Monday, September 8, 2014

Psalm 34 - Developing our Relationship with God


Relationship with God is central to life. We were designed with a space that can only be filled by our loving Creator God. To try to fill this space with things other than God will never cut it! We can attempt to fill this space with material things, chemical things, busy activities, or even people, but they will never ultimately bring the fulfilment and eternal blessing that God will. The more we trust in things other than God, the deeper we may tumble.

But the good news is this – God offers us such grace (such love and mercy) that any degree of separation from him can be reduced to nothing. God will come and fill the space that was creatively placed within us … that place in which God should dwell. In this way, ‘space’ is turned into ‘place’. We are actually unable to achieve this on our own, apart from an openness for it to happen. When we were lost and needing a way out, God sent his Son Jesus to take away our sin. The cross (on which Jesus died) bridges the gap of separation, and allows God to take up residence within us.

“God proves his loves for us, in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

Like any relationship we can think of, if it is to survive, let alone grow, it has to be worked on. Good relationships don’t just happen, they are a product of effort. Whereas we enter a relationship with God freely through God’s marvellous offerings of grace, if this relationship is actually going to mean anything, we have to take it seriously. This is why Jesus, when he gave his great commission, talked about making “disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This is because disciples not only respond to grace once, but are open and committed to travelling with and learning from Jesus on a daily basis.

Psalm 34 is an expression of relationship. The psalmist (in this case David), wrestled with what it means to develop a relationship with God. As is often the case, this search for a deeper stronger relationship occurs in the context of the psalmist’s failure. We read the psalms because they are deeply human responses to life and faith, trial and error, hope and trust. Such psalms are often raw in their emotional outbursts, but can also be majestic in their expressions about God. Such was the depth of insight of such psalms, they were set to music and regularly sung as acts of worship, and subsequently preserves as Scripture. 

Outline of Psalm 34

(a)  Worship, praise & thanksgiving – verses 1-3 (the allegiance we have)
(b) Prayer – verses 4-10 (the desire we bring)
(c)  Lifestyle – verses 11-14 (the attitudes we show)
(d) Blessing – verses 15-22 (God’s response in our daily lives)

These are all areas of developing a deeper stronger relationship with God!! 

Worship (v.1-3)

How great it would be to have the praise of God continually coming out of our mouth (v.1)!! Yet life just keeps getting in the way! Frustrating happenings; annoying people; severe disappointments. Yet is God less great? Is God less available? Has God’s grace diminished? If we can learn to praise and worship God in the tougher times, this is how we will be on the path of growth. We will come to understand that God suffers with our suffering, as well as rejoicing with our rejoicing. We will come to know that many of our trials are temporary, and they will pass; and when they don't pass ... we know that God will travel with us through these trials.

God’s praise being continually in my mouth! Some people will only praise and worship God when things are going well, and then sort of try to punish God when things are not going well (by deliberately not worshipping). Conversely, other people seek God when things are going badly, but when situations resolve themselves they halt communications with God. It is developing consistency (in worship) that will deepen our relationship with God. No matter the ups and downs, God’s praise will continually be in my mouth!!

What might it mean to boast in the Lord – “my soul makes its boast in the Lord” (verse 2)?? This is to say … God means everything to me, and that … God is truly active in my life. By definition, to “boast” means a public declaration; but note, this is about God … not us!

Our worship also grows our relationship with God because much of this worship is done publicly. As we witness in worship to how we feel about God (and how much we trust God), this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of where our relationship actually stands. We begin to live up to our public proclamation … or that should be the case (if we are sincere)! And as our worship draws others into worship, we become encouraged and grow further. Verse 3 is almost an invitation to come and join me as I participate in the worship of God!!!

What does it mean to “magnify” the Lord??
To make God appear bigger to those with little understanding of God.
To allow God to be seen in a clearer way (under the magnifying glass).
To increase God’s reputation. 

Prayer (v.4-10)

Like the psalmist, the first thing I would pray to God about are my areas of fear. What worries me most? What is it that upsets my faith? What is getting in the way of my spiritual growth? This is what we need to pray about. Is it fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of death, fear of life, fear of the future, fear of the opinions of other people??

