What If?

What if? These two words can prove exciting or frightening, depending on their context, what follows, and our reaction to those words. What if Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union? What if someone else won the election of ________? What if modern medicine had not existed for that surgery? What if I had bought stock in Apple in 1997? What if? It can change everything. Sometimes we consider this and grow melancholy while contemplating missed opportunities. At other times we might realize just how blessed our lives have been. However, far too rarely do we consider this question spiritually. Among the section in Psalms containing a series known as Songs of Ascents, Psalm 124 draws attention to this very question. 

If we accept the attribution of the psalm to David, the circumstance most likely in view occurred early during that great king’s reign when the Philistines were still Israel’s major nemesis. After the end of the civil war and the consolidation of the tribes into a united kingdom, David took Jerusalem and established himself in what became known as the City of David (2 Sam. 5:1-12). The Philistines recognized the danger of their position with their most formidable foe in power and deployed an army in the Valley of Rephaim (2 Sam. 5:18). David asked the LORD what to do, and the LORD promised to deliver them into his hand which He subsequently did (2 Sam. 5:19-25). But that brings us back to the psalm which begins, “‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,’ Let Israel now say—‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, When men rose up against us…’” (Psa. 124:1-2). What if? What if the LORD had not been on their side? That is the point of the psalm as the verses that follow make clear. The outcome would have been completely different. They would have lost the battle. They would have been overwhelmed by water. They would have died as in a flood (Psa. 124:3-5; 2 Sam. 5:20). But the LORD provided protection from the enemy, escape from the clutches of a dangerous foe (Psa. 124:6-7). The Creator of the universe made Himself available to help those who served Him (Psa. 124:8). The sublime beauty described by such care astounds. And it once more causes us to consider the opening thought: What if?

What if God did not care for mankind to the extent He has demonstrated from the time of creation? What if God had never communicated His will to His creation? What if God left man to fight Satan on his own? What if God never sent His Son to die on the cross? What if? God has proven Himself so consistent in providing for man’s most important and desperate needs that men take them for granted. As a result, they only tend to question God when they encounter some problem for which they wish God’s intervention instead of appreciating all that He has already done and promised to do. So, what if we spent less time complaining and more time giving thanks? What if we opposed God less and obeyed God more? What if we valued our own opinions less and God’s Word more? What if we dropped our pride completely and embraced truth entirely? What if? It is amazing how different life is depending on whether you seek God’s will first or try to live life on your own. How good could your life be if you just followed God’s will? What if?

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Have Mercy

It hurts when I hear people, including some Christians, use the phrase “Have mercy” so cavalierly. After all, it is essentially an appeal to God, whether they realize it or not. And no appeal to God should be made vainly or regarding silly matters of no consequence. Few probably appreciate the origin of the phrase or its true character, but it is important for us to move beyond the loose exclamatory use of these two words and to see them in their true context. Following the Babylonian captivity, an unnamed Jew wrote a series of psalms, each with the heading “A Song of Ascents,” for the children of Israel to sing together as they traveled back to Jerusalem to worship. Each tends to build on the psalms before it, creating a collection that helps transition the mind from the situation back home to preparation for worship in Jerusalem. In the midst of these psalms lies Psalm 123, a brief offering filled with emotion and meaning because it captures how God’s people of all ages live between two worlds—the materialistic world dominated by the prince of the power of the air and the kingdom of heaven in which God Himself reigns. Therefore, this psalm expresses faith in an important way. It looks to the Lord above with a renewed perspective of deep need and with gratitude for His patience, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, and love all the while keenly aware of the world’s enmity toward God’s people and all things spiritual.

The psalmist opens with purposeful longing for God’s attention and protection, but also with an eye to see beyond the earth’s horizon to engage God who is spirit in his cause: “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens” (Psa. 123:1). He remains all too cognizant of his own position upon the earth, and this is essential for any who appeal to heaven. The recognition of the distinction between heaven and earth and the need of man and the power of God lies at the heart of prayer and all appreciation for the attention God offers in listening to His people’s petitions (1 Pet. 3:12; 1 John 5:14-15). But the relationship between man and God matters as we look to Yahweh for help. Indeed, to approach Him as anything other than humble servants who realize that every appeal depends on the gracious character of a loving Master is to miss the essence of what makes the relationship possible. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us” (Psa. 123:2). There is such longing in this description, a patience and perseverance that only faith can maintain, and this precisely fills the hearts of those dedicated to the LORD with full confidence in His mercy along with the recognition of their great need for it. The world is fraught with trials and tribulation, dangers and difficulties, hostilities and heartache. Nevertheless, God’s mercy abounds. And our confidence in this should permeate our existence to the point of eliminating all doubt. This is essential because of the constant pressure the godless and the faithless of this world will often apply against us. The worldly will despise the spiritual; those who value luxury will ridicule those who value sacrifice; the disdain of the proud in this world will rise up to humiliate those already humbled for their need for God. “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scorn of those who are at ease, With the contempt of the proud” (Psa. 123:3-4). 

