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I Will Rejoice: a Psalm 118 devotional

When my children were small, we adopted a family motto: This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it! The line comes from Psalm 118, but was most familiar to me as a lyric in a silly song.  Please know that I did not intentionally choose this motto because I am such a great mom--in fact, at the time, it seemed quite the opposite to me.  The motto was born out of struggle.  It is what I would shout instead of cursing when we were running late and someone was missing a shoe, or when I burned dinner, or when the girls dumped out all the toys just before my husband got home so that he never saw the house tidy that day.

Eventually we started to say it in the car on the way to school each day.  It was my way of trying to ensure the last thing the girls heard from me was positive instead of critical.  As they got older it became a call and response to end our morning prayer.  I would say, "this is the day that the Lord has made," then my littles would reply from the backseat, "I will rejoice and be glad in it."  During the middle school years, we played with emphasizing different words because there was a lot of attitude in the car.  "I will rejoice" or "I will rejoice" or "I will rejoice."  Only recently did I learn what an impact this had on their lives and that my college student carried the motto to her new friend group at school.

On that first day when I shouted out, "this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it," I was desperately proclaiming what I hoped would be true.  I did not have a firm grasp on the theology of the Psalm, I just remembered the lyrics to a silly song and--by God's grace--it began to change my life.  Repeating this motto and searching for ways to make it true, things to rejoice over each and every day, was critical to breaking a cycle of anger and fear in my life.  In the years since, I have read Psalm 118 countless times and have learned more about the purpose of the Psalms in the lives of believers since the time these ancient texts were written.

It turns out, the Psalms were very often used to proclaim a truth about God even when there was no evidence in the lives of believers that he was at work.  Declaring victory in a battle that had yet to be won, or faith for God to heal even before the healing came; these poems gave voice and theology to the people of God in every circumstance they faced.  The language of armies and enemies could be interchanged with whatever struggle they faced and those Psalms that were born in victory could be repeated any time as a reminder of God's faithfulness and love.

Perhaps you are in a situation that has you feeling stressed, in need of a victory or healing or reminder of God's faithfulness and love.  Consider taking about fifteen minutes to sit quietly and read through Psalm 118.  Read the Psalm slowly, making the words your own.  When you read a phrase you fully believe, pause to thank God for how he has made this known to you in the past.  When you come across words that are hard to believe, make it your prayer that they would be true.  Replace the threat of warring nations with whatever threatens you today.

Then, choose a line or two to be your motto for the week.  When you are struggling and want to complain or curse or cry, proclaim these words aloud, even through tears and gritted teeth.  I pray that--by God’s grace--they will begin to change your life too.

Psalm 118 (RSV)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever!
2 Let Israel say,
    "His steadfast love endures for ever."
Let the house of Aaron say,
    "His steadfast love endures for ever."
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    "His steadfast love endures for ever."
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
    What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side to help me;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees,
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Hark, glad songs of victory
    in the tents of the righteous:
"The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord is exalted,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!"
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened me sorely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank thee that thou hast answered me
    and hast become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
    has become the head of the corner.
23 This is the Lord's doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord!
    O Lord, we beseech thee, give us success!
26 Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar!
28 Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to thee;
    thou art my God, I will extol thee.
29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures for ever!

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