Biblical Foundations 18: God’s Character 6: Benefits (Psalm 103)
We continue to look at the Bible to understand the character of God…what is He really like? Many of us, if we are honest, believe many things about God not from Scripture but from homespun kitchen-table “wisdom,” catchy sayings/Facebook memes, and even from Christian music. But what does the Bible say about God’s character? How has the LORD revealed Himself through His Word? Intimately knowing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit through the Bible is foundational; indeed it is the very definition of eternal life (John 17:3). Let’s get to know the LORD by looking at the first half Psalm 103 (we will look at the second half in the next post)…
Psalm 103 Of David.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
[God alone is worthy of worship…We need to pause here and soak in this. We have been talking for over a month now about the character of God as revealed in the Bible…loved ones, the natural response to Who God is is to worship Him, not just to clinically analyze Him but also to worship Him, not just to give an affirming head-nod of respect but to praise Him, to marvel at Him, to worship. Many are willing to go to God when we are in need, and that of course is appropriate! But what about, outside of Sunday morning, just being with God in order to praise Him, worship Him, reflect on His character, reflect on His amazing promises to forgiven and reborn sinners? This requires us to stop and pause and focus; this requires Crock-Pot time with God—on the SLOW!—not microwave time with God—on the GO! Though asking God for things is important, there is a large part of that activity that is self, that is focused on us, our needs, our situation, our hopes, our wants, etc. Worship, however, in its purest form is entirely focused on God—His character, Who He is. He is worthy to be asked for stuff…but He is even more worthy to be worshipped; indeed, only He is worthy of being worshipped.
Have you done this lately? Simply basked in His character, with or without music? We cheer & go nuts when an athlete puts a bouncy ball through a metal hoop. When is the last time you cheered for the LORD, Who made the heavens and the earth and the universe out of nothing!? Who sent His only Son to brutally die in our place the death that we deserve?
Now I’m not necessarily talking about having a physical feeling/emotion while you praise God…oh how deep and subtle is our sinfulness that we can even turn worshiping God into being about US, into US getting a feeling out of it, into having our favorite songs played, into creating an almost trance-like state by repeating choruses over and over and over again to try to create an environment or atmosphere of a particular feeling that we associate with worship. Loved ones, pagan tribes are able to have an environment of energy through loud drumming and repetitive chanting–they have an experience too, but it isn’t of the LORD! So truly worshiping the Lord is not about a feeling, is not about us! May we ask God to help us not to turn worship into being about us.
When we say we love the worship at a particular church or conference on a particular Sunday or at a particular event, if we are brutally honest, don’t we love it because of how it makes us feel (rather than if it truly honors the LORD)…because the sound that is produced is appealing to our tastes…because the songs that are chosen are some of our favorites…because the musicians are particularly hip or cool…because of the feeling that we get in the environment of no light, loud sounds, cool visual graphics, etc.? I’m not saying it’s wrong to like the sound or the song, but I am challenging us to ask God to help us see if the worship that we “like” is really about Him…or about us…
I love what one pastor has said about human love (& we can equally apply this to the worship of the LORD), “Oftentimes, in the moment we tell someone that we love them, we are often really meaning, ‘I love how you are making me feel right now. You are doing something that I am getting a pleasant feeling out of, and that bubbles over into my statement, ‘I love you.’ But it really is about me and not about you, at least in that moment.’” This has been profound for me to wrestle with. That’s why it is often difficult to say I love you to someone who we don’t know or who is/has been hurting us—our cultural version of love is a feeling we have based on what someone else does for us, exactly the reverse of Biblical love! Oh wow that has convicted me in a beautiful way.
Biblical love, agape love, Jesus love, when it says I love you, is really saying, “I choose to put your needs ahead of my own, and I choose to sacrificially show this choice in daily acts that honor you and cost me much regardless of how you are making me feel at a given moment.” THAT is real love, and how many of us mean THAT when we say I love you!? I love you is really a present reality and a future promise to continue that reality regardless of how we feel. Biblically, saying I love you is signing a verbal contract…And THAT is a parallel to truly worshiping God…praising the Lord is a choice based on His character—which never changes—in spite of our feelings and circumstances which are constantly changing; praising God is a present reality and a future promise to continue that reality because God deserves it, not because we feel like it.
Thus Job could worship God immediately after learning that all ten of his children died…Job’s circumstances had changed forever, but God’s character had not changed! Thus could Job worship God because Job’s focus was on God. Thus Job could beautifully utter, in full experience of his suffering, “Though He slay me, yet I will praise Him” (Job 13:15) Wow. THAT is what David is talking about in these first few verses of Psalm 103.
In some ways, true worship of God happens whether we like the songs or not because the songs aren’t the point—GOD IS! True worship happens when we are so focused on the character of God as revealed in the Bible that we aren’t even looking at the musicians, that we aren’t thinking about the songs, that we aren’t thinking about ourselves. True worship happens not abruptly when the music starts and ends but begins before we enter the church building and after we leave—basking in the presence of God. I’m not saying this true worship is going to happen to you all the time but may we ask God to transform us to worship Him like this more and more, where we are simply focusing on looking at and basking in His character.
John 4:22-24: 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
It is possible to sing songs of worship, to attend the worship services, and even to get feelings out of them but not really know God! Yikes! Jesus talks here about true worship…which means there is false worship! Oh how humbling!
Look at Jesus’s connection here: worshipping God is not primarily about singing but about salvation—are you reborn through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone? Have you received Him as your Savior & King? Has He shown you what you are—sinner—has He shown you what you deserve—death—has He shown you what He has done for you—die in your place? And have you received that free gift by faith? This is the only way to worship the LORD—through the Holy Spirit given by the Father to those who surrender to the Son and through the Truth of trusting Who Jesus really is—God Himself, the second Person of the Trinity! Spirit & Truth!
