A Pre-Synod Meditation

With synod only two days away, I was unsure of what to post next on URC Psalmody.  Would it be another agenda article, or a completely unrelated blog post?  After a bit of thought, some Scripture reading, and a good deal of prayer, I decided against both options.  Today I’d like to share a few of my favorite passages from the psalms (and some psalm settings from the Psalter Hymnal) that focus on God’s care for the church.  I hope these songs and Scriptures are encouraging to delegates and onlookers alike as we pray earnestly for God’s blessing upon Synod 2012.

We’ll start with the words of David in Psalm 122.  Is there any better expression of the love we should display for the church?

(Click the headings to hear recordings of Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, singing Psalter Hymnal versions of each psalm.)

PSALM 122 (ESV)

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
‘May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!’
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

Indeed, let us pray for the peace of the United Reformed Churches in North America throughout the coming week—for our brothers and companions’ sake, for the sake of the house of the LORD our God.  In another beloved passage, this one from Psalm 27, David declares his complete devotion to the church.

PSALM 27 (Number 48)

My one request has been,
And still this prayer I raise,
That I may dwell within
God’s house through all my days,
Jehovah’s beauty to admire,
And in His temple to inquire.

Oh that our “one request,” like David’s, would be to dwell within God’s house and fellowship with his people through all our days!  The sons of Korah echo this desire in the words of Psalm 84.

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” is the psalmist’s clear confession.  How difficult it can be at times to forsake the pleasures of the world to follow Christ!  Yet this is what every Christian is called to do—and this step of faith will yield rich blessings for the individual, as well as for the entire church.  This setting of Psalm 45 states it well.

PSALM 45 (Number 83)

O royal bride, give heed,
And to my words attend;
For Christ the King forsake the world
And every former friend.

Enthroned in royal state,
All glorious thou shalt dwell,
With garments fair, inwrought with gold;
The Church He loveth well.

But what about the constant attacks of evil against the church?   How can God’s people withstand the attacks of a world that is growing ever more hostile?  The sons of Korah reassure the anxieties to which every believer is prone in Psalm 46, a beautiful meditation on the providence of God.

PSALM 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!’
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Not only will the church survive; under God’s providential hand, it will prosper!  As the LORD has said, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  A favorite selection from Psalm 22 proclaims the continuing expansion of Christ’s kingdom.

PSALM 22 (Number 36)

The ends of all the earth shall hear
And turn unto the Lord in fear;
All kindreds of the earth shall own
And worship Him as God alone.
All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

Both rich and poor, both bond and free
Shall worship Him on bended knee,
And children’s children shall proclaim
The glorious honor of His Name.
All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

The Lord’s unfailing righteousness
All generations shall confess,
From age to age shall men be taught
What wondrous works the Lord has wrought.
All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

Psalm 48 is another declaration of the security of the church.  As we read these words we can rest assured: God’s mighty hand protects his people so powerfully that the very gates of hell cannot prevail against them.

PSALM 48

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
has made himself known as a fortress.
For behold, the kings assembled;
they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic; they took to flight.
Trembling took hold of them there,
anguish as of a woman in labor.
By the east wind you shattered
the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the LORD of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God will establish forever.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God,
so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments!
Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.

How can we be downcast about the future of the church?  Our guide is God, our God forever and ever!  We close with the rousing words of Psalm 72 set to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”  When Christ comes again, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.  Then, and then only, the church will have fulfilled its mission.  And forevermore, God’s redeemed people will sing his praise!

PSALM 72 (Number 135)

Christ shall have dominion
Over land and sea;
Earth’s remotest regions
Shall His empire be;
They that wilds inhabit
Shall their worship bring;
Kings shall render tribute,
Nations serve our King.

Ever and forever
Shall His Name endure;
Long as suns continue
It shall stand secure;
And in Him forever
All men shall be blest,
And all nations hail Him
King of kings confessed.

Christ shall have dominion
Over land and sea;
Earth’s remotest regions
Shall His empire be!

–MRK

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