Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #5 (Psalms of Thanksgiving)

Of all people, Jesus followers should be (and often are) people who are filled with thanksgiving – and we have every reason to be so. Let me explain.

As I consider my life I have to admit, I once was lost, in the darkness of self centeredness, in the consequence of evil things done to me, of my own evil done to others and to the personal evil passions and attitudes that my own sinful nature bred; and before a holy God, I was fully worthy of judgement, of punishment, of God’s real wrath on my life. I can safely say I was a rebel to God’s will. AND, left on my own, I had no interest in seeking God, and I had no interest in knowing God. I didn’t want God to rule over my life. I was a slave to sinful passions – just like every other person who is born a descendent of Adam.

BUT, while I was in that state, God was at work in my life – and through a series of providential events, my life somehow intersected with the good news that Jesus Christ had come to save people from themselves and from their sins, and that he had actually given His life as a sacrifice to ransom sinners. I also learned that the forgiveness and the salvation he offered was free of charge – not because it didn’t cost anything, but because Jesus had paid the price for what it cost, Himself. And this meant what He had to offer was a free gift.

So, through a series of events I don’t have time to relate, I came to a place where I realized I WAS separated from God AND had offended Him greatly – and I saw that, admitted that, and one night, confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive me and to save me. Now, after that, something very interesting began to take place. I started discovering that I had come to the place where I cried out to Him, seeking forgiveness, because He, in the most gracious way, had opened my blind spiritual eyes, had given my dead soul life, and had done this so I could understand my need and HIs remedy, to the end that I believed – which reconciled me to God the Father, making me His child.

On the one hand, every person who belongs to Christ has a different story about how becoming God’s child happened in their life. But every person belonging to Christ passed through a similar process as I did, on the other hand. The detail differs from person to person but the result is always the same – new life, in Jesus Christ., by God’s gracious activity, through faith. And this alone, is enough to fill us with thanksgiving.

In addition to this though, there follows grace upon grace and blessing upon blessing – many of which are spiritual, but many of which are physical/temporal. I began to follow Christ Jesus ‘sort of’, in 1970 – 45 years ago; but after straying from Him for five years (1972 to 1977), came back to Him for real, 38 years ago – and as I look back over my life, there are SO many reasons to be thankful!!

We are great sinners, but Christ is a GREAT Savior – and through Him we have forgiveness, but we also come to know the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

On this backdrop – the backdrop of God, who He is, the benefits He extends to those who love Him, the scripture teaches us that thanksgiving is both fitting, and a proper attitude of Christ’s followers – and we learn about this in many ways from the Word of God.

1) Some offerings during the OT era, for example, were offered as Thank Offerings – or, Offerings of Thanksgiving (Lv. 7: 11ff; 22: 29;
2) Thanksgiving was an attitude Jesus commended (Lk. 17: 15);
3) In several places in the NT letters, the apostles instruct us to do things with Thanksgiving (Phil 4: 6; Col. 2: 7, 4: 2);
4) We learn from other places that Thanksgiving should be an integral part of our praying (1 Tim. 2: 1-2) and that even our food should be received with Thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4: 3-4)
5) And in Revelation 7: 12, we learn how Thanksgiving is an integral part of the worship that takes place before the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

It seems safe to say that in the same way that God is Love and love characterizes Him, so Jesus’s followers are children of God and members of Christ’s kingdom and thanksgiving should characterize us, toward God and others. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the book pf Psalms, we have a number of Psalms that fall into the category of Psalms of Thanksgiving.
I. Thanksgiving Psalms: How would you define a thanksgiving Psalm?

By definition, a Psalm of Thanksgiving is a psalm where the psalmist expresses a deep gratitude and appreciation for God’s grace, love, blessing – sometimes to himself, and sometimes to God’s covenant people.

Many of the Psalms identify as Psalms of Thanksgiving: Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32-34, 36 and 40 are Psalms of Thanksgiving, as are Psalm 40, 41, 60 103-106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 129, 135, 136, 138, 139, 146-148 and 150.

