Psalm 9

We are reminded that God is established forever. He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. There was no one before Him, and there will be no one after Him. His throne is established in eternity. Ultimately, nothing and nobody can usurp him. 

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Mortal
Psalm 9

 

For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Death of the Son’. A psalm of David.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and rejoice in you;

    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

My enemies turn back;

    they stumble and perish before you.

For you have upheld my right and my cause,

    sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.

You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;

    you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,

    you have uprooted their cities;

    even the memory of them has perished.

The Lord reigns for ever;

    he has established his throne for judgment.

He rules the world in righteousness

    and judges the peoples with equity.

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,

    a stronghold in times of trouble.

10 Those who know your name trust in you,

    for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;

    proclaim among the nations what he has done.

12 For he who avenges blood remembers;

    he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

13 Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!

    Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,

14 that I may declare your praises

    in the gates of Daughter Zion,

    and there rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;

    their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.

16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;

    the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,

    all the nations that forget God.

18 But God will never forget the needy;

    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

19 Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;

    let the nations be judged in your presence.

20 Strike them with terror, Lord;

    let the nations know they are only mortal.


The psalms are Hebrew poetry. We mostly think about rhyming poetry where the ends of words rhyme.

Another type of poetry is to make the ideas sound like each other.

Psalm 9:8 is a good example of this. The 2 parts of the verse mean the same.

Another form of Hebrew poetry was to use an acrostic. This often caused the words to be jumbled and makes for difficult reading or awkward translation like Psalm 9:3.

Not many of the psalms are acrostics. Psalm 119 is the most well known acrostic. The others are 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, and 145.

We do not usually translate them into English as acrostics, because there are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. However psalm 9 and 10 have been translated in this way because some of the letters are missing.

David probably wrote Psalm 9 and 10 as one psalm. Jewish tradition holds that he wrote it after he killed Goliath. The first part says that God beat the foreign enemy (Psalm 9). The second part says that wicked men in Israel are making the helpless into oppressed people. (Psalm 10)

The reasons for thinking that it was one psalm are:

  ·   Psalm 10 has no words at the top about David or music. This is quite unusual in a psalm by David.

  ·   Hebrew words that David did not often use are in Psalms 9 and 10.

  ·   Psalms 9 and 10 make one acrostic.

However, Psalms 9 and 10 evidence two different approaches. The first is an individual hymn while the second is an individual lament.

In the first part (verses 1-12), praise is prominent, and in the second part (verses 13-20), prayer is prominent. Many subtle patterns weave the thoughts of its verses and lines together. Shifting back and forth between the individual and corporate perspectives is characteristic, as are introverted, structures.

David’s hymn in Psalm 9 ebbs and flows through two respective tides of prayer and praise dealing with individual and corporate perspectives.

Verses 1-2 introduce some “I will” statements as we glimpse David’s dedication to exuberant worship of the Lord.

There is a strong sense of gratitude for the fact that God has made him victorious over his enemies (presumably the Philistines).

Marvelous works are celebrated, referencing God’s extraordinary interventions into history on behalf of His people (compare the Exodus events).

This is a psalm determined to praise God and connect with him in awe and gratitude. The opening verses are deeply expressive.

Verses 5 and 6 reveal the just Judge’s dealings with the godless. Verses 7 and 8, deal with His dealings with all men in general, and verses 9 and 10 deal with His gracious dealings with the faithful.

We are reminded that God is established forever. He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. There was no one before Him, and there will be no one after Him. His throne is established in eternity. Ultimately, nothing and nobody can usurp him.

In verses 9-10 we are informed that he is a refuge. God as a place of safety is a recurring theme in the Psalms (46:1-2; 91:1-2). A refuge or stronghold, sometimes translated “fortress”. He is a high place of security and protection (1 Samuel 23:14, 19, 29).

There is a “both/and” tension running throughout the Old Testament, i.e., God is enthroned in and above the heavens, and also, He symbolically dwells locally in Zion in His tabernacle (compare 1 Kings Chapter 8; Psalm 11:4).

As the result of this omnipresent wonder and in celebration of his work and intervention. The heart of the psalmist is full of praise and joy. He wants the world to know just who is this God!

In God’s kingdom the humble are celebrated, the weak are protected and the violators of peace are brought to justice. He will remember those who have suffered innocent bloodshed and he brings judgement on their oppressors.

Death is depicted like an earthly city, surrounded by a wall, where people are held captive – hence the reference to the gates of death.

The idea in verses 13 & 14 is, that the dead could not praise God, that his work of  is not yet complete, so he calls on God to intervene and save him so that he can continue to worship and praise him on the earth. This of course is an earthly perspective.

The psalm finishes by telling us 2 things:

  ·   God will remember the oppressed, even if they have to wait what appears to be a long time

  ·   God will teach us that we are only human and therefore mortal. It is only God that is really powerful

In verses 15-16, we are presented with God’s unfailing  boomerang. The principle of exact retribution. This in popular culture today is called karma or “what goes around, comes around”.


Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015

I spent a good amount of the day going through the loft looking for things to list on eBay. I have a lot of vinyl records, some that are worth decent sums of money but are a bit awkward to list from the phone and the computer is painfully slow but I managed to get a few items up. I was trying to find my EWI (Electronic woodwind instrument). I am sure I could get at least £200 for that but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was quite puzzled and a little consumed by the apparent loss of this instrument. I could not  remember taking it out of the house for many months and was sure I had seen it since. I found it eventually at about 11pm and was so relieved.

My dad phoned. It was a better conversation than last time. A little less of an edge. It must be difficult for him. I am sure it must bring up some of his own stuff plus I just learned that his sister, my aunt had just come out of a coma so he had all that going on when he last called. I knew she was very sick but I had no idea that she was in a coma until today. He was still mainly concerned about me being out of work, the financial situation but he did ask towards the end of the conversation “what are the chances of a reconciliation with my wife”. I told him that it was early days yet and that we both needed space and processing time but I would not rule it out.

PSALM 9
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
…………………….
I hold on to these words in Psalm 9. God is my stronghold in times of trouble. All I can do in this moment is to seek God. He will not forget about me.

My experience of God is an absent God…he’s out there doing his thing, being God but he’s not so interested in me. He is busy with the universe and other people who are more connected to him and have better hearts than me. Of course that experience is erroneous and in contradiction to scripture.

I know Jesus saved his strongest words for the self righteous and religious. I am a sinner of the highest order. I can see Jacob the deceiver in me, Samson the manipulator, David the adulterer who covered his steps by killing her husband, I am Jonah the moaner who ran away. I am not a pretty picture but God used all these people despite their flaws.

One of my friends and journal recipients came round in the evening and we spent a couple of hours together. It was great to see him. I talked through my story and he asked me a number of questions. We prayed and he told me that it was really helpful for him to be able to have more empathy for me. I really am glad that he is in this loop. He is a great friend. Meeting with him gave me the confidence and desire to make some more connections. I thinking about others I want to connect with. Yesterday was a pretty good day in the end.


Reflections two years on

The first thing that strikes me about this Psalm is that gratitude is key. I didn’t have a whole lot of gratitude two years ago. My thought life was dominated by fear, anxiety, anger, judgement, sadness and mostly self pity.

There was however a small glimmer of light and enough of an awareness of the presence of God to edge me forward. People were generally more gracious than I expected to. This gave me confidence to edge further forward, make apologies, some amends and reconnect.

Psalm 9 is a celebration of who God is. It is a Psalm of wonder and confidence in his absolute sovereignty.

It reminds me that though I have many limitations, God compensates for all this. In him there is more than hope. There is surety that every injustice, every despair, every failing will be put right. God is God…we are not.

Psalm 6

Sometimes wrestling in prayer to surrender to God’s will and ask for his mercy can bring about a confidence and great peace even without the circumstances being different. David demonstrates this with a bold stance against his enemies. David has taken his eyes off his worldly problems and fixed them on God knowing that he can do more than he can ask or imagine. 

have-mercy-peggy-pool
Psalm 6

 

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger

    or discipline me in your wrath.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;

    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

My soul is in deep anguish.

    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;

    save me because of your unfailing love.

Among the dead no one proclaims your name.

    Who praises you from his grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping

    and drench my couch with tears.

My eyes grow weak with sorrow;

    they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,

    for the Lord has heard my weeping.

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;

    the Lord accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;

    they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

——————————

It appears that David was ill. We are not given any detail and there are no solid clues as to when it was written or the source of his affliction.

