Singing Spiritual Songs

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:18-20‬ ‭NLT

Paul continues with the thought that being “filled with the Holy Spirit” leads on, in a natural way, to singing. But not any old song. There is no value in worldly songs with their inane lyrics. Paul’s world of song included Psalms and Hymns. Songs of the Spirit. God-songs. There is something about singing spiritual songs that leads to a connection to God. Almost as though spiritual songs are keys that unlock the door into God’s presence, into His zone. 

One of the keys to a successful spiritual song, in my opinion, is spontaneity. Singing a well worn hymn can of course be a blessing. There is something special about being in the presence of strong singers belting out “Thine Be the Glory” or “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”. Or joining with the choirs of the terraces in the hymn “Abide with Me”. But a soulish response is only part of the way into the God-zone. It is far better to allow the infilling of the Holy Spirit to lead to a spiritual response. It might be in our native tongues. But it might too be in the Heavenly language that is ours for the asking (1 Corinthians 14, particularly 14:15). And in the process of aligning our spirits with God something significant happens. I have been in worship services that have continued for an hour or two, lead by the Holy Spirit into Heavenly places, all sense of time abandoned. 

How creative are we with “making music to the Lord in [our] hearts”? We probably say we don’t have a clue where to start. But it’s uncanny that repeating a phrase from a Psalm, or some prayer we have made up, can lead on to the development of a melody. Just a simple tune. It may not even be anything original. But before we know it the music welling up in our hearts connects with the Lord. Amazing. And the Author-Composer turns out to be the Holy Spirit, who we have just been filled by. 

As pilgrims we must never gloss over this verse written by Paul. He knew all about what he was writing. He too was a pilgrim and I can just imaging him singing his heart out in that prison cell, driving his guards nuts. But he wouldn’t have been bothered by that – he was in the God-zone. And we can join him there, from wherever we are. Or in whatever we are doing.

More Action Praise

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heaven!
Praise Him for His mighty works; praise His unequalled greatness!
Praise Him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise Him with the lyre and harp!
Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flutes!
Praise Him with a clash of cymbals; praise Him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”
Psalm 150:1-6 NLT

Well, here we are, looking at the last Psalm in the Book of Psalms. Another Psalm following on from the action praise-theme in Psalm 149. But the Psalmist is getting carried away with the thoughts of adding more and more noise to his praise. You see, we cannot be quiet when it comes to praising God. We can’t whisper our praises. And the Psalmist knew that. And so he started to add some more instruments to his praise-band. So in addition to the tambourine and harp, we now have a lyre, stringed instruments, a ram’s horn, flutes and not just any old cymbals – these are clashing cymbals with loud clanging gizmos attached to them. Within me is the thought that I want to get to play the loud clanging cymbals in the praise band – but don’t tell anyone! But in case there is anyone who feels they will miss out, those who don’t get to play an instrument – they can sing their praises (assuming they are still breathing of course). 

Just this morning, as the new day was breaking over the woods in my corner of Scotland, I paused. I listened to the noises around me. The distant traffic a constant reminder of our 21st Century world, but closer by was the bird song. And the wind gently murmuring through the tree tops. And within me was the deep impression that there was a lot of praising going on – I just wasn’t hearing it with my earth-bound senses. And the creation around me was shouting it out.

But why should I, a 21st Century pilgrim, praise God? My musings took me to Romans 8:29-30, “For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory.” And I looked at verse 30, and personalised it, like this, “And having chosen [me], He called [me] to come to Him. And having called [me], He gave [me] right standing with Himself. And having given [me] right standing, He gave [me] His glory.” Why should I praise God? Why should I not praise God? Not only has God chosen me, He has made me righteous before Him. Jesus is now my older brother. And God has given me His glory. Truly, I will praise God as long as I have breath.

Action Praise

Praise the Lord! 
Sing to the Lord a new song. 
Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful. 
Praise his name with dancing, 
accompanied by tambourine and harp. 
Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:1, 3, 6a‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In yesterday’s Psalm, Psalm 148, the Psalmist wrote about all the wonderful God-things he could think about, and he experienced a “wow” moment that translated him into a different dimension. A praise-zone so wonderful that he had to share it with his readers, encouraging them to “Praise the Lord” too.

