Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14)
As some of you who’ve heard my story know, I began as what’s often referred to as a “cultural Christian;” born into the faith and raised by Christian parents. But as has also often been taught at North Coast, being raised in a Christian household no more makes you a Christian than walking into a gym allows you to say you “work out” or are “in shape.” Turns out, in both situations, you’ve got to be able to “walk the walk.”
Walking the walk as a Christian is a faith journey, for sure, but in James Chapter 2, James reminds us “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Here James affirms that deeds (or works or actions) are the byproduct of a living, active faith. Works do not justify us or make us righteous before God, nor are they the means to salvation. Rather, our deeds are the fruit that grows from one who is obedient to God’s commands and transformed by His grace.
In addition to “Club” each week, every summer we’d go to camp. Before long, I was part of the summer staff at camp for several years and then actually had the opportunity to lead, coach and chaperone students while I was in college.
These experiences began to build in me the disciplines of studying The Word and learning how to apply it to my daily life. There were several meaningful books that served as road maps for me on this journey, whose titles now, definitely could be said to reflect “signs of the times.” Among them, a Biblical translation of the Old and New Testaments called, “The Way;” A New Testament only translation that was known as “Reach Out,” and a “modern” translation of the Psalms, appropriately named, “Psalms Now.” Does anyone else remember these or, perhaps even, still have a copy in their collections?
We can learn the disciplines of being obedient to God’s commands and opening ourselves up to being truly transformed by His grace – especially in these times – when we learn to sing a new song. And this gets me thinking that what can help us to do that – one tool that we can use daily is the Psalms…right now!
In my continuing adult learning, there are a few things I didn’t previously know about the Psalms (how about you?):
- Psalms is a book of poetry with 150 chapters.
- The Psalms are traditionally divided into five “books,” possibly to reflect the five books of the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
- The words of many beloved hymns and contemporary worship songs are taken directly from Psalms.
- Although David is credited with writing seventy-three of the poems, other contributors include Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and the Sons of Korah.
- The entire collection is thought to have been compiled over a period of a thousand years.
Walk with me a little further on this, if you will, as we take a little deeper dive into the literary structure of these 150 poems and the 5 books into which they’re divided.
As I’ve learned from Davis Carman, author, teacher and president of Apologia Educational Ministries, there are two beautiful aspects of the Psalms being organized in this structure: first, our position in relationship to the Lord that is predominant in each book, and second, the doxology (expression of praise) that concludes each book.
Psalms 1 through 41, which make up the first book, emphasize how God is beside us. A good example is found in the very first Psalm where we read that the man who meditates on God’s Word is like a tree planted by streams of water—he prospers in everything he does. Book one closes with this doxology in Psalm 41:13:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.
The second book consists of Psalms 42 through 72. Here attention is given to how God goes before us. In what has become one of my all-time favorite, Psalm 51, David confesses his sin and pleads with the Lord to wash away his transgression and to create in him a clean heart (some of you may even be able to hear liturgical music that has been composed for this one). Take a look at some of the other Psalms and see if you can identify the doxology or expression of praise that can be found within each.
The third book (Psalms 73–89) reminds us that God is all around us. Asaph recounts the history of God’s people in Psalm 78, showing us that God has been at work the whole time. He admonishes the children of Israel to tell the next generation, even the children yet to be born, the great and mighty deeds of the Lord.
The fourth book (Psalms 90–106) focuses on how God is above us. Psalm 90 is the one psalm credited to Moses. In it, he speaks of how our lives on this earth are brief, so we need to number our days aright (correctly). God, on the other hand, is eternal, and He will reign forever and ever.
In the fifth and final book (Psalms 107–150), the spotlight is on how God is among us. Psalm 128 paints a beautiful picture of a man who fears God. He is happy and blessed. His wife is like a fruitful vine within the home, and his children are like olive plants around the table. And he shall see peace and prosperity in his nation.
To sum up, here’s a quick look at the emphasis of each of the five books in Psalms:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41; God beside us
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72; God going before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89; God around us
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106; God above us
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150; God among us
I hope that like me, this explanation and breakdown of the 5 books provides a new way for you to look at each of the amazing Psalms in the Bible and, especially in these challenging times in our world, to face each day with a beautiful new song to our Lord.
And like my teacher, Davis, I’ll pass along the following questions for you to ponder and work through this week:
Who or what controls the music of your life?
- Are you driven by the social pressures you feel from the culture around you?
- Or do you approach each day from the perspective of scripture or biblical song of worship on which you have meditated?
God’s Word is more precious than pure gold…sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10).
Go ahead and put some honey on your tongue today; sing a new song to the Lord!
Heavenly Father, I want to come into Your presence with singing. Help me to make a joyful noise for you! I enter your courts with thanksgiving and praise. You are my God. You are good. Blessed be your name forever and ever! In Jesus’ name, amen.
Right here with you,