Our First and Last Word: “On the Glorious Splendor” Excerpt

The following is the first essay from my new devotional, On the Glorious Splendor: Devotional Readings on Psalm 145, available both in the Kindle format and paperback at Amazon.com.

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Our First and Last Word

Praise is the beginning and end of our prayer life, framing all of our speech directed toward God. When we first meet the powerful creator God of the universe, we naturally respond with awe and worship. We realize we are not God, nature is not divine, and our nations, economies, militaries, material goods, and families are not supernatural. In praise we meet Yahweh, the God of Israel, who is in control, loyally loving all of creation, establishing justice and peace. Coming before Yahweh and exclaiming praise is the intended state for humanity. Therefore in the Book of Psalms we find numerous examples of and calls to worship Yahweh. A right relationship with this God requires exuberant, abundant praise.

This short guide will help you prayerfully read through Psalm 145, a prayer-poem that enthusiastically expresses “glad astonishment”[1] at God’s greatness and goodness. The psalmist marvels at the great power of God seen through works of creation, sustenance, and salvation. The psalmist also proclaims Yahweh’s goodness is evident through God’s graciousness, mercy, patience, and deep commitment to people.

Psalm 145 is a model of praise. The psalmist focuses all the attention on Yahweh, not on himself, or even on what God has done for the psalmist. Though the psalmist mentions God’s works, he does so only in the most general terms. The emphasis lies on what those works reveal about Yahweh’s character. The psalmist shows praise is incomplete until we declare God’s greatness and goodness to others.

The God-focused nature of biblical praise may come as a surprise to Christians in the West since so much of the church music we call, “Praise and Worship,” seems to be more about the singer and his or her psychological wellbeing than about God’s greatness and goodness. The psalms of praise correct our self-absorption, or as the Hebrew Bible scholar Claus Westermann explains: “In praise I am directed entirely toward the one whom I praise, and this means, of necessity, in that moment a looking away from myself.”[2]

The people of Israel and the Church have used the Book of Psalms as their prayer guide and hymnal throughout history. The Psalms have much to teach us about prayer and praise if we simply slow down and allow their poetry to usher us into a world that deals directly with the joys and sorrows of life as well as the God who is immediately available.

Praise, however, is not just an appropriate response to encountering Yahweh’s greatness. It also sets norms and expectations for our relationship with God. The praise psalms describe the world as it should be. In them we see God is gracious and patient and we humans are to respond with worship and obedience. The content of our praise allows us to move to the other forms of prayer found in the Psalms. The claims we make in worship become the basis of our lamentation when we encounter injustice and suffering. God should be in control, life should be characterized by peace and justice. The psalms of lament (e.g., Psalm 88) acknowledge we have moved away from the ordered peace of the praise psalms and they call out to God to again assert control and deliver us. The writers of the lament psalms often hope and promise to return to praise once God rescues them from the calamity. The psalms of thanksgiving (e.g., Psalm 34) are that return to praise, recalling both the trouble the writer experienced, as well as the salvation Yahweh brought about. In their own way, lament and thanksgiving assert a life dedicated to worshiping Yahweh is the best life possible.

As you read and pray, bring your whole life forward. If you are in a season of peace and justice, gladly follow Psalm 145’s worshipful design. Let the psalm usher you into a reality in which God is active and gracious, showing deep loyalty to all of creation. If you face trouble and question where God is, it may be more appropriate to spend time with a psalm of lament, or perhaps you can let the words of Psalm 145 shape your prayers by saying, “God, aren’t you supposed to be great and good, like the descriptions I read in this psalm?” The author of Psalm 145 calls us to meditate on God’s powerful works and what these acts reveal about Yahweh’s abundant goodness. Receive the invitation to drink deeply from these words. Do not rush. Allow the wonder of Yahweh to overwhelm you.


[1] Walter Brueggemann, “The Psalms as Prayer,” in The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 60.

[2] Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, translated by Keith R. Crim and Richard N. Soulen (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 27.

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New Book Release: “On the Glorious Splendor”

I have just published a new devotional, On the Glorious Splendor: Devotional Readings on Psalm 145. The book helps readers meditate one verse at a time through Psalm 145, a beautiful prayer-poem of worship that praises God for being powerful and generous. The psalmist stands in awe of God’s works of creation as well as Yahweh’s loyal commitment to people. By meditating on the evocative imagery in the psalm, we are encouraged to find new ways to express our wonder.

While praise may at times spontaneously burst forth from our mouths, the people of Israel and the Christian Church have also learned worship is a discipline. It requires practice. Too often we believe the voices around us who tell us God is not real and we have to control our own destinies. Praise brings about a correct orientation in which Yahweh is acknowledged as the God who is in control. By giving our allegiance to this God, all the other gods in our lives — nations, economies, etc. — are put in their right place.

