When I read Scripture, sometimes I just don’t understand. My mind might be a thousand miles away. I may be distracted by a concern, something I watched on TV the night before, a sporting event, a song I can’t get out of my head, or a multitude of other thoughts, racing through my mind. Reading a Scripture passage once doesn’t allow me to understand too deeply.
I want the Psalms to form me and my faith, but I find that even after reading through the Psalm, I might not have any idea what it means. Sometimes I have “monkey mind” and my thoughts jump from one thing to the next, taking my focus and attention away from scripture.
Monks would learn psalms by heart through the Daily Office. The monks would gather every three hours, beginning at midnight to recite the psalms. Yes, even at 3 am, the monks would get up, gather, and recite the psalms. After years of this practice, the Psalms were part of their lives. Through this practice, the Psalms formed them.
I do not practice the Daily Office and I do not have a group of monks with which I gather. Instead, each day during the week I spend time reading and reflecting on a specific psalm. Through this practice, I hope the Psalms form me.
When I started reading Psalm 50, my thoughts were focused on verse 10, “I own the cattle on a thousand hills” because I have heard this verse reference throughout my life. As I continued to reflect I started getting a different sense of what God was saying through the psalmist.
God Doesn’t Want Sacrifices
The beginning of the Psalm looks at the holiness and power of God. God is ready to speak. He is not silent. He has charges against Israel as he gathers all humanity together.
His charges against humanity doesn’t have to do with sacrifices that are being offered. God doesn’t need sacrifices. He owns all the cattle. If he were hungry or thirsty, he wouldn’t even mention it. The sacrifices aren’t for God’s benefit, so they aren’t the issue.
What Does God Want?
If God doesn’t want sacrifice, what does he want? Verse 14 says that God wants our thankfulness and faithfulness. If thankfulness and faithfulness are our defining qualities, then when we call on him, he will rescue us, and we will give him glory.
God wonders why the wicked even bother to recite His decrees and pretend to obey. What’s the point in that? We can’t “pull the wool” over God’s eyes. He sees all and he knows. He knows the wicked approve of thieves, refuse His discipline, and slander others. What’s the point of pretending otherwise?
He knows of their duplicity, but has remained silent. His silence doesn’t indicate apathy. God care. Now, he says, he is coming and listing all his charges against them. An opportunity to repent is before them. If they repent, they will find life. If they choose not to repent, they will see the power of God up close and personal.
Thankful and Faithful
So, what does God want? Two times the psalm points to thankfulness and faithfulness (verse 14 and 23). When we give thanks to God it brings God honor. When we faithfully follow God, keeping to his path, we discover his salvation.
Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say is Thank You that will suffice.” What other prayer do we really have? Yet, it is easy to pray “thank you.” Living faithfully before God reveals the depth of our gratitude. The wicked play games of duplicity. The grateful live lives of faithfulness.