God is a mover.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers. (vs 1)
If there is one thing to know about God, it is that He goes on forever. He’s always on the move, onto bigger heights and deeper depths. He is always seeking to tell us more, to show us more, and to give us more. His love for us never sleeps, and His care for the entire universe is never idle. God is a mover. (As further evidence of this, scientists have discovered that the universe itself is constantly expanding. And not only is it expanding, but it is expanding at an ever-increasing speed.)
Contrast that with the picture of the wicked in this opening verse of Psalms. As an author, I believe that most writers choose their words very carefully. As such, this writer chose to paint a picture of the wicked as a group of people who are slowly winding down. He says that a person is blessed if he doesn’t hang out with the wicked, who go in progression from walking to standing to sitting. Those who choose the path of the ungodly will end up at a stand-still.
This reminds me of a documentary I once watched on fractals and the Mandelbrot set. I have to admit that most of it was over my head, but I was able to discern that as a particular mathematical equation was applied to various numbers, one of two things happened: Either the number “shot off” into infinity, or it spiraled down to zero. (Plotting the numbers on a graph results in the beautiful visual images of the Mandelbrot set.)
I can only imagine that some math wizard is going to email me and tell me that I’ve explained it all wrong. And I’m sure I have. However, what made my ears perk up was that all the numbers did one of only two things: Spiraled down to zero or went on to infinity. There was no halfway point, nothing in between.
The same is true for us. In the end, there is only the righteous and the wicked. The wicked will end at a stand-still, having spiraled down to nothing and been given over to death. But the righteous will go on forever, into an ever-increasing eternity with God. He is never idle; He is always on the move. Are we ready to go with Him?
God wants us blessed, not broken.
Once again, two types of people are contrasted in this Psalm—those who submit to the Lord’s authority and those who do not. The ones who do not are those who have come to believe that submission to God is akin to slavery: “‘Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ’and free ourselves from slavery to God.’” (vs 3)
There have probably been times when all of us have had these sorts of thoughts. In fact, it’s easy to view God as this guy who makes all the rules—rules that are just designed to curb our fun. Somehow, subconsciously, we believe that the closer we come to God, the more freedom we’ll have to give up, and the further we go from God, the more freedom we acquire.
That kind of thinking is a condition of our sinful nature.
Later in this Psalm, we discover what happens to those who want to “break the chains of slavery to God”—they end up broken (vs 9). While those who submit to God’s authority find themselves blessed: “What joy for all who take refuge in him!” (vs 12)
This is the choice: Blessed or broken. And God wants us to be the former, not the latter.
I used to think that it was God who would break us for breaking His law. But I’ve actually come to understand that that’s not the case at all. In fact, I have thought for some time that God’s laws cannot be broken. They can no more be broken than physical laws—for instance, the Law of Gravity. Instead, when we ignore them, we are the ones who get broken—just as it doesn’t end well for someone who leaps off the Empire State Building.
God doesn’t want us to get broken. That’s why He has revealed, at such personal cost, the path to blessing. And the only path to blessing lies in submission and obedience to the authority of God. He wants us to do what He says—not because He’s on a power trip, but because what He says actually leads to life.
P. T. Forsythe said, “The purpose of life is not to find your freedom. The purpose of life is to find your Master.” Make sure you spend your life finding the one Master who wants you blessed, not broken.
God gives peace in the storm.
I can’t imagine writing a song when I was running away from my child. That’s what this is—a psalm David wrote as he was fleeing from his son. Absalom was trying to kill him so he could take over the kingdom. Apparently, however, even while he was on the run, David wasn’t losing sleep: “I can lie down and go to sleep, and I will wake up again, because the Lord gives me strength. Thousands of troops may surround me, but I am not afraid.” (vs 5-6)
Since this Psalm comes hard on the heels of the Book of Job, I’m struck again by the fact that God often doesn’t calm the storm. Rather, He gives us peace in the midst of the storm. David is a great example of that. His heart was at peace and he had rest, even though he was being pursued by his enemies. He was sleeping well at night; trust in God was his pillow.
There is a time coming in this world—and it is probably closer than we can imagine—when there will be nothing to hang onto but our trust in God. Everything around us will have collapsed—our economic system, our communities, our society, maybe even our family—and God wants us to know that, even then, we can be at peace. Even if our bed has been yanked out from under us, we can still sleep well at night.
Bible commentator Hamilton Smith wrote, “Be it a question of ourselves and the enemy, one is too strong for us: if it is a question of God and the enemy it matters not if it is one or ten thousand against us.” When we trust that God knows what He’s doing, and when we trust that (as He said) He has overcome the world, what do we have to fear? Every moment of every day, we can place ourselves in His hands, knowing that whatever comes to us will be worked out by Him for our good. Thus, we need not fear anything or anyone else.
The storm is coming—there’s no doubt about it. Before it hits, make sure you know where to find the peace.
God is happiness.
I edit and produce a monthly newsletter for Canadian business people who are trying to either get rich or stay rich. It is an interesting job, to say the least. On the average, I edit articles from, roughly, 30 “experts” in various fields of business. I learn a lot about investing, marketing, and real estate. But I have never been tempted to drop everything and run after the wealth. Maybe you could say I’m lazy. (I know that’s what at least four of these “experts” would say!) Or maybe you could say that I just have different priorities in life.
Even though I’ve never met any of these writers, there are times when I know I wouldn’t want to pursue what they’re talking about, simply based on who they appear to be from their writing. For instance, one of my writers this month (writing about how the most patriotic thing anybody could do was make a ton of money) quoted Kiss legend and multi-millionaire businessman Gene Simmons: “This idea that money can’t buy happiness is wrong. Not having money makes you unhappy. Having money actually does make you happy. Even if you are a miserable son of a b****, you’re still going to be happier being a rich miserable son of a b****.”
When I read that, it just made me sad. I couldn’t disagree more. Money might make certain things easier in this life, but making you happy? I don’t know Gene Simmons, but I wonder how he would rate his life on the happiness scale.
This idea that money can buy happiness is nothing new. It’s a concept as old as . . . well, time. David talked about it in today’s psalm: “Why is everyone hungry for more? ‘More, more,’ they say. ‘More, more.’ I have God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.” (vs 6-7)
Unless people have God first in their lives, they will always say, More, more. Because nothing can satisfy the heart like God. Nothing. There is only one place in the world to find true, lasting happiness—in God. Other things may promise happiness, and they may even provide temporary happiness, but if they’re not centered in God, the happiness will fade.
The good news is that, with God, we don’t have to give up the “more.” It’s not a choice between Him or other things. In fact, when we put Him first, we find—as David said—that we get more-than-enough. That’s more than enough of what we need and more than enough of what we want.
So I’m sorry, Gene Simmons, but you’re wrong. Money can’t buy happiness, because true happiness isn’t for sale. True happiness is a gift from God, and He’s more than willing to give it to us.
God is a shield.
A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook today about the coming collapse of the American economic system (and, presumably, the eventual collapse of the global economic system as well). The video talked about how, once the dollar collapses, food and energy prices will skyrocket—leading to starvation, desperation, riots, looting, and violence. The creator of the video hypothesized that, at that point, martial law will be attempted but will fail, as the soldiers will realize that they need to protect their own families from the growing masses of angry, out-of-control people.
What a grim picture of the future.
Since I’ve read the Book of Revelation, I’m inclined to say that I don’t disagree with the video creator’s idea that there is a storm coming—and it will forever change life as we know it on this planet. Who knows when or how that will happen. The way things are going in the world right now, however, makes me wonder if it will happen sooner rather than later.
I hope so.
Because, since I’ve read the Book of Revelation, I also know the end of the story. And if the storm is what we have to go through to get to the end, then by all means, let’s get on with it and get out of here.
But, you may wonder why I’m talking about Revelation when this blog is about Psalms 5. It’s because this chapter holds the key to standing in the storm: “For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.” (vs 12) The Hebrew word translated “shield”—tsinnah—means a large, full-body shield. Many parts of armor are specifically designed to protect a certain part of the anatomy (i.e. a helmet for the head, a breastplate for the chest, etc.), but a tsinnah protects everything.
In fact, these shields were often referred to as a gate or door because they were so long and large. A soldier could literally walk upright behind it with little fear of injury.
In the same way, God is a full-body shield of love to all those who trust in Him. And seeing that video today made me think about those who truly trust in God going through the coming storm. When times become desperate—and I believe they will be very desperate—there will be a group of people (maybe most people) who will resort to rioting, looting, and violence. I don’t think we can imagine how bad it will be. But, in the midst of all this chaos, I think there will be another group of people who are calm, at peace, and not afraid—even if they are starving. They will not be looting others; they will be helping others.
These are the people whose trust in God is so strong that they will be able to walk upright behind His shield of love in the midst of the storm. When the arrows and daggers of pain, suffering, starvation, and bodily harm are thrown at them, they will not be deterred, nor will their confidence in God be shaken. The weapons of the enemy will hit that shield—and the people of peace will keep right on coming. Nothing will be able to raze their faith in God. I like that visual image—the attacks of the enemy bouncing off the shield of love with a little ping here and a zing there.
I took the message of that video seriously, and I plan to make the preparations suggested by its creator—all except one. He recommended stockpiling water, food . . . and guns, in order to protect your family and your food. I’m going to take a pass on the guns. I will be gathering water, food, and supplies, but I’m going to do it so that when the world falls into great need, I will be able to share some food with those near me who don’t have any more.
While they eat, I’ll tell them about the shield I’ve found—the one thing we can all have that nobody else can ever destroy or take away.
God hears it all.
My husband recently read a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Out of the many things he told me about the book, the one thing that has stuck with me is that a lot of men are a bit uncomfortable with all the “relationship” imagery the church uses when it comes to God—especially referring to God as a Lover. And I will agree that much of church (and church language) has become “feminized.” Here’s one example from Murrow’s book:
“In the Baptist universe you have two kinds of people: the saved and the lost. Men hate to be lost; that’s why they don’t ask for directions. If you tell a man he’s lost, he will instinctively resist you! George Barna notes that a majority of unchurched people resent being referred to as lost. And the only thing worse than being lost is being saved. . .
“Although Jesus used the term saved a number of times in the Gospels, only twice did He pronounce someone saved (Luke 7:50; 19:9). But He called many to follow Him. Hear the difference? Follow gives a man something to do. It suggests activity instead of passivity. But being saved is something that happens to damsels in distress.”
So, men, if the traditional church hasn’t offered much in the way of speaking to your manhood, I want to assure you that God is able to relate (there’s that word again—sorry!) to you as a man. There’s a great clue to that in this chapter of Psalms. And even though it may appear somewhat “feminine” on the surface, we’ll find something wonderful and inclusive about God underneath the surface.
David wrote, “Go away, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.” ( vs 8 )
Perhaps, right off the bat, most men wouldn’t even want to admit to weeping. Heck, I’m a girl, and I hate the thought of crying in front of anyone else! But, in this psalm, David makes it very clear in the preceding verses that he is devastated. He says his emotions have worn him out—his troubles are even keeping him up at night. Male or female, I’m sure we have all had that kind of experience at one time or another!
That’s why I love how David says that God has heard his weeping. Things are so upside-down in his world that he can’t eat, he can’t sleep, and he can’t even pray. All he can do is cry—but God hears that, just as if it were conversation. In his commentary on this verse, Charles Spurgeon said, “Is it not sweet to believe that our tears are understood even when words fail! Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayer.”
So, gentlemen, if it troubles you to think of God as a lover or parent, imagine Him instead as your best friend, sitting next to you in the bar or running a mile with you around the track. You don’t have to produce some sort of deep, intimate conversation in order to spend time with Him. He hears it all—even when what we are thinking can’t be put into words. He hears the silences; He hears the groans; and, yes, He hears the tears (even when we would never admit shedding them to another person).
And, like the best kind of friend a man can have, He also knows just what to do at the right time. He knows when to talk, when to laugh, when to challenge you, when to be quiet, and when to slap you upside the head. So, don’t let the church put you off when it comes to God. You can be real with Him as a man. It doesn’t matter if you need to shout, scream, be quiet, talk, groan, or cry—He can hear (and handle) it all.
God is a siren.
In this chapter of Psalms, God sounds a warning through David: Beware of sin. It always backfires and injures the one who engages in it. Here’s how David put it: “An evil person is like a woman about to give birth to a hateful, deceitful, and rebellious child. Such people dig a deep hole, then fall in it themselves. The trouble they cause comes back on them, and their heads are crushed by their own evil deeds.” (vs 14-16)
I found it interesting that David described an evil person like a pregnant woman. Because I know, from having been recently pregnant, that giving birth to a child is not a choice you make. It’s a natural, inevitable result of the pregnant condition. Those who are not pregnant do not give birth to children.
In the same way, those who are wicked eventually destroy themselves. It’s not a choice they make. It’s the natural, inevitable result of the wicked condition. As David said, “the trouble they cause comes back on them.”Just as a person who delivers a baby has to then deal with the responsibility of raising it!
What’s even more interesting to me, however, was what David said in the verses immediately preceding: “If a person does not repent, God will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He will prepare his deadly weapons and flaming arrows.” (vs 12-13) He pictures God as being ready to strike at the wicked, yet then goes on to say that the way of the wicked ends in self-destruction.
This is why I say God is a siren. Sometimes we think it is God who brings an end to the wicked. But God wants us to know that sin is dangerous. All throughout the pages of Scripture, He is sounding the alarm bell, warning us about what will happen if we continue down a wicked path: The hole we dig will be the one we fall into, and the evil deeds we do will come back to crush our own heads.
God has never needed to add anything awful to the already-grave consequences of sin. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, “Sin pays its own wage. The wage is death.” Sin is dangerous! That’s why God wants us to stay away from it, and that’s why He often acts like a siren—to get us to steer clear of the very thing that will ruin us.
God is an artist.
This has always been one of my most favorite psalms, especially this part: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. . . When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (vs 1, 3-4)
I’m sure, at the time, David had no idea how great a question he had asked. For, I’m sure that when he looked into the heavens, he had a sense that Earth was a small speck in a large place, but I’m not sure he knew how small. If you want to see something fascinating, look at this series of pictures that puts our planets and sun in perspective with other known stars in the universe. Compared to our own sun, Earth is a tiny speck. But our own sun—which is so massive in our solar system—is but a speck when compared to other stars God has created.
God is an incredible artist. All that is required to understand this is to do what David did when he wrote this psalm—gaze up into a clear night sky. The stars and the planets, suspended in their places by nothing, follow their ordered courses as they sparkle and shine. And on our own tiny planet, the glory of God shines in a myriad of creative ways—from sunsets more beautiful than any painter could create to sweeping landscapes that have been the obsession of many photographers.
God’s glory is definitely on display everywhere for all to see.
But, unlike so many human artists whose work we admire, God is an artist whom we can know personally. In fact, He is not simply available to be known if we happen to be interested; He is actively pursuing us because He wants us to know Him! Everything He makes is for the enjoyment and benefit of His creatures—even those tiny, human specks who live on a tiny planet that revolves around a tiny star.
God is an incredible artist. He opens His mouth, and the giant stars come out. He speaks and whole galaxies of stars and planets are born. The ruler in His desk drawer does not measure in inches, but light-years. Yet, He knows the number of hairs you have on your head. And He has set His glory in the heavens so that we would know how majestic is His name in all the Earth!
God likes a skeptic.
I will admit it: One of my favorite television programs is Judge Judy. But it is often sad to see the steady parade of young people (usually girls) who have found themselves in a tight spot because they were taken advantage of. When Judge Judy asks them why they were stupid enough to do whatever it was they did (loan money, co-sign for a car, etc.), the answer is invariably, “Because I trusted him, your honor.”
The sad part is that many of these situations occur within weeks, sometimes days of one person “knowing” the other. I knew him for three days and we moved in together. I knew her for two weeks and loaned her $4000. I thought I could trust him. I think the younger generations in this country have totally lost the concept of what trust actually means.
In this psalm, David said, “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (vs 10) Like a beautiful diamond, this puts trust in its proper setting. You see, true faith demands a context. It’s not something that’s out there on its own. It’s not isolated. It’s not a leap. It belongs in a setting. And the setting is evidence.
This verse describes how experience leads to knowledge, which leads to action. Those who know what the Lord is like (knowledge) because they have witnessed His faithfulness (experience) put their faith and trust in Him (action). God isn’t like one of those freeloaders who asks for our trust without the evidence to back it up.
Yes, God wants us to be willing to trust. But He doesn’t want us to put our trust in just anything or anyone. God likes a skeptic. He likes it when we demand evidence for our faith. He likes it when we ask questions. He likes it when we want to see proof. He likes that . . . because He is the kind of person who is willing to provide evidence.
So, the next time someone tries to tell you that faith involves a leap, make sure you tell them they’re mistaken. You should no more trust the God of the Universe without evidence than you should move in with someone you met three days ago. For every relationship in life—and especially the most important one (with God)—you should require evidence and experience as a basis for your faith.
God is more than happy and willing to give it to you!
God is not immune to suffering.
Right off the bat, I’m going to have to ask you to forgive me for today’s blog. As an author, I usually don’t like to write about something unless I’ve mulled it over long enough in my mind to be able to write about it as if it were a little package all tied up with a bow. But today’s psalm has sent my mind off in a somewhat-new direction, so what I will write about today may be more like musing out loud. I’ll try not to babble.
I was struck right away by verse one: “Lord, why are you so far away? Why do you hide when there is trouble?”
Maybe I’m reading more into the verse than is there, but to me, there seemed to be a subtle implication that if the Lord was near, the trouble would cease. Maybe that’s not what David had in mind, but it’s often what we think, isn’t it? Having just finished the Book of Job, we know it’s certainly what Job’s friends thought—that trouble only comes because God is angry or has forsaken you.
But have you ever noticed that, in the Bible, trouble is found in the most astonishing places?
- War in heaven. (Rev 12:7)
- A snake in Paradise. (Gen 3:1)
- Satan among the sons of God. (Job 1:6)
- A traitor among friends. (Matt 26:14-15)
This last example is especially intriguing, given the fact that if anyone had control over His inner circle, it was certainly Jesus. He could have insulated Himself from betrayal and thus prevented the suffering He knew would follow. But He didn’t. Instead, He embraced Judas. He embraced the one He knew would bring Him trouble.
So, I think it might be a fallacy to assume that God and trouble can’t be found together. Yes, God can calm storms, but He doesn’t always do so. Sometimes, as in Isaiah 43, He promises that as we go through the raging rivers or walk through the fire, we will not be destroyed. Sometimes, He lets us be thrown into the fiery furnace—and then we discover that He is right there in the middle of it with us.
Does it have to be that way? Could God have created a universe that would have been free from the possibility of suffering? I think so, but it would have been a universe that wasn’t free in any other way. Because, if God was going to avoid the possibility of suffering, He would have had to make creatures who didn’t have the power to choose. He would have had to make creatures who wouldn’t have the choice to reject Him—because it is the rejection of God that has led to suffering.
True love cannot be immune to suffering. It cannot inoculate itself against rejection. And that goes for God as well. Because He loves and wants to be loved in return, He cannot isolate Himself from suffering. In fact, knowing that He will lose many of His own children for eternity, I would say that—for the sake of love and freedom in His universe—He is prepared to suffer far more than any of us ever will.
So, even if it feels like it sometimes, I don’t believe God hides Himself during times of trouble, nor does He distance Himself from suffering. On the contrary, He consistently puts Himself squarely in suffering’s teeth. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that we are never closer to the heart of God than we are when we suffer.
God is a solid foundation.
I imagine there have been many eras throughout history when it looked like the world was on the edge of collapse and disaster . . . only to have peace arrive and quiet things down once again. So, this era may be no different, but when I watch the news or read the newspaper, it’s easy to believe that the world is creeping ever closer to a total, chaotic meltdown. And when Earth’s final events begin to take place, the Bible says that God’s friends will be in the crosshairs.
That’s why I love the opening of this psalm: “In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” (vs 1-3)
What David’s saying here is that security is not about geography. Because the Lord is his refuge, he is just as safe in the midst of evil as he is on a mountaintop. In fact, it is clear that those who are suggesting that David run away don’t really understand anything about the true foundation David stands on—for that foundation cannot be destroyed. The righteous don’t stand on a foundation that is capable of crumbling. Instead, they cling to the only foundation that is secure while everything else crumbles.
You see, Satan would like us to believe that any given human being only has two options when it comes to trouble—fight or flight. But in this psalm, David illuminates God’s option—faith. Not fight. Not flight. Faith. That’s what allows God’s friends to stand in the storm.
In my mind, this takes the theme of yesterday’s blog even further. We are used to thinking that the closer we come to God, the more we trust and obey Him, the less trouble we should have. But it’s just the opposite. The closer we come to God, the more we trust and obey Him, the more trouble we can endure.
Job, still being fresh in our memories, was a great example of this. Satan accused God of putting a hedge around Job, and I would say there were actually two hedges around him: an outer hedge and an inner hedge. Satan was allowed to trample all over Job’s outer hedge—the hedge of wealth, health, and relationships. But, without Job’s permission, Satan couldn’t touch his inner hedge—the hedge of faith and trust in God. As long as we hold firm to that foundation, nobody else can shake it.
God is a solid foundation. In Him, we are totally secure—right where we’re at, no matter what. When the world falls apart around us, we don’t have to choose between fight and flight. We can choose faith: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” (vs 4)
And everything is okay.
God will not flatter you.
In this psalm, David compares the evil person (who employs flattery and deception) with God (whose speech is pure like gold). It seems that everywhere David looks, all he sees is deception: “Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.” (vs 2)
This is why God doesn’t flatter anyone—because flattery isn’t about communication. It’s about manipulation. And when God talks, He tells the truth. He doesn’t try to manipulate us; He tries to help us understand reality. Sometimes that’s not very pleasant, but it’s better to be stung with the truth than kissed with a lie.
When I was first married, I had to get used to sometimes being “stung” with the truth. When I asked my husband if he liked my hair or my outfit, sometimes he said, “Not really.” I realized very quickly that I wasn’t really asking those questions to hear the truth of what he thought—I just wanted to be flattered! But, even though it took some getting used to, I was very glad he was willing to tell me the truth, and now I have the wonderful assurance of knowing that he’s telling me exactly what he thinks. When he says something, I know he’s not just “telling me what I want to hear.” I know he’s being honest.
So, David admires that about God. But, ironically, I think David may have been indulging in a little flattering thinking, here. His assertion that there was not one righteous person left (besides him, of course) reminded me of Elijah in 1 Kings 19: “And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’” (1 Kgs 19:9-10) God—in His usual non-flattering way—then proceeded to inform Elijah that He, in fact, had 7,000 faithful people in Israel.
In this instance, we don’t get to see the response of God to David, but at least David recognizes that it is God who embodies true faithfulness: “The words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.” (vs 6)
It is very interesting to read through the Bible—especially the Gospels—and pay particular attention to what God says . . . and what He doesn’t say. If you read the stories of Jesus again, you’ll notice that He is very judicious in His language. He doesn’t babble on aimlessly, He doesn’t speak foolishly, and He certainly doesn’t flatter.
Instead, He speaks the truth in love—both when it’s hard to hear and when the words fall like water on a parched soul. He knows just the right thing to say at just the right time. And He never holds back. God will not flatter you. He will always tell you the truth.
God is one patient Dad.
After I got pregnant last year, my husband bought a T-shirt that, I suppose, epitomizes the kind of father he hopes to be. On the background of this shirt is the same bit of dialogue repeated over and over:
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
“Are we there yet? . . . No.”
Emblazoned over this background, in a fiery orange, is the title: One Patient Dad. Did you read today’s psalm carefully? Are you surprised that it reminded me of this T-shirt? Look at the opening verses again:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (vs 1-2)
I have had these very thoughts so many times, and I’m sure you have, too. Now you know why I read this and laughed, realizing how we are just a bunch of three-year-olds in God’s backseat, wondering how long it will be before we “get there.”
For a child riding in a car, even relatively short distances can seem like forever. There are familiar stretches of road I travel now as an adult that, as a child, used to seem so long. But I don’t even think about it now, because I know exactly where I’m going and when I’m going to get there.
I have to remember that this is precisely what it’s like for God—He knows exactly where we’re going and when we’re going to get there. And I’m like the child in the backseat, trying to peer out the window, not quite able to see, not quite able to make sense out of the blur of passing trees and scenery.
Children do much better on long car trips when they have something to occupy their time. Getting engrossed in a book, a game, a movie, or a nap tends to take the mind off the constant are we there yet? And I think it’s the same way for us who wait here on Earth. God doesn’t want us to focus so much on there that we miss out on here. He has things for us to do and enjoy today, in this moment! And if all we ever do is think about the destination, there might be a lot of living and loving that we miss out on.
God is in the driver’s seat. He knows exactly where we’re going and when we’re going to get there. And He wants us to relax and enjoy the journey with Him. At the same time, you can be assured that He is one patient Dad. He’ll never snap at us for asking Are we there yet? How much longer?
God exists, and you know it.
Well, David isn’t so sympathetic to the atheist position, here: “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (vs 1) This is a little counter-cultural in our day and age. We believe that people don’t have to believe in God to be good (just be good for goodness sake). We believe in the more refined notion of tolerance for different opinions on this and many other topics.
Today, we probably wouldn’t be quick to call an atheist a “fool,” but David does. He’s not the only one. The Apostle Paul also wrote on this subject and explained how those who deny the existence of God are left without an excuse:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darknened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Rom 1:18-24)
Paul seems to be saying that there is really no such thing as an atheist. Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t well-meaning and honest atheists in the world right now who have yet to have an encounter with God. It just means that at some point and in some way, God will undeniably make Himself known to them. And when that time comes, they will have to decide what they’re going to do with Him.
Once they know there is a God, if they then decide to continue living as though there isn’t a God, they are undoubtedly fools. And more than that, Paul says this leads to degradation of the worst kind, just as David continued on to say, “They are corrupt, and their actions are evil.” That’s the result of such foolishness.
Could there be any other outcome? If we are willing to go against what we know to be true, how can we hope to end up anything but a fool? If we’re not even willing to be honest with ourselves, what will become of our ability to reason? We will embark on a downward spiral from which there is no return.
But nobody enters that downward spiral unwillingly or unwittingly. This much I can honestly say to any atheist: If there is a God, you will know it for sure. You will not have to wonder. At some point, there will be no doubt in your mind. What may be known about God will be plain to you, for God Himself will make it plain to you. At that point, you may decide to continue living as an atheist, but deep inside, you will know the truth. Until that time, you have every excuse (and, may I say, every right) to live as if He doesn’t exist.
But He does exist. And if you don’t know it yet, don’t worry, you will.
God is totally above board.
In English, when we say that somebody is “above board,” it means that they deal completely honestly and fairly with others. Ironically, its origins are from the gambling world: In a card game, if a person put their hand “below the board” (sideboard was a common word for table), it was easier for them to cheat. Keeping their hand “above board” ruled out the option of dishonesty.
Psalm 15 is a song about the kind of people who get along with God and don’t mind being in His presence. From this, we can easily conclude that God embodies the very same traits. After all, who are you most likely to invite over to your house? People who share common interests and characteristics!
So, if we use Psalm 15 as a blueprint for God’s character, we find a very appealing image. According to David, God:
- is innocent.
- does what is right.
- speaks the truth from His heart.
- does not tell lies about others.
- does no wrong to His neighbors.
- does not gossip.
- does not respect hateful people.
- honors those who honor Him.
- keeps His promises, even when it hurts.
- does not take advantage of people.
(I’m grateful for every quality on this list, but especially that God doesn’t gossip! Because if anyone has the goods on you and me, it’s Him. I’m glad He keeps it to Himself!)
What is this, if not a picture of a person who is totally above board? And not only is God like this, but David says that the people who live with God will be like this, too. That means that God is able and willing to take my gossiping, lying, cheating, conniving self and transform me into someone who is totally above board.
And that’s just what I want to be—more like Him.
God is a pleasure seeker.
This is a Stop the presses! sort of blog title. The kind of thing that makes you think, Did I read that right? For I bet you’ve heard a lot of things about God, but I’m sure there are many of you who have never heard God described as a pleasure seeker. In fact, in many circles, it might be an abomination to put the words God and pleasure together in the same sentence!
I love the ending of this psalm: “You will show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (vs 11) At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Have you been seeking pleasure? Have you been looking in the right place? If you’re having trouble finding it, David tells you exactly where to go: God’s right hand.
Does that surprise you? For far too long, we have been led to believe that God is trying to keep us away from pleasure. But really, it’s just the opposite. Sin promises pleasure, but it never delivers. At times, it might seem to bring pleasure, but in the end, the “pleasure” dissolves into misery.
God, on the other hand, promises–and delivers!–on pleasure forevermore. He’s not a cosmic killjoy. He is, in fact, the only way to real and lasting pleasure. Trying to find pleasure outside of Him is like trying to get full without eating food. It’s not gonna happen.
I love the way the New Life Version rendered this verse: “In Your right hand there is happiness forever.” As with every other good thing, God holds happiness and pleasure in His hands, and He is dying to share it all with us! He is not stodgy or stingy or scroogey, and He’s not out to squelch our fun.
God has all the best pleasures at His fingertips, and He’ll happily let us in on the fun!
God defends us.
As I read this chapter, I was reminded of a verse from one of my favorite hymns, Praise to the Lord:
Praise to the Lord/who does prosper your work/and defends you/
Surely, His goodness and mercy/will daily attend you/
Ponder anew/what the Almighty will do/
As with His love He befriends you
What made me think of that? This verse: “Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.” (vs 2) If we are living for God, the first thing we can expect is to be attacked. The enemy will attack us himself (as in the case of Job), or he’ll send others to do his dirty work for him. Either way, we can expect trouble.
It seems like David had been accused of wrongdoing, but he maintained his innocence. Still, he didn’t feel as though he had to fight his own battles. Instead, he expected God to fight for him. He didn’t feel the need to vindicate himself; he knew God would do that in the right time and the right way.
I think there would be a lot fewer problems in the church if we would remember that principle—that we don’t need to stand up for ourselves; we have a heavenly Father who is more than willing and able to defend us. I guess the problem comes when we either think that God isn’t interested in defending us or think that He’s not doing it in the right way. That’s when we want to defend ourselves.
But God will defend us. As Paul wrote in Romans 8, He is for us. Although it may not happen in the way and time we expect, God will not leave His people crushed and defeated. He will vindicate us at the right time. So the next time you feel compelled to defend yourself, relax and remember David’s prayer: Let my vindication come from you.
Expect God to come to your defense. He will.
God makes us complete.
Have you seen the 1996 film Jerry Maguire? There’s a scene from that film that had most women swooning and most men rolling their eyes. It’s where the character played by Tom Cruise looks at his estranged wife, played by Renee Zellweger, and tearfully says, “You . . . complete . . . me.” That’s what I thought about when I read today’s psalm in The Message. It rendered verse 20 this way: “God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.”
I must confess that I didn’t feel the urge to swoon or roll my eyes at the thought of God completing me by taking the pieces of my life and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Rather, I felt something more akin to awe.
Allow me to share with you one of my favorite quotes from the great classic, Desire of Ages:
“By His life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen. In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us.”
When I first read that, I knew immediately that it was true. Satan wants us to be separated from God forever. That’s a problem, you know. Sin rearing its ugly head in God’s universe—what could be a bigger problem than that? Yet the way God has dealt with the sin problem has ended with us closer to God than before. That means that, somehow, God will bring us out on the other side of sin better than we would have been if sin had never entered the universe in the first place.
How in the world does He do that?!
How can He take something awful and not only turn it into a blessing, but turn it into a bigger and better blessing than we could have received if we hadn’t been subjected to the awful thing in the first place? That boggles my mind. Again and again.
So there’s no doubt in my mind that David is correct when he says that God can make our lives complete when we place all the pieces before Him. It doesn’t matter what the pieces look like. It doesn’t matter if they’re seriously warped. It doesn’t matter if some are missing. It doesn’t matter if they look like they’ll never fit together.
