Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. (Psa 4:7 KJV) Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Phi 4:11 KJV)
Rejoicing in times of harvest and when the treasures and vaults are filled seems natural and easy. In today’s reading from Psalm 4 a more complex relation is touched on and the various translations try to come to grips with this tension. On the one side is the gladness in the heart of the psalmist and on the other side is the increase of corn and wine of “others” – family, friends or rivals. Whereas the KJV uses this as a plain comparison, Luther puts it in stark contrast: I rejoice even though they have plenty. This reminds of the conflict and temptation to doubt God’s goodness and faithfulness when the godless prosper and flourish as is described in Psalms 37 and 73 for instance.
In any case the psalmist makes it clear that it is God, who puts gladness in my heart. He makes me content, joyful and at peace. The wonderful thing is that God does this often even in the most desperate situations. Even when the faithful live in stressful times as Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph in the Egyptian slavery and prison, Jacob in exile and hard done by his father-in-law, St. Paul’s in the dungeon of Philippi or the African treasurer in lonely stretches of desert and parched lands – it’s by God’s grace and mercy that they can rejoice and go their way joyfully and with gratitude in their hearts. The gifted songwriter Paul Gerhard puts it into the memorable words: “Gibt schöne rote Wangen oft bei geringem Mahl und die da sind gefangen, die führt er aus der Qual!“ (He gives a delightful complection even with poor meals and the prisoners are relieved from their suffering)
St.Paul summarizes the result of this wonderful doing of our living God with the word “contentment”. This is God’s gift and he creates this in good and in bad times, in times of riches and poverty, in captivity and liberty – always and everywhere he lets all things serve to our best (Rom.8:31ff). Here he phrases it: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phi 4:12-13 KJV)
It’s not what we have or don’t have. It’s not about what we have done or still can do. It’s not about our situation past or present, but rather all about Christ Jesus in and with us all the days of our life. Being in him and belonging to him and his life and destination frees us from the contextualities and eventualities of this time and age – lifts us beyond these strictures and human boundaries even as we are still very much bound up in this body and time. He let’s me dwell in safety and at peace. Amen.
We pray with the Psalmist: Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety. (Psa 4:1-8 KJV)
- If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy; For when I pray, before me My foes, confounded, fly. If Christ, my Head and Master, Befriend me from above, What foe or what disaster Can drive me from His love?
- This I believe, yea, rather, Of this I make my boast, That God is my dear Father, The Friend who loves me most, And that, whate’er betide me, My Saviour is at hand Through stormy seas to guide me And bring me safe to land.
- I build on this foundation, That Jesus and His blood Alone are my salvation, The true, eternal good. Without Him all that pleases Is valueless on earth; The gifts I owe to Jesus Alone my love are worth.
- My Jesus is my Splendour, My Sun, my Light, alone; Were He not my Defender Before God’s awe-full throne, I never should find favour And mercy in His sight, But be destroyed forever As darkness by the light.
- He cancelled my offenses, Delivered me from death; He is the Lord who cleanses My soul from sin through faith. In Him I can be cheerful, Bold, and undaunted aye; In Him I am not fearful Of God’s great Judgment Day.
- Naught, naught, can now condemn me Nor set my hope aside; Now hell no more can claim me, Its fury I deride. No sentence e’er reproves me, No ill destroys my peace; For Christ, my Saviour, loves me And shields me with His grace.
- His Spirit in me dwelleth, And o’er my mind He reigns. All sorrow He dispelleth And soothes away all pains. He crowns His work with blessing And helpeth me to cry, “My Father!” without ceasing, To Him who dwells on high.
- And when my soul is lying Weak, trembling, and opprest, He pleads with groans and sighing That cannot be exprest; But God’s quick eye discerns them, Although they give no sound, And into language turns them E’en in the heart’s deep ground.
- To mine His Spirit speaketh Sweet word of holy cheer, How God to him that seeketh For rest is always near And how He hath erected A city fair and new, Where what our faith expected We evermore shall view.
- In yonder home doth flourish My heritage, my lot; Though here I die and perish, My heaven shall fail me not. Though care my life oft saddens And causeth tears to flow, The light of Jesus gladdens And sweetens every woe.
- Who clings with resolution To Him whom Satan hates Must look for persecution; For him the burden waits Of mockery, shame, and losses, Heaped on his blameless head; A thousand plagues and crosses Will be his daily bread.
- From me this is not hidden, Yet I am not afraid; I leave my cares, as bidden, To whom my vows were paid. Though life and limb it cost me And everything I won, Unshaken shall I trust Thee And cleave to Thee alone.
- Though earth be rent asunder, Thou’rt mine eternally; Not fire nor sword nor thunder Shall sever me from Thee; Not hunger, thirst, nor danger, Not pain nor poverty Nor mighty princes’ anger Shall ever hinder me.
- No angel and no gladness, No throne, no pomp, no show, No love, no hate, no sadness, No pain, no depth of woe, No scheme of man’s contrivance, However small or great, Shall draw me from Thy guidance Nor from Thee separate.
- My heart for joy is springing And can no more be sad, ‘Tis full of mirth and singing, Sees naught but sunshine glad. The Sun that cheers my spirit Is Jesus Christ, my King; That which I shall inherit Makes me rejoice and sing.
Hymn #528 The Lutheran Hymnal Rom. 8:31-39 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676 Translated by Richard Massie, 1857: Ist Gott für mich, so trete gleich alles hinter…