The peace of water

You [God] covered it [the earth] with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.

He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

Psalm 104:6-13

A mountain stream

A mountain stream

I seem to be subconsciously drawn to water. I’ve moved around a great deal in my life, but the majority of the homes that I’ve lived in have been next to water – rivers, ponds or lakes. Perhaps that’s what has led me to take up water sports; I love sailing, swimming and kayaking, but will happily turn my hand to most other water-based activities. I wonder if I’m alone in feeling an attraction to water? I’ve often wondered if all humans have some kind of magnetic attraction to water. After all, the typical human body is about 60% water.

I think that attraction to water is one of the reasons why I love these particular verses of Psalm 104. They describe beautifully God’s work with water, at creation and beyond. This section of the Psalm begins by describing how God initially covered the earth with water, before he rebuked them and they receded to the places that he had assigned for them. The power of God truly knows no bounds; his creation responds to his command, and even the waters obey him.

The Psalmist continues by highlighting the life-giving nature of water. He talks of mountain springs, which as anyone who has ever sat by one will attest, seem to radiate a quiet restfulness as they trickle through the landscape. Water sustains the birds and the animals, the Psalmist sings, and enable trees to grow which provide homes for the birds. Finally in this section, the Psalmist talks of God watering the mountains, satisfying the land; in other words, it is he who brings the rain that fills the rivers that provide the water that sustains all life on our planet. Without his life-giving goodness, God’s creation would shrivel and die. It is only as a result of his goodness and his generosity that life continues to this day.

There’s a quiet beauty in this Psalm that to me mirrors the landscapes that the Psalmist describes. Water is pure, life giving, and life sustaining. Water refreshes physically, whilst rivers, streams and the sea have the potential to refresh mentally too. All this comes from God, who is gracious in his provision and in control of nature. What a wonderful thought on this busy day? Let’s give thanks to God today for the water of life.

God is our God for ever and ever

For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.

Psalm 48:14

Marks and Spencer, Crawley. © Copyright Roger Cornfoot and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Marks and Spencer, Crawley. © Copyright Roger Cornfoot and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I began my working life as a temporary seasonal sales assistant for Marks and Spencer in Crawley. The role was for a couple of months over the busy Christmas period. Since, at that time, I hoped to build a career in retail, I was overjoyed and delighted when my role was made permanent at the beginning of January. As it happens, the permanence of that particular role was somewhat limited, as I left in May to take on the permanent role of Junior Manager within the company. Actually, that role was not particularly permanent either, as they made me redundant less than a year later. Of course, the reality is that whilst we may speak of something being permanent, it seldom is. Circumstances change, people move away, companies close down, people die. When you think about it, the word ‘permanent’ is something of a misnomer.

That is, until you get to the verse that we’re looking at today. Here, in the concluding verse of this thought-provoking psalm (do read the full thing), the Psalmist tells us that God ‘is our God for ever and ever’. God won’t abandon us. If we accept Jesus as our saviour he won’t reject us. He won’t change his mind in a few years time and move on. God is our God for ever and ever. That’s quite a revelation, and one that, as human beings with a limited grasp of the infinite, we can find quite difficult to comprehend. It is deeply reassuring, however. God will be with us until the end of our lives – and beyond! God’s permanence stretches beyond the grave too!

The Psalmist also tells us that God ‘will be our guide even to the end’. God will be our shepherd, leading us along the right paths, across green pastures, beside still waters, and yes, even on occasions through the darkest valleys of our lives. The key is, though, that through all of this, God guides and leads us. When we follow his paths he supports us and blesses us. Once more, this is a permanent arrangement. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he will lead us safely through death and into his permanent, perfect kingdom on the other side. With God as our guide, there really is nothing to fear!

So today, rejoice that God is our God for ever. Give thanks that amidst all the impermanence of our daily lives, God is permanent, always there, for ever. Rejoice too that God is a faithful guide, never abandoning us or leaving us to our own devices, but lovingly guiding us through life, through death, until we join him in glory in his eternal kingdom. Even then his leadership will not end. Wow!

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

Psalm 24:1-2

Our Plant Earth, By خالد منتصف (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Plant Earth, By خالد منتصف (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m old enough that when I was at school I had CDT, or Craft, Design and Technology lessons. The lessons, overseen by Mr Rooth and Mr Hallpike, were always a rather bizarre feature of the week. We’d spend many lessons planning an item to build, and then the class would divide in two, with Mr Rooth taking a metalwork class and Mr Hallpike taking a woodwork class. Despite the fact that I was not particularly good at CDT, I did make a number of items of which I was very proud, including several wooden boxes, a wooden mirror and a metal coat hook. These were usually given to my parents who lovingly looked after them and kept them safe. I enjoyed giving my handiwork to my parents because they always seemed to value my creations very highly and I knew that they were in safe hands.

I love the opening lines of Psalm 24, which always bring to mind a rather cheesy song that we used to sing at church. The simple statements of the Psalmist, as usual, hide a wealthy of thought provoking ideas, that are particularly pertinent today. “The earth is the Lord’s,” David reminds us, as is everything in it.