God has a beautiful way of making them all fit together. And the way He fits the pieces of our lives together makes the end result more amazing than it could ever have been if the puzzle had never been fragmented.
God is a genius that way. No matter the circumstances, He can make us complete.
God reveals Himself.
I’ve read this psalm a hundred times. It’s probably one of the most famous psalms—perhaps second only to the 23rd Psalm. Yet, as I read it slowly and carefully in preparation for this blog, something jumped out at me that I had never noticed before.
David begins this psalm by speaking very eloquently about nature. I love how he says that the heavens talk continuously about God, even though they don’t make a sound. But then, all of a sudden, he switches topics abruptly and starts talking about God’s law. I had never noticed how he sort of smashed those two topics together. What does one have to do with the other?
I don’t think David was suffering from ADHD. Instead, I think he was pointing out something beautiful about how God reveals Himself to us.
First, David says that God can be seen in nature—in all the things He has created. He says the heavens and skies boldly declare the truth about God. He talks about the sun and how it operates so orderly—doing just what God designed it to do.
And if we know of a God who can make nature operate in such an awesome, marvelous way, why wouldn’t we believe that He can also help us operate in an awesome, marvelous way? I think David does believe that, and that’s why he abruptly switches to talking about God’s law. The God who is revealed in the magnificence of the heavens is interested in more than just the sun, moon, and stars. He is interested in His intelligent creatures, and the laws we have been created to operate upon are no less important than the laws on which nature operates.
In so many ways, God reveals Himself to us. He reveals Himself in the world. And He reveals Himself in the Word. And both methods are equally beautiful and awe-inspiring.
So, if you have ever looked up at the night sky or marveled at a glorious sunrise or sunset, remember that the God whose artistry is revealed there is the same God who longs to make something just as beautiful out of you. And He can do it, just as surely as He has done it in the heavens.
God gives us the desires of our hearts.
I love this verse: “May [God] give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” (vs 4)
I have heard many people give caution over this verse. After all, the heart “is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) What if the desires of our hearts are evil (as is so often the case)? Does that make this verse null and void?
Well, first, let’s remember what Paul wrote about God’s work in our lives: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:13) The good news is that God is working with all of us to change our hearts. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts, but He prefers that our desires are converted desires. And He has promised that, as we allow Him to work in us, our desires will begin to line up with His.
However, what about those who don’t want to allow God to work in their lives? Will they also get what they want? Will God also give them the desires of their unconverted hearts? Yes, He will.
This is, I think, one of the most awe-inspiring things about God—His commitment to and insistence on freedom. Even if His children choose to ultimately reject Him, God does not force them into a life they don’t want. He will give them the desires of their hearts—even when that desire leads to death.
Our freedom is more important to God than insulating Himself from suffering for eternity. For God will lose all those who choose not to live with Him, and He will grieve over them as a parent grieves over the death of a child. Still, He will surrender Himself to our choices. He will acquiesce to what we want.
He will give all of us the desires of our hearts.
God is the King of kings.
You have often heard this phrase, haven’t you? King of kings. Lord of lords. If nothing else, Handel made it famous with his Hallelujah Chorus. But, have you ever stopped to think about what it means? Does it just mean that God is a better king than any we’ve had in Earth’s history? Like saying that an F5 tornado is the “mother of all storms,” is God just the “King of all kings”?
I certainly think that’s a fair amount of the picture, but try this one on for size. In today’s psalm, we encountered this: “You came to greet [the king] with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.” (vs 3) David is talking about how God made him into a king.
Now a question: Who was David? What made him so special that God made him a king? Actually, David was a nobody. You couldn’t get more ordinary than David—the youngest in the family, a short pipsqueak, a shepherd. He certainly wasn’t on anybody else’s list to ascend to the throne. But God picked him to be a king.
I think part of the reason for that is because God wants all of us to be kings. He wants you to be a king. He wants me to be a king. Kings are vested with honor, glory, power, and authority—and God intends for all of His children to also be clothed with those things. He granted us honor and glory when He created us with individuality. And He granted us power and authority when He created us with the freedom to choose. Ultimately, in God’s Kingdom, nobody else tells us what to do. We all make our own choices. We all steer our own ship. We all choose our own destiny.
We are all kings.
And so we see that God—who is a King—decided to fill up His Kingdom with kings. Thus, He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a king? That’s who God created you to be!
God is compassionate.
That word compassionate doesn’t mean what you think it means . . . at least when it comes to God. In the English language, compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
That almost comes close to the concept of compassion as it was applied to Jesus . . . but not quite. In the Greek, the word is splagchnizomai, which is basically what we would call “guts.” So, when the Bible says that Jesus was overcome with compassion, it means He felt like He got kicked in the stomach. Think about that definition as you read the following verses:
“Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” (Lk 7:12-13)
“When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mk 6:34)
“So [the prodigal son] got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20)
When Jesus encountered people who were suffering, it churned in Him so deeply that it felt like getting kicked in the gut. And it caused Him to reach out and do something. So, what does all of this have to do with Psalm 22? Did you recognize familiar phrases in this chapter?
- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (vs 1)
- All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (vs 7)
- “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord. . .deliver him, since he delights in him.” ( vs 8 )
- I am poured out like water. . . My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. (vs 14)
- My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (vs 15)
- They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (vs 18)
This psalm is often looked at as a “Messianic Psalm” because there are so many parallels to Jesus’s betrayal, trial, and execution. But I think David wrote this psalm out of his own personal experience. I don’t think he was writing down something under inspiration that he didn’t know about or couldn’t relate to. The point here is not that David wrote about Christ, but that Christ also experienced the same suffering David did.
That brings us to the origin of the English word compassion. It has its roots in the Latin words pati and cum,and it means to suffer with. So compassion, at its heart, is not just even heartfelt sympathy. It is an active embrace of the suffering of another.
That means there has never been anyone more compassionate than God. When He came here in the flesh, He actively embraced our suffering. He willingly dived headfirst into the awfulness of our sinful planet. He voluntarily immersed Himself in the pain and sorrow of a place separated from the Source of life. He not only came to redeem us; He came to suffer with us.
So it’s no surprise, then, that parts of His life parallel some of the deepest, darkest descriptions of suffering we can find elsewhere in the Scriptures. It’s not that those verses were written about Him in order to prophesy about Him (although they do prophesy about Him as well), but His suffering can be seen in those verses because our suffering became His. He willingly accepted it, embraced it, and identified with us in it.
So, if you are hurting today, God is hurting with you, because He is compassionate. And for God, compassion is not something He feels. It’s something He does.
God knows what you need.
Well, what do you say about the most famous chapter in the Bible? Both you and I have read it or heard it read probably hundreds of times. It’s certainly been recited at nearly every funeral I’ve been to. I suppose that’s because it is a psalm of utter confidence and contentment. David knows that his God will take care of him. Period.
Take a look at how the first verse reads in a number of different translations:
- The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (NLT)
- The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (CEB)
- You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. (CEV)
- God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. (MSG)
- The Lord is my shepherd. I am never in need. (GW)
It’s clear, isn’t it? If we have God, we have everything. If we don’t have God, we have nothing. And what perfect imagery—to picture God as a shepherd who gives everything to His sheep. Sheep, you know, aren’t the smartest creatures. In fact, they’re just about as dumb as you can get. So if they don’t have a good shepherd, they’re in big trouble.
With God as our shepherd, we are never in need. Is that hard for you to believe? Do you think you are in need of something? Anything? Do you think there is something you need that God hasn’t provided for you?
If so, I would like to challenge you to think again. Whatever it is you think you’re in need of, if you really need it, you will have it, because God will give it to you. It’s that simple.
Now, I understand that it’s very easy to say those words, and if you’re not at the place where you can wholeheartedly believe them, I’m not going to condemn you. But I would like to challenge you to consider what David has said and realize that it’s not a rhetorical statement.
David says I lack nothing. I am never in need. How could David say that, when half of his life was spent running away from people who wanted to kill him?! Was he just writing down nice words? Was he hoping to inspire himself into believing something he knew wasn’t true?
No, I think David absolutely meant what he wrote. Even in the midst of the storms of life, he could honestly evaluate his situation and see that whatever he truly needed was provided for him by his God.
God knows what you need, too. And if you find that what you think you need and what He’s providing don’t seem to be lining up, talk to Him about what you need. Tell Him that you expect Him to provide for all your needs—just as a good shepherd cares for his sheep.
And while you’re talking to Him, leave room for Him (if necessary) to change your mind about what you need. We may think we know what’s best, but at the end of the day, He knows the way to all the very best green pastures and still waters.
God is knocking.
This psalm includes some of my very favorite Scripture: “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” (vs 7-8)
In reading commentaries on this chapter, I learned a couple of very interesting things that I thought I would share with you. First, this divine title, “King of glory,” is not used anywhere else in Scripture. This song of entrance is the only time where God is addressed in this way.
Second, a little-known fact about this psalm is that it was sung by the priests in the temple on Sundays. (There was a weekly schedule of psalms that were used in temple worship.) Thus, on Palm Sunday, when Christ was entering Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosanna! by the crowds outside the temple, the priests would have been inside singing, Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!
I think that’s pretty cool. (It was yet another opportunity for the priests to get thumped on the head with the reality that Jesus was the Messiah.) And not only that, but the crowds outside echoed the priests’ singing: “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’” (Matt 21:10-11)
So, why is this refrain repeated in the psalm? Why is it sung twice? I think there might be several possible answers for that. First, Jesus is going to have two advents to this Earth—the first was in Bethlehem, but He will come again soon to wrap things up and take us home. Second, God comes to us in different ways—He entered our world in a physical way, but He is also hoping to enter our lives in a spiritual way (Rev 3:20).
Either way, God is always coming to us. He is always knocking. Sometimes, as in the case of the priests and rabbis, we need a lot of knocking. But no matter what God has to do to get our attention, He is always inviting us to open the door so He may come in.
Lift up your heads!
God's ways are loving—all of them.
I have a lot of different friends who hold a lot of different views about God. I’m grateful for this—it means that I have the opportunity to hear different perspectives on spirituality and regularly have my own preconceived notions challenged and questioned. But I have recently noticed a trend of thought in some of these friends (and in some Christian circles) that concerns me: The idea that the Old Testament has a skewed view of God.
I hear different variations on this theme. Some say the Bible writers wrote false things about God because they were only writing what they believed was true. Others say that the God of the Old Testament is altogether different than the God of the New Testament—that Jesus (the “nice” one) actually came to save us from the other God (the “harsh” one). Regardless of which view is taken, the general consensus is that the God of the Old Testament just doesn’t line up with the picture of God as revealed in Jesus.
Ironically, however, Jesus Himself doesn’t leave room for that conclusion:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn 5:39-40)
“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)
Here’s a shocker: When Jesus read the Old Testament, He saw God. He saw the beautiful God He revealed to the rest of us—the God of grace, mercy, and love. He saw that in all those stories we think are so awful—the Flood, the stoning of Achan, Uzzah and the ark, the Egyptian plagues, the death of Nadab and Abihu. He read those Scriptures and saw love.
Otherwise, how could He say that those Scriptures testified about Him?
If you have a hard time reconciling the “God of the Old Testament” with what you see in the life of Christ, I would like to challenge you to take another look. In this psalm, David said, “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” (vs 10) I believe that applies to the Old Testament as well as the New. Jesus certainly seemed to think so.
If Jesus could read the Old Testament and find love, I think it’s worthwhile for us to not give up so easily on it, attempting to dismiss it as somebody’s misunderstandings about God. Yes, it may be easy to misunderstand the picture of God as presented in the Old Testament, but that doesn’t mean it’s skewed. It just means it’s easy to misunderstand.
Jesus made it much easier for us to understand God’s character, but He didn’t do it in isolation from the Old Testament. Instead, His own words testify to the fact that all of God’s ways are loving—even the ones that don’t look so loving to us. Perhaps we ought to follow His example. Perhaps we ought not try to make the Old Testament fit our definition of love, but try to see the love Jesus found there. In so doing, maybe we will discover a new and better definition of love.
God is love. He has always been love. He was just as much love in the Old Testament as He is in the New. And His ways are loving. All of them.
God is in the house.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read this psalm before. But this is what caught my attention: “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.” ( vs 8 )
I imagine David was talking about the temple. I don’t know that for sure, but that would probably have been the most obvious point of reference. This is what we would expect of a deity, right? To dwell somewhere else, in a fixed time and place. And if we wanted to meet with him, we would go for a visit.
But, when I read this, it made me think about how God instructed Israel to put His temple right in the middle of their camp. He dwelt with them. He set things up so that He was in the very center of their lives, at the heart of it all. That was no accident. God has always been Emmanuel, “God with us.” First, He came in a temple. Then, He came in the flesh.
And now, He has made it clear that He wants to be even closer than that with us. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” When God says He wants to be in the house, He means He wants to live and shine in us. He wants all the fullness of His glory to dwell within us.
I continue to be amazed by the deep relationship God wants to have with us. He doesn’t want to live in some distant place and settle for a visit from us every now and then. No, He wants to be the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He wants us to be the house where He lives, the place where His glory dwells.
Have you considered letting Him move in?
God banishes fear.
Have you ever stopped to think about how much of what we do in this life is motivated by fear? We’re afraid of a whole host of things—from having our stuff stolen to failing important tests to getting a dreaded disease. I think we’re not even aware of many of our fear-motivated decisions.
When my husband was working for a local restaurant and had to get up in the wee hours of the morning, I would go back to sleep after he left for work. And for weeks on end, I had a recurring nightmare—that an intruder was coming up the stairs and into the bedroom. That dream used to scare me so badly that I was afraid to go back to sleep after my husband left for work.
Shortly after that time in my life, my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I watched as he looked death fearlessly in the face. Ever since then, I have been trying to be more aware of the fear that is lurking in my life. Sometimes I imagine what I would actually do if someone broke into my house or if I was accosted in a dark alley somewhere. Since I believe that “God knows what He’s doing” and that He ultimately has the last word on all that happens in this life, I know that I don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone, and I hope that I would not react to an unexpected situation with panic.
If someone broke into my house, I would like to be able to nonchalantly turn to them, smile, and say, “How may I help you?” I would like to look at such a situation as a God opportunity, not something to scream and panic about. (At the same time, I’ll be just fine if nobody ever breaks in to put my theory to the test.)
I saw in this psalm a picture of the Rock-solid confidence that I long for:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? . . . Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. . . For in the day of trouble [the Lord] will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” (vs 1, 3, 5)
Faith is the only thing that can overcome fear. In this life, the scary things are never going to go away. Until Christ comes, there will be violent crimes, diseases, and mid-terms. But when we know God, we can trust Him with the future—even when we encounter something scary. David didn’t say that knowing God banishes the scary things. He said that knowing God banishes the fear. The army will still come and besiege us, but we will not fear. The war will still break out against us, but our confidence will not be shaken.
If God is our Rock, there is never any reason to fear. Knowing the truth about His love and trusting in His plan for our lives will put fear where it belongs—in exile. It really is that simple.
God is the God of clean hands.
Psalm 28 talks a great deal about hands.
First, David talks about his hands: “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” (vs 2)
Next, David talks about the hands of the wicked: “Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back on them what they deserve.” (vs 4)
And finally, David talks about God’s hands: “Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done, he will tear them down and never build them up again.” (vs 5)
As I read, I thought about the contrast between David’s hands and the hands of the wicked. When someone has done wrong, we say that they have “dirty hands.” And usually, these kinds of evil things are done in secret, in the dark. John wrote about this in his gospel: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (Jn 3:19-21)
But David says that he lifts his hands to God as he comes into the sanctuary. To me, this means that he is honest with God—he isn’t trying to hide anything or act deceitfully. He’s willing to “expose his hands.”
God, in the same way, is willing to expose His hands. In verse 5, David mentioned that we can know what God’s “hands have done,” and that’s because God always acts out in the open. He has “clean hands.” He doesn’t act dishonestly or in secret. He is a “public works” kinda guy, making sure that all can see and know what He is doing.
And I like to think that the closer we come to God, the more we can also be like that. Even if we are like the wicked whose hands do evil things, God has the power to give us clean hands. He can change us so that we won’t be ashamed to lift up our hands in His presence.
The God with clean hands is also the God of clean hands. The more we get to know Him, the more we will be like Him.
God wants you to stand.
It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about “the end of the world” on this blog lately. Maybe it’s because everything that’s happening in the news right now seems so crazy. Worldwide protests and riots over money. Natural disasters. The Vatican calling for a global financial authority. Governments toppling in the Middle East. A lot of things seem to be in upheaval. Where’s it all headed?
I imagine that’s what David must have thought as he witnessed the storm that prompted him to write Psalm 29. He mentions mighty waters, roaring thunder, lightning . . . even a flood. That would be a frightening sight to behold if not in the safety of one’s home. Nature can cause quite a ruckus when she wants to.
Yet, David says he knows someone greater than the storm: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.” (vs 10) It’s an awesome thing to imagine—a world full of violent chaos . . . and a strong God who remains the King over it all.
David goes on to say that this King has gifts to give: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (vs 11)
God wants you to stand. He wants you to smile at the storm, shout at the thunder, wink at the lightning, and laugh at the flood. He wants you to see the terrifying whirlpool of chaos . . . and then remember that His throne is unmoved, unchanged. He wants you to know that though the mountains be cast into the depths of the sea, He is still on His throne, and everything is right with the world.
He wants you to be strong. He wants you to be at peace. When the storms of life rage all around you, He wants you to be the eye of the storm—calm, peaceful, and confident, no matter what. And as we remember that He sits enthroned over the flood, it won’t matter how much thunder and lightning we must endure. We can stand in the strength and peace of the Lord.
God specializes in extreme makeovers.
I like how this psalm ends: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” (vs 11-12) There are times in this world when promises like this seem almost impossible . . . but so necessary to cling to for hope’s sake.
As Christians, we look forward to the hope of heaven, where there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. I think we commonly believe that God will accomplish that by reversing the “bad” things that have happened to us here and replacing them with “good” things—as if we’ll take all the sin and evil, set it aside on the shelf, and turn our attention to better things.
But I think God has something even more glorious in mind. We will definitely be dancing and rejoicing, not wailing and mourning, but it won’t be because we’ve forgotten everything that happened to us here. It will be because God specializes in extreme makeovers.
Everything that has confused us in this life will, I believe, be made plain to us in the world to come. We will finally be able to see as God does. Everything that we found hard to understand will be explained. All the mysteries we encountered will unfold before us. Where our finite minds can only now see confusion and broken promises, then—when we can see as God does—I think we will see perfect and beautiful harmony. And as we discover how God has tenderly cared for us and worked everything together for our good, we will rejoice with unspeakable joy.
You see, we will not rejoice because the “bad” things have been done away with, but because we will finally see how God used them for great and glorious good. We will see that all the things we once wailed over were actually things to dance over and that all the things we once mourned over were actually things to rejoice over—all because our great God is capable of taking everything in this life and weaving it together for our good.
God specializes in extreme makeovers. And I believe that when we can see the end from the beginning, we will turn to God and say, “Well done.” We won’t say, “Why did you let that happen to me? That was so painful!” Instead, we will bow in awe and realize that God never leads us in a way different than we ourselves would choose to be led if we could now see as He does. And once we can see the glorious purpose being fulfilled in our lives, we will take off our sackcloth and dance!
God has a cure for suffering.
In this world of (what seems like) never-ending suffering, many of us are looking for a way out of it. We want freedom from suffering. Well, I hate to tell you this, but there is no freedom from suffering—not even for God. We followed Satan into sin, and it has messed up the universe. That’s the reality. But don’t stop reading just yet. There may not be freedom from suffering, but there is freedom in suffering.
What? you ask. Yes, freedom in suffering. God may not be able to erase the suffering, but He can cure it. And we find the blueprint for that in Psalm 31. David starts out by asking God to save him, and as he goes along, it’s pretty clear that he’s in a dire situation:
- I am in distress. (vs 9)
- My eyes grow weak with sorrow. (vs 9)
- My soul and body [grow weak] with grief. (vs 9)
- My life is consumed by anguish. (vs 10)
- My strength fails because of my affliction. (vs 10)
- I am the utter contempt of my neighbors. (vs 11)
- I am forgotten as though I were dead. (vs 12)
- They conspire against me and plot to take my life. (vs 13)
David is in a bad way. Everything is bleak and miserable. To put it simply, he is in the throes of great suffering. Yet, by the time we arrive at the end of the psalm, he says this: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (vs 24)
Huh? That seems rather odd, doesn’t it? Not a few verses before, David was describing how his life was rapidly coming to an end, surrounded by anguish and misery. Now, all of a sudden, he’s encouraging others? How did he get from point A to point B?
- I trust in you, Lord. (vs 14)
- My times are in your hands. (vs 15)
- How abundant are the good things that you have stored up. (vs 19)
- In the shelter of your presence you hide [us]. (vs 20)
- The Lord preserves those who are true to him. (vs 23)
When David was surrounded by his enemies and his feelings told him there was no way out, he decided to praise. He decided to declare that—despite his feelings—he would trust in the Lord, remembering that he was in God’s hands, declaring that the Lord had stored up good things for him. And it was that praise that led him out of his miserable feelings to his bold statement of encouragement at the end of the psalm.
The principle at work here is one my father was able to articulate during his own battle with ALS: Praise affirms that there is a higher reality than what I am sensing and feeling at the moment. You see, when we turn our face away from our pitiful situation and lift up our heart to God in praise, we automatically end up in our “proper place.”
Instead of feeling like our world is coming to an end, we remember (as we have always known) that everything in this life is perishable and that God—who is sovereign—gets the last word over sin and death. What looks like the end to us is most definitely not the end to Him. Our lives are securely in His hands, and He knows what He’s doing—even when we can’t see things like He does. From the testimony of Jesus and the rest of Scripture, we know that He is faithful and good and that everything is working together for the best.
When we take the time to praise, as David did, all of a sudden, our dire situation doesn’t look so dire anymore. If God knows what He’s doing (and that’s a big if . . . we must answer that question for ourselves), then we can relax in His hands and even be an encouragement to others in the midst of our own suffering.
So, the next time you’re looking for a way out of suffering, remember that there is no way out. But there is a way through. It’s the cure for suffering. It’s praise.
God doesn't need our repentance.
This is one of those psalms that I’m sure I’ve read, but I’d never understood it in the way I did today. David said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” (vs 3-5)
In this psalm, David reveals the truth about repentance—that it is for us, not God. He is ready and willing to forgive whether we repent or not. In fact, I would submit to you that He has already forgiven us, even before we ask Him. If that were not the case, Jesus would not have pictured the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son as one who was eagerly watching for his son. The father had already forgiven the son long before the son came home—otherwise, he wouldn’t have been watching.
And God is just like that father when it comes to us. Long before we even think of repenting and asking for forgiveness, God has already forgiven us. So, I can hear you thinking, why should we ask for forgiveness at all? Why should we repent?
David gave us the answer in this psalm. When we hold things inside, when we refuse to come to God with our sin problem, when we refuse to repent, our sin sits on us like a heavy weight. It is only in coming to God, confessing, and realizing His forgiveness that the burden is lifted and the guilt taken away. Until we come, we are carrying that heavy burden on our own.
Let’s be clear: God certainly wants us to repent, because He loves us, and He doesn’t want us to carry around the heavy weight of guilt either. But, from His perspective, He does not need our repentance in order to accomplish His forgiveness. God forgives us because He is a forgiving person, not because we ask Him for forgiveness.
Repentance is for us, not for God. He doesn’t need our repentance in order to forgive. But we need to repent in order to receive His forgiveness. And, as David said at the beginning of today’s psalm, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!” (vs 1)
God's Word is powerful.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (vs 6-9)
I often talk about God as the Creator—even as the one who creates with His word. But I don’t often picture it in my mind. Do you?
Let me use an example from my life. I recently got an iPhone. This is my first experience with a so-called “smart phone.” And it’s incredible. It can do unbelievable things. I can’t begin to imagine the genius that was behind its creation, let alone the intricate work it took to create such a little, yet powerful machine.
But then I think about God, who—if He wanted to create an iPhone—could just say iPhone, and there it would appear, instantly. Or forget the iPhone. Think about a simple bird, which is an infinitely more complex creature. God can say bird, and all of a sudden, there it is, chirping and whirling around.
Or think about the stars. In verse 6, David mentioned that they are created by the breath of God. He opens His mouth, and great balls of fire come out. Wow. I can’t even begin to imagine that.
Can you speak a word and make something appear? Can you, by the words you say, make something stand firm? Me neither. But I know who can. Our God is incredibly powerful—and He can change things just by speaking a word.
Have you let Him speak to you lately?
God doesn't want you to commit suicide.
Okay, so this isn’t a blog about jumping off a building or overdosing on pills. This is a blog about sin and how God doesn’t want you to use it to kill yourself. This is about Psalm 34:21.
There is a battle raging in the Christian church (and the world, in fact) over the character of God. Sometimes this battle is unassuming, on the down-low. Other times, it’s center stage. But the central question in this battle is, What will God do to those who disobey Him, disagree with Him, rebel against Him, etc.? In other words, what will God ultimately do to His enemies?
As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most important questions in the quest to know God better. For we may say that God is love, but if God destroys anyone who does not agree with Him, we might question the value of His “love.”
If a woman was contemplating marrying a man who told her that if she ever tried to leave him, he would kill her (and he would do it because he loved her so much), we would tell that woman to file for a restraining order, not a marriage license. Yet there are many who believe that God says the same thing to us—If you ever try to leave me, I will have to kill you—but are still quite willing to sign up to spend an eternity with Him.
I wouldn’t want to live for eternity with a God like that any more than I’d want to live for one day with a man like that.
Fortunately, we don't have to. I think anybody who believes that God will destroy the wicked has not read Psalm 34! For it is quite clear in this chapter that it is not God who does the destroying: "Evil will slay the wicked." (vs 21)
I'm not sure it could be said any clearer than that. And this isn't some rogue translation of the verse. It is virtually the same in all translations:
- Sin will kill the sinful. (NLV)
- Sinners will be killed by their own evil. (NIRV)
- Evil brings death to the sinner. (HCSB)
- Wicked people are killed by their own evil deeds. (CEV)
- Evil shall cause the death of the wicked. (AMP)
- The wicked commit slow suicide. (MSG)
Of course, it is that last one, from The Message, that prompted the title of today’s blog. In the end, God doesn’t kill the wicked, because He doesn’t have to. Sin is slow suicide. But that’s precisely why God has warned us to stay away from sin in the first place—not because it somehow offends Him and He can’t stand to be in the presence of sinners, but because it will kill us!
It’s the same as telling my children to stay out from under the kitchen sink because I don’t want them getting into the cleaning chemicals. It’s not that I’m going to be required to kill my children for disobeying me if they drink the bleach. But if they drink bleach, it will kill them, and so I will do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen! That’s why—if they were determined to disobey me and get under the sink anyway—I might even engineer a frightful “Mount Sinai” experience in my home in an effort to make them think again.
In the context of the war that is raging over the character of God, it makes a huge difference whether God is holding a gun to our head, threatening to pull the trigger if we choose sin over Him, or we are holding the gun to our head whilst God is doing everything in His power to persuade us to put it down.
I don’t know which picture you currently buy into, but I can tell you which one is found in Psalm 34. It’s the picture of a God who doesn’t want to lose any of His children to suicide. So go on, put the gun down. God is not going to kill you, and He doesn’t want you to kill yourself either.
God returns good for evil.
In this psalm, David contrasts the conduct of the wicked with his own conduct: “They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.” (vs 12-13)
You’ve heard the saying no good deed goes unpunished, haven’t you? That’s what happens when you do something kind to an evil person. The way of the wicked is always to return evil for good. There are people in this world who will not respond to love, but will always take the opportunity to bite the hand that feeds them or lash out at the one who cares for them.
On the contrary, God’s way is to return good for evil. This is what David (a man after God’s own heart) did when his enemies were sick. Instead of being happy that they were in a bad way, he took pity on them. He didn’t use that opportunity to get revenge for what they had done to him.
God returns good for evil. About those who had nailed Him to the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them.” He showed kindness to the man who betrayed Him. He forgave Peter, the friend who denied Him. He constantly looked for ways to do good, even though He was opposed at every turn by the priests and religious leaders.
We may not be like those who would return evil for good, but sometimes, our tendency is to give tit for tat. We return good for good and evil for evil. But God calls us to a higher standard:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst . . . This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it . . . Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matt 5:43-48)
When it comes to good and evil, don’t take the path of the wicked, returning evil for good. And don’t even take the “human” path, giving tit for tat. Instead, take the divine path and learn to return good for evil. That’s what God does, giving his best to everyone—His friends and His enemies! He doesn’t believe in no good deed goes unpunished. With Him, it’s no evil deed goes unrewarded!
God knows no limits.
I recently read a quote (and I will have to apologize because I don’t remember who said it) that went something like this: God gives the world everything it needs. He just doesn’t distribute it. That’s up to us.
What do you think? Do you agree? At the risk of being misunderstood (which I hope I will not be), I have to say that I don’t. For this would either mean that God is incapable of providing for the needs of His creatures or that He prefers to let us direct and control His generosity. I don’t believe either is true.
Was God incapable of feeding Elijah by the Brook Cherith?
Was God incapable of sending manna to the Israelites in the desert?
Was God incapable of supplying oil and flour to the Widow of Zarephath?
In none of these examples was God dependent upon human beings to distribute His bounty. And these are just practical examples. What about something more abstract? What about salvation? If God really doesn’t or can’t distribute everything the world needs without our help, how about spreading the Gospel? Will there be some who will be lost because they simply never heard about God from another human being before they died? Is the Holy Spirit incapable of reaching the hearts of people without our help? Is God’s mercy really dependent on us?
There are probably some people who believe that very thing. David might have been describing them in this chapter when he wrote, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves.” (vs 2)
Perhaps he wrote that because he believed God was not limited: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.” (vs 5-8)
In that passage, there is no hint of God being limited by the choices we make. Why, then, would Jesus tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive? Why all the admonitions to give to the poor and help those in need?
May I suggest that God wants us to help others for our benefit, not theirs. Oh, it’s true that others receive practical benefit from our generosity, but God doesn’t ask us to give to others because He is incapable of providing for their needs otherwise. He asks us to give to others because He is incapable of imparting the blessing of being a generous giver otherwise.
So, in our quest to become as generous as our heavenly Father, let us not come to view Him as impotent. God knows no limits. He is more than capable of providing for every need we (and others) have. And as we watch Him pour out His generous gifts, hopefully we will be inspired to open our hands and give as He does. Not because God is powerless without us, but because it is our privilege to imitate Him.
God has His own Occupy movement.
Someday, someone will come across this blog and think, What is an Occupy movement? But these days, it seems you can’t turn on a television or open a newspaper without hearing about one of the groups currently occupying our major cities.
People are angry. They are upset and frustrated about the dismal state of the U.S. (and global) economy and the bankers and big corporations who contributed to the current financial mess. Calling themselves the “ninety-nine percent,” they accuse the “one percent” of greed and corruption, claiming that they have unjustly and unfairly enriched themselves at the expense of others.
In an effort to voice their anger and frustration, they have camped out now for weeks in different cities across the country, calling for justice and restitution. It is very easy to sympathize with their position—which made it all the more shocking to read the beginning of today’s psalm:
“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong.” (vs 1)
It whacked me upside the head like a 2×4, that verse. What do you mean, don’t get upset about evil?! Aren’t we supposed to cry out against evil? Aren’t we supposed to stand up to injustice? How can the psalmist suggest that our reaction to wickedness should be a non-reaction?!
Yet, as odd as it seems, the command to not get upset about evil and injustice only intensifies as the psalm goes on. Later, David says it even more clearly: ”Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not fret—it only leads to evil.” (vs 7-8)
I thought that was interesting—that David says the reaction we so commonly have to evil will only lead to more evil. It won’t solve anything in the long run. So, what are we to do when we see injustice?
