Saturday, January 22, 2011

Psalm 40: Sing A New Song

Psalm 40

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the LORD

and put their trust in him.

4 Blessed is the one

who trusts in the LORD,

who does not look to the proud,

to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, LORD my God,

are the wonders you have done,

the things you planned for us.

None can compare with you;

were I to speak and tell of your deeds,

they would be too many to declare.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—

but my ears you have opened—

burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—

it is written about me in the scroll.

8 I desire to do your will, my God;

your law is within my heart.”

9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;

I do not seal my lips, LORD,

as you know.

10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;

I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.

I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness

from the great assembly.

11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;

may your love and faithfulness always protect me.

12 For troubles without number surround me;

my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.

They are more than the hairs of my head,

and my heart fails within me.

13 Be pleased to save me, LORD;

come quickly, LORD, to help me.

14 May all who want to take my life

be put to shame and confusion;

may all who desire my ruin

be turned back in disgrace.

15 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

be appalled at their own shame.

16 But may all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you;

may those who long for your saving help always say,

“The LORD is great!”

17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;

may the Lord think of me.

You are my help and my deliverer;

you are my God, do not delay.

Psalm 40 is a prayer for help in the midst of trouble. AS such it’s a real mix of things. It’s a song of praise as the author David looks back to a time in his past to a time where God has saved him, using that wonderful metaphor of being picked up out of the miry clay. His song of praise encapsulates, David’s deep understanding that what God wants’ is not sacrifice and religious observance but someone who will know God’s heart and live that out in all they do. The last five verses are a lament, a song of woe, they are recorded by themselves in Psalm 70, they tell it like it is David’s back in the swampiness of life and all he can do is what he says he did at the beginning of the Psalm wait, wait on the Lord. Last time God heard his prayer and lifted him up and made him to stand hopefully God won’t be too long this time.

I don’t know about you but I relate to those mix of emotions in David’s Psalm The song of praise and the lament together, when I find myself in times of difficulty and in need of help my emotions flow all over the place. There is that saying about the two men who stand in a prison cell and look out the window ‘one sees stars and the other sees bars’. Well you know the reality is that we can see both, they are both there. The thing I get from ‘40’ is that through that roller coaster that just comes from being human there is an underlying faith and quite hope in God, that goes deeper than how we feel about a certain situation or even the glugyness of the situation, that goes beyond the bars and even the stars to knowing and trusting God.

Let’s look at the psalm

The metaphor of being rescued from the miry clay has become a universal way of taking about trouble and salvation. Being plucked out of a situation where we are going down, going under and being not only rescued but given a solid base where we can stand recuperate and move on in our journey.

We don’t know what it was in David’s life that caused him to write this psalm but in the ancient middle east being stuck in the miry clay was a deadly situation. It was common practise to put people down a dry well or in a cistern as punishment. They were used as prison cells but it could be a death sentence. You’ll remember this is how Joseph’s brothers had thought to get rid of him by dumping him down a well. While theses wells had no water in it there would be a layer of mud and silt at the bottom. Prisoners could find themselves struggling till they were exhausted to stay above this miry clay, then they would drown in it. There was no way of getting out unless someone came to help them. In Jeremiah Chapter 28 the prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned in such a well and would have died had it not been for the timely intervention of Ebed-meleck who asks the king to release him and then with friends hauls Jeremiah up by ropes. This is why it is a great metaphor for salvation from our sins, we find ourselves imprisoned in them, like self dug graves and we cannot save ourselves we need someone to reach down and save us.

This image comes from the film Kikixili’ or Mountain patrol. A Chinese film, the dialogues in Tibetan with English subtitles, its about a group of men who battle to save the Tibetan Antelope from being hunted to extinction by poachers. In this scene one of their number has been sent to a village to get supplies for the rest of them. His four-wheel drive gets bogged down and he jumps out to try and free it. He steps off the trail just a few meters and he finds himself in talcum powder like sand. In quicksand despite his entire local knowledge and struggling he simply disappears under the surface. The scene finishes with a slow zoom out to the desolation of the place. The man was alone in this vast wilderness.

Not so David in the psalm. He waited on the Lord and God heard his cry and bent down and pulled out of that deadly mire and gave him a solid place to stand. So David sings a new song a song of praise to the Lord.

This new song in David’s heart is two fold It is a testimony to what God has done for him, so that people will come to put their trust in God. We often think our faith is private, but the Psalm invites us to join David in telling people what the Lord has done for us. There is power in our testimony, it gives praise to God and it gives hope to those who are struggling and maybe going down for the last time. God uses our story, just like he uses the history of his people to bring his hope and salvation.

You know our churches should be multi-story buildings. In fact the idea that a building had stories as opposed to simply floors comes from churches from cathedrals. They were judged to be so many stories high by the stories told in their stain glass windows. We need to recapture being a multi story building: A place that resounds with New Songs and testimonies of God’s salvation. Not just way back when but how the gospel story is bringing new life here and now.

Leonard Sweet talks about assessing the health and vitality of a church not being as simple as the ABC’s that’s Attendance, Buildings and Cash but rather it is a matters of counting stories of changed lives in Christ.

I’ve often wondered what these things outside St Andrews are and I have an idea that they are for wiping the clay off your boots when you come inside. From back before the roads in Auckland were paved. Just maybe the vitality of a church can be found in how much mud is on its boot scapers and how mud stained it’s carpets are as people come and share their experience of God’s saving grace picking them up out of the miry clay: New life in Christ here and now.

