Daily Bread

Life is full of distractions and I’ve had more than my fair share recently, what with Christmas and various projects. To be honest, most of the time I enjoy the distractions, although, on this occasion, I’ve layered one distraction on another, leaving an over-active mind that has begun to interfere with my sleep. Not good. In the midst of all this noise it is all too easy to loose sight of what is important.

The psalmist, in psalm 16, finds his refuge in God, his only source of good. He rejects that path of others who appear holy and doing well for themselves, but who find their good outside of God. All the psalmist can do is hope that they learn their mistake – even if it is by the hard way of sorrow.

It reminded me of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I have said these words many times, but never really taken them in. After all, if I need bread, I go to the Supermarket. While I have a job, I easily have the money for bread. Even if I lost my job, the State promises to step in – at least to a point. Granted, some fall between the cracks, but that is someone else’s experience, not mine. I find I have no need to ask for bread. Which is precisely the problem.

My refuge, my source of good, seems to be out of alignment. I look to the Supermarket. I look to my bank balance. I look to the State and the economic system of the world. Which is all a bit foolish really, given the not-so-long-ago financial crisis. It is in my very comfort and security that I have made a mis-step. My refuge needs to be in God – even for my bread. Even though I know, as the apostle Paul testifies, this may mean that at times I need to do without. Yet, in spite of this, we know that God has our best interests at heart, which is more than can be said for the supermarket or my bank.

Not all distractions are bad. Some are expressions of who God made me to be, yet they are still distractions. Sometimes, it is helpful to be reminded of where our refuge should be and to, perhaps for the first time, pray: give us this day our bread.

 

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Small Beginnings

My journey has taken an unexpected turn. Although, with hindsight, I should have seen it coming.

I have been marinating myself in the psalms as I try to reshape my view of reality around the Kingdom. I’m unsure of my progress, but I reassured myself that, that if drops of water can impact rock, change must be happening. In spite of this, I was becoming frustrated at the lack of visible progress when I felt God say to look at the small things.

It was the idea of small things that seemed unexpected. After all, the view from the Kingdom should be radically different from the view of the world and so I was expecting big shifts. This left me puzzled, until I remembered Jesus speaking about the Kingdom being like a grain of mustard seed. So, rather than look for the radical shifts, that were not seemingly happening, I felt I needed to focus on the small shifts that were. Now, the Kingdom has always been marked by love and unity and, while strained at times, it is also clearly in evidence amongst God’s people. And, if the Gospel of John is to be believed, this is a mark of the Kingdom.

Looking for the small things sounded so incredibly simple, yet it proved harder in practice. Being small, it is often difficult to see. It is also difficult to distinguish from, say, worthy deeds done by the godless. How is my loving any different from a good hearted atheist who is also helping their neighbour? The deeds can look remarkably similar. Yet, perhaps, this is to be expected as we had been warned that the wheat and tares would be hard to tell apart. It is only as the deeds grow and bear fruit that the differences become clear, for they come from a different source. The Spirit is our source (or should be), and our deeds flow from within and bring life with them. They are not some external standard of right and wrong, imposing its rules on us like a straightjacket, strangling life, rather than bringing it.

So, I’ve needed to pause. To allow myself to dwell on what God was saying. It is, I am aware, only another small step, but I also feel that I’ve been given a new lens with which to see.

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Sadness

I find psalms a bit like many worship songs, although not in the way you are probably thinking. I can sing them, while the words glide over me without touching the sides. I have just not been paying attention. Living with a single psalm for a while has caused me to stop and work out what is actually going on. It also alerts me to how little attention I had been paying, as they both puzzle and challenge in complex ways – like many good poems should.

From the first, psalm 14 struck me with its pathos. The fool has said in his heart. And I am left saddened for the fool. Saddened too that God looks down and can find nobody seeking him and doing right. Yet, as I read on, I find that pathos abruptly challenged as I read that the fool is also devouring God’s people. It is harder to feel sorrow for your persecutor, and yet it is a double folly, given that God is our protector. Yet, oddly, when God was looking down, God saw nobody doing right. God’s people were not listed as an exception. Maybe I should not make too much of that. Poetic license and all, yet, it is a little strange.

The psalm ends with a question that reaches out in hope. A hope that was eventually fulfilled, but in an unexpected and so was largely missed. The psalmist was looking towards Zion for salvation, for God to restore his people. He was not expecting it to look like the son of God being nailed on a cross. And so now, there is a sadness to for the psalmist and the Jewish people.

It is difficult to know what to make of the psalm, but it does leave me sad. Sadness that our world today is full of those who say there is no God. A sadness too for those who have missed him in his unexpectedness.

Awesome Wonder

There are times when everything seems too much, my mind swirling, my eyes firmly locked on an oncoming train. I have just one cure. A high place. Fortunately, I have a park nearby, where, looking in one direction I see the centre of London and in another fields and open country side. Before long, my perspective begins to change. What was once an overwhelming problem shrinks before the awesomeness of the world God has made. I breath a sigh of relief.

I mention this, because this is what psalm 8 speaks to me about. It has always been a favourite psalm of mine, although, perhaps, this is the first time I have given it serious attention. I had never before noticed how it reflects the opening chapter of Genesis, where God makes the heavens and the earth and then fills it, creating man in his image (a little lower than God) and setting him to rule his creation. The parallel images are too close to ignore, which then makes verse 2 stand out, quite out of place: “From the mouths of infants and sucklings you have founded strength on account of your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger”. That is not in the first chapter of Genesis. It is also somewhat puzzling as to what the psalmist is trying to say.

Whatever the psalmist intended, it leaves me with the sense that it is about the strength that comes from considering the work of God. Which is where we came in. But if psalm 8 also is a reflection of the opening of Genesis, what is this doing here? The mention of infants and sucklings calls to mind that Adam and Eve, were in their infancy, new born into creation. When tested, Eve (and I assume Adam) chose a different strategy. Theirs was to add to the command they had been given. To protect themselves from eating, they have decided they were not even going to touch it. Their strategy did not work. So, maybe the psalmist is placing this verse in opposition to what happened in the beginning. A start reminder of what happened, but also and alternative narrative that we can apprehend for ourselves. Strength does not come from our rules (we must not touch), but in the wonder of the world God has made.

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Selah

I’ve heard it said that when David broke one of the strings on his lyre, he’d exclaim, “Selah”! Perhaps that was said tongue in cheek, but it does bring out the fact that nobody actually knows what it means. Some modern translations (like the NIV) appear to have given up and just ignored it entirely. I mention this, because this post is somewhat off piste from my routine of going through the psalms. I am pausing to consider, which, by coincidence, is one popular (but unsubstantiated) guess at the word’s meaning.

Going through one psalm a week has proved less helpful than I had hoped. Or at least, that is how it feels. Already themes are beginning to repeat themselves, often related to a request for God to bless me, while poking out the eyes of my enemies with a pencil. Maybe not quite that, they didn’t have pencils. So, at one psalm a week and 150 psalms, I may have bitten off more than I really want to chew. Yet, I believe there is still value in what I am doing doing, I just need to be more selective. So, rather than doing every psalm, I will continue with just those psalms that are referenced in the New Testament, starting with the ones that are referenced more than once, which, as Psalm 2 has already been covered, makes for a grand list of ten. After that I will review again.

However, one curious thing has struck me. Psalm 23, which must be the most popular psalm in churches today, isn’t referrenced in the New Testament at all, not even once. Odd that. I’ve no idea why, but I do find it interesting…

 

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