I remember it being late on a Tuesday night when we had another “debate.”
My girlfriend (now wife) and I had just attended a worship gathering for college students. It wasn’t put on or sponsored by any single church or denomination. It was an hour of music with maybe five minutes of teaching from someone. From beginning to end, this gathering was specifically designed to bring people of various faith backgrounds together.
As we sat in the car waiting to pull out of the parking lot, I noticed that something was bothering Sydney.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “I don’t think I agree with one of the lines from a song we sang tonight,” she responded.
The line from the song in question goes like this: “We don’t want blessings, we want You.”
I was perfectly fine with that line. Aren’t God’s blessings secondary to God himself? Should we not want God simply for the fact that he is God and for no other reason? To me, this was nowhere near controversial. But Sydney thought differently. I don’t remember what she said exactly, but I do remember her being uncomfortable with the idea of separating God from the blessings God gives to the point that we’d actually say we don’t want blessings. We went back-and-forth on it, neither of us willing to budge.
Here’s the thing: Looking back on it now, as much as it hurts to admit, I think she was right.
Compare the line in that song with what we find in Psalm 103, one of the most beloved psalms in the entire book. In the second verse we read, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
When David thinks about God, he can’t help but think about the benefits of God. Why is that? And why did I, all those years ago, feel uncomfortable talking about the blessings of God as much as the person of God?
Looking back on that conversation, I would say I was coming at it (and I’m sure the same goes for the band that wrote that song) from a well-intentioned place. I had seen people love “blessings” more than they loved God. What’s more, I had seen people decide to follow God for the sake of those blessings.
That is surely upsetting to God. Pick any book of the Bible and you’ll find within it story after story of people that put creation above the Creator. But I have now come to see that the exact opposite approach is just as misguided as the one described above.
In verse seven David says, “He (Yahweh) made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.”
In an effort to remind himself (and those that would read this psalm) who God is, David hearkens back to God’s ways and his acts. He doesn’t say, “Hey, forget about everything God has done for you and then worship him.” He doesn’t say, “Try really hard not to think about God’s benefits and blessings for a second.” Much like what he did in verse two (“forget not”), David is invoking specific memories of God’s goodness by referring to God’s ways and God’s acts.
“Hey, remember that time God made a covenant with Abraham?” Or when he enslaved in Egypt and God brought us out?” Or when we (Israel) made a golden calf and God didn’t nuke us?”
To David and the ancient Israelites, their perception of God was directly tied to what God had done for them. In other words, to tell Israel that they should want God without the blessings God had bestowed upon them would have made zero sense. It was precisely these blessings, benefits, and promises that distinguished Yahweh, the God of Israel, from the other “gods” of the region.
Psalm 103 invited Israel—and it invites us today—to remember who God is by remembering what God has done. When you think about God, when you think about worshiping Him, don’t try and form a blank slate in your mind. Think about God the way that God wants you to think about Him: as Jesus.
What Israel experienced with Yahweh, we now experience with Jesus of Nazareth. In him, Giver and Gift collide. To know him is to know blessing. To experience him is to experience benefit.
“Forget not all his benefits,” David would tell us.
Don’t try to ignore it. Praise him for it.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” —Psalm 103v1