There are speculative assumptions that it was either when Absalom tried to become king (2 Samuel 15:14) or when King Saul tried to kill David (1 Samuel 19:18)

It is evident that David isolated and struggling emotionally. He was seemingly ill in body and in mind. He felt that God had abandoned him.

 

The lament is intense. David is sleepless. His circumstances seem hopeless. The early Christian church regarded this psalm as the first among the “penitential psalms” (compare Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143). David’s cries, coming from his despair addresses two different audiences.

He pours out his soul before God, He has a defeatist mentality (6:1-7), and then he turns his attention to his enemies with a bold defiance (6:8-10).

A new musical direction appears, literally “upon an eight”, indicating either “upon an eight-stringed lyre” or “upon the octave” (i.e., a lower bass melody to accompany these lyrics of intense lament).

David appears to be deeply troubled by something, possibly an illness that his own sin may have caused (Psalm 41:4; Hosea 6:1). He pleads God for mercy, knowing that it is not deserved but urgently needed. “My bones” and “my soul” represent the whole person. There are allusions to his condition being an emotional or mental illness as well as physical. He does not ask for immunity from judgement, but for the tempering of God’s discipline with mercy.

His pleading is that God will not abandon him, this could well be a spiritual illness as a result of sin. The mention of bodily parts does not necessary imply a physical ailment. In Old Testament anthropology such references are metaphors for an affliction of his total being.

 

There is an evident turn of events or at least in his mindset. Sometimes wrestling in prayer to surrender to God’s will and ask for his mercy can bring about a confidence and great peace even without the circumstances being different. David demonstrates this with a bold stance against his enemies. David has taken his eyes off his worldly problems and fixed them on God knowing that he can do more than he can ask or imagine.

 

 


Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015


In all of this darkness, it is a blessing to be out of work at the moment. To be able to sit in the park, to journal, to reflect, to have processing time. It’s like God has given me a sabbatical. I feel the grace of God.

Reading “The gifts of imperfection” is very engaging and invigorating.

I have been trading in authenticity for approval. It’s easy to see it now. I want people to like me, to tell me I am somebody, I want to be close and to be emotionally intimate but I am afraid. I think back to interactions with my parents and teachers that closed me down. I can’t blame them. I am an adult. Why didn’t I get this? Why was I able to manufacture enough vulnerability for people to believe I was open and honest. Why didn’t I actually be honest?

Shame hates it when we tell our story. Satan hates it when we walk in the light because he cannot operate in the light. We are told not to give him a foothold (Ephesians 4:27) and if we are in the light the accuser cannot accuse because our answer to his accusations will always be “I know and so do my friends and praise God for the blood of Jesus”. I really believe that. Why don’t I live it? I don’t understand.

I need friends to tell my story too
But I need to choose my inner circle wisely.

I personalize and paraphrase some helpful notes from the book below.

I have different kinds of friends who in any given situation could respond in an unhelpful way. This is not a question of sincerity but more a question of their life, their experiences and their ability to be what I need in a given moment.

Examples of who I don’t need:
1. Someone who hears my story, feels the shame and gasps at how horrified I should be followed by awkward silence and then it becomes my role to make them feel better.

2. Someone who responds with sympathy rather than empathy. The last thing I need is for someone to feel sorry for me.

3. Someone who is too disappointed because they expect me to be a pillar of worthiness and authenticity.

4. Someone who is uncomfortable with vulnerability and the first thing out of their mouth is “How did you let this happen?” Or “What were you thinking?” Or perhaps they look for someone to blame.

5. Someone who wants to just make me feel better so refuses to acknowledge what’s happened. They insist that I am  exaggerating or tell me about all my positive traits and remind me that everyone thinks I am awesome.

6. Someone who goes on to say “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about what happened to me”.

I have been all of those people at any given time but what I need in that moment is to feel safe enough to be vulnerable, exposed and at the same time to be completely loved and accepted. That is the definition of compassion that I will work with for now.

I have two men that I trust implicitly in my inner circle at the moment. I thought about adding another specific person but his role in recent years has been too directive and I don’t feel safe to be vulnerable but I do want to add one or two more people.

The root word for courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. The origins of the word courage are “To speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart”. Speaking honestly and openly about who we are , about what we are feeling, about our good and bad  experiences is the true definition of courage. Heroes facing fearful situations is just one facet of courage but it is the popular definition. Ordinary courage is putting our vulnerability on the line and that’s what I want to continue working on and developing.

It’s important for me to recognize that I need help.

PSALM 6
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

The only totally dependable thing I have to lean on is God’s unfailing love. This kind of love never fails. No matter what is going on for me. Everything is an act of love from God. I need to hold on to that. I need to live it and breath it. Sometimes I struggle to pray. I struggle to say the words. I can write well but too often my prayer life descends into rambling. I am not sure if it matters or if I will grow in it. I know if I am honest with God it’s enough. He takes our honesty in lieu of our perfection.

My local congregational minister called me. It was good to hear from him. He asked me how I was and towards the end of the conversation he asked me what I was doing about going to church. My cynical mind went to a place where he is trying to figure out if I should be still on the membership or not or that I will be judged on the basis of my attendance. I don’t really think God pays much attention to the membership role. In our movement we used to view the membership as though it was the book of life. We laugh at that now but there is an underlying sense of if you are not on the membership your chances of making it are slim.

It’s not the point. I explained to him that I was not ready to attend church meetings yet and that because I am so well known could not think of anywhere in the UK churches where I would feel safe. He suggested that I look up a specific group who are the roots of our movement and we share a similar doctrinal position. I told him that I would give it consideration but would not guarantee. I wanted to be honest with him. I was pleased that I was. There have been times in my relationship with him when I have said “Yes” when I meant “no” or “I am not sure” but today was different. I probably will go. I am curious to see what it’s like but there’s a part of me that has been enjoying free time on Sundays and not rushing around being a cog in the system. I am in no hurry to get back. I know I need fellowship, relationships but meetings don’t really provide that for me.

It’s amazing I have 12 extra hours in the day from not working and I still don’t get everything done. Today I was frustrated about that.

I wrestled with the controls of the DVD player for my grandson for about 30 minutes and I couldn’t get it to work. I felt inadequate. I also felt inadequate about all the little repair jobs around the house my brother in law had done for my wife in my absence. She proudly showed the results to me. Some she had asked me to do numerous times but I didn’t have a clue what to do. I always felt a failure as a man with this stuff. I should know how to fix things etc.  It felt like rubbing salt into a wound.

The bank put my wife’s mortgage application for referral because “someone associated with her has a bad credit rating”. That’s me of course. I felt terrible.

Skype, Facebook and Facebook messenger are open on my work phone and someone there is reading and responding to my private messages. Only saying I am not there anymore. I have now asked three times for these apps to be deleted from the phone and I feel very uncomfortable that they can read my messages. I started to wonder if they are legally allowed. Surely it’s like opening someone else’s post. I wrote again politely asking that they remove these apps.

I am going to write a letter to each of my children. I don’t know how they will respond. I am not expecting anything from them. I have no business expecting anything at all. The only thing I can do is write, take responsibility, acknowledge the pain, distress and hurt I have caused. However they choose to respond is their choice. This takes faith.

I watched the two Ted Talks again last night. The addiction talk connected with me. The idea of addiction being a bonding issue makes a lot of sense. We bond with people when we are happy and healthy because in the core of our being we are wired for relationship. If we have not been given the tools to bind with people or we have suffered trauma or some kind of unresolved grief we bond with something else. My bonding was a perverse way of bonding with people. It was about manipulating attention, affection and manufacturing an artificial intimacy and love. I used women to meet this end, I have used music to meet this end, I have used carving out a niche in my work or even my work ethic itself to meet this end, I have tried to achieve to meet this end, I have done a lot to try and impress people to meet this end.

In normal life there are bonds and connections that people want to be present for – family, friends, work, social activities and interests. I ask myself why wasn’t that giving me a sense of purpose? What was missing? Why did I press the destruct button? It’s got to be something about my relationship with me. It’s got to be that I don’t like to be present with myself for some reason. I don’t know why that is. I need to discover this. I need to discover purpose, passion, authentic bonds and connection.

It is often said that we are the most connected society but it’s a parody of connection. It’s artificial. In crisis where are my Twitter followers? Where are my Facebook friends? I leaned on them too much and exposed too much to them. Why? for an artificial intimacy. I think the reality is that we are an increasingly isolated society and perhaps the loneliest society ever.

