Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joining the Choir

Is waving our arms absolutely necessary?
I make no claim to being world’s best listener.

When I advise someone to be patient, it’s most often because the thing they’re bothered about would not bother me in similar circumstances. So I consider that either they are worrying about something they have no control over (and therefore worrying pointlessly), or they are worrying about something over which they DO have control, but for reasons known only to themselves are unprepared to take the action required to deal with it.

Both types of unnecessary agitation are irritants to anyone of a pragmatic disposition.

Thus “be patient” from my lips often has the force of “please go away and flap your jaws elsewhere; I’m doing something more interesting”.

What does a choir have to do with patience? Give me a sec.

People in Genuine Distress

When people are genuinely distressed rather than just making noises to get attention, their anxiety and its impact on their lives is real to them whether or not you or I consider its cause significant. So we can be thankful the Lord is not like me in this and many other respects.

David tells us that where we might be inclined to tune out the cries of others, the Lord is characterized by a willingness to hear those who cry out:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”
(Psalm 40:1)
I will leave aside the marvelous image of the God of the universe, the creator and sustainer of all things, “inclining” to the voice of one tiny representative member of his creation. That is a truly astounding reality; one that it is all too easy to take for granted when we have been believers for decades. It should never be overlooked.

But I’m interested in the attitude of David here. And the choir, of course.

It’s coming, it’s coming ...

Waiting Patiently for the Lord

The word pair for which “waited patiently” is the most common translation is one of those neat little methods of reinforcement frequently found in Old Testament Hebrew; a trick much better described in a reply at the Paraclete Forum Archive than if I were to take a crack at it: 
“In Hebrew there are various linguistic techniques used for emphasis.

Term repetition is one of them. Some examples of this include ‘slave of slaves’ (Gen 9:25) to indicate the lowest of slaves; ‘ever more of ever mores’ (Isa 34:10) meaning forever; ‘gladness my joy’ (Ps 43:4) where two synonyms for ‘joy’ are repeated. Another similar technique there is a repetition of the same word with a change in the form of one of the words. For example, in Gen 2:17 the word ‘die’ is repeated in the form of ‘dying’ and is translated as ‘surely die.’ ”
In this instance, “waited” and “patiently” are the same word with a slight change in form. The closest I can come to this in my mother tongue is the almost painfully literal Aramaic Bible in Plain English, which reads:
“Hoping, I have hoped in Lord Jehovah ...”
What turns on the Hebrew? Nothing significant, other than to reinforce for us in case we would be inclined to gloss over it that David was entirely cast on the Lord, both in action and attitude.

Right, yes ... the choir. But first ...

The Alternative to Waiting Patiently

Where waiting patiently is concerned, I’m good at ... one of them. Sometimes. There have been far too many occasions when, like Saul, I got tired of waiting and took the initiative to act on my own behalf. Other times I’ve waited, but without David’s patience and confidence.

The alternative to waiting patiently is found in the fourth verse, where David says:
“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,
  who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!”
We can, if we wish, “turn to the proud” instead of the Lord. There will always be a source of self-sufficient, overconfident and marginally effective human-based solutions available whenever we come to the conclusion that Lord is taking too long to respond to our needs. Perhaps that source is the government, a lending institution, a secular counselor, an act of manipulation or the ingenuity of unsaved friends and family. Perhaps that source is our own rationalization process: I have seen plenty of young Christian men and women solve the problem of loneliness with a substandard choice of partner rather than wait for the Lord.

But the idea that we are better off solving our problems ourselves than waiting for the Lord’s answer is always a lie, and it always leads us astray.

Now of course one can make the case that that it possible for the Lord to provide help to believers through all kinds of human agencies, their own natural abilities and skills and those of others at one time or another, and it certainly seems that occasionally he does.

Patience and the “New Song”

But what would happen — silly notion, I know — if I waited patiently for the Lord instead of grabbing for the first available safety net? Is it possible that he would lean over in my direction and acknowledge my need?

David certainly seems to think so. He tells us the Lord has set his feet on a rock and has made his footsteps secure. Furthermore, rather than walking away from a problem solved through his own resources thinking, “All’s well that ends well”, David walked away with:
“… a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
This Is Where the Choir Comes In

This new song is available to all believers who are willing to wait and trust the Lord to act on their behalf, where others would simply go ahead and make a move in their own strength or wisdom. Over the course of human history that makes for one absolutely gigantic choir of the joyful redeemed, each with a different verse to contribute to the great, swelling chorus of those who really know God in a deep-down, intensely personal way.

Of course it’s not a literal melody, but “song” implies joy, and “new” suggests that David has learned from the experience of having to wait patiently some facet of God’s work or character of which he was previously ignorant. He is not singing an old, familiar tune, but new words to a new melody, and the song is in his mouth where it can be heard, not just in his heart to be personally enjoyed.

It is this new song and the new knowledge about the character and work of God implicit in it that causes “many [to] see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord”.

Paul speaks to the Corinthians of despairing of life itself in Asia and feeling “deadly peril” and the “sentence of death”. And yet even under this very intimidating threat he could speak of the comfort of God. Like David, he had a new song in his heart:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Learning How to Sing

Surely a God who could comfort Paul in extreme crisis (as he did David in his) is more than adequate to deal with the comparatively minor difficulties and worries that most of us undergo in life and in his service. But the “new song” is a tune we will never be able to sing until we learn to wait patiently for the Lord’s salvation when we feel inclined to panic.

Unless we are prepared to learn patience, we cannot grow, we cannot develop, we cannot come to know the Lord in a deeper way, and we cannot acquire new resources to share with those in need.

That choir I’ve been on about?

Whether we think we can hold a tune or not, it might be time to sign up.


  1. "God helps those who help themselves".

    Isn't this the common wisdom of today? Material below taken from Wiki concerning this phrase.

    The phrase is often quoted to emphasize the importance of taking initiative.[citation needed] There is also a relationship to the Parable of the Faithful Servant, and the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which has a similar eschatological theme: be prepared for the day of reckoning.

    The beliefs of Americans regarding this phrase and the Bible has been studied by Christian demographer and pollster George Barna of The Barna Group. To the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves"; 53% of Americans agree strongly, 22% agree somewhat, 7% disagree somewhat, 14% disagree strongly, and 5% stated they don't know. Of "born-again" Christians 68% agreed, and 81% of non "born-again" Christians agreed with the statement.[11] In a February 2000 poll, 53% strongly agreed and 22% agreed somewhat that the Bible teaches the phrase. Of the 14 questions asked, this was the least biblical response, according to Barna.[12] A poll in the late 1990s showed the majority (81%) believe the concept is taught by the Bible,[13] another stating 82%.[14]

    Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses.[15][16] Seventy-five percent of American teenagers said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.[17]

    Barna critiques this as evidence of Americans' unfamiliarity with the Bible and believes that the statement actually conflicts with the doctrine of Grace in Christianity. It "suggests a spiritual self-reliance inconsistent with Christianity" according to David Kinnaman, vice president of the Barna Research Group.[18] Christian minister Erwin Lutzer argues there is some support for this saying in the Bible (2 Thessalonians 3:10, James 4:8), however much more often God helps those who cannot help themselves, which is what grace is about (the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Ephesians 2:4–5, Romans 4:4–5).[19] The statement is often criticised as espousing Semi-Pelagian model of salvation, which most Christians denounce as heresy.[20][21]

    1. "Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses."

      That's scary but not really surprising when we think about it. It is certainly the spirit of the age, isn't it?