Praying God’s goodness: Psalm 86


Today’s reading: Psalms 86-89.

David’s prayer in Psalm 86 is full of praise, but that makes perfect sense. God has promised to dwell in the praise of his people. We never pray better than when we speak with a mouth full of praise, and our praises are never greater than when we magnify the character of God. David fills his psalm with accounts of God’s goodness, and we would do well to remember his list when we pray.

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. Psalm 86:5-8

His goodness and love.  “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

His faithfulness.  “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”

His works that exceed all other’s.  “no deeds can compare with yours… For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.”

His provision of eternal life.  “For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

His abounding in grace towards us. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

David’s psalm isn’t only a song of praise, but his praise paves the way for his requests. One of them I can sympathize with, for I have prayed it often. “Give me a sign of your goodness.” David prays it to confound his enemies. I pray it to bolster my own faith. David’s main request for himself is so similar to a statement from the gospels that it sounds like Jesus: “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart.” Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life. An undivided heart, a heart united and undistracted in its devotion to God, is the surest guarantee of the abundant life Jesus made possible.

But if the heart be united for God, then we may say of such a Christian, as was said of a young Roman, “What he does is done with all his might.” A man of only one design, puts out all his strength to carry it; nothing can stand before him. Sincerity brings a man’s will into subjection to the will of God; and this being done, the greatest danger and difficulty is over with such a man. This is that holy oil which makes the wheels of the soul run nimbly, even in the difficult paths of obedienee. –John Flavel.

Image by Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr, CC by 2.0

From strength to strength: Psalm 84


Today’s reading: Psalms 80-85. 

Sometimes when backpacking through dry country, you must store water at a strategic point so that it’s waiting for you. You’re very dependent on the water that’s been put there ahead of you. What if, instead, as you traveled along, you left supplies of water behind you for others? That’s what seems to be happening in Psalm 84.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7

The pilgrims are on the way to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. Their trek takes them through the Valley of Baca, which may have been a literal place or may have stood for any of the struggles they faced on their journey. It is, perhaps, a dry and desert valley, or it may be a sorrowful place of weeping. What’s clear is the condition of the pilgrims as they travel through this dry land.

  • They travel in God’s strength and not their own.
  • Their desire is for God above all other things.
  • Wells of blessing spring up around them as they move along, even in the desert.
  • God works through nature or circumstances to multiply the effect of these blessings.
  • They build upon each success, not falling back into old ways or staying at the same level, but advancing further because of their accomplishments.

Many people interpret this pilgrimage through the Valley of Baca as a metaphor for our journey through life. It has its share of dry spells and tears, but the believer who is intent on journeying Godward takes those tears and turns them into springs of blessing. The blessings aren’t just for them but for everyone who comes their way. They are helping turn the desert into a garden. Of course it’s God who is doing it, but the believer is the tool God uses to dig these wells in the desert.

The most compelling part of this process is the journey from strength to strength. It’s not a difficult idea to grasp. We do it every time we climb a ladder or a mountain. We keep climbing higher instead of falling back down. It’s much harder to carry out in life, however. Think of a few areas where we fail to go from strength to strength:

  • We resist a temptation once, but then give in to it the next time.
  • We develop a good habit of Bible study then abandon it.
  • We learn to pray and then don’t practice praying.
  • We trust God in one area of life, perhaps finances, but don’t trust him in another area, such as witnessing.
  • We express the fruit of the spirit in one area of our life, such as kindness, but never develop the fruit of self-control.

How do we succeed in advancing from one strength to the next? Start by realizing you haven’t arrived. Your journey is underway but you aren’t at your destination and you won’t get there unless you keep advancing (I’m thinking in terms of sanctification here, not salvation). Keep your eye on the destination and that will help motivate you and direct you. Don’t go down or back; keep going up. Build on what you accomplish instead of accepting it as the goal. Also, don’t try to make this trip by yourself. The pilgrims traveled in companies, and surely one of the greatest joys of the journey was the fellowship they shared. If there is any secret to finding water in the desert, it is that we find it with other believers.

So far from being wearied they gather strength as they proceed. Each individual becomes happier, each company becomes more numerous, each holy song more sweet and full. We grow as we advance if heaven be our goal. If we spend our strength in God’s ways we shall find it increase. – Charles Spurgeon

Image by Beyond the Trail on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

A failure of leadership: Psalm 78


Today’s reading: Psalms 78-79.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. – John Maxwell

The Psalmist would add to Maxwell’s maxim, “A leader is one who tells his children the way.” From the days of the wilderness wandering God had commanded his people to teach their children the law of the LORD and the history of his mighty deeds (Deuteronomy 6). This wasn’t ego-stroking on God’s part; it was necessary for the survival of the Jewish people as a nation. It was the most important step in passing the baton of faith to the next generation.

