I cry while watching game shows.
I don’t always weep, thank goodness. But give me a good victory story and the tears will flow. It can be a game show, a sporting event, a viral video, or even a commercial. When an underdog comes back for the victory, when someone’s face is beaming with surprised joy, or when a crowd erupts in support of a former wallflower, I am undone.
Have you ever seen the video of Heather Dorniden’s college track race? I have forwarded it along, and watched it several times. Yet still, I am choked up when I see it.
When I watch that video, I’m not surprised that she gets up. But then, when she starts to run again, my attention is peaked. I cheer for the girl who refuses to give up. Then, as she runs faster, my heart sings and my eyes swell for the woman who overcomes obstacles and soars past defeat.
Somehow, even though I’ve never met Heather, I feel this victory with her.
David felt stuck for a long time, but now, in Psalm 40 has risen victorious. God has lifted him from the mire, and David sings with thanksgiving.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.
I have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know. I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 40:1-3, 9-10
David bursts with the news of God’s faithful rescue.
How do you respond when you hear stories of God’s victory in someone’s life?
I want to react the way I do to an underdog sports victory: with cheesy and generous tears of joy. But sometimes, I am cynical instead. I wonder if God really did that, or if it was coincidence. I question why that person received an answer, while someone else is drowning in the questions.
That tendency towards cynicism becomes even stronger if someone's story is spoken with any tone of crisp reasoning or life perfection. Statements of "God saved me when I did this, so He will save you, too" or "God rescued me, and now my life is always wonderful" are sure to make my skin itch with irritation.
Something interesting happens in this Psalm, though, that helps me listen to David with an open heart: it shares of victory and struggle at the same time.
The last of the Psalm is
As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay. – Psalm 40:17
My first instinct is to be annoyed when a Psalm doesn’t stick with a theme. I want a thanksgiving song to stay happy and joyful. But that’s not real life is it? Life is filled with juxtaposition and tension. We can simultaneously be filled with joy over something God has done and be annoyed over something God is not doing.
And that doesn’t make the thanksgiving any less sincere. In fact, it makes it easier for me to feel the joy of its splendor.
Overcoming one thing does not mean overcoming all things. Pretending that it does subtracts from the beauty of the victory.
What if I told you that the video I linked above is not the final race Heather runs that day, but only one heat? What if I told you that even though she has this amazing triumph in this run, she does not win the final race? Does that make what she accomplished any less remarkable?
I don’t think so.
We can rejoice in each victory on it’s own. We do not need to extrapolate it into a formula for what to expect in the future.
Let us sing a new song for each victory the Lord gives us, and lament a new prayer for each time we need help. Both are beautiful melodies.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
How should we respond to God when He has blessed us? Mary gives us a great model, in what has traditionally been called, “The Magnificat.” This title comes from the Latin for the phrase My soul magnifies the Lord (below translated as my soul glorifies the Lord.)
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Psalm 35:9) for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, (Gen 30:13) for the Mighty One has done great things for me— (Psalm 24:8) holy is his name. (Psalm 99:3) His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Psalm 103:17) He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; (Psalm 89:13) he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. (Proverbs 16:5) He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (1 Samuel 2:4) He has filled the hungry with good things (Psalm 107:9) but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, (Isaiah 41:14) remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Micah 7:20) – Luke 1:46-55
This is a beautiful piece of poetry. The Bible doesn’t say that Mary spoke this immediately. She likely took time to craft it- either on her journey to Elizabeth’s house or sometime during her stay there.
Mary crafted a beautiful poem that can serve as a model of praise and thanksgiving.
- The Magnificat is specific. I know that I should praise God, so I do. But often, I do it lazily. I speak in general words that do not take reflection on my part. Mary is thanking God that she gets to be the mother of the Messiah. But she does not only thank God for that fact, she thanks God for the repercussions of that fact. She takes time to reflect on how what God is doing will affect her life and the lives of others.
- The Magnificat is based on Scripture. When I pray, I default to free flowing thoughts from my heart. Though there is a place for that, there is also a place for something more thought out. In this poem, Mary parallels several Old Testament passages. (They are referenced after the lines above, in case you want to do a little study. It is also very closely tied to 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary knows God’s Word. She sees how God has acted in history and uses that as the reference for what God is doing now. Using Scripture affirms the consistency of God throughout time.
- The Magnificat recognizes varying aspects of God’s character. Sometimes, I get stuck on praising God for His love. Though God is love, He is also more than love. This song recognizes both God’s mighty power and His loving mercy. It praises God not only for these characteristics, but for how these seemingly opposite traits actually work in beautiful harmony with one another.
- The Magnificat is about more than just Mary’s life. I find it much easier to recognize what God is doing in my life than what God is doing in the world. Without realizing it, my prayers, both requests and thanksgivings, become self-centered. I thank God for how He has blessed me, not how He has blessed others. Mary praises God not just for how He is interacting with her human life, but for how He is interacting with humanity.
Here is a start…
I am grateful for the gift You give me, Lord. A gift with a greater cost than money With the purchase price of Your own precious Son. You give me the gift of adoption. Through Your Son, I have become Your daughter. Daddy, thank you for giving such a beautiful gift. A box filled with salvation, wrapped with purpose, and tied with community.
Hopefully, I can expand on this over time. Just like Mary, I want to reflect and respond.
The advent of the Messiah should cause us to praise the Lord.