I think Mother Theresa may have said that loneliness is the harshest form of poverty. I paraphrase but I think whoever said that is right. For a few days living in my car I was the loneliest I had ever been. I felt abandoned by everyone. The reality was that I isolated myself. We have lost our sense of community in the modern world. We have lost our sense of belonging. Social recovery is what I need, rediscovering community is what I need …ultimately “All you need is love” …the Beatles were right after all. I wonder why the community of the church didn’t work for me and wonder if it will ever work. For my wife it’s everything. I see how she benefits from the support. Is it all down to my bohemian, maverick or rebellious spirit? Surely people like me can belong too? Was I kicking against religiousness and challenging for authenticity …my sermons seem to suggest that but all the time I was losing my authenticity and in the end I was the least authentic of all. It’s crazy, the very thing I craved I destroyed in myself by a compromise of dishonesty and moral failure. Why? I want to be honest and authentic but I need to understand why I was not.

The second talk on infidelity really resonated with me. The changing interpretations of marital unfaithfulness, the changing interpretation of monogamy …One person for life or one person at a time?  The only command repeated twice in the Bible …once for doing it and once for only thinking about it.

I liked her definition of an affair. A secret relationship, an emotional connection and a sexual alchemy.

The carnage that has occurred as a result of my infidelity has been hard to hear and I am only scratching the surface. I see shock in some, I see anger in others, I have my oldest daughter’s text and letter as a concrete reminder. I see my wife’s emotional fragility when always I knew her as the most robust of women. I don’t know how my son and my other daughter feel. I see the trauma and how it has destroyed my wife’s sense of self. I live every day with the consequences of having violated trust, I see my own identity crisis, I see my wife’s identity crisis and the identity crisis of what was our marriage.

Something inside me said I was entitled to do all I did and that this pursuit was legitimate despite my understanding of God’s word and even acceptance of God’s word. I remember justifying it by the mess I observed in the Old Testament …I am no worse than David and he was a man after God’s own heart.

I am only struggling with the things that are common to man. The strongest man (Samson), the wisest man (Solomon) and the man after God’s own heart (David) all had this problem. Why is there inside of me this entitlement that says “I deserve to be happy”. Is it a generational or genetic thing? Is it simply an issue of personal moral failure and sin.

I crossed a line that I never thought I would cross and after that the other lines were very easy to cross. The whole thing gathered momentum that by the time I put the brakes on it was way too late. It was like applying the brakes to a high speed train. It would take a while before it would stop and the crash was inevitable. Why would I risk losing everything? Did I believe I would lose everything? I don’t think I really thought much about the consequences. I felt I would always find a way out. Other times I remember thinking (especially towards the end) that I was heading for a crash and I think I pressed the destruct button for one last burst of feeling alive. When running the addiction recovery service, I often encountered people who would try “One last use up” before treatment.

I think this story was about self discovery. It was about longing and loss. It was about the discovery of a vitality that I never had. It really wasn’t my wife that I was turning away from but it was the person I had become. I really wasn’t looking for another partner but another self. It wasn’t about sex but it was about desire, attention and the fact that I could never have my lover .. It kept me in the state of desire, of wanting. It was a mental obsession and an act of compulsion.

In the talk the speaker said that every affair redefines the relationship and its important to ask the question what the legacy of the affair is. The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage. It’s an opportunity and a paradox with hurt and betrayal on one side with growth and self discovery on the other. The question of what it did to my wife and what did it mean to me needs to be answered. It’s too early to see it with the optimism of a journey of discovery but a mustard seed of faith and enough intent to say I want to repair, restore and repay is a starting point where I can see a glimmer of light.

This marriage is over. It can never be what it was. It will never be the same again but there is perhaps the possibility of inviting my wife to create a new marriage together in the future. I hope for this.


Reflections two years on

It is incredible to see how far we have come in two years. That is something to celebrate. I really can’t give myself much credit for this but God can reach way beyond what is possible with our human pride and selfishness. I am grateful that today I connect deeply with all of my children and with my wife …more deeply than I was capable of connecting with them before.

I can relate to David’s battle in the Psalm. The anguish of his emotional darkness and who knows what physical manifestations. His self focus and inability to see God in that moment is evident. Writing is powerful for exorcising our demons and to write with a mindful intent to bring God into the arena and wrestle with that has a unique power.

I was staying in the family home after a few days of living in my car in a supermarket car park when I wrote those words two years ago. My wife and children were gracious enough to allow me to stay in the garage. It was very early in my recovery journey, less than two weeks in. I felt the affliction and darkness that David describes in the Psalm and I prayed these words:

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

God answered, not on account of my heart but on account of his.

Psalm 4

God always shows up when we call on him in our distress. Our greatest most intimate moments of expression with him tend to be when he is all we have to cling to. When all other options are exhausted. The question arises as to why we go to the other options first and what are those other options that usurp God from his throne in our hearts? 

perspective

Psalm 4

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

Answer me when I call to you,

    my righteous God.

Give me relief from my distress;

    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?

    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;

    the Lord hears when I call to him.

Tremble and do not sin;

    when you are on your beds,

    search your hearts and be silent.

Offer the sacrifices of the righteous

    and trust in the Lord.

Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”

    Let the light of your face shine on us.

Fill my heart with joy

    when their grain and new wine abound.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,

    for you alone, Lord,

    make me dwell in safety.


Verse 8 indicates that this psalm is an evening prayer. It may well have been offered on the same occasion as described in the superscription of Psalm 3.

There are similarities between Psalms 3 and 4. David is besieged with suffering, injustice and oppression. Both Psalms demonstrate a shift in attitude from one of despair, to one of faith. This journey from anxiety to assurance is a frequent pattern in the Psalms. It creates a picture of what authenticity and prayer looks like as we discover Psalmists wrestling with their will versus God’s will and realign themselves to true north.

David Prays to God for Preservation (4:1), reasons with his enemies about Repentance (4:2-5) and finally praises God for true perspective (4:6-8).

Perhaps one of the greatest blessings in walking with God is not an answered prayer that goes the way that we think it should go but in the perspective we gain in truly seeking the heart of God, or that his face will shine upon us. This is the promised “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Psalm 4 introduces the first of 55 assignments to the master, director or chief overseer of worship services in its title. Further instruction is given in the direction “on stringed instruments”. The chief musician, therefore, was to lead the great choir and the string portion of the orchestra in this celebration of worship.

The chief musician was the director of music in the sanctuary. We are informed that David had set one person over the music in the sanctuary in the following verses:

“And these whom David set over the service of song in the house of the LORD, after that the ark had rest.” “And they ministered before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of the congregation with singing, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem: and they waited on their office according to their order.” – 1 Chronicles 6:31-32

The Hebrew word Neginoth (נְגִינוֹת) means instrumental music, or stringed instruments. It can be extended to mean a poem set to music.

Music is a powerful medium. It can  be emotive and stirring. It can be memorable. Soft soothing music that quietened a troubled soul is the very thing that got David into the house of Saul and brought about the pathway that would bring about David becoming king.

David’s cries to God, are effectively saying: You helped me before, help me now. Not an uncommon prayer among believers today and certainly one I have wheeled out of my own arsenal on occasions.

The conclusion of the prayer however is that true safety, true peace is found in God irrespective of what may be happening to you or around you.


Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015

It is humbling but a helpful reminder of the height from which I have fallen that a senior manager has been instructed by the government to attend the job club and be coached on my CV and interviewing skills. It is equally humbling to be applying for jobs that pay the minimum wage. It’s not pretty, but it’s raw and it’s real, it is more than I deserve so I just get on with it.

The person assisting me in the job club was friendly and helpful, she even showed some empathy when I was candidly honest about my story.

I always thought too much of myself, put too much stock in how others see me. It is good to be a nobody although it really does not feel good at all.

Immediately after my visit to the job club I had an appointment at the job centre. This was a different story. It felt more like an interrogation and Meenu my job seeking mentor could barely smile despite my attempts to be friendly. She invited me to use the computers. I tried three different computers and none of them worked. I was frustrated and walked out in the end. I went to use the internet at the library. I find the job centre quite a soulless place and the staff very unhelpful. One thing I was impressed by is the level of accountability to evidence that you are actively seeking work. If this is consistent across the board there is no reason for us to have people manipulating the system.

I sent an updated bulletin to my larger circle of contacts. I am just letting people know how I am doing. Some are in shock still, some are angry, some are numb and some are being predictably self righteous.

In the evening I helped my wife paint the kitchen for about an hour and we had a discussion about some of the events and reactions in our recent story. It helped me connect a bit more with the impact of my behaviour. It’s hard to hear about some of the reactions. We are both encountering a lot of erroneous assumptions about the situation.

