It was the end of my last semester at Westminster, and I was sitting across the desk from Dr. Poythress, trying to complete my 1-credit Scripture Memorization elective. The brief session was winding down, and to conclude, he just needed to test me on Psalm 103. So I went for it:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…”
Stunned by the interruption, I took a second to get out of my robotic recitation mode, another second to think about the words that just came out of my mouth, and then began to take in the moment. What I had allowed to become a mere, thoughtless exercise, Dr. Poythress just made into a worship opportunity.
After collecting myself and spiritually sobering up, I replied with a smile of my own, “SO good.”
Our postmodern world prizes authenticity and tells us to define what is real by how we feel. Psalm 103 contains God’s very words, given to humanity in order that we might sing true reality into our own hearts, minds, and souls, independent of our fleeting feelings. In Psalm 103 God doesn’t just speak to us, but he speaks for us. He places his own words on the lips of his worshipers.
And not just any words! O what a song to sing to our souls!
YHWH, the holy I AM, has conferred upon his children countless and unforgettable benefits (v.2). He has granted us forgiveness and healing (v.3) by his own wounds. At the cost of his head being crowned with thorns, our heads are crowned with steadfast love and mercy (v.4). He is slow to anger (v.8), and because he was dealt with according to our sins and iniquities, we are not dealt with or repaid according to our transgressions (v.10). As the heavens declare the glory of God, so also the heights of heaven declare the love of God (v.11), and as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (v.12). He is a God of fatherly compassion (v.13), and his steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting (v.17). This is our God, the God of Psalm 103. Needless to say, Dr. Poythress was right to halt my recitation. We needed to be still and know that YHWH is God.
Despite Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” being the most overplayed worship song in all of evangelicalism today, Psalm 103 has meant a lot to me over the past 5 years. In 2010, I was blessed with two sovereign encounters with this beloved text. After my cousin, Bryan Lee, got engaged he asked me to sing a song called “Psalm 103” for his wedding ceremony. In the months that I prepared for the wedding song, Aaron Choi, my college pastor and small group leader, also decided that our small group would memorize and meditate upon the first 5 verses of this psalm together.
I not only credit these two godly men for introducing me to the riches of Psalm 103, but Bryan was the one who introduced me to John Piper and convinced me that TULIP was biblical, while Aaron has been a true big brother, theological conversation partner, and mentor to this aspiring pastor since college.
I tell you a little bit about both of them, not only because I love them and not only because God used them to impress Psalm 103 upon my heart, but because I want to ask you a favor.
One portion of Psalm 103 that puzzled me for quite some time was when the Psalmist says, “Bless the LORD…and forget not all his benefits…who heals all your diseases…” Assuming a modernist worldview regarding the human body and medicine, my immediate response to that was, “When, God, have you ever healed my disease?” I thought only people like Naaman could sing this (2Kgs 5). After time, though, I did realized that God actually healed every illness that I ever had.
But then I pondered, “What about fatal illnesses?”
My first impulse was to spiritualize this passage, so that healing merely referred to the ultimate disease of sin, but I think that’s a far too simplistic and flat reading of the psalm that insensitively ignores the real physical ails of the world. To spiritualize healing is to reject the LORD’s benefits in the present. So I began to think about how Jesus and those united with him could sing this song in a way that wasn’t completely other-worldly, and it occurred to me that healing was not necessarily past or even present tense. The Psalmist doesn’t praise God for past or present healing, but for being the one who heals, both already, and not yet. The time of healing is not specified. In fact, though Jesus’ healings came before the cross, his own healing came after. Jesus sang this song before his resurrection, and he surely sings it now.
In the past 10 months, not long after planting a healthy, vibrant, gospel-centered church in Millbrae, California, Aaron discovered that his precious 2-year old, Emily, had a stage 4, high-risk cancer called neuroblastoma. Similarly, Bryan, while faithfully serving his church, beginning an exciting new job at Google, and seeking to adopt a child, discovered, inadvertently, that he had a bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma. However, they and their families continue to bless the LORD with their souls. Psalm 103 is still real to them, even the portion about healing. While they have not forgotten all his benefits, the favor I wanted to ask of you is that you not forget them in your prayers.
Here at RM, we want to be about more than just encouraging Christians to read and think. We also want to encourage them to pray for things, both general and specific. RM is about more than race or other issues for the Christian thinker to reflect upon. Our vision is that this platform touches the ground by promoting community and prayer for real people in Christ’s global church. Will you join me in praying for Aaron, Emily, Bryan, and their families?
For more information about their stories:
Follow Bryan here as he faithfully blogs through his cancer experience.
Follow Emily here as her family keeps the Facebook world current on how their little princess is doing. (Warning: cuteness overload!)