weekly Meditations

on psalm 103

Over the past months, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 103.  In this season of uncertainty, I thought it would be helpful to put out some of my meditations on Psalm 103—a psalm filled with grace and truth.  Expect one each Wednesday. I pray God will feed your heart through his word.

~ Pastor Dan

  • week 17 - the throne

    The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

    Psalm 103:19


    My first pet was a little mutt that I affectionately named, Tag. Why I named him that, I don't recall. But I do remember that he followed me everywhere I went--on my cowboy adventures sporting my Bonanza hat and plastic revolvers. Even in my fort-building enterprises in the "forest" next to my childhood home, he was there…tail wagging and panting. My love for my K-9 companion ran deep in this little-boy's heart. You can imagine, then, how heartbroken I was when my parents sat me down and gently informed me that Tag had been hit and killed by a car. I was devastated. It was my first encounter with death and my first taste of grief. In moments like that, love equals powerlessness--powerless to change the past, powerless to stop the speeding car and powerless to bring life out of death. Such is the nature of human love. We have very little power over the objects of our love. That is a painful truth. That is a dark fact of life.

     

    However, God's love is entirely different. Four times in Psalm 103, King David has described the enormity of God's steadfast love and how it meets us and rescues us as death-bound, transient sinners. Everything revealed about God up to this point is beautiful and good. Verse 19 introduces us to a final declaration about God…his sovereign power (note, the final 3 verses are calls to worship not declarations about God). The same LORD whose love reaches to the heavens and stretches on for eternity (past and future) has established his throne in the highest realm of all, "in the heavens"--high above all earthly thrones of power. The pharaohs, kings, emperors, Caesars and presidents are but flecks of dust beneath the eternal throne of the Almighty. He "rules over all." As such, his love for his people is mighty, matchless and immovable. Sovereign love accomplishes everything according to the counsel of his will…down to the finest detail, like naming every star in the cosmos.

     

    This is what gives believers security and confidence as they make their way through a world filled with evil, sin and chaos. Despite how it looks from our end, God bends the darkness to his holy plan. Jesus understood this in his darkest hour. Pilate, in a moment of ignorant hubris, warned Jesus, "Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?" to which Jesus replied "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:10-11). Jesus’ point? There is no earthly authority at all, except that which flows from the throne of God! In the moments that followed, God's sovereign rule bent the evils of hell to crucify the Lord of life…and thereby, win the war. Good out of evil. Light out of darkness and life out of death. We do well to remember that his sovereign love wins through weakness and apparent defeat. The final act is yet to come!

     

    For in that final act of redemption, God's sovereign love will do what I could never do with my childhood pet--raise the sons of God to life again! God is not simply love, he is sovereign love--certain, secure and omnipotent. Bless the LORD Oh my soul and all that is within me!


  • week 16 - from everlasting to everlasting

    "But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,  and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant

    and remember to do his commandments."

    Psalm 103:17-18

     

    When I consider what these two verses teach about the steadfast love of the LORD, I must confess that my mind is overrun with the incomprehensible. This is the fourth and final time David refers to the steadfast love of the LORD in Psalm 103. Earlier, he described the dimensions of God's love along the vertical expanse between heaven and earth, which is too enormous to calculate. Here in this verse he equates God's steadfast love with two measureless directions of time, past and future--"But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting…." "From everlasting" means eternity past while "to everlasting" means eternity future. His love stretches out endlessly in both directions. I can't even begin to get my head around that!

     

    What is equally unfathomable is who God exercises his eternal love toward. In the previous verse, the brevity of human life was compared to dying grass--a dying that results from human sin. Like flowers, we burst on the scene of history with a splash of color and, just as quickly, fade away to nothing. But God chose to love some of those fading flowers. He chose to love them before all time! He chose to love them before there was a “before.”

     

    How do we know who these fading flowers are? They are "those who fear him," those who "keep his covenant and remember to do his commands." It's important to remember that the fear of God, the keeping of covenant and obeying his commands, spoken of here, are not the cause of God's love! They cannot be! It is precisely the opposite. It is the great, redeeming, re-creating, life-transforming, reverence-producing, love of God that is the cause! As the Apostle Paul would write nearly a thousand years later, "But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…." (Ephesians 2:4-5a).

     

    Can you even imagine the dimensions of God's gracious love? Its vertical height extends to the heavens. Its duration reaches back and forward into eternity! You were always known. You were always loved. Because of that, the fading flowers that make up God's family will one day bloom again with eternal glory and unending beauty.

     

    With this in mind, I can understand why A.W. Tozer wrote, "His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed." (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, ©1961, 162).

