It's not our music, but us performing His creative work
O Lord, what an amazing variety of all You have created! Wild and wonderful is this world You have made, while wisdom was there at Your side. This world is full of so many creatures, yet each belongs to You!
"I am the LORD, and I do not change... You have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to Me, and I will return to you," says the LORD... From Malachi 3:6-7 NLT
Today the Fresh Bread that comes to me is a verse from one of the psalms which is all about God’s wisdom, seen in the wonderful variety and beauty of His visible creation, with a completely different- sounding verse from Malachi‘s prophecy which urges us to have a change of heart.
How does this fit together?
Psalm 104 as a whole praises the rhythm and harmony of God's visible creation , and how He has fitted all the parts together — sky and earth, land and sea, birds and cattle, fish and sea creatures. All depend on God for life.
Yet there are also allusions to what man creates. While God is clothed in majesty and splendour, wrapped in light as with a garment, people are going to work, giving their cattle the grass that God grows; they are cultivating plants to produce bread and other food, making wine that "gladdens hearts", and pressing oil with its multiplicity of uses.
So the psalm paints a picture of partnership. The emphasis is on what God creates and nurtures — but man has much more than a walk-on part.
While there is a huge variety in creation, and in the activity which it sustains, we are reminded that it all starts with God. The psalm is clear that it is God who sends rain which creates the springs that make the streams of water for the animals. He creates light and darkness, regulates the change of the seasons, and presides over the light and the darkness, the predators and the protected. Hold that thought for a moment — this nudge to correct an overly man-centred and scientific view of creation.
And consider it as an encouragement, at a time of growing concern about global warming and the deterioration of the natural world. Think of it this way: If God is presiding over all He has created — then, even if man's actions have caused some damage, it is still well within His creative power to reset, renew and restore.
This, however, allow suffered its own ecological damages us no leeway for inactive passivity. The sense of partnership is too strong for that. We should be sure to honour God for His creation, and be constant in worshipping Him in His care of it — but at the same time listening and learning for how we should manage it more responsibly.
This is one aspect of how we respond to the second strand from the Bible which is the passionate call to "return to Me and I will return to you," from Malachi 3:7.
That’s about God’s people — faithful or not ask faithful. The worldwide assembly of God’s people, the believers in Jesus which the Bible calls the body of Christ, has suffered its own ecological damage — appropriate language for something that should be organic and growing. Instead, much of it is shrinking, having become institutionalised and fragmented in a way which is the opposite of what He intended.
And when we, supposedly as people of faith, speak out to a wider audience, we are too often found 'majoring on the minors, ' dabbling in contemporary woke-minded political comment and championing every green or inclusivity cause like a new creed.
God is certainly for justice in opportunities and good stewardship of His creation, but He would like us to do what He said to do, listen to what He is saying, and then follow His leading and speak for Him!
Rather than doing our own thing and championing our own culturally-acceptable message, God wants His church (not the buildings and titles and legalism, but the believers) back with Him. He longs for us to worship him in Spirit and truth, to praise Him for who He is, and to allow Him to renew us and free us to become the best versions of who He has made us to be.
How can we carry out the mission He has given us to call the unbelieving world back to Him, if we will not hear His call to us to wholeheartedly give our lives to Him first.
Where do the psalmist’s words about the variety and wonder of God’s creation fit with this call to return to Him?
It’s not complicated. Disarmingly straightforward, in fact. It is to do with our harmonising with the rhythm and wisdom of His creation — not digressing by trumpeting our own competing melodies, but seeking to make a more complete and rounded tone as we add our individual parts to perform the symphony that He is conducting.
What is this to do with the long trend of dropping church attendance, and the traditional denominations talking about how they ‘manage the decline’?
It offers good news and a much better answer. The first verse we have in focus speaks of what God has made in His wisdom.
So where we have carelessly replaced that heavenly wisdom with our version of ‘wisdom’, which is more centred on what we find expedient, it is not going to have the same rhythm and harmony and balance as God’s creation. What God has made, described in this psalm, is created to flourish and multiply. The church that started at Pentecost, and was taken far and wide by the apostles, grew and spread beyond anything they could have imagined.
It did what it was designed to do. However when that pattern becomes more man-centred than Christ-centred, the dynamic for growth is lost and the vitality is reversed until it becomes moribund.
The good news is that it is not complicated to turn this around.
It just needs a simple desire to return to God and to seek His ways.
If the way that we ‘do’ church —the traditions and emphases that we hold dear and the kind of relationships we share — are not like those we read about in the Acts of the Apostles and their letters teaching the Early Church, then we had better change them until they are.
If we insist on keeping on doing the same old things, then as the old adage tells us, we will see the same old results. But God, who is loving and merciful, will give us every help and encouragement to get back to His way.
Perhaps we have not regarded church members and attenders as among the “many creatures” of God’s creation, but it is clear that He wants the worshipping body to belong, not by defending a denomination or tradition, but to Him. And when it truly does, the rhythm and harmony which comes with His wisdom will bring its own good fruit in vitality — and growth.