Posts Tagged 'Providence'

September’s Psalm of the Month: 91B

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

IMG_0086e

To the LORD I’ll say, “My Refuge!”
In my God my trust abides.

This setting of Psalm 91 is beloved by psalm-singing congregations across the globe. The well-known tune HYFRYDOL, composed by Welsh textile worker Rowland Hugh Prichard at the age of nineteen, lends beauty and confidence to the powerful words of this psalm.

In congregational singing, look for ways to emphasize particular words and phrases in the text of Psalm 91B. Consider pausing slightly before the cry, “My Refuge!” in stanza 1, and taking quick breaths anytime a comma appears in the text (“serpents, lions, tread” in stz. 4). Bring out the earnestness of Psalm 91 by varying the volume and intensity of your voice: perhaps draw back on the more contemplative words of the third stanza, then build up again to the climax at the close of stz. 4. Most importantly, reflect on how the Lord has been your own refuge and fortress as you sing, and let personal application breathe added life into this awe-inspiring psalm.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 91A in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 91 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 151, Revised Trinity Hymnal 196, 498

Listen to a recording:

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 91

  • The godly one’s words to the Lord (vv. 1,2)
  • Safety from enemies (vv. 3-6)
  • Safety from judgment (vv. 7,8)
  • Safety from plagues (vv. 9,10)
  • Safety from stumbling (vv. 11-13)
  • The Lord’s words to the godly one (vv. 14-16)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 91

Satan twisted the words of Psalm 91:12 when he tempted Jesus to show his authority by casting himself off the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5-6, Luke 4:9-11). Jesus’ response revealed his wholehearted obedience to his Father: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” But there is more: Christ went to the cross in order to trample the serpent underfoot (v. 13). He suffered the afflictions of Psalm 91 in order to deliver us from our bondage to sin. His life was cut short so that ours could be redeemed. Through his death and resurrection we have been shown God’s salvation (v. 16).

Applying Psalm 91

  • What kinds of snares and pestilences do Christians face today (v. 3)?
  • Why do you deserve to “only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked” (v. 8)?
  • How have you seen God’s protection and deliverance in your life (v. 14)?
  • What do you do when God’s deliverance seems far away despite your cries to him (v. 15; cf. Ps. 22:2)?

Think about these two considerations—first, our own weakness, and second, the roughness, the difficulties, the thorns which lie along our way, along with the stupidity of our hearts and the subtlety of the evil one who lays snares for our destruction—and you will see that the Psalmist is not exaggerating. We could not proceed one step if the angels did not bear us up in their hands in a way beyond the normal course of nature. Through our own fault, we often stumble when we depart from our Head and Leader. But even though God allows this in order to convince us how weak we are in ourselves, he never permits us to be crushed or completely overwhelmed, and then it is virtually as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 91:12

 

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

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

February’s Psalm of the Month: 8B

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

Sunrise over the Beaver River

Lord, our Lord, in all the earth
How excellent Your name!
You above the heavens have set
The glory of Your fame.

In addition to preserving the two beloved versions of Psalm 8 from the blue Psalter Hymnal (#12, 13), the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal Committees included in the Psalm Proposal this excellent setting from The Book of Psalms for Singing. Explore the use of dynamic contrast as you sing—perhaps strong and joyful for the first and third stanzas, hushed and reverent for the second. Render the rousing 1742 tune AMSTERDAM with excitement that befits worshipping in the presence of such a majestic God.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 8B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 8 in the Trinity Psalter and the ARP Psalter.

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 8

  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 1)
  • Wondering at man’s lowliness (v. 2)
  • Wondering at God’s providence (vv. 3,4)
  • Wondering at man’s privileged place (vv. 5-8)
  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 8

If Psalm 8 refers only to the first Adam in his original state, its praise is dampened by the reality of the Fall. Humanity’s crown of “glory and honor” (v. 5) has been dragged through filth and mire. In our sin we abuse our dominion over the works of God’s hands (v. 7), and the whole creation groans as a result (Romans 8:22).