My children are having a very hard time at teen camp. I am proud of them, that they have the courage to be present and engaged amidst assumptions and rumours. Accepting that I am the sole reason that they are going through this is hard. The fragile discussion with my wife is a baby step forward at the foot of the mountain we have to climb.

Many of these teens at teen camp looked up to me less than a month ago. The teen camp and all the other camps are part of a legacy I built and left behind when I was asked to leave the ministry.  My bitter root is in there somewhere.

Everything must be so raw and unprocessed for my children. They must be made of more stern stuff than I am. I miss them immensely. The one thing that I am certain of is that none of this can be on my timetable.

Psalm 4 has some words for me to hold on to and wrestle with.
“How long will you seek delusions and love false Gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

I may not know much at all. I certainly don’t know as much as I think I know but I know that I am not God. God is God. I am not. I think he knows some things that I do not know. I did some insane things these last few years. You can call it an insanity if insanity means not being in my right mind.

I want to hand today over to God. I have to hand my past over to God. There is nothing I can do about what has happened. I would love to go back and change many decisions but I am powerless to do anything about what I did,  what I didn’t do, what I said, what I didn’t say. My fears, my hurts, the things that I am angry about, my resentments, my failures, my successes …I have to turn it all over. For once I am not in control, I am not the captain of my ship. I barely have a ship, just some driftwood and only God can run bring me to safety right now.


Reflections two years on

God always shows up when we call on him in our distress. Our greatest most intimate moments of expression with him tend to be when he is all we have to cling to. When all other options are exhausted. The question arises as to why we go to the other options first and what are those other options that usurp God from his throne in our hearts?

The other options for me boil down to asserting my will over God’s will, seeking my autonomy, playing God, honouring myself at the cost of others.

Lust, sex, thievery, dishonesty …these were the delusions I used to inoculate the pain, grieving, sadness, disappointment. They were false God’s. David’s battle in the Psalm dealt with an external enemy. My enemy was internal …let me not be deluded by the word “was” … “is” may be more appropriate.

“How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”

It’s a good question to ask ourselves. Ask it fearlessly.

Psalm 3

fear
Psalm 3

A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.

1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”

3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

————————————————————

David was king of Israel 1000 years before Jesus. Absalom was a son of David. Absalom wanted to become king so he attacked David. David ran away to a safe place. Absalom proclaimed himself king.

David asked God to intervene. He was restored as king. Absalom died. The historical background to the psalm is described (in 2 Samuel chapters 15-18). Though David petitioned (in verse 7), “Arise, O Lord; save me”, it is clear from (2 Samuel 15:32-37), that David shrewdly sent his friend Hushai back to Jerusalem to deceive Absalom. David used his own means and resources but expressed that he trusted in God.

David wrote Psalm 3 after he ran away. He apparently wrote it one morning. He thanked the LORD for a safe night. That is why Psalm 3 is sometimes referred to as a morning song.

David calls God by the name LORD. This is quite an intimate expression of God’s name. In Hebrew it is YAHWEH. Absalom and his men use the more descriptive term ELOHIM which we translate God. Absalom’s rebellion was gaining momentum and his followers were increasing, his followers were certain of David’s downfall. He was fearful and prayed for supernatural intervention.

David’s confidence was in God that he would be sustained by him and protected by him. Whilst that is completely expressed there was also a genuine fear of the situation at the same time. It can be seen as a wrestling with what he knew was true and where his feelings were leading him.

This psalm intermingles both lament and confidence. In its sweeping scope, it becomes a pattern for praise, peace and prayer amidst pressure. As it unfolds through 3 interrelated historical phenomena, David shares his theological “secret” of having assurance in the face of adversity.

  1. The Psalmist’s Predicament (3:1-2);
  2. The Psalmist’s Peace (3:3-6);
  3. The Psalmist’s Prayer (3:7-8).

This is the first of 73 psalms that are specifically attributed to David. Further information connects its occasion with the Absalom episode (2 Samuel chapters 15-18), although many of its features are more descriptive of persecution in general.

David begins on a low note by lamenting his predicament and his multiplied miseries.

David was up against a numerous and formidable enemy that appeared to be gaining momentum. Absalom his son had stolen the hearts of the people. This was fast becoming a movement of the people that would likely usurp the throne.

Ahithophel, his counsellor, sought his ruin and, and had his advice been followed, his ruin, morally speaking, would have been unavoidable.

We know the sadness in David’s heart when he fled from his own son. This is a bit of a mirror of how Jesus felt when the Hebrews turned against Him.

David was a man of courage from his youth. The instances of his attacking the lion and the bear, when he kept his father’s sheep, his engaging with Goliath, and his military exploits, show it.  There were now many thousands up in arms against him, and his own son at the head of them; all the tribes of Israel were revolting from him, and he was only attended with a few of his friends. He felt the fear but he was not completely dismayed because he knew the God that he loved and served.

David’s well documented sin brought about a twofold impact. On the one hand his recovery journey from a humanistic point of view was never truly achieved. The consequences of his actions plagued him for the rest of his life. They brought about a a completely broken family unit, suspicion of his courtiers and erosion of public confidence in his leadership. In truth this element of David’s journey never became what it should have become or would have become.

From a spiritual perspective he became a different man. God brought about incredible growth and change in his walk with him, his dependence on God and his absolute devotion to God. He became known in the annals of history as a man after God’s own heart and that is celebrated throughout scripture. God brought about a refining that gave him full restoration to the Lord.

————————————————-

Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015

Yesterday I had my DWP appointment. It was frustrating. I prayed for the person that dealt with me be someone I could connect with and find helpful but she turned out to be a bit of a jobsworth. A very good one in making sure that all the I’s were dotted and the t’s crossed but really not too helpful. She also told me that because my dismissal was my own fault it will have an impact on my claim. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but fair enough I guess. I also learned that I could not back date it to the day of my dismissal because I wasn’t actively looking for work during that time. I was given access to a job centre computer to look for work but it was painfully slow and the internet kept dropping so I quietly left the building.

I have to go back for a further appointment on Wednesday and she has also asked that I attend a job club who may be able to help me to present myself as marketable given my difficult situation. I felt moments of humiliation and moments of “this is what I need”. I have never been out of work since the day I left school when I was 15 years old and always taken pride in my work ethic. I never imagined I would be in a situation like this.

I feel quite disoriented at times. I took so much for granted just having some space to organise myself. It is something I really miss in my current situation.

I hate the fact that my phone runs out of battery after only a couple of hours. It annoys me and is an inconvenience because it is my connection to the outside world and my main resource in finding work, trying to find somewhere to stay. I need to find a way to charge it on a regular basis. I am sure it’s not doing my car battery much good.

My plans for this week are scuppered. It gets exhausting at times, wearing me down, breaking my spirit. It is however, a blessing to be learning to live in a different much less convenient way.

Life in Tesco’s car park is not easy. It’s also a matter of time before I will be moved on. The longest a car is supposed to stay here without a fine is two hours.

I notice how much I take many things for granted that I no longer have access to. Simple things like not having 24/7 access to a toilet which means I have to regulate when I eat and drink mindful of the next opportunity to be able to use a toilet.

Also, having to think carefully what I need for the whole day and to pack my small rucksack with everything I need and make sure anything else is left in a safe place.

I read Psalm 3 this morning. These words resonated with me:

“I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.”

It is God who sustains me. I do not need to fear. I need to keep remembering this. It’s hard to remember when things don’t go my way but it’s when I need to remember and look to him.

The debt management company phoned me in response to an email I sent them about my circumstances. The result of the conversation was that they want to wash their hands of me …presumably because there is no longer the possibility for them to make money from me. They advised me to file for bankruptcy and suggested the Citizens Advice Bureau as the next point of contact. My thoughts turned towards protecting the house from my creditors and the sooner it goes into wife’s name the better. I feel a bit anxious about this.

I went back towards my family home. I saw my sister in laws car outside the house in front of my car. I didn’t want to face her so went to the library. I discovered I can use the internet for 2 hours a day free of charge. That encouraged me. I looked up some homeless services in the area and will go there today.

I went for a prayer walk by the cricket pitch and the Churchill statue. It was meaningful and uplifting. I noticed the contrasting colours in the evening dusk, the trees and the grass. I really had my most enjoyable prayer time with God for a long time. It had been a difficult day that had eroded my spirit but I felt at the end of the day some peace in my heart and a genuine surrender.

