In blessing God, we are blessed.
Psalm 34 as interpreted by Deborah
I will bless the Lord at all times, praising Him with my every breath. My soul brags about the Lord’s great strength and compassion; let the weak and weary, the hurting and heartbroken hear and take courage.
Celebrate the Lord with me; let us praise His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and saved me from all my fears. Look to Him and rejoice; you will never regret it.
This poor soul cried, and the Lord heard; and saved me from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who rely on Him, and delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in Him.
Trust in the Lord, you His holy ones, for those who rely on Him have all they need. Lions may suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord have all they need.
Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the way of the Lord. If you delight in life and want to enjoy it for many years, avoid hateful words, lies, and deceit. Flee from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
The Lord keeps watch over the righteous, and hears when they call, but turns away from evildoers: they vanish from the face of the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the sorrowful, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He holds them secure; not one of them will be broken.
Evil destroys the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be forsaken. The Lord will rescue His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be forsaken.
I will bless the Lord at all times,
What a great concept! Imagine: living every waking hour in joyful awareness of God’s graciousness; continually celebrating the goodness of the Lord and the blessings of our lives. How profound! How uplifting!
We are too busy: distracted, troubled, anxious, stressed; too focused on keeping our heads above water to “bless the Lord” — or give Him much thought, even occasionally, far less “at all times.”
And how unsurprising.
Amid the thousand and one things of life and living — especially in these times, it’s easy to forget what really matters.
Then something happens — usually a major something: an accident, an illness, a death, a job loss, a family crisis. A sudden, abrupt change in circumstances, and we find ourselves transported to a new world, a new reality from which we’d like to escape.
This unpleasant “new normal” teaches us that, as another psalm attests (16:6): “the lines were drawn for me in pleasant places.” That is, B.C. (before crisis) we were better off than we realized; we had been taking the gifts and graces around us for granted. We should have been blessing the Lord during all of that time.
Of course it’s never too late to begin. Now is precisely the right time to start giving praise to the Beloved.
Here and now; even in the midst of wherever we are and whatever is going on.
“The best of all is, God is with us!”
~ John Wesley’s last words
Giving praise to God is not the same as “cheering up.” It does not mean assuming a false bravado; pretending that things are better than they are, or that you are stronger or more confident than you are. Instead, it is a spiritual reorientation: it is (re)setting our focus on what is real and true: on where we are, who we are, and Whose we are.
We’re not in this alone.
This poor soul cried and the Lord heard…
We may “fake good” to others, but we have a responsibility to be honest with God — and with ourselves. It’s an amazing experience to compose a list of the troubles and challenges in our lives (in short: What’s bothering you); omitting nothing, not even those irritations “too small to mention.” This is not an exercise in self-pity, but in self-awareness: an acknowledgement of the clear and present difficulties, the perceived (imagined/worried about) difficulties, and of what we can do, what we might choose to do, what is absolute and unavoidable, and — most important — our sense of helplessness when we don’t know what to do.
This poor soul cried…
a cry from the heart: of loneliness, fear, confusion, grief; there are times when words fail us — when they are paltry, useless sounds that convey nothing. These, too, are heard — perhaps first of all.
and the Lord heard…
and saved me from every trouble.
Hmmm. Sounds like a pretty tall order: “saved me from every trouble.” Every trouble? Fixed that leaky kitchen faucet? Paid the electric bill? Made my sick friend well again? Healed my hurting heart?
Surely it is that we are saved from being overwhelmed by these things: saved from seeing The End of the World in a broken teacup — or a broken relationship, a failed exam, a missed promotion, a miserable boss, an illness, a death, a shattered dream. Saved from being broken by our troubles, we are sustained and supported by God’s loving care; protected as if by “an angel encamped around us.”
Here I imagine an angel sitting by a campfire in the forest, roasting marshmallows. Wakeful and watchful, calm and self-confident; a comforting, reassuring presence, he’s there when I need him.
Of course the psalmist’s angel was part of an army encampment: a divine militia (a “heavenly host”) assembled and ready to strike. An effective notion, to be sure — and who hasn’t fantasized about siccing a heavenly A-Team on a particularly troubling foe? But what most of us need, most of the time is an emotional support angel: a peace-bearing, soul refreshing assurance of God’s mercy and compassion and everlasting love.
He holds them secure; not one of them will be broken.
In faith and hope — and with God’s grace — we are saved from every trouble. We will not be overcome.
He holds them secure;
not one of them will be broken.
Yes, we are held secure, protected from being broken. And yet…
There are times, situations, weariness, stress, sorrow, and confusion that can break some spirits; that can bring faithful, gentle, good souls to a lasting, irrevocable decision: an ending of their mortal existence.
This was made painfully clear by the death of a dear, long-term friend during the lockdowns.
Yvette* had friends, she had faith — was, in fact, deeply spiritual — was gifted in languages, in artistic talent, intellect, and loveliness. Having survived other tragedies and trials with courage and poise, this last, terrible isolation proved too much.
Alone, gently and — I pray with all my heart — peacefully, she fell asleep in the Lord’s keeping. This last I do not doubt: for God’s mercy and compassion certainly, surely, extends to and envelopes those who are broken by their troubles. These weary souls, exhausted by the battle, lost to us from the here and now, are not lost to God, but are, I believe, held, safe and secure, nestled in the heart of the Beloved, healed into perfect, glorious wholeness.
The Lord will rescue His servants;
none of those who take refuge in Him will be forsaken.
As John Wesley proclaimed at the end of his life, “The best of all is, God is with us.”Even when our own hearts are wobbly and weary; even in the midst of great troubles or sorrows; even as we sigh for a different world, a different reality, a “new heaven and a new earth,” God is with us.
At all times, in all places and circumstances, we are God-companioned, God-empowered; in our struggles and stresses, in our joys and delights, and, lest we forget, in our daily routines when “nothing special” is going on. As we bless the Lord, we are blessed in return: reminded of the good things of this world, the good people we have known, the beauties that surround us — and the angels encamped around us (those with wings and those without).
May the love of God infuse your soul with peace, and your heart with courage,
Bless the Lord at all times.
This is not an easy practice to develop, with so much else clamoring for our attention. But the opportunities are there: whenever there’s a pause in your day, when you’d ordinarily reach for your smartphone to check your messages or the news or FaceBook, or begin a new game, instead, take a moment to reflect and pray — it needn’t be long and involved, but simply from the heart. As Meister Eckhart said: If your only prayer is “thank you,” that is enough.
* Note: In order to hold confidence, I have used a different name to protect my friend’s real identity.