     


  • week 15 - fading flower

    "As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more."

    Psalm 103:15-16

     

    Without question, my favorite time of year in Northern California is the season of Spring. The hills come alive with a blanket of green and colorful flowers--fields of mustard plants, lupins, poppies and morning glory. For an outdoorsy person like me, this is the best time to take a hike and breathe in the beauties of God's creation. But it never ceases to amaze me that within a period of about a week, that all changes--the once, lush, green hills turn into a dry, lifeless brown. It's remarkable how quickly things come to life only to die a short time later.

     

    The Judean hills in which King David grew up were no different. Everything lives for one glorious moment only to fade back to desert-scape. Such is the life as a human, David insists--"as for man, his days are like grass." When we were young, we heard the aged say, "Enjoy it while it lasts, because it goes fast!" Remarkably, we don't believe their words…until we look down at our hands only to see the wrinkled skin of our grandparents. Then, we understand.

     

    Not only does it go fast, but before too long the memory of our lives is scrubbed from history--like a flower returned to the dust--"And it is gone, and its place knows it no more." This is part of our "frame" and what it means to be "dust" (v. 14). Such is the end of all human life.

     

    Contrary to how it might seem, pondering our mortality is spiritually healthy and necessary. To neglect such an unavoidable truth is to live in the frivolity of self-imposed ignorance. Moses asked God, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). For, it is only as we face our mortal demise that we are driven to look, hope and trust in something altogether different--a direction completely outside of ourselves and our transient world. In the next verse, David will point us, yet again, to the eternal monolith of God's steadfast, covenant love. This love is our hope of life beyond death that was made real when Jesus rose from the dead. In short, contemplating our mortality sobers us, purifies us and drives us to the eternal love of God!


  • week 14 - he knows our frame

    "For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust."

    Psalm 103:14

    "I can do it!" These were the words my youngest son said to me as a toddler when he tried to carry a 50-pound bag of salt into my back yard. His resolve was stalwart and his intention pure. He wanted to help his dad, but he lacked one thing…the strength. I already knew what he had yet to discover for himself—that he couldn’t carry 50 pounds. Only after repeated failure, did he finally ask me for help. Then we both carried the salt to the pool together.

     

    Like my toddler son, we often think too much of our own ability. We tell ourselves, "I can do this!" only to stagger under the burden. Whether it's relational disharmony, sin, disease or global pandemics, we often collapse under the weight of the world. We are more fragile than we think we are--physically, emotionally and spiritually.

     

    Thankfully, God has personal, accurate and detailed knowledge of who we are. David reminds us that God's compassion flows from his knowledge of our weakness and imperfection. He "knows our frame." He "remembers that we are dust." This means that God, our Father, is not surprised or disappointed when we stumble and fall. Both of these responses presuppose that God thinks more of us than is really true.

     

    What father, knowing the weakness of his child, will not kneel down and lift the burden? If that's how broken fathers treat their broken sons, how much more does our perfect and mighty Father bend low to bear up the burdens of his fragile children? Isn't this precisely what God did in Christ, when he bore our heaviest burden to the cross? He knows us! He knows me. And in that knowledge, he chooses to show compassion and lift us up.

     


  • week 13 - as a father

    "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him."

    Psalm 103:13

     

    In our fifth year of marriage, my wife greeted me at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and said, "Welcome home…….daddy!" I knew instantly what that meant. It meant that we were pregnant with our first child. I was elated! Yet, I must confess that even in my elation, I only had a theoretical knowledge of what it meant to be a father. I thought about what it would be like, how I would feel and what kind of a dad I would be. Yet, when I finally held that baby in my arms for the first time, my theoretical knowledge was replaced by experiential and relational knowledge. And I knew then, as I know now, that I was his father and he was my son. As every parent knows, with that relational knowledge, or more to the point…parental love, comes much pain, because, our little ones are born with Adam's contagion of sin, which will eventually show itself in life. Failure is certain. Moral failure is unavoidable. When that happens, a father's heart breaks with compassion. No matter how long or how bad things get, a father never stops being a father.

     

    Understanding this, David draws on one of the deepest familial relationships to describe God's fatherly love toward his broken children. "As a father shows compassion to his children…." "As a father"…what a potent and powerful phrase! When I think about the depth of compassion I have for my own broken children (as a broken father), which is finite, this phrase reminds me that God's loving compassion excels beyond my own in every way! Imagine how you feel as a parent toward your children and then multiply it by the distance between heaven and earth, east and west, and you will begin to get the idea. Knowing that God exercises this level of compassion towards us every day as we continue to fumble our way through life, is deeply comforting.

