How many of you make New Year’s Resolutions each year? What are they? I honestly go back and forth as far as resolutions go, some of mine stick while others don’t. Regardless of whether or not you make such resolutions it’s my opinion that reflection over the past year is beneficial for us. Rather than reflecting by asking questions like: ‘How much weight did I gain or lose this year?’ or ‘How many more wrinkles or gray hairs do I have?’ we should ask questions like: What have we learned this past year? Was it a good year? Was it a bad year? Was it just kind of so-so? How have I changed? Have I progressed? Have I regressed? Do I know Jesus better than I did last year? Does my wife? Do my kids? Am I holier now than last year? The answers to these questions and those like it will do much for us as we prepare to enter a new year. So, to prepare us for reflection on 2015 and to aid us in preparation for 2016 let’s turn to Psalm 29.
Follow along as I read Psalm 29.
Psalm 29 begins with a call to praise God and gives us reasons to praise Him. These reasons are the most important part of the Psalm 29, because God is not praised for no reason, but for specific reasons, qualities, and wonders; often for the way He specifically has saved and redeemed His people. The structure of Psalm 29 is clearly split up into three sections. First, in 29:1-2 David calls us to ascribe glory to God because He holds supremacy over all heavenly beings. Second, in 29:3-9 David gives a breath-taking display of the glory of the voice of the Lord, who is sovereign over all forces of nature and the entire created order. Last, in 29:10-11 David closes the psalm with a description of the Lord enthroned on high, having supremacy over the realm of mankind, blessing His people with strength and peace.
First, 29:1-2 – In these two verses the Lord Himself calls us to worship Him. He calls the ‘the sons of the mighty’ to worship and give Him the ‘glory due to His name’ in ‘holy array.’ Doubtless this command to worship is for all mankind and the entire heavenly host. Now, most of you have heard that God is worthy of worship, but notice here that He is One commanding it? Is this strange to see? You know all the Psalms are inspired by God right, and yet all throughout them God is saying ‘Praise Me!’ ‘Praise Me!’ God is not being egotistical here, no. God, in commanding us to worship Him, is displaying that He is not an idolater. He holds no one above Him in His own heart, and calls us to do the same. It is fitting for all men to ascribe such honor to God rather than themselves. God repeats this call four times (ascribe, ascribe, ascribe, worship), He does this because we are slow to worship something other than ourselves and knowing this God calls us to ascribe, or recognize, or tell of His glory, and the more we do this (ascribe, ascribe, ascribe) the more we’ll want to worship Him.
‘Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness’ here in v2 is not referring to the manner of costume these heavenly beings and earthly men/women will be wearing during their worship, AS IF God were merely concerned with the proper attire worn to worship. This phrase refers to a combination of things. ‘Worship the LORD in His holy court.’ ‘Worship the LORD in His holy habitation.’ ‘Worship the LORD in the court of His holiness.’ ‘Worship the LORD with holy array.’ Or it could even mean ‘Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness’ which implies that holiness not only belongs to God but ought to belong to the ones worshipping God. The meaning in view is the outward gush of the inward reality. When one see’s the holiness of God streaming forth from God Himself in His holy sanctuary, awe fills the soul. The outward gush of that inward awe is simple: worship and adoration to God for the splendor of God’s holiness, in our own holiness, which is a reflection of God’s. We’ll talk about this holiness more in a minute.
Next, 29:3-9 – This second section gives the reasons or grounds for praising God. Why praise the God in the splendor of holiness? Because the glory of God’s voice booms like majestic and powerful thunder in the sky, and all creation is the theater of His glory! In this passage the storm begins. While many today simply see thunderstorms as mere storms, the people of Israel saw them as an illustration displaying the majesty and power of Yahweh. The all-glorious God makes Himself known in the language of deep booming thunder and reveals Himself in the storm. In this section the major theme, ‘The voice of the LORD’ is repeated seven times, and every instance of ‘the voice of the Lord’ mentions a kind of audible noise we on earth would hear and be familiar with. Powerful and majestic rushing water (29:3-4), cedars of Lebanon snapping in two like twigs (29:5), uncontrollable roaring flames (29:7), and ground shaking earthquakes (29:8). The Lord’s voice causes the deer to give birth (29:9a), and it strips the forest bare (29:9b). The voice of the Lord is nothing to be taken lightly. This seems especially true when we take the location of the two mountains in 29:5-6 into account. Mt. Lebanon and Mt. Hermon were both in the north, where the Canaanites lived. This implies that Yahweh shows little care for the pagan gods of Canaan, He is tearing down their forests in His glory! The picture being painted is a storm drawing near, letting us know the Lord is approaching in glory and power, and all of creation waits to see His glory in fear and trembling. Charles Spurgeon said it like this:
There is a peculiar terror in a storm at sea, when deep calls unto deep, and the raging sea echoes to the angry sky. No sight more alarming than the flash of lightning around the mast of the ship; and no sound more calculated to inspire a reverent awe than the roar of a storm…As when a lion roars, all the beasts of the forest are still, so is the earth hushed and mute while Jehovah thunders marvelously.
