Psalm 109: Nothing changes and the Lord is good

17 Aug

“For He’s always at hand to take the side of the needy, to rescue a life from the unjust judge.”
Verse 31 (The Message)

David describes how he is being hounded to ruination. This is not a private vendetta but a persistent public destruction of David which is causing him physical harm. At first it seems like it is just David being pursued by liars but the psalm emphasises that the attacks on David are a result of who these people are. They simply love evil and attack the good with lies. David is one of many victims.

The result of the campaign of persecution is three-fold:
1. David is exhausted and distraught.
2. He is wearing himself out with fasting and prayers.
3. He is shunned by everyone as a result of the persecution and its consequences.

At first I was a bit shocked by the destruction David asks God to impose on the “liars”. Then I reread the passages and he was really asking that they experience the truth of their lives. They lived by lying and cheating and taking possessions and peace from others, so let them live like that. Their behaviour and words were evil, so let them not be blessed. (Of course this is the Old Testament so Jesus’ commandment to bless those who curse you and to pray for those that persecute you was not familiar to the psalmist. That comparison would be an entirely different post.)

The title of this post came from my sense of the endless repeat of the consequences of sin in the world. Liars who seek to exploit and destroy others are part of the world of humans. These people do also relish attacking those who love the Lord. This makes me sad, but intellectually I understand it.

David shows how to behave under such torment. Do not attack the liars or defend yourself, because they do not wish to hear and only wish to find more ways to tear you down. Spend your time with God and trust Him with justice. This is not an easy path but it is a wise one and the one that ultimately leads to you own peace.

But I rejoice with David because the Lord is forever and eternally good. His love is everlasting and He is ready to rescue the needy. The Lord is my hope and my salvation.

Psalm 108: Man’s help is worthless

16 Aug

“Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless.”

Verse 12 (NIV)

I am not sure when David wrote this. From the words it feels like it was after he became king or at least when he had an army to command and not one of those times when he was on the run. This matters to me because of the progression within the psalm.

Firstly, David is awake before the dawn to praise God. That is not my experience of kings, not that I have encountered many. But a man within a palace or in a battle camp preparing for war, might be excused for sleeping till dawn.

Secondly, David’s focus in the first few verses is on praising and extolling God’s virtues. Even as a significant leader of men in his own times, David is pointing to God as King.

Thirdly, in verses 6 and 7 David attributes success to God by starting with the fact that he needs saving, both he and his people. Then only does David talk about defeating the tribes around him. Worshiping and praising God, even before dawn, can be seen as kingly behaviour. However, insisting that he and those with him need saving by God but not be what his followers expect. Most followers expect their leader to speak of how strong they and their leader are, not about requiring saving.

Fourthly, the last four verses emphasise that all victory comes from God because “the help of man is worthless”. I imagine David surrounded by strong and capable warriors, dismissing the help of men. I am not sure the men following David would have found this positive.

We are so used to reading David’s psalms and yet I forget that these were not private prayers but public and loud. In verse 2, when he sings of the harp and lyre awaking the dawn, this would mean a pretty noisy start to the day for everyone around him. He wakes them up, or has woken them to praise God with him. Then David makes it all about God, not himself and not those around him.

One the one hand a king can do what he likes and I suspect my family would not appreciate me waking them before dawn with music. On the other hand a king can do what he likes and David chooses to be God’s man first.

it makes me wonder whether I am God’s woman first, before the daughter, the sister, the consultant, the manager.

Psalm 107: Cry out to God

15 Aug

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distress.”
Verses 6, 19 and 38

The wanderer, the prisoner, the refugee, the fool, the mariner, the settler, the farmer … each of these are described in this psalm as being saved by the Lord. Usually He saves them from the consequences of forgetting Him. These short stories sometimes start out okay with success and blessings, but there always follows a time where there is failure and despair. Only then, when they remember God and cry out to Him, can He act and bring them out of their distress and troubles.