However, according to the apostles’ interpretation (cf. I Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), Psalm 8 points us to Christ, the Second Adam, who promises restoration and reconciliation for our fallen world. The author of the letter to the Hebrews directly interprets Psalm 8:4-6 in reference to Jesus: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:8,9). In awe of this Savior, we can well exclaim, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Applying Psalm 8

  • How do the mouths of babies and infants reveal God’s strength (v. 2; cf. Matt. 21:16)?
  • Why does God care for you (vv. 3,4)?
  • In what ways has sin corrupted the “glory and honor” of mankind (v. 5)?
  • Why is it comforting that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet (v. 6)?

The sum of Psalm 8 is this: In creating man, God demonstrated his infinite grace and fatherly love towards us, which should well amaze us. And although that happy condition has been almost entirely ruined by man’s fall, yet the traces of God’s free gifts to us which still remain should be enough to fill us with admiration. True, the proper order which God originally established no longer shines forth in this mournful and wretched overthrow, but the faithful whom God gathers to himself, under Christ their head, enjoy fragments of the good things they lost in Adam—enough to amaze them at God’s incredible grace. While David here focuses only on God’s earthly blessings, we must rise higher, and contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which he has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love for God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not allow ourselves to become lazy and negligent in celebrating his praises.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 8:7-9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

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

Psalms for a New Year

Sunrise on Bridge

“The Smartphone of the Soul”—that’s how Reformed Presbyterian minister and blogger James Faris describes the Book of Psalms. Drawing a fascinating parallel between the physical versatility of a smartphone and the spiritual versatility of the Psalter, Rev. Faris comments:

God has given us the whole Scriptures for our aid. But, God created the human heart to respond in special ways to his word set to music. In song, the word of God penetrates the soul. In song, we experience union with Christ. In the throes of life–the crisis moments–it is words set to music that first come to mind. In those moments, we can’t always run to the desktop, but we should have the smartphone of soul embedded in our hearts.

In summary, Rev. Faris says, just as for every task “there’s an app for that,” for every occasion in the believer’s life “there’s a psalm for that.” His original post and related sermon is worth your time. But along the way, consider these psalms that relate especially well to the coming of a new year:

  • Psalm 1. “[The righteous man] is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Have you found your righteousness in Jesus Christ, so that as the years pass you will continue to be refreshed by his living water? Do you possess a heart of grateful obedience motivating you to yield the fruits of the Spirit with the changing seasons of life?
  • Psalm 37. “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” In 2015 the doom of God’s enemies will be nearer than it was in 2014. But those who trust in him “shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.”
  • Psalm 49. “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Will you enter 2015 pursuing the worthless things of this world, or seeking the things that are above and looking to your reward in heaven?
  • Psalm 56. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Even if 2015 proves to be a year of trial and testing for you, be sure that the same God who knows the hairs of your head knows the afflictions you suffer, and will save you to walk before him “in the light of life.” “This I know, that God is for me.”
  • Psalm 66. “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” What did God do for you in 2014? How have you seen his steadfast love at work in your life? Tell others!
  • Psalm 90. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In light of the frailty and brevity of your own life, look to the Lord, “our dwelling place in all generations,” to establish the work of your hands.
  • Psalm 102. “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” Remember that God holds the power to roll up heaven and earth, and compared to the glory he has prepared for you, all tribulation is but light and momentary.
  • Psalm 145. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” Do you worry about your future? Are you anxious about what tomorrow may bring? Look to God, who satisfies “the desire of every living thing.” Praise him for his provision!

In summary, as we look forward to the start of a new year, what better way to do so than with the “spiritual smartphone” of the Psalter in our hands (and our hearts). Equipping us for days of prosperity and days of adversity, times of sickness and health, the Psalms are an incredible gift from God for our spiritual walk. In the wisdom and comfort they provide, we can advance confidently into 2015 knowing that “the LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 148:10).

Happy New Year!

–MRK

Lord’s Day 50: The Only Source of Everything Good

Catechism and Psalter

Today’s installment in this URC Psalmody series brings us to Lord’s Day 50 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which considers the fourth request of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

125 Q.  What does the fourth request mean?

A.  Give us this day our daily bread means,

Do take care of all our physical needs
so that we come to know
that you are the only source of everything good,
and that neither our work and worry
nor your gifts
can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures
and to put trust in you alone.