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers– a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him. The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle… Psalm 78:5-9

The men of Ephraim failed in their leadership. They were the preeminent tribe coming out of Egypt, a son of Joseph like Manasseh, but chosen and blessed over Manasseh by Jacob. The great General, Joshua, who led Israel as it conquered Canaan, was an Ephraimite. For 400 years the tabernacle stood in the territory of Ephraim at Shiloh. But the men of Ephraim failed to maintain their position. They failed to pass the baton. How? The Psalmist says they failed to instruct their children. As a result the chief position passed to Judah, and Jerusalem, its chief city, became the site of the temple.

The Psalmist begins Psalm 78 by saying it is a parable or proverb. The story of Ephraim’s failure is meant to teach us a lesson. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson modern-day Christians have forgotten or never learned. We are the leaders who must pass the baton of faith to the next generation. We do that by teaching our children God’s word and his mighty works. We can’t leave that to others, even the church. We must do it, and many in the last century have failed to do it. If we will do it, God declares that:

  • Each generation will continue to pass their faith along to the next
  • Each generation will put their trust in God and be obedient to him

Thou must not only praise God thyself, but endeavour to transmit the memorial of his goodness to posterity. Children are their parent’s heirs; it were unnatural for a father, before he dies, to bury up his treasure in the earth where his children should not find or enjoy it; now the mercies of God are not the least part of a good man’s treasure, nor the least of his children’s inheritance, being both helps to their faith, matter for their praise, and spurs to their obedience… Indeed, as children are their parents heirs, so they become in justice liable to pay their parents’ debts: now the great debt which the saint at death stands charged with, is that which he owes to God for his mercies, and, therefore, it is but reason he should tie his posterity to the payment thereof. Thus mayest thou be praising God in heaven and earth at the same time. – William Gurnall.

image by Nguyen Vu Hung on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The years of the right hand of the Most High: Psalm 77


Today’s reading: Psalms 74-77.

 Days of trouble must be days of prayer; when God seems to have withdrawn from us, we must seek him till we find him. – Matthew Henry

Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. Sometimes it isn’t just a little rain that falls into every life; sometimes it’s a flood. Not to be a pessimist, but all of us have faced problems in our past, are dealing with them now, or will confront them in our future. At those times we tend to struggle with doubt. Why is God letting this happen to me? Where is he, anyway? The Psalmist experienced the same struggle, and expressed his anguish in a personal way as the Psalms always do:

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” “Selah” Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  Psalm 77:7-10

Have you experienced the years of the right hand of the Most High? That time when God showed his power strongly, when he did the miraculous, when he delivered? The Psalmist didn’t say that he had seen it himself, but he remembered what others had told him about God’s strength and might, and by faith he claimed God’s power over his own trouble.

He looked at God’s work instead of his own worries. If we only look down at our problems, they can overwhelm us. If we look up instead and focus on all that God has done – for us, for those we know, for those revealed in the Bible – we will find hope and faith to deal with our fears and face our problems.

He remembered God’s character and his own crisis faded. The Psalmist remembered God’s holiness and greatness. Because he is holy he will do what is right. Because he is great he is able to do it. We could add to the list God’s qualities of mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness, and compassion. God’s character doesn’t banish problems, but these qualities give us assurance that he will help us overcome our trial.

He knew God delivered and that calmed his doubt. The Psalmist lived in a nation that had come out of slavery and across a sea of water and wilderness. The land and people around him spoke loudly of God’s previous work on their behalf. God had delivered before; he would deliver again.

The Psalmist closed by saying, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” That describes our days of trouble well. We find ourselves up to our necks in rough waters, and God provides a way of escape, but he remains unseen. He has done it before for me. He will do it again for you.

The hound, when he hath lost his scent, hunts backwards and so recovers it, and pursues his game with louder cry than ever. Thus, Christian, when thy hope is at a loss, and you question your salvation in another world, then look backward and see what God hath already done for thee. Some promises have their day of payment here, and others we must stay to receive in heaven. – William Gurnall

Image by Colin Davis on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Life isn’t fair: Psalm 73


Today’s reading: Psalms 70-73.

An elderly missionary couple returned home to the U.S. by steamship after many years abroad. A political dignitary happened to be on board and was given a hero’s welcome as the ship came into port. One of the missionaries grew bitter and complained, “This isn’t fair. Where’s our welcome?” “Don’t worry,” said the other, “we’re not home yet.”

There are many things that happen in life that aren’t fair. The privileged advance because of connections rather than merit. Strong men take advantage of the weak. Those in power take advantage of their position for personal profit. It’s enough to make anyone cynical, but, like the missionaries, Christians must take an eternal perspective and realize that things will be made right when we get “home.” That’s what the Psalmist kept telling himself.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalms 73: 21-26

He was upended by envy. He couldn’t help looking at the wealth of the wicked and wanting some for himself. “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.” 

He was discouraged by comparison. He couldn’t be content with God’s provision because he kept looking at the riches of others. “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.”

His lack of understanding made him uneasy. He tried to explain the situation from a purely human point of view, and ended up feeling oppressed by the wicked.

Then he entered the sanctuary and remembered the eternal destiny of every man. Only then did the Psalmist understand how to avoid envy, remain hopeful, and trust God to handle the problem.

