Sometimes we all need reminders of how good we actually have it. Sure, we can get pulled into endlessly comparing ourselves to others who have achieved more. And, of course, we do not want to brush aside injustices and oppression as meaningless. Yet, even in a broken and sinful world, there are moments of goodness that are always present with us. Sometimes we simply forget that and lose focus on the ways in which the goodness of God constantly shows up in our lives. It is too easy to sink into dwelling upon what I don’t have and what I haven’t achieved. It is too easy to dwell upon all that is wrong in my life and all that is wrong in our world. It becomes too easy for the goodness to get lost in the shadows.
This is where the faith practice of celebrating comes in. It is a practice that helps orient our lives in harmony with the goodness of God which is always around us. Look at the way king David writes about this in Psalm 103.
Psalm 103:1–22 (NIV)
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.
This psalm was written by David. It would be good to recall some of the history surrounding David’s life. We might automatically think of David by the heroic accomplishments of his life that we read about in the Bible. David is the one who killed the giant Goliath. David was anointed king over all Israel. David became the model and example of what Israel expected of the prophesied coming Messiah. Of course David is going to celebrate all the goodness that God has showered upon his life.
We should not forget what else the Bible tells us about David. David is the youngest son in the family of his father, Jesse. David was left behind to take care of the menial chores of tending to the family sheep while all his brothers went off to join the other men of Israel in service to Saul. I wonder what other menial bottom-of-the-heap tasks were relegated to David as a child. I wonder what is formative growing up years were like being the youngest and the last for everything. I mean, even the prophet Samuel who spoke directly to God considered all the older brothers for anointing as the next king, except the God intervened and told Samuel to select David—the most insignificant of the group.
We should not forget all the years that David spent on the run as Saul hunted him down attempting to kill him. David was forced to spend months on end living in caves out in the wilderness. David was forced to flee from his own people and live as a foreigner among the Philistines for a time. Yes, the same Philistines from the region of Gath. David was not at all welcomed there either because this is the guy who had previously killed their warrior champion Goliath. The only way David could spare his own life was by pretending to be insane so that the Philistines would leave him alone. David was not welcomed anywhere by anyone.
We should not forget that even when David became king of Israel, he let his power and appetite get the better of him to the point of plotting and committing the murder of Uriah so that David could take Bathsheba for himself as his wife, and he was called out for it by the prophet Nathan.
David chooses to write poems that focus his attention on the persistent nature of God’s goodness
Let’s not forget how easy it is on our own lives for the lingering memories of our failures and hardships to so quickly overshadow all that is good. Even with all that we have been given and all that we have achieved, we are people who so easily cast our focus on what we have failed to accomplish and what we have not achieved. We lose sight of the goodness. I cannot imagine for one moment that David should be any different than us in this regard. He was just as human as we are. I imagine that it is possible David writes these words of Psalm 103 as a response to God which naturally overflows from the goodness of God we acknowledges as a blessing in his life. But I can also image just as much that David writes these words in Psalm 103 as an intentional faith practice of celebration. David chooses to write poems that focus his attention away from all that he has failed, away from all that has been hardship. David chooses to write poems that focus his attention on the persistent nature of God’s goodness that has never failed.
verses 1-2 — personal call to celebrate the goodness of God
three times in the opening verses David says he will intentionally choose praise
Walk with me though the structure of this psalm to see the way this theme of celebrating God’s goodness develops. Verses 1-2 are a personal call to celebrate the goodness of God. Three times in those opening verses David says he will intentionally choose praise. The Hebrew word is barak which can mean either praise or bless. This is why other English translations of Psalm 103 write the opening verses as “Bless the LORD, O my soul.” The word barak can mean either. One other Hebrew word in these opening verses is important. The Hebrew word negesh can mean either soul or life. David opens this psalm with a declaration that his life will praise the LORD; he is choosing to celebrate the goodness of God.
verses 3-5 — the personal benefits of God’s goodness
the LORD forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and renews
Verses 3-5 move on to explain what these benefits of God’s goodness look like personally in his own life. Pay attention to the verbs in those verses which call out the actions of God. The LORD forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and renews. It is God who does these things. David chooses a faith practice of celebrating God’s goodness so that he never forgets these things such as forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and renewal all come from God. David does not bring these things about himself in his own life. Neither do they come from anywhere other than God. He names what that goodness looks like in his own life.