Psalms of Thanksgiving have a few unmistakeable characteristics. They will sometimes start with an exclamation – “Praise the Lord!” (see Psalm 149); Or, the refrain will be a call to praise or thank God for a certain benefit or other (see Psalm 107: 1, 8, 15, 21, 31-32, 43).

Sometimes, a Psalm of Thanksgiving will be FILLED with related calls to praise the Lord (see Psalm 150); and sometimes, they simply list out a number of blessings and benefits which come from God and which he bestows upon those who trust Him (see Psalm 40).

And so, in various forms, Psalms of Thanksgiving offer up praise and thanks to God for Himself, for His benefits and deliverances, for HIs salvation, for HIs blessing.

II. Thanksgiving Psalm considered: I have several personal favorites in this category of Psalm – but tops on my list is Psalm 103. Let’s take some time to consider Psalm 103.

Structure and Focus: Psalm 103 is a medium length Psalm, having 22 verses – and the Psalm follows a clear structure.

1st, the opening and closing verses of the Psalm (vs. 1-5; 20-22) form a crescendo of Blessing of the Lord;

2nd, vs. 6-14 name many of the Lord’s acts and qualities;

3rd, vs. 15 to 19 are a comparison – between man, who is temporary at best, and the Lord and his covenant faithfulness. So, breaking Psalm 103 down, I could outline it like this:

a) Introductory Praise Offering (vs. 1-5)

b) Praiseworthy works and benefits of the Lord (vs. 6-14)

c) Man’s Fading, God’s Abiding (vs. 15-19);

d) Exhortation to Praise the Lord (vs. 20-22)

Analysis: That’s how the Psalm breaks down. In light of this, it is helpful to read the psalm slowly, and then take some time – perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, to list out as many SPECIFIC benefits the Lord extends, specific works the Lord does or acts the Lord performs, or promises the Lord makes, to His people.

For those who take the time to do this exercise, one will find over twenty benefits, and a few promises to believers, in this psalm.

III. Praying the Thanksgiving Psalms: How would one go about praying this or any other Thanksgiving Psalm?

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #3 (Laments)

Thus far, I’ve looked at Wisdom Psalms and Royal Psalms. In this installment we consider a third type of Psalm, and that is, Psalms of Lament. For personal worship and prayer, he Psalms of Lament are, perhaps the most useful of the Psalms, because Lament Psalms touch on situations that are so common to most of our lives – and the definition of Lament Psalms bears this out.

I. What is a Psalm of Lament? Psalms of Lament are generally, psalms that were written and prayed because life is tough – so they speak to God while the writer/singer is in some sort of trouble. Psalms of Lament are to the prayer book of scripture what the Blues are to music – and they are this because in these psalms, the psalmist is crying out to God about fears, problems, sins, concerns, injustices, and seeking God for grace, help and deliverance. And we see this in the Psalm we just read.

There are quite a lot of Psalms of Lament – and some of them are also classed as other types, as well. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; 12 and 13 are Lament Psalms.

Other Psalms of Lament are are listed on your outline and include 25-28; 35; 38-40; 42-44; 51, 54-57, 59-61; 63-64 and Psalm 69; 71; 74; 79; 80; 83; 85; 86; 88; 90; 102; 109; 120; 123; 130; 140–143.

Psalm 22 is also Messianic; Psalm 51 is also called a psalm of repentance – or a penitential Psalm along with Psalm 6, 32, 38, 102, 130 and 143; and Psalm 123 is both a Lament and a Psalm of Descent

Psalm 51’s background is given in the heading that appears before the Psalm. Take the time to read the Psalm and the subtitle. Note that the sub titles which are in bold before a Psalm were generally placed there by the translators – BUT, the captions which appear after the translators subheading and before the Psalm are a part of the original – and we gain insight into what Psalms that have these, were written.