  • “Whom have I in heaven but you?” God rules in eternity. This life quickly passes and gives way to a greater spiritual reality where all wrongs will be made right.
  • “Earth has nothing I desire besides you.” In the light of eternity, everything on earth pales in comparison to God. Material things will always tug at our heart, but those material things are temporary. We cannot keep them for long. Hold them lightly, but hold tight to God.
  • “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Even my own body is fading away, but my spirit is God’s and will be with him forever. The wicked, however, will be separated from God forever.

When you feel envious of the wicked, or discouraged by those who are better off than you, take time to do a reality check. The things they have are passing away. Your faith will bring you home to God, and his blessings will never end.

 Though the wicked are in prosperity, and are not in trouble as other men; yet the godly, though in affliction, are in a state infinitely better, because they have God for their portion. They need desire nothing else: he that hath God hath all… They are blessed in God in this world, in that he guides them by his counsel; and when he takes them out of it they are still happy, in that he receives them to glory. – Jonathan Edwards

Image by Runar Pedersen Holkestad on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Let me tell you what he has done for me: Psalm 66


Today’s reading: Psalms 66-69.

It’s easy to argue about facts that someone puts forward as supposed truth. It’s much harder to argue against someone’s own actual experience. Maybe that’s why there’s so much power in a personal testimony. It’s your eyewitness account of what God has done in your life. If you’ve never taken the time to write down the story of God’s salvation work in your own life, now is the time to do it. The Psalmist did just that in Psalm 66.

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! Psalm 66:16-20

He started by praising God.  “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!'”

He continued by sharing what God had done for others.   “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot– come, let us rejoice in him.” The Psalmist told about God’s miraculous actions during the exodus from Egypt. We can share about the amazing things God has done for believers in our family, or church, or share stories of God’s provision throughout history.

He finished by telling what God had done for him. The Psalmist was in trouble. He cried out to God, who answered his prayer and poured out his love. There are many ways of telling your testimony, but here’s a three-part outline that I learned long ago:

  • Start by describing what your life was like before God saved you.
  • Tell how you encountered the truth about God. Where were you? How old were you? Who shared the message of salvation with you? This is a good place in your testimony to share a brief summary of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • Finish by sharing how God changed you. What did you receive when you were made new in Christ? What did God get rid of? What good things came out of being born again?

I was a very shy and self-centered teenager before I learned the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ. I had always gone to church, and I knew about Jesus, but I did not know him personally. I had no relationship with him. Then I heard a group of young singers called The New Direction share something I had never heard before. They told me I was a sinner and my sin separated me from God. I needed forgiveness to have a right relationship with God and enter heaven when I died.  When Jesus died on the cross he paid the penalty for my sin. If I put my faith in him, I would be forgiven, would become a new person through the Holy Spirit living in me, and would have eternal life. That night I asked God to forgive my sin, and by faith I believed that Jesus’ death on the cross ensured my salvation. From that day on God has been working in me to take away my shyness and selfishness. He gave me the confidence of knowing that he would help me through whatever trials I faced. He gave me a desire to know his word and teach it to others. He has blessed me and answered my prayers. He has always been faithful.

Do you have a testimony to share? Please write and tell me what the LORD has done for you.

Image by Jesus Army on Wikimedia Commons, CC by 2.5

Only and Surely: Psalm 62


Today’s reading: Psalms 58-65.

If you need security, salvation, support, rescue, refuge, or redemption, then only in God will your soul find it, and surely God will supply it.

 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2

Spurgeon called Psalm 62 the “Only Psalm” because David used the word six times in this short song. The word could also mean surely. My soul only (surely) finds rest in God. He only (surely) is my rock and my salvation. God is our only refuge, but he is a sure refuge. My enemies surely intend to throw me down, but they can only intend to do it. God will rescue me. Men, whether high or low, are only a breath, but God will surely reward each man for what he does on earth.

Only and Surely is a testimony to strengthen your faith. When God alone could have done something, then surely he did do it. There was a time a few years ago when my wife and I traveled to another church to help with a renewal service for the church members. The church had built a small prayer chapel outside the main building, and everyone said we had to go see how beautiful it was before we left. On our way home we stopped by the chapel, only to find it occupied by a group going on a medical mission trip. Not knowing me at all they blurted out, “We’re going to Haiti and we need a doctor to go with us.” In fact they were leaving in a month and had no doctor to go with them. Only God could have arranged such a meeting that led to my going as the doctor for their trip, and surely he did do it.

Only and Surely is a reminder that nothing else can substitute for God. We may try to fill up God’s place with money, but it cannot buy what we really need. We may try to use men to fulfill our desires, but people are no more substantial than breath and are gone almost as quickly.

Only and Surely tells us about God’s strength and love. God alone has the power to save us from sin and death. Because God loves us, he has surely made a way out of the shadow of death and into his glorious light.

Where will you find what you most need? Only in God. Will you find it in Him? You surely will!


Image by arbyreed on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0