From the Bible: Psalm 29 – A Psalm of David
Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.
The Voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in His temple, all cry, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Let me tell you a bit about how we came to be here.
There’s an oft-used image that comes up when people talk about life organization. It starts with a jar that represents our capacity. Into the jar go big rocks (the things that are most important to us), and smaller stones and even sand (the less important things). The demonstration first shows how, after you put all the sand and pebbles in, it’s almost impossible to get the big stones – the important stuff—in later. This is how so many of us end up living lives that feel totally different than the lives we dream of in our minds, with the sense that we don’t have space or time for the things that matter most. But when you dump out the jar and reverse the process, putting the big rocks in first, then there is still plenty of room for all the little rocks. Voila! Life restructured!
There aren’t that many times in life where you can dump out all your rocks and not have it be a catastrophe. But today is that sort of day for us – where the reorganizing is good, rather than tragic. Two specifics come to mind:
First, in this new season, in our new home, Steve and I want to orient our week around God.
It takes a lot of intentionality to do this, and we know we’re not alone in this desire. We’ve watched how easily this scheduling piece can slip away—how even though God is always first in our hearts, you wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at our calendars. Now that we’re in our new house, and rethinking so much of how our time is used, establishing a faith community each Sunday morning is a way of putting that rock in first, before all the little nuggets take up all the room.
Second, on the day God told me we should have this first gathering on December 29th, He said to use Psalm 29 as the basis of our sermon. It’s not a psalm I know well, so I had to pull over (I was driving to Target) to look it up. It’s one of King David’s prayers, leading us to give credit to God for all He is. As I thought and prayed about this later, the sense I got was that understanding God—our creator, father, the first member of the Trinity—is the big rock we need to get in the jar early in any faith initiative. So that’s what we’ll talk about today.
Experts say that your image of God is largely influenced by how you see your father here on earth. This may be your biological father, or a father figure. Whoever comes to mind for you when that word is mentioned.
- If your father is domineering, for example, you’re likely to see God as an authority figure.
- If your father is distant, or passive, or even absent, you might see God as disinterested or even disapproving.
- If your father is powerful, you could see God as able to get things done.
This is an influence, not a definitive rule. But it’s a good thing to be aware of. Because how we see God is where everything starts, faith-wise. So tools that help us suss out what we think of when we think of God can be helpful.
(Even if we consider ourselves non-believers, this non-belief colors our experience of life in some interesting ways.)
Pop culture and psychology tell us that it’s how we see ourselves that is where everything starts. Let me tell you why I think that’s not true: We don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do.
- Research indicates we have a terrible track record for accurately picking what will make us happy.
- When we do pick, if we get there, we’re frequently disappointed; we end up like Stevie Nicks, singing Landslide: “I climbed a mountain and I turned around.” We’re disappointed. We thought there’d be more, or we’d do better, or life would feel different.
Self-awareness is a good thing. But it’s not a life plan.
This is what brings many of us to God in the first place: Coming to the end of ourselves, awash in this odd hope that maybe God knows us, and has a better plan. And how we see God is the lens through which we first view what He might do in our lives.
As I’ve considered this Dad/God connection for me, here’s what I see:
In broad strokes, my Dad is someone who laughs a lot, and knows how to fix things. He doesn’t take himself, or anyone else, too seriously. And he likes solutions. For many problems, small and large, Dad has always been my go-to guy to make things better.
For example, this week at Christmas, I mentioned that a chair of ours was sliding on the floor and I was afraid it would scratch the wood. Dad said, “You could get a piece of foam rubber and glue it to the base of the chair….” Then he went down to his basement and got me a sheet of the material he was talking about. He doesn’t just suggest a fix, he does what he can to implement it. He offers everything he has. I’ve always known that if my Dad had what it took to fix a problem, he’d do everything he could to help.
I also saw God as close by (because my Dad was around a lot), funny, willing to laugh at things but in a loving way, encouraging me to take life seriously, but not myself.
But even with a great start, most of us will face a time where our understanding of God goes off into the rough as the picture in our heads is whacked by the downswing of real life. (End of golf metaphor!)
FOR ME, this came in a recent season over about five years of having tangible problems that needed fixing, that I believed God COULD fix, that based on what I read in the Bible He WANTED to fix… and yet God did what looked (to me) like NOTHING. He just let things break, and die, and head toward loss and ruin. This was heartbreaking. It seemed totally inconsistent with what I saw in the Bible: the God who longs to bring new life, rescue people, bring justice and end suffering.