Consider the subtitle of Psalm 51. From it we learn the psalm was written, sung and prayed as a prayer of confession after David seduced with Bathsheba, impregnated her, covered it up by having her husband killed and marrying her, only to have Nathan the prophet confront him with a message from God about his double injustice.

Psalms of Lament follow a certain structure – which identifies them as Laments. Ronald Allen, who I studied under at Western Seminary a number of years ago, shows there are three notable qualities of the Laments.

The first notable characteristic of these psalms has to do with how the kind of pronouns used. Psalms of Lament which use plural pronouns are classed Laments of the People, or Community Laments. Psalms 44, 60, 74, 80, 83, 85, 90, 123, and 137 are Laments of the People.

Question: Can you think of any particular way a Lament of the People – a Community Lament, might apply to specific situations today, in our own arena?

Laments of the individual, on the other hand, have singular pronouns – such as Psalm 3, 5, 6, 7, 13.

A second quality has to do with form. Lament Psalms are formed around six elements, in less or more regular sequence – 1) the introductory appeal; 2) the lament; 3) the confession of trust; 4); the petition; 5) the motifs that may justify divine intervention; 6) the vow of praise; and in some, there is a 7th element – a prophetic statement or utterance.

The third quality (and the one most important) of Lament Psalms is that no matter the intensity of the emotion and the depth of the issue faced by the Psalmist, they lead to praise – indicating the faith of the Psalmist that God is still the great treasure !!

II. Lament Psalms Considered: Take some time and read Psalm 22. Psalm 22 follows a very clear structure. The pattern is:

1st, a Cry for help – vs. 1

2nd, a Lament – notice the I/You pattern- vs. 2

3rd, a Confession of Trust – vs. 3-5

4th, another Lament – I/You – vs. 6-8

5th, another Confession of Trust – vs. 9-11

6th, another Lament, this time, with a they/I/you pattern – vs. 12-18

7th, a Petition – vs. 19-21 – Hear/Save

8th, a Vow of Praise – vs. 22-29

And finally, a Prophetic Utterance – vs. 30-31

Psalm 51 follows a similar pattern:

Vs. 1, 2 – Cry for help

Lament – vs. 3-6 (Notice the double I/You pattern – once in vs. 3,4 and again in vs. 5-6

Vs. 7-11 is the Petition

Vs. 12-19 – Vow of Praise

C. Lessons from Lament Psalms: There are many lessons for us in these Psalms of Lament.

1st, Lament Psalms show us that the writers of the psalms lived in the real world and faced real world problems like we do;

2nd, we learn how relevant prayer is to life’s trials, issues and problems; and how God wants to be approached, by us, with our trials and problems

3rd, Lament Psalms show how the proper default for those who trust our Lord is prayer in the midst of our trials; and they are this because the Psalmist knew the sufficiency of God in any and all of life’s issues;

4th, Lament Psalms teach us HOW to pray during trouble; and the penitential Psalms highlight the need for confession as they teach us how to rightly confess sin before God;

5th, they also show us how the Lord is trustworthy

6th, Laments Psalms teach us how to offer up praise, even in the midst of our troubles.

III. Praying the Psalms of Lament: In times of trouble, praying these Laments come quite naturally, if we have learned some go them by heart. I remember when I first landed in hospital during my illness back in 1998, how there was a single line from a Psalm running through my head, as my fever rose and fell, and as I became sicker and sicker – and the line that kept running through my head was:

“Out of the depths I cry to you Oh LORD! Oh Lord, hear my voice!!” These are the opening lines of Psalm 130 – which is a Psalm of Lament – and though I couldn’t remember the rest of the Psalm, that part – the cry for help – was in my mind and I was silently lifting it up to God.

Can you see ways you could pray laments during your own trials and troubles?

A. We can simply pray through a psalm and conform it to our own situation; or

B. We can sing some of these Psalms back to God as a form of prayer.

Laments Psalms are very practical as patterns for prayer, for they run the gamut of human problems. Next time you face a trial, a problem, or are struggling with besetting sin, pray through some of the Lament Psalms – for these Psalms are designed to help us pray more effectively, both in our private and corporate worship.

