Praying with the Psalms – Thursday 25th June

Doing what comes naturally

Psalm 50

  1. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for my soul takes refuge in you;
  2. In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge
    until the storm of destruction has passed by.
  3. I will call upon the Most High God,
    the God who fulfils his purpose for me.
  4. He will send from heaven and save me
    and rebuke those that would trample upon me;
    God will send forth his love and his faithfulness.
  5. I lie in the midst of lions,
    people whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
  6. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
    and your glory over all the earth.
  7. They have laid a net for my feet; my soul is pressed down;
    they have dug a pit before me and will fall into it themselves.
  8. My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready;
    I will sing and give you praise.
  9. Awake, my soul; awake, harp and lyre,
    that I may awaken the dawn.
  10. I will give you thanks, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praise to you among the nations.
  11. For your loving-kindness is as high as the heavens,
    and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
  12. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
    and your glory over all the earth.

Reflection

One of my favourite books is a little one written by C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia books, over 60 years ago. It is called Reflections on the Psalms.

In it, Lewis raises a question which is an obvious one once you think about it. Why do Christians spend so much time praising God? In particular, why does God apparently demand it? Doesn’t God already know how great he is? After all, we despise human beings who are always fishing for compliments.

What sort of God wants us to spend all this time and effort and money on telling him how brilliant he is? And why does praising God so often seem to consist of encouraging other people, and even, in the psalms, animals and inanimate objects, to praise him too?

Lewis answers this by turning to our ordinary habit of praising. We praise all the time. When we come across a beautiful view, the first thing we do is to point it out to the people around us.

Look at that view! Isn’t it wonderful? We haven’t really expressed our joy until it is shared. As a newly-married man (yes, at the age of 67!), I am constantly telling people how wonderful Jen is.

When the Psalmists praise God, they don’t seem to think they are being especially virtuous. They are simply doing what comes naturally. If we praise a sunset or a painting, then how much more are we to praise the most praiseworthy of all, God himself? They just can’t resist, they are itching to get to the harp.

You sometimes hear it said that people go to church more for the enjoyment of the music than for genuine spiritual reasons, whether they prefer modern worship songs or cathedral choirs. I don’t think the writer of this Psalm would have understood the distinction.

Of course the act of praising God is enjoyable. How can you separate the celebration of God’s goodness from the exuberance of the worship in his Holy Temple?

And worship is not only for the good times. Here in Psalm 57, praise is the response to a situation of fear and danger. The Psalmist responds, not by gritting his teeth and trying to manufacture a pious “joy”, but rather by reflecting with confidence on the power and goodness of God, and responding in praise.

The writer of this Psalm had much less cause to worship God than we have. He knew the power and the goodness of God, but he didn’t know that God had come to us himself in the person of Jesus, died for us and risen again.

We have the very best Good News to share. The 17th century Scottish catechism answers the question, “What is the chief end [purpose] of Man?” with the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Amen, Alleluia!

Reflection by Gordon James
Reader and Local Mission Leader
(St James with St Thomas Poolstock)