Posts Tagged 'Comfort'



Psalm 34: Taste and See

Fire Island Lighthouse

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

–Psalm 34:5 ESV

When I returned from my college choir’s three-week international tour at the beginning of June, I was already anticipating fatigue, jetlag, and the general malaise that accompanies any experience of such magnitude. However, I was not prepared for a strange set of lingering psychological side effects from the anti-malarial medicine that had been administered to the choir members for our trip. For several weeks I experienced lightheadedness, confusion, sleeplessness, bouts of depression, and sometimes even hallucinations. Investigating these side effects revealed that they are indeed known to occur when taking this particular medication, and the only remedy is to wait; the drug takes weeks or even months to dissipate out of one’s system.

I share this affliction not to elicit pity—I’m already feeling much better—but because this experience opened my eyes at least in a small way to the daily battles faced by those who struggle with depression or other psychological ailments. Depression is a strange animal that appears in a variety of ugly manifestations, but it is perhaps most palpable simply as a dark cloud hanging over one’s head. Going about everyday activities becomes as difficult as trying to breathe through a wet towel. Thought patterns become tangled up in irrational knots of anxiety, guilt, or despair. Life looks bleak. I knew this from the accounts of others, but never before had I experienced it myself.

As humans, our coping mechanisms for mental ailments aren’t that good. We try to bury our affliction under gaudy layers of distractions and amusements, we try to coach ourselves to feel better, or we resort to that disgusting cliché, “It’s all in your head.” The statement is true, of course; mental illness is “all in your head” just as much as a broken arm is “all in your arm” or blindness is “all in your eyes.” But if you can’t command your arm to heal itself or your eyesight to return, you shouldn’t expect success in telling your brain to fix itself either. And so dealing with the problem of depression degenerates into a downward spiral of futility, marked chiefly by a desperate and often hopeless longing to once again be in control of one’s thoughts and emotions.

As I sought to process this temporary new reality, the Old Testament story of David’s encounter with the king of Gath came to mind. I Samuel 22 relates how David, in flight from Saul, went to the court of Achish (or Abimelech), the king of Gath, and there feigned madness to save his life. I had to wonder how David felt. His situation had little in common with mine, to be sure; medical side effects and pretended insanity are very different things. But surely he too felt that desperate desire to escape from circumstances out of his control that were forcing him to act out of his mind.

One day in the midst of these ponderings I happened to turn to Psalm 34.  As I began to read I was astonished to find this inscription: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” Here was the answer to the very question I had been asking; David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had recorded his thoughts and emotions for me here. With a new sense of awe I read statements like the following:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

–vv. 18, 19

The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

–v. 22

Here was the song of a man whose situation had become so desperate that insanity seemed the only option left to him, and here was his record of how the Lord delivered him. Here was his response to his many afflictions: not a cry of despair, as one might expect, but a song of praise. Here was a proven remedy to broken hearts and crushed spirits!

For one thing, Psalm 34 taught me a lesson in pride and humility. The world tries to comfort the depressed by pointing out what good people they are (think of how Clarence saves the suicidal George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life). The Bible, however, teaches that not a boosted ego but a broken heart obtains God’s favor, and that those who possess it will be blessed. This psalm is addressed to the humble, not the proud (v. 2). And strength or confidence or what we think of as inherent goodness will prove powerless to deliver anyone from the gnawing pain of life and the lurking presence of death. David writes that even “the young lions”—the very symbol of virility and vigor—“suffer want and hunger.” In contrast, “those who seek the LORD lack no good thing” (v. 10). In Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Another lesson I gleaned from Psalm 34 was the reminder that suffering for the believer in this fallen world is neither abnormal nor shameful. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” writes David in verse 19. Not every evil is a punishment for sin or a symptom of demonic oppression. God in his providence uses the suffering we undergo for many purposes, but the source of it all lies in the curse that was laid on this universe as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. But there is hope. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, yes. “But the LORD delivers him out of them all” (v. 19). Christ came, the truly Righteous One who “keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” (v. 20; see Jno. 19:36), and suffered the ultimate penalty to redeem us from the power of sin and death. It is through him that “the LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (v. 22).

