Word of the Week

Join me for a conversation with Psalm 63:1-8 . . .

Several years ago a dear friend of mine called me one day to say that she was dating someone new. The longest dinner date, she told me, turned into a dinner date the next night and they’d really been inseparable. And things got serious fast . . . already re-arranged their upcoming Christmas plans to spend the time with one another's families. While my friend sounded really happy (and so I was happy for her) the conversation jarred me.

How in the world could she go from one day “Woe is me, I don’t have anyone” to using the M word (marriage) in a matter of weeks?

Truthfully, it made my head spin.

But all I knew was that my friend couldn’t stop talking about her new love. I mean really talking about him. By the time I hung up the call I knew I could not only pick her fella out of a police line up if I had to, but I could write an essay on him too! I knew all about his tastes in flowers, his love of only the best ice cream (Blue Bell, she told me) and the fact that he always perfectly shinned his shoes before he left the house in the morning.

Though I was glad to listen, it almost felt like I was eavesdropping in on a private lovebirds conversation that wasn’t meant for me as she went on and on. I wasn’t in love with him, she was! But, how poetic he sounded!

In the same way as we read Psalm 63, we too might feel like we’re eavesdropping. For this Psalm presents us a conversation between two people who love each other very much. So it might feel to us a little bit awkward too.

For David speaks of a relationship he has with God.  And it’s his relationship. But not ours (or is it?)

He begins by saying this about the Lord: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”raindrops-800x500

Dramatic opening sentence isn't it? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to go without liquids or water for a long period of time. But you simply can’t. Science tells us that our bodies are made up of 60% water and we can only go without for 3 days until they begin to shut down. Dehydration can seriously kill. So what a vivid point!

In David’s mind, being with God is as important to him as the existence of his very life.

He can not live without God. And it’s not an intellectual pursuit. It's a pursuit of the actual presence of God.

For David feels confident in the One in whom he adores saying in verse 2, “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.”May commentators say that David was actually writing from the sanctuary, otherwise known as the temple, one of the holiest place in Judaism. And possibly that David was staying up all night praying, seeking answers from the Lord. But then there are others who believe that this phrase “looked upon you in the sanctuary” was just as expression of closeness.

But whatever it means, we know this: David finds joy in be-ing with God.

And as a result, he’s got to get his praise on.

Verse 3: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as a long as I live; I will lift my hands and call on your name.”

Bottom line: David's longings have a physical component. David can’t help but speak words about God from his mouth.

David can’t help but turn his posture in response to what the Lord has done in his life.

David can’t help but lift up his hands simply say, “Thank you, God” for giving him life.

So much so that verse 6 David goes on saying about the Lord: “I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help.”

I love this part of the Psalm for it’s so practical. I can just imagine David lying down on the ground and having the thoughts of God consume him making him unable to sleep. Tossing and turning filled with joy.

And it’s awesome language isn't it?

But I want to stop here and acknowledge that this Psalm might still  feel weird to us.

In fact, I dare say that these words of David might just overwhelm us.


Maybe in the same way as we encounter the “my new man or my new woman” is the greatest thing since sliced bread soliloquies from our friends . . . We don’t know God like David knows God.

For as much as our resume says we’ve been a member of a congregation since cradle roll . . .

For as much as our day planner says we’ve been committed to a particular church and its activities for years . . .

For as many songs we’ve sung, prayers we’ve prayed and sermons we’ve heard, we might just land in the place with Psalm 63 as our mirror and have one response:

“I do not know. I do not know that God you speak of.”

I don’t know a God I’d thirst for in a dry and weary land where there is no water . . ..

A God I’d hunger for until my soul is satisfied with a rich feast . . .

A God I’d stay up late into the night for. . .

I don’t know a God like this.

Maybe those who do know, we believe are only the religious types like nuns or priests or pastors. Maybe it's for the more spiritual minded  or expressive ones in the pews (and that's not us!).

But let me interject here a personal story . . .

For as many hours in my life I spent as a good church kid to the days and days of coursework in seminary and then to the  years and years of full-time employment with the church—there was a moment in my life a couple of years ago where I realized I didn’t know. I too didn't know. 

I didn’t know the God David speaks of.

Sure, I knew a lot of facts about God.

Sure, I knew how to lead organizations of God.

