Psalm 71: Continually

Psalm 71 is interesting in that it doesn’t seem to speak from a certain time or experience in the author’s life, but rather he writes from a view of life’s culmination. He writes of God’s care for him in the womb, to an assurance that God has not forsaken him in old age and grey hair. He writes of enemies making false accusations and God’s nearness and protection. But, as is often the case, there is one word that has moved me in my reading of Psalm 71. In verse 3, the author wrote, “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come”. In verse 6, “My praise is continually of you.” And then in verse 14, “But I will hope continually and I will praise you yet more and more.” The Psalmist seems to understand not only his need for God’s continual care, but that God deserves his continual attention. He’s lived through many things; he’s experienced great joy and I’m sure deep sorrow. There have been seasons in life that have been victorious and seasons that have been utter losses. In the end his hearts desire is not to live on the mountain or avoid the valley, but to be consistent, to place his heart in the hands of the One who is faithful to care for it and to give to God what He is deserving of and to remind himself of what is true. He’s learned not to rise and fall, not to swell and shrink, but to desire to be what the Apostle Paul would later command the Corinthians, “steadfast and immovable.” I believe the Psalmist had learned that the only way to reap consistently was to sow continually.

What does the word mean? To do something continually is to do it over and over again, to do it non-stop, to do it without end. The Hebrew word that is translated as “continually” in Psalm 71 is a little bit different. “Tamiyd” comes from a root that means “to stretch”. I love the picture this provides. To stretch something is to make it fit, to cause it to increase, to make it go farther than it normally or comfortably would. It’s said that some people stretch the truth, they don’t let facts get in the way of the story that they are telling, they try to make the truth fit their desire. We’ve all heard of how the frugal can stretch a dollar, they get more for their money and cause their resources to last longer. But what does it mean to stretch refuge, praise or hope?   

I think the stretching in this instance is similar to the “pressing” that the New Testament speaks of. An olive is pressed to get oil from it, grapes are pressed so that their juice can be turned into wine, it’s a process that is done to get more out of something than it currently possesses or presents. When the Psalmist wrote, “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I continually come”, it was a prayer that he would choose to hide in God even when he didn’t think he needed to hide. We tend to want God to be our refuge when there is something happening in our lives that we can’t or don’t know how to deal with. We want to be hidden when trouble arises, but continual hiding means that God is not just where we run in trouble, He’s where we live in all things and at all times. This is heard so clearly when Jesus told His apostles, “Abide in Me”. He was calling them to do more than lean on Him for strength or to look to Him for help or answers, but to dwell in Him, to make Him the source of all things at all times, to be dependent upon Him even the way a branch is dependent upon its vine. To do anything continually requires more than commitment, it requires connection, it moves us from mere want to acknowledged need, we can’t just feel the joy of being connected to Christ, we must be willing to feel the discomfort of being disconnected from everything else.

“My praise is continually of you.” What a beautiful sentiment, but how do we move this from “I will always praise you” to “I will stretch my praise of you”? It’s praise that is deserved even when it’s not felt, it’s praise that is given even when situations aren’t changed, it’s praise of who we know God is even when we don’t understand what God’s done, or in more cases, hasn’t done. Too often our praise is a current response to a past action, we give thanks for what God has done, which is important, but our praise of God is meant to be much more about who He is than what He’s done. We don’t praise Him because we’ve gotten our way, but because we believe that He will have His way.

Praise is meant to spring from hope, to be something that we know to be true. That’s why the Psalmist added one more place to stretch, “But I will hope continually”. He’s writing, “I will stretch hope, I won’t let what I see diminish what I know.” But what about all the things that we don’t know? How do we react to what we can’t see, what we don’t understand, what we don’t know? The Psalmist told a truth that we can’t measure but must hold, “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.” He’s saying that he stretches his hope past his understanding, past his emotions, past his expectations, because he is sure that God has already done more things in his life than he could count, more things than he will ever know. I hear David in Psalm 139 when I think of this kind of hope, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”
This is not stretching because God is not enough, He needs to be stretched, it is stretching our understanding, our faith, our hope, our praise, our dependence upon God. The Scriptures tells us over and over that God is good and His love endures forever, there is nothing more that God needs to be or do, we must stretch what we know to be true. The Psalmist spoke to his heart what he knew even, and especially when, he faced the unknown. That’s what it means to continually praise, not “Hallelujah anyhow”, but His worth of my praise is not determined by current circumstances or fluctuating praises, I praise because He deserves it not because I feel it. To continually hope is to remind myself of what I know to be true, to speak to my heart when it wants to deceive me, to speak to my heart when it wants to condemn me, to speak to my heart when it attempts to believe less about God than what I already know to be true. There are times when hope has to be stretched over my hurt, my loss, my sorrow, my grief or my disappointment. Hope is stretched when I do the reminding rather than waiting to be reminded, when I affirm rather than waiting to be confirmed. Hope is stretched when I can tell myself that God is good, that He will never leave me, that He loves me with an everlasting love, that He is my hiding place, that He does all things well, that I am kept by the power of God through faith. Hope is stretched when I choose to meet the unknown with the known and when I choose to believe the One who is unseen more than I’m moved by what is seen.

This all comes back to the place of continually coming to God as our rock of refuge. When the Scripture says that God is our help, it doesn’t mean that He’s the last piece to our puzzle, or that final push that gets us over the proverbial hump. It means that He’s all the help we need, that He is enough, that we don’t have to ever look past Him or seek anything aside from Him. He is the treasure found in a field, but we will never realize the continuous joy of being in Him unless we are willing to let go of all the things that we have depended upon before Him. He’s not the One we run to; He desires and deserves to be the One we live in. Today if you are one who seems to waver, take heart, God never moves, if you are willing, He is always ready to be the One you depend upon, trust in and rejoice over. It doesn’t happen today, it begins today and then, you can find your refuge in Him continually.


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