  Such a picture is captured wonderfully in the three verses of Psalm 134, which begins, “Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD!”  A fitting tune to pair with this exultant text is found in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O bless our God with one accord,
Ye faithful servants of the Lord,
Who in His house do stand by night;
And praise Him there with all your might.

Lift up your hands, in prayer draw nigh
Unto His sanctuary high;
Bless ye the Lord, kneel at His feet,
And worship Him with reverence meet.

194, “Jehovah Reigns in Majesty” (Psalm 99)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, Michigan and by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“For all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.”  Psalm 99 is a particularly appropriate selection for this Lord’s Day, praising God for each of these attributes while repeating the refrain, “Holy is he!”  Although it takes some poetic liberties, the Psalter Hymnal paraphrase adequately renders this verse-refrain structure:

Jehovah reigns in majesty,
Let all the nations quake;
He dwells between the cherubim,
Let earth’s foundations shake.
Supreme in Zion is the Lord,
Exalted gloriously;
Ye nations, praise His Name with awe,
The Holy One is He.

The mighty King loves justice well,
And equity ordains;
He rules His people righteously
And faithfulness maintains.
O magnify the Lord our God
Let Him exalted be;
In worship at His footstool bow,
The Holy One is He.

When priests and prophets called on God,
He their petitions heard;
His cloudy pillar led them on,
And they obeyed His Word.
Though sending judgments for their sins,
He pardoned graciously;
Exalt the Lord and worship Him,
The Holy One is He.

92, “The Mighty God, Jehovah, Speaks” (Psalm 50)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, Ontario)

“Help us to direct all our living…so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.”  Psalm 50 reminds us of our place before this holy God: he needs none of our worship, yet he desires it from sincere hearts.  As we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we express our grateful desire to see the name of the Lord exalted above every other.

The mighty God, Jehovah, speaks
And calls the earth from sea to sea;
From beauteous Zion God shines forth,
He comes and will not silent be;
Devouring flame before Him goes,
And dark the tempest round Him grows.

He calls aloud to heaven and earth
That He may justly judge His own:
My chosen saints together bring
Who sacrifice to Me alone;
The heavens His righteousness declare,
For God Himself as Judge is there.

Behold, if I should hungry grow,
I would not tell My need to thee,
For all the world itself is Mine,
And all its wealth belongs to Me;
Why should I aught of thee receive,
My thirst or hunger to relieve?

Bring thou to God the gift of thanks,
And pay thy vows to God Most High;
Call ye upon My holy Name
In days when sore distress is nigh;
Deliverance I will send to thee,
And praises thou shalt give to Me.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 46: Childlike Awe

Catechism and Psalter

Lord’s Day 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism introduced us to the topic of prayer, which comprises the last section of this confession.  Prayer is, as question and answer 106 says, “the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us,” and thus plays an essential part in the believer’s ongoing sanctification.  Today’s excerpt in our URC Psalmody series, Lord’s Day 46, examines the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

120 Q.  Why did Christ command us to call God, “Our Father”?

A.  At the very beginning of our prayer
Christ wants to kindle in us
what is basic to our prayer—
the childlike awe and trust
that God through Christ has become
our Father.

Our fathers do not refuse us
the things of this life;
God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.

121 Q.  Why the words, “Who art in heaven”?

A.  These words teach us
not to think of God’s heavenly majesty
as something earthly,
and to expect everything
for body and soul
from his almighty power.

Suggested Songs

204, “O Come, My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord Thy Maker” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at a Reformed Youth Services convention)

“Christ wants to kindle in us…the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father.”  To the rest of mankind God is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and an avenger of wickedness, but we Christians name him as “Our Father.”  The magnitude of this privilege, the fact that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14), far surpasses our comprehension.  We can only respond in the beloved words of the psalmist, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).  Below is the text of a familiar blue Psalter Hymnal setting:

O come, my soul, bless thou the Lord thy Maker,
And all within me, bless His holy Name;
Bless thou the Lord, forget not all His mercies,
His pardoning grace and saving love proclaim.

Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion,
Most slow to anger, plenteous in love;
Rich is His grace to all that humbly seek Him,
Boundless and endless as the heavens above.

