Life as a Psalm to the Lord: Thanking God for Holsteins and coyotes

I walked with him from house to barn, conversing about the wolves he said he held in trust. After passing through the farrowing pens and past rooms of pigs and piglets, we emerged from the hog house to the outdoor fold. There, in billows of sweet fresh hay, lay resting sows enjoying their sabbath: God's creatures all.

For this farmer of Neerlandia, worship was a way of life. While worship with the congregation was vitally important to the fabric of this Alberta farm, so, too, were how the hogs and wild creatures were kept, how the family was nourished through Scripture and prayer, how minds were fed with wisdom preserved in books of science and theology.

Here was a farmer who published in land and in life. Taking seriously the biblical admonition not to add house to house and field to field (Isa. 5:8), he gave the moose their own forty acres and, with his family, planted his house in a native garden of forest creatures preserved from the plow. Life on this farm was a psalm to the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth. Each day here was lived as full-orbed worship.

On a neighboring farm, I shared dinner with still another worshiping family. Their lives of gratitude and praise incorporated three summer weekends to sing psalms and hymns to their Creator while they backpacked in the Canadian Rockies. On this farm the family delighted in Holsteins—but also in the coyotes God had put under their care.

The Creation Connection

On these farms, as elsewhere, Reformed worship connects with creation—and for good reason. God's power to save through Jesus Christ and God's power to inspire through the Holy Spirit derive from the divinity and power of the Creator of all things. Only the One who has the power and wisdom to create the world has the power to save it.

The Maker, forming the world with marvelous integrity, saving the world through divine love, is the One from whom all blessings flow. In response to these blessings, we and all creatures return our praise. Living becomes worship; life becomes a wortfi-ful publication of praise to God.

Lavishing blessings on land and life, God waters the earth and cares for the creatures—even for carnivores "who seek their food from God" (Ps. 104). Delighting in his creatures, God sharpens our eyes to see the integrity and beauty of each part of creation-even of creatures such as the behemoth, whose massive body, amazing skeletal strength, and fearless behavior are wonderfully harmonized into its challenging wetland habitat (Job 40:15-24). All creation returns its psalms of praise: "fruitful trees and cedars, every hill and mountain high, creeping things and beasts and cattle, birds that in the heavens fly.... " So do "aged men and children small" (Ps. 148; PsH 188).

Creation matters. It matters not only because everything we know and see is created and sustained by God. It matters not only because of its outpouring of praise. It also matters because God becomes flesh for our sakes. Expressing all-embracing love for the world, God affirms the material through Christ's incarnation. Birthed in the flesh and cradled in a feeding box for animals, Jesus uses lilies and spanows to illustrate as he teaches in the field. Christ enters as a material person in a material world— God with us. And, expressing God's love for the cosmos, he dies in the flesh and returns in the flesh to be mistaken as the gardener—God incarnate. Material creation is affirmed by the incarnation; it is vindicated by Christ's resurrection. Heaven and nature sing!

Material creation declares God's glory (Ps. 19:1), publishing far and wide God's everlasting power and divinity so effectively that all are left without excuse (Rom. 1:20). In concord with the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things, the fanner, artist, woodworker, and dressmaker also proclaim the glory of God, living their lives as worship—as psalms of praise, gratitude, and thanksgiving for God's love for the world. Imaging God's love for the world, they also declare theirs, keeping God's creation and preserving creation's convicting testimony.

Worship Is Practice

Our worship as congregations affirms all of our praise and honor to the Creator. Joy to creation, the Lord has come! Let heaven and the material creation break out in song! "Raise your joys and triumphs high ... Sing, O heavens, and earth, reply: Alleluia!" (PsH 388).

And all creation then awaits the coming. Standing on tiptoes, with neck outstretched, it eagerly waits for the coming of the children of God (cf. Rom. 8). "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow! Praise God, all creatures here below!"

For the Reformed farmer, artist, woodworker, and dressmaker, worship is more than singing songs with a beautiful voice or playing an instrument well (Ezek. 33:31-32); worship is also practice. We practice singing psalms in the assembly so that the psalm of life is inspired to be ever more grateful, ever more beautiful. We prepare together to publish the glory of God in field and forest, mine and mountain.