After these deep claps of thunder and lightning come from God in the storm, a response is given in 29:9c, where we see ‘awe’ defined in its most simple form. The people see the wonder of the storm and respond in awe-struck wonder cry out ‘Glory!’ The storm intensifies as you continue reading from 29:3-9, and when it comes to the response of ‘Glory!’ the storm has reached its apex, climaxing in its most violent manner. It’s almost as it the Psalm winds its way up, as if traveling up a staircase, unveiling further and further with each new step, until we’re at the highest point we can possibly go. The Hebrew word for glory means ‘weight’ or ‘heaviness’ and this is indeed what the original reader would have known and understood from their own experience in storms. Thunder carries a certain weight or heaviness to it that frightens the soul; it is not to be taken lightly. The same is true of the God of glory; his glory is weighty, He is not to be taken lightly.
Lastly, in 29:10-11 David concludes his psalm with a picture Yahweh enthroned on high, in His temple, giving strength, blessing, and peace to His people. Strength, blessing, and peace are the given to us in the end of this Psalm to teach us they are the things that fill the soul when one embraces the God of glory who thunders marvelously. The thunder of Jehovah who calms the sea will calm the storm in me.
We’re also reminded of God’s power and authority by seeing Him on His throne forever. But He doesn’t stand on His throne, no, He sits. What a wonderful picture for us when all around us gives way: when the lights get turned off, when kids are out of control, when marriage if falling apart, when our soul loves sin more than God, where is God?! He is sitting on His throne, perfect in power, calm, in control, ruling, guiding, and caring for His people.
What a King!
The practical implications streaming out of Psalm 29 are innumerable, stunning, and all have to do with how we respond to God’s booming glory. The glory of God, and the glory of the voice of God come through so clearly in this psalm, it is breathtaking to view. By the time we see the people’s response in 29:9c, the reader is feeling the same surge rising within. Perhaps this is what beholding the glory of God will be like for those of us who believe in Him? I think when this moment comes, there will be fear and trembling on one hand because our God is wild, untamable, and more intense than we can ever imagine. On the other hand there will also be a fantastic feast of satisfaction when we behold God Himself in all His glory! Nothing satisfies the human soul like the glory of God. Perhaps this is why storms are so fascinating to us? Because in them we get a glimpse of how huge God is.
David gave displayed his own satisfaction in God two psalms earlier in Psalm 27 when he said, “One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire (or meditate) in His temple.” David desired one thing in life, to get in the dwelling place of God and gaze at Him forever! Why did David want this? Because in God’s presence is the fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). David drank from the river of God’s delight (Psalm 36:8), he tasted and he saw that the Lord was good (Psalm 34:8), and he concluded that God was his only desire and to be near Him was life itself (Psalm 73:25-28).
When I read Psalm 29, I feel these same things leap inside me. Do you? Now, we have but a taste of the glory of God revealed in the storm, but soon, we will enjoy the full display of His infinite worth! Therefore, if the only eternal happiness for our souls is a happiness found in gazing on the glory of God, and God is glorified by us doing so (which the above verses seem to imply), than God will uphold that which makes much of Him and that which makes us most happy, His glory. I think this is part of the reason God calls us to give Him glory in 29:1-2, because in commanding us to glorify Him He is inviting us to enjoy Him. Psalm 29 is a window into this endeavor which shows us glorifying God and enjoying God are not separate pursuits, but one and the same.
Now, this all leads us to our preparation for 2016. Since God’s glory is the thing that satisfies our souls the most, and you know this (!), what are your plans to put yourself in a position to see God’s glory more clearly in 2016? What are your plans to behold Christ in all His glory next year? Do you have plans? Or are you just going to wing it? Did you have plans this past year, or did you waste it? Don’t waste 2016. Plan to be stunned by God’s glory, plan to work, and plan to labor and struggle to see more of it than you ever have before. To encourage you in this, I want to give you two concrete steps of how to do this but first I’m going to tell you something that I hope will ‘jar’ you. When I first heard this statement it ‘jarred’ me and encouraged my heart to be more intentional in 2016. So church, listen clearly and carefully, the quote (from John Piper) is this, ‘No one accidentally grows more holy.’