Finally, Psalm 34 emphasized to me the futility—no, the sheer stupidity—of trying to combat a problem within ourselves with a solution within ourselves. David did not merely acknowledge that there was a problem in his head; he knew there was a problem in his heart—a deep and impenetrable problem that could not be alleviated except by divine intervention. “This poor man cried,” says David, “and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (v. 6). He boasts not in his self-sufficiency but in his utter dependence on God: “My soul makes its boast in the LORD” (v. 2). Navel-gazing can only prove fatal, but “those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (v. 5).

Have you experienced the bitter frustration of mental ailments, the biting pain of depression, or simply the dull despair that accompanies living in a fallen world? David would not be surprised. Our minds are stained by sin just as much as our bodies; even the best of us cannot trust our senses or emotions. But Psalm 34 offers the troubled soul one thing it can sense and know with certainty: “Taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (v. 8).

May you, too, taste and see that the Lord is good, and through all the joys and struggles of life may you be able to confess with the psalmist,

I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.

–MRK

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Lord’s Day 52: This Is Sure to Be

Catechism and Psalter

Well, we’ve finally reached it: the last installment in URC Psalmody’s Heidelberg Catechism series.  After its opening question, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” we’ve progressed with the Catechism through the Bible’s clear teaching regarding man’s sin and God’s work of salvation, concluding with a large section on the redeemed Christian’s grateful life of service.  Lord’s Day 52 completes the Catechism’s treatment of prayer by considering the sixth request and conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, finishing with an explanation of that final word: “Amen.”

127 Q.  What does the sixth request mean?

A.  And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil means,

By ourselves we are too weak
to hold our own even for a moment.

And our sworn enemies—
the devil, the world, and our own flesh—
never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord,
uphold us and make us strong
with the strength of your Holy Spirit,
so that we may not go down to defeat
in this spiritual struggle,
but may firmly resist our enemies
until we finally win the complete victory.

128 Q.  What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?

A.  For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, forever means,

We have made all these requests of you
because, as our all-powerful king,
you not only want to,
but are able to give us all that is good;
and because your holy name,
and not we ourselves,
should receive all the praise, forever.

129 Q.  What does that little word “Amen” express?

A.  Amen means,

This is sure to be!

It is even more sure
that God listens to my prayer,
than that I really desire
what I pray for.

Suggested Songs

69, “With Firm Resolve I Held My Peace” (Psalm 39)

“By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.”  As Jesus said to his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).  Realizing the frailty of his fleeting life, David cries out in Psalm 39, “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!  Surely a man goes about as a shadow!” (vv. 5, 6 ESV).  Apart from God’s provision, not one of us has the strength to sustain his own life for a single minute.  With this understanding, it becomes clear that David’s response to his own feebleness is the only viable answer: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you” (v. 7).  The blue Psalter Hymnal includes a beautifully poetic setting of this psalm:

Make me, O Lord, to know my end,
Teach me the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am
And turn from pride and sinful ways.

My time is nothing in Thy sight,
Behold, my days are but a span;
Yea, truly, at his best estate,
A breath, a fleeting breath, is man.

Man’s life is passed in vain desire
If troubled years be spent for gain;
He knows not whose his wealth shall be,
And all his toil is but in vain.

And now, O Lord, what wait I for?
I have no hope except in Thee;
Let not ungodly men reproach,
From all transgression set me free.

105, “O God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 57)

“And our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us.”  Not only do we face spiritual threats from Satan and the hostile plans of a world that take counsel together “against the LORD and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2 ESV), but our own sinful flesh wars against our redeemed natures (cf. Romans 7).  In such straits we can only cry out for God’s help, as David does in Psalm 57:

O God, be merciful to me,
My soul for refuge comes to Thee;
Beneath Thy wings I safe will stay
Until these troubles pass away.
To God Most High shall rise my prayer,
To God who makes my wants His care;
From heaven He will salvation send,
And me from every foe defend.

Great foes and fierce my soul alarm,
Inflamed with rage and strong to harm,
But God, from heaven His dwelling-place,
Will rescue me with truth and grace.
Be Thou, O God, exalted high,
Yea, far above the starry sky,
And let Thy glory be displayed
O’er all the earth Thy hands have made.