Well, this actually reminds me of one of my favorite passages in Scripture. It comes at the beginning of Habakkuk. It seems Habakkuk saw quite a bit of corruption and injustice in his day and was contemplating an Occupy movement of his own:
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Hab 1:2-4)
Sounds like Habakkuk could have been living in 2011. And that’s why God’s response to him is so interesting. He doesn’t tell Habakkuk to pitch a protest tent or make a picket sign. He doesn’t tell him to do anything about the injustice he sees. Instead, He says this:
“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe,
even if you were told.” (Hab 1:5)
To His prophet who was concerned about injustice and violence and evil, God says, “Be quiet and watch. Don’t get all worked up. And don’t assume that I’m not working behind the scenes. You bet I am! And I’m doing something so awesome that you can’t even imagine what it will be! Even if I told you what it was, it’s so awesome that you still wouldn’t believe me!”
That is the kind of God we serve. He doesn’t ignore injustice. Instead, just as He returns good for evil, He uses all injustice to bless us more than if we had never been misused in the first place. He has a grand plan that He is working out behind the scenes—and it includes all the injustice we see.
This doesn’t mean that there is never a time and place to address evil and injustice—especially when we witness it firsthand. But we should never forget that God also sees it and is working it all out for good. I realize this could make it sound like God doesn’t care whether we are unjust or not—but of course He does! He doesn’t want us to practice injustice—but it’s not because He is incapable of righting our wrongs. It’s because being unjust to others does something to us on the inside. And He doesn’t want us to be wicked. He wants us to be like Him.
You see, God has His own Occupy movement, and in this chapter, David gives us several suggestions for the kind of territory God is interested in seeing us occupy. So, if you’re inclined to pitch a tent and set up camp, these would be great places to start, places that allow for the looking and watching and being amazed that God told Habakkuk about:
- Occupy trust. (vs 3)
- Occupy delight. (vs 4)
- Occupy dependence. (vs 5)
- Occupy patience. (vs 7)
- Occupy peace. (vs 11)
- Occupy poverty! (vs 16)
- Occupy innocence. (vs 18)
- Occupy generosity. (vs 21)
- Occupy goodness. (vs 27)
- Occupy hope. (vs 34)
Maybe what David is saying is, Forget about what other people are doing—leave them to God—and worry about what you are doing. Forget about occupying Wall Street and start by occupying the wall in your own heart. Yes, maybe one of the reasons we find activism is so alluring is that it tends to deflect our attention away from what we’re doing.
Why do I say that? Because occupying any one thing on that list is infinitely more difficult than getting angry, picking up a sign, and shouting while you march. Yet the impact of pursuing those things in your life will be infinitely greater than any protest you’ll ever participate in.
I may not know much, but I do know that.
God is our only hope.
In this psalm, it appears that David is crying out to God over an illness—one that was apparently caused by some sin in his life (vs 5). Although I don’t know exactly what David was referring to, I must say that I can sympathize with his emotional plight. He almost sounds depressed, relating how he feels feeble ( vs 8 ), weak (vs 10), and helpless (vs 13-14).
Have you ever felt like that? I know I have, especially when I see things in myself that I don’t like. When God points out sin in my heart, it can be monumentally distressing.
At times like that, I think the natural “human” response is to want to run and hide, to isolate yourself. I think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the fruit—they didn’t even give God a chance to talk to them before they ran away and hid. They knew they had done what was wrong, and their guilt became a wall in their relationship with God.
That’s why the ending of this psalm is so important. David says, “Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and Savior.” (vs 21-22)
Even if David’s condition is the result of God’s discipline (as he suspects in verse 1), he recognizes that God is still the only hope he has of recovery. Without God, he knows he’s not going to get any better.
And, as simple as it sounds, I think that’s worth remembering today. When sin gets us down and discouraged, or when it gets us anxious and afraid, we must remember that God is for us. He’s not sitting up there waiting for us to screw up so He can come and pounce on us. He looks at us with tender compassion and longs to help us find the way out of our sin.
In fact, He is the only way out of our sin. When we are crushed under the weight of sin and guilt, He is our only hope—and He is more than able and willing to help!
God is permanent.
It seems as though David was going through a time of suffering, and that’s what prompted this psalm. At one point, it got so bad that David asked God how much longer he had left in this world: “O Lord, let me know my end and how many days I have to live. Let me know that I do not have long to stay here. You have made each of my days as long as a hand is wide. My whole life is nothing in your eyes. Every man at his best is only a breath.” (vs 4-5)
The statement David makes acknowledges the transience of life on this Earth. From God’s perspective, we are “here” today and “gone” tomorrow. Even those of us who live to be over a hundred are still, to God, only “a breath.”
I don’t pretend to know everything (or anything!) about how God relates to time, but it’s at least obvious to me that God exists outside of time. He is not bound by our time—that’s why Peter wrote that, with the Lord, “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Pet 3:8) What seems like a long time to us is just a second to God—and vice versa. He relates to time in a completely different way than we do.
Recently, I heard about a radio sermon where the speaker talked about the difference between what is perishable and what is permanent. Simply put, in this life, everything except God is perishable. We can’t hang onto anything—not even our very lives. All things exist in a state of transition and will eventually pass away if time lasts long enough.
On the other hand, God and our relationship with Him is permanent. Even if everything passes away on this Earth—even if we pass away—God still holds us in the palm of His hand. His faithfulness is sure. His promises are permanent. He is the one thing in our lives that is not perishable.
We may be only “a breath,” but it is God who gave us that breath in the first place, and He’s not going anywhere. He is now and always will be permanent.
God is too good for words.
There is something in the nature of love that makes it everlasting. It never ends, but keeps going on and on forever. By contrast, there is something in the nature of sin that makes it self-destruct. It cannot last, but quickly spirals down to nothing. In this chapter of Psalms, we get a glimpse of God’s nature, the nature of love:
“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” (vs 5)
There is no way to describe everything the Lord has done for us. In fact, there is probably no way for us to even realize everything the Lord has done for us. Every moment we live and breathe, He is sustaining us, guiding us, and protecting us. His thoughts toward us are only good, never evil. We will probably never know just how much God has done for us.
I like how David says that God’s plans for us are too numerous to list. To me, this means that no matter how many times we screw up one of His plans, He has another one to move on to. Because He is pure love, as long as we remain open to His leading, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes we make. There is no way we could ever get to the point where He would say, “I’m sorry. You’ve screwed things up far too much. I can’t fix it.” No, the more we mess up, the more good He is able to bring from our bad choices.
The more we learn about God throughout eternity, the more wonderful things about Him we will discover. And, as David says, if we tried to recount all the amazing acts of God, we would talk forever. We would never run out of things to say.
Sounds like a wonderful way to spend eternity!
God allows betrayal.
Here was, to me, one of the most interesting parts of this chapter: “Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.” (vs 9)
Does that remind you of anything? It’s pretty much what Jesus said to Judas during the Last Supper (Matt 26:23). And that wasn’t the first time this happened to God. A long time ago, a former friend of His in heaven betrayed Him and started a war (Rev 12:7-9). It seems that God is no stranger to betrayal.
And really, that’s a fascinating thing to contemplate, isn’t it? God is the Creator of the universe. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present. If He so chose, He could make it so nobody could ever oppose Him or even have a simple disagreement with Him. God is the last person who should ever have to face betrayal.
But He has been on the receiving end of betrayal more than once simply because God values love and freedom over His own personal comfort. He would rather us be free to choose—even if we choose to hate Him—than for there to not be the possibility of love in His universe. He would rather suffer betrayal than live with creatures who weren’t free to choose.
What dictator from Earth’s history has ever allowed betrayal? What king has ever tolerated insubordination?
Our God is unlike any other king we have ever known. He creates with freedom so as to have the option of love. And with that comes the possibility of betrayal.
So, you’re not alone. Even God has had His friends turn against Him.
God is an oasis.
In this chapter, David sums up the longing of the human spirit for an encounter with the living God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (vs 1-2)
There are two kinds of starvation—the kind you see on infomercials about children in Africa who haven’t had a meal in weeks and the kind inflicted on Jewish people in WWII concentration camps, who were given just enough daily food to take the edge off the hunger pangs.
I’m not sure which is more insidious.
At least, in the first scenario, the starving person knows he’s starving. In the second, there is some diabolical hope of survival, even though the body is not getting nearly enough to live on. There is a quasi-feeling of sustenance, even though there is no substantial nutrition.
As food is to our physical body, God is to our spiritual body. Our hearts cry out for the opportunity to worship Him, and the more I work in worship-related areas, the more I am convinced: Worship is not something we choose to do; it is a natural by-product of encountering God. It’s what happens when we see God uplifted.
And, as David said, When can I go and meet with God? Perhaps, in our day and age, the more pertinent question is, Where can I go and meet with God? For I have yet to go to a church—any church—that uplifts God (who He is and what He’s like) as the main subject of its service with any regularity.
Oh, sure. We get tidbits. We get morsels and crumbs, like those poor people starving in the concentration camps. But it’s never enough to satisfy. It’s never enough to satiate. It’s just enough (sometimes) to keep our ravenous spiritual hunger at bay.
Satan is a genius. He has so skewed what happens in our churches that we don’t even behold God when we go to church and we don’t even know it. In fact, we think we are beholding God when we are not. Yes, God is mentioned. He may make a backseat appearance. He may even put in an Oscar-winning performance as Best Supporting Actor. But we all know the real reason we go to church—to hear about us. What we’re doing right and, more importantly, what we’re doing wrong.
I work in a church, however, that decided to do a worship experiment this summer. After years of the stylistic “worship wars,” they decided to see what would happen if they returned God to the primary role in worship. They decided to see what would happen if they quit talking and thinking about themselves in worship and, instead, talked and thought about God in worship.
Do you know what happened? In a spiritual sense, people started to eat for the first time in years—maybe for the first time ever. In fact, “eat” is too weak a word. People started to feast.
In September, the pastor who oversaw this experiment retired from the ministry and a new pastor came to the church. This pastor is not so open to putting God at the center of worship. And do you know what is happening? The congregation is in revolt. I keep expecting to see some Occupy people showing up with their tents in the lobby some Sunday. You can’t sit starving people down to a banquet and then take it away and not expect revolt!
I don’t know what will ultimately happen in this congregation. But I do know this: God is an oasis, and there are masses of spiritually starving people in this world. And somehow, Satan has gotten us to the place where we think we’re talking about God when we’re not. That is certainly no accident. He has stealthily removed God from our worship. He has removed the food from our spiritual table.
We’re starving and we don’t even know it.
I mean, we know something is wrong. We sense that something is missing, that church or worship could be more fulfilling, but we just don’t know why. We might think the music needs to be more contemporary or the pastor needs to be a more dynamic speaker. We might think we need more creative elements, such as drama or liturgical dance. We might even think we are the problem—that our hearts are somehow cold, dead, and unconverted.
But that’s not it at all. It’s that God is an oasis that we haven’t visited in a long time (at least in our churches). Thus, we are left—as David was in the wilderness—crying, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
If you feel like you haven’t been to the oasis in a while, I challenge you to think more about this subject. The next time you’re in church, listen carefully to everything that is said and done—the prayers, the sermon, the words to the songs. How much of it is about God? How often does a sentence begin with “God is . . .” or “Jesus, You are . . .”? How much of it describes His character? How much of it is about who He is and what He does? How often is He really the subject of the conversation?
God is an oasis, and if we’re not visiting Him regularly in this desert of a life, it’s no wonder we’re starving.
God is always drawing us closer.
God has an agenda. It’s a simple one—to draw us ever closer to Him in relationship. I believe He does this even with His perfect creatures—those who have never fallen into sin. Why? Because no creature—even a perfect one—can ever fully understand the mind of the Creator. There will always be more to learn, more to be revealed. And so God is in the business of personal revelation.
There is a lovely little progression in this psalm, depicting the way in which God draws us closer to Him: “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” (vs 3-4)
Did you see the movement there?
- To the holy mountain.
- To the place where God dwells.
- To the altar of God.
- To God Himself.
As God meets us with His light and care, He uses them to lead us into His presence. Often, this requires many steps. We who have never lived in the open presence of the Lord must go through a process of being drawn to Him—sort of like gradually exposing your eyes to light when you’ve been in a dark place for a long time.
Everything God has done in the past and everything He is now doing is for the purpose of drawing us ever closer to Him and opening our eyes more and more to His glorious light. One of these days, we will be spending eternity in His presence, and even there, He will be drawing us closer and closer, teaching us more and more about His infinite goodness.
Oh, what a wonder that will be!
God helps us mature.
There is nothing else in the world like being a parent. (And I say that having only been one for three months!) Especially when you have a baby, you realize how children are constantly changing. Nothing much stays the same. They are always growing, learning, and maturing. It’s an amazing process.
In our view, maturity has a lot to do with age. While this isn’t always the case, the older a person is, usually the more mature he is. So, the job of parents is to raise their children from infancy to adulthood, guiding them through the process of maturity.
God is also a parent, and He is also trying to guide His children through the process of maturity. The difference is that, when it comes to spiritual maturity, age is not a deciding factor. For example, when the Israelites were brought by God out of Egypt, the majority of them were adults, but they were spiritual infants. With respect to their moral development, they were babies. That’s why we see God doing so much of what He does in the Old Testament: You treat babies differently than you treat adults. You treat immaturity differently than maturity.
The author of Psalm 44 begins by recounting the war victories God had given to Israel in the past: “With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. . . Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. . .you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.” (vs 2, 5, 7)
It’s no doubt that when God brought Israel out of Egypt, He needed to first establish them as a nation—one nation under God. In the culture of the day, disputes between nations and disputes between gods were settled on the battlefield. If your god was the strongest, then you would be victorious in battle. It was simple. So, when the Israelites insisted on going to war with the surrounding nations, God brought them battle victories not only in order to establish them as a nation, but also in order to communicate to the other nations that the God of Israel was the true God.
However, as stated numerous times throughout the Old Testament, God’s purpose in establishing the Israelites as His people was so they could communicate about Him to the other nations. The Israelites were never supposed to destroy everyone else and live like kings for the rest of their lives. They were called to be a nation of missionaries—to help heathen people come to an understanding of God.
But becoming a nation of missionaries requires maturity.
So, I believe that God wanted to move them along in their spiritual development, and that’s why the author of Psalm 44 went on to say this: “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. . . All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant.” (vs 9, 17)
At some point, though the people had not been unfaithful to God (which was usually the reason why they experienced defeat on the battlefield), they stopped experiencing victory in battle. I believe this is because God wanted them to stop fighting. Once they had seen the evidence that He was the true God and knew that He would take care of them (which they certainly knew, because the author admitted it in verse one), they were ready to advance in their spiritual development.
They didn’t need to fight any longer. They didn’t need to continue to experience battlefield victories to know that their God was the one, true God. Instead, God wanted them to grow up and grow past that to the point where He could communicate through them in different ways—not with the sword. At least on this occasion, it seems that they still had quite a ways to go in the maturation process.
What about us? God would also like to help us mature in our spiritual development. But it is so much easier to want to remain like infants—to have life be nothing more than a joyful string of eating, playing, and sleeping experiences. When the hard moments come, will our spirit shrink back from the suffering? Or will we, like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, embrace the struggles that we encounter, knowing that we are safe in the hands of our God?
Like every good parent, God is interested in helping His children mature. And we can trust Him to know just how to lead us through that spiritual development . . . in the right way, at the right time.
God is forever.
There are different ideas about this psalm. Some suggest that it is simply a song written for the wedding of a king. Others suggest it is totally Messianic and refers to Jesus (groom) and the church (His bride). Regardless of which it is (or maybe it’s both), this verse remains the same: “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (vs 6)
When I read the news, when I see the things that are happening in this world, I think we can’t be reminded too often that God is on His throne and His throne isn’t going anywhere. Especially in a world where things are transient and change every day, it is a great comfort to me to know that God is a solid foundation. He is not in danger of being swept away by evil.
Fortunately for us, worldly governments come and go. Dictators rise and fall; kingdoms come to power and eventually crumble; even United States Presidents cannot rule indefinitely. But God’s kingdom will never be destroyed. Nobody established His throne—it has always been there, and it will always be there. No matter what happens in our lives, God is a sure thing. He’s not going anywhere.
God is the eye of the storm.
This psalm contains one of my favorite texts in the Bible: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (vs 10) This, after a vivid picture of utter chaos: “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (vs 2-3)
In the midst of life’s storms, God is a calm and peaceful place. As David said, He is a refuge and a strength to those who love Him (vs 1). He is immediately near and helpful when we need Him. And the more we know Him, the more confident we can be.
God can be trusted to handle any chaos we encounter in this life. Even when it looks like everything is falling apart, we can count on Him to be unmoved, unshaken. And the more we trust Him, the more we can experience peace in the storm.
“Being still” and “knowing” go hand in hand. Together, they create a cycle of deepening dependence on God when life is hard. “Being still” means stopping our obsession with trying to control the crises that come to us. It means surrendering our will to God’s will. And when we are “still,” it gives us the opportunity to experience God’s work in the storm and helps us learn more about Him. This, of course, increases our “knowing,” which, in turn, leads us to more of a willingness to “be still.”
God is the eye of the storm. Even if the mountains fall into the sea, we can have the confidence that God is ultimately in charge, and He knows what is best for us and those around us. When we are still, and when we know in our hearts that He is God, we can have the peace that passes all human understanding.
God is a safe place.
In this psalm, David says, “He chooses our inheritance for us.” (vs 4) This struck a chord with me, as ever since the birth of our first child, my husband and I have been thinking about how we need to put a will together. In the unlikely event that something would happen to both of us, we want to make sure that our little girl would be taken care of (without too much red tape!).
Beyond the inheritance we may or may not receive in this life, God has promised that He has chosen an inheritance for us. And the inheritance He gives is always good. James wrote that God is “the Father of the heavenly lights” (Jas 1:17) who rains down every good and perfect gift on us. And Jesus said that these blessings are indiscriminate: “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)
God doesn’t reserve a rich inheritance for the righteous only. He gives His best to everyone—the nice and the nasty, the good and the bad. And, no matter how we have treated Him, the things He has planned for us are only good, never evil. He plans blessings, not curses.
Even if you decide that you want nothing to do with Him, His hands are still the safest hands to be in. Do you realize that? Even if you’re ultimately counted among “the wicked” at the end, nobody is going to treat you better than God will. He is a safe place for all His children. He doesn’t bless His friends and curse His enemies. He treats all His children the same.
David knew it was a good thing that God had chosen his inheritance for him. He knew God was a sure bet, a safe place.
God is ours forever.
In your life, can you identify the things that are permanent and the things that are perishable? Can you distinguish between the two? If not, you may be in for a rough ride. When we start treating perishable things as if they’re permanent, it becomes very difficult to part with them when a crisis arises. But the author of this psalm gives us a clue as to what is permanent: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” (vs 14)
God is ours forever and ever. How many things in this life can you say that about? Actually, when you think about it, nothing. A landowner can’t say, “This land will be mine forever.” A king can’t say, “I will have this crown forever.” An employee can’t say, “I will hold this job forever.” Sooner or later in this world where everything is transient, all of these things will change hands. Everybody alive on the planet today will one day be dust—and even the graves we occupy won’t be ours forever!
But there is one sure thing. There is one permanent feature of the Christian life, and that is God. He truly is ours forever, and Paul says that not even death itself can separate us from Him (Rom 8:38-39). He is the one constant in the universe, the one unchanging surety. Everything else is perishable. Everything else will go as surely as it came.
Mark Lowry, a Christian comedian, once said that his favorite Bible verse was this: “And it came to pass . . . ” (Of course, that’s where he stopped, not bothering to finish the verse.) It came to pass. It didn’t come to stay.“Wherever you are on that journey of life,” he said, “hold on, it will pass. Did you have a bad year last year? Hold on, it’ll pass. Did you have a good year last year? Hold on, it’ll pass.”
Everything we know now will pass . . . except one thing. This God is our God for ever and ever. In our lives, He is the only permanent fixture.
God is gold.
There is a familiar refrain in this psalm: “Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.” (vs 5-12)
In other words, you can’t take it with you.
In other words, we all end up at the same place.
This psalm holds a clue to the potential problem with wealth: it’s easy for it to become the thing we trust in. It’s easy for wealth to feel like security. It’s easy for wealth to mimic safety. It’s easy for the wealthy to feel independent, when the truth is that we are all dependent upon God for every moment, every breath. (No amount of money can keep us out of the grave.)
When it comes to true wealth, God is the only gold there is. He is the only thing that lasts. All of our safety and security should be wrapped up in Him, not what’s in our house, our bank account, or our garage. When our trust is in Him, then material wealth is a non-issue. Job is a great example of that. Because God was first in his heart, he could be trusted with great wealth, and it wasn’t a problem for him. He used it to freely bless and help others.
But regardless of how much (or how little) we have in this life, we all come to the same ending place, leaving this world the same way we entered it—with nothing, at least nothing material. The only wealth we can carry with us past our final breath in this life is our relationship with God. If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything of any important or lasting value.
So, what kind of wealth have you been working for? Is it the kind that will last?
God disciplines early and often.
I love the different perspective you start to have on God once you have kids. All of a sudden, you see things in the Bible from an angle you never noticed before. For instance, the end of this psalm: “Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you.” (vs 22) Do you know what I heard when I read those words?
If you don’t obey me, I’m going to spank you.
Or, for those of you who prefer a “softer” approach: If you don’t listen, you’re going in Time Out.
God is speaking here to the wicked who disregard His laws—those who steal, commit adultery, and slander others. He promises that if they don’t wise up, He’s going to tear them “to pieces, with no one to rescue” them. Can’t you hear a Just wait ’til your father gets home! in there?
Here’s the thing this teaches us about God: He disciplines us early and often. And, as Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in.” (Prov 3:11-12)
His discipline is not punishment. It is kindness.
Think about that. Every act of discipline from a parent to a child is for the best good of the child. And, incidentally, no discipline involves the natural consequences of misbehavior. All discipline is designed to help the child ultimately avoid the natural consequences of misbehavior.
For instance, if your child has a penchant for running into the street, you’re not going to say, “If you run out into the street again, I’m going to let you get hit by a car, and then you’ll learn your lesson!” No, of course not! You’re going to say, “If you run out into that street again, I’m going to spank you!”
Spanking is not the natural consequence of running into the street—no more than being “torn to pieces” is the natural consequence of wickedness. In both cases, the threatened action is designed to help us avoid the natural consequences, because parents don’t want to see their children hit by cars any more than God wants to see His children suffer the consequences of sin—which is unimposed death (Rom 6:23).
The reason God gets a bad rap (in the Old Testament especially) is because He disciplines early and often, and when He’s not disciplining, He’s threatening to discipline. But we have to remember that discipline is not punishment. It is kindness.
This hit home recently as I was reading Richard Ferber’s classic book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. He lays out a simple, yet effective method of training your child to either go to sleep by themselves or go back to sleep by themselves when they wake up in the middle of a nap. The method involves not jumping up and running in to the room right away the second your child starts to cry, but waiting instead for a short amount of time before soothing your child. The result? Your child learns how to go to sleep when it’s time for them to nap and, better yet, they learn how to go back to sleep if they get woken up before it’s time.
Now, I know there are probably a lot of parents who think they couldn’t stand to hear their child cry for even one minute without rushing in to the nursery. There might even be a lot of parents who think it would be wrong to let their child cry for even one minute. But, however you accomplish it, training your child how to go to sleep and stay asleep at the right times is kind to them. We might think the kind thing would be just to pick them up whenever they’re crying. But, ultimately, that is not necessarily the kind thing—especially if it begins to interfere with their ability to get good rest.
I think it’s the same with God. Threatening to “tear your child to pieces” doesn’t seem too kind—until one considers the alternative. And if God is willing to use such language—and even to take such drastic action—in order to keep us from the more serious, ultimate consequences of sin, He will gladly do it.
God is a wonderful parent who cares more about what happens to us than about how He looks. That’s why He disciplines early and often.
God is the (only) Creator.
After the 23rd Psalm, this one is probably the most famous, for every sinner can sympathize with David’s sentiment: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.” (vs 1)
I’m sure all of us have experienced the despair of sin, that special kind of frustration that can only come from realizing that we’re in a pit with no way to lift ourselves out. Paul articulated it well in Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do. . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (vs 15, 18, 24)
The fact is, we’re in a predicament we can’t fix. There is nothing we can do about our sinful nature. We can no more change it than a leopard can change his spots or a zebra his stripes. The only thing we can do is throw ourselves at God’s feet and cry out, “Create in me a pure heart, O God!” (vs 10)
The Hebrew word translated “create” in that verse is bara, the same word used in Genesis 1:1 to describe God’s creation of the world from nothing. When God approaches our heart, He encounters the same situation He found at the beginning of Genesis—”The earth was barren, with no form of life.” (Gen 1:2) And out of this nothingness, He created a world of order and beauty.
That is also the way He changes our hearts. Out of our sinful nothingness, He creates a pure heart. He doesn’t take what we have and “clean it up.” In our sinful condition, we are “barren, with no form of life.” The only prayer we have is the fact that God is a Creator who can create ex nihilo, from nothing.
You and I can’t create something from nothing, but God can. That’s why our only hope of redemption is in Him. He is the Creator, and He is the only Creator.
God's mercy carries the day.
The title of today’s blog is a quote from the beginning of today’s psalm from The Message version of the Bible: “Why do you brag of evil, ‘Big Man’? God’s mercy carries the day.” (vs 1) Other versions render it differently—God’s love will continue forever; God can be trusted day after day; Don’t you realize God’s justice continues forever?—but I thought none of them captured it as well as Eugene Petersen. God’s mercy carries the day.
No matter what evil people do, God is going to have the last word. In fact, His is the everlasting Word. Evil can’t get one up on Him, even if it can temporarily get one up on us from time to time. That means that whatever is happening in this world right now is ultimately okay. I know that must sound really weird, because let’s face it, there are a lot of awful, disgusting things that happen in this world.
But God’s mercy carries the day. He is able to take all of those evil things and work through them to bless us. Really. I’m serious. He works through all the evil things to benefit us in ways that we couldn’t have benefited if we had never encountered such evil in the first place.
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s think about it for a minute.
By enticing us into sin, Satan was hoping to separate us from God forever, was he not? He thought that once we had rebelled against God, we would be doomed and lost forever. And it’s true that thrusting our world into the hands of Satan has caused a great deal of trouble and suffering.
However . . . because of what Christ has done in response to this problem through His life and death, we are closer to God now than if we had never fallen into sin. As a result of Christ’s actions in meeting the terrible emergency of sin, there is a human being on the throne of the universe. In Jesus, God has bound Himself to humanity with a tie that will never be broken. Jesus is not only the Son of God, He is also the Son of Man (a title He preferred to go by while He was here). Thus, we—both individually and as a race of people—are more closely united with God now than before sin entered our world.
So, does that mean we ought to go around looking for trouble just so we can see God turn it into blessing? No, and neither should we be blazé about evil. But we should remember that no matter how bad things get, God’s mercy will ultimately carry the day. He is never outwitted by evil.
Sin in His universe is undoubtedly the biggest crisis God will ever face. And if He can meet that awful problem head-on and turn it into a great blessing for us, there is no doubt that He can bless us through anything we will face today or tomorrow. Evil doesn’t have the last laugh with Him. No matter what, His mercy carries the day!
God reveals truth.
Many things in this universe run on the law of cause-and-effect. And, according to David, our belief in God is no different: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.” (vs 1)
It is worth noting here that what we believe about God impacts who we are. That’s right. What we believe about God actually matters—it’s not something we should take lightly. It’s also not something that’s primarily a matter of the head, but the heart. This means that God doesn’t want to be so much studied academically as He wants to love and be loved in return.
As we can see in this verse, the people who decided to live as though God didn’t exist became really awful people. Their choice to believe the wrong thing about God resulted in evil and more evil. This is what happens when God is absent from our lives. Because of this, God is in the business of revealing the truth about Himself to us. The more He reveals, the harder it is for us to deny in our hearts that He is real.
Of course, at the end of the day, if we’re determined to be fools (according to David’s definition), we are given the freedom to be fools. But if that’s what we choose, we do so with eyes wide open. Actually, that was most likely the case in David’s day, since philosophical atheism was unheard of in the ancient world. In that culture, the problem wasn’t atheism (no god), it was polytheism (many gods).
Thus, the people David described were making a choice to live as though there wasn’t a God although they knew better. Anyone who ultimately rejects God will be in the same boat, for God is in the business of revealing truth. He doesn’t leave us in the dark, wondering what to believe about Him. He makes the truth known to us.
What we choose to do with it is up to us.
God sustains us.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that we don’t see things clearly in this world. As Paul once wrote, “For now we see through a glass darkly.” (1 Cor 13:12) And one of the things we don’t perceive is how dependent we are on God. We don’t see clearly just how He sustains our lives.
But David mentioned that in today’s psalm: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” (vs 4) I think this is literally true. I believe that God is the Source of life, and as such, He is continually sustaining the life of all of His creatures. Jesus alluded to this when He said that both He and His Father were always at work (Jn 5:17).
When I think about how God sustains us, I think about it in terms of some sort of symbolical umbilical cord. Just as my child received oxygen and nourishment—everything she needed to live—for nine months in the womb through the umbilical cord, so there is a way that God imparts to us everything we need to live.
All of us are connected to God, and He sustains us. This is why sin is deadly. It cuts off our connection to Him (just like cutting the umbilical cord), but unlike a baby who adapts to life without the cord, we cannot adapt to life without God. There is no life outside of Him.
Every day we live, every breath we take is a gift from God. He is the only Source of life. Life issues from Him; He creates it, and He sustains it. We are all dependent on Him.
God wants to be your girlfriend.
Okay, so the title of this blog is aimed at women, not men (just in case you guys were starting to sweat a little bit). Although what I am about to say in this blog applies just as equally to men as it does to women. Guys aren’t the only ones who have girlfriends. Girls have girlfriends, too—you know, the kind you can talk to on the phone for hours or stay up half the night giggling with. For girls, a good girlfriend is someone to whom you feel comfortable pouring out your heart—down to the very last, nitty gritty detail. Most guys have an equivalent to the girlfriend relationship—someone they feel comfortable being completely honest with—except it often doesn’t involve as much talking.
This chapter of Psalms reminded me that God wants to be your girlfriend. He wants to be the person you “call up” and spill your guts to. He wants to be the one to hear every little detail about your day—everything that happened and how it made you feel. How do I know that? Because that’s the kind of relationship David had with God: “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.” (vs 2-3)
David wasn’t afraid to tell God anything; in fact, he told Him everything. When he was so angry that he wanted to smash his enemies’ teeth in, he told God about it. When he was so devastated that he wished he could die, he told God about it. When he was jumping for joy over a victory in battle, he told God about it. Whatever was happening in his life, his first “phone call” was to God—and he was brutally honest about all his feelings.
Sometimes I wonder if we are as honest with God as David. When someone cuts us off in traffic, do we direct our road rage to God? Do we think, God, I would really like to smash that car right now! When our boss has irritated us at work, do we pray, God, I really wish she would contract a disfiguring disease! I don’t think we’re quite that honest. But we should be. Perhaps if we were more honest with God, we would gossip less to our other friends.
God wants to be the one who gets to hear the whole story firsthand. Not because He doesn’t know every detail already, but because He wants to hear it from you. He wants your perspective—your brutally honest perspective. Don’t be afraid to be that honest with Him. If there’s something in your thoughts or feelings that needs to be ironed out, He’ll help you with it. You don’t need to “pretty it up” before you bring it to Him.
So, the next time you’re about to pick up the phone to call a friend to either share something glorious or something shocking, remember to ask yourself if you’ve brought it all to God yet. Don’t make Him miss all the juicy gossip! He wants to be in on all the best (and worst) parts of your life!
God knows your sorrows.
There is such a beautiful verse in this psalm, perhaps one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ( vs 8 )
Right now, as I stay at home with our daughter during the week, nothing is harder for me than when she cries. Oh, I don’t mean hearing the sound of her crying. I mean seeing her cry. I can handle the moments when she’s screaming her head off for one reason or another. But it’s too much for me when tiny tears slip down her cheeks. When she cries those little tears, it breaks my heart.