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Along with the daily readings and reflections, On the Glorious Splendor also contains brief essays that explore power of praise to create a new world as well as explain the method of devotional reading I propose and how it differs from other important ways of reading the Bible. An appendix at the end of the guide describes some of the textual, cultural, and historical details of the psalm, while maintaining a devotional posture toward the Scripture.

On the Glorious Splendor is available at Amazon.com for $1.99 on the Kindle format, or $5.99 in paperback. A free preview is available on the Amazon product page. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still purchase and read the guide electronically by downloading the free reader app that works on smart phones, tablets, PC’s, and Macs.

My first self-published devotionals, Delivered from All My Fears: Devotional Readings on Psalm 34 and My Companions are in Darkness: Devotional Readings on Psalm 88 are also available for purchase in Kindle or paperback at Amazon.com. Feel free to also visit and “Like” my author page at Amazon.

Opium vs. Smelling Salts: “My Companions are in Darkness” Excerpt

The following is the first essay from my new devotional, My Companions are in Darkness: Devotional Readings on Psalm 88, available both in the Kindle format and hard copy at Amazon.com.
My Companions are in Darkness Cover

Opium vs. Smelling Salts

Karl Marx famously declared, “Religion…is the opium of the people,” in which fantasies of a soothing God and a disembodied ecstasy in Heaven are given to drug people so that they might remain numb to the reality of their current suffering. [1] We can look at the history of the Christian Church, including at some contemporary sermons, worship songs, and books and see that Marx had a point—the Christian message has, at times, been watered down to a set of feel-good affirmations that deny the reality of suffering and death. Such a diluted faith can offer only the thinnest of blessings that do not address the fullness of the human experience. We face the temptation to anesthetize ourselves with beliefs that God only wants us to experience happiness or that this life doesn’t ultimately matter, rather than truly wrestle with God in the midst of the confusion and pain that each of us experiences and sees in others.

Thankfully the Psalms offer no opium to our suffering. In these prayer-poems we encounter the full arc of human life—joy and sadness, victory and loss, peace and fear, confidence and doubt, health and sickness, birth and death. They don’t drug our pain and turmoil with flaccid promises of escape. The writers of the Psalms display keen awareness of their distress and voice their shock, fear, and anger. As readers, we do not find opiates numbing us to troubles. The Psalms instead act like smelling salts, waking us up to the reality of life’s complexity and to the God who is with us through it all.

Some psalms praise God when all is right with the world (e.g., Psalm 8). Other psalms offer thanks to God for bringing salvation and setting the world back in order when things have gone wrong (e.g., Psalm 34). We are likely most familiar and most comfortable with these first two types of psalms. But there is a third type of psalm that cries out to God when trouble arises, when enemies attack, when God seems distant, when the world is not as it should be. These lament psalms complain, protest, and wail before Yahweh, the God of Israel. We are likely not as familiar with these psalms despite the fact that there are more lament psalms than there are psalms of praise or psalms of thanksgiving. The reason for our unfamiliarity lies in the fact that the psalms of lament challenge us. They challenge our conceptions of the kinds of prayers God accepts. They challenge our images of God protecting us from every hurt and loss. They challenge our understanding of what it means to be in covenant with the God of the universe. The psalms of lament do not deny the existence of suffering—instead, they place that suffering before God’s face and demand, “What are you going to do about this?”

Psalm 88 is one of the darkest and most intense prayers of lament in the whole Bible. The psalmist accurately describes suffering and the confusion it brings while teaching us a way to speak to God when we experience turmoil. This little guide will help you prayerfully read through Psalm 88 in eighteen days. The people of Israel and the Church have used the Book of Psalms as their prayer guide and hymnal throughout history. The Psalms have much to teach us about prayer if we simply slowed down and allowed their poetry to usher us into a world that deals directly with the joys and sorrows of life as well as the God who is immediately available.

As you read and pray, bring your whole life forward. If you face trouble and question where God is, let the words of Psalm 88 shape your prayers. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Psalm 88 is a defiant, buoyant prayer that relentlessly holds God accountable for experiences of trouble and at the same time holds God in hope of what God will yet do.” [2] If you do not find yourself in the same place as the psalmist, remember when you were troubled and when God seemed distant and callous to your suffering, or think of those who are in turmoil and pray this psalm along with them. Come and allow Psalm 88 to act as smelling salts to wake you up to the real trouble and confusion in the world. Come pray with God’s people, calling out to the God who is our only hope for salvation.


[1] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right,” translated by Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 131.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Psalms as Prayer,” in The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 62.

Announcing the Release of My New Devotional, “My Companions are in Darkness”

I have returned to the world of self-publishing with my latest devotional, My Companions are in Darkness: Devotional Readings on Psalm 88. The devotional guides readers slowly through Psalm 88, which is perhaps the most intense prayer of lament in the Bible. The psalmist acknowledges the uncertainty and pains of this life, but he refuses to give up on God. It is because he believes deeply in God’s promises that he can raise his protests to God as he endures trouble. The writer of Psalm 88 also shows us how we may take our role as covenant partners with God very seriously even as we face doubt, confounding pain, or depression.