Suggested Songs

259, “Unto the Hills I Lift Mine Eyes” (Psalm 121)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good.”  Contrary to our human instincts, the motivation for praying “Give us this day our daily bread” has nothing to do with worry.  Only a few verses after setting forth the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus directly tells his disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25 ESV).  The point is not whether we will have “our daily bread”—we will—but that our eyes are turned in the right direction; that we understand that our heavenly Father is indeed “the only source of everything good.”

One of the most poignant passages of Scripture regarding God’s provision and protection is Psalm 121.  Below are selected stanzas from the Genevan setting in the blue Psalter Hymnal.

Unto the hills I lift mine eyes
Whence cometh all my aid
When troubled or afraid.
Jehovah to my help shall rise,
He made the earth and heaven,
His aid is freely given.

Thy Keeper slumbereth not, nor shall
He cause thy foot to fail,
When danger doth assail.
Lo, He that keepeth Israel
Doth neither sleep nor slumber,
Naught shall thy soul encumber.

Jehovah will preserve thee when
The waves of trouble roll;
He will preserve thy soul.
When going out or coming in,
The Lord will thee deliver
From henceforth and forever.

6, “O Hear Me, Thou Most Righteous God” (Psalm 4)

“[N]either our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.”  Psalm 4 describes the lingering anxiety of those whose material needs are met, but who have themselves not met with God’s favor.  “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!’”  In contrast, the psalmist prays in complete composure, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”  Because his heart is right before the Lord he is able to “both lie down and sleep” (vv. 6-8), resting in the One who alone makes him dwell in safety.

O who will show us any good?
The anxious many say.
Then lift on us, O gracious God,
Thy loving face alway.

My joy in Thy good favor, Lord,
Exceeds their harvest glee;
I rest in confidence, for Thou
Art my security.

219, “My Heart Is Fixed, O God” (Psalm 108)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.”  When we sincerely pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge that God alone can supply our deepest physical and spiritual needs.  As we fight our daily battles against sin, the world, and the devil, trusting in anything apart from God will cause us to stumble.  “Oh grant us help against the foe,” cries David in Psalm 108, “for vain is the salvation of man!  With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (vv. 12, 13).

Above the heavens, O God,
And over all the earth,
Let men exalt Thy glorious Name
And tell Thy matchless worth.

O who will lead our hosts
To triumph o’er the foe,
If Thou shalt cast us off, O God,
Nor with our armies go?

The help of man is vain,
Be Thou our Helper, Lord;
Through Thee we shall do valiantly
If Thou Thine aid afford.

301, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psalm 146)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and at Synod 2012)

We close our study of Lord’s Day 50 with a rousing setting of Psalm 146, which is itself an entire commentary on this request, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,
Nor for help on man depend;
He shall die, to dust returning,
And his purposes shall end.

Happy is the man that chooses
Israel’s God to be his aid;
He is blest whose hope of blessing
On the Lord his God is stayed.
Heaven and earth the Lord created,
Seas and all that they contain;
He delivers from oppression,
Righteousness He will maintain.

Food He daily gives the hungry,
Sets the mourning prisoner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish,
Makes the sightless eyes to see.
Well Jehovah loves the righteous,
And the stranger He befriends,
Helps the fatherless and widow,
Judgment on the wicked sends.

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.
Over all God reigns forever,
Through all ages He is King;
Unto Him, thy God, O Zion,
Joyful hallelujahs sing.

–MRK

Psalm 138: The Work of Your Hands

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

–Psalm 138:1,2 (ESV)

"Do not forsake the work of your hands."

“Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

Perhaps the best commentary on Psalm 138 comes from the Apostle Paul, who wrote confidently to the church in Philippi that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  Indeed, though this psalm contains a mixture of praise, prayer, and exposition, its central theme can be summed up as the Perseverance of the Saints, the “P” in our familiar Calvinistic acronym “TULIP.”

As I mentioned during our study of Psalm 135, this final section of the Psalter freely echoes many phrases from earlier in the book.  Thus, David begins Psalm 138 by bringing whole-hearted thanksgiving to God, much as he did in Psalms 9 and 111.  Next he praises the Lord for exalting “above all things” his Name and his Word, recalling the themes of Psalms 8 (“How majestic is your name in all the earth!”) and 19 (“The law of the Lord is perfect”).  The psalmist also says, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased,” which serves as a marvelous answer to the numerous requests for deliverance throughout the Psalter, such as Psalm 3:4 and 4:1.

