Dangerously fun

Psalm 16

 1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.  5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Jonathan Edwards once said, “True Religion, in great part, consists in the affections.”(The Religious Affections)

Affections can seem ethereal, changeable, and sometimes untrustworthy. However, this is not the definition that the reformers gave it. The definition of these “affections” (or what most people today mean by feelings) is: “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” In other words, the feelings that really matter are not mere physical sensations. They are the stirring up of the soul with some perceived treasure or threat.

That is what this Psalm is all about. It’s theme is one’s affections centred on God. It is “affection” that gives this psalm its unity and ardour. In so far as it can be divided, it sings of the chosen loyalty in verses 1–6, and the blessings that come to meet it in 7–11.

This Psalm is peppered with references to affections: delight (v3), sorrow (v4), pleasant places (v6), beautiful inheritance (v6), glad (v9), rejoices (v9), fullness of joy (v11), pleasures forevermore (v11).

This psalm bids us to embrace our privilege, the privilege of joy, and our inheritance (v3). It warns that turning away from God at whose right hand there are pleasures evermore (v11) will only lead to a multiplication of sorrow (v4),

Dorothy Sayers once said, “The Dogma is the Drama.” Often we have made God and the godly life the most boring thing out there. There is no one more exciting more enjoyable, more thrilling and more challenging than God himself. Yet we have sought to tame Him or turn from Him.

Often we can be like the child who is offered a holiday at the sea and choose to stay in our own little muddy puddle because we are unaware of the stunning beauty, or sheer joy of the offer. Thinking that mud and muddy water is more beautiful than the seaside and the sea.

The Psalmist speaks of the root that drives us humans and that root is pleasure. We seek for pleasure granting experiences, relationships, jobs, holiday and the like whilst forsaking He who is Pleasure itself.

Jesus came to unleash us into a life of joyful pursuit of Him and free us from the addiction of false pleasures. Both Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:25–28), and Paul, in the synagogue at Antioch (Acts 13:35), interpret this Psalm as about Jesus, the Holy One, who delivers us from the grave and leads us into joy. The pleasure that has begun in this life will continue into its fullness in the world to come. (v11)

The motivating factor for Jesus’ self-sacrifice was pleasure, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame.”(Heb 12:2). You can hear Him say, “Nothing would bring me greater pleasure than rescuing you.”

May our heart cry to God, “Nothing would bring me greater pleasure than gloryfing You and enjoying You forever.” (Westminster Catechism)

Shaken, not Stirred

Psalm 11

To the choirmaster of David.

1 In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” 4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. 5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. 6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.


Shaken, not Stirred

This Psalm is not too different from the lyrics of the award winning Scottish singer Emeli Sandé:

When the skies are grey and all the doors are closing
And the rising pressure makes it hard to breathe
When all I need’s a hand to stop the tears from falling
I will find him, I’ll find him next to me

What do we do when our foundations are shaken?

David does not give us much of a historical context for where this Psalm falls. He hints at arrows being “fitted…to the string”(v.2) and a sense of flight. We do not have a helpful superscript telling us it was a coup attempt like Psalm 3 with Absalom, or fleeing from Saul as in Psalm 57. However, it is not unlikely that he routinely faced physical, spiritual and even social threats during his life. It is precisely this lack of superscript that makes it a timeless treasure.

The psalm contains two basic sections: (1) the sense of despair (11:1–3); and (2) the restoration of confidence (11:4–7). Verses 2 and 3 most commentators place in quotation as statement from counselors. It is verses 1 and 4-7 that are David’s response. The sense of despair asks two questions 1. Where is our Foundation? And 2. Who is on the throne?

A Foundation

With everything going awry David’s counselors speak of this lack of any foundation. David’s response is a heartfelt praise in prayer to God. Though it feels like the foundations are shaking socially, economically, politically or even physically as he fears for his life, the sweet singer of praises of Israel confidently replies to his advisers, “The King, The LORD, is in residence, not in flight: his city ‘has foundations’ (v.4).”