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #1 (Psalms of Wisdom)

On June 16, 2015 I began a six week series on Psalms, with a view to look at Psalms by individual category so those in attendance could learn about using the Psalms for personal prayer and worship. These notes contain the series introduction and teaching about wisdom psalms.

Quite a number of years ago, I heard from a saint who was older and wiser than I was that a wise devotional practice was to take time to read regularly through both the Psalms and the Proverbs – and how by reading five Psalms a day or one Proverb a day, I would read through each book once per month – so I began that practice; and having done this as much as possible, I’ve found over the years that that practice has been extremely rewarding in more ways than one.

The Psalms is the worship song book of the people of God, and because it is, the Psalms teach us how to worship God in both personal, as well as corporate, worship;

Because the Psalms are the prayer manual of the people of God, spending much time in the Psalms has a way of teaching us to pray – and that, in all circumstances we might face as we journey, as Christ’s followers, through the clay idol of this world toward the Celestial City;

Since the book of Psalms is the praise manual of the people of God, we learn from them what the proper praise of God looks like – with the result that we grow into a people who quickly offer praise to the one being in the universe who is worthy of all praise – and as we learn to be praisers of God, we learn at the same time one of the ways by which we live well before Him. For He delights in the praises of His people.

Let me tell you one other things about the Psalms as the praise manual of God’s people. The Psalms are powerful encouragers (at least for me). I don’t often open up about the fact that I struggle – and sometimes deeply – with despair and with depression – but I do – not as badly as I used to, but I still do fight those two enemies; and I’m learning that one of the most sure remedies for me, whenever I find myself in what Bunyan called the Slough of Despond, is to pick up the scriptures, open to the Psalms and just read several of them, slowly. What I have found, when I do this, is that my heart will often lighten, and I may begin to praise God for stuff – and since we also know from scripture that God inhibits the praises of His people, it’s seems He often draws near to me – and I usually get up lighter and more encouraged, despite what I may be dealing with at the time.

No doubt, the Psalms teach us the all sufficiency of God and how He and He alone is the Rock and the fortress of His people, while revealing to us how to rightly approach Him in life’s many and various situations.

As I was preparing for our series together, I took some time to read through John Calvin’s introduction to the Psalms, from his commentary series and found much good from his introduction.. Let me share a bit of what Calvin wrote, 457 years ago next month (he wrote the intro to Psalms in July 1557):

“Calvin called the Psalms “An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul”, because “there is not an emotion of which one can be conscious of, that is not represented to us, as in a mirror. He went on to write, “The Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are [prone] to be agitated with. And while other parts of scripture contain God’s commands and instructions, here in the Psalms we have the writers themselves “laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections…”; and these “call, or rather draw each of us to the examination of ourselves in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, or the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.”

Calvin continues, “Genuine prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions that people will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies and at the same time instructed in seeking their remedies for a cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book.”

What are some of the characteristics of the Psalms? Here are some interesting facts:

Title: In our English Bibles, the book has the title “PSALMS’, though it is titled a bit differently in the Hebrew texts; and this title come from a Greek word referring to ‘the plucking of strings’, referring to songs sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments, such as the harp, or the lyre, or the guitar.

The book of Psalms is the longest of the 66 books of scripture. It contains 150 chapters. In addition, both the shortest and the longest chapters in the Bible are found in the Psalms, with Psalm 117 containing two verse and Psalm 119, containing 176 verses.

The scriptures as a whole – the 66 canonical books – contain a total of 1,189 chapters – and this makes Psalm 117 the very center chapter of the scriptures. Also, Psalm 118: 8 is in the center of the 31, 173 verses of the whole Bible.

