Holding your breath

Psalm 104

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2 covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
4 he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

27 These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them,
they gather it up; when you open your hand,
they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit,
they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,

One of our finest hymns, Sir Robert Grant’s O worship the King, takes its origin from this psalm. This Psalm is literally breath-taking. It takes us on a speedy tour through creation. The imagery and poetry of this Psalm capture the reader in rapture, wonder and delight of our Creator.  We hear of the sheer pleasure of God in creating the universe. We catch a small glimpse of what it must have meant for God’s creative act to be the spilling over and out of the delight of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their creative acts are not born out of need; they are born out sheer pleasure and enjoyment.

The Psalmist responds with worship. For him it is poetry. For others it may be music, still others it may be the glee of figuring out a small bit of this puzzle called the universe. Whichever way you express worship never lose the wonder of praise.

Behind all this, the subject of this whole Psalm is the outflowing energy of God which holds all things in being. The breath, or spirit, of every living thing depends on his Spirit, or breath; the same word is used in 29 and 30 for both. The Psalmist leaves us with a paradox, if we do not respond in breath-taking wonder(v1-27) we will experience breathless wandering(v29). This, so far from implicating him in our misdeeds, deepens our accountability, since we handle only what is his. (see Dan. 5:23: ‘The God in whose hand is your breath … you have not honoured.’)

The stunning thing about Grace is that the God that gave us breath gives up His breath on the cross. In exhaling “Father into your hands do I commit my Spirit,” he breathes his last breath and we breath our first. He gives up His Spirit that we may receive the Holy Spirit.


O Worship the King

by Robert Grant (1779-1838) and
Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806)

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love;
our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise. 
O tell of God’s might, O sing of God’s grace, 
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space, 
whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is God’s path on the wings of the storm.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.