And sure, I’d committed to a relationship with God through my baptism and ordination vows years before. I voiced prayers on a weekly basis. And of course I wouldn’t have called myself anything other than a Christian. But I didn’t know. I didn’t really know.

And for this reason, I rarely preached on the Psalms. All of them sounded too much like one of those “Jesus is my boyfriend” worship songs I called annoying. Plus, so many of the Psalm felt bi-polar: “I love you God” in one verse and “God you’ve despised me to my enemies” in the second. Couldn't the Psalm writers just make up their minds already? 

But through deep valleys of some of the hardest imaginable experiences in my life (the hard stuff we all go through if we live long enough), I started to read the Psalms again.

And from reading them and talking about them with friends, I uncovered a life changing truth: God of the universe, the God of all of creation, the God of all of the heavens loved me. Yes, loved me very much.

God loved me, Elizabeth Hagan.

308f3da9f944b0100a6638696a3cfa6bAnd when I began to “get” this . . . when I began to really get this, my only response was, “O God. You are my God. I seek you. My soul thirst for you.”

There are really no other words (if words at all!)

When we know God loves us our bodies just want to sing with gusto, lift up our hands, and shout in thanksgiving. And we might just shed a tear or two.

In fact, this is why I believe that David ends with this particular description of God in verse 7: “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Do you hear the personal pronouns in this passage?

For YOU have been MY help.

I will sing for joy.

MY soul clings to you.

It's not that the larger community isn’t important (No we just have to read some of David’s other corporate Psalms to see how strongly he feels about this!) or that we don’t have acts of service to do out in the world.

BUT, David’s models for us the personal nature of knowing God. For, life with God is always about our being loved individually.

And when you and I really know we're loved, we can join our place in the larger family of things—loving others just as God as first loved us.

The God of the universe wants to satisfy your soul with a rich feast! Really. What an amazing invitation!

It's good news. It's really the best news of all.

Besides the common saying that “there are two things that you can be certain of ” (Do you know what they are?) DEATH and TAXES, I would add two more things. You can be certain that human beings will do stupid things from time to time and also not want to admit that they’ve done so.

(Not you or me of course . . . )

When all goes wrong, one choice we have is to lie.

A lawyer friend of Kevin’s and mine, Bhavik who works in Northern Virginia, recently told me about a case that came to his attention at his firm.

Two friends were going out for drinks one Friday night and went a little overboard. Instead of calling a cab or another friend to take them home, the two friends got in the car and decided to find their way home. When they began to swerve all over the place and soon found those flashing blue lights behind them, the two men made their choice. They played fruit basket turn over in the car with the passenger coming to the backseat and the driver coming to the passenger side. They curled themselves into a ball like children and pretended to be asleep.

When the officers came to ask who was driving the car, both gentlemen had blank looks on their faces as if aliens had driven them to the side of the road. Neither of them would admit they drove or knew who drove the car, even when they were handcuffed and taken to the station for questioning.

It seemed that lying was just easier than telling the truth.

Or, when all goes wrong, we also have the choice to blame other people or influences.

A famous poet once said: “You can smile when all goes wrong when you have someone else to blame.”

I don’t know when is the last time you’ve been in a room with children, but when you are, you’ll probably notice children are more sophisticated than you think at the blame game.

When you get a group of them together and ask, “Who make a mess of the toys? Or, who spit on the floor? Or, who bit the girl sitting in the corner crying?” You probably won’t get a straight answer right away.

They’ll be saying: “She did it.” “No, she did it.” “No, he did it.” From the mouths of babes through our adult life, blaming other people is just easier than taking responsibility for our own actions.

Or, when all goes wrong, we also have the choice to simply hide, avoiding all consequences put together.

Several years ago there was a headline making the US national news: “Fake death pilot, hiding alive in remote Florida.”

This was the story: Marcus Schrenker, an Indiana businessman, married and father of three had a secret life. He’d embezzled millions from those who had trusted him as a money manager. He’d had an affair with another woman. In fact, there wasn’t much he’d told the truth about in a long while.

And Marcus couldn’t imagine owning up to his mistakes.

So, he made the choice to hide in the best way he knew how: stage his own death.

This trained pilot fell out of an airplane with get-a-way motorcycle nearby. As soon as he dusted himself off, he made his way to a pre-planned hideout: a campground, miles from anyone who might know him.