But it is also a song that says that David will live in a different way. It’s a new song and David will change his tune. He will attune his life to reflect the God who has saved him. In verse 6-8 we see David cut to the heart of faith in God. It’s not about rituals or even sacrifices, its not about the outward form of religion, trappings, and traditions, but about a heart that turns towards God and seeks to do what pleases God. When David would have been made king he would have been handed a scroll with the Law of the Lord on in. It symbolised for the King that he was first and foremost to be about putting that into practise whole heatedly. This is a recurring motif in the Old Testament what God wants is not sacrifice but obedience, not religious festivals and rituals but that justice and mercy would flow like a river. That God’s people would know him and live out God’s character, love God wholeheartedly and love one another wholeheartedly.

The author of the book of Hebrews puts these words of David in Jesus mouth. In Hebrews 10:5 as Jesus came into this world he came to do God’s will. He came to do all that God had purposed for him and he did it wholeheartedly. Jesus, the messiah and descendant of David is the ultimate example for us of what David was talking about here. His obedience made the sacrificial system obsolete.

Joseph Aldrich in his book ‘Friendship Evangelism’ takes these two elements of this new song and applies them to our lives and the gospel. he says that the gospel in us is like a beautiful song. The lyrics are the gospel message the good news and what it has done for our lives, but the music that goes behind it that makes it a memorable that makes people want to join in singing it with us is the way we live it out in our lives. The way we love one another the way we care for the people in the world round us. The two go together to make the good news music in the sinner’s ear. Another way Sweet says we can assess a church is not just through bums on seat but butts in the car park. Cigarette butt as people come because they have heard the music of the good news in our lives.

David’s new song of course is part of his prayer for help. There is no way that God’s salvation is seen as a panacea to the sufferings and trials of life. David is straight up about the difficulties in life. Christians can believe that they’ve skipped the fall and gone hang gliding instead. That not the case we face hardship and difficulties in our lives. Quite often we have to face the consequences of our own fallen state and sin.

In the midst of a new trial, David laments, he sings the blues, but it doesn’t stop him remembering what God has done for him in the past. In fact remembering God’s greater salvation in the past enables him to have hope.

I want us to take three things from this psalm today.

Firstly, sing a new song: Down through history as there have been times when people have experienced God’s Salvation and moving in new and powerful ways there has been an outpouring of creativity of new songs and new music acknowledging God’s Goodness and his faithfulness. The Wesleyan revival, for example, John Wesley’s preaching and method of discipleship and Charles Wesley’s Hymn’s. The Jesus movement amongst hippies in the 1960’s lead to new music as well, Larry Norman the original Christian rocker, sings “why should the devil have all the good music. We can get stuck in a certain expression of those new songs, we can worship them rather than worship with them, and we can almost forget that God is wanting to do new things in peoples live today and out of that will flow fresh creativity and fresh songs of praise. Do you believe God is moving in people’s lives today? Do you believe God can pull people from the miry clay of sin and death? Then we need to hear the new songs the new stories of what God is doing.

In his book Nudge Leonard Sweet says the key tenant of Christian theology is that Christ is alive! Christ is alive and active in the world today. Doing what Christ has always done seeking and saving the lost. Making a new people for himself. Seeing his kingdom come. Sweet goes onto say (Click for quote to come up)“ Every awakening of the spirit in history comes when the church no longer ’remembers’ Jesus as someone out of the past, but re-members and reattaches itself to Christ as a living presence and gets to know him afresh as a resurrection force.” New life, new songs, new stories of God’s grace.

Secondly Sing a New song. if you are feeling like you are in that old children’s game stuck in the mud. Take heart, sing a song of quite trust in God wait patiently because we know that God is able to save, he is a help in times of trouble. Put your hope in God and cry out to the Lord And like David I hope the Lord will not be long in answering your prayer.

Nicholae Moldoveau was a Christian musician in Romania and was sentenced to 12 years hard labour under the Ceaucescu communist regime; his crime being a Christian. In prison he turned to writing praise and worship songs. They stopped giving him pens and paper to try and stop him composing worship music. Moldoveau would not stop he put soap on his bars and wrote his music with his fingers. Then when he was finished he would commit the song to memory. After twelve years he was released and one of the provisions of his release was that he did not write anymore of his songs. His reply was “Just keep me here and save yourself the trouble. I will not stop worshipping my God with my praise songs.”I don't think his faith and trust was ever inprisoned and  the 360 songs he composed in prison are now used in churches right across a free Romania.

Lastly we are called to sing a new song, even in midst of the trials and difficulties of life. We are called to tell of what the Lord has done for us, even as we often sit waiting for God’s help when that new song is a lament. Sing a new song that has both the words of the good news we have found. But also with a changing of our tune: Attune our lives to knowing God and live that out in how we love one another and seek mercy and justice, in a way that maybe we too will hear a crowd who have come to see and hear echoing our cry to God like in this U2 video of "40" at red rocks.
 How long to sing this song.


  1. Howard, thanks for your inspiring reflection! (Just run into your blog while goggling for "new song" in Psalms).
    Greetings from a fellow pastor and Transformation Church in Khabarovsk, Russia!!!
    - Pastor Vladimir Lebedev -

  2. Thank you for your encouragement. Glad to meet yopu and be of use. I have to admit that I had to google Khabarovsk to locate you on Russia's pacific coast. You may have had to do the same thing to find Auckland New Zealand.