26, “Since with My God with Perfect Heart” (Psalm 18)

“And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.”  Talk about comfort!  No matter how fiercely the battle may rage around us, our ultimate victory is sure, because Christ our Savior has already won it.  Psalm 18 gives exuberant voice to this confidence.  “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness,” says David in v. 20.  Although we are no more righteous than David was, we have been granted the righteousness of Chrirst, and the final triumph along with it.  “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (v. 30).

From God the victory I receive;
Most perfect is His holy way;
His Word is tried, they who believe
Will find the Lord their shield and stay.

For who is God, and strong to save,
Beside the Lord, our God of might?
‘Tis He that makes me strong and brave,
The Lord who guides my steps aright.

Thy free salvation is my shield,
My sure defense in every strait;
Thy hand upholds me, lest I yield;
Thy gentleness has made me great.

121, “O God, to Us Show Mercy” (Psalm 67)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and on YouTube)

“We have made all these requests of you because, as our all-powerful king, you not only want to, but are able to give us all that is good…”  In confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers, we eagerly await the day when his saving power will be known among all nations (Psalm 67:2).

O God, let people praise Thee,
Let all the nations sing,
For earth in rich abundance
To us her fruit shall bring.
The Lord our God shall bless us,
Our God shall blessing send,
And all the earth shall fear Him
To its remotest end.

310, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150)

“…and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.”  Not only does this beautiful statement capture the essence of the Lord’s Prayer, it also serves as the capstone of the entire Heidelberg Catechism.  “In reckless disobedience” (Lord’s Day 4, Q&A 9) we rebelled against the good commands of God.  Yet in his great mercy, God provided “our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God” (Lord’s Day 6, Q&A 18), enabling each of his elect to say, “By faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing” (Lord’s Day 12, Q&A 32).  While we “confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in [our] place before God” (Lord’s Day 19, Q&A 52), we are comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, who produces in us “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Lord’s Day 33, Q&A 90).  Indeed, “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3)—and therefore his holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise forever.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Magnify Jehovah’s Name;
Praise the living God, your Maker,
All that breathe, His praise proclaim.

488, “Now Blessed Be Jehovah God” (Psalm 72)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“This is sure to be!”  With that one little word, “Amen,” we express our unshakable confidence in God’s promises to us.  Even when our faith falters and our comfort wanes, it is sure—as sure as we really desire what we pray for—that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  Because we belong to him Christ, by his Spirit, assures us of eternal life and makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.  To that one triune God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen!

Now blessed be Jehovah God,
The God of Israel,
Who only doeth wondrous works
In glory that excel;
Who only doeth wondrous works
In glory that excel.

And blessed be His glorious Name
To all eternity;
The whole earth let His glory fill;
Amen! so let it be;
The whole earth let His glory fill;
Amen! so let it be.

–MRK

Featured Recording: Luzon and Psalm 121

Featured Recording

Unfortunately, our post on today’s Featured Recording here on URC Psalmody finds itself cut short for lack of time.  Not to worry, however; the Psalter Hymnal Handbook available online at Hymnary.org provides a fascinating background story to today’s selection.  “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains,” a beautiful and unique versification of Psalm 121, was created specifically for the blue Psalter Hymnal (number 261).  Here’s the Psalter Hymnal Handbook’s explanation of this psalm setting and the choice of its tune name, LUZON:

Dick L. Van Halsema composed LUZON in 1954.  The tune was published with the Zylstra text in the 1959 Psalter Hymnal on whose committee both writer and composer served.  Zylstra and Van Halsema also served together as United States servicemen stationed on the Philippine island of Luzon at the end of World War II (hence the name of this tune).  At that time both men experienced the truth of Psalm 121 in their lives.

The tune and harmonization make use of repeated tones and pedal points to portray the stability and dependability of God’s care; the final phrase of the melody originally repeated one note throughout.  The E-flat chord in the third line provides a delightful touch of color.  LUZON is suitable for either unison or harmony singing.  Maintain one pulse per measure.