Though this plan meant saying goodbye to family, friends and everything about his life before, falling out of an airplane and pretending to be dead seemed to be a better option than telling the truth and going to jail.

(He eventually got caught anyway . . .)

In Psalms 51, we find the poetic work of the great king of Israel, David. A guy who has a lot in common with the three examples I just shared with you. David lied, blamed others, and hid when it was discovered he had messed up big time.

It’s a story that asks us to stop and think about how we respond to those moments in our lives when all goes wrong too.

To understand the reason for this confessional Psalm, we have to go back to 2 Samuel to read the larger context. David was king of Israel. He was greatly beloved. He wasn’t known to make lots of mistakes. He was the original “golden boy” of his town.

David had the world at his hands. And, even the Lord sang his praise calling him “A man after God’s own heart.”

But, when you are on top of the world, it’s easy to forget who is truly the Creator of this world.

For David, there was this beautiful woman bathing on a rooftop. (Now, you and I know about this as a sweet children’s Sunday school lesson. But if we are to read it as adults we know that the tale goes from G rated to for adults only).

Bathsheba was bathing and Bathsheba’s husband out of town, so David just could not help himself. Even though he could have had any available woman in the kingdom and already had several wives in his household, greed and lust got the best of David. He has an affair with Bathsheba.

When David got word that Bathsheba was now carrying his child, he makes a plan whereby Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah is sent from war so that the child could be thought to be his. Yet, when Uriah refuses to lie with his wife on his furlough from war, David makes sure that this little problem will be disposed of quickly and quietly.

David sends Uriah’s troops to the dangerous front lines. Soon he’s dead. Pregnant Bathsheba now moves into the palace with David and has his son.

While the cover-up seemed to work and from the outside everything seems ok, all was wrong with David life at this point.

Everything was about to catch up with him too. The man after God’s own heart had committed adultery and ordered the murder of an innocent person. He was hiding his wrongdoing.

David should have known that something was up after Nathan, the great prophet of the country, shows up at his doorstep, but he doesn’t say a word. It takes a convicting story and a truth in your face kind of accusation from Nathan: “You are the man!” before David begins to own up to what has occurred.

But, yet the beauty of this David’s response in 2 Samuel 12:3: “I have sinned against the LORD.”

He says he was wrong. He says he messed up. He stops all rounds on the blame game and he confesses not only these things but that he has sinned against the Lord.

David turns to the Lord realizing yes, he’d done things that had hurt his family, Bathsheba’s family and even his nation, but above claiming that he done wrong against God.

Psalm 51:4 says: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”

You see, David wasn’t trying to do anything to get out of his mess other than recognizing he deserved any punishment he might receive. David acknowledged that sin was a problem concerning God and his relations with him. Not anyone else.

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Speaking of Sin writes about this when she says: “Sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again. . . . You decide to call it sin, then you have already made a radical shift in your perception of reality. You have admitted that something is wrong, for one thing, and you have chosen that it requires something of you.” (p. 41, 42)

In admitting wrongdoing, David says his future lies in the hands of God.

And what David was asking for was not the self-deprecating type of confession “I’m such an awful person there’s no way that God can forgive me” BUT an invitation for God to come into his life and in a new way.

Verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

David asks for God to bring into existence in him what was not there before. To, create in him a different outlook. We know this as he’s chosen the same Hebrew verb for "create" that was used to describe the creation of the world in Genesis 1. David desires a new creation in his very being, a re-start.

In the end, I believe this Psalm becomes more about God and God’s character than it ever was about David anyway.

Though David’s sin was forgiven (he was allowed to remain as king, and even have another child with Bathsheba after the first one dies), it important to remember that he broke at least half of the precious Ten Commandments! David was forgiven and allowed to live—which was quite amazing considering what he’d done.

God still loved David unconditionally. It's the same way God loves us. 

I offer that for any of us who have royally screwed up then-- 

Now is the time to confess the ways we’ve fallen short of the mark of God’s best for us.

Now is the time for assurance that as we cry to God: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” that God will do just this.

If all has gone wrong in your life path this week, of if all goes wrong in your path in the months or years to come (as it in evidently will), I give you a God who lovingly desires to keep relationship with you intact, no matter what.

I give you a God today who longs to re-create a clean spirit in you.

I give you a God who is with you through the valleys of “all things going wrong” and just wants you to come home to embrace Christ’s loving arms of love.

It’s good news we all need.