Friday: Psalms 103-104 & James 1.26-27

From Mark Booker

Psalm 103: We bless the LORD for all his benefits to us. This central dynamic in the life of faith is showcased in this psalm. The psalm begins and ends with an exhortation to "bless the LORD." Notice the verbs in the opening verses (vv1-5): forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies. How good God is to his people! His character of compassion and mercy that leads to forgiveness is the subject of the next section (vv6-14). These verses are among some of the most encouraging in the psalms. "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (v12). In the next section (vv15-19), our transience is contrasted with his permanence. Though we come and go, this God and his steadfast love are "from everlasting to everlasting" (v17). Finally (vv20-22), having seen his great benefits and love, we and all God's works are called to bless him. Have we blessed him today? Have we reflected on his great love toward us? Have we savored his forgiveness of our sins?

Psalm 104: The world is not a place of scarcity that requires anxiety-ridden effort to ensure we survive. The perspective of the psalms, and especially Psalm 104, is that the created world is overflowing with resources and abundance, the gift of God. Creation and its fruitful yield is a gift (that still requires human labor, v23; this was a part of God's original intent for humankind, see Genesis 2) that leads to praise and rejoicing. Is this how we see the world? Do we work against the backdrop of God's creation, of God's gift and provision, or do we go about our labor as if it all depends upon us? 

James 1.26-27: According to these two verses, true religion, true pursuit of God and life in God, entails three things: controlling the tongue (v26), visiting orphans and widows in their distress (v27) and keeping oneself unstained from the world (v27). These two verses come immediately after James has exhorted us to be doers of the word (vv22-25) so this is a big part of what that means.

You can hear the echoes of Deuteronomy here: the God we serves "executes justice for the fatherless and the widow" (Dt 10.18) and calls us to "love the sojourner" (Dt 10.19); we are to be distinct as a people holy to the Lord (Dt 7.6) by keeping all his commandments and statutes (Dt 10.13). This is James 1.27 in different form. 

This should raise questions for us with which we can examine ourselves. Is our pursuit of God marked by these things? By care for the marginalized? By taming the tongue? By holiness or being unstained from the world? How can we grow, even today, in these ways of pure and undefiled religion?