So We May Know God: Psalm 138


Psalm 138

 

Of David.

1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
    before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
    and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
    for you have exalted above all things
    your name and your word.
3 On the day I called, you answered me;
    my strength of soul you increased.


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4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
    for they have heard the words of your mouth,

and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for great is the glory of the Lord.
6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
    but the haughty he knows from afar.

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
    and your right hand delivers me.
8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

  

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“God is pleased to encourage and empower our hearts, but he is always pleased to act after prayer.

“I Called, You Answered” (vv. 1-3)

“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.” (v. 1) David is saying he will spare no effort to praise God before any authority, whether on heaven or on earth. David says this because he has just experienced God’s faithfulness and love. David says God has exalted his name and word “above all things.” (v. 2) This lets us know that God accomplished more for David than David was even told to expect. [Translator’s note: in Chinese, v. 2 literally says “You have exalted your word above all things, more than what you promised.] When did this wonderful spiritual experience happen? After David prayed. (v. 3)

This passage shows the relationship between praise, experiencing God’s grace, and prayer. David’s praise flowed from an experience of the God’s attributes of love and faithfulness, and he had this experience of God’s love and faithfulness after he called out in prayer.

God is pleased to encourage and empower our hearts, but he is always pleased to act after prayer. He is delighted when we pray to him, for when we pray, God has communion with us and we are able to grow closer to him. Because of this, often God deliberately does not take the initiative. Instead, he waits for us to pray. Numerous biblical authors and many great men of prayer throughout the ages can bear testimony to this truth. John Wesley even said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” Wesley certainly knew that God often does things on his own initiative. But with this extreme statement, he emphasized the importance of prayer.

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“God’s purpose is to help us know him. God accomplishes this purpose by giving us specific experiences.

Paul exhorts us: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If we are not anxious but bring all our needs to the Lord through prayer, then we will always experience “more than we ask or think.” Then, like David, we too can confess: “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart.”

Face the Future with Peace (vv. 4-8)

Sometimes, God does specific things for us so we may gain a greater understanding of him. In verses 1-3, David witnessed one of God’s saving acts in his life. This individual experience of God’s work did not only give David a sense of gratitude and worship. It also gave David a renewed perspective with which look at the future of the world. This renewed perspective continued to govern David’s mindset, even to the day he wrote this psalm.

David was convinced that, one day, God would conquer the arrogant and seemingly invincible kings of the earth. (v. 4) One day, those same kings would be struck by the glory of the Lord. (v. 5)

When he saw the Lord answer his prayers and fulfill his promises, David’s perspective on the future was renewed. No matter how things looked in the moment, David was convinced God would overcome the world. Because of this assurance, David could face the future with a peaceful heart. (v. 7-8)

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“By experiencing what God does, we are able to get to know this God who does things. We also come to know the style and characteristics of how he does things.

Great is the Lord… his greatness is unsearchable.” When this unsearchable God allows us to experience his works in one particular event, he never does this just to give us one moment of grace. God also does not let us merely thank him for that one incident. God’s purpose is to help us know him. God accomplishes this purpose by giving us specific experiences.

We must not let any particular experience of God be only about that one event. Instead, we must make the most of each encounter. By experiencing what God does, we are able to get to know this God who does things. We also come to know the style and characteristics of how he does things. Then we are able to see his perspective, and to better interpret other events, happenings which are bigger and farther from us.

Lee Haggai is a pseudonym for a house church pastor in Beijing. He and his wife have two children.

 

PRAYER

Father God,

Our mouths lack praise because our lives lack the experience of your grace. All this is connected with another lack: our lack of prayer before you. May Your Holy Spirit work in us so we may “rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] give thanks in all circumstances,” thus fulfilling your will for us in Christ Jesus.

You created and redeemed us for greatness. One of your purposes in ordaining everything that happens in our lives is so we may know more about you. And as we know more about you, we are then able to interpret events happening in our nation and even across the whole world. May we be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we may examine everything we experience with a renewed perspective, and in so doing, discern your good, acceptable, and perfect will.

   


We are using the Psalms to guide our prayers for China

In 2022, our prayer movement is turning to the scriptural prayers found in the Psalms as we pray for the Chinese church. When you join our prayer movement, you will receive weekly prayer emails and a monthly newsletter so that you too can pray for our brothers and sisters in China.

  

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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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