Maybe that’s why David’s image of God collecting our tears in His special bottle resonated with me today. To Him, our tears are as precious and bittersweet as my daughter’s tears are to me. So much so that He takes note of each one, “collecting” them (as it were) in a special place in His memory.
It makes me think of how Isaiah described Christ, as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isa 53:3) God not only knows our sorrows, but He also identifies with them. He doesn’t just empathize with us in our grief; He can sympathize. He has collected each of our tears in His bottle. More than that, He has embraced our sorrow in His flesh. He knows every hurt, every ache, every pain.
Whatever sorrow you’re facing in life today, know that God has seen it and will remember it forever. He has recorded each tear. He has heard each sigh. And Jesus came in the flesh so we would know for sure that God was intimately acquainted with our grief. He really knows your sorrows—better than anyone else.
God inspires boldness.
David faced a lot of hardship in his life. This very psalm, for instance, was written in a cave while he was literally hiding for his life. However, David doesn’t sound very worried.
Sure, he mentions his troubles he’s facing: “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” (vs 4) Have you ever been standing in the middle of lions? I haven’t, and I sure wouldn’t want to! It would be nothing short of certain death.
That’s David’s point. He is facing certain death, caught in the crosshairs of a maniac king who is trying to defend his throne.
Yet, by the end of the psalm, David says this: “My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” (vs 7-8) What a bold statement! David is surrounded by “lions,” yet he is willing to boldly proclaim that he will live to see the morning. Actually, more than that. Not only will he see the morning, he will bring it on with his songs of praise.
This is the kind of confidence we can have in the midst of this chaotic world when we have a relationship with God that is built on trust. The more we know Him, the more we will see that He knows what He is doing and that everything He does is right and good. When we embrace that reality, it really doesn’t matter what life brings to us. Even when we’re in the lions’ den, we know that a fabulous morning is right around the corner.
All the forces of evil in this world rage against those who love God, but God inspires boldness. The better we know Him, the easier it is for us to look at death and laugh. Evil will not get the last word in our lives because God is the everlasting Word. And we can stand confidently in Him when the rest of the world is falling apart.
God is a snake charmer.
This psalm uses the imagery of the snake charmer: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies. Their venom is like the venom of a snake, like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears, that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be.” (vs 3-5)
When God created human beings, the Bible says that they were made in His image. But soon after our creation, we surrendered our image to a serpent. Ever since then, God has been trying to restore His image in man. Thus, God is like a snake charmer—carefully dodging the venom in an attempt to subdue and win over His run-amok snakes.
Sadly, however, this psalm reveals that some of God’s children will refuse all His attempts at reconciliation. They will remain stubborn, like snakes “that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be.” And believe me, God is a skillful enchanter. Everything He can do, He will do in order to win us back to Him.
If, in the end, we will not be persuaded, it is simply because we have refused God’s advances time and time again. Those who take this tack with God will end up like the “cobra that has stopped its ears.” They will end up utterly unable to respond any longer to God’s charms.
God has the last laugh.
There was something in this psalm that reminded me of a scene from the great classic movie The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy had just landed in Oz, her house falling on (and killing) The Wicked Witch of the East. As Dorothy began to explore the strange world she had landed in, The Good Witch of the North came for a visit. They were both interrupted by the arrival of The Wicked Witch of the West who wanted to know how The Wicked Witch of the East had died. When she found out, she began to make all sorts of terrible threats. But, with a wave of her hand, The Good Witch of the North laughed: “Aha ha ha, rubbish! You have no power here! Be gone, before somebody drops a house on you!”
In this psalm, David began as he has so many times already—describing the men who are hunting him down with their evil schemes. He says they lie in wait, conspiring against him, snarling like dogs and prowling around the city. They concoct evil plans, just waiting for an opportunity to destroy David.
So, have you got the image of these men, planning, scheming, doing everything they can to craft the perfect evil storm? You get the idea that they are putting their hearts and souls into this deviousness, spending their energies night and day to fulfill their plans. And what does God do? “But you laugh at them, Lord; you scoff at all those nations.” (vs 8)
God laughs. The evil men have put all this time, energy, and effort into carrying out their schemes, but God sweeps it all away with a laugh: “Aha ha ha, rubbish! You have no power here!”
God has the last laugh. Evil may appear to reign for a time on this Earth, but God is still in charge; He is still on His heavenly throne, and there is no way that evil can ultimately gain the upper hand over love. Love always wins. Always.
Usually, when we say that somebody has the last laugh, it has a negative connotation—such as revenge or retribution. That’s not what I mean at all when I say that God gets the last laugh. He doesn’t triumph over His enemies with violence and revenge. Actually, He triumphs over them with love. (That may have been something that David still needed to learn.) Paul explains how that works in Romans: “To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’” (Rom 12:20)
It is no coincidence that kindness paid to an evil person is like burning coals of fire and God is described in Scripture as a consuming fire. (Heb 12:29) God gets the last laugh because He is love, and love never ends. It can’t be destroyed or overcome. It laughs in the face of evil and keeps on coming.
No scheme of evil men can confound or destroy God. He has the last laugh.
God shows us desperate times.
The title of today’s blog comes straight from Psalm 60: “You have shown your people desperate times.” (vs 3) That’s the New International Version. The New Living Version puts it even more strongly: “You have made Your people suffer hard things.”
Wow. Could that be true? Would God ever want us to suffer? Of course, when you ask a question like that, you must first define what suffering is . . . and that varies from person to person. Some people would say that poverty causes suffering. Others would say that wealth causes suffering. Some say children suffer when they don’t have enough to eat; others would say children suffer when they don’t receive enough love and attention.
You can’t really pin down a definition of suffering. In fact, I would imagine that all suffering—just like beauty—is in the eye of the beholder. So much depends upon our perspective. Do you remember this famous quote? I cried because I had no shoes . . . until I met a man who had no feet. Everything depends upon our perspective.
There are probably a lot of people who wouldn’t agree with the idea that God allows or even ordains desperate times for His people. They would prefer to believe that God is somehow cosmically restricted from getting involved. Perhaps they think He would like to get involved, but His hands are somehow tied.
I don’t believe that. I don’t know if I’m ready to say that God causes suffering . . . but it’s clear from Scripture that God certainly allows it. (You’ll remember that from the beginning of Job.) If He wanted to, He could stop every bad consequence of every evil action. He could put a halt to the desperate times.
But He doesn’t.
I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why. But what I do know is that God blesses us through suffering. No matter where our desperate times come from, God can work through them, turning sorrow into joy, turning despair into peace. In this world, He allows us to experience desperate times for, I’m sure, a variety of reasons. So, instead of shrinking back from suffering, perhaps we should embrace it and try to discover what God wants to bring to us in the midst of it.
As you and I continue to ponder this, I want to end this blog by sharing four truths about suffering that my excellent father observed during the course of his terminal illness. And if you are in the middle of some desperate times right now, I hope you will remember that God has blessings in the suffering (or He wouldn’t allow us to experience it).
1. Suffering exposes the myth that we are in control of our lives.
2. Suffering does not remove the fact that God has given us His eternal life now to begin living now. (That’s right. If you are connected to God, you are—at this moment—living eternal life.)
3. Suffering helps us give up our attempt to control the future and enjoy God’s control of today.
4. Suffering is an attention-drawing spotlight, illuminating the fact that God is actively working out His plan in our lives.
God is everywhere.
I loved the way this psalm began: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth, I call to you.” (vs 1-2)
Here, I got a picture of David standing somewhere beyond the horizon, farther than the eye can see, with his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting out to God. In my mind’s image, there was nothing else on the earth—just David calling out to the Lord.
I’m not sure why my mind’s eye saw David standing alone . . . when the reality is that there are 7 billion people on our planet. The earth is anything but desolate. It is filled to the brim with people and activity and noise—ceaseless, endless noise. Yet no matter where we are, God hears our cry. He listens to our prayer.
I don’t know how God can hear it all, but I am sure that if all 7 billion of us prayed to God at the same time, God would hear 7 billion prayers at the same time. It would not be gibberish to Him. It would not be a cacophony of sound. Each prayer would be precious to Him.
God is everywhere. We can call to Him—even from the very ends of the earth—and He will listen to us. We don’t have to vie for attention. We don’t have to jockey for position. We are heard and loved and attended to . . . right here, right now, right where we are.
There is nowhere we can be that God cannot be. He is everywhere. Right beside us.
Even to the ends of the earth.
God produces extremists.
Ex-trem’ ist, n. One who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm.
We usually don’t think of extremism as a good thing. If you’ve done much paying attention to politics—especially American politics—you’ve probably heard the phrases far-left loons and right-wing nutjobs before. Those terms describe people who are thought of as extremists, as being out on the fringe of political thought.
But let’s be clear: Before we go any further with the point of today’s blog, I must say that, according to this definition, God Himself is an extremist! Today is Christmas Eve, and on this day we remember the night Christ entered our world in the flesh. If God taking on created flesh and being born as a baby cannot be described as “one who resorts to measures beyond the norm,” then your norm looks pretty different from mine! God has never shied away from taking extreme measures when it comes to our salvation.
Having said that, we see the effects of that in this psalm. We see that God—the original Extremist—makes little extremists out of us. Consider the two spiritual conditions David describes here:
- Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. (vs 4)
- Truly [God] is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (vs 6)
The first spiritual condition is one of extreme wickedness. These are people who don’t simply lie—they delight in it. It’s not like they’re really struggling with dishonesty in their lives and want God to change their hearts. Nooo. They are liars, and they are proud of it. They love thinking up new ways to con people! Evil makes them happy. That is a view of an extreme sinner.
By contrast, David describes a second spiritual condition—one of extreme righteousness. This does not mean extreme perfection, but extreme trust. (After all, in Romans 4, Paul said that Abraham’s trust is what was credited to him as righteousness.) These are people who are so settled into trusting God that they will never be shaken. It doesn’t matter what gets thrown at them. They will be like Job, who trusted God through everything.
Here’s the interesting thing to me, and it’s an idea that I would love to hear your feedback on: Both groups are produced through encounters with God. When it comes to the spiritual life, ultimately there is no middle ground. We all encounter God and, as a result of how we respond to those encounters, we all enter one of two spiritual camps—extreme wickedness or extreme righteousness.
In order to understand more about how God-encounters could possibly result in extreme wickedness, consider this quote:
“God comes to man in one role only, which is as a Savior. But the effect of that effort is not always a saving one. With the majority, the effect is to harden them in rebellion and to cause them to withdraw themselves from the voice of loving entreaty. Thus God destroys by trying to save. The more He exerts His saving power, the more [wicked] men are driven by their rejection of it to destruction. The gospel truth ruins if it does not save! It is in this sense that He destroys.” —from A God of Destruction or Salvation? (emphasis mine)
This is exactly what it means when it says in Exodus 9 that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It wasn’t as if God was playing some sort of cosmic game where He smacked Pharaoh around with some plagues, only to end up making it impossible for him to surrender. God actually wanted Pharaoh to submit to Him, but the very act of confronting Pharaoh with the spiritual truth about his false gods gave Pharaoh a choice. He could accept the truth (which would have softened his heart) or he could reject the truth (which would harden his heart). But he could not remain neutral. Thus, in bringing the confrontation to Pharaoh, God presented the opportunity for Pharaoh to harden his heart—and that is, unfortunately, what he chose to do.
As we can see from this psalm, God’s confrontations can also work in the opposite direction. The more we respond positively to God, the more we soften our hearts, and the more firmly settled we become in trust. If we continue in this way, we arrive at the place where we can never be shaken. If we take the opposite path, we end up—quite literally—at a dead end.
When we encounter God, we cannot remain neutral. He confronts us with truth, and at those times, we are given the opportunity to choose. And over our lifetimes, God comes to us again and again and again and again. And little by little, choice by choice, encounter by encounter, we carve our way into one of the two spiritual conditions—extreme wickedness or extreme righteousness. Thus, God can’t help but produce little extremists.
Which kind are you?
God shows up.
Merry Christmas! And what an appropriate chapter for this day. David says, “I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.” (vs 2) Isn’t this a perfect description of the Incarnation? When Christ came here in the flesh, we did indeed see Him in His “sanctuary” (His body, His temple) and witnessed His power and glory.
Having said that, I think it’s instructive that David uses the past tense in this psalm: “I have seen you in your sanctuary. . .” But he began by saying, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.” (vs 1)
Unfortunately, this is still the state of things in our churches. We have seen God in His power and glory . . . yet we are constantly thirsting for Him in this weary land where there is no water. Though we have seen Him in the past, we do not make a regular habit of drinking Him in during our worship.
But just as surely as God showed up 2,000 years ago, He is still anxious to show up today! And when we invite Him into our midst and turn our attention to Him, He will bless us with His presence. David mentions those blessings, too:
- Your unfailing love is better than life itself. (vs 3)
- You satisfy me more than the richest feast. (vs 5)
So, no matter what you’re getting for Christmas this year, make sure you don’t miss out on the very best gift of all! Christmas reminds us that God shows up, and He’s ready again to give the gift of Himself to you today.
God loves us as we are.
Writing a daily blog on the Bible has forced me to read the Scriptures in a whole, new way. No longer can I simply “read over” the Bible; I am—chapter by chapter—forced to think about what I have just read and try to discover what it reveals about God.
I must say, taking this tack with things has put a brand new light on Psalms—one that I don’t much care for. I mean, I have read Psalms a number of times in my life, but I must have just been “reading over” them before, because never have they seemed to say the same thing over and over and over.
We’re not even halfway through the book yet, but at this point, I think I can pretty safely say that the majority of the psalms could fall into this outline:
1. God, I’m in trouble. Listen to me.
2. My enemies are all over the place. They are evil.
3. Help me. Defeat them.
4. God preserves the righteous.
5. I will trust in Him.
I can’t tell you how many times I have read that psalm in the past 64 days. Didn’t David have anything else to say?! That was my first thought . . . and then I realized that David had no idea he was writing “inspired” literature when he wrote these songs. He was simply pouring out his heart to God. Sure, he poured out the same thing over and over again, ad nauseam. But don’t we tend to do the very same thing?
Really. Think about it. The next time you pray, think about what you’re saying. Is it basically the same thing you’ve said in prayer for months, perhaps even years? Do you keep repeating the same phrases, using the same clichés? Do you even realize what you’re saying? Paul told us to pray without ceasing, not pray without thinking.
It might be easy to conclude that God could get bored with us very quickly. But even though David wrote the same thing over and over again in the Psalms, I believe God loved every single one of those songs. And even if we’re at the place where the only prayer we’re comfortable saying is The Lord’s Prayer, God will gladly listen to it a thousand times.
God loves us as we are, and that means that He’s interested in us as we are. If the only thing on our minds is how we’re being hounded by the enemy, God wants to hear about that. And if our entire life is eclipsed by that one co-worker we can’t get along with, God wants to hear about it.
David didn’t try to write a new song every time He sang to the Lord. He didn’t think, Gee, I sang about those enemies last time. I’m sure God won’t want to hear about that again. No, he sang what was on his heart. He wasn’t worried about originality. He was worried about honesty. David may have said the same thing over and over, but for him, it wasn’t a meaningless mantra. It was his life.
God loves you as you are. He’s interested in what’s happening in your life. And even if you come to Him with the very same prayer 64 days in a row, God treasures and remembers those prayers. He certainly treasured David’s prayers—look where they ended up.
God always has more.
There is a lovely story my dad used to tell about a little boy named Johnny. One day, Johnny and his grandmother went to the grocery store. After they were done with their shopping and had paid for their items, they were getting ready to leave. The grocer behind the counter scooped up a bit of candy, put it into a sack, and handed it to Johnny. Delighted, Johnny grabbed the bag, immediately turned around and headed for the door. Johnny’s grandmother was mortified and quickly reprimanded Johnny: “What do you say, young man?!” Johnny stopped, turned around with a smile, held out his hand and said, “More, please.”
I’m not sure Johnny’s grandmother was satisfied with that response! However, when it comes to God, we can always approach Him with that sort of expectant anticipation. He always has more. Did you catch that in today’s psalm? There was abundance all over the place!
You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing. (vs 9-13)
As we approach the start of a new year, I’m particularly taken with verse 11: “You crown the year with your bounty.” That means, if God is your God, you can expect more this year. You can expect 2012 to be crowned with bounty! You can expect abundance! You can expect your cup to overflow!
As I was reading this today, I thought about my baby daughter and how much I want to share with her! I can’t wait until she begins to walk and talk so we can begin to explore the world together. I want to teach her about music and cooking and nature and math and reading and all sorts of fun games. There is an abundance of things I want to give to her, and every step she takes and everything she learns will open her up to discovering something new the next day.
This is the sort of abundance we can have with God.
Of course, where we sometimes get caught up is in looking for the wrong kinds of abundance. We think we know all the areas in our lives where we want God to pour out His abundance, but sometimes He has a different idea. Sometimes we overlook God’s bounty because our expectations don’t match up with what God knows is best for us.
When we want an abundance of health, God might have an abundance of peace in the midst of sickness for us instead. When we want an abundance of money, God might have an abundance of contentment in our poverty for us instead. When we want an abundance of happiness, God might have an abundance of joy in hard times for us instead. When we want an abundance of mercy, God might have . . . well, God always has an abundance of mercy!
So, expect God to crown your year with His bounty, but be sure to ask Him what sort of abundance He has in mind. Everything He gives us is designed to open our hearts to receive something more down the road. If you receive a great gift from Him today, it only means He has a bigger and better gift for you tomorrow. With Him, we can always say, “More, please!”
God's blessings often come disguised as curses.
What else is to be concluded from this psalm? After all, I’m sure you read this section: “Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” (vs 8-12)
Yesterday, we explored how God is always seeking to give us more. He is a God of abundance. And today, David reinforces that idea in verse 12 when he says “you brought us to a place of abundance.” But, did you notice how David came into God’s abundance? The road to His abundance went through . . . a prison! The road to His abundance came with burdens on the back and a journey through fire and water.
As we look back at Scripture, we see that this is so often the case—that God’s greatest blessings start out looking like curses. To me, the cross is the best example of that. What the disciples thought was a sickening end was only a glorious beginning. What looked like a fatal curse was a life-giving blessing. It was the worst thing they ever could have imagined, but in time, it revealed itself to be the best thing for all of mankind and the universe.
The road to God’s abundance often goes through a prison. His blessings often come disguised as curses. Since we know that, how wonderful it would be to be able to praise God for all the curses in life, knowing that His blessings are contained within! Whenever we are confronted with a prison or whenever the road we’re on takes us through fire or flood, we should remember that it ends in God’s abundance. Just as Joseph’s road took him from the pit to the prison and eventually to the palace, so our journey with God will end in bounty—it’s guaranteed!
So, the next time you see a “curse” headed your way, take a moment to thank God. Then, watch for the blessing to unfold!
God's love is outrageous.
As Christians, I think we have often been guilty of understating the extravagance of God’s love. We get so focused in on our own sinfulness and our need for a Savior that we overlook the fact that God doesn’t keep a record of sins like we do. We tend to view ourselves as criminals who have broken the law, but that’s not how God sees us.
And I think David reminds us of that in this psalm: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us.” (vs 1)
When David says, “May God be gracious to us,” what he’s saying is that he wants God’s forgiveness. In the traditional Christian view, this would be like a criminal standing in front of the judge, asking for a pardon. (I must say, this penal view is one that I don’t personally subscribe to, but it is the prevailing view in Christianity.)
God freely grants this pardon. In fact, every indication in the life and death of Christ is that God grants this pardon before we even ask for it. In other words, the problem with sin is not that we have to somehow secure God’s pardon. Forgiveness is not what saves us. It’s what helps us understand that God doesn’t have a problem with us. He is on our side.
And that’s why I think this psalm helps take us beyond the traditional penal Christian understanding of salvation, because after David talks about God’s forgiveness, he asks for a blessing. Think about that. In the penal understanding of sin, this would be like the criminal—who is granted a pardon—then asking the judge to give him something!
That certainly wouldn’t fit with our view of what’s supposed to happen in a courtroom, but that’s exactly the way God works. His forgiveness is designed to break down the barrier that sin has created between us, and once the barrier is down, He gets busy giving. His blessings always come on the heels of His pardon.
God’s love is outrageous. He doesn’t treat us like criminals, because He doesn’t see us as criminals. He treats us like His children, because that’s exactly what we are. He is always merciful to us, and His mercy is simply a precursor to His blessings.
For those of us living in guilt, this kind of love feels outrageous, because we feel undeserving of God’s favor. But God doesn’t think of His love as outrageous. For Him, it’s normal. He loves us as He does because that’s who He is.
God believes in survival of the weakest.
I understand the people who believe that there is a God and that He created the universe. And I understand the people who believe that there is no God and that the universe was created through the process of evolution. But I don’t understand the people who believe that there is a God and that He created the universe through the process of evolution. Why? Because of this psalm.
Here’s what David had to say about God: “Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (vs 4-5)
Even in the Hebrew culture, but especially in the heathen cultures of the day, orphans and widows were the throwaway members of society. Nobody was going to look out for them. If you didn’t have a father or a husband to care for you, you were in serious trouble. And in the midst of such a culture, God defined Himself as a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow. He would personally care for those who couldn’t care for themselves. He would defend the defenseless.
God believes in the survival of the weakest. That’s how I know for sure—sans any scientific evidence for or against—that God’s fingerprints are not all over evolution. It is totally contrary to the principles of His government.
The theory of evolution is based on survival of the fittest. It’s dog eat dog. If I’m stronger than you and I can acquire a more advantageous position for myself by destroying you, I’ll squash you in an instant.
Evolution advances on the backs of the weak. That is not God’s way! On the contrary, He makes Himself weak so we can become strong. He sacrifices Himself to help us. In a universe made by evolution, there is no such thing as love, forgiveness, or goodness—but these things are the very backbone of God’s character.
What sort of God is this? What sort of God takes His power and uses it for others? What sort of God doesn’t use His exalted position to His own advantage—but, rather, uses it to our advantage? What sort of God is this? One who believes in the survival of the weakest. One who is a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow.
That’s our God.
God knows you.
It seems like from the time we started dating, my husband and I have had a favorite saying in our relationship: Get out of my head. Ever since the first days of our courtship, we’ve had an uncanny ability to finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes, it feels like we can even read each other’s minds.
That’s a good thing . . . most of the time. There have also been times when it becomes evident that I’m “reading” something my husband wouldn’t have said out loud, and he looks at me with this look that says, How did you know that?! And I’ll say, “You forget, I know you.”
I’m convinced that’s what marriage is: a journey of ever-deeper knowing. And sometimes, that’s a very daunting thing. Even with a spouse, even with someone I’m so close to, there are parts of me I’d rather not reveal—even to myself. Ugh. Some places inside of me are still so . . . ugly.
But I believe that’s one of the reasons God gave us marriage—so we could know what it’s like to know and be known and to love and be loved in spite of it all. It’s a little glimpse of our relationship with God. He knows us better than we even know ourselves, and He wants us to know Him in the same way.
That’s what David said in today’s psalm (I’m paraphrasing): “O God, you know all of my stupidity firsthand; I cannot hide from you.” (vs 5)
There is no hiding from God. He knows us—better than any other person can ever know us—and the amazing thing is that He loves what He knows. He created you as a unique and special individual. He sees everything about you, and He is still proud to call you His own.
There may be times when you marvel at how well He understands you. At those moments, don’t be surprised when you hear Him say, “You forget, I know you.”
And don’t worry. It is a good thing.
God is always right on time.
As we embark on a New Year, I wonder what 2012 will hold for me, for my family, for the world. Things certainly seem much more chaotic across the globe than they did even five years ago. With all the recent revolutions, riots, and financial instability, contemplating the end of the world doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
I’m sure there are many of us who would echo David’s sentiments in this psalm: “Hasten, O God . . . come quickly . . . Lord, do not delay.” (vs 1, 5) But even as we wait for the end of time, we know that God is always right on time. What seems like a long wait to us is not an eternity to the Lord. He knows how all things are working together so that everything culminates in just the right way.
In the meantime, David has the best advice for us while we wait: “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’” (vs 4)
While we wait, we should praise. The more we remember and affirm that God is in control, the easier it will be for us to wait—no matter how long it takes.
God is justly merciful.
I can’t tell you how many times in my adult life I have heard someone say that God is merciful, but . . . Why do we always have to include a big but when we talk about God’s mercy? What usually follows the but is the idea that God is also just, and that somehow, His justice is in opposition to His mercy. Thus, in Christ, He devised a way to satisfy His justice so He could be merciful to us.
About that idea, may I politely say . . . hogwash. I think Paul Young, author of The Shack, summed it up best when he said that the traditional understanding of the cross makes it sound like God said, “I’ve got a problem with you. So, in order to get over my problem with you, I’m going to take my son out behind the shed and beat him to death. Then you and I will be okay.”
That doesn’t make sense.
And the idea that God’s mercy is somehow opposed to His justice didn’t make a lot of sense to David, either. Thirteen times in this psalm, David pleads with God to help him, to rescue him, to be merciful to him. He cries out for salvation and deliverance.
But here’s the interesting thing. With all those pleas for help, how many times did David appeal to God’s mercy? Zero. Not one. He never even mentions God’s mercy.
Instead, he appeals to God’s justice:
- In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me. (vs 2)
- My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts. (vs 15)
- I will proclaim your righteous deeds. (vs 16)
- Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens. (vs 19)
- My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long. (vs 24)
Here, David reveals that God’s mercy and justice are not two opposing attributes of His character, but two sides of the same coin. God delivers us, helps us, and saves us because He is righteous. He is merciful because He is just. He is not merciful in spite of His justice!
So, the next time you talk about God’s mercy, make sure your big but doesn’t get in the way! God is merciful to us because it’s the right way to be. He is justly merciful. He is mercifully just!
God is marvelous.
Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with my mom about modern children’s toys and the concerns I have with giving too many to Caroline at too young an age. Nowadays, kids grow up with so much to entertain them. It seems like everything blinks or beeps or plays music. Most of the toys I’ve seen in the store talk in more than one language! It’s quite overwhelming even to me, and I’m left wondering if there will be room for my daughter’s imagination to grow. I have this urge to raise her in as “unplugged” an environment as possible.
My thoughts on this developed even further as I read an online column written by the mother of a six-year-old child who had been watching the television program Glee. That he had been watching it wasn’t the thrust of her article at all, but I found myself disturbed that parents allow their children to watch something that is so completely inappropriate for their age. (My guess is that parents don’t even realize it’s inappropriate.)
It’s all about desensitization, isn’t it? If Caroline is bombarded with toys that light up and sing and talk and move and entertain from the time she is born, what can there possibly be to hold her attention down the road? Will she even have an attention span in five years? Perhaps this is some of the problem with the Attention Deficit Disorder trend! And the same goes for television programs and movies. If children are exposed to adult themes at such a young age on such a regular basis, what sort of entertainment will they look for as adults? No wonder our children are growing up over-sexualized and under-educated.
These are not the only ways we experience desensitization. We also experience it through language. Have you noticed how many things in our culture today are classified as awesome or wonderful or amazing? Most of the time, the things these words are used to describe aren’t really worthy of such descriptors. As we go through “language inflation,” we become desensitized to what is truly awesome and wonderful and amazing.
I think that’s why this verse in today’s psalm stuck out to me: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.” (vs 18) Marvelous means “causing great wonder; extraordinary.” And God alone has the market cornered on such things.
This made me think of when Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mk 10:18)
God alone is marvelous. God alone is good. Everything else in earth and heaven pales in comparison to Him. Only in His character do we find things to be described as awesome and wonderful and amazing. Anything else is a matter of desensitized language inflation!
God is more than words.
In this psalm, Asaph teaches us to give little credence to words. After spending several verses outlining the wickedness of evil people and despairing over their prosperity, Asaph then says, “Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” (vs 9)
From that, we can conclude that words mean very little. These wicked people are puffed up with pride (vs 6) because they do not seem to experience the misfortunes that come upon others. Thus, they assume that their evil deeds are of no account, even claiming to have favor in heavenly places.
God, in contrast, deals in actions. The psalmist concludes that “as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (vs 28)
Anybody can say anything. Anyone can make a claim. Talk is very cheap. True love comes in the doing. And that’s why God, who is true Love, spends more time acting than He does talking.
So, the next time you hear someone boasting (or the next time you are inclined to boast), remember that talk is cheap. Just because we may lay claim to heaven doesn’t mean very much in the end. We may be just another evil gasbag, spouting words that don’t mean anything. But God solidifies all His claims with deeds. His righteous actions back up anything He lays claim to.
God conquers all.
The last couple of days have been hard ones for me. I heard news from friends of friends that a missionary couple living and working in Africa lost one of their six-month-old twin babies to malaria on New Year’s Eve. On top of such a tragedy, living in an environment where there is no such thing as embalming meant that their child (who died at 6 a.m.) was buried before the sun went down that day. I can’t imagine having to say goodbye so quickly to someone you love.
Though I never met this child and though I don’t know the parents personally, the story touched me deeply. Perhaps it is because I have a four-month-old and it’s too easy to think about losing her. Maybe when the ages are similar, it hits a little closer to home. I don’t know. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to bury a child. I honestly hope I never have to find out.
But I think it was in contemplating such a scenario that these verses jumped out at me from today’s psalm: “God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.” (vs 12-14)
You may remember Leviathan from our recent trip through the book of Job. Scholars aren’t completely sure what Leviathan refers to—if it was a now-extinct sea creature or if it was some sort of mythological creature. Either way, whether real or imagined, Leviathan was nothing short of a frightening beast.
One thing’s for sure: Bible writers referred to it as a symbol of overwhelming power before which no one can stand. In Job, God said of this beast, “If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering.” (Job 41:8-9)
I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered an animal that was overpowering just to look at (and not sure I’d want to, either!). But I know that I’ve encountered suffering in this world that seems overpowering. Sometimes it is so hard to make sense of the awful things that happen in this place.
That’s why it’s so comforting to read a passage like the one in Psalm 74 and realize that though Leviathan may frighten us with overwhelming power, God is not overwhelmed by him. He takes monsters like Leviathan and crushes their heads like peanut shells. He takes the problems we face and turns them inside-out for blessing.
James and Sarah Appel are on my mind today, and I’m sure they will be for some time. They are facing a personal and spiritual Leviathan. To them, I’m sure it looks frightening, like a thing of overwhelming power before which they cannot stand. But God has defeated the monster of death. Death will die. And even though, for a short time, it still thrashes and snorts and rages in this world, God has ensured its ultimate demise.
What Leviathan are you staring down today? Don’t be so overcome by your fear and anxiety that you forget the Mighty Dragon-Slayer we serve. Leviathan is no match for Him! He is God, our King of old. He brings salvation on the earth!
God loves it when we Selah.
Depending on the version of the Bible you read, you may have noticed the word Selah interspersed among some of the verses in some of the psalms. Some Bible versions leave the word as is; others translate it Interlude; others remove the word from the text altogether in favor of a footnote.
There is some disagreement over the meaning of the word Selah. Some (though not many) scholars believe it is simply a musical term that signals nothing more than an interlude between verses. However, most believe that, while it does signal a pause, it is connected to the message, not the music. It is a word used to magnify the words that come before it, to invite us to reflect on the meaning of what we’ve just heard. In other words, it means something like, “Now stop and think about that!”
If you go back through the psalms and look at the places where the word Selah occurs, I think it will be easy to see that, of the two proposed definitions, the latter is a much better fit. In today’s psalm, the word Selah appears after this verse: “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.” (vs 3)
Now stop and think about that!
When the entire Earth is in upheaval, when wars are ravaging the planet, when people are confused and hopeless, when it seems as though everything is being shaken off its foundations, it is God who holds everything firm. He is the eye of the storm. He is the peace in the midst of chaos. When the forces of evil threaten to tear everything apart, God alone has the power to hold it all together.
What can you face in life that can overpower you? Nothing. What can you face in life that can destroy your eternal security? Nothing. What can you face in life that can remove you from God’s hands? Nothing. In Christ, you are safe and secure . . . forever. Now stop and think about that!