     

    It's important, however, to keep in mind that our Father's compassion is not a sentimental pity or an overpowering emotion to which he must submit. Such a false conception of God's compassion maximizes human worth while minimizing God's sovereign freedom and grace. God, our Father, was not driven to show compassion, he chose--as an act of free grace--to show compassion to us. While this way of thinking about God might strike some as belittling to our fragile egos, I find it deeply encouraging. God doesn't show compassion to me because I deserve it…on the basis of my own self-worth. That is, God doesn't show mercy to me because of me. He shows mercy because of Him.

     

    Only this kind of lofty and exalted view of God's divine freedom to "have compassion on whom [he will] have compassion" (Romans 9:15) invigorates godly fear, nurtures reverential awe and deepens humble gratitude. Moreover, it enlarges epic scope of the cross of Jesus--where the depth of divine compassion finds its full measure for his wayward children. This is who God is for those who fear him in joyful trust. Such thoughts humble me with grateful joy and awe.


  • Week 12 - as far

    "…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."

    Psalm 103:12

     

    Growing up in the country with a small assortment of farm animals, one of the challenges we faced was teaching our dogs not to kill chickens--which my dog did on at least one occasion. To cure a dog from its unwelcomed appetites, however, is not easy. This explains why some people adopted rather drastic measures to eradicate a taste for chicken from their dog's palate. One of those measures was to tie the dead chicken around the dog's neck and let it…rot. Wherever the dog went, a potent reminder of its k-9 transgressions went with him. After a few weeks of dragging around that decaying carcass, the dog would repent of its anti-chicken ways and want nothing more than to have the chicken removed.

     

    Such is the picture of human sin and guilt. Try as we may, we can never fully get away from the source or the stench of our own corruption. Wherever we go, it follows. It's inescapable. We work ever so hard to rid ourselves of it through any and every means available. From the time-honored tradition of hiding it (Adam's fig leaf) to the self-righteous attempt to sweeten up the stench with aromatic "good works" (Pharisee's whitewashed tombs) the fact remains…the stench is still there. It contaminates, pollutes and defiles everything. It's the smell of death to death. As Paul lamented, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24).

     

    The good news is that because God's love extends to the heavens (v. 11), he--and only he--can actually "remove our transgressions from us," and send them away "as far as the east is from the west." What I love about this spatial image is that it communicates permanent and wholesale removal, leaving nothing behind. Yet, we must pause to let the profound depth of the two words "he removed"--sink in. "He removed," which means he carried, which means he, our God, bore all of our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” He lifts them from our weary frame and shoulders the gruesome weight to the cross. Even here we recognize God as the sin-bearer, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. We're called to believe just that--that HE REMOVED our sins in Christ Jesus, never to be seen again. Such confidence that God has actually and permanently removed the rotting guilt of our own ruin, makes even the weariest of souls sing again.


  • Week 11 - As High

    "For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him…."

    Psalm 103:11

     

    Years ago, I was fascinated by the space race to the moon. I couldn't get enough of it. That hunger led, more broadly, to reading about the stars. Of particular interest were the so-called red giants--especially the monster star named Antares. We can see it with our own eyes on a clear, dark night. But from our vantage point, it's just a dot on the canvas of a dark sky. It's actually…HUGE! It's…REALLY BIG! "Well, how huge is it?" I asked. How can we grasp its size? That's where analogy comes in. Roughly speaking, astronomers tell us that comparing our sun to Antares is like comparing a BB (as in a BB from a Red Rider BB Gun) to a beach ball. Imagine that! Astronomers say that if you were to place Antares in the middle of our solar system, the outer edges would breach the orbit of Jupiter. All I can say is, "wow! That's mammoth!!" That's what analogy does. It enables us to get a better grasp of something.


    When David attempts to express the enormity of Yahweh's steadfast love, he uses an analogy. What could he possibly use to express the dimensions of God's steadfast love? I suppose he could have used the mountains as the point of comparison. Yet, we as humans can measure the mountains. So, they aren't big enough! Perhaps the deep furrows of the oceans? But we can plumb the depths of the ocean floor too. So, the oceans are not deep enough. Everything on earth is measurable. To what then, can David possibly even begin to use as a point of reference? The only thing that we humans cannot measure is…the heavens. "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him." How high are the heavens above the earth? We still haven't figured this out! Can you imagine such a measure? No, you can't! Even the analogy bursts the bonds of human comprehension. David's simple point is that God's covenant love for his people is beyond all measure.

