This poor man called on the LORD: Psalm 34


Today’s reading: Psalm 32-35.

This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. Psalm 34:6

Each person is bankrupt when it comes to purchasing salvation. However, no sooner does such a one receive the free gift of salvation, than they inherit all the riches of heaven. They become the child of a father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. No wonder David could say, “Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He meant that the person who recognized their spiritual poverty had taken an important step on their spiritual journey. Knowing they were bankrupt, could do nothing on their own to save themselves, and knowing they needed a savior, such a person would cry out to God, and God would answer them.

David was such a man. He depended on the LORD rather than human strength. He fought Goliath with God’s strength rather than his own. His report was, ” I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4). Listen then to David’s description of all God does for the person who cries out to him:

God will deliver them from their fears. Fear, like doubt, is an opponent to faith. When God removes our fear and doubt, faith can grow and faith brings all the substance we hope for.

They will not be ashamed. Shame comes from failure, exposure of weakness, and false accusations. When we are in a right relationship with God, our failings are forgiven, our weaknesses are replaced by His strength, and accusations fall away in the light of our eternal security as God’s child.

God will save them in times of trouble. The believer does not avoid trouble. Devotion to God can even be a source of tribulation. But God promises deliverance out of our troubles.

They will find refuge.  In the safety of God’s strong tower, in his fortress, where the angel of the LORD camps around us, we find blessing and escape condemnation.

God will provide for them. God will ensure that his people lack “no good thing.” They will find strength and sustenance. He will provide protection. He will give his presence and encourage them when they are brokenhearted.

 A cry is all that the poor man brought. He did not go through a long performance; he did not perform a laborious set of ceremonies—”This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” What can be simpler? Oh, you think you want a priest, do you?—a priest on whom a bishop has laid his hands? Or you dream that you must go to a holy place, a pile of stones put together in architectural form. Possibly you even dream that you must pine all through Lent, and not expect joy till you reach Easter. What folly is all this! You have but to cry, and the Lord will hear you. There is but one priest—even the Lord Jesus. There is but one holy place—his glorious person. There is but one holy time, and that is to-day. When the Spirit of God works a cry in the heart of the poor man, that cry climbs up to heaven by the way of Jacob’s ladder, and at the same instant mercy comes down by the same ladder. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that ladder which joins earth and heaven together; so that our prayers go up to heaven, and God’s mercy comes down to us on earth. Oh, that men would be content with the blessedly simple apparatus of grace: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles”!  Charles Spurgeon

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The Psalms are Songs: Psalm 27


Today’s reading: Psalms 26-31.

“The Psalms are the steady, sustained subcurrent of healthy Christian living. They shaped the praying and vocation even of Jesus himself. They can and will do the same for us. The Psalms do this, to begin with, simply because they are poetry set to music: a classic double art form… A poem (a good poem, at least) uses its poetic form to probe deeper into human experience than ordinary speech or writing is usually able to do, to pull back a veil and allow the hearer or reader to sense other dimensions.” N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms

Did you know that for two hundred years after John Calvin the Reformed churches used only the Psalms for their congregational singing? Reformed Presbyterians continue the practice of singing only Psalms to this day. Many familiar hymns come directly from a psalm, such as this one from Psalm 100:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

My earliest memory of a song based on Psalm 27 was the version by Frances Allitsen:

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom, then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom then shall I be afraid?
Though a host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid;
And tho’ there rose up war against me, yet will I put my trust in Him.
For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His tabernacle.
Yea, in the secret places of His dwelling shall He hide me,
And set me up upon a rock of stone.

Years later I learned a song by John Foley based on another portion of Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light the Lord is my shield,
Praise the Lord and the love He reveals:
Safe journey shelter and home,
Safe in the Lord alone!

Hear O Lord my cry to You.
Turn not away for You are my light,
Turn not Your face from me.

Seek Your face You said O Lord:
My Heart says to You,
Your face Lord I seek.
Hide not your face from me.

When I started listening to contemporary Christian music in the 80’s, Harvest was one of my favorite groups. They sang a song from Psalm 27:

One thing I ask of the Lord
One thing will I seek
That I will dwell in the House of the Lord
All my days

To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
And to seek Him in His Temple
Where no foe can cause me harm

Then will my head be lifted
Above my enemies
And in His Temple I will sacrifice
And make music to my Lord
One thing I ask, one thing will I sill seek in the world
Simply to know Him

I know there are many other songs based on Psalm 27. Do you have a favorite? Remember that singing the scriptures is one of the best ways to memorize them.

Image by Ann Powell Groner on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The King is Coming: Psalms 22


Today’s reading: Psalms 21-25.