Do you believe this? If you don’t believe this the God who thunders won’t seem all that glorious to you and He’ll be buried underneath work, family, sports, TV, money, fitness, etc. If you do believe this, you will rearrange your priorities and the God of thundering glory will sit atop all else in your life. Sure you may be involved in many things throughout 2016 but the thing that you’ll plan the most time for is God.
Now, for two very concrete steps to take to behold God in His glory more in 2016:
First, pursue a holy life.
Remember I said earlier that ‘holiness not only belongs to God but ought to belong to the ones worshipping God.’ Therefore, those who would seek to approach the Holy God must seek to be holy themselves. Leviticus 10:3 says it well, ‘By those who come near Me I will be sanctified (treated as holy).’ God is not honored if we treat Him with a kind of laissez-faire attitude. Of all people, His people ought to be the ones who revere Him with a holy reverence. We are wrong to think holiness is the difference between mature/immature Christians. Holiness is the difference between the Christian life and the non-Christian life. Knowing these things, if you don’t plan to pursue a holy life in 2016 do you think it will just happen? Do you think God will just remove those sinful habits you have? Don’t fool yourself. Holiness is something that must be pursued, and if it’s not pursued in the power of the Spirit, you won’t get it. Some of you may be wondering if I’m getting theologically off base here by saying this, because after all isn’t growth in holiness something God does through His sovereign grace? Yes it is, but if we understand the Spirit that’s been given to us, and if we sought to walk in step with the Spirit more, you’d be amazed at how different life would look. So to conclude this first point, perhaps I should just say this: Christians must be holy people, God has given us His Holy Spirit, make it your aim in 2016 to learn how to walk by the Spirit rather than walk by the flesh – the result will be holiness.
Second and lastly, pursue the Word of God.
Remember I said earlier that the ‘God of glory is weighty, He is not to be taken lightly.’ Where, in Psalm 29, do we see His glory the clearest? In His Voice, which is found in His Word. This point naturally follows the first point about holiness because in seeking to be holy one must seek to dig into the Scripture. Christians are not people who sit back and empty our minds to find peace, Romans 12:2 says the way our lives are transformed is the renewing of our minds, which happens when we fill them with robust Biblical truth. Where do we get our hands on robust Biblical truth? The Bible. How much did you read your Bible last year? Did you waste the year? Don’t waste 2016. Charles Spurgeon once said of John Bunyan (the author of Pilgrims Progress) that if you pricked his finger he would bleed ‘Bibline’ because he saturated his life with the Bible. I want this to be true of myself and true of you more and more.
So how do we do this? How do we dig into the Word more? Many ways. It begins first with a commitment to the daily reading of Scripture. This is a must for Christians and I would encourage you to cultivate time for personal study/reading. You will fall for anything if you’re not consistently diving into the Bible. One way to do this is to choose a Bible reading plan. How many of you have read the entire Bible? A plan will aid you in reading the Bible through in a year, or 2 years, there are even 3 year plans. Did you know that on our website under the resources tab there are links to help you with this? Taking into account all the links and what they offer I believe there is around 15 different reading plans you can get to on our website within a few clicks.
Second, our own personal study of God’s Word will be encouraged if we make it a habit to study the Bible with others. And it just so happens, that we a Bible study here every Tuesday night. An unwillingness to study the Bible with others reveals a contempt for others and a high view of yourself. I really do think that. Life in Christ is life together, and if we live as lone rangers in our faith we reveal one thing about us: pride. Take the risk in 2016 to do life with others, sure it will get messy, and may get difficult at times, but you’ll grow by leaps and bounds. Third, private Bible study and public Bible study will sink deep into our bones if we take what we learn in the Bible and turn it into prayer. It just so happens we have a prayer meeting every Thursday night and each Sunday morning. Making these times a priority will deepen and saturate your life with God.
The bottom line when it comes to all this is simple: God is worth it. If you love God, you’ll make God a priority, and regardless of how you stumble through a Bible reading plan or a personal or public prayer time, God draws near those who draw near to Him. That’s a promise.
After the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, recall that they devoted their lives to the Word of God and to prayer – may the same be true of us in 2016.