Another point of interest in these first few verses of Psalm 103 is that David reminds himself to praise the Lord, David commands himself, instructs himself to praise the Lord. David isn’t waiting for someone else to remind him…he is teaching himself, he is taking responsibility of his time and attention and purpose and focus; he is not letting his schedule or feelings control/hold the leash of his relationship with the Lord, he is doing the opposite—letting his relationship with the Lord take control of his schedule and feelings.
Like one pastor said over 150 years ago: Self-converse: “‘Oh my soul.’ Many talk freely enough to others, but never talk to themselves. They are strangers to themselves—not on speaking terms with themselves [or only tell themselves what they want to hear!]—take no interest in their own souls—are dull and melancholy when alone.” (Spurgeon)
Not just outward praise—with lips/singing…but INWARD praise, soul-worship…many sports fans are TOTALLY IMMERSED in the big-game. May God help us praise/worship Him alone with such immersion and focus…and as we praise Him from a soul-level, we are remembering His character, remembering what He has done for us:
Back to Psalm 103:
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Forgives all your sins…
Not just the number of our sins, but the nature of our sins. The Bible teaches that not only is our fruit sinful—actions, words, thoughts, plans, etc.—but our root is sinful as well. Many people think that though all humans do bad things, deep down we are basically good. But that is not what the Bible teaches—the deeper you dive into our sinful souls the darker it gets, not the brighter it gets, like digging into the ground. We talked about this in March leading up to Easter—Jesus and the Bible describes human sinfulness as wickedness, rebellion, iniquity, transgression. Thus Jesus says, “If you, though you are EVIL, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus calls humans evil…that is the realization we must agree with, that is the place we must get to if we are to truly cry out to Jesus for a heart transplant and not just for cosmetic surgery. That is the Truth we must accept if we are truly to know His character, if we are truly to praise Him and enjoy ALL His benefits…
Not everyone, but those who call on the name of the Lord for salvation. This promise, this benefit, is only for those who by grace realize that they need forgiveness, by grace realize that Jesus alone can truly give forgiveness based on His death on the cross and empty tomb, and by grace cry out to Jesus alone by faith alone. Forgiveness is a benefit that is offered, not a right that is owed…
Heals all your diseases…
Many this morning are suffering with illnesses, physical challenges that may not ever go away. But the LORD is faithful! Think of all the colds & flus & surgeries & illnesses & diseases that humanity has collectively gone through over all of our lives—and here we are today, by the grace and healing of God! Think of all that COULD be wrong with us this morning that is not! Think of all the diseases previous generations suffered with that we don’t—the grace of God! And even though all of God’s people will one day physically die, and most of us through some kind of disease if we live long enough, what about that glorious promise of God through His loving & powerful character to end all pain someday?
Revelation 21:3-5: 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
But what about the spiritual diseases? Though I have been blessed to not suffer yet from any serious physical diseases, oh the daily pain & suffering of my inner diseases of
Selfishness, greed, stinginess, unforgiveness, impatience, sarcasm aimed at others to hurt, arrogance, pride, lust, indifference, laziness, ungratefulness, false humility, fear, fear of others’ opinions of me, etc. Oh how it hurts to suffer with those spreading spiritual cancers of the soul…and yet the Lord promises to heal even those as well!!!
Ephesians 5:25-27: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
What a promise! What a God! Oh how amazing heaven will be to have our souls clean, holy, unstained, unblemished, blameless—no iniquity, rebelliousness, wickedness, transgression or sin in heaven!!!
Redeems your life from the pit (from destruction, from hell).
Redeems—purchasing you back from/out of slavery, purchasing freedom for hostages through the payment of a ransom. WHAT a benefit from God to His people, what a unique benefit of the One True God that separates Christianity from all the religions of earth!
Mark 10:45: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And oh how we miss out on this amazing benefit, how we miss out on praising God, when we never learn what the Bible teaches about hell, when we even refuse to believe that there is hell, judgment from God, etc.? If Jesus just saved us from spending a little extra time at the spiritual DMV after we die, His grace is nice but isn’t amazing. But if He has saved us from eternal fire and suffering, well then that is truly an awesome benefit indeed, worthy of all our praise…
Crowns you with love & compassion.
God doesn’t throw bits of His love and compassion to us on the ground to watch us crawl around to get a few crumbs of it. He literally crowns us with His love & compassion—His compassion is new every morning! (Lamentations 3:22-23); He is loving and compassionate not only in WHAT He gives us but in HOW He gives it…as a crown, like the prodigal son who was lavished with a robe, ring, and sandals though he deserved none of those. the LORD offers a crown to us wicked sinners who daily try to steal HIS crown, to us who try to be the god of our own lives, in charge and in control. Oh amazing grace indeed…
Satisfies your desires with good things.
Oh loved ones we are like the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 who only wanted a bigger supply of earthly water so she wouldn’t have to keep coming to the well each day; Jesus offered her LIVING water welling up to eternal life so that she would never thirst again. She was only interested in temporarily quenching her thirst at the physical level; Jesus wanted to truly satisfy her at the soul-level. Oh loved ones how many of us only scratch the surface on earth of the SATISFACTION Jesus offers us through knowing Him…like a crying baby is shaking, screaming when hungry and after they are nursed is quiet, content, and able to fall asleep only minutes after going through hunger that made the baby feel like the world was coming to an end. Go to Jesus through His Word for soul-satisfaction, loved ones…there is a contentment that only comes through the LORD and His Word…
Psalm 131:2-3: But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
May the LORD help us to put our hope in Him as we know His character through the Bible…