The theme continues in today’s Psalm but with the exhortation to be more physically expressive. So the Psalmist encourages the writing of a “new song”. He suggests that praises to God should be sung amongst “the assembly of the faithful”, a congregation of God’s people. But before we develop a picture in our minds of rows and rows of elderly and pew-bound men and women holding hymn books and singing with bored expressions on their faces, the Psalmist advises how praises should be – with dancing, tambourines and harps. Now what a picture that would be! Hymn books thrown aside. New songs abounding. The congregation bouncing up and down the aisles, the percussive sounds of tambourines and harps all but drowning out the dirge-like sounds exuding from an organ, tucked away in the background somewhere. Praises expressed in the way they should be – in total abandonment to our wonderful Heavenly Father. He deserves our praises, offered from every ounce, every fibre, of our beings, for what He has done for us. One day I suspect that we will find Heaven to be a bit like that. No pew-bound-ness there. Read Revelation 5.

But after our quick glimpse into Heaven, here we are, back on planet Earth, trudging along on our life-pilgrimage. Lifting our tired limbs step by step, tramping along through the highways and byways of 21st century society. And we wonder about this environment of praise. It’s unusual to find praise expressed in such total abandonment in any of our Western denominational churches, though we might find it on the terraces at a football match. It is beyond me to understand how people can express exuberant praise honouring their football team, who are kicking around a bag filled with wind, when they can’t offer up the same praise to their Creator, who created the bag materials and provided the wind. But, apart from that digression, there is something within me that is bursting to join a praising throng of God’s people, as the Psalmist described. Abandoning the pre-conditioned reticence that seems to blight most people in my generation, and being able to enter into the “wow”-zone of God’s presence. Why? Because our Heavenly Father is worthy of all the praises we can muster, and then some. We cannot praise Him enough for all that He has done for us. But one day we will get that opportunity, those of us who have embraced God and His Son, Jesus, committing our lives to them in an eternal act of repentance and commitment. 

I’ve just had a mischievous thought – why don’t I go out and buy a tambourine. And then take it to church on Sunday. Hmmm…

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens!
Praise him from the skies!
Let every created thing give praise to the Lord,
for he issued his command, and they came into being.
He set them in place forever and ever.
His decree will never be revoked.
Psalm 148:1, 5-6 NLT

In this Psalm, the word “Praise” appears 13 times. The Psalmist runs through many of God’s attributes, encouraging us to respond as he did, with a heart full of praise. He starts by looking up into the skies. There he “sees” angels and God’s “armies of heaven”. He continues with his observations of the celestial bodies, our sun, moon, and the stars we can see. His gaze starts to fall, with a view of the clouds then replaced by his thoughts about created beings, formed at God’s command. By His spoken and irrevocable word. The Psalmist continues with what he sees around him. The inhabitants of the seas, the weather systems, the habitat and occupants of the lands, the society and the people who live within it. All in all, the Psalmist did a pretty good job in describing his world in just a few short verses. But above all, he exhorted his fellow countrymen to “Praise the Lord”.

Do we look around us at our world, with wonder and praise for its Creator? Or do we just take for granted what we see? Do we spend our time trying to explain it all away, as a chance happening on a random planet in a vast universe? Or do we see God’s plan in it all; the Creator who wanted to make mankind in His image? Or do we, like the Psalmist, become overwhelmed by our loving Heavenly Father, responding over and over again in expressing our praises to Him? The Psalmist’s view of God was so overwhelming that all he could do was offer up a “wow” from deep within him. We too must find that “wow” moment in our own lives. It is there for the finding, and as we utter praises from our lips, we will find ourselves in a different place. In His presence. In God’s “wow”-zone. 

