Dear Readers: We’ve received the following responses to Debra Rienstra’s “A Memoir in Psalms”. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!
—The Banner staff
Psalm 125: We have verse 2 inscribed in our wedding bands. My husband's has, "As the mountains," and mine reads "so the Lord."
Psalm 8 – Because it was my father's favorite, this psalm has also become my favorite. I love the picture of God's majesty in the reference to the heavens, the moon, and the stars, compared with man in verses 3 and 4.
Psalm 16 – This psalm celebrates the life of blessings God has showered on me and my family and my response to those blessings. Verses 6 ff.
Psalm 34 – So many of the verses in this psalm comforted and reassured me as I mourned the loss of my husband. Verse 7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Verse 15: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; Verse 19: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
Psalm 92 - When I was an elder, making a visit to an older couple, I used verses 12-15 of this psalm. Since then as I have added years to my life, I often am reassured by verse 14,” They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
Psalm 139 – When my children were very little, they were afraid of the dark. I called Rev. Herman Bell, who had a radio program at that time, for some advice. He quickly suggested Psalm 139 -- Verses 1-3 and 7-11 were especially helpful, and that psalm still comes to mind often.
Psalm 145 – These verses remind me in many difficult situations that God hears my prayers, and he will take care of me. Verses 17-20: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him. . . . “
Our favorite Psalm is 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations." When our son died this was our comfort.
—Henry & Grace Kamp
I too, have memorized many psalms (including six of your list) and other portions of Scripture, both OT and NT. Some other Psalms I have memorized are 8, 46, 91, 96 and 148.
What I have discovered is that my understanding of a passage is so much richer when I memorize it. I discover phrases and ideas I had missed when I simply read it.
I often recite Scripture on my early morning walk or if I happen to be awake in the middle of the night. A type A person, I had always been very impatient if I had to wait for anyone for any reason. Now I use that time to recite Scripture passages to myself.
When my children and grandchildren come for dinner, instead of reading a portion of Scripture, I recite a passage before we eat. A couple of years ago, my teenaged grandson, who was not attending a Christian school, asked, "Grandma, how do you do that?" He's now a sophomore at a state university. Imagine my delight and gratitude when he recently told me that he was going to memorize Bible passages like I do! He began with a portion from Isaiah 40 (about which I had said to him, "This one is especially for you."). Then he selected Psalm 27 (which is why I added it to my list), and yesterday he told me that he's working on I John 1 (I'll have to work on that next!).
Gelijk een hert schreeuwt naar de waterstromen, alzo schreeuwt mijn ziel tot U, o God! “As the hart longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalm 42)
Dust storms blew long and strong over the plains of Kansas in the early 1900’s. My paternal grandfather contracted dust pneumonia, from which he later died. On his deathbed in his farmhouse he sang the Dutch version of this psalm. I was probably 5 or 6 at the time and I remember when, after his funeral a few days later, the adults met in his and Grandma’s living room. My young sisters and girl cousins crept into the kitchen, where we saw the pies that were waiting to be served. To our consternation, we saw that the meringue on the lemon pies had become covered with dust while the relatives were attending the funeral!
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. (Psalm 91 (KJV).
My oldest brother was a Field Artillery Forward Observer with the 4th Infantry Division during WWII. My mother claimed and clung tightly to this promise that no evil would touch him. Indeed he did survive two previous wounds on the European battlefront before he returned to his unit and was then killed in action. I couldn’t understand! Where were the promised angels who were to hold him up? Many years passed before, with the help of a pastor who had been a prisoner of war in that same conflict, I understood that no FINAL evil touched my brother. He was a strong believer, writing in a letter to his parents, “One evening when I was riding the boat back across the channel, I started reading the Bible of one of the officers on the ship. Happened to open up to Psalms 30 to 40 and that is really quite a comfort.” Now I know that the angels carried him to heaven to enable him to escape further horrors of war. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and awarded a bronze star posthumously.
“God is our Refuge and our Strength.” (Psalm 46)
At my brother’s memorial service in the country church where he had been baptized and catechized, a pastor with a strong baritone voice sang the versified rendition of this psalm—at my mother’s request. “God speaks, and all is peace—from war the nations cease . . .” Yes, the war eventually did cease, thanks to God’s “speaking,” and due to the untold sacrifices of my brother and the other men and women of the “Greatest Generation.”
“Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30)
This was certainly true for my hard-working, self-denying mother (of ten) when she finally slipped from her long-time sick bed of cancer into the joy of heaven. Joy came in the morning for me--her 19-year old daughter—also, when one year later I married the fine neighbor boy who had wonderfully strengthened me during the long and weary days of being my mother’s caretaker. My boyfriend’s father, like mine, was a farmer, but he also had a heart for music, providing piano lessons for all his children. My heart was both amazed and thankful when my boyfriend played the church’s pipe organ for my mother’s funeral. I believe he played those majestic harmonies of Psalm 46 (it’s hard to remember!) The pastor’s text was the verse above.