Below is a recording of the congregation of Grace Reformed Church (URCNA) in Dunnville, Ontario, singing Psalter Hymnal number 261.  How assuring it is to be protected by the Lord who “nods not, nor slumbers, nor sleeps”!

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Lord’s Day 22: Raised by the Power of Christ

Catechism and Psalter

It was all the way back in Lord’s Day 7 that the Heidelberg Catechism asked the essential question, “What then must a Christian believe?”  In answer the Catechism proceeded to provide the Apostles’ Creed and expound upon each of its articles.  Fifteen weeks later in this URC Psalmody series, here we are at Lord’s Day 22, which concerns the final two phrases of the Creed: belief in “the resurrection of the body” and “the life everlasting.”

57 Q.  How does ‘the resurrection of the body’ comfort you?

A.  Not only my soul
will be taken immediately after this life
to Christ its head,
but even my very flesh, raised by the power of Christ,
will be reunited with my soul
and made like Christ’s glorious body.

58 Q.  How does the article concerning ‘life everlasting’ comfort you?

A.  Even as I already now
experience in my heart
the beginning of eternal joy,
so after this life I will have
perfect blessedness such as
no eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no man has ever imagined:
a blessedness in which to praise God eternally.

Suggested Songs

138, “In Sweet Communion, Lord, with Thee” (Psalm 73)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI and on YouTube)

“My soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head.”  The believer rejoices to know that the moment he dies, he will be with his Savior.  With this knowledge it’s hard, as the gospel chorus puts it, to “feel at home in this world anymore.”  The author of Psalm 73 similarly declares his hope in the life to come in this Psalter Hymnal versification:

In sweet communion, Lord, with Thee
I constantly abide;
My hand Thou holdest in Thine own
To keep me near Thy side.

Thy counsel through my earthly way
Shall guide me and control,
And then to glory afterward
Thou wilt receive my soul.

Whom have I, Lord, in heaven but Thee,
To whom my thoughts aspire?
And, having Thee, on earth is nought
That I can yet desire.

Though flesh and heart should faint and fail,
The Lord will ever be
The strength and portion of my heart,
My God eternally.

To live apart from God is death,
‘Tis good His face to seek;
My refuge is the living God,
His praise I long to speak.

62, “Thy Mercy and Thy Truth, O Lord” (Psalm 36)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Even my very flesh…will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.”  With its rather grim opening (“Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart…”), Psalm 36 might tend to escape our notice as a song of the resurrection.  But David’s confession of faith in the second half of this psalm is matchless; he knows in whom he lives, and moves, and has his being.

The fountain of eternal life
Is found alone with Thee,
And in the brightness of Thy light
We clearly light shall see.

232, “O Praise the Lord, for He is Good” (Psalm 118)

(Sung on YouTube)

“I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy.”  As we Christians traverse life’s journey, our deliverance from death may not always be in the forefront of our minds.  But along with saving faith comes this “beginning of eternal joy,” the knowledge that our future is secure with God.  Psalm 118 gives beautiful voice to this hope.

O praise the Lord, for He is good;
Let all in heaven above
And all His saints on earth proclaim
His everlasting love.
In my distress I called on God;
In grace He answered me,
Removed my bonds, enlarged my place,
From trouble set me free.

Salvation’s joyful song is heard
Where’er the righteous dwell;
For them God’s hand is strong to save
And doeth all things well.
I shall not die, but live and tell
The wonders of the Lord;
He has not given my soul to death,
But chastened and restored.

198, “Thou, O Lord, Art God Alone” (Psalm 102)

(Sung on YouTube)

“After this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no man has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God eternally.”  Psalm 102 begins as a desolate lament, its very ascription identifying it as “a prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”  The psalmist cries out in v. 3 that his “days pass away like smoke,” and again in v. 11 that they are “like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.”  Then comes a turning point: “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.”  Looking to his eternal Father, the psalmist rests assured that his life not just temporarily but eternally remains with God.

This all ages shall record
For the glory of the Lord;
Thou dost hear the humble prayer,
For the helpless Thou dost care.
Thou eternal art, and great,
Heaven and earth Thou didst create,
Heaven and earth shall pass away,
Changeless Thou shalt live for aye.