A Throne

The Psalmist has discovered that the biggest source of his stress and worry has come when he has not recognized that the King is in residence and enthroned. It is precisely when David sat on the throne of his life and tried to run his world that he became the very source of his own stress. Martin Luther once told his good friend and worry-wart Philip Melanchthon, “Let Philip cease to King” and let God reign.

A Face

It is precisely because we have other foundations than Christ and others sitting on the thrones of our life that we experience stress. There in the middle of our stress, God is both immanent, and therefore present with us in crisis, but also transcendent, and therefore in control of the apparent chaos of that crisis. It is this God who will not hide his face from us, even if we hide our face from him (Is 53:3)

Let us seek his face. Let us look for that unshakeable city “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)


Hymn: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.


“Rock of Ages” is a popular Christian hymn by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady written in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

This hymn was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns in the 19th century.

Traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was travelling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics on a playing card.  The fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady is now marked as the “Rock of Ages”, both on the rock itself and on some maps, and is also reflected in the name of a nearby tea shop.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, Burrington Combe

The hymn though potentially inspired by an event in Toplady’s life, it is more probable that he drew the motif from the story of Moses hidden in the cleft of the rock. (Ex 33) It is the beautiful story of Moses’ deep desire to know God fully as he asks to see His face. God replies, “You cannot see my face and live, it is too beautiful, too holy, too powerful, too glorious.” But God has a remedy for Moses, if Moses is hidden in the cleft of the Rock he will be able to see God. His “terrible beauty” (Psalm 68:35, The Message) will not consume but will rather protect him. Paul speaks of this same Rock as a type and figure of Christ “and the rock was Christ”(1 Cor 10;4) He says that Rock which sheltered and provided sustenance for Moses, was in fact Christ.

Augustus Toplady poetically alludes to the wound in Christ side being the very cleft within which we find protection, comfort and sustenance. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in Thee;” We are hidden in the cleft of his wounds.

Jesus, this Rock, is not only protection from “terrible beauty” but rather makes us terribly beautiful. This Rock that was stricken in the desert and from which water flowed (Ex 17:6) becomes not only protection but the very Living Water that washes us whiter than snow, or as Toplady puts it so eloquently:

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

 Listen here



Please, Please, tell me a story

Please, please, tell me a story


Psalm 9

To the Choirmaster: According to muth-labben

A Psalm of David.

1 I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. 2 I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. 7 But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, 8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. 9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. 11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds! 12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted. 13 Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death, 14 that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation. 19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you!

The Story

Stories grip us as human beings. I guess that is because we all have stories. As Plato said all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Unless you are into bleak films, you probably like stories with a happy ending or in technical terms “resolution.”  Psalm 9 is one of those Psalms that has a resolution. The Psalm begins with a story, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”(v.1) It has conflict, when it speaks of the “oppressed … in times of trouble”(9) and it has a beautiful resolution “Be gracious to me, O LORD! … [that]I may rejoice in your salvation.” (v. 13).

Joseph Campbell in his book Hero of A Thousand Faces speaks of the fact that every story in the world is actually a story about a hero “who ventures … from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

CS Lewis hints at this same idea in Mere Christianity when he hints that every story is simply a retelling of the “one, true story.” This Psalm begins with a Hero as its subject, the LORD, (“I will give thanks to the LORD”). David, as the storyteller, introduces these fabulous forces that are arrayed against him and confidently belts out “I will recount his wonderful deeds.”

So What?

Though trials come to shake David and us, our psalm and song should be that of wonderful deeds where the “righteousness” or right running of the world prevails (v7,8).  David though hard pressed sings about his Champion. This Champion is he one who bids us trade out shame and defeat for his glory and fame. It is the best deal ever, trading and whole lot of nothing for a whole lot of everything.

When troubles come our way David urges to sing the song of the wondrous story.

I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ Who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ Who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea.


