Sometimes life is wonderful and we tell God that it is.
Autumn leaves that turn the countryside into images even Monet couldnâ€™t paint, neighborhood picnics in the summer that create trust not previously known, churches that have good preaching and worship and that respond to needs and that create environments of grace and that make participation the climax of the week, gifts given to persons that empower them with meaning and direction, social institutions that empower the poor and distribute funds equitably and knock down the walls of injustice and foster relationships between warring neighborhoods and countries, and marriages and family lives that while not always perfect are loving and nurturing â€“ these are the sorts of Shalom (Hebrew for peace) that compel us to turn to God in honest expression of gratitude and praise for the Shalom we have come to know.
Sometimes after a particularly good class when the discussion was good and led to deeper perceptions and I got to have a hand in it all, I walk away from class and say to God, â€œIâ€™m glad to be here at this moment. Thank you.â€
There are psalms just for these sorts of experiences â€“ songs for both individuals and groups, and familiarity with these psalms can suddenly turn an experience of Shalom into a psalmic experience of Shalom. (One can read through the Psalms and make a list of Shalom Psalms.)
Walking through woods and seeing previously unobserved birds… (and you can fillin your experience with nature.)
The connection for me, after seeing something on a walk that moves me, is to Psalm 19 by way of Isaiah 11. Here are the words of Isaiah 11:6-7:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The kingdom will see animals at peace with one another, and Psalm 19 adds that â€œthe heavens are telling the glory of God.â€ That is, nature itself speaks of the goodness and glory of God, and sometimes I catch a glimpse of Shalom and it is Psalm 19 that gives me words. (Psalm 104 is often not far from my thoughts, too.)
Sometimes we just want to stand up and give God a big clap for what he has done and what he is doing. Psalm 47 gives us such words:
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
Here the poet invites the whole world to clap for God. As my friend and Psalms specialist, Craig Broyles, puts it: â€œApplause is something most of us associate with a football stadium, not a church, but in this psalm we are directed to applaud God.â€ Why did the poet call for everyone to give God a thunderous clap â€“ because he had witnessed the enthronement of God in a worship setting and sensed that now, finally, the world is at rest and Shalom has filled the world with Godâ€™s glory. Some churches are too staid for this sort of thing. Too bad, because God delights in the clapping of the Church and because such staidness keeps people from expressing themselves naturally. Clapping is no more natural, or no less, than shaking hands when we see an old friend, or hugging.
Only a person living in Shalom and seeing a world where justice flows can pray the opening Psalm: â€œHappy are thoseâ€¦ [whose] delight is the law of the Lord. â€¦ They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not witherâ€¦ for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.â€
But when the righteous experience injustice and confusion, other words will be more appropriate.
We’ll look at Psalms for confusion tomorrow.