Like a Butterfly

“Praise the Lord! 
How good to sing praises to our God! 
How delightful and how fitting! 
He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds. 
He counts the stars and calls them all by name. 
How great is our Lord! 
His power is absolute! 
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
Psalms‬ ‭147:1, 3-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This Psalm is a wonderful jumble of thoughts. The Psalmist’s musings flit like a butterfly between exhortations to praise God, to how marvellously wonderful His creation is and then to how He cares for His creation. And in the process, he delivers the message that our Heavenly Father, so powerful that He can create, count and name the stars, also cares for human beings like you and I. Doesn’t that give us the picture of a God so complete that He is fully omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent? The Psalmist was right when he said that God’s “understanding is beyond comprehension”

No matter how hard we try, how many university degrees we get, how many years we spend in research, we will never even scratch the surface of what God is all about. Suffice to say that we must instead align our lives to follow Jesus. He taught us how to live. And He ultimately provided the remedy for our transgressions at Calvary. One day I firmly believe that we too will be able to see a bit more of God’s understanding; it will be mind-blowing and there will be only one possible response. “Praise the Lord!”

Hope in the Lord

“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. 
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, 
and all their plans die with them. 
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their Helper, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
He made heaven and earth, the sea, 
and everything in them. 
He keeps every promise forever.”
Psalms‬ ‭146:3-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A charismatic figure emerges in a nation and people are attracted to him, electing him as their leader. A familiar situation repeated many times over in ages past. And there have been many shipwrecked nations because they followed a man instead of following God. Great initial expectations are replaced by disappointment and despair. As David, the Psalmist, advises – putting our confidence in a person will not be helpful. And he points out that the grandiose plans the leaders have will die with them. A human being does not have the capability to always deliver on their promises, to provide help for everyone who needs it. When I read these verses I am reminded of the promises made by aspiring politicians when they seek election. Promises that often evaporate and disappear once their office has been realised. 

Thankfully, there is a “but” in this Psalm. When we put our hope and trust in God, we are 100% assured that He will deliver what He promises. Verse 6 finishes, “He keeps every promise forever”. But the meaning the Psalmist implies behind the word “hope” isn’t for something that might or might not happen. Like we hope it won’t rain today. Or the childish hope that Santa will bring a new train set for Christmas. The word “hope” in this Psalm implies an assurance that through our faith we will realise what we “hope” for. The first verse in Hebrews 11 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” 

So we align our lives to “the God of Israel”, our wonderful Creator God. He isn’t just a local “god” hovering over a nation state in the Middle East. As the verse says, “He made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them”. Because of His credentials as the Creator of everything, we can delight in our relationship with Him; in the knowledge that He helps us, replacing despair of human shortcomings with joy in His God-comings. Powerful people don’t make it onto the significance scale when God is around. 

God’s Word, the Bible, is full of His promises. Too many to list here. But just one has popped into my mind this morning. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Having the peace of God within us in a world lacking peace is a promise God will never fail to deliver.

God’s Open Hand

“The Lord helps the fallen 
and lifts those bent beneath their loads. 
The eyes of all look to You in hope; 
You give them their food as they need it. 
When You open Your hand, 
You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭145:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There was a time when God literally opened His hand to feed the Israelite nation as they floundered in the wilderness between Egypt and their Promised Land. A food they called “Manna” was found on the ground every morning; it contained all they needed for life and satisfied their physical needs for an unbelievable 40 years. There were times when they grumbled about its sameness, even yearning on occasion to return to Egypt where there were leeks and garlic, but nevertheless God fed them. And before we try and take the moral high ground and say how we would have been much more grateful, imagine all we had to eat was porridge. Every day. For 40 years. Hmmm…

Today we are presented with a bewildering array of different foods. Supermarket shelves bulge with fare of all kinds. During the pandemic, there have been hints of the fragility of the food supply, with empty shelves driving headlines at times. Sadly, we too easily take for granted the availability of food, forgetting that our provision is all through God’s grace.