     

    It moves in divine power "toward those who fear him." That is to say, this is God's love for believers. We do not fear what we do not believe. I don't fear gremlins, because I do not believe in gremlins. But for those who know God for who he is as the holy One, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the One who holds the cosmos in the palm of his hand, there is a worshipful fear and joyful reverence that we naturally display toward him. This is how you know you are his and that his love for you will never give out.

     

    Yet, the boundless love of God to which David points is beyond what even he could imagine. He did know that God's love was measured in relation to human sin (as the previous and following verses show--and notice the "for" at the beginning of the verse). Little did he know, however, that the very love that he compared to the heavens, came from the heavens—God of very God—to be humiliated as a human slave. And to think that he died gasping for air on a Roman crucifix…only to die as a shamed and judged sinless sinner. The distance between heaven and earth, divine holiness and divine humiliation, creation and redemption, is infinite. That's love! That's a love that measures beyond the height of the heavens above the earth. I can't even begin to imagine such heights! But with David's analogy, I can honestly say with him, "your steadfast love is better than life" (Psalm 63:3).


  • Week 10 - undeserved mercy

    "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities."

    Psalm 103:10

     

    It sounds ironic, and I suppose it is, that in the journey of faith, humble gratitude grows right alongside and in proportion to the personal discovery of our own depravity. As a young man, I thought I knew myself and the contours of my own self-centered pride. As I look back now, with decades of self-discovery in the gymnasium of marriage and parenting (and it's still happening), I see an ignorant and arrogant young man. And if I'm blessed to reach my 80's, I'll probably look back on me (now) and say the same. It's uncanny how ignorance and arrogance always go together.

     

    Alongside this humiliating discovery came the joy of an increasing dependence upon and gratitude for the depths of God's grace and mercy in my life. It's not an easy process to discover how truly broken we are. In fact, it's downright painful! But through the process, God's grace also rises like a newborn day in our otherwise sullen hearts to sing God's praise.

     

    I can only imagine the horrors of King David's own self-discovery in the aftermath of his adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. In the court of Moses, David's sentence was death (x2). Divine justice demanded blood by lethal stoning. Instead, God commuted the sentence and extended mercy. Truly God does not "deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." In the wake of his own depravity, David discovered that grace and mercy could save a "wretch like [him]."

     

    Yet, we must not think that God waves his "pardon wand" to forgive without punishment. As God declared to Moses, he keeps, " …steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7). Vast forgiveness in this verse is coupled with an emphatic commitment NOT to "clear the guilty." Here we have pardon and punishment, love and anger in the same verse!

     

    How can God be both gracious Forgiver and just Punisher? If you are guilty, like David, then you want God the Forgiver--a merciful judge. If you happen to be Uriah the Hittite's brother you want God the Punisher--a just judge. The only solution to this Forgiver-Punisher, mercy-justice conundrum is resolved in one place…the cross of Jesus, where perfect justice was satisfied and rich mercy poured out to the guilty. He is the only way God does not "repay us according to our iniquities."

     

    But for Christian maturity to find its goal in a life of humble gratitude, we must simultaneously realize the depths of our own brokenness in conjunction with the heights of God's endless grace.

     


  • Week 9 - DIVINE ANGER

    "He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever."

    Psalm 103:9

     

    A critical component in any stable relationship is confidence in the general disposition of the other person. Me, I grew up in a household where my father and mother were genuinely happy, kind, compassionate and caring people. Thankfully, neither of my parents were compulsive or short tempered. And that gave me a tremendous sense of security when I came home from school and walked through the front door--something for which I am deeply grateful.  

     

    I contrast that to others I've met through the years who were of a more unstable disposition. They were the kind of people who make you wonder, "Will I meet Dr. Jekyll today or Mr. Hyde?"--one moment happy, the next explosive. Such an unstable character makes for an emotional rollercoaster ride…and…not the fun kind, if you know what I mean.  

     

    Given this, how are we to understand the anger of God expressed in verse 9? "He will not always chide [scold], nor will he keep his anger forever." How does anger fit with the previous verse, which is so filled with mercy, grace and abounding steadfast love? Is God fundamentally loving or fundamentally angry? If we're not careful in how we put these two things together (love and anger), we can easily form a distorted view of God—one minute loving, the next minute vaporizing people with fire and sulfur…a divine Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

     

    Here, I think it's important to keep in mind that anger is not an eternal attribute of God. Anger does not define what God is in his natural, eternal self. Rather, God's anger is viewed as a temporary condition, which will come to an end for those who trust in him. Notice the temporal nature of God's anger in this verse, "He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever." Anger is simply God's temporary response to human corruption and sin. And there was a time when sin was not!