There have been hints of the Messiah all through the Old Testament. In Genesis he is the offspring of the woman who will crush Satan’s head. In Exodus he is the Passover lamb. He is the greater prophet that Moses predicted. He is the kinsman redeemer of Ruth. He is the Captain of the LORD’s army who confronts Joshua. He is the redeemer and advocate whom Job longs for. These stray notes become a steady drumbeat in the Psalms as they reveal more and more about the Messiah’s character and the events of his life.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). Jesus quoted the opening of Psalm 22 on the cross. Though David composed it to reflect on a time of his own difficulty, Jesus applied it to himself on the cross. As he took on the sin of the whole world, God momentarily turned away from Jesus.

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'” (Psalm 22:6-8). An accurate description of the treatment Jesus received before and during his crucifixion. The religious leaders stood at the foot of the cross and taunted Jesus in exactly this manner.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:15-18). A detailed account of Jesus’ physical suffering. David foresees the crowds around the cross, the Messiah’s nail-pierced hands and feet, his dehydration and nakedness, and the activity of the soldiers dividing up his clothing.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– for he has done it. (Psalm 22:30-31). David looked forward 1000 years to Jesus’ victory through suffering. We can look back over the past 2000 years and see how he remains victorious, continuing to lead the lost to righteousness based on faith in his sacrifice for them.

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The Perfect Word: Psalm 19


Today’s reading: Psalms 17-20.

“It was necessary for our salvation that there be a knowledge revealed by God, besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because the human being is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason. ‘The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee’ (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.” Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas promoted the concepts of general and special revelation, also referred to as natural and divine revelation. We grasp God by our reason with general revelation, reasoning from the created world that there must be a creator. God directly reveals himself in special revelation through his spoken word (as to the prophets), by the written word (the Bible), and by the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 19 captures both of these revelations. It opens with the declaration of God’s glory by the created heavens, proclaiming the creator’s handiwork every day, in every language, and in every part of the earth. Paul therefore insisted, in Romans 1, that all people are without excuse for denying God. The psalm then moves on to God’s divine revelation by his written word:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. Psalm 19:7-10

The law revives. We are dead in our sin, but the law opens our eyes to our lost condition. Thus begins our journey toward salvation. The law, Paul said, is our teacher, educating us about our need for grace and forgiveness.

The statutes make the simple wise. In our natural condition we are prone to all kinds of mistakes and errors, and especially to scorn and mocking of God, but the Word takes away our foolishness.

The precepts give joy. Joy comes from loving God, and immersion in God’s word reveals him in all his glory so that we will love him.

The commands give light. God’s word is the light on our path, showing us where to go and what dangers to avoid.

The fear of the LORD is pure and everlasting. The Bible teaches us to live in awe and respect of God who reigns over all and will judge each man. Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, leading to submission to God, repentance, obedience, and eternal life.

The ordinances are sure and righteous. The sum of God’s word, revealed in the Old and New Testaments, enables us to take on the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, and shows us how no man can be righteous by his own effort.

Psalm 19 magnifies the power of both general and special revelation. Don’t neglect God’s word, and don’t fail to glorify God as you look at his wonderful creation.

Image by Food Thinkers on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0.

The Path of Life: Psalm 16


Today’s reading: Psalms 9-16.

There are circles in life – the cycle of the seasons, the circle of water from sea to cloud and back – but when it comes to people I think God much prefers the line to the circle. Our lives have a path, a direction, a trajectory, a beginning and end. God believes in new beginnings where grace enters through humility and forgiveness to set us back on the right path, but it is the same path. There are no Groundhog Day do-overs and no reincarnations. Time is moving without fail from the beginning of creation to the final day when God judges us all and brings time to an end. This is the only life, the only path, we have.

I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure… You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16:7-9, 11

The good news is that God has given us guides for our trek down that path. The entire Bible is a guide, and Psalm 16 is a good summary. Here are some of its tips to keep you on the trail:

  • put your trust in God rather than riches, persons, or any other earthly thing
  • count all other things of no value in comparison to God’s great value
  •  spend time with “the saints in the land,” godly men and women who can lead you by their example and from whom you can learn wisdom
  • avoid “other gods” such as materialism, selfishness, pleasure-seeking, addictions, excessive work
  • keep the LORD “always before” you, practicing the presence of God; that is, making a point to think about God’s will for you each hour of the day

 “We should establish ourselves in God’s presence by continually talking with him.” This is not as easy as it seems. It requires a certain discipline of mind whereby we put away idle thoughts, flights of imagination that take us away from reality, and train our minds to attend to the greatest of all realities: God among us. A real key to success in this matter is to be found in the second admonition: “We should feed our souls with lofty thoughts of God, and so find great joy in being with him.” This is an approach that must not be taken lightly. Without this second admonition the first will be very difficult. Since we cannot see God, the image we form of Him in our mind can make it so much easier to believe in His love for us and it is this belief that generates our response. This high notion of God, of His power, His mercy, His love also helps with the next rule: to enliven our faith, or as an older translation says, to quicken our faith. This is a matter of reminding ourselves of the reality of the invisible things we do not see and can know only by faith. To bring to mind that God is always with us, to picture Him beside us, walking in front of us or behind, waiting for us at the end of a path, but always present, this is to enliven our faith. 