Have mercy. Two simple words. Placed in their context, they express such faith in the love of God. And that is how we should think of them—meaningful, heavenly, spiritual. It is not about condemning a casual use of a phrase so much as about calling for higher speech through spiritual thinking. We all need God’s mercy so desperately. So let us appreciate it, and let our speech honor it, and so honor the God who offers it.

A Prayer for Peace

Looking toward the future can be thrilling or frightening depending both on your circumstances and your point of view. If you are a child in December, you look forward to Christmas with an anticipation that brings joy to every moment. But if you are an adult in April, you tend to dread the day you must write that check to the United States Treasury. Perspective matters. Therefore, consider what it must have felt like to be a Jew returning from captivity in Babylon. Imagine all the work over decades that it took under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, including the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, to rebuild the temple after captivity, rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble, and rebuild society in accordance with the Law. This was the challenge for all those who returned from Babylon, and these were their accomplishments after many years of effort. This work—every step of the way—meant facing the ruins of the past daily, opposition and persecution regularly, and then gradually making progress that would mean life could once more return to some sense of normalcy. I have trouble imagining the emotions of those Jews who once more had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, enter its gates, and then worship at the newly constructed temple. Fortunately, we do have to imagine, because a psalmist penned exactly how he felt in Psalm 122:1-9.

The heading that includes “Of David” describes the style rather than the authorship. More important is the heading “A Song of Ascents,” indicating that this would be sung as people once more came from all over to worship. The inspired writer had seen dark times; he knew adversity; and through hard work, he also enjoyed a renewal of success and joy. And this is the kind of perspective we need today about the Lord’s church so that we can move beyond difficulties and begin to build a brighter future. 

We ought to be excited for the future (Psa. 122:1-2). Christians ought to be excited to have the opportunity to gather with the saints and worship God precisely as He desires—every time (Jn. 4:24). God’s people ought to be excited about the work already accomplished and what it makes possible today (1 Cor. 3:6; Mk. 16:15-16). To get to participate in what God has ordained itself should produce energy within (1 Cor. 15:58). Somewhere along the line we began serving less out of anticipation and more out of obligation. It is time to recapture that excitement for what the church is really all about and what a privilege it is to be part of it, and then channel that excitement into what we can build for the future. Christians ought to hope for a better future (Psa. 122:3-5). There is always hope for a better future when we follow the word of the LORD that came forth from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ and let it govern us, shape our opinions, and change our character (Acts 2:17-47). There is hope for a better future when our worship becomes more about God and less about us (Jn. 4:23) and our enemies become friends because they submit to the King of Kings. Our future will be bright as long as we let Jesus decide what we do instead of trying to force God to accept whatever we do. This is why we ought to pray for the future (Psa. 122:6-7)—to pray for future peace from the attacks from without and for unity within (Jn. 17:15m 29-23). We should pray for future prosperity for the people committed to the church and for the benefit of the whole (Jn. 17:16-19, 24). And throughout it all, we must remain motivated for the future (Psa. 122:8-9)—by Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24) and by God and His purposes.

No matter what we face in the present, the future is there, waiting on us to make something of it. We must do better at visualizing just how good things can be if we are willing to work toward greater goals in the kingdom. We must do more to build a future for the church that will make future generations thankful. We ought to spend far more time praying for the work—specifically, fervently, and daily—instead of seeing it as a given. We must motivate ourselves to fill our lives with all of those things that will make the future bright, because that is what it will take.