We are told to praise God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Of course in order to praise Him we must remember Him… I cannot read this psalm and not remember when I have forgotten to praise God. I try and say to myself that I had not actually forgotten Him. I just had not found the time to praise Him. Yet in all honesty I realise that in forgetting to praise Him, I am forgetting Him at the centre of my life. I have pushed Him to the edges. It is then that I forget to praise Him.

I am reminded of Deuteronomy 6:5-8:
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your forehead.”
The instructions shared by Moses are practical and effective ones for aiding our memories. They give us a rhythm to maintain our connection to God. To keep us close to Him, to stop us pushing Him to the edges. To stop us forgetting Him.

These instructions are also a way for those of us, like myself, who prefer to be doing rather than to be. They allow us how to be in God whilst doing. But they include being in the Lord at their heart. When we focus on Him, when we praise Him again and again during the day; we start to be in Him.

The joyfulness of a relationship with the Lord, is that He does not remember our faithlessness. When we cry out to Him in our troubles (usually of our own making and usually because we forgot Him), He rescues us. The troubles can be man-made or natural disasters (these are becoming closely linked to climate change and thus could be called man-made too). But He saves us.

Our response to His faithfulness is suggested in verse 22:
“Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with joy.”

Psalm 106: Praise to the Lord who is from everlasting to everlasting

12 Aug

“Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” (verse 1)

The title of this blog comes from the last verse of the Psalm (slightly edited from the NIV). The Psalmists were all skilled poets, inspired by the greatest poet, the Creator. I am sure it is not accidental that the first and last verse reflect one another, echo one another in praising God.

At first glance, this psalm reads like it is all about God saving the Isrealites from messes they got themselves into by forgetting Him. But it is really about God being the Eternal One and He saves the Isrealites because of who He is and not who they were, or who we are.

God’s love and faithfulness are who He is. As our Creator and Parent, He knows our every weakness and our tendency to wander off in our hearts and our minds and our bodies. He also knows we are able to love Him and follow Him, He sets that bar high with clarity in the Ten Commandments. But He sent Jesus to bring us up to the standard through us being in Jesus. Being in Jesus saves us.

Whilst being in Jesus saves us, it is the choice to remain in Him that enables us to daily live in Him. The gift of being saved and the choice to receive being saved are like the first and last verse of this Psalm. The gift and the choice hold the space for our lives, echoing and reflecting each other in how we live. And how we live must be within the acknowledgement that God is the everlasting and His love endures forever. And we must thank and praise Him. In the thanking and praising, we are choosing to accept the gift of Jesus.

Within the sense of everlasting-ness, there is an imminence, that is also constancy by the day, the hour, the minute, the second of God in our lives. Within this, as flawed humans, we need to both be in Him and choose to be in Him by the second, by the minute, by the hour, by the day and by the night.

Psalm 105: The purpose we were born into

4 Mar

” For He remembered His holy promise given to His servant Abraham.
He brought out His people with rejoicing, His chosen ones with shouts of joy;
He gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for –
that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.”

verses 42 to 45 (NIV)

This psalm starts and ends with “Hallelujah” in The Message. This is a signal that we are talking about praising God. We could be mislead into assuming that this psalm remind us of God’s faithfulness to encourage our praise.

We should, of course, praise God because of His faithfulness. And in this psalm there is a brief history of the Israelites this far: from God’s promise to Abraham, His care of the tribes through to the great famine which drove them to Egypt where Joseph had been sent ahead of them to prepare a place to live for the entire nation, to Moses and Aaron leading the people out of Egypt generations later. Yes, we see God’s faithfulness but we see far more…

Verse 45 holds the key, the entire point of the Israelites’ journey, the focus for this psalm and the purpose we were born into, perhaps reborn into:
The Message version says it clearly: “So they could do everything He told them – could follow His instructions to the letter.”

Our lives our ordered under God by His word. Yes praising Him through Hallelujahs is important but between the Hallelujahs we exist to obey His word “to the letter.” This instruction, is not just for the Israelites but for us. It is in the greatest commandment from Jesus:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Matthew 22:35-40

It is the all your mind part we don’t often understand. Our mind is where we make decisions and choices, and God says we must choose to do what He says. That is our purpose.