God loves it when we Selah. He loves it when we pause to consider something more about His character. He loves it when we approach Him with our questions and curiosity, when we come to “reason” with Him. What sort of God is this, who would create intelligent beings with the power to think and reflect and choose?
God is so misunderstood.
I think God must feel like a woman sometimes . . . so misunderstood. I wonder if He sometimes looks at the Bible and sees what amounts to a cartoon caricature of Himself—where one teeny, tiny aspect of His character is magnified and blown out of proportion. This particular psalm seemed to be emphasizing the fear factor:
- He broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war. (vs 3)
- It is you alone who are to be feared. (vs 7)
- Who can stand before you when you are angry? (vs 7)
- Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise. (vs 10)
- Let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared. (vs 11)
- He breaks the spirit of rulers. (vs 12)
- He is feared by the kings of the earth. (vs 12)
And as I read that description of God, these are the things I thought of:
- Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
- When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt 9:36)
- Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:29)
- As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Lk 7:12-13)
As I have heard before (and probably written before on this blog), God is not someone to be afraid of. He’s someone to be a friend of. Oh sure, there are times when God uses thunder and lightening to get our attention. He has had to do that many times throughout history, and He’s still willing to do it today when we need it.
But I believe that He does not want to be known as someone to be feared. He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him forever. He wants to draw us close to Him. He wants us to know that He has compassion for us.
Sometimes, because of what God has had to do in dealing with His immature and out-of-control children, He has been so misunderstood. Oh, that we would see His heart more clearly!
God allows doubt.
We all have them—those times when doubts creep in. They can last anywhere from a second—Man, believing that there’s an all-knowing, all-powerful guy up in the sky who created everything and sees me right now sounds like a Star Trek movie!—to a full-blown season of doubt and depression. Sometimes you just can’t stop the questions.
In fact, I think it’s rather ironic that I “just happened” (was it really coincidence?) upon this chapter at this time because I’ve been experiencing a season of questioning and doubt recently. What I know intellectually is having a hard time making it out of my head and into my life. I’ve seen so much hurt and despair around me lately, and I’m wondering again what it all means. Storms of evil in this life can become quickly overwhelming.
And that’s why it’s so encouraging to see Asaph ask these questions:
- Will God reject forever? (vs 7)
- Will God never show his favor again? (vs 7)
- Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever? ( vs 8 )
- Has God’s promise failed for all time? ( vs 8 )
- Has God forgotten to be merciful? (vs 9)
- Has God in anger withheld his compassion? (vs 9)
God allows doubt. He doesn’t get frustrated when we ask these questions over and over again. (Of course, it’s helpful to do what Asaph did and remember what God has done in the past. That’s how we get some answers to the questions!)
But God doesn’t expect us to be these perfect little faith-robots who never feel an emotion or have a wavering moment. We are allowed to question. We are allowed to doubt.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions—especially the hard questions. Does God care that I’m hurting? Why didn’t God do what I wanted Him to do? Does God love me at all? Why does it seem like God doesn’t listen to me?
God will not disown us for asking questions. He won’t even disown us for getting angry and yelling at Him. We don’t have to be afraid of doubt. There is no question too “bad” that we can’t bring it to God. He can handle it all.
God takes care of our needs.
In this psalm, the author spent a lot of time reminding his listeners of all the ways God had cared for His people in the desert. No doubt, the Israelites had either forgotten or willfully walked away from God time and time again; perhaps Asaph was trying to stave off a fresh outbreak of unfaithfulness by going on a little trip down memory lane.
I can’t imagine trying to care for a million people wandering around in a desert, can you? It would be daunting for any human being—but not for God. He was more than able to provide for anything and everything they needed:
- He did many miracles in Egypt to help them believe that He was the one, true God.
- He gave them a way of escape from their Egyptian enemies.
- He personally guided them day and night.
- He gave them shade during the hot desert days with the cloud.
- He kept them warm during the cold desert nights with the pillar of fire.
- He brought water out of rocks for them.
- He rained down bread from the sky.
- He sent hordes of quail in on a mighty wind.
God took care of everything they needed. And you know, we’re not so different from the Israelites. Sometimes it feels like life is a desert. We may not know where our next meal is coming from. We may not know how we’re going to keep a roof over our heads. We may not feel like we have any direction in life whatsoever.
But God knows just what we need, and He is more than willing and able to take care of those needs. Nothing you need is too much for God to handle. He has a thousand different ways to provide for you. You are not too small for Him to notice.
The God who sent bread down from heaven is still in the business of meeting needs. He cares deeply about you!
God doesn't care about His reputation.
Well, maybe that blog title needs a little caveat. It’s not that God doesn’t care at all about His reputation; He just cares about other things more than He cares about His reputation. He won’t protect His good name at all costs—especially if the cost is our spiritual development.
Here’s what struck me as I read: “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild. They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead. We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us. . . they have devoured Jacob and devastated his homeland.”(vs 1-4, 7)
God’s people had rejected Him. And so God gave the Israelites the independence from Him that they had chosen . . . and they ended up getting whomped on the battlefield. They received such a thrashing from the surrounding heathen nations that they must have run away, crying like little schoolgirls.
In the theological climate of the day, however, this sort of humiliating defeat was not simply a repudiation of the Israelites—it would have been seen as a repudiation of God Himself. Every nation had its god, and the question about which god was the best or strongest was answered on the battlefield. If you won the battle, your god was the true god, and vice versa. If you lost the battle, your god either didn’t exist or he was pretty weak. That’s why Asaph also said, “Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” (vs 9)
Thus, for God to allow the Israelites to experience the consequences of their foolish rejection of Him, His own reputation had to take a massive hit. Instead of being exalted through the Israelites to the surrounding heathen nations, He ended up looking like a fraud and a farce when His people were destroyed and taken into captivity.
But, to God, the spiritual welfare of His creatures was far more important than His own reputation. He doesn’t care what He looks like if His looking bad is for the purpose of helping us develop. He cares less about looking like a fraud and more about what’s happening with our eternal destiny.
And that’s why, as gods go, He’s the best!
There is a refrain in this psalm that was made into a new song by Christian artist Michael W. Smith a few years ago: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (vs 3)
To me, this is one of the most intriguing things about God, and it’s one of the things I love most—that He shines, that He is somehow filled with light. Moses found this out when he spent some time on the mountain with God and came back all lit up (Ex 34). The disciples were amazed by the sudden light show as Jesus was transfigured before them (Mk 9).
In fact, the Bible begins with God bringing light to the world (Gen 1:3) and ends with Him being called the Morning Star (Rev 22:16), and all throughout, its pages are splashed with light.
Perhaps my most favorite reference to light in the Bible is this one: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isa 9:2) God is the light, and no matter how dark it gets, He shines. No matter how dark it gets.
Let’s face it, this world is just a dark place sometimes. Everywhere you turn, there is hurt, heartache, sorrow, and evil. Sometimes I wonder how God can stand to look at all of it. But then I remember that He is light. And it’s not just that He brings light. He is light. That means that the people who walk in darkness have seen . . . Him!
Perhaps we may take a small bit of comfort in this—that it is in life’s darkest hours when we can most clearly see the light shining. God will not leave us alone in the darkness. He has promised to pierce it with Himself—and the Bible says He is the light that the darkness can never overcome (Jn 1:5).
Are you living in the middle of night? Are you burdened with guilt, shame, or deep sorrow? Ask God to make His face shine on you. He will, and you will be delivered—delivered out of your grief, delivered out of your sin, delivered out of your night.
God feeds the hungry.
Sometimes these blogs write themselves. I love it when it’s simple, straightforward, and to the point. Here’s the verse I loved from today’s chapter: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” (vs 10)
Open your mouth and I will fill it. It doesn’t get much more plain than that. Are you hungry? Open wide, and God will satisfy your hunger. But if it’s so easy, why do we still have a hard time getting fed? Maybe we don’t believe God will fill us. Maybe we think our hunger is impossible to satisfy. Maybe we don’t want what we think God is going to give us.
I’m always amazed when I read the story of the Israelites—they were willing to go back to slavery so they could eat cucumber, onions, and garlic. (Although, I must admit, I might be willing to do a lot for garlic.) Then again, I wonder if it was less about the specific foods and more about the feeling of control they had in Egypt. After all, they might have been slaves, but bondage was comfortable. It was familiar. Following a pillar of fire around in the desert and eating bread that fell out of the sky is a little too . . . shall we say, insecure. It probably felt a bit like living paycheck to paycheck.
The security of the Israelites came from the same place our security truly comes—from God. Everything we have can be gone in an instant. Your house, your car, your family, your bank account—all of it can vanish. God is the only thing in this life that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And He says, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”
Are you hungry? Wondering where you can find satisfaction? Look no further than God. He is ready and willing to provide for all your needs. He always feeds the hungry.
God stands among us.
This is quite an interesting psalm—one that depicts God, the Great Judge, judging the rulers of the earth: “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. ‘How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Selah!” (vs 1-2)
There were a couple of things that really stuck out to me about this whole scene:
- God stands in the assembly. This is where God does His judging—among us. I had always thought of His judgment as some sort of distant thing. You know, like there’s this Great White Throne somewhere far away, and maybe we’d be whisked there to face “the judgment.” But, just as God lives among us, He also judges among us. His judgments are not amputated pronouncements or declarations; rather, they are revelations of the reality around us. In this case, the revelation is that those who have been entrusted to judge are not being just (vs 2).
- We really are made in God’s image. God—who is the Great Judge—has created us to be gods, that is, to be little judges. He has endowed us with the opportunity to encounter the poor and needy and decide what we will do with them. Many Bible commentators link this admonition to justice with our present-day social justice reforms in the government. But so often, I feel that when we abdicate care of the poor and needy to the government, we miss out on the reason behind God’s command to care for the poor and needy. I don’t believe that sending a check from the government is what God had in mind when He asked us to care for the poor. And I believe that because I think God’s asking us to care for the poor is more about what it achieves in us and less about actually meeting the needs of the poor. (God could do that all by Himself if He wanted to.)
For me, the salient point to remember is that God stands among us. He is there in the orphan, the widow, the rich man, and the judge. No matter where we fall in the spectrum, we have—this day—an opportunity to act in His image. We have—this day—an opportunity to do what is right, to do justice. Let’s not leave that to anyone else. Having been made in God’s image, with the power to think and to do, let’s do.
For God is among us.
God likes to snuggle.
A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends wrote this as a status update: “One upside to having a sick child…all the extra snuggles!” When I read that, it struck me that maybe God sometimes feels the same way. It is suffering, not necessarily ease and comfort, that drives us deeper into God’s arms. It is suffering that helps us identify with Him—the one who has been suffering since sin began in His universe.
Perhaps that’s why I noticed this oddity in today’s psalm: “Make [our enemies] like tumbleweed, my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name.” (vs 13-16)
Wow! If that wasn’t a doozie at the end of that passage! Asaph goes off on a litany of what he would like God to do to his enemies—only to reveal that the reason behind this request is so that his enemies will come to know God. It seems Asaph himself knew something about his God, because whenever God took drastic action such as that described in this psalm, it was for the express purpose of bringing people back to Him.
God uses suffering to bring us back to Him. No matter where the suffering comes from—whether it’s engineered by Satan or brought on by our own wicked choices—God takes it and works through it to bless us. He uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him; thus, He uses our suffering ultimately to our advantage.
Just as a mother cherishes the moments spent snuggling with her sick child, so God cherishes the things—even the difficulties—that drive us deeper into His arms. He likes to snuggle!
God is on an eternal road trip.
There were two wonderful points to make about God from this chapter, and I couldn’t pass either of them by, so I tried to marry them with my blog title. God is everlasting; and He is on a road trip.
The first point comes from that famous verse: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (vs 10)
Many commentators focus on the doorkeeper/dweller comparison. Being a “doorkeeper” probably didn’t mean opening and closing doors for God. It was probably a reference to the Israelite custom of dealing with slaves who decided to stay with their masters after their term of service was up. The master would pierce the servant’s ear by boring it to the door post (Ex 21:5-6), and then he would belong to the family forever. Thus, the author here was most likely saying he’d rather be a slave in God’s house than a free man living with the wicked.
But what I noticed about the verse was the fact that God has a house while the wicked have tents. Sin isn’t something that will last forever. It can’t. It’s built on transitory principles; it’s built on selfishness, and selfishness self-destructs. The wicked will never live in anything more permanent than tents. Their sin only lasts for a season.
By contrast, God’s dwelling is permanent. He has a house—the kind built on a rock. It will never be destroyed. It will never crumble. It is built on love, and love is everlasting. It leads to life and more life. It goes on forever.
Coupled with this comparison between houses and tents is the idea that God is on a journey. That comes from verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” To have your heart set on God is to have your heart set on pilgrimage. God is a mover and a shaker. He is not idle. He is always on the move.
Bible commentator Frederick Fysh said this about verse 5: “The natural heart is a pathless wilderness, full of cliffs and precipices. When the heart is renewed by grace, a road is made, a highway is prepared for our God.” This is what God does. He encounters the wilderness of our hearts and, with our permission, fires up the bulldozer of grace:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isa 40:3-5)
God is the great leveler. When we allow Him to work in our lives, He will fill in every valley, He will lower every mountain. Life will cease to be a chaotic mess of dizzying highs and depressing lows as God’s grace builds a highway and instills in us an abiding peace and contentment no matter where the journey is taking us. This is how God’s glory is revealed—in us as we travel through life with His peace.
And this is how I see our life now and in the hereafter with God: as an incredible, never-ending road trip. The pilgrimage with Him and to Him lasts forever. We will never stop learning, never stop knowing more, never stop becoming more. Yes, blessed are those who have their hearts set on pilgrimage!
God covers us.
In this psalm, the word Selah came immediately after this passage: “You forgave the guilt of the people and covered all their sins.” (vs 2) If you remember from a few days back, the word Selah most likely means to stop and carefully think about what has just been declared. God forgives our guilt and covers all our sins. Now stop and think about that!
The odd thing is that there is another verse in this psalm that is frequently used to support the idea that Jesus died to satisfy God’s wrath against sin: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (vs 10) But that idea (that Jesus died to satisfy God’s wrath against sin) goes against the idea laid out in verse 2.
The best definition I ever heard of forgiveness was this: “Forgiveness means giving up the right to get even with someone who has done you wrong.” Forgiveness, then, means not getting even. Forgiveness means not having the score settled. Forgiveness means not having the penalty paid. Forgiveness means that the one who has been wronged personally bears the pain of it—without resorting to revenge, without “getting even.”
Thus, it is clear that if Jesus died to pay the price for our sins to God the Father, then forgiveness does not figure into the deal at all. If the Father has received the payment He requires for sin, then He cannot be said to have forgiven that sin. If He required a pound of flesh to settle the score, then He has not forgiven our sin, He has gotten even. Forgiveness means not having the penalty paid. Selah!
The truth is precisely what it says in verse 2. God is in the forgiveness business. He is in the business of covering guilt and sin. That doesn’t mean eternally ignoring it or pretending like it doesn’t exist; it means coming to us and making us comfortable by covering our shame and guilt while He heals and restores us. This is exactly what He did with Adam and Eve. When, through their sin, they realized they were naked and were ashamed, the first thing He did was cover them.
What this teaches us is that our problem is with sin, NOT with God. The Jesus who said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34), is the same Jesus who said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Jesus didn’t buy His Father’s forgiveness for us by dying on the cross. The Father is just as forgiving as the Son, just as eager and willing to save and heal.
I realize that, for some, this probably sounds like heresy. And I will agree that it does fly in the face of how traditional Christianity views the atonement and the relationship between the Father and Son. But when the puzzle pieces of the Bible come together, they reveal a God who is one in character and purpose. This God—in all three persons—is an immediate forgiver of sin, and He is always working to cover us in our guilt so that we will feel comfortable coming to Him with our problems.
Now please, stop and think about that!
God is undivided.
By chance, this is going to be a continuation on one of the themes in yesterday’s blog. Yesterday, we discovered that God the Son didn’t pay off God the Father in order to secure our forgiveness. God forgives us freely, because that’s who He is.
Showing us “who He is” was one of the main reasons Jesus came to our world. He came so we could have a chance to see Him up close and personal; He came in a way that was inviting, not threatening.
Yet, toward the end of His ministry, the disciples begged Jesus to tell them about the Father. You see, they enjoyed the time they had spent with Jesus, but they were still a bit unsure about Him, you know, the “Big Guy Upstairs.” And Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show Him to you?” (Jn 14:9)
But even after the plain words of Jesus, some 2000 years later, there is still a common misconception in Christianity that the Father is somehow different from the Son. There is this subtle idea that we need Jesus to plead with the Father on our behalf. There is a sense that the “God of the Old Testament” (whom we usually say is the Father) is different from the “God of the New Testament” (Jesus).
This psalm would teach us something different. Here’s what this psalm has to say about God. He is:
- slow to anger
- abounding in love
- abounding in faithfulness
Who does that sound like? Why, it sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?! Of course it does! However, it also perfectly describes the Father. God is undivided. He is one, both in character and purpose. Jesus really was telling the truth when He said that if we had seen Him, we had seen the Father. There are no differences in the characters of the Father and Son. We don’t find anything in Jesus that we can’t find in the Father, and vice versa.
In fact, on multiple occasions, Jesus declared that He was the one who was written about in the Old Testament. I’m sure we would certainly agree that Psalm 86 describes Jesus beautifully. But we must not stop there. If Psalm 86 describes Jesus, then so does Genesis 6 and Leviticus 10 and Joshua 7 and 1 Chronicles 13. And if Jesus would say to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8:11), then that’s absolutely what the Father would say to her, too.
It’s time for Christians to stop believing and preaching that there is more than one God. There is only one. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In character, in purpose, and in love, He is totally and completely undivided.
God has a book, and you're in it.
This is a beautiful song about Zion—the holy city of God. Who wouldn’t want to be a citizen of that place? Who wouldn’t want to come from that country? Throughout the ages, there have been many people who asked how one could call Zion their homeland. How inclusive would God be? Would He let just anybody in the door?
Actually, everybody is already in the door. From God’s perspective, you don’t have to become a citizen of Zion; you already are a citizen of Zion. Did you notice this verse? “I will record Rahab [Egypt] and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” (vs 4)
Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Cush . . . these were some of the famous enemy countries of Israel. They didn’t count the God of heaven and earth as their God, but God counted them as His children. Here, He declared that they didn’t have to immigrate to Zion; if they wanted to live there, they were entitled to permanent residency!
The citizen’s register for Zion is the Book of Life. Nobody’s names are written into the Book of Life. Everybody’s names are already in the Book of Life. Names don’t get added; they get removed upon request. Everyone becomes a citizen of Zion at birth; they may renounce that citizenship if they choose.
God has a book, and you’re in it. Right now, unless you have chosen otherwise, you are a citizen of God’s country; your name is written in the Book of Life. As far as God is concerned, you are His child. You were born in Zion. He will never deport you!
God loves . . . for better or worse.
This is a dark, dark psalm. Whoever Heman was, he was having a rough time. At the very beginning of his psalm, he acknowledges that God is the one who saves him (vs 1), but after that, it’s 17 verses of darkness. He even ends with “darkness is my closest friend.” (vs 18)
Does it seem odd to you that sacred Scripture should contain writings filled with utter depression? Does it seem out of place to have a record of this despair that can see no light at the end of the tunnel?
On the contrary, marriage therapists frequently warn couples that, whilst in therapy, their relationship may get worse before it gets better. When two people are (re)committed to intimacy, there may be misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and confusion before true understanding can blossom.
That’s what the psalms are—human beings being real and raw with God. When they’re depressed, they cry out. When they’re angry, they holler. When they’re grieving, they cry. You can find the entire range of human emotion in the psalms—praise, paranoia, doubt, joy, vengefulness, hatred, peace, betrayal, and faith.
And through them all, God’s abiding presence is felt. In some cases (such as this psalm), the author might get to the end without finding the answers to his questions—but he doesn’t stop asking the questions. He doesn’t give up.
And neither does God. If anything, the psalms teach us that God loves us . . . for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and despair, in doubt and faith, in love and hatred, in faithfulness and betrayal. He is committed to us now and forever, no matter what.
So, it’s all right if you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel today. God is still with you. He hasn’t gone anywhere, and He’s not going to go anywhere. He is with you always—for all that’s better and all that’s worse.
God is faithful.
When you are so familiar with something, it becomes very easy not to see it. I think this is what often happens with Bible study. We get so familiar with certain Bible stories and passages that it becomes difficult to see them with “fresh” eyes. I have found this to be the case particularly with Psalms, since so many of our worship songs come from this book.
The beginning of this psalm was no different: “I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.” (vs 1) I know at least two different worship songs that are based exclusively on this text (and I’m sure there are others). So, my brain was already switching into “been there, done that” mode, when I redoubled my efforts to use “fresh” eyes just in time for the next verse: “I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.” (vs 2)
I majored in Creative Writing in college, with an emphasis in Poetry, so I’m well aware of the license that poets employ from time to time. That’s why they end up making statements like you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. Well, what does that really mean? Can I look up to the sky and see God is faithful written there? No.
But as my mind formed that question and I wondered if the author of this psalm was simply trying to engineer some beautiful-sounding song lyrics, I realized that his statement really is true. God has established His faithfulness in heaven itself.
What does that mean?
Perhaps the author of this psalm had something else in mind, but it occurred to me that there are few things on this planet that we can count on with absolute certainty. In fact, Benjamin Franklin famously quipped that the only two sure things in this life were death and taxes. But I think he overlooked something else—sunrise and sunset.
Since Creation week, there has never been a day on this planet when the sun didn’t rise and set. (Of course, we now know that the sun “rising” and “setting” isn’t because of the movement of the sun, but the rotation of the Earth on its axis. Regardless, it happens every day like clockwork.)
I think this is what the writer meant when he said that God has established His faithfulness in the heavens. No matter what’s happening on this Earth, the sun rises and sets every single day. It’s a surety. There is nothing human beings can do to change this reality. It is continual and unchanging—just as time itself.
In the same way, God is continual and unchanging. No matter what’s happening on this Earth, God is there, right beside us every single day. There is nothing we can do to change this reality. His presence in our lives is as sure and certain as the rising and setting of the sun.
God is faithful, and we need look no further than His creation to learn that. He really has written His faithfulness in the heavens.
God is our home.
Well, that seemed like a no-brainer title for this blog, especially since Psalm 90 begins this way: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (vs 1-2)
Those seem like such easy words to say; yet, what does it mean for God to be our home? A home is the place you dwell in. Hopefully, it’s a place that holds wonderful, warm memories. Hopefully, it’s a place where you feel loved and accepted, able to just be yourself.
Whether people know it or not, God is our home. Life is only found in Him. We can’t go somewhere outside of Him and find life. We can’t cut ourselves off from the Source and live. We are all dwelling in God as surely as we dwell in our own homes.
It is interesting to me, then, to think about the fact that God says He also wants to dwell in us. Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) It makes me think of how Jesus asked His disciples to be one, as He was one with the Father: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? . . . Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn 14:10, 19-20)
Of course, God is not dependent on us for life as we are dependent on Him for life. As the author wrote, God is “from everlasting to everlasting,” and we are dust. But God does give us the opportunity to voluntarily invite Him into our lives—to make Him at home in us just as He has made us at home in Him.
You are in Him. Is He in you?
God is the only shelter.
I read a blog online this week that, frankly, made me a little sick. (I won’t link to it here, because I feel it is too graphic for children.) The author wrote about how he and his wife—in an effort to spice things up in their marriage—pursued a trail of endless drugs and multiple sexual partners . . . only to be left empty, loveless, and divorced. So sad! The author concluded by saying that while his wife often said that “More is more,” it didn’t turn out to be true when it came to sex.
I immediately thought of that blog when I read the opening of today’s psalm: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (vs 1-2)
The psalmist went on to list the things you would be spared if you hung out in God’s shelter:
- every trap
- deadly diseases
Obviously, the psalmist is referring to something other than everyday dying. People who are fully committed to the Lord get cancer. But I think what the author is getting at are all the blessings that come from doing things God’s way.
Often, we think of God’s law as something restrictive, almost like it’s only there to curb our fun! Maybe we think that if we could only do away with His law, we’d really be free to do anything we want. This idea permeated the sexual revolution of the 60s. People thought that sexual morality was something leftover from the Victorian Era—as if we only needed to free ourselves from the shackles of our own antiquated thinking.
But as I look around at society today, it has become clear to me that God’s way of doing things—rather than restricting freedom—is what preserves freedom. In the area of sex, for example, those who follow God’s blueprint—one man and one woman sharing sexual intimacy only ever with each other in the context of a marital commitment—are totally free to do anything they want in the bedroom. They don’t have to deal with the fear of contracting a disease or encountering emotional baggage from past sexual relationships. They don’t have to worry about being compared sexually to other men or women. They don’t have to use condoms or worry about “safe” sex.
It is those who do not follow God’s blueprint, on the other hand, who find themselves restricted and limited—not free to enjoy sex as God created it to be. They become weighed down with guilt, fear, and intense emotions. They never experience the joy of giving themselves wholly to only one person. So much of their freedom is curtailed.
God is a shelter. And He is the only shelter. In every area of life, He has given us governing principles to follow so that life can be a delight and not a drudgery. Those who dwell in His shelter will truly find rest in His shadow. Haven’t you had enough of the world telling you how to be happy and free, only to have it all end in misery and bondage? Now is the time to come to God to learn what true freedom is all about! Let Him be your refuge and fortress!
God takes the long view.
We have a problem with patience in our society. Maybe it’s the increase in technology. Or maybe it’s simply the decrease in spirituality. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is patience, and there seems to be alarmingly little of it these days. We are a buy now, pay later society in the midst of a 24/7/365 culture. At least in the Western world, there isn’t too much that we truly have to wait for; thus, we don’t.
Somehow, though we know time remains constant on our planet, time seems to be getting faster and faster and faster. This spills over into Christianity. Many people are left wondering why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. When is He really coming again? What is He waiting for?
Though this psalm doesn’t give us the answer to that specific question, it does point out the difference between God and fools: “Senseless people do not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. But you, LORD, are forever exalted.” (vs 6-8)
It’s clear, here, that God takes the long view of things. It’s easy to do when you’ve already been living for an eternity, and you’ve got an eternity left to go! By contrast, “senseless” people take the short view of things. They look around at the world, see that corruption and wickedness and evil are flourishing, and come unglued. They have no perspective. They have no patience. They have nothing but a short view.
If people truly are fools, I think this can cause them to end up throwing in with the evildoers. They look at the prosperity of the wicked and think, Hey, why should I miss out? I better get in on this! We heard it most recently from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Why shouldn’t we—the “99 percent”—take charge of what the “1 percent” has? They forget that where evil truly exists, the prosperity is short-lived. Sin destroys itself and is gone forever, while God and His ways of love are everlasting.
It’s hard to remember that, though, if you don’t take the long view into consideration.
God has an infinite amount of patience. He really must, in order to deal with all the things that happen in this world. Sometimes, I think about all the things He witnesses on a daily basis, and I imagine that the only way He can deal with it is because He has the perspective of the long view.
He wants to give us the long view as well so that we will not get swept away either in the frenzy of time or the frenzy of jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked. He wants to cultivate in us the spiritual gift of patience and an abiding assurance in the eternal. To keep our eyes on the prize—this is the goal of the long view, perhaps summed up best by martyred Christian missionary Jim Elliot when he said, ”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Today, take the long view.
God reigns over evil.
To the Hebrew mind, the sea was associated with evil. In Isaiah 57, Isaiah wrote that the wicked were like the sea. In Psalm 89, the psalmist wrote that the raging sea was akin to the opponents of the Lord. In Revelation, the sea is pictured as the birthplace of the Satanic beast (Rev 13) and the place of the dead (Rev 20). No wonder, when John pictured the earth made new, he wrote that the sea had disappeared (Rev 21).
So, when I read this psalm, I understand the psalmist to be declaring that God is sovereign over evil: “The seas have lifted up, LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty.” (vs 3-4)
When we look out at the world, we see a lot of evil. Child abuse, sexuality immorality, murder, lying, cheating, corruption, gossiping, greed, pride. You name it, we can find it anywhere we turn. In fact, sometimes, it can all feel a bit overwhelming—sort of like being in the middle of a raging sea with massive waves, no boat, and no land in sight.
But, as one of my favorite praise songs declares, “Father, You are king over the flood. I will be still and know You are God.” Against the backdrop of the raging, out-of-control sea, the psalmist says, “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.” (vs 1)
No matter how bad things look around you, God is on His throne, and everything is truly alright with the world. Let the seas foam. Let the storms rage. Let evil roar. Let the wicked go berserk. Nothing can shake the foundations of God’s throne. And because He is “robed in majesty and armed with strength,” the world, indeed, “is established, firm and secure.”
God reigns over evil, and one day soon, He will calm the raging sea. And when He does, He will—as He is well able to—make all things right and all things new.
God's presence resolves wickedness.
And once again, we encounter an uber-familiar theme in this psalm—God’s dealings with the wicked: “The LORD is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.” (vs 1) Immediately, we must recognize that the word used here is “avenge” and not “revenge”. In the Hebrew language, to avenge means to set right; to get revenge means, well, to get revenge.
What caught my eye, though, was the ending of the verse: shine forth. I hadn’t ever thought of connecting those two things before, but it seems clear from this verse (and this psalm) that it is God’s presence that “avenges”. It is God’s presence that sets things right. It is God’s presence that resolves wickedness.
How does that work, exactly?
Consider this passage from the book of Malachi: “The day of judgment is certain to come. And it will be like a red-hot furnace with flames that burn up proud and sinful people, as though they were straw. Not a branch or a root will be left. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken! But for you that honor my name, victory will shine like the sun with healing in its rays, and you will jump around like calves at play. When I come to bring justice, you will trample those who are evil, as though they were ashes under your feet. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken!” (Mal 4:1-3)
Talking about shining forth! When God comes to set things right, all He has to do is simply show up. His presence burns like fire, but did you notice? Everyone is in the fire! To the wicked, God’s presence is like “a red-hot furnace with flames” that the Bible describes as burning them up. But to the righteous, God’s fiery presence is like “the sun with healing in its rays.”
What we see, here, is the same thing that happened in Jesus’ day with those who were open to God and those who weren’t. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, an interesting thing happened. Those who were “righteous” (but, really, wicked in their hearts) turned and slunk away from Jesus. The woman who was “evil” (but, really, open to God in her heart) found comfort and healing in His presence.
Here’s one thing to be sure of: sin cannot remain in God’s presence for long. This is good news for us sinners! For if we are struggling with sin, there is but one thing we need to do: hang on for dear life to Jesus. We don’t have to worry about changing our behavior or rooting out our sin. Sin and God cannot coexist. If we refuse to let go of Jesus—no matter how bad things get—our sin will eventually have to surrender. It’s a foregone conclusion.
God’s presence resolves wickedness. Hopefully, we are allowing His presence to daily resolve the wickedness that’s in our hearts right now. Otherwise, His unveiled presence will resolve it after the final resurrection—when everyone will finally see Him face-to-face. May that day come soon!
God hardens and softens hearts.
The writer of this psalm included an urgent plea from God to His audience: “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.” (vs 8-9)
It seems that Israel’s ancestors weren’t much better or smarter than Pharaoh. When God brought judgment on the gods of Egypt, Pharaoh rejected the light he was given, thus hardening his heart. Israel’s ancestors apparently did the same thing at Meribah and Massah, choosing to ignore God, even though they saw what He had done in their midst. The author of this psalm hoped they wouldn’t repeat that terrible decision.
We serve a God of revelation. When He comes to us and reveals truth, He gives us the opportunity to either harden or soften our hearts. If we respond to the light He brings, we soften our hearts to His Spirit. If we reject the light He brings, we harden our hearts to His Spirit. If we harden our hearts consistently enough, we will get to the point where we are no longer able to perceive light when God brings it to us, thus leaving us in total darkness.