     

    When it comes to love, however, we're told that God's steadfast love is "from everlasting to everlasting" (v. 17). His love is an eternal attribute of his being. There was never a time when God's love was not! Before there was a creation, God was overwhelmingly happy, infinitely loving and endlessly joyful within himself as the Three-in-One. There was no anger in him--because there was no offense. Anger is the response of God's eternal holiness and justice to corruption and sin in the world.

     

    The termination point of God's anger, however, required full satisfaction of justice. We know this need for satisfaction deep down in our own personal wrestling with corruption, saying to ourselves, "Someone needs to pay!" We feel this. We know this. And the beauty of the gospel is that God's abounding, steadfast love in verse 8 flows to us freely and eternally, precisely because God himself absorbed the anger of justice in verse 9. Jesus, the substitute, is the only way to experience the love of verse 8 and escape the anger of verse 9.  

     

    As children of God, then, we relate to God as one with a settled disposition toward us—a loving Father, a constant Father, an eternal Father, a protective Father and one who will never turn his back on those he loves.


  • Week 8 - steadfast love

    "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

    Psalm 103:8 (Part 2)

     

    One of my favorite ethnic foods is Indian cuisine. Oh how I love the taste of a good south Indian curry chicken--especially with some burning spice! So, you can imagine my excitement when God brought a man from India into my life who has become a beloved friend and brother. And one of the added benefits of his friendship is that he can cook! I mean, he can really cook! And he's had me in his kitchen as his fledgling sous-chef many times. One of the things I've learned about cooking Indian curry is that most recipes use large amounts of onion and garlic. Other spices--such as salt, turmeric, cumin, ginger and Indian chili powder--are used more sparingly. All this to say that a good tasting curry requires more of some things and less of others - only a teaspoon of this but a cup of that

     

    What strikes me about this magna-verse of Psalm 103 (a direct quote of God's voice to Moses), is that it uses the language of portions--greater weight given to certain character qualities of God. If we slow down and read the verse carefully, we realize that one word stands above the rest. We see the words merciful and gracious and realize that they have no companion modifiers or adjectives. But when we come to the word love (hesed in Hebrew and what I think of as the backbone word of the Bible), as contrasted to his slowness to anger, we are immediately struck by the fact that love is accompanied by the words "abounding" and "steadfast."  

     

    To abound is to exist in large amounts, numerous, or what I think of as overflowing. In our conceptual recipe of God's character, his love is gargantuan! This isn't to say that God is divisible in his essence or that one attribute dominates the others. But this is how God has chosen to reveal his love to us--in weighty, astronomical terms! Within a few verses, David will expand upon this same word to say that the heavens themselves cannot contain the heights of his love! The Hubble telescope cannot begin to search its end! As his covenant people, we are to know this about him! We are to trust this about him! This is who our Father is. And when coupled with the word steadfast, we're talking about something that is not only full but unbreakable, unwavering, undiminishing, unrelenting and irrevocable! There is nothing stronger than the force of God's love for his people, which is the love Paul had in mind when he said that nothing could separate us from the love of God in Christ! NOTHING! (Romans 8:39)  

     

    This is the love for which Jesus died and rose again to secure—for us! So when we find ourselves isolated and alone, where do we go for solace? When we find ourselves plagued by our own wretched condition, where can we turn? When facing the unknowns of a global virus, on what will we stand firm? At the end of the day, we turn back to the unshakable bedrock of God's abundant and steadfast love. As Charles Wesley wrote nearly 3 centuries ago, "Amazing love how can it be that Thou, my God shouldst die for me." Let this word be your life-song!


  • Week 7 - Anchor-verse

    “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

    Psalm 103:8

     

    In my college years, it was the fashionable thing to find a "life verse" for yourself, typically a verse that would serve as a focus-point or an anchor-verse for your life. For many, that verse was "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). Some even had the reference tattooed on their skin…and in some rather interesting places! Mine was Philippians 3:8-10, which reveals Paul's singular goal of life--to know Christ above all things. And, no, it is not tattooed anywhere on my skin.  