In the next section of Psalm 138, David declares:

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.

–vv. 4-6

Truly the parallels between Psalm 138 and the rest of the Psalter are countless, but this section most closely resembles (and responds to) Psalm 102.  Or, in the words of the Psalter Hymnal’s versification of Psalm 22, “Both rich and poor, both bond and free/Shall worship Him on bended knee.”

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

–vv. 7, 8

As Psalm 138 draws to a close, the beloved words of Psalm 23 come to mind: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…you are with me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  What awes me about Psalm 138 is the seamless transition from the universal greatness of God (“All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord”) to a deeply personal realization of God’s goodness (“I give you thanks, O Lord…The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me”).  Because its author rests in the confidence that God will never forsake the work of his hands, Psalm 138 affords its readers an all-transcending comfort.

286, “With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at Synod 2012)

The Psalter Hymnal contains two complete settings of Psalm 138, one from the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter and one from the Genevan (Dutch) Psalter.  Both are textually and musically solid, although they do contain a few variants which result from their basis in the King James Version rather than a contemporary translation.

The only significant weaknesses in number 286 are the lack of reference to God’s Name along with his Word at the end of the first stanza, and a rather poor rendering of the very last sentence, “Do not forsake the work of your hands” (versified as, “O Lord, my Maker, think on me”).  Thankfully, both of these flaws should be easy to fix.

The tune of “With Grateful Heart” will be immediately recognized as the music of the gospel hymn “The Solid Rock” (which a glance at the tune name would confirm).  Many newer hymnals have made the decision to lower the key from G to F; this sacrifices brilliance, but it may be the only option for a congregation lacking in sopranos and tenors.  A possibly appropriate compromise would be to play the first three stanzas in F, then rise to G for the last verse.  Stylistically, the only troublesome spot to watch out for is the quarter note at the end of the third line of music, on the syllable “grace.”  The gray 1987 Psalter Hymnal changed this measure to 5/4 with this quarter note augmented to a half note, which I believe is the proper length.  In other words, just make sure you hold this note long enough for the singers have enough time to catch their breath before moving on to “For truth and grace…”  Thankfully, most musicians will take this pause instinctively even if they don’t realize it.

287, “With All My Heart Will I Record”

(Sung on YouTube)

There is nothing like a good, singable Genevan psalm to raise the spirits, and this versification of Psalm 138 fits the bill.  The text is probably one of Dewey Westra’s best psalm settings, striking a much-needed balance between accuracy and poetry.  It must have taken some amount of genius to compose this versification, since it also contains a hidden rhyming scheme:

With all my heart will I record
Thy praise, O Lord,
And exaltation.
Before the gods with joyful song
Will I prolong
My adoration.

For me, the fourth and final verse packs the most powerful punch:

Lord, though I walk ‘mid troubles sore,
Thou wilt restore my faltering spirit;
Though angry foes my soul alarm,
Thy mighty arm will save and cheer it.
Yea, Thou wilt finish perfectly
What Thou for me hast undertaken;
May not Thy works, in mercy wrought,
E’er come to naught or be forsaken.

While the first line of the tune JUBILATION resembles the opening of DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”), this tune is both longer and much more musically interesting.  On the other hand, it could certainly prove to be a challenge for an unfamiliar accompanist.  The keys to the successful execution of a Genevan tune are a solid rhythm and emphatic melody line; one suggestion I’ve heard for unfamiliar congregations is to play only the melody line for the first verse, even on the pedals.  But while this music may be challenging, I think it flows quite logically, and will probably be picked up in no time.

Commenting on Psalm 138:8, Charles Spurgeon writes:

Our confidence does not cause us to live without prayer, but encourages us to pray all the more.  Since we have it written upon our hearts that God will perfect his work in us, and we see it also written in Scripture that his mercy changeth not, we with holy earnestness entreat that we may not be forsaken.  If there be anything good in us, it is the work of God’s own hands: will he leave it?  Why has he wrought so much in us if he means to give us up?—it will be a sheer waste of effort.  He who has gone so far will surely persevere with us until the end.  Our hope for the final perseverance of the believer lies in the final perseverance of the believer’s God….Therefore do we praise him with our whole heart.

–MRK


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