After about three years in this place, where things just kept getting worse, I realized I was at a T in the road. The path I’d been on was ending, and I had to make a decision to go either left, or right.
To go one way meant to consider that everything in the Bible, and even the existence of God, might be a lie. Perhaps this was all just in my imagination, a feel-good way to be with some nice people engaging in shared delusion that could not withstand a collision with reality. Facing this way felt horrible. But possible in a way I’d never before imagined.
The other way meant to consider that God is FAR bigger, and weirder, and beyond my imagination and understanding than I’d ever thought. It was an invitation, but with no promise that I’d like what I found. It suggested a more interesting understanding, but one that would require me to abandon some ideas about God I really loved (such as that when things get really difficult, God is just like my Dad and will jump in to fix things).
I stood at that intersection for about two years.
I inched down one road (packing up all my faith books, not reading the Bible, deciding for the first time ever not to pray), then backtracked to try the other (telling God sarcastically/hopefully, “Well if You have something You’d like to tell me, I’m listening…”).
The first road looked fine enough. On the surface, it even had some appeal: maybe I could just be normal, and spend my time fretting over my 401k. But it led to despair and a sense of, well, nothingness.
One upside, though: wandering that way taught me that the rotation of the world is not contingent upon my diligent bible study or my fervent prayers. This was HUGE news, as I’d started to believe that it was, and it was exhausting, especially after such a long time of feeling like my prayers were broken, or being re-routed to a cargo hold in Pago-Pago. God still did things even when I declined to participate. He is, it turns out, bigger than me, and able to function without my assistance. Thank God.
The other path was equally daunting, though. It wasn’t well lit; I couldn’t tell what was out there, or what I’d discover. But it felt bigger somehow. More majestic and compelling than anything I’d experienced. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough, brave enough, or had the energy that path required. But ultimately, that’s the road I chose. It felt like the only real choice, as trite as that sounds. (And yet I didn’t sense that God was upset at all that I needed that long, long rest, sitting at that T in the road, unable to make a decision. God didn’t seem in any sort of hurry to get me sorted out.)
On this road, I’ve found that it’s true, this promise in Psalm 29: that when the cedars break and oaks get twisted, and even mountains are moving, God gives us strength, and God gives us peace. It’s weird.
And so now, when I hear a song like Chris Tomlin’s “Our God is Greater,” what comes to mind is different than before. The attempt to capture God in a song seems trite and silly…and yet altogether worth the effort.
THIS is why I don’t think it’s a game-ender if your father was distant, or mean, or just gone. This simply means that if you choose to pursue faith, your “intersection” between the picture of God in your head and real life will come at a different time, in a different way.
WE ALL have that moment of seeing differences between the God we expect and the God we experience.
Reconciling this tension is the walk of faith.
Being in a faith community means having a place to check in each week and ask, “How am I doing with God?” “What is God talking to me about this week?” and “In my gut, how am I responding?”
We can do this alone, of course. But it’s so helpful to have other people asking these same questions, who offer two things most of us can’t pull off alone:
- They SUPPORT our growing hope in how miraculous God can be,
- and SQUASH our fears that He might not be real, or care, or care about us.
(As I wrote this, a picture of my friend Pascha came to mind. She was stomping on weeds along a walkway, saying “Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear…” She identified them – they weren’t flowers, they were predators – and unabashedly stomped them out in a way I’m usually too polite to do.)
We help each other Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name – to the best of our ability, in light of what He has revealed. We each bring our picture of God, and together, we’re closer to seeing Him as He really is.
As we close, let’s consider the structure of Psalm 29 –
- It starts with a call to acknowledge God’s greatness and holiness and splendor.
- Then it goes through a list of things God controls that are beyond us, particularly WEATHER. There’s this language about God breaking cedars and moving mountains – showing how God can take down the very things we depend on for shelter and to build our lives, the things we believe will protect us. He is bigger than those things. This is terrifying and excellent news.
- The Psalm ends with an unexpected shift, saying that in the midst of all of this chaos, The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
It’s like an arrow, pointing to Jesus. It’s as if David is telling us: Yes, God is THIS powerful…and there is more to the story. This isn’t just a story about power. This is a story about the answer you’ve been hoping for.
Our faith community is about each of us finding our place in the tension of knowing: That this powerful God cares about you…and that the God who cares about you is indeed this powerful.
Next Sunday, we’ll explore more of what that means.
For now, let’s pray the prayer suggested by Jesus, God’s Son:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever.