Psalm 66 has a step-like structure with three parts (strophes), but the order of them is unique. While most psalms begin with the individual and then broaden to include others, Psalm 66 starts with the whole world, then narrows to the people of God, and then concludes with one person, the Psalmist, telling his personal story.
This beautiful setting from Christian Worship captures especially the “world-wide” and the “people-of-God” sections of the psalm. “Let all the earth cry out to the LORD, cry out to the LORD with joy!”
The third part of the psalm (vv. 13-20) is the “individual” section of the psalm. The Psalmist is addressing God directly. “I will come to your temple with burnt offerings…. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me” (vv. 13, 20). This part of the Psalm holds special meaning for pastors.
The Psalmist may have been one of Israel’s kings. After reviewing the LORD’s deliverance of His people from Egypt in the second part of the Psalm, he tells his personal story which includes trouble, vows, testimony, self-evaluation, and praise.
Trouble. We don’t want it in our lives or ministries. But the LORD uses trouble to bless us. Trouble makes us humble. It focuses our attention on him. It leads us to call out to him and to rely on him. The school of suffering is the best place for us to learn theology.
Vows. Old Testament believers often made vows to the LORD. These vows were voluntary, but they were binding once they were made. These vows might be made in a time of thankfulness or in a time of distress. In the New Testament era, believers have made and kept vows as well. A famous vow which is a part of our Lutheran heritage is Luther’s vow to become a monk. As 21st-century Christians we have made vows—vows to renounce the devil and vows to be faithful to the LORD and to his Word all our lives. If we are married, we have vowed to be faithful to our wife. At our ordination, we vowed to be faithful stewards of the holy things placed into our hands.
Testimony. The Psalmist said, “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” As pastors we are in a unique position to tell others what God has done to redeem his people, including us.
Self-evaluation. The Psalmist knew that the LORD sees what people cannot see. The LORD looks at the heart. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” As pastors, we read and ponder his Word every day. We look to the Savior who died for us, and we ask the Father to forgive us because of him. We ask the Father and the Son to send us the Holy Spirit, “to guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins” (Sixth Petition).
Praise. What a privilege and joy it is to lead God’s people in praise of him! “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” The LORD’s grace to us in Jesus, our Savior, is every Christian’s (every pastor’s) greatest source of joy.
Our joy and our praises have no end, because Jesus lives!