Living in God's Presence: A Study of Psalms (Student Book)

Overview

Ashort-term, 8 session study of the book of Psalms. The studyfocuses on the central themes ofPsalms. Nearly every psalm is related to the fact that God is present in the world and is lovingly and purposefully involved in the lives of people.

Four lessons explore how the people of God are called to praise God who creates and sustains, acts on behalf of God's people, delivers them from trouble, and knows and ...

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Overview

Ashort-term, 8 session study of the book of Psalms. The studyfocuses on the central themes ofPsalms. Nearly every psalm is related to the fact that God is present in the world and is lovingly and purposefully involved in the lives of people.

Four lessons explore how the people of God are called to praise God who creates and sustains, acts on behalf of God's people, delivers them from trouble, and knows and cares.

Four responses to God's actions are suggested: trust in God, keep God's laws, repent and confess, and worship and witness.

The Bible Readers Series is designed for adult study groups wishing to explore a particular book of the Bible for a limited number of sessions. It uses the NRSV translation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780687092567
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Series: Festival Bks.
  • Edition description: Paperback
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA - an ordained UM elder.
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Read an Excerpt

Living in God's Presence

A Study of Psalms


By Pat Floyd

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 1996 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-687-09256-7



CHAPTER 1

Celebrating The Gift Of Life


PURPOSE

To help us celebrate the wonder of creation and the wisdom of God the Creator


BIBLE PASSAGE

Psalm 104:24-34
24 O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.

26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;

28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are filled with good things.

29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.

30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.


31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works—

32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God
while I have being.

34May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.


OUR NEED

Where do you feel truly a part of God's creation: serene, joyful, and delighted to be alive? Most people would like to spend more time in such places. But the demands of work and family, the restrictions of illness and physically challenging conditions, or the habit of focusing on indoor activities prevents many of us from doing so. We miss the first daffodils of spring, wrens nesting, the majesty of mountains and ocean, tomatoes from a garden, the glory of autumn leaves, the silhouette of bare branches against a winter sunset.

Circumstances of life today leave many people feeling divorced from creation, no longer at home in the universe. Often, we do not realize what we are missing until we take a vacation, go on a retreat, or just spend time in the back yard or in a park. Then we sense that for our own health and wholeness, we need to be related to the natural world.

When we think about God's creation, we may also feel anxiety, grief, frustration, and guilt. We may wonder how much longer we will be able to enjoy beauty we once took for granted and how much longer the earth will have the resources needed to sustain life as we know it. We may grieve for lost trees and open spaces, for lost farms, and for birds and animals that once were familiar neighbors. We may feel frustration at the difficulty of finding just and effective ways to care for the earth and to provide for human beings. And we may feel guilt that we have not done everything in our power to be good stewards of creation.

What feelings does contemplation of God's creation evoke in you?


FAITHFUL LIVING

Psalms are poetry. They are hymns and sometimes prayers. To understand and appreciate a psalm, begin by reading it aloud; get a feel for the meaning of the psalmist's words. Psalm 104 is a joy to read aloud. Give yourself the pleasure, at some time, of reading the entire psalm. It describes God's creation of the earth and God's wisdom and care in providing for all creatures, including human beings.

In the portion of the psalm for our study, verses 24-26 praise God for the vast number of things God has created and for the wisdom with which God has made them all. Verses 27-30 speak of the dependence of all creation on God. Verses 31-32 praise God's glory and God's power. Verses 33-34 are the psalmist's response to God in praise and in prayer for a life that will be pleasing to God.

In our study of Psalm 104, we need to note that the people of Israel had no concept of nature as we view it or of the Greek idea of cosmos. The Hebrew language of the Scriptures does not convey ideas of the earth and the universe as self-contained, ordered structures, subject to study and objective analysis by human beings. For the people of Israel, Creation was an act of God. Their experience of the world around them was a personal awareness of being present in the midst of evidence of God's actions in the past and of God's continuing activity in the present.

In considering the Psalms as a whole, the biblical scholar Gerhard von Rad spoke of the Psalms as "Israel in the presence of [God]." The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers, and Wisdom teachings that were most often sung or spoken when the people of Israel gathered for worship and celebrations. Like all Scripture, the Psalms address the whole people of God and express the people's praise, petitions, and response to God. However, some psalms clearly began as hymns that individuals addressed to God. Psalm 104 is such a psalm.

What role do the Psalms have in your life and in the worship of your congregation?


Proclaim God's Greatness

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalm 104:24)


The psalmist lived in the midst of God's creation, observed it with care, and was filled with awe at the number and variety of the creatures God has made.

