Posts Tagged 'Praise'



May’s Psalm of the Month: 113A

The fifth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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O’er all nations God alone,
Higher than the heavens His throne;
Who is like the Lord Most High,
Gazing down on earth and sky?

By and large, this setting of Psalm 113 will be new to URC and OPC members alike; the tune MONKLAND appears only in the Trinity Psalter and the gray Psalter Hymnal, not the blue Psalter Hymnal, the revised Trinity Hymnal, or even the Book of Psalms for Worship. However, this regal tune, combined with the eloquent praise of Psalm 113, could easily become a new favorite.

This tune is beautiful any way you sing it, but its majestic aura is best brought out in four-part harmony. Look for places where the rise and fall of the musical lines complement the poetry—for example, “From the dust He lifts the poor” in stz. 4 aligns perfectly with the glorious rise in the melody line, echoed by the bass part under “And from ashes those forlorn.” Especially bring out the psalm’s interjections to “Praise the Lord!” or its Hebrew equivalent, “Hallelujah!” As you sing, let Psalm 113A express your own experience of God’s greatness and his particular goodness to you.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees; see also Psalm 113 in the Trinity Psalter

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 113

  • Who should praise him? (vv. 1-3)
  • Who is like him? (vv. 4-6)
  • Whom does he bless? (vv. 7-9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 113

The psalmist’s exclamation “Who is like the Lord our God?” (v. 5) is due not only to the knowledge that he is “seated on high,” but particularly to the fact that he stoops to look on the heavens and the earth from that immeasurable height (v. 6). The Lord’s condescension (literally, “coming down”—not haughtily but compassionately) is revealed throughout Scripture, and above all in the advent of Jesus Christ.

In her song of praise, Mary rejoiced in this merciful condescension in words reminiscent of Psalm 113 (Luke 1:46-55). The apostle Paul powerfully summarized it in these familiar words from Philippians 2: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 6-11). What cause for praise!

Applying Psalm 113

  • Who are the Lord’s servants (v. 1, cf. Ps. 116:16)?
  • How are you poor and needy before God (v. 7)?
  • How might v. 9 apply in contexts besides physical barrenness?

The Psalm is a circle, ending where it began, praising the Lord from its first syllable to its last. May our life-psalm partake of the same character, and never know a break or a conclusion. In an endless circle let us bless the Lord, whose mercies never cease. Let us praise him in youth, and all along our years of strength; and when we bow in the ripeness of abundant age, let us still praise the Lord, who doth not cast off his old servants. Let us not only praise God ourselves, but exhort others to do it; and if we meet with any of the needy who have been enriched, and with the barren who have been made fruitful, let us join with them in extolling the name of him whose mercy endureth forever. Having been ourselves lifted from spiritual beggary and barrenness, let us never forget our former estate or the grace which has visited us, but world without end let us praise the Lord. Hallelujah.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 113:9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

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Forget Not

Yesterday Twitter dropped a little note in my email inbox that mentioned “Thanksgiving–the day we express gratitude for family, food and football. (But mostly football.)” After rolling my eyes and muttering something about how Thanksgiving has become a symbol of America’s cultural decline, I tossed the email without further thought.

College Hill RPC CornucopiaReflecting a little more deeply, though, what are we called to be thankful for, and how do we show it? We Christians may be quick to protest that Thanksgiving Day isn’t mostly about football, but is it really about family or food either? My pastor made a convicting point this morning: American Christians gladly accept the state’s invitation to participate in a nationwide day of giving thanks. But what we should really want is to invite people everywhere to participate with us, not in a day of thanksgiving, but in a life of thanksgiving. And thanksgiving for what? For all of God’s benefits, as the psalmist teaches us in Psalm 103—forgiving, healing, redeeming, crowning, satisfying, and renewing us. We thank God for his righteousness and justice, his mercy and grace, his “steadfast love toward those who fear him,” his compassion to his children, and his throne established in the heavens. Not only are we to exert our utmost effort in blessing the LORD, we are to call people everywhere to do the same.