To do what He says we need to listen to Him both in His Word the Bible and when He speaks to us. We can perhaps become focused on the Ten Commandments which almost seem easy when compared to Philippians 4:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,¬†whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

What we choose to think on matters because that drives what decisions we make. That is why God wants us to love Him with all our minds – that is how we fulfil His purpose in our lives.

Psalm 104: The rhythm of Creation

22 Feb

“What a wildly, wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”

(Verse 24 The Message)

This psalm starts with creation robing God but quickly develops into the story of Creation. But it includes people too. It describes the sea and the wind in the beginning, and then mountains pushing up and fresh water springs starting. All at His hand.

But as the description of the creatures develop we see the underlying rhythm that is embedded in Creation. Core to the Creation story is the concept of 6 days of work with a Sabbath for rest. It is the beat of the story with the rising and setting of the sun creating bookends of the days.

In this Psalm the rhythm continues around growing food and providing water for all animals, and the grain and the wine to make people happy too. We do not eat endlessly or sleep (usually) endlessly, the rhythm of the functions of the day continue the story. Verse 27 says “All creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time.”

Time and harvest requires rhythm and repeat. Animals eat and drink and sleep and wake, people eat and drink and sleep and wake and work … and embedded in the story is the requirement to add “and rest” at the end of the day and on the Sabbath.

The Psalm does not mention the Sabbath but it mentions many creatures resting at their regular times. Verse 20 and 21 talk of the night-time creatures coming out to feed and Verse 22 says:
“When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens.”

The rhythm is not one beat for everyone, just as wild flowers and wheat have a different time table for growth; so does all Creation. But there is the underlying focus on following God, depending on God and being connected to His timing and His provision and His rhythm. We cannot consider the amazing world around us and be oblivious to the Creator God or His rhythm of work and rest. And this should remind us to praise Him all the more.

Psalm 103: Praise the Lord, my soul

21 Feb

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (verse 17)

This Psalm continues the theme of God’s eternalness and faithfulness to us, and our mortalness. Verse 15:
“The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field.”

However whilst Psalm 102 talks of God’s faithfulness to us, Psalm 103 supplies what our response should be – Praise the Lord. Again and again we are reminded that the purpose of all creation is to Praise the Lord.

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”

Verse 2: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and not forget all his benefits…”

Verse 20: “Praise the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.”

Verse 21: “Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.”

Verse 22a: “Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.”

Verse 22b: “Praise the Lord, my soul.”

Verses 3 to 19 explain why we should praise the Lord, but we know why – we were created to Praise Him.

Psalm 102: Our years are always terminal

20 Feb

“You laid earth’s foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens;
You’ll still be around when they’re long gone, threadbare and discarded like an old suit of clothes”
verses 25 and 26

This Psalm counterbalances how short our lives are (and how dependent on God they are) with God’s eternalness. Whilst initially it sounds like the psalmist is crying out to God in despair, there is a golden thread running through that reminds the psalmist and us of God’s faithfulness across the ages which is not the opposite of the psalmist’s despair but rather runs with it.

Yes, the psalmist is feeling wretched and alone, and begs God for more years to live. But at the same time he remind us that our lives are within and under God. God : who will be there for our children’s children; God : who will be praised when we are no longer even remembered on earth.

This Psalm reminds me that all of us have the terminal illness of sin. Sin as the default deep within our world and DNA, that brings death. God can heal us and extend our lives but even then, ultimately we die.

And that is okay, because when we die in Him we become part of the forever, His eternalness. However short our lives, God is personally and deeply connected to us and He is also personally and deeply connected to all humanity and the very universe from the beginning of time … and to the very end of time. In this way, our lives have significance when in reality we are a tiny blip on the timeline of everything.

Meditating on the relative shortness of of our lives and the eternalness of God is a useful start to the day.

Psalm 101: The road of right living

2 Feb

“My theme song is God’s love and justice,
and I’m singing it right to you, God.”