His love is like a father’s to his children,
Tender and kind to all who fear His Name;
For well He knows our weakness and our frailty,
He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.

We fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty,
Like tender grass that soon will disappear;
But evermore the love of God is changeless,
Still shown to those who look to Him in fear.

High in the heavens His throne is fixed forever,
His kingdom rules o’er all from pole to pole;
Bless ye the Lord through all His wide dominion,
Bless His most holy Name, O thou my soul.

Bless Him, ye angels, wondrous in might!
Bless Him, His servants, that in His will delight!

261, “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains” (Psalm 121)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.”  Another awe-inspiring image in Scripture, particularly in Psalm 121, is that of God as “the Keeper of Israel.”  He is the one who keeps our very lives (v. 7), and we cannot doubt that he will provide whatever else we need for body and soul—especially when we request it in faith.

The Keeper of Israel guards thee
And keeps thee in pathways of right;
He circles His canopy round thee
For shelter by day and by night.

Jehovah will keep thee from evil,
Thy coming and going He knows;
Thy soul He preserves unimperiled;
Look thou to the hills for repose.

181, “Jehovah Sits Enthroned” (Psalm 93)

(Recorded on organ)

“These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly.”  Even though God is our Father through Christ, he still “dwells in unapproachable light” (II Tim. 6:16).  Psalm 93 reminds us how holy our God is, and how holy his servants must be.  Of course, Jesus Christ was the ultimate Suffering Servant, the one who satisfied this demand of perfection and opened up the way for us to have access to the Father.

Jehovah sits enthroned
In majesty most bright,
Appareled in omnipotence,
And girded round with might.

The world established stands
On its foundations broad;
His throne is fixed, He reigns supreme,
The everlasting God.

Thy testimonies, Lord,
In faithfulness excel,
And holy must Thy servants be
Who in Thy temple dwell.

231, “Praise Jehovah, All Ye Nations” (Psalm 117)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

These words also teach us “to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.”  The shortest song in the Psalter also packs the most powerful punch, exhorting all the nations to praise God for his unchanging faithfulness.  The teaching of the Lord’s Prayer leaves us with no excuse not to do the same!

Praise Jehovah, all ye nations,
All ye people, praise proclaim;
For His grace and lovingkindness
O sing praises to His Name.
For the greatness of His mercy
Constant praise to Him accord;
Evermore His truth endureth;
Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

–MRK

A Shape-Note Sampling

Greetings, readers.  It’s been more than a month since my last post, and much has been transpiring in my second semester here at Geneva College.  I’m continuing on as a communications major and preparing to add a music minor; I’ve picked up an apparently permanent job as “staff accompanist” for several of Geneva’s voice majors; and just two weeks ago I was touring Ohio with the college choir, The Genevans, singing a concert of a cappella psalms in various churches.  For a psalm-singing nerd, that’s pretty close to heaven (and I hope to share more about it at some point).

Today, however, I just participated in a very unique experience from a rather different part of the church music spectrum: Sacred Harp singing.  This old American tradition is often called “shape-note singing” because its hymnals assign their noteheads four different shapes to aid non-musical singers in picking up the complex four-part harmonies.  The first verse of every song is sung in a simplified form of solfeggio with the syllables “fa,” “so,” “la,” and “mi.”  After that the words are sung—always with a strong rhythm and as much gusto as possible.

Sacred Harp setting of

Sacred Harp setting of “Amazing Grace”

Featured Recording

The biggest contributor to the texts in the songbook we were using today was Isaac Watts, whose hymns and psalm paraphrases have had a tremendous impact on American hymnody.  While I’m not a huge fan of Watts’s attempts to “Christianize the psalms” by turning them into loose paraphrases, it was nice to find so many connections in our singing today to texts I already know and love from the Psalter.  Below is our group singing a Watts setting of a portion of Psalm 65:

What made this hymn-sing such an unusual experience, however, was its undenominational character.  Perhaps even “undenominational” is an understatement, since this event attracted many participants who love shape-note singing simply because of its cultural and communal ties, not because they have any religious attachment to the words they sing.  One man I had lunch with, who views himself as undeclared with regard to religion, views many of the song lyrics as “hair-raising.”

