‘Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done,’ are the words of an old Christian song. How easily we forget to thank God for the countless good things he provides for us. We take it all for granted.
But there is something else we often forget; King David wrote about it in Psalm 103. It seems he wrote this for the great choir he established in Jerusalem. It reflects his personal growth in his understanding of God.
With his opening and concluding words, Bless the Lord, O my soul, we find that this song has the tone of a personal reflection. His exhortation is directed to his inner self – a theme that he especially develops in the first five verses.
In reminding himself of all God’s benefits he begins by focusing on the forgiveness and healing that God held out to him. This suggests the psalm was perhaps another reflection on his affair with Bathsheba and his sickness in the aftermath when he was deeply depressed and ill. Assured now that the sin that had caused his sickness was forgiven, he reflects on the extraordinary mercy of the Lord.
Significantly, David didn’t attribute his recovery to good medical care or healthy foods. Rather, he sees his deliverance as nothing less than God’s personal involvement in his life. He doesn’t even attribute his deliverance to the power of prayer. Instead, he reflects on God’s mercy: The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel (103:6-7).
‘My experience,’ he says, ‘is an example of a general truth about God that I read in the Scriptures.’ At the time of Moses God broke into the experience of an entire nation. He revealed what a just and righteous God he is when he delivered his people from oppression in Egypt and opened a way for them to enter the land of Canaan. God showed himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (103:8).
Now, it’s important that we think about this. We can’t scientifically prove that God is at work in our lives. Nor can we prove that God answers our prayers. If anyone wants to interpret events some other way, we can’t prove them wrong. All we can say is that our personal experience and the testimony of the Bible mesh together in a way that we find personally convincing. We know God is real because somehow everything hangs together and fits. It rings true. This helps us when we think about our faith, or we are looking into faith.
Years ago, when I was re-thinking my position about my faith, I looked for some kind of logical argument that concluded, ‘The New Testament is true’ and ‘Jesus did rise from the dead’. When I found that the Bible never even tried to offer reasoning along these lines, I felt let down. Then I realized that faith, as the Bible reveals it, is not a logical deduction. We can’t prove that God exists and then decide we’re going to believe in him. This doesn’t mean that faith is a leap in the dark: it is grounded in historical reality.
As others have observed, ‘faith isn’t a logical deduction, it’s closer to what scientists call a paradigm shift’ – what the Germans call a Gestalt phenomenon.
Faith is a new way of looking at the world that makes convincing sense of it. David wasn’t speculating when he spoke of a God who forgives his sin and heals his diseases. He was reflecting on the point that the Bible makes compelling sense of human experience. God had proven himself in David’s experience to be the same God he had revealed himself to be in the Scriptures. The Bible and David’s experience of God meshed together. This is how it feels when we come to faith.
Significantly, David didn’t go on to list all the specific things God had done for him. Rather he focused on essential features of God’s character – God’s justice and his steadfast love.
God’s just anger: God will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever (v.9). Martin Luther once commented, ‘Wrath is God’s strange work.’ Anger is alien to God: it is his response to our failure to honor him and give him the thanks that is his due. There was a time when there was no anger in God; equally, there will come a time when there will be nothing further to rouse his anger.
God’s steadfast love: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (v.11). Children sometimes ask their parents, ‘How much do you love me?’ and they open their arms saying, ‘This much, or this much?’ When David said this to God, he realized that not even the expanse of the universe can illustrate the vast dimensions of God’s love.
So he continues: As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (v.12). We can’t watch the sun rise and set at the same time. We have to turn our back on one to see the other. Through the lens of the New Testament we see that through the cross of Christ, God found a way of detaching our sin from us, so he could condemn the one without condemning the other. The illustration means that when we ask God for mercy, he has to turn his back on our sin when he looks at us because he puts us and our sin on two different horizons.
We have even more reason than David to bless the name of God, for we live on the other side of the cross that once stood on Calvary’s hill. That cross is a far, far greater measure of God’s love than the unfathomable depths of the universe about which David spoke. The arms of the cross show us the grief that tears the heart of God because of our sin. In Christ, God not only lifts us out of the pit, he lifts us from the depths of hell and raises us to new life forever.
Is there any real praise of God in our hearts? It’s easy to go to church, to sing songs and hymns, and say Amen to the prayers, but to have no real personal connection with him. It’s easy to hear sermons that move us, but we’re not really listening to God because we’re more impressed with the preacher than we are with relating to God.
True blessing. Do you have a sense of God’s blessing in your life, a sense of connectedness with him that comes through knowing Jesus Christ? If you do not, then do what Jesus said: Ask, seek and knock. God promises to open our eyes to the truth.
A prayer. Lord our God, fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: have compassion on our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness we cannot ask, graciously give us for the worthiness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.