Category Archives: Psalms

Rich Fulfillment

Everyone has a story. You probably will have to ask. And you may need to ask some questions. But everyone who has lived for a reasonable time upon this earth has a story. All of us have endured heartache at some time. All of us have faced adversity. All of us have borne injustice in some way. All of us have had our trials. But when we see people for brief snapshots of their lives, we can make the mistake of assuming that they have had it easy—or at least easier than we have. We look at the person who has an advanced degree or successful business, or perhaps both, and we assume that they cannot understand suffering. Likewise, we sometimes see a person who is knowledgeable and forget the story of the work it took to accumulate that knowledge. We meet people who seem to have their lives together and presume that they have never faced a significant challenge. Upon reflection, we would likely recognize the folly of these passing thoughts. But in the moment, especially when we ourselves are dealing with trials, remembering others have a story can be particularly difficult.

The same principle holds true for groups of people—nations, businesses, congregations. It can be easy to forget the story of people who made our current situation even possible. How many people regularly cite their first amendment rights when burning a flag but remain completely ignorant of the people who designed that flag and wrote and voted for that amendment? How many employees have little appreciation for how much work it took for the business that pays them to get off the ground and succeed at all? And how many Christians appreciate previous generations who studied, evangelized, taught, took a stand, accepted ostracization from the world, established congregations, built buildings, and welcomed them in?

The sixty-sixth psalm is a call for joyous worship and praise to God for what He did to make their lives possible (Psa. 66:1-4). But in doing so, the psalmist recounts the challenges Israel faced as a people in the beginning (Psa. 66:5-7). For preserving them to that day, the psalmist gave thanks to the God “Who keeps our soul among the living” (Psa. 66:8-9). How did He do this and for what did the psalmist say He was worthy of praise? “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psa. 66:10-12, emphasis mine, KWR). Because of this, God more than deserved praise, worship, and thanksgiving (Psa. 66:13-20). Rich fulfillment. In the days of David, when Israel reached a high point, politically and spiritually, finally there was perspective. All of the trials existed to chasten them from their sin and error and prepare them for further growth. And in the end, when they persevered, there was rich fulfillment. But it was important for the people in the time of David to appreciate the past, Israel’s story, so that they never took for granted what was theirs to enjoy. This remains true for all of us. We will have trials in life. We will have challenges. We will have adversity. Therefore, we must persevere. And we can do it with confidence, because rich fulfillment awaits us when we come out of the desert, travel through the valley, and finally reach the mountaintop. You have a story, but the ending has yet to be written. But if you seek God and His will, and remain faithful to Him, whatever else you may face in life, you can indeed enjoy rich fulfillment.

The Privilege of Providence

We take far too many things for granted today. We wake up in the morning and do not consider how that can even happen—and be refreshed. We enjoy running water, easy access to food of all kinds, indoor plumbing, instant communication around the world, advanced warning of and preparedness for many natural disasters, personalized music choices, electric lighting, a closet full of clothes, mobile phones, central air and heating—the list could go on and on! And while some people do not share all of these things, they likely have a list just as impressive in its own way. In fact, from the view of history, most of the things cited above are extremely new to civilization. In some places it has become common to use all these items as evidence of some inherent character flaw in society. Society has its problems, but the items listed above are not among them. Instead, they offer evidence of just how blessed we are. And that is why we cannot afford to take them for granted.

Three thousand years ago, before any of the aforementioned luxuries existed, David recognized this same principle and turned to God as the One worthy of praise (Psa. 65:1-2). And even then David saw that the greatest blessings he enjoyed were God’s willingness to forgive sin and accept worship on His terms (Psa. 65:3-4). He had confidence in God’s righteousness, salvation, and help because He took the time to notice what God had already done in His creation (Psa. 65:5). David looked at the mountains and was awed by them (Psa. 65:6). He looked at the seas on either side of the land and saw a God in control of them (Psa. 65:7), as He is over all the earth (Psa. 65:8). He recognized that man does not provide the water and the grain that provides for farmers to grow food. God does (Psa. 65:9-10), and He does so for man’s benefit and for the land’s (Psa. 65:11-12). He saw firsthand how God provides animals for food, as well as crops, and also provides what is necessary for them to grow and flourish (Psa. 65:13). And all these things remain true today.

