Psalm 103 holds historical significance at OBU. OBU's eighth president, Dr. John Wesley Raley, informally adopted the psalm as the university's institutional passage of Scripture. Throughout the university's 102-year history, the passage often has been read from the Bible of the university's first president, Dr. J.M. Carroll.
The passage also is significant because it conveys how a person can quench his or her spiritual thirst, said Dr. Scott Pace, who serves as the Reverend A.E. and Dora Johnson Hughes Chair of Christian Ministry and an assistant professor of applied ministry. Pace presented his message, which continues OBU's chapel theme on "The Psalms," during a weekly chapel service Wednesday, Feb. 27.
"Have you ever been so thirsty you remember it?" Pace asked the students.
He recounted his memories of traveling from the Carolinas to Florida on a family vacation when he was a young elementary student. His family had the stereotypical '80s setup: a wood-paneled car with the windows rolled down, summer heat pouring in and a backseat shared by bored siblings. Soon, Pace said he began to complain about the heat, the trip and his thirst. He said his dad's advice has become legendary in the family: "Son, swallow your spit."
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The irony, Pace pointed out, was captured in a longing for what he desired -- moisture -- yet could not produce. In much the same way, Pace said, people often long for spiritual refreshment but wallow in spiritual thirst, unable to produce the necessary solution. Psalm 103 was written by David, the shepherd boy who became a king and also experienced spiritual thirst. The passage provides insight into the three steps necessary to quench such a thirst, Pace said.
The first step, he said, is to stimulate one's own affection for the Lord God. Psalm 103:1-5 begins with the psalmist declaring, "My soul, praise the Lord, and all that is within me, praise his holy name" (HCSB). Pace said the verses are not a declaration, but an admonition of the desperation the psalmist gives himself to bless the Lord.
"His soul, like ours many times, was thirsty for that encounter, thirsty for spiritual renewal, and at this moment, he needed to be stimulated -- incited -- to praise," Pace said, noting the psalmist used the covenant name "Yahweh" for God to indicate the foundational, fundamental and necessary relationship required for the encounter.
The affection for God in the first five verses of the psalm is drawn from the truths of God's love for people: "He forgives all your sin; he heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit; he crowns you with faithful love and compassion. He satisfies you with goodness; your youth is renewed like the eagle."
The second step to quenching one's spiritual thirst, Pace said, is to meditate on the abundant attributes of God noted in the passage. In Psalm 103:6-18, the writer goes from giving thanks for what God has done to giving praise for who God is.
Psalm 103:8 provides a summarization of the mercies of God, describing succinctly the character of God, Pace said. The verse reads, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love."
"His character is flawless," Pace said, noting God's righteousness and compassion. "Whenever you're confronted with the flawless character of God, it also confronts you with the futility of your own condition."
But despite man's vanishing, brief moments of glory, Pace said the psalm includes a recognition of God's enduring, faithful love toward those who respect him.
The final verses also indicate the third step to quenching a person's spiritual thirst: Celebrate the authority of God. In Psalm 103:19-22, the psalmist declares that even the mighty angels must submit to God. And yet, people often are unwilling to submit to God, Pace said.
"Who are we, that we can resist the Word of the Lord?" Pace asked. "Obedience is where spiritual vitality is found. Many people think obedience will drain our spiritual vigor; in fact, it has the opposite effect when it is done out of a heart of love for the Lord rather than obligation. When it is done out of love for the Lord, it is seen as the fruitful expression of the soul in its created purpose. You who obey him -- this is what it means to praise God. This is where true fulfillment is found. This is where satisfaction exists, not only for the angels, but for us."
Many people are spiritually thirsty because they continue to strive against God, contest him and resist his will, Pace said. But true spiritual satisfaction is found in submission to God, he said.
"That is satisfaction that is so sweet and personal, and cannot be manufactured in what this world attempts to offer us," Pace said.