     

    To this day, those verses of Philippians 3 are still very precious to me, and ones to which I often return. But I can honestly say that my anchor-verse (if I may call it that) has changed. There are two reasons for this. First, I've come to see that Paul's words in Philippians 3 are responsive in nature as opposed to revelatory in nature. And there is a huge difference between the two. Responsive verses emphasize our role, our desire and our responsibility to pursue God. While our personal response to God is a critical aspect of the Christian life, we have to recognize that it is only a response. And a response by definition is the result of something else. For instance, if I say "Wow! That was the most delicious, nutty, aged, goat cheese I've ever tasted," my "wow" is the result of something else…the cheese. Without the cheese, there is no "wow." Without the cause there is no response. It follows, then, that if you want to respond correctly to God, your first priority is to "taste and see that he is good"--to focus on who He is and not on how I will respond. 

     

    The second reason for the change is located in verse 8 of King David's psalm. He chooses a verse in his Bible that reveals God's character. There is no "I" in it, only God. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that Exodus 34:6 was probably David's life-verse, his anchor-verse of life. Compare what David writes here in verse 8 to Exodus 34:6.

     

    6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness….” (Exodus 34:6)

     

    Verse 8 is a direct, word-for-word quotation of Exodus 34:6 (see the italicized part). This is not the only place David quotes this verse. With some variation, he quotes this verse of divine revelation throughout his psalms (see Psalm 25:10, 26:3, 36:5, 40:11, 86:15 as a few examples). David is not the only one! Nehemiah, Joel and Jonah quote this verse as well (Neh. 9:17, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2). But why this verse? Why Exodus 34:6? Because this is God's own word of self-disclosure! This is his voice speaking! And what wonderful words they are! --merciful, gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. To a people often mired in failure and shame, what do our souls need the most? We need truth from God, about God, and full of God. And note, David is not quoting a responsive text here, but a revelatory one--one that would eventually become Flesh and dwell among us to display the true depths of God's mercy, grace, and love on a cross. These are God's unassailable virtues upon which our lives must be built! They have the power to fill the saggy sails of our fragile hearts with fresh wind for the voyage!

     

    While we need responsive texts of Scripture--"what I will do"--they are not what moves the will to act! We must let our hearts, like David's, dwell upon God himself, who He is and what He has done. Then we will find the inner strength to respond in blessing, praise and thanksgiving.


  • Week 6 - Made known

    "He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel." 

    Psalm 103:7


    I noticed Deanna (my wife) way before she noticed me, as is typical in the world of love and romance. I remember the first time we exchanged glances. I thought to myself, "She saw…me! She noticed…me." My heart fluttered. I also remember the first words she said to me as I was sitting in the driver's seat of the 15 passenger, maroon, college van--a real "chick magnet." She pointed to the passenger seat (next to me) and said, "Is anyone sitting here?" Of course, my answer was a calculated, emotionally-suppressed, "No. You can sit there." Inside I was elated. First, there was a glance. And then there were words. And the words communicated that she wanted to sit…with me. To say I was stunned with euphoric excitement, is a galactic understatement. As we drove down "the 405" toward our destination, we played 20 questions. And she made herself known to my yearning heart. I knew that night that I wanted to marry her. And to this day I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for that gift of self-revelation.


    When we read words such as, "He [God] made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel," we have to pause and consider what an inexpressible gift this is. This is no mere human-to-human interaction (as it was with my, now, wife). Nor is it a magisterial summons to dine at Windsor Castle--as cool as that would be. We're talking about the One before whom the heavens shield their eyes and the celestial throng fall in euphoric, thunderous praise and adoration. All things come from him, are sustained through him and exist for him. The sheer expanse between the Divine and the fallen gives the word infinite new and greater meaning. I mean, If God were to give us a mere passing glance as fallen humans, it would be a rapt moment of unspeakable grace. If God were to utter a single word to us, it would be an unparalleled treasure. 


    But God is not the God of passing glances or single words. Instead, his steadfast love floods us with goodness beyond all comprehension. For the God who made himself known to Moses is the very same God who makes himself known in the Word-made-flesh--grace upon grace…crucified and risen. And who am I to receive such a boundless and measureless gift? The simple answer is… a nobody…a broken shadow of something that once was…a man who was once blind. But God specializes in making the blind to see! He makes himself known so that nobodies become somebodies and shadows become substance as we take our place in the eternal family of God. God…made himself known. Such truths revive the parched and weary soul to sing again.


  • Week 5 - the lord works

    "The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed." 

    Psalm 103:6


    When we read the words righteousness, justice and oppression, we can easily make one of two mistakes in personal application. We can either brush them aside as theoretical abstractions OR we can over-dramatize them with images of American slavery or the blight of human trafficking--both of which are horrible! In either case, the words are deemed irrelevant to the grind of normal life. 