On one hand, the thought of self-declared nonbelievers singing these psalms and hymns is a little jarring.  It’s unsettling because it forces me to ask: Do I really believe everything I’m singing?  Am I still being nourished by the content of worship, or have I become hopelessly preoccupied with its form?  Has church music in total become nothing more than a quaint set of styles and traditions?

So, in that respect, this shape-note singing experience served to me as a sober reminder that God delights not in hollow worship but rather in broken hearts (Psalm 51:17).  On the other hand, however, it also struck me that these words—even if sung by unbelieving hearts—continue to attest to the glory of God.  And as we sang, “‘Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand, God of eternal power,” I found myself rejoicing, for the day is approaching when all flesh shall come to the One who alone hears prayer (Psalm 65:2).

–MRK

More selections from this hymn-sing:

Lord’s Day 45: The Most Important Part

Catechism and Psalter

Today in URC Psalmody’s series we enter the last section of the Heidelberg Catechism, which provides a comprehensive devotional model based on the Lord’s Prayer.  Lord’s Day 45 begins by explaining why Christians are called to pray—and more than that, why they need to pray.

116 Q.  Why do Christians need to pray?

A.  Because prayer is the most important part
of the thankfulness God requires of us.
And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit
only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly,
asking God for these gifts
and thanking him for them.

117 Q.  How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?

A.  First, we must pray from the heart
to no other than the one true God,
who has revealed himself in his Word,
asking for everything he has commanded us to ask for.

Second, we must acknowledge our need and misery,
hiding nothing,
and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.

Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation:
even though we do not deserve it,
God will surely listen to our prayer
because of Christ our Lord.
That is what he promised us in his Word.

118 Q.  What did God command us to pray for?

A.  Everything we need, spiritually and physically,
as embraced in the prayer
Christ our Lord himself taught us.

119 Q.  What is this prayer?

A.  Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, forever.
Amen.

Suggested Songs

299, “O Lord, Thou Art My God and King” (Psalm 145)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”  From beginning to end, the Scriptures are replete with commands and encouragements for us to call on the name of the Lord.  “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22, ESV).  “Pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Psalm 145, a lofty song of praise, resounds with the greatness of God and the wondrous privilege of calling on him in prayer.  Below are selected stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal’s versification:

O Lord, Thou art my God and King,
And I will ever bless Thy Name;
I will extol Thee every day,
And evermore Thy praise proclaim.

The Lord is greatly to be praised,
His greatness is beyond our thought;
From age to age the sons of men
Shall tell the wonders God has wrought.

Upon Thy glorious majesty
And wondrous works my mind shall dwell;
Thy deeds shall fill the world with awe,
And of Thy greatness I will tell.

Thy matchless goodness and Thy grace
Thy people shall commemorate,
And all Thy truth and righteousness
My joyful song shall celebrate.

The Lord our God is rich in grace,
Most tender and compassionate;
His anger is most slow to rise,
His lovingkindness is most great.

43, “Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah” (Psalm 25)

“We must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God.”  Psalm 25 exalts the Lord as our only strength and refuge:

Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah,
Do I lift my waiting soul.
O my God, in Thee I trusted;
Let no shame now o’er me roll.
On my enemy be shame,
Oft without a cause transgressing,
But all those who trust Thy Name
Honor with abundant blessing.

Yea, the secret of Jehovah
Is with those who fear His Name;
With His friends in tender mercy
He His covenant will maintain.
With a confidence complete,
Toward the Lord mine eyes are turning;
From the net He’ll pluck my feet;
He will not despise my yearning.

50, “O Lord, to Thee I Cry” (Psalm 28)

“We must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.”  In addition to exalting the Lord, prayer also serves to remind us of how small and weak we are before him.  Yet even in the depths of despair we can cry out to God and know that our prayers are heard, as the author of Psalm 28 realized:

O Lord, to Thee I cry;
Thou art my rock and trust;
O be not silent, lest I die
And slumber in the dust.

O hear me when in prayer
Thy favor I entreat;
Hear, while I lift imploring hands
Before Thy mercy-seat.

119, “O All Ye Peoples, Bless Our God” (Psalm 66)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“We must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord.  That is what he promised us in his Word.”  Psalm 66 proclaims the comforting truth that not only does God hear our prayers, he answers them by working out his all-wise purposes for our lives.