The LORD is Your Keeper

In modern America few people show concern over their safety when traveling. Oh, many still say a quick prayer before an airplane takes off, and some might express concern for the reckless drivers they encounter at an ever-increasing rate, but the nature of travel has changed so dramatically that people generally feel safe and secure within the confines of a temperature controlled motorized vehicle capable of great distances and averting problem areas via instructions on a smartphone. Contrast all this with the weary Israelite traveler, returning to Jerusalem to attend a feast, who faced many perils in the process of his journey to worship. Especially after the captivity carried large populations away from Judea to settle in areas far away from the epicenter of their faith, faithful Jews would leave their homes and cover many miles to return to their homeland. Such a pilgrimage included a vast number of dangers inherent in ancient travel. The odyssey itself required physical endurance. The route also could take them through hostile territory, including to some degree Samaria, and areas of pagan influence. More than that, they would find it necessary to watch carefully as they traveled due to the marauders and thieves that camped in strategic locations along major roads, often hiding in the caves within the mountainous countryside. Thus, the concern expressed in the opening of Psalm 121 came from a very real place: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?” (Psa. 121:1). Faith initiated the journey, as Psalm 120 implies. However, the people would also need great faith to sustain their travels and ensure that they arrived in Jerusalem as planned, and the remainder of the psalm captures this faith in God’s providential role in their safety perfectly.

The psalmist makes an unequivocal statement of faith: “My help comes from the LORD Who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:2). Yahweh, as implied by His name, will be there, and He will help. Moreover, the help He can offer comes with the power of creation behind it. Such a declaration moves far beyond fear and passes timidity to embrace confidence and security. At this point in the psalm, the wording takes an interesting turn. Abandoning the first person declaration of faith, the psalm now moves to third person. While some consider this someone else’s response to the original question, I believe it better represents the psalmist’s faith that the same confidence He has in God should characterize others when they remember His character. The LORD provides the steadiness to secure a defense against any foe’s attack (Psa. 121:3). He remains ever alert and cognizant of His covenant with Israel and all its attendant promises (Psa. 121:4). “The Lord is your keeper” (Psa. 121:5a). He is more than able to care for you, protect you, and guide you, offering constant protection whether from the heat of the sun or the perils that strike at night (Psa. 121:5b-6). He always acts with our best interest at heart. Thus, if there are any doubts remaining, the final two verses surely dispel them. “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore” (Psa. 121:7-8). God extends His protection to cover “all evil.” No evil exists that He cannot counter. His protection addresses your very “soul.” This likely refers to His commitment to protect the whole of our being, but its spiritual implications remain and are indeed profound. Moreover, the protection provided suffers no lapses in time. Every moment you live, God is there for you. 

Jews arriving safely in Jerusalem after a potentially treacherous journey surely had reason to give thanks to God—but really no more than what His people enjoy each and every day. When you place yourself in His hands, the LORD is your keeper. And while that surely offers peace in the midst of a chaotic and sometimes cruel world, it provides even more when considered in terms of  “even forevermore.”

Frustrations Over Conflict

Following their captivity in Babylon, God provided the means and motivation for the Jews to rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra and reinstitute temple worship in accordance with the Law once they completed their mission. Nehemiah, who served the king in Persia, ultimately returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reinvigorate Jewish society and spiritual commitment. However, this, along with the prophecy of Zechariah, demonstrates how slowly the Jews returned from exile, many choosing to remain behind rather than relocate to their homeland. This diaspora created its own challenges, leaving God’s people in the midst of a foreign and ungodly culture to face the constant barrage of immorality, ridicule, and opposition that their neighbors inflicted upon them. Regardless, their captivity had taught them greater piety, and so many would journey to Jerusalem for the commanded feasts. Their longer journey to their homeland presented an opportunity for them to refocus and remember why they were making the trip. During this time, an author or authors penned a series of psalms known collectively as “songs of ascents,” psalms written for the journey home. In Psalm 120 we find the first in this series, and its content very naturally focuses on the author’s feelings at the beginning of the journey.

This psalm has a personal tone to it more than a collective national feeling, and yet its content quite naturally reflects the people as a whole. The psalm opens with a hint of their former captivity. A people in distress cried out to the Lord for relief, and He answered (Psa. 120:1), an acknowledgement that the opportunity to return to Jerusalem existed due to God’s deliverance. However, the reality of life among ungodly people and their regular words of mockery—an ever present problem throughout captivity—now receive a response. For decades they had listened while pagan lips ridiculed their God and their faith as insufficient to deliver them from their hand, but in the end they could point to His lovingkindness and mercy to prove that their faith had not been unfounded (Psa. 120:2-3). Therefore, in a sense, they could point out to those in Babylon that they too now felt the sting of Jehovah’s judgment (Psa. 120:4). However, this opportunity to return home had another effect. The faithful child of God now felt isolated from home as never before, as though living in the distant lands to the north or as nomads in the south (Psa. 120:5). The burden of living long with those opposed to God no longer appeared as merely a physical distance from home but also a moral chasm as well, for while seeking God’s will and peace with others through it, the surrounding world yet resists (Psa. 120:6-7). 