Psalm 95 sheds more light on the believer’s motives for giving thanks. Our gratitude is framed not in vague terms of “family, food and football” but rather in the salvation wrought for us by our God (v. 1). We praise him for his sovereignty (v. 3) and his creation (vv. 4,5), acknowledging that we belong only to him. “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (v. 7 ESV). Throughout Psalm 95 we find concrete reasons and exhortations for giving thanks to the Lord.

But the second half of Psalm 95 strikes even closer to home. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” warns v. 7. In the middle of this passage the voice shifts from the psalmist to that of God himself, who reminds the worshipers of “when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (v. 8). This section of the psalm is so ominous, we may even be tempted to skip over it. But the implication is clear: giving thanks isn’t an option, it’s a command. Thanksgiving arises from hearts that recognize God’s blessings, and the absence of thanksgiving is a telling sign of spiritual hardness, of “a people who go astray in their heart” (v. 10). It’s no wonder that the Lord swears in his wrath that such people—people who respond to his manifold mercies with a shameless shrug—“shall not enter my rest” (v. 11).

The key question is not how much God has blessed us (the answer, of course, is “abundantly”), but how much we acknowledge it. Will your Thanksgiving Day be filled with joyful kneeling before your Maker, or merely loading up on turkey and getting ready to hit the stores tomorrow? It’s sad enough that the unbelieving world can’t even finish a day of gratitude without the encroachment of gluttony and greed. But are we Christians, in our living, working, and worshiping (and yes, feasting) proclaiming the glory of “the rock of our salvation” to everyone around us?

Thanksgiving Day is many things to many people—family, food, and football considered. For the Christian it is so much more. To a people whose natural inclination is always to forget, Thanksgiving Day offers an opportunity to “forget not.” Today we can hear his voice, sing his praise, and remember all his benefits.

–MRK

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

Psalm 144: Such Blessings

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.

–Psalm 144:1, 2 (ESV)

1867 Dutch Reformed Church, Sayville, NY

1867 Dutch Reformed Church, Sayville, NY

The theme of Psalm 144 is hard to pin down.  Is it a song of praise, of triumph, or of petition?  Is it a lamentation, or a prayer for blessing?

In truth, Psalm 144 is a little bit of all of these things, and perhaps it is fittingly placed here, right before the Psalter’s final six songs of praise, as a summary and conclusion of each genre.

This psalm opens with David praising God for giving him victory over his enemies, with phrases that strongly resemble Psalm 18.  Yet David quickly turns his attention to a theme he first expressed back in Psalm 8: “O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?” (v. 3).  The fourth verse, likewise, echoes Psalm 39 in its description of man’s brevity.

Psalm 18 is once again referenced in the following four verses, mingled with a shout of praise from Psalm 33 (“I will sing a new song to you, O God; upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you”).  But the last section of Psalm 144 is a unique composition, a call for God’s rich blessings upon his covenant people.  Concluding the psalm is a refrain from Psalm 33: “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!”

May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!
Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!

–vv. 12-15

Today we’ll briefly consider the Psalter Hymnal’s two versifications of Psalm 144.  I recently uploaded to YouTube a piano improvisation (albeit a sloppy one) on these two tunes, which is embedded below.

296, “Thrice Blest Be Jehovah”

Psalm versifications from sources other than the 1912 Psalter or the Genevan Psalter are a rare sight in our blue songbook.  This full text of Psalm 144 was adapted by Harry Mayer in 1940, but despite its fairly recent composition date, it is unnecessarily archaic and often downright clunky.  (Alas, I had similar complaints regarding Mayer’s other Psalter Hymnal versification back at Psalm 136.)  Even in the early twentieth century, who really used expressions such as “thrice blest,” “nerves” (as a verb), “foemen,” “fleeteth,” “whelm him in woe,” “their tongues speak me falsely,” “grown apace,” “garners be brimming,” “then thousandfold yield”?  My spell-checker itself balks at some of these obsolete phrases!

If there’s one redeeming aspect of number 296, it’s the cheery and confident tune ST. DENIO, often associated with the hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  Surprisingly, the key is not too high, and overall the tune is quite an appropriate choice—if only the text were a little less reminiscent of the sixteenth century.