Verse 25 speaks of the sea filled with innumerable things, both small and great. The truth of that statement was brought home to me on a visit to the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. From the 350 known species of the shark family, we saw some sharks that were less than a foot long, others that were huge, and a model of the whale shark that grows to 40 feet in length. Size, color, body shape, and diet of the sharks vary greatly to fit the habitat of each species.

The fish that most impressed me with the wonder of creation, however, were those that looked like the work of a fine artist. Usually, they were small fish. Handsome white or silver fish were covered with intricate geometric patterns, meticulously drawn in black. Other fish looked like swimming jewels—scarlet, lapis blue, gold, orange, and lemon yellow. Sometimes an area of color or a stripe was outlined with a fine black line.

Intention and delight are the words my aquarium visit brings to mind. Attention to details that permit each species to function superbly, to adapt to its habitat, and to survive speaks to my faith in a God who creates with infinite care and purpose for the good of all. The beauty of the created world speaks to me of a God who delights in creation. Small fish could surely be created with the ability to find food, to mate, and to hide from predators without their being exquisitely beautiful as well. Indeed, "the LORD rejoice[s] in his works" (verse 31b).

The Creator who takes delight in each creature has also created them to take delight in their own living. The psalmist speaks of God's forming Leviathan to sport in the sea (verse 26). Leviathan is usually thought to be a sea monster, but I wonder if the psalmist could have been thinking of the play of whales.

In verse 32 the psalmist recognizes the power of God in the terrible, the awe inspiring, and the destructive. God is the one

who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.


For the psalmist all creation comes from God and is to be accepted as evidence of God's wisdom, power, and greatness.

What aspects of creation speak to you most eloquently of the Creator? What aspects, if any, test your faith in God's goodness?


Acknowledge Our Dependence

Psalm 104 takes for granted the total dependence of all creatures on God's provision:

When you open your hand,
they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.

(Psalm 104:28b-29)


Because we are able to affect conditions of life and health and the productivity of the earth, we sometimes lose sight of our dependence on what God has provided. Fertile topsoil, clean water and air, and solar energy are essential for life. Remove or seriously diminish any one of them and life ends. Furthermore, we are born as creatures; we live our lives in plenty and scarcity, sickness and health; and we die.

The psalmists accepted the cycles of life and death as a part of God's creation while still lamenting the transitoriness of life. They found assurance in God's continuing presence and in the continuity of life:

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
their offspring shall be established in your
presence.

(Psalm 102:25-28)


To accept death as a part of God's good plan for creation is not easy when faced with the death of anyone or anything we hold dear. Yet, in the service for Ash Wednesday, I usually feel a sense of peace when the words are repeated to me, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Praise be to God." I think that peace comes from God's grace expressed in Jesus' words, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).

Psalm 104 reveals God's affirmation of life in all its diversity and complexity, its abundance and deprivation, its rejoicing, and its loss. Verse 30 affirms that God also continues to renew and to recreate life:

When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.


This theme appears—and is carried even further—in the writings of the prophets and in Paul's epistles, where the redemption of God's people is related to the restoration of all creation:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox....
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the LORD.

(Isaiah 65:25)


"The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).

In what ways is our complete dependence on God's provision for us troubling? In what ways is it reassuring?


Rejoice in God's Creation

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

(Psalm 104:33)


Praise is the psalmist's first response to God's wisdom and goodness in creation. What shall our responses be? Four responses seem especially appropriate: to cherish what God has made, to take delight in it, to praise God, and to live a life that is pleasing to God and in harmony with God's creative work.

Few people would set a wet coffee cup on a friend's just-completed painting, throw garbage in a neighbor's front yard, or pour poison in a child's goldfish bowl. Yet many people are careless and even wanton in their disregard for God's creation.

In The Diversity of Life, biologist Edward O. Wilson voices the belief that humanity has initiated a great extinction of life on earth in which a large fraction of our fellow species will be wiped out in a single generation. His contention is that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be studied and cherished; and his plea is that not one form of life be given up without a struggle. How can Christians pray, "May the LORD rejoice in his works" (Psalm 104:31) if we do not acknowledge God as Creator by respecting and preserving what God has made?

In contrast to those who carelessly mar and destroy are two friends of mine. They count each morning glory blossom at their door and touch each one with tenderness because the life of each blossom is short and must be celebrated and appreciated each day. Once they lifted a dying butterfly from the gutter and held it gently until it was forever still because such a lovely thing should not die alone. Where there is life, someone should care and take notice.

