Take a look, if you will, at Psalm 107. There are some things about this psalm that intrigue me, and suggest a project.
First of all, between the opening and the closer, it’s got stanzas, and the stanzas have a structure, so people could fill in the blanks and contribute their own stanzas:
Some …..(your experience here—your stupidity, your sin, your business project, your going off to college, your kidnapping…)…..
They (or, For they) …..(what happened to you as a result, or why it happened, here)…..
(Optional: add a line or two of further description here.)
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
And he delivered them from their distress. (No blanks to fill in here; it’s the same climax of every stanza!)
He ......(how God delivered you here)…..
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
And his wonderful deeds for men, (this isn’t optional, either)
For He (or Let them (cont.))…..(pick one and get a wee bit jubilant and poetic here)…
This first line just cracks me up, when I imagine writing my own stanza, and you writing your personal stanzas, to think of starting off the narration by referring to ourselves as “Some…”: Some had to leave their home and move to start a job…. Or, Some searched through first semester to find friends and made some bad choices… Or, Some had parents who got divorced… In Psalm 107, some of the Somes recount sinful rebellion. But some don’t. Some recount good beginnings or hard developments that have nothing to do with sin. It’s not a bad thing to go to the sea in ships.
How would the first line of your stanza read? Already I am imagining a group psalm, a grand psalm. Could your small group write one? Could this website? “The Psalm of Commongroundsonline--!"
Another point—the main one. Judging from the psalm’s closer, there’s wisdom to be had from taking heed to this psalm. If so, this has got to be key: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them…” An old and wise retired pastor once said to me: “The Lord hears and answers the cry of desperation.” I took his words to heart; he was serious. And I did cry out to the Lord in that trouble. And he did deliver me from my distress.
Notice this: the psalm positively denies that only the sin-free can cry to Him for deliverance. It contains no berating, even, for the sinner. Sinner and sincere alike, the climactic line is the same: Then they cried out to the LORD…and He delivered… Add to this, that what the closer says we are to consider if we are wise is “the great love of the Lord.” We are to behold the deep covenant mercy of the heavenly Father, the gospel itself: no sin of yours or mine ever disqualifies us from his responding to our crying out to Him in our trouble. Picture, as you think about this, how the Father greets the returning prodigal son in Jesus’ story.
And don’t think you are entitled to just one of these deliverances, when you first become a Christian, and after that you have to perform. When the Galatians’ straying practices suggest that they have adopted this lie, the apostle Paul gets positively crass in his angry rebuke. For to think this way is to castrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to distort the character of the Lord by misrepresenting his merciful love. And, says Psalm 107, that ain’t real smart.
There’s a fifth stanza in Psalm 107, which artistically diverges a bit from the template. The “Some” of the common person is replaced with the sovereign “He.” And He, the Lord, engages in one of his signature moves: reversals. Rivers to desert, parched ground to flowing springs, contempt on nobles, needy lifted out of affliction. Some of the things that happen in life fall not into the category of our behavior and its consequences, our cry and the Lord’s response. Some of the stuff God starts. In the heat of divine reversals in process, the upright may not be suffering-free, but they have the promise of his presence, his hearing their cry, and rejoicing eventually as their eyes see the triumph of righteousness. Nothing falls outside of His action to bring about the ultimate triumph of righteousness.
So what do you think? Could you compose a stanza of Psalm 107? Mary the soon-to-be mother of Jesus the Messiah did so on the spot: her psalm is thick with intertextual echo (cool words new to my vocabulary—had to use them!). If you are willing, share your stanza with others by entering it as a comment to this post. Then as others’ stanzas are posted, offer them with yours in worship to God. Start with the opener, end with the closer, and offer your stanza and the others’ in between.
And in this process of the redeemed of the Lord giving thanks, be wise and heed these things, and consider the great love of the Lord.