Because God is the one who brings these opportunities, He is sometimes credited with doing the actual hardening (or softening). And I suppose there is a certain logic in that. When He confronts us with light, it forces us to decide what we will do with that light. We may choose to accept it, or we may choose to ignore it, but we cannot remain neutral. Once God confronts us with truth, we cannot escape either the hardening or softening.
In this respect, God is like the sun, and we are like either butter or clay. God is always bringing light to us, always shining His truth into our dark hearts. How we respond to that will determine whether we become softened (like butter left out in the sun) or hardened (like clay left out in the sun). God doesn’t treat wicked people differently than righteous people. He doesn’t arbitrarily harden some hearts and soften others. We make the decision about how His light will affect us.
This very day, as God’s Spirit communicates with you, He is bringing light that will either harden or soften your heart. Which will you be? Butter or clay?
God inspires new songs.
Has God been your Savior for a long time? Have you spent years basking in the mercies of the Lord? Guess what? No matter how long you’ve known the Lord, the psalmist still challenges you to “sing to the Lord a new song.” (vs 1)
This is one of the wonderful things about God. He is infinite and eternal; this doesn’t just define His longevity, it defines the depth of His character. The more we come to know of God, the more we will find there is still an infinite amount to discover. We could spend an eternity with Him and realize that there is still an eternity of revelation to enjoy.
The marvelous things we learn about God today are the platform on which we will stand to see far more wonderful things tomorrow. If you think God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness today, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. With God, there are always new wonders to see. There are always new songs to sing.
As the years roll on, it only gets better and better.
God is right.
In this psalm, we find a very famous, very traditional description of God’s throne: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” (vs 2) We may hear that a lot, but what does it mean? What is righteousness? What is justice? And what does it mean to say that they are the foundation of God’s throne?
Some people have suggested that righteousness and justice are opposed to each other, that they are two different sides of the same coin. Some say God’s righteousness means saving the “good” people, while God’s justice means punishing the “bad” people. But as we look at this more closely, I think you’ll see that righteousness and justice are not opposed to each other at all; rather, they are perfectly complementary.
God is right, and He always does what is right. That’s what it means to say that God is righteous. His righteousness can be defined as the fact that He always does the right thing—no matter what. To say that God is just means that He takes things that are wrong and makes them right again. He returns good for evil. He transforms curses into blessings. He sets things right.
So, God Himself always does what’s right. And, in addition, He takes the things that have been messed up and makes them right again, too. Thus, in God, everything is always done right and set right. This is the foundation on which His throne, His very government, rests. He will never be deposed because everything He does is right and good.
It’s interesting, then, that the first part of the verse about God’s rightness is not sweetness and light. Did you notice the whole verse? “Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (vs 2)
It’s a truth and an irony that, in this life, we find God (in all His righteousness) in the midst of clouds and darkness. When things look the worst, when the crisis hits, when the suffering is overwhelming, that’s when we are most able to see God in all His righteousness. It is in journeying through the dark times that we discover God is in the middle of it with us and then—and this is why I believe the psalmist puts these two ideas together—we remember that He alone has the ability to make things right again.
In her hit song, Blessings, artist Laura Story poses this very idea in a series of questions:
What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?
Laura is right. Don’t let the clouds and thick darkness discourage you. For in the midst of them is the throne of God. Built on righteousness and justice, it will never pass away.
God—the ironic King.
I read a lot of commentaries on this chapter. Most agree that the psalmist had Christ’s second coming in mind when writing this psalm. Commentator William D. Barrick wrote, “In 1719 Isaac Watts published ‘Joy to the World’ from the text of Psalm 98. His carol speaks far more about Christ’s return as King than it does about His coming as a baby in Bethlehem.” And to that, I say, as if He wasn’t a King in Bethlehem?!
After all this time, it’s still hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that God’s Kingdom is totally different from our kingdoms. His way of being a King is totally different from our way of being a king. His way of wielding power is totally different from our way of wielding power.
Psalm 98 says, “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gotten Him the victory.” (vs 1) We read that, and we think, Yeah! God is going to come again with might and power, crushing the opposition!
Yet, when Jesus came to this Earth and gained the victory over sin once and for all, He didn’t crush anybody with might and power. His right hand? It was nailed to the cross. His holy arm? He didn’t even use it to deflect a single blow that was thrown His way, let alone use it to injure another person.
God’s right hand and holy arm have not won Him the victory through beating His enemies, but through revealing His glory in the midst of evil and pain. God wins the war through freedom and submission, not through coercion and force. God gains the victory because of who He is. And He was Himself in the manger just as much as He will be Himself in the clouds. The baby who came to give His life isn’t going to turn into some rampaging brute at the end.
That’s what makes God an ironic King. He is King—just not in any of the ways we normally think of a king. And that’s why I love how the great Charles Spurgeon summed up this psalm in his commentary. I’ll leave you with it today:
The salvation which Jesus has accomplished is wrought out with wonderful wisdom, hence it is ascribed to his right hand; it meets the requirements of justice, hence we read of his holy arm; it is his own unaided work, hence all the glory is ascribed to him; and it is marvelous beyond degree, hence it deserves a new song.
My mom and I were having a discussion the other week about spanking. We were watching the Supernanny television show, and the family being chronicled included a dad who “spanked” his children. I put that word in scare quotes because his “spanking” really amounted to nothing more than hitting the kids when he was angry or frustrated. Sometimes the blows would fall on their bottoms; other times, he hit their arms, legs, or back.
No wonder spanking has gotten such a bad name in our culture, because what was portrayed as “spanking” on that television show wasn’t spanking—at least not the kind used for effective discipline. As my mother put it, if and when spanking is employed properly as a discipline technique, it is hardest on the parent, for it should never be done in anger, in the heat of the moment. And when the frustration has subsided, that’s when many people would find spanking more difficult.
Now, I’m not advocating for spanking over other methods of discipline. In fact, I hope I never decide that I need to use it with my children. But if the circumstances warrant it, and I feel it is the best method of conveying the necessary discipline to my child, I won’t hesitate to spank.
What does all of this have to do with Psalm 99? Verse 8: “You showed them that you are a forgiving God, but you punished them for their wrongs.” I like how The Message renders the last part of that verse: “You were never soft on their sins.”
Does it sound odd to say that God forgives, but does not pardon? I don’t think so, not if the proposed “punishment” is for the purpose of discipline. God may forgive our sins (and He most certainly does), but that doesn’t negate the problem with sin and its consequences if it goes unaddressed in our lives.
You see, for far too long, we have believed (mostly because the Christian church has preached) that the problem with our sin is that God is angry with us. Thus, we jump to the erroneous conclusion that if we could somehow secure His forgiveness, our problem would be solved. But that is based on a false premise. The problem with sin is not that it makes God angry. The problem with sin is that, if left untreated, it kills you.
We should look no further than the cross to know that God forgives sinners unabashedly and immediately. Jesus—who was God in the flesh—spoke forgiveness to the people who were killing Him. These people hadn’t even asked for forgiveness, yet they were forgiven freely by God. Unfortunately, that didn’t solve their sin problem. They kept right on torturing Jesus.
Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart. It means giving up the right to personal revenge after someone has wronged you. And make no mistake about it: our sin has hurt God very much. But He harbors no attitude of revenge against us for that sin. He forgives us all without question—including Satan.
The fact is, however, that our sin will ultimately destroy us unless we let God heal us from it. To use a simple analogy, it’s as if we had been going to the doctor our whole life, and he kept telling us to stop smoking because it would cause lung cancer. And we ignore him and continue to smoke. When we develop lung cancer, the doctor might say, “I forgive you for not heeding my advice,” but that will not stop the cancer from killing us. In order to deal with the cancer, the doctor (despite his forgiveness) will also have to apply treatment.
Discipline is God’s treatment. He can and does forgive us all day long, but He is never “soft” on our sin. When we need correction, punishment, and discipline, He is more than willing to provide them—even when it makes Him look mean and tyrannical. The thing first and foremost on His mind is our well-being, and He will do whatever it takes to heal our sin problem.
So, while you thank God today for His forgiveness, also thank Him for His discipline. Through it, He is dealing with the sin problem in your heart so you can be restored to full spiritual health. You are His precious child, and He wants to heal you completely. That’s why, when He needs to, He will spank you—and He won’t apologize for doing it!
God made us.
This has always been one of my most favorite psalms. I think I used to hear it on a recording as the introduction to a song when I was a child. In my mind, I can still hear a conglomeration of different children’s voices reciting the verses of this psalm. It is succinct and simple. It’s my kind of psalm.
On this trip through the Bible, the verse that stuck out to me was verse 3: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Other versions bring out the aspect of this verse that God is the Creator and we are not (in other words, we didn’t make ourselves). But, because He made us, we belong to Him.
I’m certain the reason I’ve “seen” that verse so clearly this time is because I have a five-month-old daughter. And I know full well that she belongs to me. It is I (and my husband) who made her, and not she herself. No matter where she goes in life, no matter what she does, no matter who she becomes, she will always have her origins in the love story of David and Kelley Lorencin. Always.
She will never be able to escape the fact that she came from us. She might pretend it’s not so. She might refuse to think about it or talk about it. She might disown us as her parents. But none of that would change the fact that one of the two cells which began her existence came from me, and one came from David, and she grew inside my body. Though she will one day “wake up on the planet” (as far as her level of consciousness is concerned), she didn’t just appear here out of nowhere. David and I know her right now, even before she “knows herself.”
And so, I read this text somewhat bemused because, in the world where I live, there are a great number of people who would like to disown their heavenly Father. There are a great number of people who would like to pretend that they did not come from a Creator but, rather, from a cosmic accident. There are a great number of people who would like to believe they mutated from pond scum or monkeys.
But none of that can change the fact that the Creator made them, and they belong to Him. They didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Before they “woke up on the planet,” they were known by God just as surely as I know my daughter.
We are all beloved children of our heavenly Father. He made us, and we belong to Him. In His eyes, each one of us is infinitely precious. Each one of us has inestimable worth. We didn’t make ourselves, and we don’t live only unto ourselves. God made us, and no matter where we go in life, no matter what we do, no matter who we become, we will always have our origins in the love story of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
God has a blameless heart.
What would you say is the most important part of a house? The roof? The foundation? Or—perhaps as my husband and I found out shortly after we bought a house without one—the garage? Well, according to the psalmist, none of these is the most important part of a house.
According to Psalm 101, the most important part of a house is the heart of the person who lives there: “I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.” (vs 2) This is right in line with what Jesus said in Mark: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mk 8:36)
You may live in a castle with the most luxurious amenities known to man, but what good will all of that do you if you’re eaten up with misery and greed? Money can’t buy happiness! Wealth can’t buy contentment! But a blameless heart is at home wherever it goes.
God’s house stands because it is built on a blameless heart. He embodies the imagery in this psalm—innocence, honesty, faithfulness, humility, and purity. If He did not embody these characteristics, His government would fall. If He did not possess these qualities, His house would implode.
The psalmist had somehow learned that in order for his house to thrive, he needed to pattern his heart after God’s. For it is a blameless heart that provides a firm foundation for your home. Anything less, and you’ve built your home on shifting sand.
God turns the ephemeral into the eternal.
I have been preparing to lead a Bible study on Exodus this weekend, so I currently have my head filled with thoughts of Pharaoh and the ten plagues. And that may be why this verse from today’s psalm jumped out at me: “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” (vs 11)
We are ephemeral. (That means temporary, short-lived, transient.) We have nothing in us to sustain our lives. When we arrive on the planet, we have no idea if we’ll live to be 5 or 95. Although we all plan for a long and happy life, we actually have no clue how many days we really have left to live.
We don’t often live in that reality. We live as though we are little gods, creating and controlling our future destiny. That’s why we’re always shocked and horrified when something happens to interrupt our plans—the death of a loved one, a bad diagnosis from the doctor, the loss of a job or personal belongings. We don’t plan for any of those things to happen, and when they do, that’s how we know that we aren’t gods.
That’s how Pharaoh realized he wasn’t a god. God came to him and, in a series of ten plagues, made him realize that he had no control over all the things he thought he had control over. He realized very quickly that he wasn’t who he thought he was.
A friend recently asked me on Facebook: How does God make things whole again when something like 9-11 happens or when my child is hit and killed by a car? And the answer is, I don’t know how He makes things whole in each specific situation (although we know that He is working all things together for good). But those kinds of situations help us understand very quickly that we are ephemeral, not eternal.
We are not gods. We are not self-sufficient. The only hope we have is in something beyond ourselves—because we are dead-ends. Even the “world’s oldest living person” will die, and somebody else will claim their spot as the world’s oldest living person . . . until they die and get replaced by someone else, and on it goes.
In contrast to this, God stands eternal through all time. Before Him, generations rise up and pass away. And hopefully, before they are gone like grass, they have learned the important truth that they need to grab hold of something outside of themselves for life. We will all have to face this reality at some moment—that there comes a time when we can do nothing to prolong our existence.
God is eternal, and only He can turn the ephemeral into the eternal. When Adam and Eve plunged us into sin, one of the blessings they brought to us is the very real understanding that we are not eternal. It is only in our connection to God that we can hope to experience a life that never ends.
And maybe it is in that realization that God can begin to make things whole again when something like 9-11 happens or when my child is hit and killed by a car. In the hopeless moments when we are forced to face the reality that everything—and I do mean everything—in this life is temporary, perhaps the only thing we have left is to reach up and grasp the hand of the eternal.
And that’s when true life begins.
God heals every disease.
Do you doubt the title of this blog? It’s straight out of Psalm 103: “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.” (vs 2-5)
It’s not hard for us to “buy” all the other benefits God has listed here. We know He forgives our sins. We know He redeems us from the bad place we’ve been plunged into. We know He treats us with love and compassion. We know He satisfies us. But what about healing all our diseases? What about cancer? AIDS? Malaria?
People die of diseases every day. So how can it be said that God heals every disease?
Well, I think the psalmist is talking about fatal diseases. And of that particular kind of disease, there is only one. That’s right. There is only one fatal disease. And there’s a cure for it.
Before we get to that, let’s examine two other pieces of the puzzle on death:
“After [Jesus] had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’” (Jn 11:11-15)
“Jesus said to [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (Jn 11:25-26)
Here’s the first thing to realize: Jesus did not treat the death we experience on this planet as fatal. That’s because, from God’s point of view, it’s not fatal. It’s not final. We can be woken up from that “sleep” just as easily as a mother wakes her sleeping child from a nap. But there is a disease that is fatal to God’s children:
“‘Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways,’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ez 18:30-31)
Obviously, God was not referring to mortal death on this planet when He implored the Israelites to repent of their sin. He would not be asking them to steer clear of something they had no control over—something that would be impossible for them to avoid! None of us can avoid that death, that “sleep.”
But, because of God’s gracious cure, all of us can avoid the death that is caused by sin. This is the death Jesus demonstrated on the cross. It’s the death that results when a person completely hardens his heart and cuts himself off from his Creator. It’s the death that the wicked will experience, the death that can’t be undone or reversed, the death that God doesn’t want to lose any of His children to.
This is the only fatal disease. But there is a cure for it! God has provided a way for us to see and understand that our problem is not with Him, but with sin. He has forgiven us and wants to heal us, and if we let Him, He will cure our sin problem. If we let Him, He will heal our disease.
There’s a reason why “healing our every disease” is listed in this psalm along with forgiving sins, redeeming our lives, and treating us with love. Those are all part and parcel of the salvation process, the cure.
Yes, there’s only one fatal disease.
And there’s only one cure.
God is very smart.
Ha! I love the simple title of this blog. I know what you must be thinking—duh! But it’s really the only thing that came to mind after reading Psalm 104. This verse summed it up well: “Lord, you have made many things; with your wisdom you made them all. The earth is full of your riches.” (vs 24)
Not long ago, I became the proud owner of an iPhone—my first “smartphone” ever. And I have to say, it’s pretty neat. What a journey of discovery it is to explore all its little functions, not to mention the whole world of applications available for download! Sometimes I think my iPhone is smarter than me. Steve Jobs was a very smart man to have conceived of such a thing, let alone to have designed it and refined it! I am continually in awe of this little contraption.
So, when I read today’s psalm and encountered the multitudinous litany of things God created, I had to stop and think about His creative genius. Verse 24 says He made things with His wisdom.
Tell me, what kind of genius does it take to speak light into existence?
To create a whale? A camel? A giraffe? A ladybug? A rose?
A nervous system? A brain?
It is nothing short of staggering to think about the sheer volume and variety of God’s creation. God didn’t just create one bird, He created over 10,000 different kinds. God didn’t just create one fish, He created over 25,000 different kinds. God didn’t just create one person, He has created billions and billions of different people—no two exactly alike.
I can’t fathom the kind of genius required to create everything—from light to trees to sheep. But what I do know (sorry, Steve Jobs) is that it puts my iPhone to shame. All the technology in today’s world can’t even begin to come close to replicating the computer that is the brain or the engine that is the flagellum.
God can create on that level, and that means He is very, very smart.
God is a light.
If you joined us this weekend for our look at Exodus, you will recognize this blog title—it was the theme of Saturday’s worship. So, imagine my surprise when I open my Bible to read today’s chapter and discover that it is a recitation of the history of God’s acts in Israel—including a long passage about the ten plagues of Egypt.
So, even though this is Psalms, I decided to reiterate a great lesson about God that we learn from the Egyptian plagues: God is a light. Just imagine what it must have been like to be Pharaoh. He was “the” god in a land of gods. The ancient Egyptians had a god for everything—and I do mean everything. They worshiped over 2,000 gods that they believed controlled everything—from the sky to the River Nile to childbirth.
And at the top of the god pyramid was Pharaoh. Believed to be the son of two gods, he was directly responsible for maintaining good relations between the gods and his people. He was the intermediary, if you will, between earth and heaven. Now, as Christians, as people who believe in Yahweh, the one, true God, ancient Egyptian theology sounds like nonsense to us. We look at Pharaoh and think, How deceived he was! He lived in a fantasy world!
And he did. But that’s the whole point: God is a light, and it doesn’t matter how dark your darkness is, God can penetrate it with His light. He is a deception-buster, and He has a million different ways to communicate truth.
When Moses first approached Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go, Pharaoh said, “And who is the Lord that I should listen to him and let Israel go? I know nothing of this so-called ‘God’ . . .” (Ex 5:2) It’s true. Pharaoh was going happily along in his little fantasy land, believing that he controlled the natural world (with the help of some 2,000 other deities) when this guy Moses showed up and said that the true God was demanding the release of His people.
And all of a sudden, after a little blood in the Nile and frogs on the land, Pharaoh’s fantasy world was demolished. In plague after plague, designed specifically to target the most prominent gods of Egypt and expose them as worthless frauds, God communicated clearly that He held all the cards, He had all the power, and He was the only God in heaven and earth.
Did you realize that each Egyptian plague was designed to humiliate and expose as frauds the most prominent gods in Egypt?
1. The plague of the Nile turned to blood was a direct affront to Hapi, the lord of the fishes, birds, and marshes. It also targeted Osiris, the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was his bloodstream. (Perhaps that’s why God literally turned it to blood!)
2. The plague of frogs was designed to expose Heqt, the goddess of birth, who was always depicted with the head and body of a frog. To even accidentally kill a frog was a crime punishable by death in Egypt. Yet, after God sent this plague, the people had to heap the decaying bodies of frogs in great piles.
3. The plague of lice exposed Geb, great god of the earth, as a fraud.
4. The plague of flies humiliated Beelzebub, prince of the air, whose “ears” were flies.
5. The plague of cattle disease targeted Apis, one of Egypt’s most prominent gods (who was represented as a bull), and Hathor, the cow-headed goddess of the desert. (She was also considered the mother of Pharaoh.)
6. The plague of boils humiliated Imhotep, the god of medicine, who was powerless to help the people against such a terrible affliction. It was also an affront to Serapis, the deity responsible for healing.
7. The plague of hail destroyed the belief that Nut was in charge of the sky.
8. The plague of locusts targeted two gods—Isis and Seth—who were in charge of protecting crops.
9. The plague of darkness signaled the death of Ra, the great sun god. He was the most-favored god and considered the most powerful. (He was also considered the father of Pharaoh.)
10. The plague of the firstborn was not only against Pharaoh, but all the gods of Egypt (Ex 12:12). This is because the Egyptian firstborn were dedicated to the priesthood. Surely, if there were any gods in Egypt, they would protect those who were charged with attending to them in their temples. Thus, the death of all the firstborn in Egypt proved that either there were no Egyptian gods at all, or if there were, they were totally impotent.
So, just let me end by saying today that if you’ve ever worried that you might be deceived somehow or that you might have committed the unpardonable sin or that you might be spiritually dead to God . . . stop worrying. Every single one of us is harboring some amount of darkness in our hearts, but God is a light, and He is more than able to communicate truth to us just as He did to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
Let’s face it, if He can shine light into the heart of a man who worshiped more than 2,000 gods and thought he was a god himself, God’s got it easy with you. He’ll have no problem getting you to see the light!
God wants to save you from yourself.
So, another long litany of Israel’s history after being delivered from Egypt. This time, it ended with this plea: “Save us, LORD our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.” (vs 47)
From this reminiscence of history, it’s easy to remember that the deliverance of God’s people was only just beginning when they finished crossing the Red Sea. Getting them out of Egypt was the easy part. Getting Egypt out of them was another proposition entirely.
This verse is hard to believe (though we know from reading the historical account that it’s true): “But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” (vs 13) How could Israel have forgotten—and so quickly—all that God had done for them? How could they possibly have forgotten the frogs, the hail, the locusts, the darkness, the Red Sea standing on end?!
How could they have forgotten?
How could they have wanted to go back to Egypt? Back to bondage?
How could we?
Yes, the sad truth is that we are often like Israel. We enjoy a few moments on top of a spiritual mountain, but all too soon, the high is gone, and we have forgotten everything the Lord has done for us. We skid back down to the valley, wondering where God is and slowly starting to make our own plans for the future again. Our trust so quickly fades away.
When you read Psalm 106, it’s clear that the only thing God was trying to save the Israelites from was themselves. If we somehow think our problem is an external one, we’re mistaken. Our problem is all on the inside. For God, changing our scenery is easy; changing our inner landscape is extremely difficult.
In fact, it’s the only thing difficult for Him, because He can’t make a unilateral decision about it. It requires our willing participation.
God wants to save you from yourself. Will you let Him?
Will you follow Him out into the wilderness? Or would you rather head back to slavery?
God is not a pansy.
At a Bible study I attended last weekend, someone remarked that we sinful human beings have a pretty distorted view of love. I totally agree. I feel like there is a recent trend within Christianity to paint Jesus as a “nice” guy and call it love. Whether that takes into account the whole of Jesus’s interactions with people is another question. (Some might not think calling people snakes and frauds qualifies as “nice”.)
When you begin to define love as “being nice,” you run into a lot of trouble in the Old Testament. Most of what God did in the Old Testament doesn’t look very nice. It looks more like the New Testament equivalent of telling someone they’d be better off if they were drowned in the sea (Matt 18:6).
This psalm chronicles a lot of those not-so-nice things (along with other, very nice things) God did:
- He helps people find a home. (vs 7)
- He satisfies hunger and thirst. (vs 9)
- He subjects people to hard labor and bitter situations. (vs 12)
- He breaks down bronze gates and iron bars. (vs 16)
- He causes people to suffer affliction because of their rebellion. (vs 17)
- He heals people and rescues them from the grave. (vs 20)
- He calms storms. (vs 29)
- He turns rivers into deserts. (vs 33)
- He turns fruitful land into a wasteland. (vs 34)
- He turns deserts into flowing springs. (vs 35)
- He causes the righteous to flourish. (vs 38)
- He humbles people with oppression, calamity, and sorrow. (vs 39)
- He lifts the needy out of their affliction. (vs 41)
And then the kicker: “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD.” (vs 43) All of these are examples of loving acts. We might not say they all qualify as nice, but they are certainly all loving.
God never does anything that isn’t loving. If you read through this entire psalm, it’s clear that all those “harsh” things God did were for the very purpose of bringing His people back to Him—and it worked. In every scenario, the psalmist says the people “cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
I think it’s time we stop defining love as “being nice.” God is definitely not a pansy, and He doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff when He knows it’s necessary. His love may not always be “nice,” but it is always ultimately “kind.” Everything He does, He does for our benefit.
Thank goodness He is willing to be hard when it’s hard!
God is victorious.
At the end of this psalm, David says he is confident that, with God, they will prevail: “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.” (vs 13) This was very important to David, and in many ways, it was important to God. In David’s day, the worth of a god was determined by his nation’s success on the battlefield. Thus, the more success Israel had, the better God looked—not only to the Israelites, but also to the surrounding heathen nations.
We may no longer decide the strength and weaknesses of gods based on battles, but the psalmist’s words are just as true now as they were then: With God, we will gain the victory. No matter what we’re struggling with, God can and will give us the victory—and only with Him will we find it.
His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). With Him, all things are possible (Matt 19:26), and through Him, we can do all things (Phil 4:13).
We have one enemy—sin—and God is more than willing to trample it down in our lives! If we want to gain the victory, we better stick with God, for we can do all things through Him. Without Him, we can do nothing.
God blesses while we curse.
God blesses us, even when we curse Him. This is something that is far too often ignored—or not even realized—in Christianity today. As a collective group, we Christians don’t seem comfortable with or cognizant of the fact that God repays evil with good. He is a friend to His enemies. He forgives those who hurt Him. He blesses while we curse.
This was a specific request of David into today’s psalm: “Help me, LORD my God; save me according to your unfailing love. Let them know that it is your hand, that you, LORD, have done it. While they curse, may you bless; may those who attack me be put to shame, but may your servant rejoice.” (vs 26-28)
Now, I suppose David was specifically asking God to bless him while his enemies were cursing him, but the wonderful truth about God is that not only would He bless David while his enemies were cursing him, He would also bless his enemies. Do you find that hard to believe?
If you have more than one child, then I’m sure they have ended up fighting at some point in their lives. And, usually, there is one who does a little more instigating than the other. (I know all about that. I have an older brother who was always the instigator. Ha ha.)
So, if you come upon your children when they are fighting, and you can clearly see that one is being hurt by the other, your heart naturally goes out to protect the one who is being hurt. However, does that mean you also have a desire to turn on the other one and hurt them or disown them? Of course not! A misbehaving child is still your child, and a loving parent doesn’t seek to bless one child and curse another. Loving parents want to be good to all their children—regardless of their behavior.
It’s the same with God. Our sinful behavior causes enough trouble for us without God needing to add any curses on top. On the contrary, God is always seeking to bless us in the midst of our sin, to repay our evil with good, and to mitigate as many consequences as He can.
It may be in our sinful nature to curse those who have cursed us, but God is not that way. He blesses us—even while we curse.
God blesses us through adversity.
This is one of the most well-known and well-quoted Old Testament passages—referred to in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament passage. Jesus Himself referenced this psalm to confound the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 22. Of course, Jesus is the subject of this psalm, and it has much to teach us about His mission both on earth and in heaven at present.
However, I thought the first verse also had something to teach us about hardship: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” (vs 1)
David does a lot of singing in the psalms about wanting to trample down his enemies. It seems that was a constant train of thought running through his mind. This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, David spent a good portion of his life on the run from his enemies, and in those times, he was totally dependent on God for his safety. He never knew when it might all be over.
So, it’s no wonder that David dreamed of trampling on his enemies. Yet, in this psalm, God shows that He has a different purpose for our enemies—one also involving our feet. But it’s not trampling them, it’s allowing them to lift us higher.
Three hundred and thirty-six years ago this month, Sir Isaac Newton wrote a letter to his friend in science, Robert Hooke, that contained one of his most famous sayings: If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Of course, this principle is true for science and education. By adding our present knowledge and understanding to what has come before, we are able to see much further than we might otherwise have. But God also elects to use the hardships we encounter in this life for the very same purpose.
When people come against us, when they malign our characters, when they lie about us, when they attempt to discredit us, when they do all they can to annoy and harass us, we can be assured that God will take all those things that have been done for evil and turn them around for our good.
How does He do that? Frankly, I don’t know. I constantly ask myself that question while marveling at the people I know who have professed it to be true, not to mention having experienced it in my own life. How God is able to take the horrific things we experience and bless us through them is something I’m sure we’ll be learning more about through eternity.
But even if we don’t understand it, we can experience it today. God is blessing you through your adversity. He is going to use every enemy you have to lift you up higher, to help you see farther, to assist you in reaching new heights. Everything that happens to us in this life is utilized by God for our benefit. Everything.
Even your enemies. They will go from being a hammer to a footstool.
They may be trying to beat you down, but God is going to use them to lift you up.
God is the author of wisdom.
Recently, I read this maxim on Facebook: Knowledge is knowing that the tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad. Knowledge and wisdom are definitely not the same thing. We live in a world where there is a lot of knowledge, but not much wisdom. In fact, in today’s culture, many people jettison wisdom (which begins with reverent awe for God) because of their so-called knowledge (ignoring God in the name of “reason”).
However, the psalmist informs us that there is no wisdom without worship: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (vs 10) That word translated fear doesn’t mean terror; it means awe, reverence, and respect. Those who respect the Lord have taken the first step to attaining wisdom.
Worship is the beginning of wisdom, the first step towards finding it. Unless you begin with awe for God, you will never attain wisdom; any “wisdom” without Him is just nonsense.
But, like every good author, God doesn’t simply tell us about the beginning of wisdom; He develops the plot. In the verse I quoted, there are three secrets of wisdom. The first we have already touched on—stand in awe of God.
The second secret—found in all who follow his precepts have good understanding—is to obey Him. The Word of God isn’t just something that we should read and study, like literature. It is something we should do. When we obey God, we begin to understand what He is doing in this great, universe-wide war. Obedience fine-tunes our insight.
This leads to the third secret: praising God. The psalmist wrote that God’s praise endures forever. Praise is the fuel in the engine of wisdom—keeping it running. If wisdom begins by our reverence for God, then praise perpetuates wisdom, for praise makes idolatry impossible. Praise removes selfishness from our lives by taking our eyes from ourselves and putting them squarely on God.
So, there you have it. God is the author of true wisdom. The more we respect Him, the more we will obey Him. And the more we obey Him, the more our insight about Him will increase, and the more we will praise Him. And the more we praise Him, the more we will respect Him.
As you can see, the story of true wisdom never comes to an end. God is its Author, and it just keeps on going and going and going . . .
God dissolves fear.
Here is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life: When we fear God, we won’t be afraid of anything. When we don’t fear God, we will be afraid of everything. Of course, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog, “fearing” God doesn’t have anything to do with being terrified of Him. It means to respect Him, to stand in awe of Him, to understand that He is over all and above all.
If we are willing to do that, we will suddenly find ourselves in proper perspective to God and the rest of the universe. And, somehow, all of the problems that seemed to loom so large in our mind will also find themselves in proper perspective to God and the rest of the universe. And the proper perspective is that no news is bad if you’re walking in the will of God.
I think that is worth repeating: No news is bad if you’re walking in the will of God.
Isn’t this exactly what the psalmist says? “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear.” (vs 7-8)
Committing yourself to God removes a whole host of fears. First, family fears are dissolved: “Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.” (vs 2) God is a master of relationships. If family problems are discouraging you, renew your allegiance to the Lord and trust Him to help you with your relationships.
What about financial security? That is a huge fear in today’s economy! But the psalmist says that for those who fear the Lord, “wealth and riches are in their houses.” (vs 3) While this may not mean that you’re going to be a millionaire, it does mean that you can trust God to supply all your needs. He is the only true financial security!
Our world is a dark and confusing place to live. But God promises reassuring light to all those who put their confidence in Him: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” (vs 4) The more we walk in that light, the more we will be able to discern it. There is no need to fear the dark.
Some people fear the future altogether. Let’s face it, contemplating the future is a scary prospect. Yet, God promises that “the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.” (vs 6) No matter what happens to us, nothing can cause God to forget about us. When it looks like everything is falling apart around us, God can hold us firm so that we will never be shaken.