We can delight in God's creation by seeing it; by hearing it; by smelling, touching, and tasting it. Whether we are beholding a house plant, a giant sequoia, or a display of vegetables in the grocery store, we can celebrate God's creative hand at work. Life is too short to turn aside from a glorious sunset or to ignore a bird's song. When we are aware of life, we are more fully alive.

We can praise God for creation with songs, prayers, and Scripture. I recommend that for the rest of this study you give yourself the joy of praising God with psalms about creation. Besides Psalm 104, Psalm 8 speaks of our place in creation, Psalm 19 of the heavens telling God's glory, Psalm 33 of how God created, Psalm 65 of crops and harvest, Psalm 147 of winter's snow, and Psalm 96 and Psalm 148 of how all things praise God. Praise God and express your delight in the creation with your own poetry, prose, or music and with arts of all kinds.

The psalmist also wrote,

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.

(Psalm 104:34)


He saw his whole life as a song of praise to God. Should we not see our lives the same way?

CHAPTER 2

Remember Promises and Commitments


PURPOSE

To help us recall and give praise for God's acts of blessing and deliverance

BIBLE PASSAGE

Psalm 105:1-11,43-45

1 O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wonderful works.

3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek
the LORD rejoice.

4 Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually.

5 Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments
he has uttered,

6 O offspring of his servant Abraham,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones.


7 He is the LORD our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.

8 He is mindful of his covenant forever;
of the word that he commanded,
for a thousand generations,

9 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,

10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

11 saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance."...


43 So he brought his people out with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.

44 He gave them the lands of the nations,
and they took possession of
he wealth of the peoples,

45 that they might keep his statutes
and observe his laws.
Praise the LORD!


OUR NEED

Members of a small group from my church read Psalm 105. Each of us was to tell about one of God's wonderful works we had witnessed or experienced. Since the whole group was feeling discouraged about what was happening in our world, we lamented together a bit before we were ready for rejoicing and praise. (Lamenting as well as praise is a theme of the Psalms.) When we were ready to speak of God's wonderful deeds, our remembering and sharing was an exceedingly rewarding experience for all of us.

Some told stories of healing; some, of reconciliation; and others, of vocational guidance. We remembered what has happened in the life of our church and were uplifted by the histories we shared. Our unanimous reaction was, "We, and our whole church, need to do this on a regular basis." We wanted to remember and to celebrate our common history as a congregation of God's people and our individual parts in that story.

As people of God, all of us need to remember and to celebrate God's wonderful deeds and God's continuing promises to us.


FAITHFUL LIVING

Psalm 105 is a hymn of praise for God's mighty acts in fulfilling God's covenant with the people of Israel. Verses 1-6 call the assembled people to proclaim what God has done and to praise God. Verses 7-11 introduce the main theme of the psalm: God's covenant with the people and the fulfilling of the covenant. Verses 12-42, which are not a part of our lesson, recount the history of God's leading and delivering the people. Verses 43-45 tell how God's promise was fulfilled and what God expects of the people in response.

Each year the people of Israel went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate three great festivals: the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, at harvest time in the fall; the Passover Festival celebrating deliverance from Egypt, in the spring; and the Feast of Weeks or first fruits, at the time of the wheat harvest. Psalm 105 was probably used at these festivals.

In 1 Chronicles 16, we have a record of Psalm 105:1-15 being used in worship. David prepared a place for the ark of God and brought it up to Jerusalem in a procession of Levites and people. The placing of the ark was celebrated with sacrifices, feasting, music, and songs of thanksgiving. First Chronicles 16:7 reads, "On that day David first appointed the singing of praises to the LORD by Asaph and his kindred." Psalm 105:1-15 is then given as the first part of what was sung.


Remember God's Covenant

Israel identified itself as a people with whom God had made an everlasting covenant, as God's servant. In Israel a servant was one who belonged to another and who was supported and protected as a part of that person's household. Israel had been chosen by God to belong to God's household. God's promise to give Israel the land of Canaan may have been viewed as being like the promise of land as an inheritance.

However, no human relationships can describe adequately the importance for Israel of God's initiative in choosing them, making a covenant with them, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, and leading them to the Promised Land. Psalm 100:3 suggests that God created Israel as a people:

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep
of his pasture.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Living in God's Presence by Pat Floyd. Copyright © 1996 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

1. Celebrating the Gift of Life,
2. Remember Promises and Commitments,
3. When Trouble Comes,
4. Never Alone,
5. Trust in God,
6. Valuing God's Word,
7. Seeking Forgiveness,
8. Worship and Witness,

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