Some children honestly believe that their food comes from a grocery store. They have no concept of a farm or dairy. Such reports often receive attention in social media, sometimes to make fun of the child, sometimes to make fun of the schools, or sometimes to expose a problem. But many people today cannot see that all of this and more actually comes from God who blesses and blesses again. He chose not to care for us miraculously throughout the ages but chose to work providentially through nature, but that does not negate the love, care, and attention that went into His provision, and it should not dampen, in any way, our thankfulness to Him. David saw these things as worthy of praise and further evidence of what God can do for us spiritually. We would do well to do the same.

From Fear to Fear

Christianity is under attack. Of this there can be no doubt. While some Christians remain oblivious to this or somehow believe they are immune to its effects, the growing reality in the world and in this country warns of dark days ahead for all those who seek to be true to the cause of Christ. The very real threat of direct attacks that lie an ocean away, seen in the kidnappings perpetrated by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, the bombings directed against those professing a faith in Christ in Egypt, and the persecution perpetrated by ISIS in Syria may seem limited and unrelated by some, but they reveal a pattern that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the subtle path Satan took for decades, stripping morality and Christian values from the cultural conscience and thereby slowing but surely pushing Christianity into the background through both court decisions and legislation, has now evolved into an open advocacy for immorality and secular humanism and an open hostility toward morality and Christian values and expression. But in this we are not alone. Others have gone through similar situations throughout the centuries. Even David, long ago, felt the pain of seeing wickedness seemingly triumph, and his response offers perspective and hope.

In his reflection recorded in the sixty-fourth psalm, David found himself thrust outside of his kingdom by the plotting of his own son, Absalom. However, David accepted this with dignity despite the sense of fear that loomed throughout it all. Instead of letting his fear control him, he turned to God in faith and prayed for deliverance and safety in the midst of the storm (Psa. 64:1-2). David had to listen to personal attacks, both verbal and physical, as the forces with Absalom took advantage of their newfound power to express their wickedness (Psa. 64:3-4). How sad that such brazenness so often accompanies evil when it comes to power (Psa. 64:5-6). Regardless, God’s people can have assurance that God Himself will address the evil in a manner so sudden that no one will expect it (Psa. 64:7). On His own timetable He will bring them down (Psa. 64:8), so that while they sought to have men fear them while they feared no one, in the end, men will come to fear God (Psa. 64:9).

This must be our confidence too. We may not know how or when God will bring down those who promote wickedness from an evil heart, but we can know with certainty that He will. They may take the country down with them, but they will fall from their lofty sense of self-importance, and the eternal kingdom of God will still stand (Dan. 2:44; Matt. 16:18-19). Therefore, “The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and trust in Him. And all the upright in heart shall glory” (Psa. 64:10). The cause of Christ may not now be popular, morality may not be appreciated, and persecution may be our plight, but the rejection of the world does not define us. In fact, more than ever, our faith must speak from a heart dedicated more than ever to the truth and to our God. There may be many reasons to fear in the upcoming years, but our fear of God should trump them all.

Spiritual Maturity

Most of us have been there. Pushed to the edge of our ability to cope, emotionally and physically exhausted, and feeling overwhelmed from the pressure, we lose our cool and lash out. Or perhaps we just grow frustrated and impatient with the process. However, the self-control, perspective, and peace that spiritual maturity offer grow us beyond even these feelings when life is not going our way. David wrote many psalms where he acknowledged being overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient, and exhausted, though gradually turning to his faith to address these negative feelings. However, despite circumstances that mirrored many of his earlier challenging situations, in Psalm 63 David responded with positivity and faith from the very first line of the psalm. Written during his self-imposed exile following Absalom’s palace coup, David expressed a peace that many people long for in life but few find. And it demonstrates just how much David had grown spiritually throughout his life. Therefore, when we can develop the same spiritual perspective, we can handle anything that Satan sends our way.

Spiritual maturity begins with making God your priority. In everything. All the time. Learn to long for God and a deeper relationship with Him. It is when you know how much you need Him not only in times of trouble but also in times of plenty that you begin to appreciate Him properly. This is when we truly draw near to God (Jas. 4:8) and begin to think of Him as “my God” (Psa. 63:1-2). Spiritual maturity is content with the spiritual (Phil. 4:11). When you truly see the depth of God’s love, expressed in so many ways, as greater not only than anything in this life, but even “better than life” itself, then your relationship with Him and responding with love for Him takes on personal meaning and personal importance (Psa. 63:3-5). The spiritually mature meditate on God. They can spend hours counting up all the ways God has cared for them and blessed them. They do not doubt God is there to help because they have come to understand God so well (Psa. 63:6-8). The more you mature spiritually, the less concerned you become about what will happen to you in this life and what will happen in the world around you, including those set on evil, because you trust God’s justice to govern the world and to care for your soul (Psa. 63:9-10). Following this path, spiritual maturity leads you to find joy in God and have confidence that everything will turn out right in the end (Psa. 63:11).

