Psalms for Families: Devotions for All Ages, Psalm 103

Psalms for Families, by Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley, is a devotional book for the entire family designed to help parents explore the riches of the book of Psalms with their children and teens. These devotionals will help parents learn more about the psalms as they teach their children about praise, prayer, and lament. This book contains four devotionals on each of our selected psalms as well as notes for adults that provide additional information and background.

Introduction and Full Series

Devotional 1, Devotional 2, Devotional 3, Devotional 4, Notes for Adults

Psalm 103

Of David.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed
.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love
.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us
.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more
.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children —
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
There is nothing in this world that can compare to you. All the angels, all the hosts of heaven, all the earth praises you. There is no place in this world that you are not in charge. We shout your praises, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 103 Praise the Lord!

Psalm 103
Devotional 1: Praise the Lord!

Have you ever met someone who is famous? People often say they have a hard time talking to a famous person, especially if it’s someone they really admire. They get nervous, and the only thing they can think to say is to tell the famous person how good they are at what they do. Fans might say, “I really like your music,” “You’re my favorite football player,” or “I wish I could dance like you do.” We naturally want to tell these people how talented they are. There is a pretty good chance that they already know this—after all, if they’re famous for doing it they probably know that they do it well!

We can often feel the same way about God. When we talk to God sometimes we are so amazed that the God of the universe listens to us that we want to simply tell him how great we think he is. That’s what Psalm 103 does. As you read the following verses from this psalm, notice how many times the writer says, “Praise the Lord.”

Read Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will
.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

Imagine that you had a chance to talk to God face to face. What would you say?

Enter the Psalm: Some Bible translations use the phrase “Bless the Lord” instead of “Praise the Lord.” Do you think that changes what the psalm means? If so, why?

Psalm 103 The Benefits of Knowing the King

Psalm 103
Devotional 2: The Benefits of Knowing God
 

When people work, they get paid and sometimes they receive other benefits. If you work in a restaurant, the benefit can be free food. If you work in a movie theater, you may be able to see films for free when you aren’t working. If you work for a garden center, you may be able to buy plants for a reduced price.

There are also benefits of being part of a family. Families help each other out. Family members make sure there is a place to sleep and food to eat. Families take vacations together. They celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Families take care of each other if someone is sick.

In Psalm 103, the writer lists the benefits of knowing God. Read Psalm 103:1-5:

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits—

3 who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The benefit of receiving reduced prices on plants seems pretty small compared to the benefits of knowing God. God forgives our sins! And he heals our diseases. Then the writer of Psalm 103 says that he “redeems our life from the pit.” When people in Bible times talked about God saving them from the pit, they meant that God kept them alive.

After giving us gifts like forgiveness, healing, and redemption, God gives us even more. He gives us love and he has concern for us when things are not going well. He does more that just give us good things—he helps us to want the things that are really good. Those are some pretty great benefits!

Enter the Psalm: Make a list of the verbs in verse 3 to 5 (forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and renewed). This list is the benefits we receive from knowing God. Which benefit is the most important to you?

Psalm 103 The Deeds of Our God

Psalm 103
Devotional 3: The Deeds of Our God

Read Psalm 103:1-7. Notice how, after praising God and remembering the benefits of being his people, the writer then writes that God made himself known to the people of Israel.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion
,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

There are many things about God that are mysterious. We don’t know what God looks like. We don’t know how big he is. We don’t know how he is able to do all of the things he does. But that does not mean that God is hiding from us. God lets his people know who he is.

The writer says, “He made known his ways to Moses.”  Moses and God actually talked to each other. God was not a stranger to Moses. He was also not a stranger to the people of Israel. Even though God did not speak to the people of Israel the same way he spoke to Moses, he still made sure that the people of Israel knew who he was. God showed who he was by the things that he did; parting the Red Sea, causing manna to come every morning, and bringing water up out of a rock. We can know who God is by reading the Bible. These stories remind us that God was present with his people and they show us how we should live.

But God also shows us who he is by his deeds today. When we see a wonderful sunrise or when we see mountains so big we can’t imagine climbing them, when we are feeling sad and someone says or does something to help us, when we gather with God’s people to worship him, God makes his ways known to us. If we look for God’s goodness, we will see it.