I walked a lot yesterday. I don’t know how many miles but it was a lot. My feet hurt, one of my heels is cracked and I am not sure if this is from sleeping awkward in the car but I am walking with a limp because of a pain in the hip. When I felt it this morning it took me right back to Genesis 22 and Jacob …yesterday’s prayer time was no meeting with an angel or face to face with God but it was a break through for me. Maybe the limp is a sign from God that a good work is beginning in me.

Today my plan is that I am going to make some progress in sorting out my living situation, make some progress on the job front, make some progress with my financial situation and make some progress spiritually. These are my daily goals. As long as I can do a bit of work on each then I feel good.

Although it is difficult I feel blessed that I am homeless and jobless in the summer. It feels good to be outdoors. I am afraid of what lies ahead but I know that the Lord will sustain me. I don’t know how but I know my resources are flimsy and his are not.

I have good health, I have mobility, I have a few people around me that are being very kind, very generous and very supportive. I am enjoying a slower pace of life for now, I am beginning to find God again. Reading and praying is no longer a duty or chore but prayer is often spontaneous and I always look forward to reading. It’s a long time since I felt that. I am not sure I will feel that every day but yesterday was like that in the end and today has started in this way.

————————————————-

Reflections two years on

Reading this Psalm again, I think about King David that after his great fall that he permanently lost his grip on his kingship, his influence was shattered and he never really recovered although he recovered enough in his brokenness to walk with God and ultimately be described as a man after God’s own heart. He gained something better. I feel that too. There is  a sadness and grieving for the loss and the damage done not only to my reputation but to my relationships. I know that I will never be afforded the trust that was once given to me and I have to navigate my way through life without that but there is no great desire to have the influence I had, once again because what I have now is better more fulfilling and more deeply rooted. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody but I would not trade it for anything.

The heart of Psalm 3 is that when the odds are stacked against you and everything looks bleak it is okay to feel the fear, it is human to feel the feel the fear but we can also feel the freedom by wrestling with it in the presence of God and having the confidence to know that whatever the outcome …our God is at work in the situation.

 

Psalm 2

Conspire

Psalm 2

Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;

    today I have become your father.

Ask me,

    and I will make the nations your inheritance,

    the ends of the earth your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron;

    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.

12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
———————————————————————-

A quick reminder from the introductory notes of the Psalms that Psalm 2 is a poetic reflection on God’s promises to King David from 2 Samuel chapter 7. That one day a messianic king will come and establish God’s kingdom over the world, defeating evil and rebellion among the nations. Psalm 2 concludes by saying that all those who take refuge in the messianic king will be blessed which is precisely the word used to open Psalm 1.

Together, Psalm 1 & Psalm 2 tell us that the book of Psalms is designed to be the prayer book of God’s people as they strive to be faithful to the Torah and hope and wait for the future messianic kingdom.

Psalm 2 is attributed to David (Acts 4:25), and is called the second psalm (in Acts 13:33). The introductory rhetorical question, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot on vain” (verse 1), is shown in the following verses to be a question of incredulity: Why do the nations attack God’s anointed king when their attack is doomed to failure?

Historically, “his Anointed” (verse 2), referred to David or to any of his descendants who were experiencing opposition (compare 1 Samuel 24:6); prophetically, it refers to the Messiah who, as Son of David, also experienced opposition (Acts 4:25-27).

The fact that God shall laugh and scoff  (verse 4), at the world’s opposition to the Anointed One presages their calamity because the Lord has installed His “King upon … Zion” (verse 6). And adopted Him as His “Son”; therefore, the nations may be taken as an “inheritance” at the son’s request (verse 8).

Every Davidic ruler was an adopted son (2 Samuel 7:14), but the real significance of the promise is fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). The wise alternative is to submit to this Son (verses 10-12).

Psalm 1 is disclosed the two different “ways” for individuals, Psalm 2 follows up with its application to nations. This psalm is normally termed “royal” and has had a long history of messianic interpretation. Psalm 2 progressively shines its poetic spotlight on 4 vivid scenes relating to the mutiny of mankind against God

  1. Scene One: Human Rebellion (2:1-3).
  2. Scene Two: Divine Reaction (2:4-6).
  3. Scene Three: Divine Rule (2:7-9).
  4. Scene Four: Human Responsibility (2:10-12).

The opening question sets the tone of the psalm, one of astonishment at the senseless rejection of God’s rule. This psalm is meant to be read in connection with Psalm 110, fulfilled both in David’s time and at the time of the people’s rejection of the Messiah (Acts 4:25-26). It communicates the activities of a people who complain and are discontent.

It exposes the irony of man’s depravity, devising, conspiring, and scheming emptiness (compare Psalm 38:12; Proverbs 24:2; Isaiah 59:3, 13).

Verse 3 communicates the fact that worldly people do not want to serve a holy God.

In verses 4 – 6 the readers and hearers are reminded that the king they are attacking has been installed by God. Countries that attack David are really attacking God!

God laughs at the very idea that people think they can oppose His will (37:13). It is the embodiment of futility.

All of man’s power is as nothing with Almighty God. Even the next breath that we take, is by permission from Almighty God.

It brings to mind the following words in Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.

For a mere human being to come against the Father or His Son is absurd. God does not even bother to try to straighten them out, He just laughs that they would be so foolish. To reject Jesus, seals a person’s doom. This is one thing God will not forgive.

In verses 7 – 9 David says that when he became king he also became a son of God. So God will give him everything that he asks for. In verses 10-12, David tells the world leaders to obey the king. This is what “kiss his son” means! David the king is God’s son. He is the shadow of the forthcoming messiah.

The words “you are my Son” in verse 7 recall 2 Samuel 7:8-16, as the basis for the Davidic king. It is also the only Old Testament reference to the Father/Son relationship in the Trinity. Later it becomes a complete physical reality in the incarnation, and therefore a major emphasis in the New Testament.

Verse 7 is quoted in the New Testament with reference to the birth of Jesus (Heb. 1:5-6), and also to His resurrection (Acts 13:33-34), as the earthly affirmations.

When did Jesus become God’s son? The words in verse 7 seem to point to a particular day.

Answering this question involves understanding the meaning here of the word “day”. As God lives beyond time, He cannot be limited to a 24-hour period. This word means an eternal day. Jesus did not become the Son of God at a point in time; rather He has eternally been in the process of being generated as the Son in God’s eternal day. There has never been a time when Christ was not the Son of God.

On several occasions during His ministry on earth, the Sonship of Christ was particularly emphasised, in the Incarnation (Luke 1:35), in the Baptism (Matthew 3:17), and in the Resurrection (Romans 1:4). These events did not make Christ the Son of God, but only proved that He already was.

The Scripture from Philippians 2:10, leaves no doubt how far reaching this power and authority of Jesus is. What Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden, Jesus purchased back on the cross. Whether we accept Jesus as Lord or not, we are His property. We are His creation and He purchased us with His blood at Calvary.

Verses 10-12 are a demonstration of grace. Judgement is not immediate. The tone is surprising. Space and time are left for thoughtful repentance.

“Be wise … be warned” are favourite words in the wisdom literature. Kings are instructed to act prudently and with discretion.

The combination of the words trembling and fear in the Bible or fear of the Lord is not to be afraid in terms of the crippling emotion of fear but rather calls for a modesty and humility as opposed to pride, haughtiness, and arrogance.

To fear the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. The kings and judges of this world are subject to a higher Power. They may rule over nations, communities and households on the earth, but there is someone higher than they are. All mankind, whether kings or judges, or presidents, or any other holders of high office in the earth, must answer to God.

Kiss the Son is an expression that points to a symbolic act that would indicate allegiance and submission (compare 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18). The word for “Son” here is not the Hebrew word for “son” that was used in verse 7, but rather its Aramaic counterpart which is a term that would especially be suitable for these commands being addressed to nations (verse 1).

The closing words of Psalm 2 pick up the major burden (of Psalm 1).

Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015

I lack a fear of the Lord. I live as if I am my God. I don’t understand what it means to fear the Lord. I understand fear but it sounds so negative. I know I need to take refuge in him and I know I am reaping a wrath that paradoxically is an act of love. It’s a hard teaching but I can get it.

I have hurt, betrayed and disappointed so many people. Each new person I speak with creates difficulty and awkwardness.

The reality of prison hit me. A lot will depend on the feedback from the charity commission. On the one hand prison does not seem a bad option. I think I would get some stability and support. Maybe not much in an over stretched system but perhaps something. On the other hand it scares the life out of me …aggressive men, the possibility of being taken advantage of sexually, boredom, shame and taking me back to a place of insecurity and fear. All thoughts that have emerged in me. It is completely outside of my control so I try not to think about it at all.