“O Lord God of my salvation, . . . hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles and death draws near . . . darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88)
A trip that my husband and I took to Israel after our children were grown fulfilled one of my fondest dreams. Our tour group read Scripture at the Mount of the Beatitudes and sang hymns as we sailed over the Sea of Galilee. But one of the most memorable moments was spent at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (Cock Crow), where inside we walked down the Holy Stairs to the dungeon where Jesus is said to have been held during his trial the night before his crucifixion. In that dark and solemn place, we read from a plaque the words of Psalm 88, which describe so well the suffering that our Savior endured for us. Unlike most of the other psalms that end on a note of hope, this psalm does not.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116)
And precious to me are those saints whose deaths are precious in God’s sight! “When someone who is loved becomes a memory—that memory becomes a treasure.” Now, as I grow near to my 90s, there are a great many of those memories—so many graves in so many places! On another overseas trip, to Europe, my husband and I stood in the military cemetery in Belgium where one of the thousands of white crosses marks the grave of my brother. Surrounded by his comrades, he is “covered over with glory,” awaiting the resurrection day. As we stood there, my thoughts flew to the other side of the ocean, to a cemetery in a Kansas pasture, surrounded by wheat fields and visited by cattle, to the grave of my mother. On her tombstone, beneath her name, is inscribed, “And in memory of [her son’s name] who gave his life in service of our country.” Next to her stone is my father’s, and nearby are the stones of four grandparents, uncles, aunts, schoolmates, friends. Farther west, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, are the graves of my husband and our youngest son. Six siblings and their husbands/wives and the husbands of my two living sisters are buried in various places. The earthly remains of a loved one beneath each stone. But they themselves are living in heaven with Jesus.
“Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.” (Psalm 16) One grave—a tomb in a rock—contains no earthly remains! The strongest and most lasting impression of our trip to Israel is standing outside of Jesus’ tomb in the Garden. The truth rang in my ears—in my soul—It IS empty; HE IS RISEN!
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. . . .” (Psalm 16)
“Pleasures” even today—and far more in the “forever” when joy will come into its “fullness.” † Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cattle . . .
Psalm 148: 7-10a (a poetic paraphrase) Praise the Lord, you playful dolphins, as you leap and splash into the ocean foam; Praise Him, you multitudes of darting minnows! Eight-armed octopus and five-pointed starfish, wave your praise to the Lord! Applaud with loud thunder, you storm clouds! Lightning, flash forth His glory in fiery brilliance! Fierce and gentle winds, blow his praises to the ends of the earth! White cumulus clouds and shimmering glaciers, reflect His purity and might! Praise the Lord, you brightly-colored, hovering butterfly! Magnify His Name, you slow, fuzzy caterpillar! Give Him glory You timid, scampering mouse!
—Trudy Vander Veen
Psalm 119 is one of the psalms that speaks about David's love and dedication to the Law of his creator. He realized that God gave us his laws for our own well being. A way of life that brings stability and peace.
Deut. 6:3: Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
I realize that it is not fashionable, nor politically correct, anymore, in many Protestant churches, to say that we have to keep the law, but we see the devastating effects of lawlessness in our society. Matt. 24:12: And because lawlessness shall be multiplied, the love of many shall grow cold. (A Faithful Version)
Psalm 111 tells us “all his commandments are sure” and “They stand fast for ever and ever.”
—Jan J. Berg
My psalm memoir would include a forward in gratitude to Rev. John Hoeksema. Rev. Hoeksema taught us catechism every Wednesday, and in addition to requiring memorization of Heidelberg Catechism questions and answers had us memorize a psalm from the psalter hymnal every week. It was a lasting gift that no hymnal revision committee or contemporary praise chorus trend can ever take away from me.
My memoir would also include a tip of the hat to Dordt College and its wonderful multi-CD “Be Thou Exalted” recording, featuring the College Choir singing a setting of each of the 150 psalms from the Psalter Hymnal.
As to the psalms themselves:
Psalm 16 – “Oh Lord you have assigned me my portion and my cup. You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord who counsels me. Even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is my right hand I will not be shaken.” Can’t really articulate Christian thanksgiving better than David did in this miktam.
Psalm 56 – From singing “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” with my children, to the beautiful word picture of a sovereign God storing my tears in His bottle, this psalm is a go-to for rough patches.
“Thou knowest all my woes oh treasure Thou my tears. Are they not in Thy book where all my life appears? My foes shall backward turn when I appeal to Thee For this I surely know; that God is still for me.” (Thanks, Rev. Hoeksema.)
Psalm 63 – I love the way this psalm articulates an overwhelming and visceral longing for God – “I thirst for You, my whole being longs for you. . . .” It is complete obsession in the best sense of the word. Praying this psalm is a constant challenge to live a life totally infatuated with God.