Spiritual maturity manifests itself in many ways. It will exhibit itself in consistent and heartfelt worship (Jn. 4:23-24), in dedicated and sincere service (Rom. 12:1), and in passionate morality and holiness (Eph. 4:17-24). Such maturity will hold itself far away from the works of the flesh and cling to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-24). Without a doubt, love for God and for others will dominate the heart, life, and motivation of the spiritually mature (Matt. 22:37-40). However, the true test of maturity in one’s spirituality comes when conflict, pressure, and even pain confront the spiritual heart to provoke a response. Thus, our goal in maturing spiritually must center on handling a crisis in the world well—not sitting amongst the saints contentedly. Jesus displayed spiritual maturity in many ways throughout His life, but nowhere was it tested as it was when He was beaten, humiliated, and crucified. The love shown on the cross is the height of spiritual maturity, and it is this to which we should all aspire.

I Shall Not Be Moved

Adversity exists as a great constant in life. While its form may change and though its impact may vary, always it remains, lurking in the shadows, ever ready to pounce and create misery at a moment’s notice. It challenges marriages as a couple is forced to confront differences and overcome selfishness. It challenges congregations, whether through doctrinal conflict or moral failures. It challenges individuals, introducing health problems, grief, financial issues, and personal conflict, all in an effort to create internal conflict, doubt, anger, and depression. Life does not always go your way. In fact, it rarely does completely. There is almost always some lingering issue that demands attention and distracts from the manifold blessings God bestows. This is the nature of this world. It is a world in conflict. It is a world of conflict. And we are living in it. Therefore, facing adversity, keeping adversity in perspective, and overcoming adversity are essential to success in life.
David knew adversity—even as a king. He knew the depths to which it can plunge a man, but he also understood that there is life and joy beyond the heartache and pain. While he wrote many psalms in the midst of adversity and while under great duress, in Psalm 62 we find the calm possible—even facing adversity—when trusting God determines behavior. Satan uses problems to attempt to move us from faith to doubt, from peace to agitation, and from trust to fear. He attempts a siege of the soul in order to force a surrender, but the key to survival is not giving in but in looking up (Psa. 62:1-2). We must develop our faith to remain centered and strong despite the problems we face, so that we never give in to Satan’s pressure but take a stand for God with the confidence that He will ultimately deliver from the trial. Standing firm in the face of adversity requires seeing the world and its answers as the spiritual attacks that they are. Thus, God’s people persevere, accepting the hardship rather than compromising the cause (Psa. 62:3-4). In David’s repetition we can hear the reply to his detractors and to Satan himself: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved” (Psa. 62:5-6). We need not turn to worldly allies and answers; we have no need to consult worldly experts and opinions; for in God we have the only ally we need. The faith of the weak crumbles at the slightest foray made by worldly assertions, but the faithful know that God alone offers true strength, real refuge, and genuine hope (Psa. 62:7). Knowing this, we can face adversity with the calm assurance that God deserves our trust “at all times,” including throughout life’s challenges, and that when we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer, He not only listens but also provides a place of protection for our hearts (Psa. 62:8).

Men cannot provide the assurance that they often think. They trust in their power, in their wealth, and in themselves. These surely are unworthy of trust (Psa. 62:9-10). But God has the power to do all that He has promised. The divine word, once spoken, carries more weight than the greatest oratory man can offer, for God alone can deliver—without exception—on every promise made (Psa. 62:11). And one promise that is worth our consideration every time life presents us with a challenge is that our choices, our behavior, our trust, make a difference with God. He is a God of mercy and care, and the determination to do His will in the face of adversity will be rewarded (Psa. 62:12).

Overwhelmed

At this very moment, as I write, I lose count of the number of people I know and love that are facing challenges and trials in life that break my heart. Some are battling cancer—again. Some find themselves fighting the malice of others just to stay employed. Some cannot seem to catch a break financially. Some are weighed down by the sorrow of their children. Some overcome one obstacle only to find themselves confronted with yet another. Some are just trying to put their lives back together again after losing everything and—it sometimes seems—everyone. The harsh realities of life can be cold and heartless. They remind us daily that life is not fair. And yet, regardless, we feel overwhelmed by these burdens, overwhelmed at the challenge of having to start over yet again, and overwhelmed by the heartache we feel for loved ones whom we cannot help as we would like. These may seem like generic words, but only because they respect the privacy of people living with the details.