Rumours are apparently emerging at church and my children are being confronted by conflicting information by his friends. I began to think about the mess I caused and also felt anger towards those who were speculating.

My oldest daughter wrote me a letter and gave a carrier bag full of food. I read it immediately my wife handed it to me. It broke my heart. I could not stop crying. I began to see the pain and destruction.

She said that it hurts to see me homeless and she wanted to give me food as she remembered a time when she had no money to buy food after moving out from home and I took her to the supermarket and bought her a months worth of groceries. She told me that she did not know if she could ever forgive me for what I did, that I had broken her heart, that she was angry with me for the way I had treated mum. She used to look up to me and want to be like me and now her whole life feels like a lie.She was angry about the timing just before my son’s birthday, angry about the possibility that we may lose the house over this, worried about the other family members. The whole situation has caused her to lose faith in marriage, question everything, put her barriers up & become very bitter. It hurt her more than when her biological mum died (my first wife).

I read it again later. The sadness is intense. It’s deeply painful to look at the effects of my behaviour. I felt proud of the way she expressed herself with maturity and balance and could see that she is growing.

I really hope they don’t lose the house over this. It is a very real possibility.

I thought a lot about self pity and how I have gone from someone who is generally self motivated to someone who is barely existing at the moment.

Self pity robs us of our energy, vitality and will power. It causes us to be running on empty. I have lost my drive, my energy. I need to find a way back and get out of this rut.

I listened to something last night that suggested one way to combat self pity is to do something for someone else. It makes sense. I know that life is about what you bring to the table and not about what you can grab from the table. I pray that my eyes are open to opportunities of service.

I need God. Only he can restore me to sanity. I have been acting out of futility trying to be the God of my own life. I cannot use my willpower to even stop diarrhoea if I have it. I don’t have the power to handle this situation. I tried to handle it myself and it didn’t land me in a very pretty place.

A TV needs an external power source. Doesn’t matter how great the TV is it needs a power outside of itself to function the way it was designed to operate. I need a power outside of myself for the same reason. I have to accept that.

There is always going to be an insanity button inside my head that says “I can do it this one time successfully and without consequences” … I have no effective mental defence against this. It’s how this story started in 2009 / 2010. I can do this and get away with it was in my mind. I remember thinking that thought.

I know that I need this power, this presence of God to restore me to sanity.

It’s about keeping things in today.
Today I am not going to prison.

My belief in God needs to be one that impacts my lifestyle again. Faith without deeds is dead. I want this. I am certain I want to walk with God. I am not so certain about the religious system I have been in. I know that today I have an opportunity to live it. To read, to pray, to look for opportunities to love and serve others.

I want to try. I only want to focus on today and that seems like an adventure at the moment. It may change as the day unfolds. Things generally don’t go smoothly when you are homeless and everything seems to take forever. There may be some benefit to life slowing down though.

Reflections two years on

Two years ago I was just beginning to face and feel the consequences of what I had done, the hurt I had caused, the betrayal, the cruelty, the emotional and actual carnage I had created through my trail of selfishness, manipulation, dishonesty and chaos. I had a small glimmer of hope and though I could barely speak to God I was aware of his presence and his intervention in my life.

Opposing God is futile, asserting myself as the God of my own life and living with complete autonomy actually doesn’t work out too well.

God is gracious. Judgement is not immediate. In my case I can trace this chaos back to resentments that were left unchecked and bad decisions made over a six year period. God in his grace and wisdom saw what I needed to get out of this pit and how hard I would need to fall.

He also saw that within that process what my family needed to grow and mature spiritually. Who knows the impact of what this dark period in my life will have in the future and how it may produce growth and opportunity for seeds to be planted. God has a way of taking all of human brokenness, darkness and mess and bringing something amazing from it.

The point of Psalm 2 is that it is futile to oppose God and that Jesus is Lord.

Psalm 1

tree
So we begin this excursion into the book of praises. In terms of my own personal spiritual recovery this was the first book that got me back into reading the Bible. I will be going through my original notes from 2015 and building from them as well as providing the historic and cultural framework of the Psalms. Hopefully my personal journey through them will add something helpful in your own connection with scripture.

A quick reminder from the introduction notes. Psalm 1 focuses on how blessed a person is who meditates on the Torah, prayerfully reading it day and night and then obeying it.

Torah means teaching. It is also the name used to categorise the first five books of the Old Testament (also known as the books of Moses).
———————————————
Psalm 1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
 and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
———————————————
This wisdom psalm is a helpful introduction to the book of Psalms. It summarises in a few verses the message of the Bible and the fate of man in relation to God. (Jeremiah 17:5-8 gives us a significant parallel). By two cycles of contrast, Psalm 1 separates all people into their respective spiritual categories:

  1. A picture of the Godly (1:1-3).
  2. A Picture of the Ungodly (1:4).
  3. The outcome of the chosen way to live (1:5-6).

The word “blessed” means “inward joy is theirs” (Matthew 5:3-12). An exclamation of strong emotion, it results from deep reflection on a subject. The psalmist paints a picture of the gravitational pull of evil.

From the perspective of the individual, this is a deep-seated joy and contentment in God; from the perspective of the believing community, it refers to redemptive favour (see Deuteronomy 27:11 – 28:6).

So a person is blessed if they do not allow themselves to be influenced or be in the company of people who will inevitably pull them astray. Instead their focus is to meditate on the law of the Lord, to think about and reflect on a life that is worth living. To show self control and be proactive and intentional about living the kind of life that pleases God rather than reactive, acting on impulse as a result of what is going on around them.

It is interesting that Jesus’ sermon on the mount also opens with the word “blessed”

Notice the progression in verse 1. At first, he is walking, then he is standing, then last he is sitting. This demonstrates the progression of influence. First we walk with and all within the time frame of one verse we find ourselves sitting and investing time with those whose agenda is not driven by being with God but rather one of selfish pursuit.

The contrast is asserted that the man who is blessed instead of walking, standing and eventually sitting with the ungodly he invests his heart and time into knowing God, walking with God, standing with God and sitting with God allowing God to be his primary influencer rather than men who will lead him astray.

Because of the mostly arid terrain of Israel, a lush tree served as a fitting symbol of blessing in the Old Testament. The image here is of a “tree” nourished by the constant supply of water from the river. The Hebrew word suggests the attributes of strength, stability, and endurance.

The same qualities are on offer for the man who is rooted in scripture and draw strength from it for their lives (Jeremiah 17:8). Those who are deeply “planted” in God’s Word will be fruitful in life.

We are then given an abrupt contrast in verse 4,  “Not so the wicked!”

“Chaff” is a word that describes the leftovers from the harvest which were unsubstantial, without value, and worthy only to be discarded. usually the chaff would either blow away in the wind or be burned.

We know that the chaff grows with the wheat until harvest time. The chaff is destroyed, and the wheat is carried into the barn. The ungodly live around the godly in this world, but at harvest time there is a separation.

To “stand in the judgement” of God is a desired outcome here, a symbol of divine approval. “assembly of the righteous” refers to God’s people, those whose faith is reflected by their delight in God’s Word (1:2), and who live according to it.

In the day of judgement, the wicked will not be left standing with those who love God and strive to obey Him; they will be separated like the chaff.

Charles Spurgeon the influential preacher put it like this…

“The righteous carves his name upon the rock, but the wicked writes his remembrance in the wind. The righteous man ploughs furrows of earth and sows, and has a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped until he enters the enjoyments of eternity. But as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more forever”.

I read this Psalm on August 1st 2015, two days after arriving back in London. I had decided two days earlier that I was going to put everything on the table. Come home and face the consequences of my deceit, theft, affairs, sexual immorality, cruelty and everything that I had hidden from my family and closest friends in recent years.

I was mindful of Jacob the deceiver wrestling with an angel all night and asserting that he would not let him go unless he would be blessed. By daybreak he walked with a limp because of an injury to his hip due to the wrestling, he bore the scars of the fight but he was sufficiently changed. His name was changed to Israel which means “He wrestles with God”. I had been heading for the abyss of destruction in life and left a trail of carnage behind me. This was the turning point.

To be honest I was licking my wounds a bit and self pity still dominated but God allowed me to get to a desperate enough place to at least bring it all into the open. So two days into at least attempting to be in my right mind here’s a snippet of what I wrote having read that Psalm.
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“As I read it (Psalm 1), I did not really connect with the Psalm. There was almost an “I know this already” about me. It felt like religious words. It did not really touch my heart. I look at my summary above and there is something that stirs inside me. It’s not a big stirring but maybe just a connection with the reality of what I have done. In many ways it seems surreal. I don’t feel the connection because I was not privy to the effect of my actions on others in the moment. I was too self consumed. My oldest daughters text from when I absconded to Germany gave me a glimpse. I contrast that with what she wrote in my father’s day card or my birthday card and its hard to believe it is the same person. I am tearful. In some ways it is not the same person. I have done something that has caused something to die inside of her. That saddens me.