Unlike most Bible books, Psalms is written by multiple individual authors, whereas most other books have a single author. Here’s a breakdown:

a) David the King being responsible for 75 Psalms, which is more Psalms than any other author. In addition to David:
b) Asaph, a priest and worship leader wrote 12 Psalms (50; 73-83);
c) The sons of Korah from the next grip of authors, and are credited with ten Psalms (42; 44-49; 84-85; 87);
d) Solomon wrote two Psalms (Psa. 72 and 127);
e) Moses wrote one Psalm (Psa. 90);
f) Heman is credited with one Psalm, Psa. 88. He was a son of Korah and founder of the Korahite choir (2 Chr. 5: 12; 35:15;
g) Ethan wrote one Psalm – Psa. 89;
h) The other 48 Psalms were written by unknown authors – but many believe that at least one, Psalm 119, was written by Ezra the scribe.

These authors wrote Psalms from about 1445-1405 BC (in the case of Moses and Psalm 90) to between 500 to 430 BC (in the case of Psalm 126), which is the most recent Psalm.

Before we move into looking at one particular type of Psalm, let me give you three more bullet points by way of introduction.

Psalms is the most quoted OT book, by the NT authors, than any other OT book – with 112 of the 360 OT quotes or OT allusions coming from Psalms. One example of of how the NT writers used the Psalms is found in Romans 3: 1-20, where in that twenty verse portion of scripture alone, Paul quotes from Psalm 51, 14, 4, 140, and 36, as well as one quote from Proverbs and one from Isaiah.

The book of Psalms contains more direct messianic prophecies in Psalms than in any other OT book with the possible exception of Isaiah.

And finally, the individual Psalms can be categorized under one of seven Psalm types. Let me give you each Psalm type. Then what I want to do, as come together each week, if to look at one particular type of Psalm generally – then we will take a single Psalm from the type we are looking at on that particular evening and study that particular Psalm – and the, week to week, we will have a time of practical application, where you will have a chance to practice what we are learning together.

Types of Psalms: There are seven different types of Psalms:

Wisdom Psalms (which we will look at in more detail tonight) are instructive. These Psalms teach us how to live wisely before God, and they reveal something of God’s will for us. Examples are Psalm 1, Psalm 37 and Psalm 119;
Royal Psalms are Psalms that teach us truth about the Messiah – so sometimes these Psalms are named Messianic. These Psalms give specifics about Messiah. They are prophetic, looked forward to Messiah’s coming, and often predicted detail about his suffering, while speaking of His reign. Psalm 2, 20, 21, 110, 118 are examples;
Enthronement Psalms are like Royal Psalms, but speak of God’s total rule and control over all his creation. These Psalms give us detail about God’s providence over his universe. Examples are Psalm 96 to 99);
Lament Psalms are one of the most common types of Psalm, and are often the ones we can relate to the best. Lament Psalms focus on the writers troubles, trails, failures, fears, trouble and pain, while calling on God for deliverance. Some examples are Psalm 22 or 130;                                                                                                                                                                                  Imprecatory Psalms are what I would call Psalms of divine revenge or retribution. In an imprecatory psalm, the psalmist is calling on God to avenge him or avenge Israel by bringing judgement, wrath and punishment on enemies. Psalm 35, 55, 58, 59 and 109 are examples of imprecatory Psalms.
Thanksgiving Psalms need no definition really. These are Psalms of Thanks, which express gratitude to God for his many benefits, both nationally and individually (Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 103 to 106, and 117 are examples; and finally
Pilgrimage Psalms are Psalms of worship and praise, which were sung by Israel as the traveled up to Jerusalem to celebrate their annual feasts. Examples are Psalm 43; 46; 48; 76; 84; 87 and 120 to 130.

Wisdom Psalms:

By definition, a Wisdom Psalm is a Psalm that teaches us how to live wisely before God. Put directly, Wisdom Psalms have a single purpose – they teach us how to live righteously before God, and as we seek to now and do His will

As I mentioned earlier, Psalm 1, Psalm 37 and Psalm 119 are very clearly, Wisdom Psalms. Wisdom Psalms provide for us a double feature. Wisdom Psalms teach us how to live righteously before God and because they focus this, they at the same time give us insight into the very character of God – for we can’t know what please God without at the same time knowing Him and His very own qualities.

