Singing God’s Vision
Texts: Psalm 22:27-28, Psalm 86:8-10
J. B. Phillips’ book Your God Is Too Small makes the point that most of us conceive of God and his ways from the limited vision of the human perspective. God is much larger than our puny human imagination can comprehend. Furthermore, we are prone to project on almighty God our own limited imagination. The psalmist, probably in preparing songs for Israel’s worship, makes it very clear that the God they worship has more than Israel in mind in terms of his salvation. God’s vision is global, and not just local.
Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, O Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God (Psalm 86:8-10).
Israel’s vision was shorter than God’s. They were preoccupied with his salvation as it related to them personally and as a people. That is why he had to warn them in Deuteronomy that it was pure grace that motivated his love for them, and that same grace was ultimately meant to embrace all the world’s peoples.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
The song leader/worship person made this clear in another song of the worshipping people:
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
For dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations (Psalm 22:27-28).
The Psalms are certainly full of songs of personal salvation, and reference to God’s strengthening grace in the lives of his saints. The people of Israel also learned to sing about a God who loved them as a people and would fulfill his purpose for them as a nation. But alongside all of this and throughout the hymns and songs of Israel is another refrain: God has his eyes not only upon them, but also upon the whole world. His vision includes a broader scope, and his salvation encompasses the world beyond the confines of Israel’s eastern Mediterranean borders. Whether or not they acknowledged and rejoiced in that vision of God, it nonetheless was something God intended for them to sing about in their worship at the Temple.
In our worship today we sing about “amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.” “The Lord is my shepherd…” There is a melody that enjoins me to personally recount morning-by-morning the new mercies I see. The references in these songs and hymns mirror the personal aspect of our experience of God and his loving grace and tender care. God smiles when he hears his beloved singing those songs and expressing their gratitude to him for all that he has done for us.
But there is yet another vital dimension that God desires to be found in our worshipful singing. God smiles when we include songs and verses and choruses that call us to remember that God’s love goes beyond our personal life, our family life, our community life, even our state and nation. God’s vision and imagination and love permeate the world he made, and his redemption extends much broader and deeper than our own personal experience and that of those with whom we dwell in our “comfort zone.” Fact is, that while we sing our songs and direct our thoughts to the God of our fathers, and are reminded by our pledge to the flag and even our money that it is “in God we trust,” it is also the clear testimony of Scripture that God’s limitless grace and love reaches far beyond our “religious tunnel vision.”
The realization that the good news was meant not just for Europeans and those who had migrated to North America but for people the world over was the inspiration for the worldwide missionary movement of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Missionaries boarded ships bound for remote parts of the world motivated by their call from God to personally get involved in what God was doing on the global scale. God’s love for the world was not just something they sang about; it inspired them to leave kindred and country behind in order to bring “good news” to all of the people God loves and earnestly desires to embrace. The sacrifices of these missionaries reminds us that there is more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than just experiencing his salvation personally and having the assurance that we’re going to heaven someday.
How big is our God? Is he the God of our personal lives, our families, our community of faith, our denomination, and our country? Or is he the God of the nations, the peoples, the whole world, and “all the ends of the earth”?
Today people are coming to our country from all over the world. We are seeing more immigration now than we have seen for a century. And people are coming from more diverse parts of the world than ever before in our nation’s history. While a century ago most immigrated from Northern Europe and then Southern Europe, today they come from Central and South America, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean islands, India, Eastern Europe, and almost everywhere else on the face of the earth. When my mother was living out her final days in a senior home, she was served dinner by young ladies from Bosnia, Africa, and Mexico. Multicultural is more than a word; it is the current reality almost everywhere in America these days. There are Vietnamese, Sudanese, Iraqis, Ecuadorians, Uruguayans, and Pakistanis living among us even in our previously homogenous rural areas. God loves them all! He’s their Creator and Redeemer whether they know it or not. We simply cannot pass them by as though they really don’t belong with us.
One of my favorite children’s books that I like to read the grandchildren is simply called People, and it has page after page of drawings and text that point out to them the diversity of the people who live in the world. It is very moving for me to read in Scripture that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Everyone needs to know and understand the gospel of God’s love in Christ in order to experience the joy of his salvation, regardless of whether he or she is American, Albanian, Sicilian, or Mexican. All, potentially, are the target of God’s redeeming love and compassion. We need to sing about that! Then we need to build the kind of relationships with all God’s people that God can use to demonstrate what it means to know and follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. Yes, God bless America! But God intends to bless the whole, wide world, too. And that is really something to sing about!
- Does your congregation’s worship encompass the vision and imagination of God? How?
- Look at the words of the songs, choruses and hymns in your order of worship this morning and see if they convey the wideness of God’s mercy.
- How many friends do you have who are immigrants from another country? Do any immigrants attend your church? Would they feel welcome?
- List the homes of origin of people living in your neighborhood and community. How can you, your family, and your church let them know that they are welcome in your social circles, church, and community?