verses 6-10 — the goodness of God to his people everywhere
rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and used Moses to bring people through the wilderness
Verses 6-10 expand the goodness of God beyond David’s own life and call out the ways God has been good to his people everywhere all throughout history. David draws attention to Israel’s history as part of his own people. It is God who rescued David’s people from slavery in Egypt. It is God who led them through his servant Moses in the wilderness. Just as David has experienced God’s forgiveness and goodness, so all of God’s people have experienced his forgiveness and goodness.
verses 11-12 — (middle) main theme of the psalm
the reason why God is good | reason why we receive God’s goodness
Verses 11-12 are the hinge. I often point out how biblical writing is structured so that the main point of a passage lands right in the middle. Psalm 103 has 22 verses, which means it divides in half with 11 verses, and then 11 more verses. Those two verses right in the middle—verses 11-12—are the theme of the entire psalm.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
We could look at these verses as the explanation David gives for why God is good and the reason why we have received and benefited from the goodness of God. Why is God so good? It is because his love is greater than anything we can ever imagine. Why is God so good to us? It is because we have received from God a forgiveness that completely covers over the guilt of any and every sin we ever commit, every failure we have ever experienced. This is source of God’s goodness, and it is the foundation of David’s choosing to celebrate, praise, and bless as a faith practice in his life.
verses 13-19 — faithfulness of God’s goodness
as long as we look for the goodness of God, we will find it
Verses 13-19 return to an explanation of what God’s goodness looks like—as the compassion of a parent for a child. But this time instead of pointing backward to call attention to the ways God has been good to his people in the past, David points forward to the enduring faithfulness of God’s goodness in the future. He speaks of God remaining faithful to his love for generations to come, that his throne is established forever. These words instill a confidence that God’s love cannot be overpowered or taken. David knows he must maintain a faith practice of celebration so that his attention may always be refocused on the goodness of God which is evident in his world. And David does so with absolute confidence that these glimpses and revelations of God’s goodness will continue. David is confident that as long as he looks for the goodness of God, he will find it.
verses 20-22 — corporate call to celebrate the goodness of God
invitation for all people everywhere to join the celebration of praising God by acknowledging and naming his goodness
And then verses 20-22 close the psalm by returning to the call for celebration. But this time it is not just a personal explanation that David is speaking of himself. It is an invitation for all people everywhere to join the celebration of praising God by acknowledging and naming his goodness. This is a faith practice that is meant for all of us.
faith practice of celebration calls specific and particular attention to some kind of goodness highlights that there is something to name and share as being good
Let’s close by considering just a bit of what celebration looks like as a faith practice that we do in our lives today. When I say the word celebration or when we think about celebrating, we may tend to think of things like a party. That’s not a bad place for us to begin. Often our celebrations center on certain events. We celebrate a birthday by having a birthday party. We celebrate a graduation by having an open house gathering with friends and family. We celebrate a wedding by having a reception party with all the wedding guests. In each of these examples of celebration, we call particular attention to some kind of goodness that we want to focus our attention upon. At a birthday party we focus attention on the goodness of another year of life and all the friendships and relationships that continue to be blessed by that life. At a graduation open house we celebrate the accomplishments of completing a course of education, and focus attention on all the goodness which has come through that experience: friendships, extracurricular activities, academic achievements. At a wedding reception we focus upon the goodness of two people committing themselves to one another in covenant love. Celebration calls specific and particular attention to some kind of goodness. Celebration highlights that there is something to name and share as being good.
goodness is both personal and corporate
This is what we draw upon in a faith practice of celebration. It is a particular and intentional habit and pattern of naming and highlighting all the ways in which God has been and continues to be good. And just like David does in Psalm 103, it is both personal and corporate. Celebration names the ways that God has been good to me, and it names the ways that God has been good to others. As you consider the ways in which you can try out this faith practice in the week to come, let me encourage you to spend time naming as specifically as you can the ways in which you see the goodness of God in your life, in the lives of others, and in the world around you. Name it as specifically as you can. If you have yet to try suggestions of journaling your way through these faith practices, this one is a particularly good faith practice for writing some things down and putting your thoughts into words.
because God’s love is greater than we can ever possibly imagine, the abundance of his goodness is greater than we realize
In the week ahead, as you encounter and name all that God has expressed as goodness, let that goodness overflow. Share that goodness with others. Because God’s love is greater than we can ever possibly imagine, the abundance of his goodness is greater than we realize. It may seem like we live in a world in which goodness is scarce. But with God, we do not love in scarcity. We live in abundance. Share the abundant goodness of God this week by focusing on the abundant provision of his goodness into our lives.