Situations such as these are humbling—not only to those involved, but also to all those who wish to help and yet feel so helpless. Sadly, it is only when confronted with the desperation of our own smallness that we truly come to appreciate the grandeur of God. We can only do so much, you and I, to solve a problem, to propose a solution, to offer counsel. The longer I live the more often it seems like I have less advice to offer people in their struggles and the more I simply promise to pray. They are overwhelmed, and so am I. But that simple recognition provides the bridge to a greater faith.

When David found himself in a circumstance too difficult to bear, he too felt the emotional weight of his situation and came to the same conclusion. “Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psa. 61:1-2). These words, both beautiful and powerful, offer hope to all who have endured a similar experience. When your heart is overwhelmed, remember that others have been there too—frustrated, emotional, and unsure of what to do next. Remember, like David, to pray your heart out. Do not be afraid to open up to God about your fears, because He knows them already. Pray with a confidence that He does listen, that He does care, and that He can help. Most of all, remember that you cannot do it all on your own. Your own resources can only take you so far. That is the beauty of David’s request, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” There are times when the pathway out of darkness and despair is murky and unclear, but God can provide what you need to rise above the fray and emerge from the darkness to find peace, safety, and serenity once more.

We are all overwhelmed by our circumstances from time to time. We all have to suffer and endure pain—physical, emotional, and spiritual—as we journey through life. But God is never overwhelmed. He can handle all our problems, calm all our fears, and lift all our burdens. When I think of all the pain that those close to me are having to endure, it hurts so deeply that I cannot do more to help, but I am so thankful that I serve a God who can.

Put Your Banner on Display

After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, a tremendous change came over the nation as a whole, if only for a time. In a show of commemoration and patriotism, millions began displaying the American flag daily and sometimes more prominently outside their homes, wearing flag lapel pins, and placing flags and other similar accoutrements on their vehicles. People bought patriotic apparel like never before. For that brief time, showing a love for America became fashionable again. However, for some this proved short-lived. At the first sign of trouble in the war against terrorism, criticism returned and flags began disappearing. When the next election cycle rolled around, such obvious displays became a dividing point once more rather than a gesture of unity. Today, as memories fade and a new generation appears, the motivations for that quick wave of patriotism, and the courage and comfort it provoked, have been forgotten and treated as relics of a bygone era.

During David’s reign in Israel, a people who had once shared in great victories were showing signs of doubt. Thus, when David reflected on this time in his country, he recognized that the people had lost faith and thus were suffering from not having God with them (Psa. 60:1-3). He then followed this statement of sadness with a statement of faith. He spoke to God, saying, “You have given a banner to those who fear You, That it may be displayed because of the truth” (Psa. 60:4). A banner, you might have guessed, refers to a flag, a symbol of identity, unity, and understanding. Therefore, while David saw Israel’s problems in terms of their neglect of God and His subsequent allowing of consequences to set in, he also recognized that the answer was found in displaying greater faith in God and His truth. God then indeed answered his cry and delivered Israel in tremendous fashion (Psa. 60:5-12), as the preface to the psalm bears witness.

However, the application for today is not political but spiritual. In the same sense that, over time, Americans lost their original fervor for displaying their flag, many Christians have lost their original fervor for putting their own banner on display. Rather than openly living and speaking of their faith in Christ and the truth of the gospel, many have been reduced to silently creeping about, admitting their allegiance only when necessary due to the climate created by political correctness and the promotion of immorality through the courts. Nevertheless, whatever the climate and whatever the situation, as God’s people we should put the banner of the cross on display unashamed (Rom. 1:16). We should never allow the world to reduce our faith to quiet attendance in worship and a few odd symbols of faith here and there. Instead, we must become like David and realize that a return to boldness is the path to victory and greater days ahead. This may not be easy. Indeed, persecution may follow. But the more we put the truth on display, the more souls can be saved, and the more God can be glorified. We have forgotten what it means to let our light shine and have hidden it under a bushel for too long (Matt. 5:14-16). So let us gain courage from David, and put our banner on display for all to see. There is no reason to be ashamed of the gospel and every reason to proclaim it. We are all to be flag-bearers, leading the way into battle and gladly declaring our identity and the rightness of our cause. This is what our culture needs. And, interestingly enough, it is what we need as well.