    Upon closer reflection, however, these words speak to the very heart of the human struggle. Oppression and injustice exist all around us--and in varied forms and degrees. From favoritism in the workplace to social antagonism toward the Christian faith, oppression is here. From the chronic abuse of a domineering husband to a system that favors one gender over another, oppression is all around us. It dehumanizes people and violates a deep sense of righteousness and justice that God has implanted into every one of us as his image bearers.


    When this happens to us, our first inclination is to deal with it ourselves. To be sure, God has ordained human structures of government to work out righteousness and justice (Romans 13:1), in which we all play a part. But more often than not, violations of personal justice move in the direction of vengeance and retaliation, which is an equally destructive scourge. 


    David points us in the only direction of true freedom, which he learned from his Bible (see the next verse). He points us toward faith in God who "works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" (and notice that the word works is in the present tense). From his own life, David suffered significant, not to mention extended, oppression at the hand of King Saul. Yet, time and time again, he refused to take justice into his own hands. And what we learn from his story is that "God works righteousness and justice" in the end. In God's time and in God's way, justice will be worked out. Justice came to Saul on the side of Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:5). Justice came to Nabal (1 Samuel 25:37) when his evil heart gave out. We may not see his justice immediately or even quickly, but God orchestrates justice perfectly in his time. Of this we may be sure.


    Why is this? Because God's passion for justice and righteousness runs deep…so deep, in fact, that he was willing to punish himself on a cross so as to satisfy his own demands for justice. What David is reminding his own soul is the simple truth that God can be trusted with overturning oppression. He can be trusted with satisfying justice. And the sooner we relinquish that work to him--truly trust him to do it--the sooner we learn to live and love in the freedom of faith.

  • week 4 - The abundance

    "…who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s." 

    Psalm 103:4b-5


    God doesn't do things halfway or small. His grace toward us is either nothing or everything. If David had stopped in the middle of verse 4, "who redeems your life from the pit," we would be no better than a prisoner released from incarceration with nothing but our personal effects and a phone number to a halfway house. Release simply removes the negative; it' doesn't add the positive. 


    The first three benefits--forgiveness, healing and redemption--address our negative status before God as those in spiritual prison. To stop here, however, would entail only half of the gospel of God's limitless grace. Sadly, for many Christians this is what they think of when they think grace and gospel--God's delivering us from our essential plight. "What can wash away our sin?" we sing, to which we confess, "Nothing but the blood of Jesus." And this is wondrously and irreducibly true. But it's only half the gospel. It's halfway grace.


    In the middle of verse 4, David launches us upward into the stratosphere of God's benefits to include God crowning us with his steadfast…covenant love…and satisfying us with his goodness. From pit to crown in a SINGLE verse! This is gargantuan grace!! To crown someone is to honor and glorify someone! This is full gospel. It meets us as sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins, and lifts us up into the heights of grace where we find ourselves embraced as full-fledged members of God's household…his treasured family. God's benefits toward us are all-inclusive--rescue and reward, saving and satisfying, deliverance and delight. 


    The only thing David can't yet fully see is how God offers such stellar benefits to those entangled in iniquity. The only answer the Bible offers is…Jesus…crucified to pay off our negative and raised to life to give us his positive. It is the full gospel that moves the heart to sing "bless the LORD O my soul and all that is within me."  


  • Week 3 - THE NEED

    "...who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit…. 

    Psalm 103:3-4a


    I suppose everyone, at some point in his or her life, experiences what it means to be truly thirsty--when you feel like your saliva has turned to a sludgy gel you can barely swallow. For me, it was on the side of a mountain in sub-freezing temperatures with my water frozen solid in my pack. Such dire thirst makes you think of one thing and one thing only--the need for water. Everything else disappears. And oh what refreshment and satisfaction you feel when you take your first swallow.


    Needs. We all have them. At some level we all feel them--the need for water, for food, for warmth, for shelter and companionship. But there is a need beneath needs--something the human soul cannot live without…at least not for long. We might call it the essential need of the human soul. It's the need for God--to belong to him, loved by him and in life-giving relationship with him. Without him, we're no better than a flower plucked from its root and placed in a vase. Life may linger for a while, but it is essentially dead. 