Enter the Psalm: God is working here on earth. When you see plants grow, when you grow, when the sun is setting, when you see animals, or when you see your friends, you are seeing things that are gifts from God. Think about that today, and talk about where you saw God.

Psalm 103 As High As the Heavens Are Above the Earth

Psalm 103
Devotional 4: As High as the Heavens Are Above the Earth

Have you ever said, “It’s not fair!”? Sometimes when things don’t go the way we want them to, we complain that we didn’t get our fair share. Brothers and sisters sometimes complain that they didn’t get to do the same things as their older or younger brother or sister did. Do you ever do that?

When people work hard, they usually get paid because they earned that money. They deserve it. And they make a deal with the person they work for so that they get what they deserve.

When we look at God like a parent or a boss we get ourselves in trouble, because we deserve something quite different from what we want. We want God’s blessings and the many good things that God gives us, but the problem is that we are sinners and God knows that. If we got what we deserved we’d be in big trouble. The next part of Psalm 103 talks about that.

Read Psalm 103:1-7 and remember that David is praising God for who God is and reciting the benefits of being in God’s family. (If your children are too young to read that long passage, just briefly mention it.) 

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

Now, read Psalm 103: 8-12.

8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
   slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
   nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
   or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

The writer goes on to write about how we do not get what we deserve. He uses two pictures that help us begin to understand God’s love and forgiveness: the distance between the heaven and the earth and the distance from east to west.

How far away is heaven? That’s a tough question because we can’t point to heaven on a map. How far away is “east?” How far away is “west?” We can’t answer those questions either. All of these distances are impossible to measure. The writer gave us these pictures to show us that God’s love is bigger than we can imagine.

God’s love is so big that we can’t measure it. God removes our sins so far away that we can’t see them from where we are. We don’t deserve this. We deserve punishment. But because God loves us, we don’t get what we deserve. This is another great reason to praise him!

Enter the Psalm: God’s love is bigger the distance between earth and heaven. That’s a fun way to say that God’s love is bigger than anything we can imagine. See how many ways you can think of to say “God love is bigger or farther or. . . .”  


Psalm 103
More—Praise His Holy Name (Notes for Adults)

Psalm 103 is a psalm of blessing and praise to the Lord. The structure of the psalm is pretty simple, with declarations of praise at the beginning (verses 1 and 2) and at the end (20-22). In between there is a celebration of benefits from God (3-5) and a listing of God’s faithfulness to his people despite their sinfulness (6-12) and their frailty (13-19).

Bless is a word we don’t use much these days except maybe in church. In some translations Psalm 103 includes the words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul . . . ” but in others the word praise is translated as bless.  Why are there two different translations?  Do praise and bless actually mean the same thing? 

Translating from one language to another is sometimes very tricky. Many English words have subtle shades of meaning that make them difficult to describe in just a few words. For example, the words classy and elegant mean much the same thing, but each word conjures up a different set of images. While we could substitute one word for the other, something would be lost (or gained) when we do that. So when Bible translators are trying to express the Hebrew words as accurately as possible, it can be hard to find just the right word or words that express all the subtle meanings of the original Hebrew.  That’s why in this psalm the Hebrew word barak is translated both as praise and as bless.

Bless is a word that we use to invoke God’s favor on someone or something. If we ask God to bless us when we do something, we ask God’s goodness to be with us. So when translators get to Psalm 103, there is an interesting dilemma. If bless is used to show God’s favor, then we can’t bless God, can we?  But that is the word in Hebrew that is used in this (and other) psalms.

An alternate meaning for the word barak is praise, so that’s the word some translators use. Generally, we give God praise, God doesn’t praise us. Similarly, God blesses us but we usually don’t think we can bless God. So which word is best? It is unclear (to us at least.) The Hebrew word may well have both sets of meanings attached to it, so keeping both in mind as you read this psalm is probably appropriate.

Since praise is a word that children can probably understand better than bless, we will use praise in these devotionals. But you might want to talk about the other translation, especially if the Bible you use has the word bless in this psalm.

As you read this psalm with young children, remember that phrases like “as the heavens are high above the earth” and “as far as the east is from the west” are abstract, and children may need some concrete examples of things that are very high or very far away. In a similar way, talking about God’s deeds for Israel can be made more immediate by making specific references to the things God has done in your family’s recent history.

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