The Big Picture
Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul!O Lord my God, You are very great;You are clothed with splendor and majesty, [You are the One] who covers Yourself with light as with a garment,Who stretches out the heavens like a tent curtain, Who lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters [above the firmament],Who makes the clouds His chariot,Who walks on the wings of the wind, Who makes winds His messengers,Flames of fire His ministers. He established the earth on its foundations,So that it will not be moved forever and ever. You covered it with the deep as with a garment;The waters were standing above the mountains. At Your rebuke they fled;At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose, the valleys sank downTo the place which You established for them. You set a boundary [for the waters] that they may not cross over,So that they will not return to cover the earth. You send springs into the valleys;Their waters flow among the mountains. They give drink to every beast of the field;The wild donkeys quench their thirst there. Beside them the birds of the heavens have their nests;They lift up their voices and sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works. He causes grass to grow for the cattle,And all that the earth produces for cultivation by man,So that he may bring food from the earth— And wine which makes the heart of man glad,So that he may make his face glisten with oil,And bread to sustain and strengthen man’s heart. The trees of the Lord drink their fill,The cedars of Lebanon which He has planted, Where the birds make their nests;As for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high mountains are for the wild goats;The rocks are a refuge for the shephanim. He made the moon for the seasons;The sun knows the [exact] place of its setting. You [O Lord] make darkness and it becomes night,In which prowls about every wild beast of the forest. The young lions roar after their preyAnd seek their food from God. When the sun arises, they withdrawAnd lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his workAnd remains at his labor until evening. O Lord, how many and varied are Your works!In wisdom You have made them all;The earth is full of Your riches and Your creatures. There is the sea, great and broad,In which are swarms without number,Creatures both small and great. There the ships [of the sea] sail,And Leviathan [the sea monster], which You have formed to play there. They all wait for YouTo give them their food in its appointed season. You give it to them, they gather it up;You open Your hand, they are filled and satisfied with good [things]. You hide Your face, they are dismayed;You take away their breath, they dieAnd return to their dust. You send out Your Spirit, they are created;You renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever;May the Lord rejoice and be glad in His works— He looks at the earth, and it trembles;He touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. May my meditation be sweet and pleasing to Him;As for me, I will rejoice and be glad in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth,And let the wicked be no more.Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul.Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah!)
Do you take the creation for granted? The splendor of a sunrise, the haunting glow of a new moon suspended without ropes or supports against a dark sky, dew glistening on a grass blade, a butterfly darting past morning glories- these awesome scenes of visual delight can be missed by the dulling of our hearts in the midst of life’s humdrum or pain.
But imagine you could go back to the dawn of creation and became the first man or woman. Picture yourself with a heart unfettered by sin or disguise in Eden’s paradise; endowed with the skill of a master artist and wordsmith so that through drawing and verbal expression you could adroitly describe exactly the perfect and awesome grandeur laid out before you.
That’s the spirit in Psalm 104: the breathless freshness of wonder in viewing God’s handiwork. There are no words of response more appropriate than these: “Praise the Lord, O my soul”(verse 1).
Psalm 104 asks us about our focus. Where are we looking? Perhaps today isn’t a day you feel like praising God. It could be that our lives seem more like the earth before creation-empty and dark. Maybe we’ve suffered experiences that have hammered us, hurricanes of adversity that have blown through our hearts, toppling every power line and tree, ripping off our protection of roof, blowing out our windows, knocking down our walls and lifting us off our foundations. Even after the storm has passed, the dark night has come with the stars hidden, the electrical power gone, as though the very lights of heaven have been puffed out and you’re left in total darkness.
The psalmist in Psalm 104, takes our hand and leads us back in time when all was pure and fresh. Drawing open the shutters of heaven, he gives us a look in on God at His workbench as He is designing and building His master work of earth and sky. If we could visit this place, we would become still and hushed, reverent again- our minds removed from the terrible storm that brought such devastation. Now we are outside our own pain-filled world of sorrow and loss, seeing with wonder the activity of God, recognizing and acknowledging that the One who creates also desires to make things beautiful and bright for us too. We must ask ourselves, “If God does such wonders in hanging universes and worlds in place, will He not also perform His creative works in living flesh like ours? Maybe it’s time to take a step back from our despondency and get a new perspective by joining an anthem in praise to God for His creation. Can we offer up our hearts to God by saying with the psalmist, “Praise the Lord, O my soul”?
Perhaps it’s time to turn our focus heavenward and choose to direct our inward self of emotions, intellect, and will to consciously praise Him. Maybe we should elect to not wallow in despair or complain against His ways or demean His providence toward us. Instead, let us surrender and say, “O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”
First of all the psalmist paints a tapestry of the vast expanses of creation, earth, sky, and sea and then moves quickly downward as he fills the painting with waters, mountains, and valleys. We should pause here and remember that in the same way God has fashioned our own existence, that just as He has boundaries for the waters, so also nothing in our lives can flow beyond the limits He has ordained.
From here, the psalmist, using a finer brush, fills in the details of creation’s morning. Even before any human is introduced, God was already thinking of us and providing resources for us: gladdened hearts(verse 1), shining faces(verse 2), a sustained heart(verse 3), and a heart that makes it through the long haul(verse 15).
Rapidly the psalmist completes the additional details of creation on the canvas(verses 19-22) which are consistent with the sequence of the Genesis story of creation’s order with the creation of humans coming last(verse 23). It is incredibly fascinating that man is introduced to the scene working rather than playing or resting. The psalm seems to sum up the whole of life as a day- we only do our work until evening, and then comes the night when no man can work(John 9:4). When we stay busy rather than being idle, the lions of doubt and depression steal away, lie down and sleep(verses 22-23.)
Having God’s creation now completed, the psalmist now draws our attention to the vastness of the sea where “ships go to and fro.” This is a fitting metaphor of life itself as we travel from one shore to another across unknown territory filled with the unpredictables, the suddenness of storms, and unknown dangers that lurk(verse 26- the leviathan who with a flick of its tail that can suddenly make our smooth sailing nightmares of shattered hopes and broken relationships.
But we are never sent out on our voyage without the presence of God. He remains involved in our lives through their rhythms of hunger and sustenance, dread and fulfillment, death and life.
Our remedy then is to stand back and look at the big picture of God’s creation. It’s easy to be a critic of God’s work if we focus on the small picture of life- not the psalmist! Nor those who truly comprehend the awesomeness and magnitude of the great acts of God. There will come a day when all troubles will disappear along with those who practice evil. But we don’t have to wait until that day to give praise, adoration and awe to the Lord. It’s time now! Let it begin now and let it start with you and I.
Dr. John Thompson