Psalm 39

Do What Matters
Pastor David Lyle

Read Psalm 39

You have made my days a few handbreadths, 
    and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. 
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Psalm 39:5

Some of the first, and best, wisdom we received as new parents was to remember that the days are long, but the years are short. Yes, making it through a day with young children can be a long, arduous task. If you’re don’t pay attention, however, the years will fly by before you know it. Take time, therefore, to appreciate each day for what it is.

Of course, this isn’t only good advice for parents; it’s a reminder to each of us of the fleeting nature of this earthly life. Yes, the days pass one after the other such that it seems we will never run out. But our days will run out. The psalmist reminds us that, compared to the eternity of God, our lifetimes are nothing. Not more than a few handbreadths. A breath, exhaled and gone.

Our lives, however, are not so much compared to God’s eternity as they are held within God’s eternity. Yes, we will one day breathe our last, but so did God’s Son. Jesus joins us in our last exhalation that we might join in his final exultation. Freed from the need to hoard our earthly days, we can focus on the things that matter: sharing love, extending grace, practicing forgiveness, creating community.

We cannot put off death forever. What better way to spend our days than by living in the ways of God’s reign that awaits us? With the psalmist, we do not despair when we ponder our future or fate. The psalmist declares that our hope is in God. Let all our days, however many or few, begin and end in that hope.

God of grace, teach us to receive each day as a gift in which we can fully live, even as we await the fullness of life with you. Amen.

Psalm 63:1-8

Give Glory
Carole Walther

Read Psalm 63

I will praise you as long as I live, 
    and in your name I will lift up my hands … 
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you. Psalm 63:4-5 (NIV)

Music and the ability to sing make up my earliest memories. God gave me my joy in music as one of his most meaningful gifts to me. I am drawn to David’s many psalms (songs) of praise. They empower me to visualize the ways and places where God is with us throughout our days. 

Psalm 63 leads us on a journey from our emotional neediness as “thirsty souls in a dry land.” While passing through God’s sanctuary (all the earth) we can find strength in experiencing his power and glory in our world. Along the way we are urged to glorify God with our words, gestures, and songs and to spend our nights thinking of God and the care he offers us. It is reassuring to know God is with us. We cling to God at all times, and he holds us up.

Although this psalm is focused on our individual relationships with God, I like to think that we all share in the experience of spiritual neediness and the reassurance we can find throughout our lives as God’s children. 

Lord, grant us courage to follow you throughout our days and nights and to take joy in your presence in our lives.  Amen.

Psalm 84

Springs in the Desert
Gwen Gotsch

Read Psalm 84

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools. Psalm 84:5-6

The verses above are not the most frequently quoted verses from Psalm 84. Portions of the psalm have been set to music by composers from Bach to Brahms and many others that came before and after those German masters. The melodies play in my mind’s ear as I read the psalm — until I get to verses 5 and 6 and Baca, a non-musical name for a place I’d never heard of. A search on Google Maps turned up a variety store in Poland and various acronyms for Bay Area businesses in San Francisco. There were no pins dropped in Palestine along roads leading to the temple in Jerusalem. 

Context suggests that the valley of Baca was an arid place, where the ground was hard and there was little or no relief from the glare of the sun. We do not travel these kinds of landscapes on foot in the 21st century, but we know them metaphorically in our hearts and even physically in our bodies – stretches of life where all you can do is keep going, despite discomfort, exposure, or numbing monotony. 

Yet, says the psalmist, those “in whose heart are the highways to Zion” and who trust in God for strength make Baca “a place of springs.” They revel in the early rain and splash through pools of water. The travelers’ joyful, trusting hearts, looking forward to an encounter with God in the temple, transform the world around them. In Baca there is drinkable water from good wells and soil nourished by rain to grow food.

The music that I can’t help but hear behind Psalm 84 — the soaring melodies of Brahms’ German Requiem, the trumpets and drums of Bach’s “God the Lord Is a Sun and Shield” cantata — is transformative for me. Singing it releases tension from a tired body and refreshes my stressed-out soul. The music is a path into the “courts of the Lord” where the dry valley of Baca becomes a place of springs, for me and, I pray, for those I live to love and serve. 

Lord, fill me with the loveliness of your dwelling place and the sunshine of your presence. Shield me from threats and dangers and help me bring your light and life to others. Amen.

Psalm 119:169-176

The True Law
Kate Hogenson

Read Psalm 119

Let my cry come before you, O Lord; 
    give me understanding according to your word.

I have been thinking and indeed worrying about the law in our land these past few years. Before the pandemic, I was both shaken and stirred by my time on a grand jury — shaken by the evidence of evil in the testimony presented and stirred by seeing the legal process work towards restoration of justice. What I have read and studied of more recent legal proceedings in our government and courts has been far less reassuring. I have also seen where the indictments we signed did not result in justice being carried out or that one person stopped from corruption can be replaced by a different person who is even more devious at taking advantage of the system.  