In a more poignant way my wife asked me in an email if I had taken her Oyster card when in the house. I really hadn’t and she was wrestling with the fact that she would even question me. She wrote these words in a following email:

“This has been a really hard day because of what that thought triggered for me. Of course  I am glad you did not take it but it is really beside the point. The fact is there was a time when I trusted you 150% and now that is replaced with mistrust and it is really devastating. This is going to happen often now. I could not tell you, and maybe I won’t always tell you. But this is so hard because my nature is to trust and you took advantage of that. I have been very strong, I know that. But today I am weak. Today I hurt and cannot stop crying.”

I wrote an apology. I genuinely was not hurt because she accused me. I was deeply saddened for breaking something in her that is a great quality. I cried about it a lot yesterday. “Love always trusts” has died in my wife because of me. She was always the most trusting person I knew, some might say that she was naive but she always took me at my word. Something I never deserved.

I had a good phone call with a friend. I talked through my day which I think I wasted I stayed pretty much the whole day in Tesco car park. It was a bit soul destroying, going through papers, resting, reading and trying to keep my phone charged from the car battery. My friend said that from my email it was good that I am beginning to be honest but a lot of self pity came through. I agreed and I really want to fight the self pity and find a way forward. I am not sure how exactly.

I went on a prayer walk along the Roding River which was a favourite prayer walk for myself and my wife when we were first married. For the first few minutes I could barely get words out. I cried mostly. I found enough in me to have a meaningful conversation about wanting to find my way and to walk with God.

I slept well last night though my back hurts from sleeping at a strange angle. I don’t mind sleeping in the car. The hardest thing is not being able to organise my space, my clothes, my documents .. I really miss being organised. Sleeping in Tesco’s car park is a bit scary, there are drinkers and drug users about. I have had to park discretely near the skips. At least I have access to a toilet as the store is open 24 hours.”
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My journey into this darkness began with walking with the wicked, then standing with them finally sitting (and sleeping with them). Two years on from my meltdown I see it with such clarity. I thought I knew it before. I know my problem with lust and I know that some of the other issues that are bound up in my ego are ever present and I am always one decision away from walking with the wicked. I can only ever make a decision for today but two years of daily decisions of walking with God have kept me in a good place.

More reflections from my journal that day…
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Having worked in the addiction recovery field for almost 3 years during my meltdown I wondered if indeed I had some kind of addiction. Now I believe that we are all addicted to something or even multiple things. It’s just a way of explaining how we plug what is essentially a spiritual void with something that is of this world. Of course it doesn’t meet that need. It doesn’t quench that thirst or satisfy. It promises to deliver something that it cannot possibly deliver.

What is my addiction? I don’t really know what it is or if it really is an addiction but I do know it has the effects and impact of an addiction. Maybe it’s an addiction to attention but I am not so sure. I know the bottom line of it is that I am resisting knowing and accepting the real me because I feel inadequate, not good enough, not normal. I barely even see it but I know it’s there.

I can think of it most easily in terms of how things were in the relationships I had. I know there were many more that I wrote to in whatsapp and Facebook and gave some hope, created something.

I know I was powerless, perhaps I still am powerless. I know that my life became unmanageable. Everything seemed contained when I was living the double life but towards the end I had a compulsion to act at every opportunity and a mental obsession that took all of my head space. I noticed in the last few weeks that I was less focused at work and at home to the point I was not really achieving anything in a day. My responsibilities at home would go unmet and I was there but absent. This had been noticed by the whole family.

I know that to continue this way is not the answer. I know that the problem is bigger and stronger than me and that I can only do this with God.

I know that I would not drink poison even if I don’t know much about the chemistry and the biological impact of drinking poison. If I saw something labelled poison I would not drink it because most likely I would die.

This life I have been living had poison labelled all over it. It’s what the Bible calls sin. It’s the lawlessness of man when he chooses to trust his own instincts over what God his designer says is good for him. It is a mistrust of God, a decision that says I don’t trust that you will meet my needs God, I don’t trust that you have my best interests at heart. It’s a decision that says “I always have my best interests at heart” so I will trust me.

I am powerless to indulge in this kind of life successfully without it having a negative impact. Okay I could do it for a while and the negative things were subtle but now ….

The Spiritual impact is carnage. My connection with God, my connection with my family and my connection with my community is destroyed.

Was this obsession making me more of the person I want to be or less the person I want to be? I try to take an inventory.

I know the right answer to this. The honest answer is that I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want a double life, I do know that I want to be honest, I do know that I want to live without the need for attention or affirmation. I think I want to walk with God but on the other hand I don’t want to be religious. I think I can only do this with God.

The social impact of this is devastating. It has changed my relationships. I am isolated, alone …it has destroyed my wife’s capacity to trust. My children don’t speak with me. My dad is very cold towards me, I am sure that there are many people who are angry with me.

I lost my job as a result of stealing money to support this lifestyle. The idea that I committed a crime was unimaginable a few years ago.

I might feel physically okay at the moment but I am sure that staying like this for a while will have a negative effect. I don’t get to shower as often as I would like, I don’t eat regularly and when I do its not the healthy balanced way I have been eating the last few years. I don’t get to work out.

Financially I have caused a whirlwind of destruction both personally and for the family. The possibility of losing the house is not out of the question. The financial impact on the family is catastrophic. I am perhaps £70,000 in debt including the money that I stole.

The emotional destruction is intense. I can’t begin to scratch the surface with that. I get glimpses when my wife or someone else expresses something to me.

Hiding things became my habit. I hid everything. Our financial situation, my online life, the post, how I was really feeling, my entire world became secret.

I think the honest answer is that this obsession is not drawing me closer to the real me but neither was the religious framework with which I was living.

I know I need to discover internal motivation and not be affected so much by external things.

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Reading those words now make me think about the fact that even the religious system can be the addiction that some people have. It’s a challenging dilemma. On the one hand we don’t want to walk with the wicked because we know where that leads and on the other hand we can create a man made system for doing good which leads us down another dark alley. We are broken, we are flawed and we are a mess.

God on the other hand promises us something that is unattainable by human effort. It is what we are seeking and hoping for. It is found at source in him. It is not found in other people at all. I am not denying the power, the importance and the necessity of community…how on earth are we going to love one another if we are not living close enough to others to intentionally practice that command? How are we going to forgive one another as God commands if we are not living within close enough proximity that we will offend each other?

The answer as far as I can make out is not bound up in religious systems or culture or organisational endeavours of the church but rather rooted in walking with, standing with and sitting with God and then the possibilities of how this works in community can be explored.

Psalms – Introduction

Psalm

The English title comes for the Septuagint, which entitled the book Psalmoi, meaning “Sacred Songs Sung to Musical accompaniment”. The Hebrew title for the book is tehilim, meaning “praises”. If one word could be chosen to describe the book, certainly “praises” would qualify, for there is no psalm that does not contain an element of praise.

Rabbis often designated it “The Book of Praises”.

The Greek verb from which the noun “psalms” comes basically denotes the “plucking or twanging of strings”, so that an association with musical accompaniment is implied.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 ancient Hebrew poems, songs and prayers that come from all different periods in Israel’s history. At least 73 of these poems are directly connected with King David but there are many different authors behind these poems.

David (73 Psalms)
Asaph (12) (Psalm 50, Psalms 73-83 are absolutely credited to him)
Sons of Korah (11) (Psalms 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87 are directly credited although more likely as performers rather than authors)
Heman & Ethan (2) known to be temple worship leaders (Psalm 88 & 89 respectively)
Solomon (Psalm 72 & 127)
Moses (Psalm 90)
Anonymous (49 Psalms)

The oldest psalm appears to be the Psalm of Moses (90), there are a number of postexilic psalms, to the late sixth or early fifth century B.C. (Psalm 126).

The backdrop for the Psalms is twofold:
(1) The acts of God in creation and history; and
(2) The history of Israel.

Historically, the psalms range in time from the origin of life to the post-Exilic joys of the Jews liberated from Babylon. Thematically, the psalms cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from heavenly worship to earthly war. The collected psalms comprise the largest book in the Bible and the most frequently quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Psalm 117 represents the middle (out of 1189), in the Bible. Psalm 119 is the largest in the entire Bible. Through the ages, the psalms have retained their original primary purpose, i.e., to engender the proper praise and worship of God.

The Bible tells us that before Jesus and His eleven bewildered disciples left the Upper Room to walk the dark pathways to the Mount of Olives, they sang a hymn, a psalm.

So it has been through the millennia. When God’s people gather, whether in times of grief or celebration, they sing. The song style and instrumentation change with time, but singing remains a deeply rooted, fundamental part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

From the spontaneous choir of former slaves on the far side of the Red Sea to the elaborate professional choirs and orchestras king David assembled among the Levites, singing became integral in Israel as worship became more and more organized. For instance, when David moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for the first time, he appointed “some of the Levites … to praise the Lord God of Israel”. They used “stringed instruments and … cymbals … and trumpets” (1 Chronicles 16:4-6). He also gave Asaph and his kinsmen the directive that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord.

Years later, when the elderly David turned the kingship over to Solomon, he designated 4000 Levites to praise the Lord with musical instruments that were made for them (1 Chronicles 23:5). In addition, David set more than 300 others to sing (prophesy), worship songs in the temple (1 Chronicles 25:1-31).

All the music written for the instruments and all the songs written for the choirs came together hundreds of years later in what we now call the Book of Psalms, 150 prayers and songs that became the hymnbook of the people of God (although far more than a hymnbook as we will discover). In fact, many of the words from those psalms found their way into historic hymns of the church and are now in contemporary praise and worship hymns.

While it is difficult to get the full effect without knowing the melodies, to read the words in Psalms is to read lyrics that once echoed off the walls of the temple in Jerusalem. It is to join hearts and hands across time for the purpose of enthroning the God whose love endures forever.

Many of these poems came to be used by the choirs that sang in Israel’s temple but the book of Psalms is actually no mere hymn book. At some point after Israel’s exile into Babylon these poems were gathered together and intentionally arranged into the book of Psalms. It has a very unique design and message that you are not going to notice unless you read it from beginning to end.

To see this, it is perhaps most helpful to start at the end. The book concludes with 5 poems of praise to the God of Israel. Each one begins and ends with the word “Hallelujah”. This is Hebrew for a command to tell a group of people to praise “Yah” which is short for the divine name “Yahweh”. …so the command is “Hallelu Yah”! This very much appears to be a conclusion to the book so with a bit of detective work it is worth looking for some other signs of intentional design of this collection.

If we pay attention to the headings of the poems we can see that the Bible translators have further broken down the collection into five books.

Book 1 – Chapters 3-41
Book 2 – Chapters 42-72
Book 3 – Chapters 73-89
Book 4 – Chapters 90-106
Book 5 – Chapters 107-145

The final poem in each of these five sections have very similar endings. They look like an editorial addition. Each saying something along the lines of  “May the Lord God of Israel be blessed forever and ever Amen and Amen.”

So the book has a conclusion and has five parts in the middle so we can now investigate the beginning to find out what sort of introduction we are given to this body of work. Here we find (naturally) Psalms 1 & 2. These initial Psalms stand outside of book 1 because most of the poems in book 1 are linked to David except Psalms 1 & 2 which are anonymous.

Psalm 1 focuses on how blessed a person is who meditates on the Torah, prayerfully reading it day and night and then obeying it. The word Torah simply means teaching and came to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament which are also known as the books of Moses. It appears that both meanings are implied here as the book of Psalms is being offered as a new Torah that will teach God’s people the life long practice of prayer as they strive to obey God’s commands given in the first Torah.

Psalm 2 is a poetic reflection on God’s promises to King David from 2 Samuel chapter 7. That one day a messianic king will come and establish God’s kingdom over the world, defeating evil and rebellion among the nations. Psalm 2 concludes by saying that all those who take refuge in the messianic king will be blessed which is precisely the word used to open Psalm 1.

Together, Psalm 1 & Psalm 2 tell us that the book of Psalms is designed to be the prayer book of God’s people as they strive to be faithful to the Torah and hope and wait for the future messianic kingdom.

So with these books introduced we can start to see how the rest of the book of Psalms is pieced together.

Book 1 for example has right at the centre a collection of poems (Psalms 15 – 24) that opens and closes with a call to covenant faithfulness. Then in Psalm 16-18 we find a depiction of David presented as a kind of model of this faithfulness. He calls out to God to deliver him and God elevates him as king.

In the corresponding Psalms 20-23, the David of the past has become the image of the messianic king of the future who will also call out to God, be delivered and be given a Kingdom over the nations.

Right at the centre of this collection is a poem (Psalm 19) dedicated to praising God for the Torah. So the two themes of Psalm 1 & 2 are bound together tightly.

Book 2 opens with two poems (Psalm 42-43) that are united in their hope for a future return to the temple in Zion and this is an image closely associated with the hope of the messianic kingdom. Book 2 closes with a poem that depicts the future reign of the messianic king over all the nations (Psalm 72). This is really an amazing poem because it echoes all these other passages from the prophets about the messianic kingdom (Isaiah 11, 45, 60 & Zechariah 9). It concludes by saying that this kings reign will bring about the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise to Abraham to bring God’s blessing to all of the nations.

Psalm 72:17 = Genesis 12:3 & Genesis 22:17

Book 3 also concludes with a poem reflecting on God’s promise to David (Psalm 89) but this time in the light of Israel’s exile. The poet remembers how God said that he would never abandon the line of David but now he is looking at Israel’s rebellion and the resulting destruction and exile. He observes the downfall of Israel. The poet ends by asking God to never forget his promise.

Book 4 is designed to respond to the crisis of exile. The opening poem returns us back to Israel’s roots with the prayer of Moses (Psalm 90). He does what Moses did on Mount Sinai after the golden calf incident and he calls on God to show mercy.

The centre of the book 4 is dominated by a group of poems that announce that the Lord, the God of Israel reigns as the true king of the world and that all of creation bows down before him and celebrate that future day when God will bring his kingdom and justice over all the world (Psalms 93-99).

Book 5 opens with a series of poems that affirm that God hears the cries of his people and will one day will send a future king to defeat evil and usher in God’s kingdom (Psalm 107-110). This book also contains two larger collections, The first is called the Hallel (Psalm 113-118) and the second is the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-136). Each one of these collections concludes with a poem (Psalm 118 & 132) about the future messianic kingdom and the two collections together sustain the hope for a future exodus like act of God to redeem his people. Psalms of Ascents or Pilgrim Psalms (Chapters 120 – 134), were sung by pilgrims journeying up to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Sandwiched between these two collections is Psalm 119 which is the longest  Psalm in the book. It is an acrostic poem. Each line begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet and it explores the wonder and gift of the torah as God’s gift to his people. The themes from Psalm 1 & 2 are now combined completely together in book 5.

So now as we go back to 5 poem conclusion. We see in the centre poem Psalm 148 all creation is summoned to praise the God of Israel because he has “raised up a horn for his people” (Psalm 148:14). The horn is a metaphor of a bulls horn raised in victory and this image echoes back to the same image used in Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 but also to the earlier Psalm 132. The horn is a symbol for the future messianic king and his victory.

There are lot’s of different kinds of poems in the book of Psalms but they fall into two main categories. They are either poems of lament or poems of praise. The poems of lament express pain, confusion and anger about horrible the world is and about how horrible the things are that are happening to the poet. These poems draw attention to what’s wrong in the world and they ask God to do something, to intervene. There are a lot of these types of poems which indicates that a lament is an appropriate response to everything that we see that is wrong in the world. These are predominantly in the earlier in books 1 through to 3. You will however see praise poems too. These are poems that are poems of joy and celebration and they draw attention to what is good in the world. They retell stories of what God has done in our lives and thank God for it. In books 4 & 5 praise poems outnumber poems of lament all culminating in that 5 part hallelujah conclusion.

The songs of Israel are characterized by passion, transparency, vulnerability, and pathos. Whether the psalmist warns against concealing sin (32), begging for forgiveness (51), admitting there is no place to hide from God (139), acknowledging that evil so often seems to prevail (73), or asking God to administer justice to His enemies 55), readers are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

The shift from lament to praise is profound. This teaches something about the nature of prayer as we hope for the messianic kingdom as the book teaches us to do. This will cause tension for us as we look on the tragic state of our world and of our lives. The psalms teach us not to ignore the pain of our lives but at the same time Biblical faith is forward looking. Keeping our eyes, hearts and minds fixed on eternity and our hope in that.

The Psalms are a celebration of the Torah and the messiah expressed in lament and praise, faith and hope.