The verses before us today paint a picture of our total dependability on our loving, Heavenly, Creator God. Firstly, we read that He sustains us, even in times of adversity, when life is hard, when we are crushed under loads to heavy for us to bear on our own. And when we look to God, in hope that He will come through for us, we find that He satisfies us with all that we need for life. He satisfies our hunger and thirst. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and there, embedded in what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer, we find, “Give us today our daily bread.” Another translation reads, “Give us today the food we need”. Jesus thought it important enough to include the petition for food in His prayer guidance. 

We must have a continual attitude of gratitude for God’s provision. Our very existence is in His hands, and when He opens them we benefit. Before His throne of grace today we’re thankful. Deeply thankful. David, the Psalmist, finishes his Psalm with these words, “I will praise the Lord, and may everyone on earth bless His holy name forever and ever.”‭‭ That is the only thing we can do; God has done so much for us.

Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, 
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 
The Lord is good to everyone. 
He showers compassion on all His creation.
‭Psalms‬ ‭145:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Why is God ultimately so merciful and compassionate? We look around us at our world and wonder why He doesn’t remove all evil and, in particular, evil people. After all they get in His way. They frustrate His will and purposes. But as we muse about how wonderful it would be if God removed the wicked, we get a light bulb moment – He would remove us as well. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” So it’s just as well God is merciful and compassionate. He gives us time. Time to repent of our sins. Time to align our lives to His. Thankfully He is “slow to get angry” with us. 

But that is not to say that God’s mercy will always be there. There will come a time when He can be merciful and compassionate no longer. There is a time of judgement coming. You see, our loving Heavenly Father is also a righteous Heavenly Father. He can tolerate nothing that is evil, and when we pass the Great Divide into a new life, anything that is evil will not be allowed in His presence. And so God has created a place apart from Him where evil will be allowed and confined. We can be assured that all the injustices, all the evil, all the wickedness, all the crime, all the bad things we experience in this life – none of it is going unnoticed by God. It is all being noted down in Heavenly life-logs. And one day God will open the data vaults and will publicly replay the videos before casting judgement. Thankfully there is a remedy for us – read on!

Today, in this life, we enjoy being showered with compassion. All of us, good or bad, live in a time of incredible blessing, a time of God’s patience and goodness, a time of God’s grace. As we take our faltering steps along the roads of life, His compassion helps us. His goodness is with us. His love is unfailing. His grace without limit. But God is not a passive parent. His mercy and compassion is active. He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us the way to a right relationship with Him. When Jesus takes on all our sins, we take on Jesus’ righteousness. If that isn’t the ultimate demonstration of compassion, of love, then I don’t know what is. And covered in Jesus’ righteousness, we today receive a “not-guilty’ verdict from the Righteous Judge. The Lord is surely good to everyone. Even me.

Blessings

“May our sons flourish in their youth
    like well-nurtured plants.
May our daughters be like graceful pillars,
    carved to beautify a palace.
May our barns be filled
    with crops of every kind.
May the flocks in our fields multiply by the thousands,
    even tens of thousands,
    and may our oxen be loaded down with produce.
May there be no enemy breaking through our walls,
    no going into captivity,
    no cries of alarm in our town squares.
Yes, joyful are those who live like this!
    Joyful indeed are those whose God is the Lord.”
Psalm 144:12-15 NLT

What a lovely picture of God’s blessings. In just a few verses, David, the Psalmist, sums up blessings in three areas – the family, prosperity, and safety. And all because these people truly believe, and trust, in God, their Lord. What a lovely picture of sons and daughters, being raised in a Godly home, growing and functioning just as God ordained. Near where I live there is a new wooded area with some Ash and Sycamore saplings. Many of them are growing incredibly straight and strong, reaching skywards because they are “well-nurtured” by the climate God has provided for them. And you can just imagine these beautiful daughters exquisitely sculpted like “graceful pillars” by our Master Craftsman, God Himself.  Mums aren’t mentioned in these few verses, but I’m sure they were in there somewhere too. In today’s society, often experiencing dysfunctional family life, there is something very attractive about David’s picture. And everything that this family does seems to multiply prosperity – these family members don’t need to enter a world of crime or dodgy deals to see their wealth increase. And there’s more – they live in a time of peace without fear of an attack by the enemy nations around them. No fear of burglars breaking in, or attacks in dark alleys. 

