Bible Living In The World of Psalm 24

Living In The World of Psalm 24

A guest blog by Shawn Blythe

The reading for last week included Psalm 24.  Although it immediately follows the most famous Psalm, apart from a verse or two made popular by a variety of worship songs, Psalm 24 is not one of my “go to” Psalms.  It made me wonder what else I was missing right around Psalm 23. 

Psalm 22 is a plea for help in the midst of nearly unimaginable suffering.  It is perhaps best known for containing a direct prophecy of Christ’s suffering at the crucifixion.  Psalm 23 provides the often-memorized comfort and reassurance even when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.  Then Psalm 24 leaves suffering completely behind and focuses exclusively on praising the King of glory.   We don’t know the order in which David wrote these three Psalms – but the transition between immense suffering to unfettered praise struck me as interesting.

We all long for this type of transition.  In our times of despair, pain or suffering – we read the stories of healing and salvation and place our hope in that outcome.  We wait patiently for a fix for our problem de jour.   And when it comes, we thank God with joy and adoration.  And if it doesn’t, we remain steadfast knowing that it may still come.

But just as often we move in the opposite direction.  Life is proceeding on its usual course.  We are happy, our children are happy, our homes are secure, our jobs are rewarding, and lives are good.  But then something happens.  Sometimes it’s something big – the loss of a job, a bad lab test result, or the death of a loved one.  But I am embarrassed to admit that (for me at least) more often it’s something small.  It may be related to our car, where a flat tire, dead battery or dreaded ‘check engine light’ upsets our day and preplanned priorities.  Or perhaps something in our home like a refrigerator or freezer that stops working causing our food to spoil, or an infestation of insects or a hot water heater that fails to provide the one thing we count on from it.

In our home, the event that triggered my most recent descent into frustration and anger was a bathroom vanity light globe that unexpectedly broke free from the fixture, smashing into our sink in a thousand pieces and chipping the sink countertop.  All of my attention, energy and focus were on this incident.  Glass had to be cleaned up.  The broken globe will need to be replaced.  The sink countertop will need to be repaired.  A million questions immediately come to mind.  What if the globe cannot be replaced and I have to replace the entire light fixture?  What if a new light fixture mount is different than the existing one?  What if the mounting doesn’t cover the existing hole in the tiled wall?  What if the sink countertop can’t be repaired?  Will we have to replace the whole sink?  And how much is the whole thing going to cost?!?

In a matter of seconds, I went from a man happily working on my wood lathe in the garage to a very frustrated man who allowed a broken light fixture to consume him.  I purposefully traded the unfettered joy of Psalm 24 for the despair of Psalm 22 for no reason whatsoever.  And I do it on a regular basis.

Effectively I allow a variety of “things” to take my focus and attention off God and place it on something that I feel has gone wrong.  Knowing that God could have prevented virtually any mishap – and didn’t – is enough for me to push the Almighty aside so that I can clean up the mess caused by my Creator’s decision not to act.

My life has been disrupted and I am not happy about it.  I want it to go smoothly.  I even tell myself (and God) that I serve and worship better when things are going well.  I want the pre-test or post-test Job – not the “during test” Job.  I want the direct conversations with God like Paul had on the road to Damascus – but without the blindness, beatings, and prison.   I want to be David during heroic times – not when he’s hiding in a cave fearing for his life.

It rarely occurs to me until well after the event that caused my temporary detour into frustration that the event itself was not the issue.  I am the issue.  My life will be a roller coaster of accomplishments and disappointments.  Jobs will be obtained, and jobs will be lost.  Health will be good, and sometimes health will be bad.  Light fixtures will be installed, and they will unexpectedly come crashing down.

The important thing is how I react to this never-ending adventure of earthly uncertainty.  I can almost imagine God looking forward at my life’s path and pontificating about the point at which I will finally “get it”.   The smoothness of my life from a human perspective does not appear to be a primary priority of God.  It certainly wasn’t for the Biblical characters we read about in scripture, and it seems rather unlikely that I would be the exception to the scriptural rule.

I need to purposefully dwell in a world of Psalm 24 joyful praise and not unnecessarily create my own “valley of the shadow of death” in order to wallow in it.  I cannot continue to interpret life’s less desirable events as things that have gone wrong.  They are just things that are.  It’s a fallen world and stuff happens.

There is an interesting secular book by Nakim Nicholas Taleb entitled The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  One of the central tenants of this book is that unexpected events should not be considered surprising.   They may not be predictable, but they have always happened, and they will continue to happen.  One of the author’s arguments is that we should spend time ensuring that we are prepared for such events.  He uses the term “robustness” to illustrate such preparedness.

One could easily apply this same approach to life’s setbacks on a spiritual level.  We need to increase our spiritual robustness to a point where the inevitable unexpected challenges of life do not drive us immediately from praise to God to pity for ourselves.

There are life events that are so significant that it is understandable and appropriate to fall on our knees in anguish and cry out to God for deliverance.  A broken light fixture and chipped sink is likely not one of them. 

Perhaps I can learn to better weather such perceived catastrophes by treating them as part of the landscape along my walk of life with my Savior.  They are simply artifacts of a fallen world.  Perhaps overcoming these obstacles will teach me something or provide necessary training for future challenges.  Or perhaps they are merely distractions that have no inherent value whatsoever.

In either case, I am much better served by keeping my focus on the King of glory rather than being so easily distracted and frustrated by every stone or pebble along my path. 

I know that there may be times in my life where my suffering rises to the level of the first 18 verses of Psalm 22.  And when this happens, I will hopefully cling to the last thirteen verses of that same Psalm.  But in the meantime, I will work to spend a bit more time in a Psalm 24 state of thanksgiving and praise to my Maker – regardless of how many light fixtures fall off my walls.

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