Lord, meet us today. Meet us in unexpected ways. Open our eyes and hearts and minds and lives to the mystery of your love. Overwhelm us so that we may be moved to awe and to rightly consider who you are. May the words we say, the thoughts we think, and the things we do be a pleasing offering to you. Amen.
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111 ESV)
Do you go to church? Do you sing there? When was the last time you were singing in worship and suddenly the weight of the words you were singing landed on your heart and you became completely overwhelmed?
It happened to me yesterday. We had just started our worship service. I had not gone in to church that morning feeling particularly emotionally sensitive, but then we started to sing these words*:
You raise the poor from the dust
You raised my soul from the grave
Praise the Name of the Lord
Be Thou exalted about all the nations
Your Glory shines above all the heavens
There is no one like You
O Lord our God Most High
As I sang, “You raise the poor from the dust, you raised my soul from the grave,” I began to reflect on my life. I remembered when I was twenty-four and my heart was in a pit of despair, and Jesus met me there, and I offered him my whole life, and that opened me up to years of experiencing God in ways I could never have imagined.
I remembered my years of living as a single adult in New York City, where I made some of the most wonderful friends a person could ever know. I remembered my seven years at New Hope Community Church in Staten Island, which represents some of my sweetest and most formative years of discipleship and ministry. I remembered small group Bible studies and the faces of people who loved me so well and carried me through some really painful months. I remembered my lean financial years, when I did not know how I would pay for the next week’s groceries or light bill, yet somehow provision came for me to not only live in New York City, but to have a beautiful, brand-new apartment with a gated driveway in Manhattan. (My work as a musician required a vehicle. God provided not only the Jeep, but the driveway to park it in.)
I remembered meeting my husband in a coffee shop on a business trip to Seattle and how we quickly knew this was not a random encounter, but rather a divine set up. I remembered our beautiful wedding, which was a worship service marked by much joy and laughter. And as we sang, and as I flipped through the postcards in my mind that marked my own experiences of God’s tremendous kindness and faithfulness over the years, I began to feel deep joy and gratitude bubbling up.
Then we sang verse two.
You set the barren in a home
You made my barren heart rejoice
Praise the Name of the Lord
And I pictured my three beautiful children, two of whom we adopted in September after having parented them for nearly two years, and one of whom we have parented since he was born just over a year ago. “He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children,” reads the NIV. I pictured these three incredible human beings that I have the privilege and joy of tucking in at night and hugging first thing in the morning. I thought about the fact that I, who have never given birth, am the happy mother of children.
And I lost it.
I could not continue singing. My throat closed up. My eyes flooded with tears that began to stream down my face. I was overcome with joy and gratitude for God’s kindness.
The thing is, I was the one leading the singing. I was alone on stage, playing piano and singing (and, subsequently, choking) into the microphone as I led the congregation in praise. I was so overwhelmed by God’s mercy and kindness and love that, despite the fact that I was the one leading the singing, I could no longer sing.
“Praise the LORD!” writes the psalmist. “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” I read the psalms every week, but rarely do I experience them in such profound and poignant ways.
Yesterday, I did.
What happened next was quite sweet: when I could no longer sing, the congregation began to sing louder. I let them lead me in worship at that point. What a gift that moment was.
We are all in this together.
“Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” That’s what was happening as I was singing those words. I was remembering my own “up from the grave” experience, when God lifted me out of the pit and set me into a wonderful community of sisters and brothers who loved God and loved me. He sets the lonely in families.
“He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” Have you experienced God’s graciousness and mercy? Sit with that for a moment. Sit and remember what he has done for you. As you’re driving your car, riding the subway, pushing a stroller, pushing a grocery cart, grading papers, prepping a PowerPoint, prepping for surgery, remember.
“He provides food for those who fear him…” Remember his provision! “He remembers his covenant forever.” Remember his promises! He will never leave you or forsake you. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. “He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!”
What does all of this have to do with our year of pursuing wisdom?
The end of the psalm says this: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” In the Amplified Bible, it reads, “The [reverent] fear of the Lord is the beginning (the prerequisite, the absolute essential, the alphabet) of wisdom; A good understanding and a teachable heart are possessed by all those who do the will of the Lord…”
What does it mean to practice the fear of the Lord? Perhaps when we take time to remember, when we worship regularly, when we spend time in the company of other Christians singing songs that tell of the glory of God, when we read God’s word and let it shape our actions, when we reflect on God’s promises and let them shape our hope and expectations, when we absorb God’s love and let it shape how we love others, when we acknowledge what God can do—and has done—for us and for others throughout the ages, we are practicing the reverent awe—the wondrous recognition—the “fear”—of the Lord.
And that, my friends, is where wisdom begins.