My tongue will sing of your promise, 
    for all your commandments are right. Psalm119:172

In the above context, the final verses of Psalm 119 are quite literally a godsend to read. They are a call to remember that God created the law that governs our world. “Your commandments are right” is a reassurance. 

I long for your salvation, O Lord; 
and your law is my delight.  Psalm 119:174

O Lord, your Word is the true law of the land. May we always remember your commandment to love and support our neighbors here and around the world. In the words of Kind David, “Let me live that I may praise you and let your ordinances help me.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, preserve us in the justice of your ways. Amen.

Psalm 119:105-112

Keeping the Law
Pastor Michael Costello

Read Psalm 119

I incline my heart to perform your statutes
    forever, to the end. Psalm 119:112

The longest psalm of the Bible, Psalm 119, was one I regularly passed by for use in worship and prayer. This changed in 2017, when I had the opportunity to conduct a musical setting of Psalm 119 by 17th-century German composer Heinrich Schütz. Schütz coined his setting for double choir his Schwanengesang (swan song).*

This was one of the most complicated works I have ever conducted, not because the music was particularly challenging, but because of two primary factors: 1) the length of the composition required vocal stamina unlike any other piece I have encountered, and 2) performing this polyphonic masterwork from two balconies at Grace meant that each performer had to be in lock step with what the entire ensemble was doing, even across the large, cavernous space that is Grace’s nave. After the performance the singers told me, jokingly, that performing this work felt almost as difficult as keeping God’s law.

Keeping God’s law for a lifetime is repeated throughout Psalm 119. In today’s text the psalmist promises “to observe [God’s] righteous ordinances,” but then turns around and declares, “I am severely afflicted.” But this declaration is not one of despair. Rather, the psalmist knows where to find help and cries out, “Give me life, O Lord, according to your word.”

We gaze into the mirror of God’s law and see that we too are “severely afflicted.” We are tempted to despair, I know. We are sinners, after all, with failures and shortcomings too many to count. But because of the gift of God given in Jesus Christ we do not despair, for we too know where to find help. Our help is in the Lord our God! We repent, hearing the good word of forgiveness that comes from God. With the psalmist we pray, “Give me life, O Lord!” And God does give us life, life abundant and eternal, with which we can offer praise our whole life long. 

Lord, we acknowledge our sin before you, but we do not despair. We know that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and free to be your people, declaring your love forever and ever. Amen.

*If you would like to listen to the concert of this program as a meditation on Psalm 119, feel free to download and listen to the recording, available in two parts HERE. This live performance is of members of Chicago Choral Artists on October 8, 2017, performed from the north and south balconies of the nave. The program is also available at this link for a direct translation from the German to English.

Psalm 119:73-80

Talking With God
Linda Street

Read Psalm 119

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
    give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalm 119:73

Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each. Each section is sub-headed with a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 73-80 are the tenth section and the sub-head is Yod (above), the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

The Bible is so amazing in its timelessness.  This text was originally composed sometime around the year 1000 B.C. The words of these verses indicate a personal conversation between the writer and God, himself.  This writer felt comfortable talking with God — asking for understanding, accepting his judgements as “right” and seeking “tender mercies” and “merciful kindness.” Could this be the wrathful God we often assume shows up in the Old Testament? You bet!  But this writer has also parsed out the loving kindness in a God who fashioned us with his hands.

More than 1000 years later we can imagine Jesus having a similar conversation with his Father as he takes his final steps to the cross.  “They treated me wrongfully… help me to understand… I know that your judgements are right… I pray for your tender mercies.”

Today more than 1000 years again have passed, and these verses still hold meaning for us. Thousands of believers have read — prayed — or shared this text over the millennia. God’s people, across time, praying from their hearts as they search for understanding. “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” Thankfully we are mindful that the God who fashioned us with his own hands will send merciful kindness and tender mercies.

Father, God, we know you as the source of all we need.  As our creator, you know more about our needs than we do. We pray to you for understanding. We trust that your judgements are right. We are confident that no matter what the situation, your tender mercies and merciful kindness will sustain us. Amen

Psalm 119:33-40

Learning the Way
Larry Garber

Read Psalm 119

Make me go in the path of your commandments, 
    for that is my desire. Psalm 119:35.  
Turn away the reproach which I dread 
    because your judgments are good. Psalm 119:39.

During my youth I learned that the psalms were often viewed as songs, although at that time these were not sung in my church. I also learned that Psalm 119 had the most verses and that this chapter was longer than some of the shorter books of the Bible.  I was amazed that someone could write such a lengthy piece of poetry.  Truly, the writer was inspired by God.

In verses 33 to 40 of Psalm 119 the writer is appealing for help from God. The writer requests God, our Lord, to teach us about his statues, his law, his commandments, his decrees. More importantly, the writer is promising to follow the teachings of God and wishes to do so. If successful, the writer hopes to experience God’s approval (v. 39).  

Today as we read these verses, the Holy Spirit is reminding us to want to continue to learn about, to follow, and to obey the teachings of God. And to assist us in learning about the teachings of God, we are encouraged to read the scriptures, to pray, and to listen and read messages provided to us by our pastors and other leaders of our Christian faith. We learn by participating in conversation with others who profess our faith as well. The acts of reading, listening, praying, thinking, and conversing make us realize that we are not always successful in following and obeying God’s teachings. We recognize we are sinners.  