The Message, Psalm 101:1

This psalm of David gives us a little set of instructions for living (and working) right. Not only does it do this but it also reminds us that our lives are a song to God. In this way, if our lives are lived right we are always praising Him. But sometimes living right feels so complicated.

Living right starts with the Ten Commandments but perhaps Jesus’ greatest commandment is an even better starting point. Then I would check this list out:

  1. I focus on God’s love and justice
  2. I do the very best I can
  3. I start at home
  4. I refuse to take a second look at corrupting people or degrading things
  5. I reject false gods (what is getting between you and God – that is your false god)
  6. I refuse to shake hands with those who plan evil
  7. I gag the gossip bad mouthing his neighbour (pause to consider what is gossip and what is learning about people in order to help)
  8. I want to work with people walking on the straight and narrow
  9. I have no patience with liars.

These are practical and direct, sometimes we need to understand God’s love and justice to know when someone is evil and when someone is a victim. God does not ask us to judge anyone but rather to be clear on our own standards. I whole lot of this is about looking at ourselves and presenting who we are in our relationships.

If we choose not to engage with corrupting people and degrading things, we will find ourselves focusing our minds as urged to in Philippians 4:8:
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

If we choose to examine what we place as gods in our lives, we will be living testimonies to God’s love and justice in our own lives.

If we refuse to shake hands with those who plan evil, we are being witnesses that we see the victims of that evil. But this does mean we need to consider who we are around carefully. “Planning evil” sounds so extreme, so dramatic but evil is actually quite insidious and sneaky. I believe our best protection against is evil is the armour of God from Ephesians 6:10-18. Each element of the armour protects us but the sources of the protection is God and us choosing to focus on Him, listen to Him and accept our guidance. Consciously living with intention under God will give us a sensitivity to things not of Him, evil things. Living right is living with an awareness of spiritual things, in our everyday interactions. When you cannot see what is evil or not in this realm, God’s spirit can prick your awareness in the spiritual realms.

The psalm gets really practical next in dealing with gossip. Perhaps the first gossip you have to shut down is you, and in time people who gossip will simply avoid you if you are clear this is not what you do. Sometimes you have to name it and simply say “I am sorry but I don’t want to hear gossip, thanks, bye”.

The same with liars. When you become scrupulously honest, liars start to slip away, because honesty confronts lies. At first they become really uncomfortable, and then you will find them leaving your company.

All of the above should winnow out people who are not walking on the straight and narrow at your side. How you live defines who want to be with you and who you enjoy being with. Hopefully this little checklist helps you to find the road of right living under God today.

Psalm 100: A gift of laughter

1 Feb

“On your feet now – applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.

Enter the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.”

The Message.

So this Psalm, as translated by Eugene Peterson, is pretty short but that makes it easy to meditate on. It is a little manual on focusing in on God.

The first verse urges us to stand up and praise Him, then the second verse reminds us that He is the Creator and we are not, the third verse instructs us to thank Him, and the final verse holds the point o everything in front of our eyes:
“God is sheer beauty, all-generous in love, loyal always and ever.”

As a way to enter His presence and start your day – this little psalm is brilliant. But the part that caught my eye today was snuck into the second line that so neatly reminds us that praising God is about joy. Not quite, sedate joy but laughter. Not what you think of in church or in your quiet times?

How often do you laugh out loud in meditation on God? I have done it a few times when:
I remember how silly my petty little plans are in comparison to what He makes happen in my life;
I consider how the seemly humungous obstacles I faced in my day disappeared through His Spirit (without me even asking Him);
I sing His praises and am reminded of how He towers in splendour over everything and everyone (see previous post on Psalm 99);
I reflect that He requires my heart and soul and mind to love Him and not anything else that I think is important;
He reminds me in my journal that He is not impressed by busyness again (He told me this in April 1993 and I still don’t fully understand how my life works without busyness).

What makes you laugh out loud with God? We know from current research how important laughter is to our health, both physical and mental but here, in Psalm 100, we are reminded how essential laughter is to our spiritual wellbeing too.