What does it mean to "bless God"? Some of us think it means giving a little of our hard earned income in the collection plate on Sunday. Others believe it to be a sweetly sung hymn. In fact, to bless means to exalt, magnify, and glorify the one we consider worthy of such a position and honor. It means we worship and adore the object of our affection and attention. Don't miss it - the one we worship and adore is the object of both our affection AND our attention. The one who receives our greatest attention usually holds our greatest affection. In turn, we find opportunities to proclaim the greatness of the one who holds such a position in our hearts.
Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome! Didn't he set us on the road to life? Didn't he keep us out of the ditch? He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; finally he brought us to this well-watered place. (Psalm 66:8-12 The Message)
Why does David announce, "Bless our God! Give him a thunderous welcome!"? It is clearly laid out in the rest of this passage:
- He put us on the road to life. Prior to the point of his intervention in our lives, we were on any other imaginable road - but not the road to life. I travel with a companion who enjoys the journey with me. She acts as the navigator when we go on road adventures. We have GPS, but I trust her to "navigate" us to the point we need to end up enjoying. In the end, I know she will never steer me wrong. Now, God is a more faithful companion than anyone I could travel with in the natural sense. He is concerned with the road I travel, because the road I travel determines the destination I enjoy!
- He keeps us out of the ditches. There was one very cold, blustery and snowy day in Anchorage when I experienced this in a literal sense. I was about 8 months pregnant, driving a little Toyota Corolla station wagon. As I ventured from Fort Richardson to Elmendorf Air Force Base to go for my weekly check-up at the clinic, I caught a piece of pretty slick ice. It would not have been bad if the visibility had been good, and the ice a small spot, but it was otherwise. As I began to do "donuts" on the curve, I remember seeing more and more of the safety of the road as slipping away from me. It was as I skidded to a stop just inches from the drop off into a huge unplowed ditch that I took my first breath! He had literally kept me from the ditch! Now, in a spiritual sense, think of the "ditches" we have avoided because of his keeping power. I have avoided some pretty significant ditches - how about you?
- He trained us. David gives us several examples of how God trains his children. The first example is that of the refiner's fire. The passage of silver through the fire purifies it, does it not? In the refining fire, there is a chemical change to the raw material put into the fire. Now, in a spiritual sense, there is a change of character, is there not? We go through some pretty "fiery" places which serve to bring out the strength of character he desires to see produced. The second example is that of going through the "hardscrabble" places. In the most literal sense, this is any "place" in our lives which is really demanding and does not appear to provide much reward from the efforts put into "working" this place. The "yield" appears to be meagerly compared to the "work". God's end in taking us through these places is to prove our faithfulness, and to reveal his sustaining power. The third test is pictured as a "road-test", much like an automobile manufacturer would push an auto to its limits to see what it had the capability of doing under pressure. Most of us associate with this one! We have felt our backs against the wall, pushed to our limits, seemingly without capacity for anymore. Then, God comes through! If these tests are not enough, David uses the illustration of going to hell and back. I don't think he means a literal "going to hell", but I think he means the place of torment or misery in our lives which causes us to seek deliverance. God's intent is never to leave us in any place of misery - never to see us tormented - but when we find ourselves there, he uses it to bring out more of his glory in our lives.
Now, look at where God brings us in the end - to the well-watered place. We could interpret this as a place which has sufficient water to yield the most refreshing growth. Look again and you might see it as a place watered from a well running deep. Have you ever had well-water? I have - and it is sweet! It tastes different from our city water - free of the chemical taste and smell. It is refreshing and pure. It refreshes and revives. God never takes us "into" without the intention of taking us "out" of the places he uses for our growth and learning.
The final verse of this psalm says it better than I can:
Blessed be God: he didn't turn a deaf ear, he stayed with me, loyal in his love. (vs. 20) No deaf ear, no blind eye, no unnoticed move. He stays with us - never abandoning us. He never misses a beat. Most importantly, his love is loyal to the core. He is there when others wander off and lose interest in our well-being. He is faithful and true.
Now, doesn't this give us cause to "bless God"?