Walking with God dissolves the fear of everything else. If we trust Him, if we believe that He knows what He’s doing, then our hearts really can be steadfast and secure no matter what. Because God is working all things together for our good, there is no such thing as bad news.
“Fear” the Lord, and soon, all your fear will disappear.
God turns things around.
Can I shout it from the rooftops today? Our God is limited by nothing! Are you poor? Are you needy? Are you depressed? Discouraged? Childless? Afraid? Unemployed? Suicidal? Spouseless? There is good news for YOU! No matter your circumstances, your situation is not so impossible that God can’t turn it all around. He specializes in turning what’s “bad” on its head!
Check out the ending of today’s psalm: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” (vs 7-9)
Being poor and needy is no problem for God. He has all the resources of Earth at His disposal. At any moment, He can reach down and pluck you out of that situation, seating you with princes! Imagine that! Going from pauper to prince in a moment! You may not have been born a noble, but God is more than able to turn you into one.
Are you mourning the fact that you don’t have a family? This is no problem for God! He takes the childless woman and employs her as a mother! He may do this in any number of different ways, but the point is, the very thing you are lamenting today may be turned on its head by God tomorrow. He is not limited in changing the circumstances of your life.
God can change anything in an instant. When Jesus was here, He turned failing parties into hoppin’ shindigs. He turned a turbulent lake into a sea of glass. He turned a funeral into a birthday party. He turned a full cross into an empty tomb.
There is never a reason to lose hope. At any moment, God can resurrect that loved one you’ve lost. At any moment, God can cause your phone to ring with a job offer. At any moment, God can bring the love of your life across your path. At any moment, God can make a check show up in the mail. At any moment, God can calm the storms that are raging in your life.
Our God specializes in turning things around. Don’t give up on Him; He hasn’t given up on you!
God wants to dwell with you.
I loved the way this psalm opened: “When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” (vs 1-2) Sanctuary means “a place of refuge or safety,” and so it was astonishing to see it in this context. I mean, I know God is our sanctuary, but . . . God has a sanctuary?
In the Hebrew, the word translated sanctuary means “sacredness, separateness, holiness.” In a world of heathen nations, Israel was set apart to be God’s place of refuge. They were supposed to be people who would get to know Him, learn what He is really like, and tell others what they had learned. The way God was going to help them accomplish this goal was by dwelling with them—literally journeying with them through the desert.
It’s thousands of years later, and God is still looking for places of safety among His children. He is still longing for sanctuary. He is forever looking for a dwelling place.
And one of the wonderful things about God is that He doesn’t prefer to dwell in houses of brick or wood or straw. He prefers to dwell in His people. As Jesus said during His final prayer for the disciples: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (Jn 17:20-21)
God is a sanctuary for us, and it’s incredible to think that in this world of turmoil, we can be a sanctuary for Him. May His reputation find safe harbor in our hearts, in our words, and in our actions!
God's mind is full of you.
I typically use the New International Version when I quote Bible texts on the blog, but today, I wanted to use the New American Standard Bible because it uses a certain word I like very much: “The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us.” (vs 12)
There has never been a time when you weren’t on God’s mind. He has been thinking about you since before the creation of the world. He knew you while you were being formed in your mother’s womb. He knows everything about you. He knows and sees every moment of every day.
He has thought of you, comforted you, provided for you, delivered you, and guided you. Everything He has done in your life has been with your best good in mind. Because He knows you thoroughly, He is able to do all the things that are best for you. He knows just how to communicate with you and how to reveal Himself to you.
Everything God does is with you in mind. He doesn’t do anything for selfish reasons, but spends all His energy in loving and blessing His creation. That’s what the second half of this verse means. Those who are remembered by the Lord will be blessed by Him, because blessing is what He does and others is who He does it to. You are on God’s mind, and because of that alone, you will be blessed.
I don’t know about you, but to me, it is an awesome thing to consider the thought that I’m on the mind of the Creator of the Universe. So, just when you feel alone, just when you feel forgotten about, just when you feel neglected, just when you feel abandoned, just when you feel like nobody knows or cares or hears . . . God is thinking of you right then.
He has always thought of you, and He will always think of you. You are always on His mind.
God values the death of His friends.
This psalm contains a verse that has always been intriguing to me: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” (vs 15) I’ve heard it quoted at funerals sometimes, but its full meaning eludes me. At best, I can only make speculative comments about it, but since it was on the plate for today, I thought I would say a few words about it.
When I read this today, my thoughts immediately went to my father—definitely one of God’s faithful servants. I thought back to the night he died. My mother was sitting at his head, and I was sitting at his feet, and we were talking softly to him. For the last half hour of his life, he did not open his eyes. He simply laid still and quiet as his breathing gradually slowed and then stopped.
I have never been at the bedside of anyone who has died before. And while I can’t readily say that I would like to experience such a thing again, I have to admit that it was extremely peaceful and serene. And, as far as half-hours go, it is one of the most precious to me in my memory. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else except right by his side in his final moments.
My father died from ALS, which means that in the long months before he passed away, he had slowly and steadily lost the ability to walk, talk, eat, and (finally) breathe. It was awful to watch what that disease can do to a person who—not long before—had been so full of life and energy. By the time he drew his last breath, my father was but a shell of his former self.
And that’s why—on that April night—after he was gone, a burst of joy and excitement ran through me as I realized that the next time my father opened his eyes, he would be whole and healthy and free. He would never have to be fed through a tube again. He would never have to be dressed again. His curled-up fingers and shriveled legs would work perfectly. In short, he would never have to spend another moment suffering from ALS.
When that thought hit me, I could have done cartwheels. Death had set my father free.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the psalmist says that God values (or holds as precious) the death of His saints. At that moment, when they close their eyes, He knows that the suffering is over. The next time they open their eyes, He will get to see them face-to-face, and they will get to see Him—the Friend they have loved and lived for. Though they wait now in sleep, death has set them free.
There may be other reasons God regards our deaths as “precious,” but no matter what they may be, we can be sure that our deaths are not random, meaningless events that go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. It can feel that way sometimes. Death comes in the strangest ways, and it can catch us so off-guard that it’s easy to wonder where God is.
But God wants us to know that He is ever mindful of us—both in our life and at our death. Our death is not meaningless to Him. Our death does not remove us from His attention. Even in our death, we remain precious in His sight.
Because our death is precious in His sight, we may trust that it is not random or accidental. We may trust, even in our final moments, that God is working everything together for good. We may trust that death is not the end, but rather, a brief pause. And we may trust that in the very next second, we will open our eyes and see the face of the One who values us so highly that even our death is precious in His sight.
God is right, and He loves you.
Okay, I had to laugh when I opened up to the psalm for today. Seriously, have I ever read Psalm 117 before? I didn’t remember there being a Bible chapter that has only two verses! I guess this is the one to read if you’re dashing out the door in the morning and need a quick devotional!
Because it’s so brief, I’ll just quote the whole thing:
All you nations, praise the Lord.
All you people, praise him
because the Lord loves us very much,
and his truth is everlasting.
Praise the Lord!
One of the interesting things for me to discover was that this psalm is included in what is known as the Hallel Psalms—the hymns sung in conjunction with the Jewish Passover meal. During the meal, Psalms 113 and 114 would be sung, and at the end, the event would conclude with Psalms 115 through 118.
Thus, when the Bible says, “After singing a hymn, [Jesus and His disciples] went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mk 14:26), this psalm would have been part of the traditional text for that song service.
I just had to think about that—especially in light of what Jesus was preparing to do as He went out from the Last Supper. He knew He was headed to Calvary to do two things: (1) Show us that His love for us is infinite, and (2) Reveal the ultimate truth about what sin does to sinners.
Thus, Jesus was preparing to reveal the two reasons why this psalm calls on all of creation to praise God: His love is unfailing, and His truthfulness is everlasting. According to the psalmist, those reasons are more than enough to praise the Lord, even to call forth praise from the “Gentiles”—people who were viewed by the Jews as being outsiders to salvation.
These two things about God have never changed. First, He is right. He tells the truth. And when His honesty is in question, He provides evidence (even at great cost to Himself) to prove the truthfulness of His word. Second, He loves you. There has never been and there never will be anyone who loves you more than God loves you. He will do absolutely anything to let you know that and absolutely anything He can to win you back.
God is right, and He loves you.
God has wide-open spaces.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about law and freedom. With all the ruckus over birth control and abortion happening right now in America, it’s particularly easy to think about how we have strayed so far away from God’s ideal when it comes to sex. To even talk about abstinence before marriage nowadays makes you seem backward and ridiculous. It seems we would rather find ways to mitigate consequences so we can raise our young people to just do what feels good.
More and more, I wonder how God must look backward and ridiculous when people encounter His law in the Bible. I’m sure, to some people, He seems like a downright prude. After all, if I’m not hurting anyone else by my actions, why can’t I do what I want?
All of those thoughts made this verse jump out at me today: “When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.” (vs 5) Often, it’s our thinking about God that is so backward. He is not out to restrict our freedom; He’s out to preserve it.
Notice in this verse that it’s God who has the spacious place. Without the Lord, the psalmist is “hard pressed.” He’s in a tight spot, in a theoretical prison. It’s only when he calls on God that he finds his way out into freedom.
It’s likely the psalmist was talking about physical danger, here. But just as God provides physical freedom with His presence, He also seeks to provide spiritual and emotional freedom through His law. That’s right. The freedom comes through His law, not by the rejection of it.
As Paul said in Romans, “You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits.” (Rom 6:15-18)
It’s God who has all the wide-open spaces, and everything He does is geared toward helping you find them. His plan for you is not bondage; it’s freedom.
God is the language of life.
As a lifelong student of language, it was refreshing to see Psalm 119 in a new way today. How appropriate that a psalm about the Word of God should be an acrostic psalm—meaning that each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, from start to finish.
I love the idea that God’s Word is the language of life, relevant to every situation we encounter. His Word brings wisdom, imparts life, and corrects us when we go astray. If we don’t begin and end with the Word of God, we have nothing.
To give you a better idea of what this psalm would have been like in English, I decided to summarize each stanza using words beginning with the letters of the English alphabet. (The Hebrew alphabet only has 22 letters; that’s why my list stops with “V”.) No wonder God said that man should live by every word that comes out of His mouth!
· Acts as the authority in our lives.
· Bathes our hearts.
· Counsels us in how to make right choices.
· Displays the right way to live.
· Educates us and gives us understanding.
· Frees us from fear.
· Gladdens and encourages us.
· Helps us when times are tough.
· Improves our sinful condition.
· Judges rightly.
· Keeps hope alive in us.
· Lasts forever.
· Makes us wise.
· Numbers our steps.
· Oversees and sustains us.
· Pays big dividends in our lives.
· Quenches spiritual thirst.
· Reveals righteousness.
· Satisfies like nothing else can.
· Transforms us.
· Urges admiration and worship.
· Vanquishes our enemies.
God is the language of life. Just as the letters in our alphabet are the foundation of language, so God’s Word is the foundation of life. In Him, we live and move and have our being. Without Him, we are hopelessly stuck in ignorance, fear, hunger, and idolatry. Today, let us choose life!
God gets it done.
I love the abruptness of the Hebrew in the opening stanza of this psalm. The original wording of the verse goes like this: “To the Lord in my trouble—I called and He answered me.” (vs 1) The psalmist’s trouble is stressed in the first half of the verse, and then the two actions come like staccato thumps (only two words in the Hebrew) in the second half of the verse: Called. Answered.
When we wait upon the Lord, we can expect this kind of “get-it-done” experience.
That, of course, is what the rest of this psalm is about—being rescued. “Save me, LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.” (vs 2) And there may be nothing more important that God does indeed rescue us from than lies. Mostly, the lies come in the form of a subtle attempt to remove God from His rightful place in our lives.
Eugene Peterson, in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, sums this up rather well: “Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality . . . from the lies of pastors who “leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mk. 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit. The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions of falsified data. But they are lies all the same because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.”
Fortunately, God is not the kind of God to sit back and let us be deceived. Whenever we call, He answers. Whenever we’re in darkness, He sends light. Whatever our need, He gets it done. Boom, boom.
God trumps the mountains.
I love this psalm. It is such a well-known psalm, so simple yet so powerful in its message. I love how it begins: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (vs 1-2) In other words, you may think those mountains are great, but I know the One who made those mountains.
As I thought about what to write today, I realized that I wanted to share nothing more than the reflections of a man who once climbed a mountain. He and his friend climbed this gargantuan mountain—without climbing gear, proper shoes, or adequate food and water—because the alternative was to do nothing and die.
If you don’t yet know what I’m talking about, find a copy of the 1993 film Alive and watch it. It’s the story of a Uruguayan rugby team who chartered a plane that crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains in 1972. Sixteen ultimately survived the ordeal because two of the boys—Nando and Roberto—climbed out of the Andes on foot, weeks after the search-and-rescue mission had been called off.
So I decided to share with you an excerpt from Nando’s 2007 book Miracle in the Andes (which you really must read!). In this memory, he recounts the thoughts he had when he “lifted up his eyes to the mountains”—when he had climbed that first dizzying height, only to discover there were many, many more mountains waiting.
I don’t know how long I stood there, staring. A minute. Maybe two. I stood motionless until I felt a burning pressure in my lungs, and realized I had forgotten to breathe. I sucked air. My legs went rubbery and I fell to the ground. I cursed God and raged at the mountains. The truth was before me: for all my striving, all my hopes, all my promises to myself and my father, it would end like this. We would all die in these mountains. We would sink beneath the snow, the ancient silence would fall over us, and our loved ones would never know how hard we had struggled to return to them. In that moment all my dreams, assumptions, and expectations of life evaporated into the thin Andean air.
I had always thought that life was the actual thing, the natural thing, and that death was simply the end of living. Now, in this lifeless place, I saw with a terrible clarity that death was the constant, death was the base, and life was only a short, fragile dream. I was dead already. I had been born dead, and what I thought was my life was just a game death let me play as it waited to take me.
In my despair, I felt a sharp and sudden longing for the softness of my mother and my sister, and the warm, strong embrace of my father. My love for my father swelled in my heart, and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me: The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love.
I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Love is our only weapon. Only love can turn mere life into a miracle, and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear.
For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted, and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the god-forsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell I would die that much closer to my father.
Today, as I lift my eyes with the psalmist and see only mountains, I will choose to lift my voice with Nando and declare that I will walk until I have walked all the life out of me, and when I fall, I will die that much closer to my Father. No matter how many mountains surround me, He trumps them all.
The mountains, for all their power, are not stronger than my attachment to my Father. Death may hold me for a moment, but it does not have ultimate say, because the opposite of death is Love, and He never sleeps.
God loves peace.
I think it has to be one of the most universal things we believe about God—that He is a peacelover. At least, I don’t know many people who would race to characterize God as a warmonger. (Maybe you do!) Yet one of my favorite Jesus quotes is this one from Matthew 10:34—”Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
To me, this suggests that while God wants peace, He either doesn’t want it or can’t get it under just any circumstances. But I think this psalm gives us some insight into God and peace, for that’s what it’s all about. First, let’s quote a few verses:
“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” (vs 1)
“Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” (vs 3)
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’” (vs 6-7)
I see three things in these three quotes: community, community, and community. From the first quote, we see that those who end up in Jerusalem are there because they have decided to be there. Even more than that, they’ve decided voluntarily to be there, and they’re happy to be there. From the second quote, we see that those who end up in Jerusalem will end up close together, for it is a compact city. And from the third quote, we see that peace comes because “those who love” the city are the ones within its walls.
You see, God could have engineered universal peace forever simply by creating us to be robots programmed to get along. If He had designed us to never have an argument with each other, there would never have been anything other than peace, and God could have had “peace and quiet” forever.
But God wants love. He wants peace, but He wants love more. Or maybe it’s better to say that He doesn’t want forced peace. If and when He experiences peace, He wants it because He is with a group of individuals who have all decided to live together in community. This is the only way peace can be experienced in a universe of freedom—when each and every person has made an individual choice to live in harmony with others.
That’s the kind of peace God loves. That’s the kind of peace God longs for. And, once this vast war is ended, that’s the kind of peace God will have. And it will last for eternity—not because He programmed us that way, but because we’ve decided to live that way.
God is a giving Master.
Again in this psalm, we are lifting our eyes. But this time, we aren’t stopping at the mountains: “I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” (vs 1-2)
I think it must be one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that the more we become “enslaved” to God, the freer we are. And the opposite is also true: The more we attempt to gain our “freedom” from God, the more enslaved we become to sin.
Usually, most of us operate (even unconsciously) on the idea that it’s the other way around. Independence is written so deeply into our hearts that it almost seems to go against our very nature to think that anyone—even God—is our “master”. But this psalm doesn’t leave us much choice in dealing with that imagery.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master . . . so our eyes look to the Lord.
This is predicated more on oriental culture—where the masters seldom speak to their servants, at least on public occasions. Instead, they convey their wishes by a hand gesture, a glance, or other slight movements that would wholly escape attention if their servants weren’t “waiting with their eyes” for instruction. Thus, the psalmist pictures himself waiting on God in that manner—eager to discern His wishes and to carry them out.
Yet, the psalmist surprises us by revealing something out of the ordinary about the Master God. Verse 2 again: “Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” When servants wait on their masters for instructions, they are waiting to receive instructions about what they are supposed to do for their masters. But when servants of the Lord wait on Him, they are simply waiting to receive.
God doesn’t give commands like a master to a slave (although He will graciously give us His divine guidance and direction). When we wait on Him, we receive. He doesn’t want us to wait on Him so we can wait on Him.
He wants us to wait on Him so He can bless us.
God is not a demanding Master. God is a giving Master. Those who wait on Him will receive an abundance of blessing.
God is the difference between failure and success.
“If the Lord had not been on our side . . .” begins the psalm for today. Well, that’s a scary proposition! Yet every heathen religion is based on the idea that there is a god who is not for us, a god who is angry with us, a god who must be appeased in order to accept us. Unfortunately, these heathen ideas have even permeated Christianity, where Jesus (the Son of God) is often depicted as the One who decided to stand between us and God (the Father), who was angry and unwilling to forgive us.
That’s an unfortunate misunderstanding of what it means for Christ to be a mediator. But the Old Testament makes no such divisions between the Father, Son, and Spirit. In this psalm, for instance, it simply says, “If the Lord had not been on our side . . .” (vs 1)
So, this psalm echoes what Paul writes in Romans 8—that God Himself is for us! And if He is for us, nothing can be against us—not the people who attack us, not the flood that wants to engulf us, not the raging waters that would sweep us away. In God, we are ultimately safe and secure, having escaped from the snare like a bird escapes from a trap.
You see, one of the other erroneous propositions that traditional Christianity has sometimes put forward is that living our lives with God means that we will avoid evil, pain, and suffering. That’s not true. We will ultimately avoid being destroyed by sin if we remain connected to God, but that doesn’t mean that we will be immune to its painful effects on this Earth. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus Himself prayed, “Deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)
That very verse implies that, even as followers of Christ, we will encounter evil in this life, but since God is for us, the floods will not engulf us and the raging waters will not sweep us away. In this world, there is no avoiding evil, but God is the difference between failure and success, the difference between life and death. If God were not for us, we’d have no chance. But praise the Lord, He is always for us, and if we stick with Him, He will bring us through the storm safe and sound.
God makes mountains out of molehills.
I have been struck with the continuing imagery of mountains in these most recent psalms. A few chapters ago, the psalmist lifted up his eyes to the mountains but concluded that his strength was in the Lord who made those mountains. Now, just a few pages later, the psalmist takes his analogy a step further—not only does strength and help come from the Lord of the mountains, but He is like a mountain, and as we trust in Him, He makes mountains out of us:
“Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” (vs 1-2) This really is quite a paradigm shift—from viewing the mountains as obstacles to believing that God is able to make us unshakable!
How does that happen? I think it all has to do with that word trust in verse 1. When we choose to put our faith in God instead of giving into our fear, life takes on a whole different flavor. When we choose to live under the assumption that “God knows what He’s doing,” all of a sudden, I believe we’re free to actually see what He’s doing—where before, we may have only been blinded by our worry.
Those obstacles that come to us in life are nothing but molehills, even though they look like mountains to us. And God can take us—who feel like molehills—and make mountains out of us as we put our trust in Him. Before we know it, reality begins to look somewhat upside-down from how we knew it previously. Those problems that used to call forth troubling emotions—worry, anxiety, fear—may now fade into the background; better yet, we may begin to perceive God’s blessings in them.
That’s why I love what Eugene Peterson wrote about Psalm 125 in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: “My feelings are important for many things. They are essential and valuable. They keep me aware of much that is true and real. But they tell me next to nothing about God or my relation to God. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. . . . The image [in Psalm 125] that announces the dependable, unchanging, safe, secure existence of God’s people comes from geology, not psychology.”
So, that mountain you’re facing? Remember that, next to God, it’s nothing. It’s just a molehill.
You’re the mountain!
God turns tears into joy.
I am blessed beyond measure. There are so many joys in my life—and one of the greatest is my wonderful husband David. In so many ways, it feels as though he and I were truly made for each other. We share deeply-held views on everything—from God to politics to education to parenting. I have never met (and am sure I never will meet) another person who seems to be my match in every way.
I can’t imagine my life without David.
Yet, when I reflect on my life’s journey and how it led me straight to him, I couldn’t help but think of today’s blog title: God turns tears into joy. That’s what the psalmist wrote: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (vs 5-6)
But it’s one thing to say those words and quite another thing to experience them. So I thought I would share just a bit of my personal story with you today. Without belaboring the point too much, let me just say I had an academically rough childhood. After about nine weeks in first grade, I was advanced into second grade. I was pulled out of my group of friends and thrust into a new group where, of course, I was automatically seen as “the nerd.”
It didn’t help that, even then, I was usually so quick with my schoolwork that I spent a good deal of time doing “special projects” assigned by my teachers. I may have been doing a lot of work—but all it looked like to the other kids was that I got to do “special” things (like go to the library) when nobody else did. “Nerd” became “nerdy teacher’s pet.”
And it also didn’t help that my older brother was in this grade. I can see now how that must have been a total invasion of his space. Let’s just say that I wasn’t “feeling the love” (although I found out later that, behind my back, he was fiercely protective of me and ready to punch anyone who so much as looked at me cross-eyed). Added to all of this, I was an awkward late-bloomer at just about everything else.
Needless to say, I spent the better part of my pre-college education feeling like a total outcast. Perhaps, in light of major things like child hunger and world peace, the loneliness I felt during those years wasn’t that big of a deal. Of course, it seemed like a big deal at the time! But what child doesn’t feel lonely and left out from time to time?
Once I got to college, the world opened up and things were much better. Still, those early years continued to haunt me. It took me a while to see that God had turned those deeply-hurt parts of me into something beautiful.
The year I graduated from college, I was offered the opportunity to move to England for a two-year broadcasting internship. Not only was it perfect timing because I was graduating, but it was also perfect timing because I couldn’t find another job! And believe me, I looked hard! I didn’t want to go to England, but every other door closed right in my face until—with time running out—the only remaining door was the one that went to England.
So I went to England for two years. And that’s where I met the one God made for me.
It wasn’t until we were planning our wedding a couple of years later that I reflected on how I came to be in England at just the right time and in just the right place to meet my wonderful husband. Because I skipped that grade in school so many years before, I was graduating from college the year that a two-year internship was available . . . instead of graduating a year later.
Talk about turning tears into joy! If that’s what it took to get me to England at the right time, I don’t begrudge one lonely moment. In fact, I’d go back and live all those days over again, having seen just a glimpse of how God weaves all the sorrows of our life into a tapestry of utter joy.
I know this is a very small example of what the psalmist was talking about. There are deeper and more sustained sorrows in this life than feeling like a fish out of water, but if God is so faithful in the small things, how much more will He be faithful in the big things! No matter how many tears you have cried, God can and will turn every single one of them into joy!
God is the center.
I live in the same town as my mother. What a blessing that is—especially since Caroline can grow up with her “memaw” right down the road. My mom and I are good friends, and we talk every day. And it seems that, recently, I have heard her say quite a few times (she’ll forgive me for paraphrasing), “The older I get, the more I ask God to just help me stay out of His way!”
Of course, today’s psalm made me think of that immediately: “If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap. It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” (vs 1-2)
The psalmist addresses the two biggest, most important things in life with these words—our homes and our communities. If God is not at the center of these two entities, it doesn’t matter what we do. If God isn’t engineering the whole thing, we labor in vain.
This is, unfortunately, all too easy to see in today’s society—especially when it comes to the family. The further God is removed from the center of family life, the more the family has fallen apart. Today, rates of divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, domestic violence, abuse, and neglect are all on the rise. No wonder children are exhibiting more and more behavioral and emotional problems—the stable family environment is becoming an endangered animal. In general, kids these days are surviving, not thriving.
The same is true for our communities. We look out at the world-at-large and see brokenness, poverty, hunger, homelessness . . . so many problems that need to be addressed. Yet the psalmist is clear: If God is not at the center of our solutions, if He is not watching over the city, we might as well give up. I think Eugene Peterson summed it up well: “Psalm 127 insists on a perspective in which our effort is at the periphery and God’s work is at the center.”
This is also true of the other example given in this psalm—the next generation: “Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?” (vs 3) Of this, Eugene Peterson wrote, “The entire miracle of procreation and reproduction requires our participation, but hardly in the form of what we call our work. We did not make these marvelous creatures that walk and talk and grow among us. We participated in an act of love which was provided for us in the structure of God’s creation.”
So much of the Bible is (and, hence, our daily attention should also be) about the work God is doing in our family, our community, our world. This is not about us and our journey. This is about Him and His work. Unless He is the center, we’re going nowhere.
Lord, for today, help me get out of Your way!
God doesn't know how to add.
I’m continually amazed at the “math” of heaven. It runs so contrary to the math we learn in school. For instance, we all know what 1+1 is, right? It’s the first math problem we ever learn: 1+1=2. But not so with God.
At the outset, when God brings 1 man and 1 woman together, we end up with 1 flesh. 1+1=1. By the time this “1 flesh” is done having a family, the equation might be 1+1=5 or (in the extreme case of a family like the Duggar’s) 1+1=20! I have to chuckle when I think that God would fail a first-grade math quiz.
God doesn’t know how to add. But He sure knows how to bless, and I really liked the imagery of children and olive shoots in this psalm. Here’s something I read about the olive tree today: “The tree grows very slowly but it attains a great age. It is difficult to kill the olive tree by cutting it down because new sprouts are sent up from the root and all around the margins of the old stump, often forming a grove of two to five trunks, all from a single root which originally supported only one tree.” (John Klotz)
So, the olive tree starts out as a tree with a single trunk—and ends up with anywhere from two to five trunks, all from a single root. That certainly sounds like a great metaphor for God’s family mathematics!
When we do things God’s way, the result is blessings and more blessings. God may not know how to add, but He sure knows how to bless! Our homes can be a testimony to this fact. As William Hare wrote, “Before the fall, Paradise was man’s home; since the fall, home has been his Paradise.”
That is only true when we follow the One who is into multiplying blessings!
God makes us courageous.
I don’t get to listen to the radio very much these days, so I sometimes feel very out of touch with the current musical scene—both Christian and secular. But the other day, as I was driving to the store, I decided to tune in to the local Christian radio station, and in those few minutes, I just happened to hear Courageous by Casting Crowns.
I was immediately hooked.
And so, when I read today’s psalm, I thought of Courageous: “‘They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,’ let Israel say; ‘they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me. Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long. But the LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” (vs 1-4)
This is what God does—He makes us courageous. Knowing Him and living for Him doesn’t mean the absence of problems in our lives. Rather, it means the ability to stand through all the problems we face, resting in the confidence we have in God. It means remembering that evil doesn’t have the last word over us. It means knowing that even when enemies painfully “plow up our back,” it is God who plants the seeds of blessing in those long furrows. Yes, it is being sure that the God who “knows what He’s doing” makes goodness grow in the place evil was intended.
Today, whatever you face, let God make you courageous. No matter what comes, remember that you are a child of the Most High God, and there is nothing that can separate you from Him!
To help you remember, here are a few good “courage-building” texts for your day:
- For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)
- The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Ps 118:6)
- Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph 6:10-13)
- Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. (Deut 7:21)
- Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)
- Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Jos 1:9)
God is an immediate forgiver.
One of the misunderstandings rampant in traditional Christianity is the idea that the obstacle to our salvation is forgiveness. We have, therefore, constructed an entire theology around the life and death (especially the death) of Jesus that advances the idea that before His death, God the Father wouldn’t forgive us, but after His death, God the Father acquiesced, and we can now be forgiven for our sins.
As if God the Father needed to see someone die in order to be willing to forgive.
And, by the way, if God the Father received “payment” for our sin—even from a third party—then He cannot be said to have forgiven us. Forgiveness implies letting go of a debt owed—perceived or real. It means giving up the “right” to settle the score. If God the Father settled the score through Jesus, then our sins weren’t forgiven, they were settled. It seems to me you can’t have it both ways.
But, thankfully, the idea that God is not a forgiver is contrary to the whole message of Scripture. God is a forgiver! And He is an immediate forgiver! He doesn’t wait for us to ask Him for forgiveness. When we finally get ’round to asking Him for forgiveness, we find that it was already there to begin with.
The psalmist describes that in today’s psalm: “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (vs 3-4)
Didn’t that make you think of Paul’s description of love in his letter to the Corinthians? “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged” (1 Cor 13:4-5).
God doesn’t keep a record of sins. He doesn’t count up our mistakes or keep a heavenly score card. More importantly, God doesn’t hold grudges. When He has been hurt by our thoughts, words, and actions—and He most certainly has!—He doesn’t look for a way to “settle the score.” He doesn’t wait for a chance to get revenge. He lets go of the hurt and redoubles His efforts to be kind to us. He turns the other cheek. He says, “I forgive you.”
No matter what you’ve done in your past, no matter what you may do today, no matter what you will do in the future, God forgives you. Trying to get Him to forgive us is not the goal of salvation. God is an immediate forgiver, and His forgiveness is immense, everlasting; it never runs out.
Our problem is with sin, not with Him!
God satisfies us by not satisfying us.
The great theologian Charles Spurgeon said this about Psalm 131: “It is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.”
Since it’s so short, I’ll quote the whole thing:
My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.
Weaning is the process of breaking a child’s dependence on something. What the child is being weaned from is usually not something bad, just something that—if held onto—would cripple his maturity and keep him from what is best. As parents, we want our children to grow not just in height and weight, but also in wisdom and knowledge and relationships. The same is true for what God wants for us when it comes to our spiritual growth.
In this case, the child is being weaned from his dependence upon his mother, whom he has used to satisfy his desires. Thus, weaning is a step in relational maturity and helps the child come to love his mother for her own sake.
We need this same kind of weaning process with God in order to help us achieve spiritual maturity in our relationship with Him. When we are spiritual infants, our relationship with God is based mostly on what He can do for me. We cry out instantly at every twinge of hunger or other discomfort, expecting God to come running and meet every demand. And I think that—just as the mother of a newborn responds to his every cry—God spends a lot of time while we are spiritual infants “proving” to us that we can depend on Him.
Once we have enough evidence that God is trustworthy, however, He begins the process of weaning us from things we think are important—things that may be good, but that also may be keeping us from growing up and experiencing God’s best. During those times of growing pains, the psalmist says that we can choose to be like a weaned child with its mother, quiet and content and expectant. We can learn to rest in God because of who He is and what He has done, not because we know what He can do for us.
In this way, we move from loving God for our sake to loving God for His sake, which is to say, we grow up.
This process may not be easy, but it is necessary. And it’s good for us to remember that by not satisfying us in the short-term, God is ultimately satisfying us in the long-term. For which of us parents wants our children to remain unable to walk, talk, dress themselves, or feed themselves? Which of us parents wants our children to never grow and experience the world beyond the confines of our own two arms?
No, we want our children to grow up so we can share love, life, and the world with them.
God wants the same thing.
God builds the house.
Just a few chapters ago, we read, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” (Ps 127:1) And now, we get a chance to see this principle in action. God is the builder. We may be good helpers (when we aren’t trying to take over the project!), but we should never lose sight of Who is actually doing the building.