    When David preaches to his soul, he preaches how God has supplied this essential need--free of charge--to all who will seek life in him. He supplies forgiveness of all iniquity. Wait! Did David really say "all"…as in all past, all present and all future sins? Yes, he did! Yes, God does! Without forgiveness, there is no reconnection, relationship or living refreshment. There is only disconnectedness from Life. But God forgives at the expense of his own life that we might become wholly his--to re-graft us into the Root of life. Not only is there provision for guilt, but provision for its effect on the human body. Sin casts a long shadow of decay over our bones, marrow, muscle and tissue. We've been stung with the terminal disease of death that pulls us endlessly toward the grave. Yet, among the many gracious provisions, God "heals all your diseases." Yes! He has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes as the corruptible puts on the incorruptible. What a day it will be when our flesh is free from the numbing effects of sin so that we can enjoy with the fullness of all of our unfiltered senses the countless wonders of God in Christ, creation and the community of the redeemed. And never again to die, as God will redeem our "life from the pit" of death. The death of death--thrown forever into the burning sea, never to rise again. These provisions of grace are living waters for the thirsty soul in need of God.


    David is preaching to himself the gracious benefits found in Christ, who alone provides atonement for all iniquity, healing for every disease and release from death. This we must preach ourselves each day, so as to strengthen our hearts in the truths of God's grace. 


  • Week 2 - Forget not

    "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…."

    Psalm 103:2


    We live in a world hungry for the new and novel. This is especially true when it comes to upgraded technology, like the latest smartphone, or the newest form of social media, like Tik Tok. As a result, we leave behind a wake of discarded goods in a never-ending search for the new.


    It should come as no surprise, then, that the fascination with the new and noteworthy has made its way into the way we as Christians practice our faith. For example, think about the last time you heard a song like "Shout to the Lord" or "Shout to the North" used in a worship service. (I guess I had the word "shout" on my brain!) My guess is that it's been a while. Why? What happened? We've sailed farther down the river of "new" leaving behind songs that seem "so yesterday." But it's not just with songs. It's with words too. Too often, this same drive toward the new and immediate sends us running for a fresh prophecy or a new experience set forth in the newest packaging. Mind you, we're commanded to sing new songs to the Lord (Psalm 96:1) and the Spirit does communicate through the gifts. At best, however, the gifts of the Spirit communicate truth in a manner subject to fallibility. And at worst, they communicate synthetic words born out of human invention to create a false sense of the "spiritual."


    We need something deeper, something more certain, upon which to feed and restore our souls. After speaking to his own soul, David tells himself in verse 2, "forget not all his benefits." In saying this, he's reminding himself to remember something already known, already revealed and already true. To restore the soul requires a refocus of the mind to remember the innumerable gracious benefits that God offers us in his covenant--ALREADY given. These benefits rise out of his covenant promises to us, from which God will NEVER turn way. These are ironclad benefits of grace. In short order, David will list some of those benefits. But those benefits are then anchored in the enduring and unfailing words of Scripture (see verses 7-8 and compare to Exodus 34:6). 


    But I'm getting ahead of myself. If David, who was inspired by the Spirit to write infallible Scripture (like many of the psalms), fed his soul on the old but living words of his Bible, how much more should we? Perhaps we've made so much of new experiences that we have lost the appetite for that which truly satisfies; namely, the presence of God communicated through the old but powerful words of Scripture. So, when you find yourself empty and dry, may I suggest feeding yourself on what has already been revealed? Didn't David confirm this elsewhere when he said, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul" (Psalm 19:7)? I believe so.

  • Week 1 - Self Talk


    "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" 

    Psalm 103:1


         Have you ever looked yourself in the mirror with exasperation and asked, "What is wrong with you!?" or "Why are you feeling this way?" If so, you're not alone. There are times when we experience things on the inside, in our respective souls, that we can't make sense of or sort out--maybe feelings of sadness, agitation, depression or what I think of as the general sense of inward "blah." At times we can pinpoint the cause of our inner discombobulation--a torn relationship, an inward struggle or physical ailment. At other times, and perhaps even most of the time, we cannot diagnose our soul-problem. 


         So, we ask ourselves questions like, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" (Psalm 43:5). Psalm 103 provides both a sympathetic consolation as well as a way out of the doldrums in the spiritual life. I say sympathetic consolation because King David, a man after God's own heart, is here directing, even commanding, his soul to bless God.


         Why? Because, in a broken world infected by sin, there are times when our souls do not feel like blessing the LORD. All of us can relate. But the psalm is not written to leave us there, but to show us a path back to praise and blessing. And the path begins with speaking truth to the self. But it's not truth in the sense of mere fact. 


         The truth that will be spoken to the self in Psalm 103 is full of beauty, wonder, glory, God and quotations from scripture itself. In verse 1, David shows us that to move out of the doldrums, we have point our hearts back to glory, back to God, back to truth, back to the name of the LORD and splendor of all that his name entails. And as we do, we will begin to feel the fresh winds of life, passion and joy return to our fragile hearts. This is the starting point of psalm 103.