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Psalm 107: A Pattern for Giving Thanks to God

            A major reason for the contemporary church’s weak prayer life and spirituality is that we are infected with modernist individualism, which misleads us into believing that the corporate is opposed to the personal.  This is unbiblical.  By its context, structure and content Psalm 107 reveals a pattern for giving thanks to God that incorporates the personal into the whole life of the people of God.

            Consider first the literary context.  Psalm 107 is the last of a trilogy of psalms that call upon God’s people to give thanks to the Lord because of his saving work.  They are a veritable history of Israel in the form of thanksgiving to the Lord.  Psalm 105 remembers the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his delivering them from Egyptian slavery through Moses and Aaron and his giving to them the Promised Land.  Psalm 106 remembers Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord, his sending them into exile as a judgment and his mercy in preserving them while they were in exile in Babylon.  Psalm 107 concludes the trilogy with thanks to God for returning them from exile (vv. 2-3).

            Because we have drawn deeply from the poisonous wells of modern individualism we think history is something dead and gone.  For its relevance the best we can do is an appeal to dry abstract general principles drawn from the past that leave the soul thirsting for more.

            Biblical spirituality is different.  It views history as something alive in the present because the person is part of a living body, God’s chosen people.  That body discovers its life and meaning in the saving acts of God that span the ages.  Thus Israel’s history is our history.  The church’s history is our history.  We isolated modern individuals, who so strive for personal fulfillment, can find our true personhood only within the context of God’s saving work for the entire people of God.

            Consider too the liturgical context of the Psalms.  While in no way wanting to deny the use of the Psalms in our individual devotions, we need to remember that its primary usage was corporate. Revelation 4 and 5 also emphasize corporate worship.  These two chapters give us a glimpse of eternity, where we shall be worshipping God with the saints of all ages and cultures. The Psalms and Revelation reveal that both our purpose and our self are found, formed and fulfilled in the context of corporate worship. 

            Since that is the case, we need to see our corporate worship as a rehearsal in two ways.  The original meaning of the verb “rehearse” was to recite or repeat aloud, even recount something from beginning to end.  In this sense, if we want to follow biblical models of prayer, a key part of our worship as a body of believers should be giving thanks to the Lord in the form of a recitation of God’s saving history from the call of Abraham, through the exodus of Israel to the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

            “Rehearse” also means preparation or practice for a play.  Our worship is a preparation and even a foretaste of our eternal destiny to give thanks to God by reciting for ever and ever his saving work throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ.

            Thus the context of Psalm 107 teaches us that our private and public thanksgiving to God should focus on reciting the history of his saving work on behalf of his people.  Although such a reformation of our prayer life will be a challenge to us, it is an essential component for delivering us from the grave individualistic error and limitations of modernism.  Far from limiting the personal, it will actually nurture and expand the personal, as my next post on the structure of Psalm 107 will show.

32 thoughts on “Psalm 107: A Pattern for Giving Thanks to God

  1. I had never thought of worship as a “rehearsal” before. I like that idea, of practicing for the “real deal”. This is a very interesting Psalm that I have greatly enjoyed. Look forward to more of your post.

    1. I first heard this dual meaning of “rehearsal” applied to the Lord’s Supper. We remember or rehearse what Christ did for us on the cross and we are rehearsing for the great feast of the Lamb. I find it a very fruitful approach to our worship.

  2. Thank you for this. It is a good motivation to study history, particularly what is found in the Old Testament. It is also reassuring to remember that we are a part of God’s ultimate plan for his people, and God has a plan to redeem us, just as he delivered the Israelites time and time again.

  3. I really like your view on this Psalm, especially in the last paragraph where you say that our thanksgiving should focus on his saving works.

    I think that often when we pray we should ask for forgiveness and confess our sins, but we don’t always think about how over many many years God has forgiven his people and has shown grace through Christ. We should be thanking him for that in our prayers as much as we ask for forgiveness.

  4. Something that really stuck out to me in this blog post was the fact that you said Israel’s history is our history as well because we are all part of the body of Christ. I’ve always felt disconnected from the Old Testament, but now I’m starting to understand better how even Christians today are affected by it. Thank you for that.
    Could you expand a little more on what exactly you mean by “corporate worship”? I didn’t seem to fully grasp what you meant when you said that the Psalms’ primary usage was corporate.

    1. Thanks, Maddie. I’m glad that it helped. There is individual worship in which we worship God alone. Corporate worship takes place when the body of God’s people meet for worship. The Psalms were often used in ancient Israel for worship at the temple. The most common place for our corporate worship would be in the church on Sunday morning.

  5. I see your point, of how historically the Israelites and the mediaeval churches after that, were accustom to worship in communion, and that now in the modern day we have grown up in a society that encourages individualism, and how that may corrupt our worship practices. What I want to know is, is it truly important, or necessary, that we worship and pray in communion with the church?

    1. That’s a very good question, Nick. I would answer strongly in the affirmative. Remember that in Genesis the Lord God said of the man that it was not good that he was alone. We were made to live in community, and that would include worship. Thus almost all the references to worship in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, are to communal or corporate worship. The human nature, created in the image of the Triune God, is communal. God’s work in salvation is not just to save individuals so that they can relate to God alone. Rather he saves us so that we can be incorporated into a body of love for him and love for each other. In doing so, our nature is being restored. That body is the church, with all its failings and with all mine as well.

  6. I also thought that seeing worship as “rehearsing” was interesting. I think we have really strayed from that, and I agree with you when you said it will be a challenging reformation in our prayer lives. I understand the importance of it, though, and I thank you for addressing that.

  7. I too often feel a sense of disconnection from the Old Testament in this modern age. I sometimes think that we must mainly focus on the happenings in the New Testament, and that the history in the Old Testament mainly applies to Jews, but this is simply not the case. We are a part of God’s chosen people just as those in the Old Testament were, and he provides and cares for us just the same. Thankyou for changing my thoughts and ideas regarding what all we should thank God for.

  8. I am going to start thanking God for when my prayers are answered, regardless of the outcome. I never really thought to “rehearse” our Bibles however during my hermeneutics mid-term I said we need to review our script to be a good Christian.

  9. Dr. Isley, thank you so much for this post. I love how you have shown us that worship is more than just praising God and should also be thanking him for what he has done and given us.

  10. Sometimes I forget about how the time period of the psalms was so much different then it is now, and so I don’t understand things clearly. I’ll try to make a conscious effort to keep the historical background in mind.

  11. In this article you seem to be very critical of modern individualism. What exactly do you mean by modern individualism in this context?

    1. This is a good question, Brian. My view is that modern individualism isolates the individual and often sees others or a group as a threat to his authenticity as an individual. In the Bible, we find our true individuality living within a group–family, church, etc. Our history is also part of who we are, especially when one realizes that the the people of God is a living body that extends over generations.

  12. I have certainly never thought of worship as a rehearsal for praising God eternally in heaven or like a performance for God like we talked about it in class. I appreciate the lesson learned for future times of worship both corporate and private.

  13. Thank you for this explanation of how we are to view Israel’s history. I had never really though of it as applying to our present lives much. I Was also intrigued by the part about how we are to view worship. I was wondering does our worship have to be corporate and structured to be considered a rehearsal or can it just be any form of worship?

    1. I’m glad that you found it helpful, Gabby. I would say that our worship doesn’t have to be corporate and structured for it to be a rehearsal. On the other hand, our tendency in this day and age is for it to be individual and informal; so we need to make sure that we do not neglect structured worship in the body of Christ. In fact, we need to emphasize it, just as the Bible does.

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