Prior to writing this psalm, David had found himself in a situation of great fear which led him to act irrationally (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David was completely thrown by the situation he was in, leading to him not being true to himself. He just tried to escape the situation in the easiest possible way. With this experience in mind, when David faced such fears and prayed about them, what was his testimony – verse 4 – God answered him, and delivered him from those fears. What does that mean?? It means that such fears, if not gone completely, will no longer disrupt David’s faith (and service).

The same process is applied to life’s troubles in verse 6. Prayer followed by deliverance. [This not only relates to existing trouble, but also potential trouble that would have manifested itself if one hadn’t paused to pray.] This doesn’t mean that life will ever be completely without trauma, but rather that both coping mechanisms and faith itself have grown to greater capacity. A developing faith relationship brings with it a sense of God’s closeness. And there is also an increasing surety, that when it comes to life’s greatest necessities, the Lord will provide. This sort of surety, though, doesn’t just come by accident – it comes as a result of consciously approaching and embracing God.

Verse 8 is crucial here. To “taste” and to “see” is much more than an intellectual search (where we might understand more and argue better) … this is an experiential discovery. We cannot really appreciate good food by simply reading the recipe … we need to see the reality of it fully cooked and put on the table, and get stuck in with a knife and fork. Also, we cannot just borrow someone’s else faith, we need to delve into God ourselves.

When we begin to “taste and see” all that God is, we really experience the centrality of relationship. God exists in a community, a trinity, and it was through this relational community or trinity that this world (and everything in it) was created. The world is a relational place, and we are relational beings. The greatest dynamic operating within the community of God is love, and it was the mutual love within the trinity that outworked into the creation of the world and all its features and inhabitants. So the energy of God is the relationship that exists between Father, Son and Spirit, and the output of these mutual relationships is love. So to “taste and see that the Lord is good” is literally to join the party – a party that has always been going on (within the community of God), a party to which we have been invited, and a party that takes us to the very purpose of life … loving relationship.

We should note that taking “refuge” (v.8b) in God is not about secluding or isolating ourselves from others. It is rather about living within society in a different way – a way which illustrates that it is possible to live with challenges and problems but still survive and flourish. The end-point of all this is carrying a sort of “radiance” (verse 5): we look to God and somehow shine in a way that points everyone back to God (as the source of all hope). We are “radiant” as we show friendliness and hospitality to others, just as God has shown this to us! 

Lifestyle (v.11-14)

In developing our relationship with God, there are certain biblical teachings that we need to apply. As followers of Jesus, we have ample opportunity to discover how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, where our priorities should lie, and what our responsibilities are. The psalmist here covers (in brief terms) two very crucial areas of our behaviour (refer verses 13-14). Do you see them?? What we say – destructive words versus graceful words. What we do – destructive acts versus peacemaking acts.

In everything we do, we must be seeking to be encouraging and uplifting to others. Even when we have been hurt, we should be aiming towards reconciliation (acknowledging that sometimes this will be a long process, and the outcomes are often out of our control). Jesus banned vengeance and revenge and promoted love of enemies. Now this concept can be sorely tested … who doesn’t want to see justice for recent acts of terror! But these verses are digging deep down into our very hearts to see what resides there.

Do we want people to know Jesus and be forgiven, or would we prefer them to suffer damnation? Do we like to hang onto antagonisms? What goes on inside us will eventually spill out, and sometimes when we least expect it or when we would have preferred this to be contained. So we need to be proactive and seek to develop God-like grace-filled attitudes now, so that all of our social interactions will be encouraging and peace-promoting. 

Blessing (v.15-22)

The final part of this psalm spells out some of the blessings and benefits of a developing relationship with God. There is God’s attentiveness – God’s eyes are upon us, his ears attuned to our cries. There is special mention here for the “broken-hearted” – those for whom life has been very cruel (verse 18)!!! God encircles our human fragility. [Our concern, care and prayers should also be with these!] God’s face too is turned towards those who are seeking his Kingdom and involved in his mission, and against those who seek to kill and destroy (v.21). There is a sense of both preservation and vindication for those who the bible calls the “righteous”. Who are the “righteous” (v.15,17,19,21)?? The ones that God, through Jesus, have set on the path of right-living!

Verse 22 foresees the destiny of the “righteous” – those who follow in God’s way … in a new testament sense – those who have accepted Jesus and follow him through daily life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our life has been redeemed, and through taking our refuge in God, in trusting God for all of life’s challenges, we are on the path to a glorious eternity. Paul puts it this way: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

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