Such a perspective should feel more than natural to the child of God. We also live in a world that promotes immorality and ungodliness. With increasing frequency we hear attacks on our faith and attempts to silence the Bible’s message. Many Christians work in an environment hostile to faith in general and Christianity specifically. The Supreme Court has stripped as many references to God as possible out of the public schools. Political correctness has reached the point where a basic statement of reality receives death threats in response in social media. And with so much out of our control, we should appreciate even more the focus of the psalmist and long for those times when we can gather together as God’s people, proclaim our faith, encourage one another, and build our courage to face the onslaught of Satan’s minions. It took the Jews decades to realize how much they should value worship and spiritual fellowship. God’s people today need to learn from Israel’s failure AND from the psalmist’s revival of hope—and learn quickly.

The Purpose of Bible Study

Nowhere in scripture will you find more attention and greater praise for the written word of God than in Psalm 119. While those familiar with Bible trivia immediate recognize it as the longest chapter in the Bible, totaling one hundred seventy-six verses, the power and beauty of this psalm lie in its detailed insight into the value of God’s word. Divided into twenty-two sections of eight verses a piece following the Hebrew alphabet and basing every line within each section on the corresponding letter, the psalm displays a brilliant aspect of ancient poetry. However, without any doubt, its content more than its style cause the godly heart to sing. Most assume that David penned this ode to written revelation; however, the focus, placement among the psalms, and limited situational references all point to the time following Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity when the rebuilding of the temple coincided with renewed attention to the Law amidst adversity and controversy. If so, the scriptures still offer a hint regarding its potential authorship: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The same verbs emphasized in this one verse—seek, do, and teach—demonstrate the same themes that recur throughout this powerful poem, which I encourage you to read in its entirety before continuing. Regardless of the authorship, the content deserves great attention and appreciation for its sublime description of the purpose of studying God’s word. 

While various descriptions of God’s word dominate this psalm, its purpose lies not in emphasizing spiritual learning but spiritual living. The psalmist interweaves his love for the word of God, his learning the word of God, and his living the word of God throughout the psalm, all in the process of seeking God, honoring God, and obeying God. Thus, these concepts do not exist independently of one another but rather coalesce to present a unified whole. This should affect how God’s people see God’s word and the role it should play in their lives. For the psalmist, seeking God and living according to what God revealed are part of the same process. The word deserves the utmost attention, respect, admiration, care, and love we can muster precisely because of Who gave it to us. While God introduces the extent of His power and providential care through creation, He reveals His mind, His purpose, and His heart through His word. It serves as the gateway to knowing Him and then also knowing how to please Him. God’s word guides us through life, away from sin, and to the LORD. The word of God opens a window into wisdom far above our own experience that provides insight into the nature of life and into our own soul. It offers a perspective for our existence that lifts us up when we are down, humbles us when we forget our place, and gives strength in times of weakness—not due to offering cliches and feel good stories, but by drawing man closer to His Creator. However, all of inspiration benefits us none whatsoever unless we are willing to spend time, thought, and energy contemplating not only the meaning and wisdom of divine precepts but also considering the God who gave them. Our God does not call on His people to understand His will in some academic fashion; He gave us His word to affect our will so that we submit to His will.

Every aspect of studying God’s word should ultimately focus on living in a way that brings us closer to God. And yet, in today’s world, people seem unaware that obeying what God has revealed is the pathway to that closer relationship. In fact, some speak as if the Bible is an impediment to people’s love for God, as if doctrinal faithfulness and precise obedience—both direct responses to God’s will—somehow diminish joy, hope, and love. We should all adopt the psalmist’s point of view. For him, the word of God was not an impersonal document loaded with burdensome regulations and restrictions. Instead, he allowed himself to embrace its content as though feeling the breath of God as He spoke. Thus, the word was not an impersonal barrier but an essential bridge, making it possible for God’s heart and wisdom to affect our own and so change our lives completely through our obedience. If this is not the end in mind when we study God’s word, we are doing it wrong.

What Can Man Do to Me?

