January 3, 2017

The Daybook of the Church

These are the songs and prayers in which we find—at last—our wholeness, our shalom.

Bill Knott

Awestruck, the worshipper emerges from his hiding place to view the impact of the violent storm that has just battered his exposed mountaintop. He has watched, half-terrified, half-delighted, as the cyclone gathered over the sea, then assaulted the beaches, and then swept inland like an invading army. All about him is the debris that testifies to uncreated power, the prerogative of divinity. The oaks have lost their leaves, but the worshipper has found his knees. High above the ravaged landscape he hears a heavenly chorus chanting what his heart is pounding out: “Glory; glory; glory!” (see Ps. 29:9).*

Despondent, nearly inconsolable, the worshipper can barely move beyond the numbing orbit of his grief: “My tears have been my food day and night,” he writes (Ps. 42:3). In constant conversation with his heart, he asks the questions formed by sorrow and aloneness: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (verse 5). But still he offers up his grief to God, aware that in the mystery of devotion there will yet again be days of praise.

Elated, lost in triumph and in celebration, the worshipper moves with 10,000 others toward the gates of God’s earthly dwelling in the Temple. His heart is full; his mind is bursting with the confidence of those who know their sins have been forgiven, who merge into the blood-washed band. He sings to his God: he even sings to Temple doors: “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in” (Ps. 24:7).

Heart-stricken, sensing just how terrible sin is, the worshipper lies prostrate on the floor, pleading with the God whose law he has abandoned for a mercy he will never deserve: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2).Grasping for the grace he has heard in a hundred, hundred promises, he casts himself upon the goodness of a God whom he knows will both undo him and remake him: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (verse 10).

These are the songs and prayers in which we find—at last—our wholeness, our shalom.

The common thread between these widely differing experiences of God—and the immensely powerful emotions that attend them—is that they appear in one collection of the Word—the Psalms. For 30 centuries the God-breathed words of many worshippers, woven into 150 song and prayers, have been the daybook of the church, the place we turn when we encounter all it means to be human, and all that we are offered by a God who is always beyond a full description. From grace to glory, from hopelessness to triumph, alone or lost in throngs of celebrating worshippers, we find our place—we find the words—when our own words fail us or seem inadequate.

Because even those who most intend to follow Him are often reduced to pleading “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), the Saviour offers us the Psalms. In their sum they sum up all it means to be both created in His image and damaged by our own choices. Were we without them, we might never fully grasp how great is God’s sweet invitation to bring all our lives—our broken, messy stories and our moments of intense, mind-bending joy—into the great conversation He always seeks to start and keep. These are the songs and prayers in which we find—at last—our wholeness, our shalom. As you turn the pages of this special edition of the Adventist Review, in which we “open up the book” on how believers struggle with both faith and failure, read them with your favorite version of the Psalms nearby. Pray the words the Spirit inspired, and sing them; take them deeply as your own. Then you too will be one of those of whom the psalmist writes:

“They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit
in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do,
they prosper”
(Ps. 1:3).

*All Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.