I have been meditating recently on the verse, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8a). There’s a lot that can be inferred from this short line. There is the imagery of relishing and delighting in, rather than systematic consuming. And that the LORD is gracious enough to invite us to experience of Him as well, though we may know cerebrally that the LORD has abundantly given Himself to us through His Word, through His people, by His grace and in so many different ways. To those who have not yet encountered Him, this is a guarantee: the Lord is good.
However, to the believing Christian who has tasted and seen, who knows that the LORD is good, this is a steady diet. Let us not forget how the verse continues: “blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him [the LORD]” (Psalm 34:8b), or indeed the rest of the psalm which gives this its meaning. What David invites us to do in Psalm 34, is taking refuge in the LORD through a life of praise.
Now Psalm 34 is full of suggestions as to how we might carry this out. Why not take a moment to read it for yourself—even twice, while you’re at it. Tasting after all implies more savouring than simply ingesting.
Here the writer David, God’s anointed ruler who is no stranger to misfortune, to difficulty and to deepest despair, begins with praise.
One of the first things we learn is that this praise is a collective exercise. “Glorify the LORD with me,” he says, “let us exalt His name together.” (Psalm 34:3). Joy! The tone is exultant. He calls us to this: “let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (34:2b). This is a talent we are particularly good at as a fellowship of believers. We are united in the community and the joy we find in Christ, and moreover, we encourage each other to find that joy, and have cause to remind each other of it. The LORD is close to the afflicted, but so are we!
David’s circumstances certainly would not have always given him cause to count his blessings. We know that David had many trying and difficult times, and often felt very despairing about his circumstances. So this makes his phrasing in the future tense especially significant. He says he will extol, he talks of praise that will always be on his lips, a soul that will boast in the LORD (verses 1-2). David begins this worship with a commitment to praise—more specially, to find things to praise. Just look at the disclaimer which begins this psalm: at the time of writing, God’s chosen king was escaping from the current corrupt ruler, Saul, whom he was destined to replace, and in order not to be arrested by the neighbouring king Achish, he pretended to be a madman (1 Samuel 21:10-15). And yet, despite things looking like God had forgotten about him, David finds assurance and joy in God, reminding himself throughout the psalm of all that God has done.
It harkens us to the verse found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." It’s not only about the praiseworthiness of the Lord, but also my commitment to praise—whatever life throws at me. I know I can take a lesson from this. I need to be constantly looking for ways to praise the Lord, perhaps especially when it’s not immediately apparent.
I am reminded of a story from the biography of a Dutch Christian woman (in Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place) who was taken to a series of concentration camps during WWII for her involvement in protecting and smuggling provisions for people oppressed by the Nazi occupation. Having had their hopes for release dashed time and again, hearing about the death of their father in the camp, and now moved to an even crueller location, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie find themselves not only sharing rickety beds with nine other shivering occupants, but as if things couldn’t get any worse there was also a real epidemic of fleas. And her sister, true to the dangerous, but persistent, ministry that they had enacted amongst their fellow inmates, serenely gave thanks for the fleas. Corrie was incredulous. She couldn't see how even God could make her thankful for fleas. But their ministry of reading from their miraculously smuggled Bible continued to thrive in marvellous ways. Later, it comes to light that the reason there has been so little danger to this practice is that the officials refused to enter the flea-infested building. This spoke powerfully to me: we too can give thanks in every situation.
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him
Psalm 34:8 continues like this: “blessed is the man who trusts in Him. Fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing” (34:8b-10).
These are mighty promises, but we must nevertheless guard ourselves from lifting them up as a vending-machine-style exchange. Taking refuge in the LORD is its own reward, and the psalm gives a few suggestions as to why that is.
For one thing, God is praiseworthy. We do not need to trick ourselves into gratefulness. How blessed are we that we have real cause for joy and gratefulness! David’s call to praise is not a call to unreasonable optimism, but a reminder for us (fickle and forgetful as we are) that in our Lord we always actually have something to celebrate. It is a tactic we can employ in our prayer lives, as we remember God’s character and what he has done. And even if our own darkness is clouding out specifics of how He has personally acted in our lives, we have a wealth of his Word to draw from. David talks of his own experience of God’s goodness, but also of reasons to praise from the history of God’s involvement in His people’s lives, from the bigger picture. Just glance through some of the attributes David highlights:
- He listens to us when we call out to Him (verses 4, 6, 17)
- He protects and delivers (verses 4, 6, 7, 18, 19, 20, 22)
- He is near (verses 7)
- He is attentive and not negligent or distant (verse 15)
- He is close, especially to those who have the greatest need for Him (verse 18)
- He is our redemption from enduring harm, such as being far from God, being really utterly alone, being powerless (verse 21), or being condemned (verse 22).
Can I think of times where God has answered prayers? Do I remember with thanks the times He has reassured me, or where I have been courageous despite circumstance? Am I reminding myself, as I stare out into the obscurity of the future, of the provision of God to bring me even to this very spot where I am? And, very close to home, do I take time to recall that He has opened doors for me in a manner so incontestable that I am certain of His attentiveness to my personal journey? That He did not neglect to guide me at the crossroads where I made a big decision?
A popular platitude says that “You are what you eat”—i.e., if you eat unhealthily, you will be unhealthy. Perhaps it would be truer to say that “You are what you think.” In the same way that a person on a diet of steadily pessimistic commentary is likely to be a bitter cynic, or a indulgent gossip is likely to be a suspicious and untrustworthy friend, so too are we susceptible, and should take care to fill our minds with God’s truth.
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. In this way, being filled with God's truth strengthens us that we are not filled with something else, like doubt or fear. I am particularly prone to that kind of anxiety when I have left myself vulnerable: when I do not remind myself just how much He has done merely in bringing me to the exact spot where I am.
I know I need to be constantly asking myself, "Where is my refuge? Who is my go-to in sad times, in fright or terror, in misery or difficulty, at times of decision-making, or in joy?" Psalm 107:8-9 says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” True refuge, true worship, true joy and true assurance is only to be found in the true LORD.
So let us say with David:
I will extol the LORD at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.
My soul will boast in the LORD:
let the afflicted hear and rejoice
Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt His name together.