As a general rule, people feel sorry for themselves far too much. Self-pity fills social media when people take a break from arguing about mostly meaningless matters. Rather than seeing the challenges of life as regular occurrences and difficult circumstances as the nature of life, people behave as if they have some inherent right to a perfect life free from adversity. We have convinced ourselves that we can rid the world of warfare, eliminate all disease, and quash bad behavior with the wave of a wand. We have turned every possible negative into some kind of cause as if we possess the ability to eradicate all sadness. As a result, rather than accepting the reality of problems in life and rising to meet the challenge with courage, character, and commitment, many respond with an insufferable case of the “Why me?’s.” Modern society has become so soft that people believe they can encourage competition while outlawing losing, challenge children to be their best while complaining when anyone pushes them to improve, and enjoy freedom of speech while maintaining the imaginary right to be free from ever being offended. Ironically, this deplorable state of humanity exists primarily due to placing so much focus on…humanity.

When the psalmist penned Psalm 118, by inspiration he looked far beyond even his own society to describe an attitude regarding life that expresses a perspective that transcends self even in the midst of great hardship to embrace faith to such a degree that it redefined life. From this perspective, challenges and adversity do not dominate but rather the mercy of God, because it demonstrates His care throughout life so consistently for good that the negatives stand out by comparison (Psa. 118:1-4). Therefore, accepting the reality of danger in this life, even under duress (Psa. 118:5) faith remains strong (Psa. 118:7-9) because “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psa. 118:6). Thus, rather than allowing life’s challenges to overwhelm, faith makes it possible to remain strong and confident even when under attack (Psa. 118:10-12). Life upon this earth faces the ugly reality of death on a daily basis—and sometimes with a fury that demands attention every moment (Psa. 118:13-16), but even then faith conquers fear because, come what may, “I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the Lord” (Psa. 118:17). God does allow suffering in this life (Psa. 118:18), but He does not abandon us to it (Psa. 118:19) because He has made it possible to deliver the righteous even from the most tragic circumstances, which is why, even when facing death, we can offer Him praise (Psa. 118:20-21).

If such faith and perspective seems impossible, what follows in the psalm should help tremendously. “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:22-24). The perspective offered throughout the psalm is Christ’s. Despite the rejection of the Jews, the humiliation of the trial, and the excruciating pain of crucifixion, Jesus never asked, “Why me?” He understood. And when we not only appreciate His attitude but also adopt it, it makes it possible for us to see life in terms of God’s mercy and goodness too, for even through our suffering and death, He has not abandoned us (Psa. 118:25-27). He is still our God, and He still deserves our praise (Psa. 118:28).  Therefore, whatever adversity, whatever hardship, whatever pain, whatever grief, let us also respond with eternity in view and cry out to heaven, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 118:29).

Short and Sweet

Though the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117 is far from short on content. Beginning and ending with “Hallelujah,” including the Gentiles in the call for praise, and then combining the power of God’s love with the perseverance of God’s truth, the depth of meaning contained within this psalm far exceeds the natural expectations for two brief verses. And yet, even then, a consideration of the likely timing and focus of this psalm shines new light that proves worthy of reflection and deep meditation. Therefore, consider these words: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!” (Psa. 117:1-2).

Three times the psalm mentions the covenant name of God, Yahweh, which makes the opening appeal to Gentiles all the more interesting. Why would the psalmist, by inspiration, connect the covenant name of the LORD with the Gentiles with whom He had no such covenant? Why refer to “us” in verse two, which would have included the Jewish psalmist and therefore the Jews in a psalm calling on Gentiles to praise the LORD? What relationship would the truth of God’s revealed will have to the Gentiles who had no written revelation? When considered in its own time, the beauty of the psalm takes on a puzzling nature. However, its placement in the canon adds yet another dimension. This psalm occurs within the general framework of psalms associated with the return from captivity. Therefore, the attention given to Gentiles proves all the more striking. While some might consider these questions reasons to doubt the inspiration of the psalm, they actually shed light on its meaning.