In this psalm, David remembers the oath he swore to build a house for the Lord: “I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (vs 4-5)
David may have sworn an oath, but the Lord didn’t allow him to fulfill it. It wasn’t David who built a temple for the Lord, but his son, Solomon. In the meantime, however, God turned around and made His own oath to David: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.” (vs 11-12)
God didn’t allow David to build Him a house. Instead, He built a house for David. It wasn’t a physical house, mind you, but a house made of people—of David’s descendants. God promised that He would “establish” David’s house and ensure that one of his sons would always be on the throne. And not just the throne of Israel, but the throne of heaven!
Yes, God is the builder. He is building a house for each one of us, and let me assure you, we don’t have the first clue about all the marvelous design a Master Craftsman like God can engineer. The house He is building for us is beyond our wildest imagination and expectation.
What a joy it is to watch Him work!
God's trickle-down economics.
I have heard the first verse of this psalm many times in my life as a Christian: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” As far as I can recollect, I have never actually heard the remainder of the psalm. How do I know that? Because I was somewhat taken aback by similes used to describe this unity—especially the first one. Unity is like precious oil running down an old man’s beard? Huh?
I must admit, I’m still having a hard time getting my head around that image. But after some reflection on the anointing of the High Priest, I think I can understand what the psalmist was trying to say.
All the priests of Israel were anointed, but only the High Priest was anointed on the head. And that anointing didn’t consist of a sprinkle or two of oil; rather, a whole vessel was emptied on his head so the oil would run down onto his garments, covering the breastplate (which held the twelve precious stones that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel). The High Priest was anointed to minister to the twelve tribes, and one might say they were all symbolically bound together by this oil.
Unity is the economy of heaven, and it’s a top-down deal. In His prayer for the disciples, Jesus said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23)
Unity begins in the Trinity. God exists in a community of three Beings who are one in love, character, and purpose. And when we are drawn into that same love through Jesus, God begins to recreate that unity in us. Just as Christ—the head of the Church—was anointed with the oil of joy, so we may also share in that love and community as we allow God to regenerate our hearts.
I think it’s important to note that this unity is not something we engineer. It’s not something we can create. It’s not something we can build. It’s only something we can choose as individuals to participate in. It is a gift from God, and the closer we are to Him, the more He can enable us to love and be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s also important to note that unity is not uniformity. None of the stones on Aaron’s breastplate (symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel) was the same. They were all different stones. Yet all of them got bathed in the oil of anointing that flowed down from Aaron’s head. I think our human tendency is to strive for uniformity, but God made each of us as special and unique individuals. There is no need for us to all be the same, and God doesn’t want that anyway. He loves outrageous variety, but He holds the key to that variety operating in harmony.
Unity is the economy of heaven, and it’s the trickle-down kind! God perfectly embodies unity is His nature, and as He recreates us in His image, His unity will permeate our hearts and lives, spilling over like oil to those around us.
God's blessings are a circuit.
This short and sweet little psalm is all about blessing: our blessing God, and His blessing us:
Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD
who minister by night in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.
How is it possible that in so few words lies the key to God’s circuit of blessings? We praise, or bless, the Lord with our hands lifted to Him in thanksgiving. He—the Maker of heaven and earth—responds by blessing us.
Why does this psalm remind us that God is the Maker of heaven and earth? I think the answer lies in the purpose of the blessings. In order to bless God, man thanks God for what He is, and God gratefully acknowledges that recognition. In order to bless man, God makes man what he is not, and man gratefully acknowledges that restoration. (Only the One who is Maker of heaven and earth can restore us to the condition in which we were originally created!)
The more God restores us into His image, the more we perceive the workings of His mighty hand. The more we are able to perceive the workings of His mighty hand, the more we praise Him. And the more we praise Him, the more our hearts are opened to His transforming power. The more our hearts are opened to His transforming power, the more we are restored into His image.
It’s a natural process, and it’s a circuit. God’s blessings lead to more and more and more and more blessings. It’s a never-ending cycle!
God doesn't want us to be disabled.
After recounting some of the amazing feats of the God of Israel, the psalmist said this: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (vs 15-18)
This is the danger of idolatry: It so violates our reason that, if we persist in it, we end up mute, blind, deaf, and dead. And the greatest tragedy of all—there is no reason for it! For, just as the idols, people who engage in idolatry have mouths, eyes, and ears, but they can no longer use them properly.
God doesn’t want His children to be disabled. Physical disabilities in this life are one thing. Our bodies are degenerating due to sin, and there is often no way to escape the physical handicaps that some of us must deal with. But spiritual handicaps are a different story! This is the kind of disability that we can opt in or out of. We don’t have to be spiritually disabled, and God doesn’t want us to be!
When I read in this psalm today of the disabilities that come from idolatry, I thought about my father. Because of his ALS, before he died, he lost the ability to use his hands, to walk, to eat, to talk, and even to cough properly. The ALS eventually crippled him by making all his muscles weak. Now, just imagine watching someone suffer with a disease like that knowing that they had chosen to have it! I think that would be far worse than watching them endure that kind of suffering involuntarily.
When God’s children choose spiritual disability, it is a voluntary choice. If they persist in it, it will slowly cripple them, and I imagine that has to be one of the hardest things for God to watch. To watch His children lose the spiritual ability to see, to speak, to hear, and finally to live must be devastating—especially knowing that it’s not something that can be foisted upon us. If we want to be totally spiritually disabled, we must choose it.
Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mk 4:9) He who has a mouth to speak, let him speak! He who has eyes to see, let him see! There is no need for us to be disabled. Instead of turning to the idols that cripple us, let us turn to God who “endures forever . . . through all generations.” (vs 13) He has not been fashioned by human hands, and that’s why He alone can keep our hands from growing spiritually weak.
God's love endures forever.
Well, the author of this particular psalm didn’t make it very difficult for me to come up with a theme about God. Every single verse in this chapter ends with the declaration: His love endures forever.
So, it’s not hard to talk about God as being love, even love that lasts forever. But what does that really mean? If we use 1 Corinthians 13 as the God-revealed definition of love, it means that God:
- never runs out of patience
- is never unkind
- is never envious
- never boasts
- is never proud
- never dishonors others
- is never self-seeking
- is never easily angered
- never (never!) keeps a record of our sins
- never delights in evil
- always rejoices in the truth
- always protects
- always trusts
- always hopes
- always perseveres
God’s love endures forever. This means that God will always be this way. We don’t have to worry that He’s just being nice to us now, but five years down the road, He might decide He’s had enough of playing “Mr. Nice Guy.” No, this is how He is.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. He loves us just as we are. He loves and loves and loves.
His love is the same now as it has always been and as it always will be. It endures forever!
God wants us to keep singing.
This is a very sad psalm. Not only was it written when the Israelites were in Babylonian exile, but you can almost feel their despair as they are mocked by their captors: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (vs 1-3)
This must have been akin to those who tormented Jesus as He was on the cross, saying, “He trusts in God; let God rescue him now, if He delights in him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt 27:43) Talk about pouring salt in an open wound! This is exactly what the Babylonians were doing when they asked the Israelites to sing “one of the songs of Zion!”
The Israelites decided not to sing. “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” they asked. (vs 4) So, they hung up their harps and refused to sing. This doesn’t appear to have been a good decision. After spending a significant amount of time refusing to praise the Lord, their thinking ended in a dark, dark place: “Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (vs 8-9)
I’ve read a lot of nasty stuff in the Bible—the Old Testament is full of it. But to this point, I can’t remember any statement that made my heart as sick as this one. A person who describes as happy someone who smashes baby’s heads against rocks is a person who, in my book, is very, very disturbed.
Is this what happens when we forget the One who is worthy of our praise?
The Israelites asked a very good question: How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? It’s unfortunate that they didn’t find an answer to that question. But may I suggest that we should try to find one? For I don’t know about you, but I can say with confidence that “this world is not my home.” I am in a foreign land, and if not singing the songs of the Lord will lead me down the path of cherishing revenge against my enemies (and even their helpless babies!), then I want to locate the nearest harp!
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? It’s a good question. It’s a question I often struggle with as I look around at the world and see sorrow, misery, suffering, and evil. People dying, people being hurtful to each other, people exploiting one another. What is there to sing about?
Today, I would like to declare that—even when life is at its worst—we always have plenty to sing about. God is for us, and nothing—absolutely nothing—can snatch us out of His hand. No matter how bad things get, we should never hang up our harps and refuse to sing, because refusing to take up our harp might just have a profound effect on our heart.
God wants us to keep singing. So even if you’re in a foreign land today, choose to make a joyful noise!
God wants to make us bold.
Have you ever felt it? That moment when it seems like nothing else in the world matters except God, and at that moment, you would go anywhere and do anything—no matter the cost—if He called you to it? What happens to those moments? They come suddenly and go just as quickly, as the world and all its glittering promises come flooding back in.
If you’ll allow me, let me just preach at you today.
Something changed in me when my dad was sick with ALS. At first, I was going to say something changed in me when he died, but I immediately knew that was wrong—I had already changed before he breathed his last.
What changed in me? I guess you could say his illness pulled back the little fantasy curtain we all wear over our eyes—you know, the one that blinds us to the reality of things so that we think we’re going to go on living here forever with the power to avoid tragedy and suffering—and presented me with reality. We have control over . . . not very much. I don’t have it in me to make my heart beat its next beat. I don’t have it in me to make my lungs take their next breath.
There are no guarantees in this world. You don’t know if you’ll be at home tonight eating dinner with your family. You don’t know if you’ll wake up tomorrow morning. You don’t know if you’ll have a job next week. You don’t know that your house won’t get swept away by a tornado today.
There are no guarantees in this world. Everything is perishable, and I do mean everything. People, possessions, power. Your father, your mother, your spouse, your child . . . you. It’s all perishable. It can all be gone in the blink of an eye—and there’s nothing you or I can do about it. We are ultimately powerless. That’s the reality of living in this world.
Something changed in me when I realized I was powerless to do anything except watch my beloved father gradually lose all control of his muscles and die. As I contemplated that reality, I realized:
1. I had no power to alter the course my father was on.
2. God had absolute power to alter the course my father was on through healing.
3. I could trust God to do what was best, because I know that He always does the right thing.
Realizing those three things did something wonderful for me—it freed me. Instead of spending one more second worried about whether God was going to heal my father or not, I spent precious time with my dad—caring for his needs, talking to him, writing a book with him, and rubbing his feet and legs. Gone was the burden of having to figure out what to do about his illness, because I realized that I couldn’t do anything about it. It was already being taken care of.
What does this have to do with today’s psalm? “When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.” (vs 3) Since the “reality check” of my father’s illness and death, I feel I have been greatly emboldened, especially in ministry. You know what, life’s too short. It’s too short to get caught up in worrying about what people will think of you, what people will do to you, what people will say about you, what people would rather you do. The only thing that matters is that you do what God wants you to do.
Do you remember how I said that there were no guarantees in this world? That’s true. There is only one guarantee—and it is in a Kingdom that is not of this world. The only, the only, the only thing that is permanent is God. Nobody can take you out of His hands. Nobody can separate you from Him. If you give up all that is perishable in order to hold on to the one thing that is permanent, you’ll end up with everything. If you give up the one thing that is permanent in order to grasp at the things that are only perishable, you’ll end up with nothing.
God wants to make you bold. So just for today, stay focused on what is permanent. Leave everything that is perishable—yes, even those you love, even your own life!—in the capable hands of God. Stop worrying and start living. Determine once again that you will let nothing—not your friends, not your family, not your paycheck—keep you from being bold for the Lord.
Today may be all you have before you close your eyes for a season. So put your head up, focus your eyes on the prize, tune out the cacophony of the world, and run.
God knows no night.
And so we’ve finally come to this—my most favorite psalm in the Bible, possibly my most favorite chapter in the Bible. I just love how the picture of God in it is all-pervasive. There is nowhere we can go to outrun Him. He is everywhere—even with us in the womb, long before we are capable of perceiving Him.
But, for me, the most glittering jewel in this jewelry box of a psalm is found in verses 11 and 12: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
I love that thought. With God, there is no such thing as darkness. There is no such thing as hiding. I believe this is a physical reality for Him, but it’s also a spiritual reality. God dispels the darkness—no matter what kind it is—wherever He finds it.
I think that is reflected at the end of this song when finally, finally!, after nearly 138 psalms of the psalmist asking for God to smash his enemies, David says, “If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (vs 19-24)
Once again, David asks for an end to his enemies, yet he finally adds a caveat at the end. (Could that be because his other requests for such action went ignored or denied?) David asks God to see if there is any darkness in him, and if there is, he is willing to give it up. Here is the kind of honesty God wants from us. We don’t have to hold back our ugly thoughts from God (hint: He knows them anyways). The best thing to do is to bring them to Him and then ask Him to change whatever needs changing in us.
God knows no night, and the more we surrender our entire being to Him—our thoughts, our feelings, our desires—the more we will find the darkness also dispelled in our own lives.
With God, there is no night, and that means He can dispel the darkness inside of us just as well as He can dispel the darkness that surrounds us. When we trust Him and rest in Him, we can live as though it’s high noon even at midnight, remembering that the darkness is not dark to our God.
There was an astounding example of that in the book I quoted from recently, Miracle in the Andes. Allow me to share another quote from the book with you in which Nando writes about Arturo—one of two boys who sustained internal injuries that eventually led to his death on the mountain:
Many of the younger boys were weakening . . . but Arturo and Rafael were the worst off, by far. Although he had suffered terribly from the first minute of the crash, Rafael had lost none of his fighting spirit. He remained courageous and defiant, and he still began every day with a loud proclamation of his intention to survive, a brave gesture from which we all drew strength. Arturo, on the other hand, had grown even quieter and more introspective than usual, and when I sat with him now, I sensed he was nearing the end of his
fight . . . “Nando, I want you to remember, even in this place, our lives have meaning. Our suffering is not for nothing. Even if we are trapped here forever, we can love our families, and God, and each other as long as we live. Even in this place, our lives are worth living.”
Wow. To me, that’s what it means to know no night. That is what it means to trust in a God who says that darkness is not dark to Him, knowing that when things are so black that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, the One who holds your life in His hands says, “I can see everything as plain as day. Trust me.”
That’s the faith God wants us to have, and it’s the faith we can have as we come to know Him better. So, the next time you’re surrounded by the darkness, remember that the God we serve knows no night. Darkness is not dark to Him. He has you in the palm of His hand always, and He is working out His plan to bring you into His glorious light!
God is fire.
Fire and brimstone. We hear quite a bit of that from the Christian pulpit these days, and we find it (or at least a request for it) in this psalm, too: “Those who surround me proudly rear their heads; may the mischief of their lips engulf them. May burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire.” (vs 9-10)
That’s a great idea, isn’t it? Got enemies? Throw ‘em in the fire! There seem to be an awful lot of Christians who believe this is exactly what God will do to His enemies at the end of the age, so why shouldn’t we think along the same lines? On the other hand, there seems to be a growing group of Christians that would like to downplay or even deny the fiery aspect of God.
But, do we have to take either approach? Does it have to be either/or? If we associate God with fire, does that automatically mean He’s eager (or even willing) to burn His enemies alive?
Perhaps to best answer those questions, we ought to ask what, exactly, this fire is. Solomon had an interesting idea about those “burning coals” David wished on his enemies: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Prov 25:21-22)
What?! The fire is kindness? Could this really be true? Paul expounds on Solomon’s idea in his letter to the Romans: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.‘ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)
Great, we say. God says vengeance is His. This means we don’t have to get even—He’ll do it for us! No, actually that’s not what this verse means! The Greek words used for vengeance are literally translated out of righteousness and mean actions which are done out of righteousness, for the purpose of bringing everything else into alignment with what is just.
This means that God’s vengeance is not intended to inflict punishment, but to avert disaster! It is intended to turn the wicked around and win them back to love and trust in God. (That’s why God doesn’t want us trying to “take vengeance.” Our vengeance is nothing like His.) In short, God Himself adheres to Romans 12:21, not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.
So, we don’t have to choose between a God who “uses fire on His enemies” or a God who does more “loving” things. God is fire! But His fire is love! God doesn’t reserve some sort of fire for His “enemies” alone. Isaiah speaks of the righteous living in the “everlasting burnings” (Isa 33). With God, what you see is what you get, whether you’re righteous or wicked.
God is fire, and that fire is love! His fire is heaping kindness on wickedness; His brimstone is repaying evil with good. So, when the wicked are thrown into the lake of fire at the end of the age (Rev 20), maybe that means they are drowned in the unveiled, glorious love of God!
God wants real worship.
In the Old Testament, God instituted an elaborate system of sacrifices and offerings for the Israelites to bring to Him at the temple. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll remember that we went over those sacrifices and offerings in detail in the Book of Leviticus. There are a variety of opinions about what that sanctuary system meant and how the life and death of Jesus impacted it. Obviously, we no longer sacrifice animals as a way of worshiping God. But was that what God ever really wanted in the first place? Burnt offerings? Sacrifices? Blood?
I’m sure I’ve probably suggested this in the past on this blog, but let me suggest again that what God really wanted from the Israelites—what He has always wanted from worship is simply us. He wants a relationship with us. And while we live in this sinful world, bringing and surrendering our sin problem to Him is a very big part of that relationship.
I think David understood that when he wrote this: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (vs 2) In this verse, David compares the daily incense offered at the temple altar with his prayer life before God; he compares the daily sacrifice by the priest to lifting his hands toward heaven.
There is a lot of hand lifting going on in my house recently. My daughter has just gotten to the place where she associates lifting her arms with being picked up. So, whenever Mommy is passing by her play area and she’s ready to move on to something else, the arms go up. Or when she has made a deposit in her diaper and needs a change, the arms go up. When she wants something that is beyond what she can do for herself, the arms go up. Mommy, help me. Even if she can’t yet speak the words, she understands the gesture.
At the heart of it all, God has never desired the animals people brought to Him as sacrifices. He has always wanted the people: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12:1) You are the sacrifice God wants! Giving ourselves to the Lord, surrendering fully to Him is the highest form of worship. Anything less than that might as well be a dead animal and some air freshener.
To worship God is to recognize that everything we want and everything we need are beyond what we can do for ourselves. This leaves us in the position, then, of my precious six-month-old baby girl—to lift our hands, to surrender, to trust that God will provide.
That is the sacrifice and that is the incense that God really wants.
Because what He really wants is you!
God puts prisoners in the palace.
David wrote this psalm while he was “in the cave,” presumably hiding away from Saul. At this point, he had already been declared the future king of Israel by God, but the fruition of that prophecy wasn’t coming very quickly. David was still spending much of his time running from his enemies and hiding out in dark places.
That’s what makes the ending of this psalm all the more inspirational to me: “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” (vs 7)
Even in the darkness of the cave he was hiding in, David could see enough “light” to trust in the vision of God’s future. He envisioned himself as king of Israel, gathering the righteous around him as they praised God together for all He had done.
Perhaps David had faith that God would do what He said because he remembered the story of his Israelite ancestor, Joseph. If anyone knew about going from the prison to the palace, it was Joseph! Many times in his life, he experienced a complete reversal of fortune—going from being the “favorite” son to being thrown in a pit, threatened with death, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, thrown into prison, and being forgotten and neglected by friends, only to end up running the country.
Wow! What a story! You know, when we live life with the Lord, one thing’s for sure: it will never be boring. We may not know whether we’re coming or going, we may not be able to see beyond our present circumstances, we may not be able to comprehend how God will change our situation, but when we stick with God, there will never be a dull moment!
That’s why it’s best to remember that God puts prisoners in the palace—because if we stick with God, chances are we’ll spend some time—perhaps a lot of time—in various “prisons.” God uses those adverse circumstances to prepare us for leadership in the palace.
But even in those dark, damp places, we can choose to remember—as David did—that God has promised a bright and glorious future for us. And if we close our eyes, we can see ourselves as God sees us, confident that He is working out His plan in our lives at just the right time, knowing that with Him, prisoners always end up in the palace!
God hears you.
Have you ever been to a whispering gallery? There’s a famous one in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. There’s one in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I’m sure there are many others around the world. A whispering gallery is a room built in such a way that you can stand at one end and hear another person who is only whispering, even though they are standing far away from you.
I thought of that when I read this part of today’s psalm: “LORD, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy.” (vs 1) If we, with our limited mental capacity, can acoustically construct a room so we can hear something we shouldn’t be able to hear (given the distance), do you doubt that this world is—to our infinite God—a whispering gallery? There is no doubt in my mind that He hears every prayer, every cry, every sob, every breathless sigh. He knows us so well that He even perceives our thoughts—hears all those things left unsaid.
In so many ways, this world we live in is awful and dark. Things happen every day that would threaten to break the faith of even the strongest heart. Sometimes, there seems to be no end to sickness and suffering. In addition, this world can be pretty isolating. It’s often easy to feel all alone, like it’s just us against the world.
Therefore, I think it is well worth remembering that there is never a time when God doesn’t hear us. We are never alone in our sorrow or suffering. We are never alone in our regret and repentance. We are also never alone in our joy and excitement. God knows about it all.
Whenever you cry or laugh, whatever you say or scream, God hears you.
God wants to be owned.
As I began reading today’s psalm, I noticed something interesting in the first two verses. Let’s see if you notice it, too: “Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” (vs 1-2)
Did you notice how many times David used the word my in those two verses? Maybe that’s not especially noteworthy in verse one, since he is talking about his hands and fingers. But in verse two, he continues to use the word my before every name of God: my loving God, my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, and my shield.
Here, David is modeling an extremely personal relationship with his Creator. In a way, I suppose it could almost sound selfish, speaking of God as mine, mine, mine. But I think that could only be selfish if we don’t realize that every single person can have this same personal relationship with God and that He actually prefers it that way.
Just to be clear, this isn’t some idea of forced possession. When we speak this way about God, we are not claiming that we control Him and tell Him what to do. It’s more a statement of belonging. God has said we belong to Him, and if we follow David’s example in this psalm, we can, in turn, declare that He belongs to us.
I love the Scripture where God says we belong to Him. It’s in Isaiah: “But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, he who formed you: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isa 43:1)
God owns us. We belong to Him. That doesn’t mean He looks at us like possessions, but it does mean that His gracious arms are always wide-open, ready to receive us and welcome us home. When nobody else will have us, when nobody else wants us, God wants us.
And, by the same token, God wants to be owned. He doesn’t just want us to shrug our shoulders and come home to Him with a whatever kind of attitude. He wants us to be as interested in knowing Him as He is in knowing us! He wants us to take ownership in our relationship with Him. He wants give and take. He wants to hear us say that He belongs to us, not just accept the fact that we belong to Him.
God wants to be owned by you. He may be a fortress, a stronghold, and a deliverer, but more than that, He wants to be your fortress, your stronghold, and your deliverer!
I wrestled for a long time over the title of this blog post. I wanted to be blunt and just title it God destroys the wicked. But I was afraid that might turn some people off before they even read what I had written, so I decided to leave it as a question and, hopefully, invite investigation.
Several times now on this blog, I have stated boldly that God does not destroy the wicked. And then I read this in today’s psalm: “The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” (vs 20)
There were a lot of lovely statements in this psalm about God’s character, but I figured it would be wussy of me to skip over the very thing that would appear to contradict what I believe is one of the most beautiful character traits of God—that He does not destroy His enemies!
So, what are we to do with a verse like this? Does God kill the people who refuse to obey Him? Does He say “love Me or I’ll kill you”? And if He doesn’t, why is there a verse like this in the Bible? Even though David was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did he just misunderstand this part of God? Or is it really true?
Yes, it’s really true. (Hang on! Don’t stop reading!)
I want to share with you a quote about this very subject that a friend sent to me:
Doesn’t God Himself say that He destroys people? Yes, He does! Therefore it is the truth that God does destroy. We can only conclude that His way of destroying is altogether different than man’s way. God is not like us. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa 55:8-9
So how does He destroy? In a nutshell, He destroys by trying to save and by not forcing His presence where it is not wanted. God comes to man in one role only, which is as a Savior. But the effect of that effort is not always a saving one. With the majority, the effect is to harden them in rebellion and to cause them to withdraw themselves from the voice of loving entreaty. Thus God destroys by trying to save. The more He exerts His saving power, the more men are driven by their rejection of it to destruction. The gospel truth ruins if it does not save! It is in this sense that He destroys.
If man drives God away and deprives Him of any possibility of remaining unless He forces His presence, then how can anyone say He is a destroyer? He acted as a savior and a savior only. He is life and when life is forced to turn away then death is our lot. He has no other choice but to leave us to our destruction. —from A God of Destruction or Salvation? (emphasis mine)
This is what I believe it means to say that God “destroys.” A perfect example is Pharaoh. God confronted Pharaoh—who was living in spiritual darkness—with the light of truth. God did this because He loved Pharaoh and wanted to save him from his spiritual darkness. Pharaoh understood the light God had given him, but he decided to ignore it and continue on in his spiritual darkness. The effect of this was the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The more light God brought and the more Pharaoh rejected it, the more his heart was hardened.
But the Bible also says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and I believe it says that in the same sense that it says God destroys the wicked. For it was God who confronted Pharaoh with the light and, essentially, put Pharaoh in the position of having to choose one way or the other. Once God had approached Pharaoh as his Savior and enlightened him, Pharaoh could choose to accept that light or reject it, but he could not remain neutral. He could never again live innocently in spiritual darkness.
Thus, if Pharaoh had decided to yield to the Spirit and accept God’s light, it could have been written that “God softened Pharaoh’s heart.” That doesn’t mean God made the decision for him; it just means that God is the one who presented Pharaoh with the opportunity to choose.
So, saying that God destroys the wicked has nothing—absolutely nothing!—to do with some sort of imposed punishment on people who disobey God. Rather, it is a statement of reality: that God is the one who approaches us as our Savior. And if we reject the light He brings us, the ultimate effect of that rejection is self-destruction.
God brings us truth in order to save us, but if we will not yield to the Spirit, the same truth that is intended to save us is the same truth that will destroy us.
God is taking care of everyone.
On the surface of it, I have to admit that the title of this blog might be a little hard to believe. If you look around at the world and all the awful things that happen every day, it’s pretty easy to conclude that God is not taking care of very much.
But I think that’s one of the dangers of “looking around” at everyone else. When we look in on tragedies from the outside, I think they can appear more awful to us than they might seem even to those in the midst of them, because God gives special strength to those who are suffering.
I know this is true because I’ve lived it. When my father was dying from ALS, there were many in our community who were nearly beside themselves with grief and anguish—and that was before he died. By contrast, my mother and the rest of our family had a definite sense of calm in the storm. There was a prevailing peace—even on the night my father passed away, even on the day we said goodbye and buried him, even now.
So, no matter how awful it looks, and no matter how bad things get, I still think the psalmist wrote truth when he wrote this: “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (vs 5-9)
Who isn’t included in that list? We’ve got the oppressed, the poor, the bound-up, the crippled, the depressed, the righteous, the wicked, the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows. Did He miss anyone?
In His own way and in His own time, God really is taking care of everyone. He is working out His big plan in this world—for the world as a whole, and for each of us as individuals. His plans will succeed. Ours, on the other hand . . . well, the psalmist mentioned those, too: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” (vs 3-4)
The older I get, the more I see that God is working out His plans in this world. He is not limited in meeting our needs, and He is not limited in knowing what we need. As far as I can be a help to Him in realizing those plans for me or others, I say, Use me, Lord Jesus! But as far as I will be a hindrance to those plans, I am learning to pray, Lord, just help me stay out of Your way!
God delights in simple things.
This text from today’s psalm caught my eye: “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (vs 10-11)
For hundreds and even thousands of years, man has been trying to figure out “the gods.” Isn’t this the aim of most every religion? To figure out who is god, what he (or she or it) requires, and then do your best to obtain the favor of the god(s) by your actions?
Most of the “gods” humans have designed through the years are interested in war, strength, and power. Even the God of the Old Testament appears this way in many stories because the people He chose were so intent on fighting and the surrounding nations were also predisposed to “respecting” power and strength on the battlefield. The question of “whose god is greatest?” was often answered at war.
And that’s why I love the text from today’s psalm. Our God does not find pleasure in strength. He does not get excited at the thought of an invincible army or a front line of huge, strapping soldiers. He does not delight in going to war.
Our God delights in a humble heart, in a weak hand that gets outstretched toward heaven. For Him, it is a pleasurable experience when one of His creatures hopes and trusts in His love. He values strength of character, not physical strength.
God delights in the simple things. So maybe it’s time to put down the weapons and lift up your hands. Why not use today as an opportunity to put your hope in the unfailing love of God?
He’s got your back.
God is near.
As I read this psalm, I was struck by the movement from “far” to “near.” The psalmist begins in his admonition of praise by describing things that are “far” from us: the heavens, angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, and stars. (vs 1-4) Then, he continues to ask for praise from things a little “closer” to home: the animals, the weather, nature, and people. (vs 7-12)
Yes, let everything praise the Lord—everything that is far and everything that is near.
Here’s what I especially liked about the psalm, however. Near and far are terms of distance relative to us, but everything is near to God. Did you catch that? “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.” (vs 1) That’s “far” from us, but “near” to God, assuming He is in heaven surrounded by His legions of angels!
But then, this: “He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart.” (vs 14) People. That’s “near” to us, and “near” to God as well. Specifically, close to His heart.
What I like about this is how it implies that nearness to God doesn’t really have anything to do with geography. Even if we are “far” in terms of physical distance (which might not be possible, see Psalm 139), we are always “near” to His heart. Though we may feel far from Him, He is never far from us.
God is near—when life is hard, good, boring, exciting, routine, devastating, or surprising. We don’t go through any of it alone, and if for nothing else, that is one of the best reasons to praise the Lord. He is always near!
God likes new music.
I find it interesting that in the Bible’s hymnal, the next to the last song would begin, “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.” (vs 1) The book holds 150 of the greatest praise songs of all time, yet the psalmist says we should always be looking to sing “a new song.”
You know, things with God never get stale. They never get boring. A life lived with Him is probably one of the most unpredictable (and sometimes unbelievable!) experiences you’ll ever have. It will often feel like you never have the same day twice. And I guess that’s why the psalmist said what he did—when it comes to praising God, you never have to sing the same song twice. Faith is always a fresh experience.
That’s why the psalmist went on to say this: “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands.” (vs 6) Praise and power always go hand in hand. The more you have of one, the more you’ll have of the other (and vice versa). But don’t confuse that power for physical force. The Bible identifies it in Hebrews: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Heb 4:12) God’s Word is the sword! It is mightier than any amount of physical force you can ever encounter.
That’s why those who live with God will always have a new song to sing—by the work of God’s Word in their lives, they are constantly being shaped into new people. And new people sing new songs.
Okay, this doesn’t mean that we can’t ever return to our old favorites. It is always a blessing to recount where we have been on our faith-walk in the past. But don’t get stuck there! God is interested in taking you to new heights, new depths, and new places. He wants the active sword of His Word to reach new places in you so you will be inspired to sing Him a brand new song.
God likes new music. Why not let Him put a new song in your heart today?
God permeates everything.
Psalm 150 is a prescription for praise: “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” (vs 3-5)
This psalm indicates that all available instruments were to be used by Israel in the worship of the Lord. Nothing was to be left out or overlooked. Every resource was to be employed in the praise-making—and not just musical instruments. The psalm, and the entire Book of Psalms, ends with this simple command: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” (vs 6)
Are you breathing today? Then you should praise the Lord!
Just as every Israelite instrument was used in the worship of God, so everything we do in our lives should be an act of praise to the Lord. Living life with God doesn’t mean that we just add “going to church” or “attending a Bible study” to our weekly activities. It means that God permeates everything we do. Living life with God is like living life with a baby. It’s not a change to your old life. It’s a completely different life.
As God permeates everything we do, everything we do can become an act of praise to God. We can praise Him with our working, our relaxing, our driving, our exercising, our eating, our parenting, and our shopping.
Let everything that has breath—and everything we do while we have breath—praise the Lord. For He alone is worthy!