As one lays a garment by,
Thou wilt change the starry sky
Like a vesture worn and old;
But Thy years shall ne’er be told.
Thou wilt make Thy servants’ race
Ever live before Thy face,
And forever at Thy side
Children’s children shall abide.

As I collected these powerful psalm settings, I was also reminded of a glorious old German chorale written by Philipp Nicolai back in 1599: “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying,” number 371 in the Psalter Hymnal.  Elaborating on the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, it formed the basis for J. S. Bach’s famous cantata “Wachet auf,” an excerpt of which we know as the familiar piece “Sleepers, Awake.”  You can enjoy the full cantata here.  For now, though, I’ll leave you with the triumphant doxology of the third stanza.  What comfort is ours through the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!

Lamb of God, the heavens adore Thee,
And men and angels sing before Thee
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder
In bursts of choral melody.
To mortal eyes and ears
What glory now appears!
Alleluia!
We raise the song,
We swell the throng,
To praise Thee ages all along.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 20: Concerning the Holy Spirit

Catechism and Psalter

In Question and Answer 24, the Heidelberg Catechism explained that the Apostles’ Creed is divided “into three parts: God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.”  Having completed the first two parts of the exposition of the creed in Lord’s Days 9-19, we turn now to Lord’s Day 20, a single question and answer on the work of the Holy Spirit.

53 Q.  What do you believe concerning ‘the Holy Spirit’?

A.  First, he, as well as the Father and the Son,
is eternal God.

Second, he has been given to me personally,
so that, by true faith,
he makes me share in Christ and all his blessings,
comforts me,
and remains with me forever.

Suggested Songs

173, “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Dwelling-place” (Psalm 90)

(Arranged and played by the musicians at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church)

“He, as well as the Father and the Son, is eternal God.”  Since a more thorough treatment of the Trinity can be found in our previous article on Lord’s Day 8, I’ve instead chosen to focus on God’s eternity, utilizing the mighty words of “Moses, the man of God” in Psalm 90.  The first two stanzas of this Psalter Hymnal versification are particularly applicable:

Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place
Through all the ages of our race;
Before the mountains had their birth,
Or ever Thou hadst formed the earth,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To everlasting our abode.

At Thy command man fades and dies
And newborn generations rise;
A thousand years are passed away,
And all to Thee are but a day;
Yea, like the watches of the night,
With Thee the ages wing their flight.

235, “How Blessed Are the Perfect in the Way” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Grace Reformed Church in Dunnville, ON)

 “He has been given to me personally, so that, by true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his blessings.”  To be fair, Psalter Hymnal number 235 inserts a reference to the Holy Spirit that isn’t present in the original text of Psalm 119 (though references to the Spirit are plentiful in other places throughout the Old Testament).  However, this paraphrase of vv. 5-8 is a useful reminder for us to look to God’s Word and Spirit for our constant guidance.

O let Thy Spirit be my constant aid,
That all my ways may ever be directed
To keep Thy statues, so to be obeyed
That from all error I may be protected.
I shall not be ashamed then, or afraid,
When Thy commandments I have e’er respected.

74, “As the Hart, About to Falter” (Psalm 42)

(Performed in concert, here and here)

He “comforts me, and remains with me forever.”  Psalm 42 is a dramatic song of both despair and assurance—the expression of a soul that is faced with troubles on every side, but knows its constant Comforter.  May this be our confession too as we acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

As the hart, about to falter,
In its trembling agony,
Panteth for the brooks of water,
So my soul doth pant for Thee.
Yea, athirst for Thee I cry;
God of life, O when shall I
Come again to stand before Thee
In Thy temple, and adore Thee?

But the Lord will send salvation,
And by day His love provide;
He shall be mine exultation,
And my song at eventide.
On His praise e’en in the night
I will ponder with delight,
And in prayer, transcending distance,
Seek the God of my existence.

O my soul, why art thou grieving;
Why disquieted in me?
Hope in God, thy faith retrieving;
He will still thy refuge be.
I shall yet through all my days
Give to Him my thankful praise;
God, who will from shame deliver,
Is my God, my rock, forever.

–MRK


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