We live in an age, and in a society, that treasures possessions. Accumulation of wealth, land and ‘stuff’ has become second nature to us, no matter how affluent we are. People crave a bigger house, or the latest phone, or the most contemporary fashions. Yet all of this comes from God. Everything that we think we own we actually borrow from God. Everything on the earth – including everything that we have – belongs to God. We are merely stewards, entrusted with looking after the earth and everything in it for God. I wonder whether you think you individually and we as a global community are doing this well? Do you think that God is happy with the way that we are looking after his creation? Or do you think we have a lot to answer for?

Why does God have a claim on the earth and everything in it? For the simple fact, the Psalmist tells us, that he made it. He created the land on which we stand, having separated it from the water. If God wanted to, he could easily sweep everything under the water, flooding the earth, but he doesn’t, because he loves us.

Do we return God’s love? Do we respect his creation? Do we look after the earth that he has made? Do we act as good stewards of all that he has given us? There’s much to consider within the two opening verses of this Psalm. Maybe we need to reflect on these words in the days ahead and consider our attitude to our planet, our possessions and our money – all of which have been entrusted to our stewardship by God.

I long to dwell in your tent forever

I long to dwell in your tent for ever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 61:4

tree-sparrow-with-chicks-in-nest_w725_h485There are times in life when we all feel under tremendous pressure. It might be due to moving house, or planning a big celebration, or a marriage, or a divorce. As a teacher, one of the most stressful situations that I have ever encountered is the OFSTED inspection. The notice of their impending arrival is enough to send even the best teacher in the world into a state of fear and paranoia. An inability to sleep due to the worry, plus the sense that lessons must be planned to the nth degree, and the fear that pupils might say or do something silly in a lesson all lead to a particularly difficult and troubling time.

The Psalmist in Psalm 61 brings a message of peace and hope to all those people who find themselves tired to the core, stressed, exhausted and worried. In verse two he tells God that he is calling to him “from the ends of the earth.” He is at his wit’s end and feels close to breaking point. He explains that his “heart is growing faint.” He is nervous, he is exhausted, he needs rest, and he needs deliverance from his enemies. He understands, though, that if he places his trust in God, God will look after him and protect him.

In verse four we get a real insight into the Psalmist’s mind. He knows where he can get true rest – in the tent of the Lord. He tells God that he longs to dwell in his tent forever, to be his perpetual guest in his kingdom. He knows that God looks after his guests as no ordinary person could do; God is the perfect host. He understands that when he is in God’s dwelling place he will be protected from his enemies and all of his needs will be meet. Not only that but he will get the rest that he clearly so urgently needs – deep, spiritual refreshment to invigorate his soul as well as his body and mind.

The next section of the verse illustrates the care that the Psalmist knew he would receive from God. He had clearly observed how birds look after and protect their young, by sheltering them under their wings. The refuge that God can provide him is similar. A young bird is protected from predators and the elements by their parent’s wings. They are in a warm and comfortable place, next to their parent’s beating heart. The Psalmist understands that if he draws close to God he will protect him and look after him. What a tremendous image this is!

How does the image the Psalmist has of God match up to your understanding of your Father in heaven? Do you see God as the perfect host who protects and provides for his children? Do you think he provides a warm, protective refuge for all his children? This is the picture of God that I turn to when I am tired, stressed and under pressure. I always find it a tremendously encouraging image, and one that helps me no end. Why not try and picture God as this verse portrays him today, and seek to draw close to him, to take refuge under his wings?

Shout to God with cries of joy!

Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.

Psalm 47:1-2

Shout for joyI find that the world always seems a cheerier place when I reflect on all the reasons I have to be joyful. Of course there are times in everyone’s lives when things seem rather bleak and depressing. It is precisely at those points when it is important to think about the blessings that we all have in our lives. Even when things are going well, though, it is useful to think of reasons to be joyful. Why not pause right now and think of two or three things to be thankful for.

Today’s verses from Psalm 47 are bursting with joy. Right from the first lines we’re told to clap our hands and shout to God with cries of joy! God’s word tells us to be joyful. What a wonderful revelation it is to know that God wants us all to be happy! He doesn’t want us to endure our lives, but to enjoy them, to be happy in our daily existence.

What do we have to be joyful about? Well, the Psalmist addresses that very question. We should be joyful because God is awesome and is ruler over everyone, everywhere. Now, just occasionally (very occasionally, admittedly!) my pupils tell me that a lesson I taught them was ‘awesome!’ I take that to mean that my lesson was pretty good, exciting and fun. That, of course, is not what awesome really means. Awesome really means to inspire awe; to cause you to look at something, to think about something, or to reflect on something and think, ‘wow, that is absolutely astonishing, completely amazing!’ Sometimes we might encounter something that makes us think like that, but not very often. God, on the other hand, is truly awesome. We should be astonished every day by our God. We should be astonished by the beauty of creation, by the mystery of life, by the fact that he loves us. We should be astonished by the fact that God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. We should be astonished that God knows our every thought and has a plan marked out for our lives. Our God truly is awesome! How could we not, therefore, respond to God by clapping our hands and shouting cries of joy!

Why not make a resolution right now to take time out of your day today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, to shout to God with cries of joy? Why not make a list of all the reasons that you have to be joyful to God? When you’re feeling low take time to look back at your list. You’re sure to feel better afterwards!