Psalm 86: Give me an undivided heart, O God

22 Apr

This is a prayer of David. As I read the verses I felt it was different from yesterday’s psalm. Then I checked the author and gave a smile of recognition – the difference was David.

David asked for God’s mercy and grace just as the sons of Korah did in Psalm 85. Yet he did it in a more personal way. It seems to me that Psalm 85 was written as a national prayer and this is a personal one.

David repeated the mantra of the men of God which was so clearly articulated by Moses: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth “(verse 11a).

But the second part of the verse adds anew dimension:
“… give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify Your name forever.
For great is Your love towards me; You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” (verses 11b, 12, 13).

The undivided heart aspect reminds me of a New Testament metaphor about where our focus lies. In Luke 9:63 Jesus said:
“No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

It does not surprise me that David and Jesus said similar things about a life of faith. In Luke 12:34 Jesus also said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are not made to have divided hearts and yet we constantly break our own hearts with faithlessness and fear.

We lose our focus when we look away from God and place our hope anywhere else: in ourselves, in other people, in other gods, in money, in work, in sport, in sex, in the lottery … Again as many times before David provided us the model for changing our own faithless behaviour: Ask God for help.

But note that David first asked God to teach him to walk in truth, then he asked for an undivided heart so that he might fear God and then David committed to praise God forever. David expected to be taught which takes effort and focus from the student too – he did not expect God to “fix” him overnight.

 

Psalm 85: Restore us again, O God our Saviour

21 Apr

This is another psalm from the sons of Korah. It begs God to forgive the nation of Israel whilst reminding the reader, God and the people of God’s grace to their ancestors. It then ends with a description of how God’s righteousness appears:

“Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.” (NIV, verses 10-13)

Whilst the psalm has an overall optimistic tone, verses 8 and 9 reiterates the warning from many leaders of the people of Israel:

“I will listen to what God the Lord will say;
He promises peace to His people, His saints – but let them not return to folly.
Surely His salvation is near who fear Him,
that His glory may dwell in our land.”

God’s patience and love do not override the requirement to fear Him and listen to His commands. God’s restoration only comes when His people return to Him, worship Him and focus on Him.

The psalmist was clever in reminding the people of how God restored the fortunes of Jacob (verse 1). This could be the fortunes of the whole nation under Jacob, but it could also be how his son Joseph who had been sold into slavery and thrown into an Egyptian jail became the saviour of both his family and the nation of Egypt. The reminder is rich is the history it evokes. It contains many echoes of individual, family, tribal and national redemption through the ages. But it does not lose the emphasis on personal and national accountability to God.

The psalmist also never suggested that God’s anger and wrath were not rightly focused on the people. He simply begged God’s mercy to bring an end to His own righteous anger.

This psalm is a useful template for the process of supplication:

  1. remind yourself of God’s mercy in the past (and in doing so who He is and who you are)
  2. remind God of His mercy in the past
  3. beg God to show His love and salvation
  4. commit to listen to God’s word and fear Him
  5. praise God’s righteousness and salvation with thankfulness.

 

 

Psalm 84: Home at last

13 Apr

This is a psalm of Korah and it has inspired many praise songs in the recent and distant past. It beautifully weaves from a place where we are at home in God to where He lives in us and back to travelling with Him.

The Message version translates one of the best known verses with a bit of a twist:

“One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek islands beaches…”

The mixture of us living in God and God travelling within us on our journeys through life is well measured. It also highlights that the journey is not just us and God in a singular relationship. The psalmist mentions how the birds make their homes in God’s house in the second verse. In the final verse our attention is drawn to the fact that we are within a travelling party, there are many of us under God’s protection.

I like the idea of travelling through life with God and fellow travellers, especially at a time when it feels a bit lonely on this road. This is also mentioned in the third verse where the psalmist says:
“And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-travelled these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn – Zion! God in full view!”

There is a sense for me that part of the home we find is in heaven and part of it is through life with God within us. This psalm provides us with a reason for praise in every season, including our last.

Psalm 83: The one and only High God on earth

12 Apr

It has been far too long since my last blog. My personal circumstances changed due to family responsibilities and suddenly my quiet times disappeared completely. Tonight is the start of a new regime. In order to fit in both my blog and my personal time out I am heading to bed at 9pm to wake at 5am. Since I am blogging at night that means once I have blogged it will be closer to 10pm I guess, but enough time to sleep. We leave the house at 6:45 so I have to start really early to find quiet.

In the craziness of the past few months when I certainly prayed but did not rest in God it was easy to lose sight of who I am in His light. It is a blessing He kept me close but I am frayed at the edges. And then I read this Psalm tonight. As so often happens the Psalm is the right one for tonight.