Worship in the congregation renews, rejuvenates, and inspires worshipers to publish in life and landscape. Congregating, they are fed with the Word and inspired by the Holy Spirit to follow the Servant (Phil. 2:5-7) and Reconciler (Col. 1:19). They are encouraged to follow the One who refreshes, rejuvenates, and makes all things new (Rev 21:5), to follow the One by whom and for whom all things were created and in whom all things have their integrity (cf. John 1:1-5; Col. 1:15-17; Prov. 8). Congregating, their awareness and appreciation of the Creator and creation are heightened, and they are empowered to do God's work in the world—serving and keeping the garden with which they have been entrusted.

The preaching of the Word, the singing of Zion's songs, and the assembling of those seeking and those called, encourages, inspires, and enables people to live lives as psalms to the Lord—to do God's will on earth (as in heaven), to live rightly in creation, to image God's love for the world. The worshiping community is admonished, heartened, and energized to so live on earth that heaven will not be a shock to them.

Principles for Earth's Caretakers

Three teachings from the life-giving flow of Scripture have particular import for our relationships within Creation: the biblical teachings on earthkeep-ing, fruitfulness, and sabbath.

Earthkeeping Principle: Like Adam, we are expected to serve {'abad) and keep (shamar) the garden (Gen 2:15). Although the first Adam failed in this task, we are called to follow the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who comes to undo and redo the work of the first Adam. We must name and care for God's creatures. We must be earthkeepers.

Fruitfulness Principle: While we and other creatures are expected to enjoy the fruit of creation, we must not destroy it (Deut. 22:6-7), and when its fruitfulness is threatened, we must preserve it (Gen. 6-9). As we fill and fulfill (male') the earth in response to God's blessing, we must not deny the same blessing to the other creatures (Gen. 1:22). Asks Ezekiel, "Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?" (Ezek. 34:18). We must preserve creation's fruitfulness.

Sabbath Principle: Relentless pressing of ourselves, our family, the animals under our care, the land, and its creatures is not permissible (Ex. 20 and 23). All creation must have its sabbaths, as even God took sabbath rest. If we find ourselves rationalizing continuous work and continuous exploitation of ourselves and of God's world, we violate God's expectation that we, God's other creatures, and all creation enjoy our times of sabbath rest (Lev. 25-26).

Earthkeeping, fruitfulness, and sabbath: these principles—preached and lived in context of the whole counsel of God—are vital for our right living on earth, whether farmer or dressmaker, artist or woodworker. In the worshiping assembly these scriptural teachings are part of the enabling nourishment served the worshipers. And thankful for this food, we sing our grateful praise.

Publishing in life and landscape requires this expression of worth-ship in corporate adoration of the One who is truly worthy. Coupled with knowledge of how God works in the world, knowledge of God's Word helps us live worth-ful lives in which biblical insight and ecological knowledge productively interact and are put into practice.

In our singing of the psalm of life, we sometimes sing a single strain as we plant a seed or send a memo. Mostly, though, we harmonize many strains into a rendition of service to God, to God's earth, and to the life of God's creatures. In living out our worth-ship, our lives become fugues of interrelated strains. They become songs sung in multipart harmony, songs that often require practice before they become beautifully-sung psalms of life.

In living out a full-orbed worship, our strains harmonize to become symphonies of truth and beauty, and even symphonies of symphonies, mirroring the complex and marvelous beauty of God's world. As publishing worshipers we reflect the simple strains of caring in harmony with the mind of Christ our Savior in all we do and say.

A Doxology of Praise

Walking from the house to the barn, and finding that this farmer loved the wolves, doxology broke forth in my heart. I heard the praise ascending to God from that farmer; I heard the praise ascending to God from creatures who dwell with us here on earth below, creatures whom we embrace, as God does, with love and care.



If you've appreciated DeWitt's perspectives on the relationship between creation, life, and worship, you'll be interested in his book Earth-Wise—A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues.

In this six-chapter study DeWitt maintains that instead of wallowing in fear and horror at the mess we've made of this earth, we need to regain a joyful, positive attitude about our ability to do good in the world.

Earth-Wise is full of ideas for positive action Christians can take, both individually and as congregations, to make this planet a better place to live. Discussion questions are included for use in group settings.

You can order Earth-Wise from CRC Publications ($6.50 U.S., $8.45 CDN) by calling 1-800-333-8300 (US) or 1-800-263-4252 (Canada).

Calvin B. DeWitt is professor of environmental studies for the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, and director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona, Michigan. He is a member of Geneva Campus Church in Madison.


Reformed Worship 35 © March 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.