Abridged from a message I gave at Renewal Church of Chicago.
A prayer for 2017
It’s no secret that 2016 has been decried as the “worst year ever” for reasons ranging from routine to tragic. Central to much of the felt despair, rage, worry, or fear is a sense of loss: loss of a better past or of a brighter future, loss of old relationships or of the potential for new ones, loss of stability or of opportunity, loss of historical understanding or of being understood.
Throughout 2016, my wife and I were comforted and counseled by praying through the Psalms.1 A few weeks ago as we were nearing the end of the psalter and the year, we read Psalm 148. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to pray for 2017:
Psalm 148 1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above. 2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. 3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. 4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, 6 and he established them for ever and ever — he issued a decree that will never pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, 9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, 11 kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, 12 young men and women, old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. 14 And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD.
The psalmist goes out of his way to name the full scope of the natural order: fauna and flora (both wild and domestic), patterns of weather, planets and stars. He even names things beyond the material world (verse 2). And then he goes on to name categories of the social order, calling out many of the ways by which people organize themselves: rich and poor, male and female, young and old, rulers and citizenry.
Despite all of this cataloging, the thrust of the Psalm is not to highlight the varied and beautiful distinctions of the natural, heavenly, and social orders. In fact, it’s the opposite; Psalm 148 emphasizes a diverse creation that is unified in a song of praise. Classes, genders, ethnicities, partisans, generations, and even the substance of creation itself: plants, animals, wind, earth, and water – are joined in praising the one name that alone is exalted, whose splendor is manifestly above everything else (verse 13.)
The late bible scholar Derek Kidner called Psalm 148 “The Choir of Creation” and concluded that “in these few lines there emerges… the only potential bond between the extremes of mankind: a joyful preoccupation with God.”2 In other words, the prayer of Psalm 148 points to the supreme end of created diversity (praise!) and to the only means of deep unity within created diversity (praise!). We learn that even very good proposals for living in an exponentially varied world are at best secondary to a singular design: participation in Creation’s song to her Creator.
My prayer for 2017 is not less than unity in the midst of diversity; it’s much more. My prayer is the psalmist’s prayer: that all people everywhere would be joyfully preoccupied with God, and consequently, live harmoniously along the entire spectrum of created and experienced diversity. When God is high and lifted up – that is, when his Creation is living out its created intent – flourishing happens, from the depths of the seas to the heights of the heavens.
May it be so, oh LORD, in 2017 and forever more. Amen.