Are you thinking that this is all too good to be true? I don’t think so. Just because we don’t realise the blessings as described, or relate to the pictures the Psalmist paints, doesn’t mean that they do not, or will not, happen. But we notice that the blessings described all start with the word “May”. The Psalmist is praying a blessing on his family. He realises that it is only God who can turn his vision into reality. Though we know from various accounts, that David’s family life was often lacking functionality – we read for example the debacle with Absalom in 2 Samuel – such experiences didn’t stop David from praying. And neither must we stop praying either. Those of us who don’t have a family must know one that we can pray blessings over. And we must never stop thanking God for all the blessings He pours out on us. Food on our tables. The basics of life like air to breath and water to drink. The list is endless. It is pointless to focus on what we don’t have. Rather we should focus on God Himself. He never tires of blessing us, often in ways we won’t appreciate until we are in His presence. And there’s only one condition, and that is we must obey Him. Not for His sake, but for ours.

The Apostle Paul said in his epistle to the Philippians church, “I am convinced that my God will fully satisfy every need you have, for I have seen the abundant riches of glory revealed to me through Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 4:19 TPT). On the wall of his prison cell, Paul could see in his mind a similar picture to David. A vista vibrant with the potential of God’s “abundant riches of glory“. God’s blessings are not beyond our reach. He is not a stingy God at all. As David prayed, we pray too – may God bless us all today. Amen.

Mere Mortals

“O Lord, what are human beings 
that You should notice them, 
mere mortals that You should think about them? 
For they are like a breath of air; 
their days are like a passing shadow.
Psalms‬ ‭144:3-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We try and get our minds around many questions in life. Scientific and technical advances have given us many answers to life’s questions, and where there is no answer, “learned” people stand up and provide their opinion as though it was fact. We human beings like to know all the answers. But there are some questions that, no matter how hard people try, we have no answers for. Like “Why am I here on this planet?” Or, “How many days do I have left in this life?” Philosophical questions that have no answers. Not even from our “learned” elite. We have a tendency to put aside such questions and blank them out of our thinking. This is especially true when our thoughts turn to God. We have no truly definitive answers to questions such as, “Who is God?” Or even “Is there a God?” And as a result, many choose to deny that God even exists. If there is no God then there are no questions, and no need for any answers.

David, the Psalmist in today’s verses, asks the question, “Why should God be even bothered about mankind?” After all, human beings are born, they die, and pass through life “like a breath of air”. But his thoughts are just transient, because we see from the rest of the Psalm, that there is no doubt about God’s existence, at least as far as he is concerned. Just a few verses on, he writes, “I will sing a new song to you, O God! I will sing your praises with a ten-stringed harp.” He already knows the answer to his question. He knows that all he can do is praise his Creator, because God loves him. David’s relationship with God was so personal and powerful, that he had no doubts. But in asking the question in today’s verses, he took a moment to meditate in wonder that his amazing Creator God intimately cares for him. I can just imagine him shaking his head in disbelief.

The question still hangs over us in 21st Century society today. Why should God care about us? In spite of all our sins, our bad behaviour, our rebellion. Our denial, our failures. Why? Thankfully, we don’t need to let that question hang over us – the answer is provided in the Bible. This Book is the story of God’s pursuit after human beings, His creation. God yearns for a loving relationship with His creation. To include all the relevant Bible verses in this blog is beyond WordPress’s storage capabilities. But let’s consider just one. John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” We may not understand the why, but we know the facts. God loves everyone, past, present and future, who have lived and will live on this planet, and He demonstrated that love for us by sending His Son, Jesus, to engage with His creation, His people, and ultimately to die for them so that their sins would be forgiven. An eternal act by our eternal Heavenly Father. All we can do is shake our heads in amazement. In disbelief. And respond as David did, with a deeply thankful heart, full of praise to our amazing God.