This psalm acts as a perfect response to Judah’s return from captivity because it focuses on God’s greater purpose and the reason underlying their return in the first place. Therefore, as the Jews returned to their homeland after seventy years, as promised, the LORD once more demonstrated His faithfulness to the covenant despite Judah’s own failure. But that covenant had implications far beyond Judah, as God told Abraham, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The covenant made with Abraham was designed not only for Israel, but for all. Therefore, the covenant name of Yahweh stands as an important reminder of God’s intent to bless all nations. Thus, God included even those peoples who could not trace their physical origin back to Abraham in the blessing of peoples, as Paul would later emphasize to the Galatians (Gal. 3:26-29). The postexilic date puts the second verse in greater relief as well. The LORD extended His merciful kindness, His steadfast love, to His people. It indeed prevailed “toward us.” His love brought them back to fulfill their purpose as a people when their conduct alone would never have warranted it. But the LORD had promised not just to return them from captivity but to use them to bless others, and that truth endured in the mind and heart of God despite the sins of Judah and all mankind. The covenant thus pertained to all people—not just to the Jews. And their return from captivity proved that God had not forgotten His promise nor turned away from that established purpose. Imagine then, as Judah left Babylon after the decree of Cyrus, the psalm calling out to their former captors to praise the LORD!  What a scene! But it was appropriate because He was also doing it for them. Even more, it is only because of the enduring character of Jehovah God that salvation is possible for us today. “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!” (Psa. 117:1-2).

The LORD’s Servant

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just wanted a do over? Perhaps you, like I, have regretted saying things due to frustration or just lack of preparation and wanted to take those words back and start again. Or maybe a job or a relationship got off to a horrible start and you spend the rest of your time trying to make up for that bad beginning. In one way or another, we have all been there. But has the prospect of death ever visited you so strongly—whether due to illness, accident, or attack—that led you to reevaluate your priorities seriously or at least reflect on that moment enough to see life in a new light? Most of us have had close calls in automobile accidents. Many know what it is like to survive cancer. Some have returned from the heat of battle. And if we understand the blessing of life at all, such experiences ought to motivate us to engage in sober reflection on what life ought to be going forward.

The anonymous psalmist who penned Psalm 116 offers us just such a reflection. In a burst of emotion and joyous conviction, he calls attention to that moment when, desperate and with death looming over him like an enemy ready to strike, he called on the LORD for help (Psa. 116:1-4). However, as he then went on to explain the deliverance provided, he began with the LORD’s character: gracious, righteous, and merciful (Psa. 116:5-6). This perspective changed everything, for by it he saw his new lease on life as a bountiful blessing from the Lord that gave him new opportunity, drove away sorrow, and helped him get back on his feet—a series of blessings we often long for in the moment and yet forget after the crisis has passed (Psa. 116:7-8). Life goes on because the Lord has made that possible (Psa. 116:9). Then, turning his attention once more to what made this possible, he emphasizes that despite his circumstances, his faith in God never wavered, though his confidence in men most certainly did (Psa. 116:10-11). Therefore, having received deliverance through a positively answered prayer, the psalmist asks the question, “What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me?” (Psa. 116:12) and then proceeds to answer in the verses that follow, promising to accept this new opportunity at life as powerful proof of the LORD’s care and of how much He cherishes His people (Psa. 116:13-15). Thus, to be the Lord’s slave is a position of value one should cherish as well, for there is greater care and honor in serving God than in the greatest awards available for serving self (Psa. 116:16). The opportunity to offer something back to God, considering all that He has done for us, is a monumental blessing itself, a privilege that deserves publicity far and wide (Psa. 116:17-19).

God’s people, forgiven of their sins (Eph. 1:7; Acts 22:16), dead to the world (Col. 3:5ff), and living anew (Jn. 3:3-5; Rom. 6:3-4), should embrace this new life that makes living a privilege rather than just some random experience we muddle through. Perspective matters greatly—how you see yourself, your God, and others. So, if you want the best life (John 10:10),…

  1. Love the Lord with all your being as long as you live (Psa. 116:1-2).
  2. Recognize what only God can do (Psa. 116:3-4).
  3. Have confidence in God’s character and a humble attitude toward yourself and your need (Psa. 116:5-6).
  4. Be at peace and relax, knowing that God is in control and will take care of you, come what may (Psa. 116:7-8).
  5. Live each day knowing the LORD sees you so that you can live each day longing to—one day—see the LORD (Psa. 116:9).
  6. Have such a faith that adversity causes you to trust the Lord more—not less (Psa. 116:10-11).
  7. Recognize spiritual opportunity and seize it (Psa. 116:12-13).
  8. Take spiritual responsibilities—and life—seriously (Psa. 116:14-15).
  9. See yourself as a servant (Psa. 116:16).
  10. Live life with a thankful heart (Psa. 116:17-19).

These principles are nothing new; they are centuries old, rooted in the very nature of life as God created it. And that is what makes them worth living.

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