‘Therefore we will not fear’

This morning in my devotions I read Psalm 46 and came across these words:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble in its tumult (Psalm 46:2-3).

I don’t know what potentially cataclysmic military or political event the writer of Psalm 46 was referring to here, but I’m betting that it wasn’t an earthquake so severe that it caused the mountains to collapse into the heart of the sea. Maybe it was a foreign invasion that threatened Jerusalem; maybe it was the death of a righteous king and his replacement by his useless son. Whatever it was, the writer saw it as what we would call today an ‘earth-shaking’ event (although the earth is not literally shaken).

Some people (of a particular political stripe) would see the election of the NDP as the Government of Alberta, or the Liberals as the Government of Canada, as such an event. Many people would see the potential nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President of the United States – and even more, his election to that high office – as such an event. In ancient time, the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. was seen in those terms – causing St. Augustine to write his famous book ‘The City of God’ – and so was the Fall of Jerusalem to Roman armies in A.D. 66-70.

The point the writer is making – the point the writer is praying to God in this psalm – is that though elections go badly (as we would say today), though kings and governments fall, though society goes to hell in a hand basket, it’s still true that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…’ (vv.1-2a).

What is our true fortress? Is it the walls of Jerusalem (built on a mountain that might crumble one day)? Is it our military might or political systems? Is it the election of a government we approve of? Is it our financial security or our excellent health-care system? No – when push comes to shove, none of these can guarantee our safety. Our cities may fall, our governments may do asinine things, and one day (violently or peacefully) all of us will die. And so we cry out with the psalmist,

The LORD of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our refuge (v.7, v,.11).

Lord of hosts, help us today to ‘Be still, and know that you are God’ (v.10). We know that the more we wait on you and seek your face, the more we will be reassured in the face of disaster. So help us to put our trust in you today, and know that you alone are God. Amen.

In Awe of the Psalms

Psalms%2040

‘We should be in awe of the Psalms, they have lasted thousands of years, translate into multiple languages, and were a staple diet for our spiritual ancestors. Ninety Psalms are quoted in the New Testament, and short quotes are like headlines that say ‘go back and read the whole thing’. Augustine called the Psalms a school for people learning to pray. Ambrose called them a ‘gymnasium’. Athanasius said that whereas most of scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us, they give us a language, a vocabulary of engagement with God for every kind of circumstance and condition.

‘We would do well to increase their use in public worship, but the setting from which I would suggest the ‘jewel’ is most absent is not so much the public as the private.

‘I believe that the Psalms are gifted by God to enable every Christian to do much better what most Christians find most difficult – to pray and worship daily with gritty honesty, consistency using words inspired by the Holy Spirit. What if that daily habit became established in every worshipping community?

‘One of the strongest arguments for using the Psalms is both simple and profound – it was what Jesus did. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, songbook and meditation manual, and if he needed them how much more do we? The Christian community was early convinced that he continues praying them through us as we pray them: “we recite this prayer of the Psalm in Him, and He recites it in us.” [Augustine]. We can take the Psalms on our lips as God’s gift of words to sing or pray back to him, knowing that they are fulfilled in Christ.’

 – Graham Kendrick.

Read the rest here. And no need for Anglicans to feel all smug and self-satisfied about the fact that we still use the psalms in our public worship. How many Anglican Christians use the psalms regularly in their private prayers?

On using the Psalms as a regular part of Sunday worship

Our own private griefs are, often enough, quite paltry: but we are invited to join in the gigantic earth-shaking laments of the psalms. Our own criteria for happiness are selfish and small: but we are allowed to share in the magnificent heaven-rending joys of the psalmist. Our own love for God is so feeble that we might forget all about God for days at a time: but our hearts are torn wide open as we join our voices to the enormous lovesick longing of the psalmist’s praise. We are safe, affluent, protected, untroubled by enemies or oppression: but we learn to join our voices to the psalmist’s indignant cries for the catastrophic appearance of justice on the earth.

Read the rest here.

God’s priceless gift of sleep

Like most people who are getting a little longer in the tooth, I don’t sleep as well as I used to. I have fond memories of those years as a teenager when I would go to bed at midnight on a Friday night and regain consciousness at noon on Saturday, without having woken up once in between. Those were the days.

Nowadays I don’t sleep so well. I cannot remember the last time I slept clear through the night, without once waking up. These days, if I only wake up once during the night, and if I get back to sleep again without any difficulty, I think it’s been a good night. Most nights, I’m awake at least a couple of times, and it’s pretty normal to have to get up for a while to avoid disturbing my wife. It’s a rare night when I wake up in the morning feeling completely rested and refreshed.

All this gives me a lot more appreciation for a prayer in our Canadian Prayer Book (1959):

‘O Lord, who hast pity for all our weakness: put away from us worry and every anxious fear, that, having ended the labours of the day as in thy sight, and committing our tasks, ourselves, and all we love into thy keeping, we may, now that night cometh, receive as from thee thy priceless gift of sleep; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ (‘Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families: Evening’, BCP p.730).

This prayer speaks to me of trust and gratitude, and of a proper sense of my own role in the world. If I were God, I would not be able to sleep, which is fine because I don’t think God needs sleep. I would be responsible for making sure that everything in all of creation worked as it was meant to work, and for looking out for the safety of all my children – all my billions of children – throughout time and space, on this world and on any other worlds where they might be found. That’s a full time job and admits of no respite. Fortunately, God is up to the task.

I, however, am not, so it’s fortunate that I am not God. I have family and friends to love and a parish to care for, and concerns about things that are happening near and far. However, it is not within my power to effectively care for them all twenty-four hours a day. At some point every day, whether or not I have completed the labours of the day, I nonetheless have to end them. I like the way the prayer is so carefully worded. Many times the day comes to an end before I have ticked off every item on my to-do list. Many times I end my day with work unfinished. So be it. It is time to ‘end the labours of the day as in thy sight’. It is time to entrust it all, finished or unfinished, into God’s safe-keeping, and to go to sleep, confident that he is strong enough to look after it all while I am resting.

Easier said than done! Worry and anxious fear is not easy to let go of. Also, bones and muscles get stiffer with age, and the bladder gets a little more fussy with every passing year, so that often times it’s discomfort that wakes us up during the night, not worry and every anxious fear. There are things we can do to make sleep easier (watch what we eat in the evening, dim the lights slowly, don’t get the brain buzzing by watching movies or reading blogs at 11.00 p.m. etc.), but even when those things are all done faithfully, in the end, sleep remains a gift. It is not entirely within my control. So I pray that God will give me his priceless gift of sleep. And when he does, I give thanks.

‘We will lay us down in peace and take our rest; for it is thou, Lord, only, that makest us dwell in safety.
‘Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name. Leave us not, O Lord our God.
‘Preserve us, O Lord, waking, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace. Amen.

‘The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night, and at the last a perfect end; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be with us this night and for evermore. Amen.’
(‘Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families: Evening’, BCP p.731).