297, “O Happy Land, Whose Sons in Youth”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

It’s definitely quirky, and perhaps a little overdramatic, but “O Happy Land, Whose Sons in Youth” has a special place in the Psalter Hymnal.  This is a versification of Psalm 144:12-15 which conveniently applies the statement of the last verse (“Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!”) to each of the preceding statements (“O happy land, whose sons in youth…”).  Although it’s a paraphrased summary of the last part of this psalm, the text leaves little to be desired—and its language is noticeably less obsolete than that of number 296!

I have to be honest: I just love the tune SHORTLE.  It’s bright and energetic, and could even be described as “rollicking.”  The meter 8.8.6.8.8.6.6. puts a special twist on an otherwise common 8.8.6.D. tune.  Make the most out of the ever-rising lines, the perky eighth notes, and the offset repeated line at the end (“The PAL-ace of a king, the palace OF a king”).  Sing it with triumph!

After all, that’s what Psalm 144 is in its most basic form–a song of triumph.  David extols the Lord for deliverance from his enemies, unmerited honor, and God’s steadfast love, and the collective church raises a song of praise to God for the blessings he showers upon them in this life and in the world to come.

O happy people, favored land,
To whom the Lord with liberal hand
Has thus His goodness shown;
Yea, surely is that people blest
By whom Jehovah is confessed
To be their God alone,
to be their God alone.

–MRK

Psalm 142: From Prayer to Praise

"The path I take is known to Thee."

“The path I take is known to Thee.”

Why do we need to pray?  The Heidelberg Catechism answers that “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” (LD 45, Q&A 116).

When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer—a New Testament model for Christian prayer.  For an Old Testament model of prayer, the Psalter excels; and for a model of a believer’s cry for deliverance, we need look no further than Psalm 142.

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.

–Psalm 142:1, 2 (ESV)

Why does David need to tell his trouble before the LORD, who he confesses in Psalm 139 to “know when I sit down and when I rise up,” and to “discern my thoughts from afar”?  First, because God commands it, and second, because it is for his benefit.  Charles Spurgeon says, “Note that we do not show our trouble before the Lord that he may see it, but that we may see him.”  There is nothing more comforting than to unburden our souls before our gracious heavenly Father, assured that he already knows and cares.  The psalmist knew this assurance as well: “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (v. 3).

Next David presents a stark contrast between his earthly “refuge” and his heavenly Refuge:

Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, ‘You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.’

–vv. 3, 5

Psalm 142 ends with both a sharp cry and a joyous note of praise.

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.

–vv. 6, 7

Of all the nuances of this closing passage, the one I love most is David’s reaction to his imminent deliverance.  The salvation the Lord has wrought for him finds immediate expression in his worship with God’s people.  It is there that he praises his Savior and proclaims to his brothers his wondrous works.  How can we, who have been delivered from such great depths of misery, fail to unite with Christ’s church to give him thankful praise?

293, “To God My Earnest Voice I Raise” (Psalm 142)

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

To God my earnest voice I raise,
To God my voice imploring prays;
Before His face my grief I show
And tell my trouble and my woe.

The Psalter Hymnal’s single versification of Psalm 142 reads more like a paraphrase than like the original text, yet it preserves the tone and flow of thought of the psalm quite well.  I think the most powerful words are found in the last three stanzas.

The tune, of course, is instantly recognizable as HAMBURG, sung so often to the words of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  The plaintive chant-like qualities of this tune (indeed, it was arranged from a Gregorian chant by Lowell Mason) make it perfectly suited for this prayer of supplication.  Yet its broadness also provides for a bold and confident final verse, as the delivered singer unites with the congregation in praise.  The Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir renders the nuances of Psalm 142 exceptionally well in their arrangement, even mirroring David’s response by having the congregation join them on the last stanza.

And so we find in Psalm 142 a surpassingly beautiful summary of a believer’s prayer in affliction.  As Spurgeon puts it, “When we can begin a Psalm with crying, we may hope to close it with singing.  The voice of prayer soon awakens the voice of praise.”

The righteous then shall gather round
To share the blessing I found,
Their hearts made glad because they see
How richly God has dealt with me.

–MRK


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