This is a Psalm of Asaph which has three parts:

  1. The psalmist begs God not to shut him out and leave him alone
  2. The psalmist lists how the people who hate God are planning t to take everything for themselves, snubbing God.
  3. But then the psalmist begs God to “Blow them away” and show them that He is “the one and only High God.” (These are quotes from The Message version).

It is good to be reminded that God is the one and only. It is also good to be reminded that things have been going wrong for God’s people for millenia and that our sanctuary is now as it always has been and always shall be IN HIM.

God doesn’t blow people away but He does blow their impact away from our minds and hearts and souls. It is as if the negativity that comes with people’s never ending dismissal of God is like cobwebs that His Spirit blasts out of our minds. Paul told us to renew our minds. David and Moses and Isaiah and Daniel and Habbakuk and Joshua and Joseph repeat again and again that we must focus on Him, on His words. That we must meditate on them.

 

 

Psalm 82:God the Eternal Judge

13 Jan

This is a short psalm of only 8 verses but it is very punchy in its message which is as valid today as aeons ago. Since it is so short I thought I would share it in its entirety from the New International Version.

“God presides in the great assembly;
He gives judgement among the ‘gods’:

“‘How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“‘They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“‘I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.”
But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.’

“Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”

Verses 3 and 4 summarise our responsibilities are humans under God’s law and bear repeating:
“Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

How is it that the world has “evolved” and societies “developed” yet we still have the weak, the fatherless, the poor and the oppressed? I know Jesus said we would always have the poor amongst us (Matthew 26:11, John 12:8 and Mark 14:7) but it still saddens me that the wicked and the unjust are preferred by people with power – the ‘gods’ on earth. It isn’t clear who exactly are the lost who understand nothing but I suspect it is those who believe they know it all and do not need God.

I do sometimes feel like crying out “How long Oh Lord? Come Lord, come.”

 

 

Psalm 81: You shall have no foreign gods

12 Jan

This is the psalm which explains the reasons for the disasters described in psalms 79 and 80. In this psalm of Asaph there is no skirting the issue that it is the people’s turning away from God that caused their disaster.

This psalm starts with verses 1 to 5 extolling the reasons and ways to praise God. Verses 6 and 7 describe God rescuing the people and bringing them out of Egypt.

But then verses 8 and 9 give God’s warning:
“Hear, O my people, and I will warn you
– if you would but listen to me, O Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not bow down to an alien god.”

Verse 10 explains that if the people follow God then He will care for them and this is repeated in verse 16.

However, in between verses 10 and 16, the reasons and consequences of the people’s infidelity is detailed:
“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
If my people would but listen to me,
if Israel would follow my ways,
how quickly would I subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him,
and their punishment would last forever.”

Again and again God is clear about the way the world – His world – works. Listen to Him, the Creator God; worship Him and He will be with you. Ignore Him and He will judge you.

I worship God and seek His ways because it is the most logical approach to life. If one has even the slightest belief in a Creator God then it makes sense to seek Him out and obey Him – after all HE MADE THE UNIVERSE! Why turn your back on the one being that knows how life should be lived and who wants to have a relationship with you?

Psalm 80: Restore us, O God

11 Jan

When reading this psalm I started to wonder when it was written as it is clearly from a time of national crisis. In doing some research I find that there is no definitive timing linked to this psalm. I suppose David’s psalms are the easiest to date or at least link to events in his life.

I then tried to see the perceived age of the book of Psalms as a whole and found that we have psalms from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to after the exile to Babylon. This suggests that the latest psalm was written between 586 and 538 BC (the most definitive information I found here).

The general consensus is that this psalm was written before the exile but opinion is divided whether it was written before the split between Israel and Judah occurred. What is clear is that this psalm of Asaph was written by someone who saw God’s judgement working in the disasters that were occurring.

The psalmist asked for God to restore and revive the people so that they might be saved. He repeated again and again the request for God’s face to shine upon the people “that we may be saved” (verses 2, 3, 7, 19).

Whilst the author acknowledges God as the source of the judgement and begs for it to end, he does not appear to acknowledge the people’s part in their disaster. Yes, he suggested that they had turned away from God but it is implied in verse 18:
“Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.”

This psalm is often connected with the previous psalm, as if they should be read together. Psalm 79 also lists the disasters which God has allowed Israel to suffer and also begs God to save them.

Whilst this Psalm gives God the glory and power of running the world, it does not in my opinion sufficiently highlight why the people are suffering. To say they are suffering because God has turned away is not enough. He turned away because they stopped worshiping and obeying Him. Whilst there is a circle of God calling humans to worship even before he/she considers it and then God listening and blessing them because they pray to Him; this does not preclude people from turning towards God rather than away from Him regardless of their circumstances.

David’s psalms are a clear example of someone obeying and trusting God even when things were not going perfectly, and also considering where they themselves contributed to disaster and God’s judgement.

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