Psalm 119, which is the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible, gives us a picture of “the man after God’s own heart – taking God as His portion, associating with His people, and delighting and feeding upon His Word

Psalm 37 lays out very, very clear instruction about how people of faith in God should conduct themselves in this world, in relation to anger, worry, the wicked, the wicked plots, their prosperity, temptation to evil, God’s love for a care of the righteous, and promised salvation. Read Psalm 37.

Psalm 1 is another of the wisdom Psalms. Read Psalm 1.

What is the focus of Psalm 1 ?

This Psalm has a very clear focus. It seems that what the divine writer does in Psalm 1 is lay down a contrast – between the wicked and the righteous. But, the writer does something else, that is far more significant. The Hebrew word for man (ish) models a representative example of a man who is godly – and the Psalm shows brings multiple blessings to the person of faith in God.

Blessed is plural, and communicates blessednesses; and the key to blessednesses is to walk, stand and sit under the council of God;s Word instead of walking, standing, sitting in the counsel of the wicked, the sinner, the scoffer. This is the key to key to blessedness (vs. 1-2).

What does it mean to meditate?

Does the Psalmist really mean, day and night? There is a parallel found in Deut. 6: 4-12 – and there are two truths implied here. First, the law of the Lord was to be ever before God’s people – in their hearts, their minds, their conversations, waking up, lying down, while eating, while walking outs side – all the time; and Psalm 1 is saying the exact same thing in other words. That’s the first lesson. The second lesson (vs. 12) is this: Forgetting God happens when we forget or fail to saturate with His Word, and forgetting His Word is to forget HIM.

Now, to delight in and meditate in God’s Word day and night – to make it an integral part of our lives, brings a result (vs. 3). What is the result?
1st, fruit in season, stability in this life and spiritual prosperity;

2nd, the ability to stand on the day of judgement (implied by vs. 4 and 5), when the wicked will NOT stand.

Because the Lord LOVES the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.

The Psalm teaches us the wisdom of walking in the ways of God as explained in His Word, as over against the folly of walking in the council of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, sitting in the place of scoffers. Thus, it is classified as a Psalm of Wisdom.

1st, the Psalm shows us a way of life that brings blessing, and a way of life that doesn’t.

2nd, the Psalm calls us to delight in the ‘law of the Lord’, that is, in His Word.

3rd, the Psalm promises fruitful life to those who heed it’s instruction

4th, the Psalm promises prosperity and vitality in our lives before God

5th, the Psalm wants the wicked of impending judgement

6th, the Psalm affirms the Lord’s love for the righteous

In summary, we can say of this Psalm that , “This whole Psalm offers itself to be drawn into these two opposite propositions: a godly [person] is blessed, a wicked [person] is miserable; which seem to stand as two challenges, made by the prophet: one, that he will maintain a godly [person] against all comers, to be the only Jason to win the golden fleece of blessedness; the other, that albeit the ungodly make a show in the world of being happy, yet they are of all men most miserable” (quote from Richard Baker, 1640, in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Vol. 1, pg 4).

So, how would one use this Psalm for personal prayer and worship?

We can use this prayer in personal worship and prayer, by requesting that God, in His grace, make us men and women who live after the pattern the Psalmist lays down. We can also pray for wisdom to recognize and to avoid the behaviors that Psalm reveals as unwise.

How does walking in the council of the ungodly appear in a persons life? What form does it take? How does one stand in the way of sinners? What draws me to sit in the scoffers seat? Do I have leanings in any of those directions in my life? What dangers am I in? How can I avoid these patterns of behavior?

We can thank God that He has given us a sure pattern for wise living.

And we might praise God for His grace to empower us to walk opposite to the Psalmists warnings, by asking Christ, by His Spirit, to empower us to only walk in the council of the godly, to only stand in the way of the righteous, and to only take our place with those who excel in having the high praises of God on their lips and words of encouragement in their hearts for others and for us.