Fr. Jerome Lantry, OCD, writing about Brother Lawrence


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So many stars: Psalm 8


Today’s reading: Psalms 1-8.

How many stars can you see in the sky? Under ideal conditions, about 2500. Almost every one of those stars lives in our own neighborhood, the Milky Way Galaxy. But it’s a huge neighborhood. The Milky Way Galaxy stretches out over 120,000 light years in diameter. It contains about 200 billion stars. And it’s only one of an estimated 170 billion galaxies in the visible universe. David didn’t know the number of stars when he wrote Psalm 8, but he was still awed by them (and I bet he saw many more stars in the dark skies of his time).

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. Psalm 8: 3-5

Psalms is usually thought of as being about the half-way point of the Bible, and I like this psalm for the way it looks back at all we’ve covered so far. But it troubles me for the difficulty in answering David’s question. Why does God, greater by far than the vast greatness of all the stars, take notice of me?

The psalm begins and ends with praise of God’s excellent name. In between it covers several of the themes of the Old Testament, including:

God’s preeminent position. He is beyond, over, and above everything. He existed before anything else.

Creation. The stars that amaze us were created by God, giving proof of his greatness.

Opposition. God’s praise goes forth to the consternation of his enemies, but those enemies exist. The same Satan who tempted Eve and troubled Job roams about today. Men and women who follow Satan’s lies also become enemies of God.

Man’s dominion. God’s mindfulness of man is a mystery, but his plan for man is clear. We are given stewardship of creation, to use it according to God’s will.

I don’t know why God cares so much about us, but I do know that he put the stars in the sky so that we would be awed by them and in turn praise him. When we glorify him, he inhabits our praise. The stars help make a home for the LORD in our hearts. Next time you have a chance, go out and gaze upon the night sky, and glorify God.

Image by j-dub 1980 on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Repentance and restoration: Job 42


Today’s reading: Job 40-42.

Prosperity is a painted window which shuts out much of the clear light of God and only when the blue and the crimson and the golden tinge are removed is the glass restored to its full transparency. Adversity thus takes away tinge and color and dimness and we see our God far better than before—if our eyes are prepared for the light. The Lord had taken everything away from Job, and this paved the way to His giving him more of Himself. In the absence of other goods the good God is the better seen. In prosperity God is heard and that is a blessing. But in adversity God is seen and that is a greater blessing.  Charles Spurgeon, Job Among the Ashes

Job’s suffering led him to the presence of God, and when he saw God he said, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” We know that Job’s suffering wasn’t due to any sin he had committed, so Job must be repenting of something he said or did while crying out for God to appear. God said to Job, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Spurgeon says that Job was repenting for the following:

  • cursing the day he was born
  • wishing to die
  • complaining about God
  • darkening wisdom by words without knowledge; that is, saying things that were beyond his ability to know

Whatever his sin, God forgave him. He condemned Job’s friends for their foolish words. He commanded them to make a sacrificial offering, and he asked Job to pray for his friends. Then something wonderful happened. I think the King James version captures it best.

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning… Job 42:10-12

The LORD turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends. God forgave Job when he repented. He restored Job when he prayed for his friends. All that he had lost – family, friends, fellowship, health, home, and happiness – came back to him. In addition, he now possessed a vision of God that he never had before, a vision of his presence in the midst of pain as well as prosperity.

“The greatest, the most important purposes were accomplished by this trial. Job became a much better man than he ever was before; the dispensations of God’s providence were illustrated and justified; Satan’s devices unmasked; patience crowned and rewarded; and the church of God greatly enriched by having bequeathed to it the vast treasury of divine truth which is found in the Book of Job.”  Adam Clarke

“We are not all like Job, but we all have Job’s God. Though we have neither risen to Job’s wealth, nor will, probably, ever sink to Job’s poverty, yet there is the same God above us if we be high, and the same God with his everlasting arms beneath us if we be brought low; and what the Lord did for Job he will do for us, not precisely in the same form, but in the same spirit, and with like design.” Charles Spurgeon

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