Bless the Lord, O My Soul

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!”. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 106:48)

These verses bookend a group of psalms which focus on praising God. From the personal to the cosmic, there’s no shortage of reasons to exalt him. These psalms help us in particular to reflect on the grace God gives us, the beauty of his creation, and his past record of faithfulness.

His grace

Busyness often blinds me to all God’s blessings in my life. I seldom slow down long enough to reflect and praise God for all he has given me. But this kind of praise bursts out of David with joy. He teaches his soul to praise by recounting the blessings of God.

“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.”
(Psalm 103:2–6)

First and foremost, God forgives all my iniquities. I can sing this with David because of the certainty I have in Jesus. Oh, how this should make me sing! I think of this line in one of my favourite hymns: “E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply; Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.”

Beyond salvation—that undeserved gift!—God has not let up in his blessings. His steadfast love and mercy has never left me. He gives healing for the wounds of my soul, wisdom when I’m clueless, hope when I’m downcast. There’s nothing I need that he hasn’t promised to provide.

Simply placing me in this country and this family has brought so many blessings that I take for granted. I’ve lived every single day of my life without the fear of war. I’ve never missed a meal because I couldn’t afford food. I’ve never wondered where I’ll sleep tonight.

Then there’s the balms of friendship. God has shown his abundant kindness to me in every day spent pouring my heart out to a dear friend, or simply eating Thai food while watching a favourite show. When I pay attention, I can see enough blessings in my own life to keep me singing for eternity.

His creation

But God’s blessings are bigger than just my own life. He is not my personal genie who tries his best to give me good things in the midst of a doomed world. No, he is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The whole universe is the work of his hands, spreading out for billions of lightyears beyond our little planet. He sustains all the little details of life on earth that we take for granted.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul!
    O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
    covering yourself with light as with a garment,
    stretching out the heavens like a tent…

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
    they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
    they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
    the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.”
(Psalm 104:1–2, 10–13)

Psalm 104 celebrates God’s creation, but not as something to worship itself. He describes the manifold beauty of the world to show God’s power and love in sustaining it.

Genesis 1–2 gives us a poetic description of how God created the earth. He started by setting the foundations, making form and order out of nothing. He made light and darkness, land and water. Then he filled all the earth with living creatures of all different kinds—such rich diversity of life that we discover new species every day.

While humans steward God’s world through research and conservation, we aren’t the ones holding creation together. God gives us our food each day, and also provides for all the creatures. He knows where the streams need to run to water the wild donkeys. He cares for the birds  and the beasts.

So when I look out upon a beautiful mountain scene, pat a dog, or watch a nature documentary and catch a glimpse of the wonder of creation, my heart praises God. It is all from his infinitely creative and generous hand.

His past deeds

Surely one of the major reasons we should praise God is for his mercy towards undeserving people—like us. Time and time again God’s people have disobeyed and rejected God, and yet he continually showed them mercy.

“Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
    so that those who hated them ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
    and they were brought into subjection under their power.
Many times he delivered them,
    but they were rebellious in their purposes
    and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
    when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
    and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”
(Psalm 106:40–45)

This whole psalm, along with a large chunk of Psalm 105, recounts the deeds of God towards his people in the Old Testament. It essentially summarises the narrative of Israel from Egypt to the promised land. He delivered them through the Red Sea, protected them in the wilderness, and brought them into the promised land. But they disobeyed him.

Even though God did punish his people at times for their unfaithfulness, the enduring image is the mercy of God. He heard the cry of his people and had pity on them. The story of redemption through the whole Bible shows God’s faithfulness, culminating in Jesus coming to die for our sins.

As we read the Bible, we should praise God for his love and grace toward humanity. We can also rejoice in his past deeds in our own lives. When I look back at my life I can trace his hand working in so many ways. Through all of my sin and failures, God has stayed faithful. He redeemed me, adopting me as his own child, even while I was stubborn and selfish.

It’s common throughout Scripture for people to have hope in the future because of God’s past faithfulness. This God who has brought us safe thus far will not leave us even in death.

So even as I praise God now for his grace, for his creation, and for his eternal faithfulness, I can also stand assured that I will never experience a day devoid of God’s overflowing blessing. His love is everlasting.

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