As Christians, we ask God “for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ” for forgiveness of our sin. During this season of Lent, may we focus on the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior for us. It is a result of his dying on the cross and subsequent resurrection that we will experience eternal life.

May we continue our life’s journey of learning about and listening to God’s teachings. May we ask God for forgiveness of our sin. Amen

Psalm 119:1-8

No Fear
Jill Baumgaertner

Read Psalm 119

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord. Psalm 119:1

Each of these eight verses—in fact, every one of the 176 verses in Psalm 119 —the Bible’s longest psalm—refers to God’s law, decrees, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments, or ordinances, which are absolute and immutable. The writer claims that those who are blameless, who walk in God’s ways, who follow the commandments, are happy, but even though he is working on keeping the commandments and praising God with an upright heart, he knows that he is not blameless. He has failed, and the psalm becomes a lament. “Do not utterly forsake me,” he writes in the last verse of the psalm, well aware of his sin. We can completely identify. We aspire to seek God with our whole heart, but we often go astray and need forgiveness over and over again. 

“Let me live that I may praise you,” the psalmist writes in verse 175 of Psalm 119. His awareness of mortality is palpable, as is ours, especially during this Lenten season.

Anya Silver, a poet who died of metastatic breast cancer, once said that Ash Wednesday had become her favorite part of the church year. The ashes which were imposed on every forehead in her congregation comforted her because this was the one time of the year when everyone sitting in the pews next to her realized that they were dying. Ashes to ashes. She who was dying finally felt a profound fellowship with the dying worshipers all around her. “We die alone,” one poet has said, “yet we all die, mingled as one.”  

In our baptism we have, however, already died. What is there to fear if our death is behind us, not looming without hope in front of us? God will not forsake us. That knowledge is true happiness.

Keep us steadfast, God, close to your ways, and happy in praise, knowing our salvation has already been promised through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Psalm 27

The Thrill of Knowing
Bill Pullin

Read Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; 
    whom shall I fear?  Psalm 27:)

As in many of the psalms, we are reminded that there is much to fear, both in the life of David and in our own lives. The psalmist speaks of evildoers, warring armies, and false witnesses. We know of violent divisions among our fellow Americans, the threat of war in countries around the world, rampant disease and no strong consensus on how to control it.

The appropriate and obvious response for the psalmist, and for us, is to trust God, but in Psalm 27 we are given another “ingredient” above and beyond this standard reply. That ingredient is joy, enthusiasm, confidence, and excitement. The mood of excited devotion to God is a distinguishing element of this psalm, and we should make this a part of our own prayers and worship. It is clear that this mood of faith belongs in the here and now, not just in a perfect world of eternal life. “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 13).

I need to do more than just go through the motions of believing in God’s goodness for me and God’s protection of me. I need to feel those things as a thrill to my spirit when I worship, when I sing the praise of the Lord, when I pray, when I try to do the work of the Lord in this troubled and needy world. The acts and motions of faith are important, but Psalm 27 tells us that we should also work to feel and rejoice in the exuberant mood of faith.

Lord, I feel your blessing joyfully in every part of my being. Thank you for putting the smile on my face as I seek to do your will. Amen.

Psalm 143

Esther Armstrong

Read Psalm 143

“Save my life, O Lord, for Your name’s sake; In Your righteousness bring my life out of trouble. In your lovingkindness, silence and destroy my enemies And destroy all those who afflict my life, For I am Your servant.” 
Psalm 143:11-12 
(Amplified Bible)

When I was a kid, I often felt I couldn’t relate to many of the Psalms. It seemed like David or other authors were always talking about their enemies. “Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord…” What enemies? I didn’t have any enemies, I always got along with people, tried to please others, never felt abused or bullied. I was lucky, I guess, but I just never really related. Who are my enemies?

As an adult, I of course understand enemies differently. Certainly, there continue to be many people in this world who suffer threats from true, in person, real-live enemies. But for me, living in my small, safe part of the world, I see that my enemies are figurative, or invisible influences and pressures, conditions, and sins, that take over my mind and my thoughts: doubt, fear, depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, complacency, selfishness, apathy. The list goes on and on. But in this light, the Psalms can take on a new meaning and become completely relatable. How often am I turned away from God by my thoughts, the focus on myself and my problems, insecurities, or selfish ambitions? They certainly draw me away from Christ and his will for my life.

The Psalm ends, “For I am Your servant”. Well, if these things draw me away from Christ, then they also hinder me from fully serving him. And isn’t that God’s will for my life? So, I guess I can tell my younger self that I actually do have enemies. And the Psalms help remind me to seek God’s help to silence and destroy them. In this life, maybe, but for eternity in the hope of Christ, for sure!

Loving and kind God, I ask for your help to identify, name and silence the enemies that afflict me, so that I may serve you more fully, each and every day. Amen.