I am sorry you feel that way

Psalm 6

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to the Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long? 4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

This is the first of the seven so-called ‘penitential psalms’, viz. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.  When in tears and depression, says Derek Kidner, “this psalm gives words to those who scarcely have the heart to pray, and brings them within sight of victory.” This psalm encapsulates that “no excuse!” mentality.

Everybody has probably had to ask forgiveness from someone within their lifetime. We inherently develop different ways of asking for forgiveness, we self-excuse, we appeal to extenuating circumstances and sometimes we simply say “No excuse.” Often our apologies can actually be underhanded ways refusing to express repentance. Think of the phrase, “I am so sorry you felt that way.” Blame is shifted from me to you. It is actually not my fault but yours for misunderstanding me. This is not the case with David in this Psalm we are acutely aware of is his refusal to self pity and lie in despair.

After confessing and admitting that his actions have brought on these circumstances, David does some deep theologising, “Turn, O Lord, deliver my life, save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” When David‘s conscience is uneasy, and he appeals to grace to temper the discipline he deserves, whether in sheer mercy or in covenanted love; for these are the nuances of the words used in 2a(“gracious to me”) and 4b(“steadfast love”).

Depression and exhaustion as complete as this are beyond self-help or good advice. Even prayer has died away. The foes (7) who would normally have roused David only crush his spirit now. If anything is to save him it will owe nothing to his own efforts. Such is the extremity which God is about to transform. (6, 7).

David understands that his actions and intentions rightly deserve exclusion (“depart from me”), but greater than this is his understanding of Grace. It is this loyal love, this covenant steadfastness display time and time again by God and supremely on the cross that David exultantly says, “The LORD has heard my plea, the LORD accepts my prayer.”(v. 9)

Jesus quotes this Psalm in Matt 7:23. “Depart from me all you workers of evil,” is not merely a hard-pressed sufferer rounding on his tormentors, but a sovereign asserting his power to purge his realm of mischief-makers, as his kingly vow demanded; But how does this King execute justice? He suffers exclusion that we may suffer inclusion. He suffers the ultimate exclusion of death and the grave (v. 5 “in death there is no remembrance and in Sheol there is no praise.”) He comes to execute justice FOR you not ON you.

As Micah rightly puts it:

Micah 7:8-9 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.

How do you sleep at night?

Psalm 4:1-8

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
As Psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah 3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. 4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah 5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. 6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” 7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

One of the biggest problems humans face is deep restlessness. Judith Shulevitz, famed New York Times columnist, described this deep restlessness and our need for deep peace this way:

“Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day not only did drudgery give way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship, but the machinery of self-censorship shut down, too, stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.”

When evening rolls around distracting situations vie for our attention. Often evenings can be such occasion.  The main theme of the psalm however is not just looking at sleeplessness, rather it is concerned with inward peace in a difficult  situation. The approach of night, with its temptation to brood on past wrongs and present perils, only challenges David to make his faith explicit and to urge it on others, as a committal of one’s cause (4f.) and oneself (, 8) to a faithful Creator.

Psalm 4 is traditionally classified as an individual lament, but more precisely it is a psalm of confidence in which the innocent worshiper rises above the grounds of lamentation with sure trust in God.

This Psalm hinges on David’s description of God. He does not appeal to God based on his “godliness” [literally devotion –chesed] (v3). Rather his answer will come from God’s own righteousness (v1). Neither pietistic, religious moralism, (“Who will show us some good?”) nor hedonistic self-discovery (those for whom “grain and wine abound”) will grant peace and rest. It is God alone who in peace will make us lie down and sleep, “for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (v8)

The Holy Spirit, speaking through David, challenges us to see where we derive our sense vindication or righteousness (v1). Any other way of seeking vindication will only lead to hotheadedness and disillusion, “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” (v.2) Paul challenges this very notion quoting this psalm in Eph 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” If Jesus is our righteousness then we don’t have to fight for our rights. If Jesus is our vindication we do not need to prove ourselves. It is this confidence in justification that leads to true, deep rest. It is Jesus who speaks to the restlessness of our life, “Peace, Be still.”