O all ye peoples, bless our God,
Aloud proclaim His praise,
Who safely holds our souls in life,
And stedfast makes our ways.
Thou, Lord, hast proved and tested us,
As silver tried by fire;
Thy hand has made our burden great
And thwarted our desire.

Come, ye that fear the Lord, and hear
What He has done for me;
My cry for help is turned to praise,
For He has set me free.
If in my heart I sin regard,
My prayer He will not hear;
But truly God has heard my voice,
My prayer has reached His ear.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” (Psalm 65)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

What can we glean from this Lord’s Day’s study of prayer, the “most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us”?  In short, we serve a faithful God who will provide “everything we need, spiritually and physically.”  This is cause for humility, but it is also a cause for joy.  Psalm 65 expresses it well:

Before Thee, Lord, a people waits
To praise Thy Name in Zion’s gates,
To Thee shall vows be paid;
Thou Hearer of the suppliant’s prayer,
To Thee in need shall all repair
To seek Thy gracious aid.

How great my trespasses appear;
But Thou from guilt my soul wilt clear,
And my transgressions hide.
How blest Thy chosen, who by grace
Are brought within Thy dwelling-place
That they may there abide.

On Thy sustaining arm depend,
To earth and sea’s remotest end,
All men in every age;
Thy strength establishes the hills,
Thy word the roaring billows stills,
And calms the peoples’ rage.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 44: Only a Small Beginning

Catechism and Psalter

The Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the Ten Commandments uniquely by demonstrating how they encompass every area of moral living.  Even the tenth commandment, which we’ll study today, relates to the whole law by stating “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Such an interpretation is devastating because it condemns every one of us.  But Lord’s Day 44 digs deeper than the mere prohibition of this commandment by asking and answering a difficult question: Why do the Ten Commandments still matter if we can’t obey them perfectly?  As always, the answer points to the glory of our gracious God.

113 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the tenth commandment?

A.  That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any one of God’s commandments
should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart
I should always hate sin
and take pleasure in whatever is right.

114 Q.  But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A.  No.
In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose,
they do begin to live
according to all, not only some,
of God’s commandments.

115 Q.  No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A.  First, so that the longer we live
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that,
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God’s image,
until after this lie we reach our goal:
perfection.

Suggested Songs

237, “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Like the apostle Paul, we realize that the law condemns us without exception.  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV).  But like Paul, we as Christians also “delight in the law of God” in our inner being (v. 23), and attest that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).  We gladly echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:9-16, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)

“With all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.”  Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of those who make God’s law their delight:

While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.

152, “Remember Not, O God” (Psalm 79)

(Sung by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.”  Let’s be honest: the Catechism’s analysis of the Ten Commandments can be profoundly disturbing.  Can anyone fulfill the expectations of God’s law?  Even as we understand that we are saved by grace, not by works, what kind of obedience does Christ expect of us?

Thankfully, the answer the Catechism provides rests in God, not in us.  The Ten Commandments, it says, are to be preached so pointedly “so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.”  And, as the end of Psalm 79 reminds us, God will not remember those sins against us.

Remember not, O God,
The sins of long ago;
In tender mercy visit us,
Distressed and humbled low.

O Lord, our Savior, help,
And glorify Thy Name;
Deliver us from all our sins
And take away our shame.

Then, safe within Thy fold,
We will exalt Thy Name;
Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
Thy goodness will proclaim.

272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness” (Psalm 130)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

The Ten Commandments bring us face-to-face with the spiritual battle each of us must fight.  Our sinful natures have been conquered, but they have not yet been annihilated.  The Christian life is a constant struggle against vicious enemies on every side, including our own fallen flesh.  But we serve a gracious Savior who “will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” as Psalm 130 teaches.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56, 57).

Out of the depths of sadness,
O LORD, I cried to Thee;
Thou who canst fill with gladness,
Lend now Thine ear to me.
O Fount of consolation,
Attend unto my cry,
Hear Thou my supplication
And to my help draw nigh.

If Thou shouldst mark transgression,
O Lord, who then could stand?
For evil and oppression
Are found on every hand.
But Thou dost pardon fully
All our iniquity,
That we may serve Thee truly
And fear Thy majesty.

I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.

Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.

–MRK


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