In his influential paper, “The Costly Loss of Lament” (you should read it), biblical scholar Walter Brueggemman says the discipline of lament has been lost in much of contemporary Western Christianity. He describes the importance of lamentation in our relationship with God as well as what we lose when we no longer engage in lament:

When the lament form is censured, justice questions cannot be asked and eventually become invisible and illegitimate…. A community of faith that negates laments soon concludes that the hard issues of justice are improper questions to pose at the throne, because the throne seems to be only a place of praise. I believe it thus follows that if justice questions are improper questions at the throne (which is a conclusion drawn through liturgic use), they soon appear to be improper questions in public places, in schools, in hospitals, with the government, and eventually even in the courts. Justice questions disappear into civility and docility. The order of the day comes to seem absolute, beyond question, and we are left with only grim obedience and eventually despair. (107)

Sadly, I think Brueggemman is right that we have forgotten how to offer laments to God. Without lament, we have little ability to interact honestly with God when we face suffering and injustice. My Companions are in Darkness is an attempt to relearn this vital expression of prayer.

My Companions are in Darkness Cover

Along with the daily readings and reflections, My Companions are in Darkness also contains brief essays that explore the necessary role of lament in our covenant relationship with God as well as explain the method of devotional reading I propose and how it differs from other important ways of reading the Bible. An appendix at the end of the guide describes some of the textual, cultural, and historical details of the psalm, while maintaining a devotional posture toward the Scripture.

My Companions are in Darkness is available at Amazon.com for $1.99 on the Kindle format, or $5.99 in paperback. A free preview is available on the Amazon product page. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still purchase and read the guide electronically by downloading the free reader app that works on smart phones, tablets, PC’s, and Macs.

My first self-published devotional, Delivered from All My Fears: Devotional Readings on Psalm 34 is also available for purchase in Kindle or paperback at Amazon.com. Feel free to also visit and “Like” my author page at Amazon.

Hard-Won Thanks: “Delivered from All My Fears” Excerpt

The following is the first essay from my new eBook on the Kindle format, Delivered from All My Fears: Devotional Readings on Psalm 34.

Hard-Won Thanks

Delivered from All My Fears CoverThe stories, prayers, and poetry in the Bible overflow with the theme of salvation. God lifts people out of danger and oppression and transports them to safety and freedom. God brings people home from exile. God forgives sin and sets people on a new path. We love these stories because we long to see salvation brought into more areas of our lives and our world. We have also experienced similar deliverance and can relate to the need to express gratitude to God. While the Bible describes salvation in exceptionally beautiful terms and we know its sweetness, we cannot neglect the dark side of salvation, the fact that there is some evil or injustice from which we need to be saved. In the Bible, the thanks to God for salvation never comes easy—it is hard-won, emerging from a place where defeat and death seemed assured.

This little guide will help you prayerfully read through Psalm 34 in twenty-two days. The people of Israel and the Church have used the Book of Psalms as their prayer guide and hymnal throughout history. The Psalms have much to teach us about prayer if we simply slowed down and allowed their poetry to usher us into a world that deals directly with the joys and sorrows of life as well as the God who is immediately available.

There are psalms that praise God when life is good and ordered (e.g., Psalm 1). Then there are psalms—laments—that cry out to God when things go wrong (e.g., Psalm 88). There are also psalms that thank God for deliverance from evil or harm. These thanksgiving psalms do not deny the tragedies, losses, and disappointments of life. They follow lament, but only after the speaker has been rescued. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann calls these Psalms of thanksgiving or testimony, “Psalms of new orientation.”[1] I like the term “new orientation” because deliverance does not necessarily return the world to what it once was—the loss and pain still happened. Instead, God reaches into the pain and establishes something original, creating an altogether new order in which that pain is redeemed, not eliminated. Psalm 34 is one of those psalms of new orientation. It is an incredibly powerful and beautiful psalm born out of an experience of deep terror and magnificent rescue. Yahweh serves as the hero and delivers the psalmist from fear and trouble. Psalm 34 does not deny the reality of terror. Rather, it vividly recalls the fear the writer felt and praises a God who rescues people.

As you read and pray, bring your whole life forward. Bring your memories and plans, your doubts and certainties, your fears and hopes, your losses and victories, your questions and conclusions. Like the writer of Psalm 34, place them before God with honesty. If you have been rescued from trouble, let thanksgiving flow. If you long for the ability to thank God again you could prayerfully allow Psalm 34 to shape your desires, or perhaps it would be more helpful to spend time with a psalm of lament. The Psalms invite us to be real before God. So come, pray with God’s people, giving praise to the God who saves us from fear and trouble.


[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function,” in The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 13ff.