Eugene Peterson’s book “Eat this Book” teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. Psalm 32 offers a challenge for our age: Abandon control, confess your defiance, receive forgiveness – and raise the roof in celebration!
Psalm 32: 3-11 (The Message)
“When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared.
These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dams burst we’ll be on high ground, untouched. God’s my island hideaway, keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.
Let me give you some good advice; I’m looking you in the eye and giving it to you straight: “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track.” God-defiers are always in trouble; God-affirmers find themselves loved every time they turn around.
Celebrate God. Sing together—everyone! All you honest hearts, raise the roof!”
Many commentators suggest that Psalm 32 was written in response to David’s sin with Bathsheba. This Psalm is well-known for its discussion of sin and the need to confess it as well as the dangerous results of long-term feelings of shame and guilt. The Message’s vision of bones turning to powder, words turning to groans, and vital “juices” drying up is particularly powerful. So is the vision of being safe on high ground untouched “when all hell breaks loose,” or on an island hideaway named God, protected from danger and festooned with “garlands of hosannas” around our necks.
However, some more good advice follows in the last two verses of the Psalm: Don’t be cantankerous and touchy like an animal that needs a bit and bridle to be obedient. This advice speaks to the need for our voluntary surrender to the King of Kings – a gentle obedience – on a moment to moment basis. “God defiers” who buck and kick and never give in are “always in trouble,” while those of us who fight God at every turn, though eventually “knuckling under,” may miss that delightful affirmation of “being loved every time they turn around.”
Fans of mules resist the description of them as “stubborn.” They claim that mules have an a strong desire for self-preservation that makes them inclined to resist. That description makes the mule a perfect example of how not to relate to God. Like mules, human beings are determined to preserve their “self” or their will or their power or their independence. For Christ-followers the exact opposite is required. Being submissive, while not a trait humans (or mules) may appreciate, is the path to becoming like Jesus.
Humans (and maybe mules) need forgiveness when they insist on being in charge. God is ready to give that forgiveness. He even pursues us in a multitude of ways so that he can offer it to us. David, one of the most honest sinners in the Bible, understood the joy and relief of feeling forgiven. He tells us to celebrate, to sing – even to the point of “raising the roof ” – when the pressure of sin is gone and our guilt is dissolved.
♥ Pray this prayer each morning: “Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty, power that I might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen” (from The Divine Hours, Prayers for Summertime, by Phyllis Tickle).
♥ Every time you decide that something is not fair or you claim to be “right” or you exercise your stubborn muscle, stop and try to assess the feeling that goes with these behaviors. After several times, you may be able to note the feeling in your stomach or the hear the anger in your voice, or feel the tightness in your clenched fists before you even do the behaviors. Those feelings are all about preserving your “self” and about choosing not to submit to God’s direction. Let those feelings guide you to choose “gentle obedience” instead of fiery independence.
♥ Celebrate your obedience! Celebrate your forgiveness when you haven’t been obedient. Play your favorite music, get your paint and easels out, write in your journal, tell your friends, create “garlands of hosannas, cook a festive meal. And invite God to join the process.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“The line in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America speaks of the Creator endowing every person with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The psalms, which speak much about happiness, do not speak of pursuing happiness. According to the psalms, God’s steadfast love is on the hunt, chasing after me. Another psalmist put it this way (translating the Hebrew more literally than usual) “Surely goodness and mercy (hesed) shall chase after me all the days of my life…” [Psalm 23:6] (By James Limburg in the Working Preacher blog.)