Psalm 73 – This psalm is so strikingly real in how it traces the arc of Christian experience.
It starts with affirmation—“Surely God is good to Israel”; but then is brutally and personally honest about the frustration of seeing the wicked succeed—“But as for me my feet had almost slipped; I had almost lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It then goes to “church” to get its perspective straight—“When I tried to understand this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny:” and having been fitted with the spectacles to see the eternal perspective ends with a love song and a beautiful hug of assurance—“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near to God.” That’s good stuff!
“Whom have I Lord in heaven but thee To whom my thoughts aspire? And having Thee, on earth is naught That I can yet desire.” (Thanks again, Rev.)
Psalm 91 - I have been asked on several occasions what my favorite passage in the Bible is, and why. I am doing this at the request of my wife who has heard me verbally describe my feelings and observations regarding this favorite psalm of mine.
Let’s begin by going back to the year 1943. I had just graduated from high school the previous year. Having reached the age of 19, and with our country being involved in a World War, I decided to volunteer for service rather than wait for the draft.
Things moved along swiftly. On March 17, 1943, I was called to service in the Army and sent to Fort Lewis, Wash.
Although the son of a minister and 19 years old, I had not made public profession of faith in front of the congregation. I guess I hadn't thought much about it. When I was shipped from Fort Lewis to Camp White, Ore., for basic training, I began to think seriously about how to rectify my neglect.
After basic training, we went on maneuvers in the hills around Bend and La Pine, Ore., where we honed the skills we learned in training: eating battle rations, building dugouts, and sleeping with bugs, rodents, and snakes.
It was a time when I began to wonder what I was doing and where it would lead. One day, while on maneuvers, we were called to a company formation by the Master Sergeant. The Captain of our company proudly announced that we had been put on alert for overseas duty, which meant no passes, leaves, or furloughs. I was depressed and homesick.
On the walk back to my dugout, I noticed a small pocket calendar lying on the ground in front of me. I thought that it would be a handy thing to put in my billfold, so I picked it up. I turned it over to see what advertisement was on it. To my surprise, there was no advertisement on it. Instead there was a copy of Psalm 91. This did have an impact on me, but it is only the beginning of my story.
It just so happened that on the day we returned to Camp White, the news came over the radio that Congress had just passed a law that no one would be shipped out overseas without first getting a furlough home.
I immediately got on the phone and called to tell my family I was coming home. I asked my father to make the necessary arrangements for me to make a public profession of faith. I can imagine how happy he was to hear this from me.
Well, I appeared before the Consistory and passed the examination. I will never forget the Sunday morning I stood up in front of church and made my public profession. My father, because he was the minister, then preached a sermon I shall never forget. He took as his text Psalm 91. This was such a jolt to me because I had not mentioned to anyone about the calendar I had found.
I returned to Camp White, and soon we were shipped overseas to England. We spent nine months there before the invasions of Normandy.
Having gone through Normandy, Northern France, Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge, Andeens and into Germany, Psalm 91 was a huge comfort and inspiration to me. Read it sometime and visualize the destruction, death, devastation, and hatred that I saw around me, and you will begin to understand my feelings for it.
At last the war in Europe was over, and we were settled in a schoolroom in Heresfeld, Germany, awaiting orders to participate in the invasion of Japan.
One morning my best buddy got called to the Captain's office . He came back and looked at me funny. Then my squad Sergeant got called. He came back and said the Captain wished to speak to me. I inquired, "Who died? My dad or my mom?" I reported to the Captain and he handed me a telegram, which was already two weeks old. It informed me that my dad had passed away in Grand Rapids, Mich., while attending synod.
This was a big shock to me because the telegram was so long in coming. I returned to my bunk in the school and didn't know what to do or how to handle the news. At this time my squad Sergeant took his pocket Bible and tossed it to me. He said, "Start reading this; it will help you." The Bible bounced on my bunk and flipped on the floor, face down. I picked it up and Saw that it had fallen open to Psalm 91. I can't express what this meant to me.
The Captain gave me the afternoon off and told me to take a walk around Heresfeld with a buddy. I did just that and ended up in the organ loft of a Lutheran Church (which was off-limits) where an older gentleman and his wife and three children were. He was playing music for people in prayer in the sanctuary below. When he saw my buddy and me, he immediately started to play "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and other hymns that he figured we would know. Although we didn't communicate with words, we did with tears. How the Lord blessed me that day when I needed it so badly. Well, this is my story of my love of Psalm 91.
When it comes time for me to leave this life and meet my Lord, I hope there will be a pastor who will be able to preach a sermon, at my funeral, on Psalm 91 and use it as an inspiration and guide for all my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. I think there is a message in each verse of the psalm and also a wonderful message in its entirety for all who would listen.