Psalm 107 and the Many Ways of God

group-of-peopleGod connects with people in many different ways, and God uses the best means for a certain person’s situation to work in someone’s life. This goes for those who are already in Christ, growing in grace, and those who are not yet Christian, those whom God is seeking. Psalm 107 shows four different ways God seeks people in order to redeem them. They are separated into four categories–those who have wandered and gotten lost, those who are depressed, those who have sinned, and those who were going about their lives without thought to God:

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
        because his faithful love lasts forever!”
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
    the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
    the ones God gathered from various countries,
    from east and west, north and south.

Some of the redeemed had wandered into the desert, into the wasteland.
    They couldn’t find their way to a city or town.
They were hungry and thirsty;
    their lives were slipping away.
So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God delivered them from their desperate circumstances.
    God led them straight to human habitation.
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people,
    because God satisfied the one who was parched with thirst,
    and he filled up the hungry with good things!

10 Some of the redeemed had been sitting in darkness and deep gloom;
    they were prisoners suffering in chains
11     because they had disobeyed God’s instructions
    and rejected the Most High’s plans.
12 So God humbled them with hard work.
    They stumbled, and there was no one to help them.
13 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
14 God brought them out from the darkness and deep gloom;
    he shattered their chains.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people,
16     because God has shattered bronze doors
    and split iron bars in two!

17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
    They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
    they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
    he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
    and declare what God has donein songs of joy!

23 Some of the redeemed had gone out on the ocean in ships,
    making their living on the high seas.
24 They saw what the Lord had made;
    they saw his wondrous works in the depths of the sea.
25 God spoke and stirred up a storm
    that brought the waves up high.
26 The waves went as high as the sky;
    they crashed down to the depths.
The sailors’ courage melted at this terrible situation.
27     They staggered and stumbled around like they were drunk.
    None of their skill was of any help.
28 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances.
29 God quieted the storm to a whisper;
    the sea’s waves were hushed.
30 So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down;
    then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
32 Let them exalt God in the congregation of the people
    and praise God in the assembly of the elders.

33 God turns rivers into desert,
    watery springs into thirsty ground,
34     fruitful land into unproductive dirt,
        when its inhabitants are wicked.
35 But God can also turn the desert into watery pools,
    thirsty ground into watery springs,
36     where he settles the hungry.
They even build a city and live there!
37     They plant fields and vineyards
    and obtain a fruitful harvest.
38 God blesses them, and they become many.
    God won’t even let their cattle diminish.
39 But when they do diminish—
    when they’re brought down by oppression, trouble, and grief—
40     God pours contempt on their leaders,
        making them wander aimlessly in the wastelands.
41 But God raises the needy from their suffering;
    he makes their families as numerous as sheep!

42 Those who do right see it and celebrate,
    but every wicked person shuts their mouth.
43 Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things,
    carefully considering the Lord’s faithful love.

God will come to each of us in ways that are tailored to our lives and our circumstances. This is good news. It is also a subtle reminder to those of us who are in Christ already that a one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism or discipleship will not always work. We need to get to know the other people around us and see them as people, not projects. Then real relationships will begin and God can work in all of our lives.

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Psalm 104 and The God of Creation

My wife holding a humming bird. It flew away shortly after this.

My wife holding a humming bird. It flew away shortly after this.

I know people who understand that God created all things, but then do not have a full appreciation for what exactly that means. God created everything and organized everything and provides for everything in creation. Psalm 104 beautifully testifies to that fact:

Let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
    You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
You wear light like a robe;
    you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
    you make the clouds your chariot,
    going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
    you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
    so that it will never ever fall.
You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
    the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
    they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
    streaming down the valleys
    to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
    so they’ll never again cover the earth.

10 You put gushing springs into dry riverbeds.
    They flow between the mountains,
11         providing water for every wild animal—
        the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Overhead, the birds in the sky make their home,
    chirping loudly in the trees.
13 From your lofty house, you water the mountains.
    The earth is filled full by the fruit of what you’ve done.
14 You make grass grow for cattle;
    you make plants for human farming
        in order to get food from the ground,
15         and wine, which cheers people’s hearts,
        along with oil, which makes the face shine,
        and bread, which sustains the human heart.
16 The Lord’s trees are well watered—
    the cedars of Lebanon, which God planted,
17     where the birds make their nests,
    where the stork has a home in the cypresses.
18 The high mountains belong to the mountain goats;
    the ridges are the refuge of badgers.
19 God made the moon for the seasons,
    and the sun too, which knows when to set.
20 You bring on the darkness and it is night,
    when every forest animal prowls.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
    seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they gather together
    and lie down in their dens.
23 Then people go off to their work,
    to do their work until evening.

24 Lord, you have done so many things!
    You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!
25 And then there’s the sea, wide and deep,
    with its countless creatures—
    living things both small and large.
26 There go the ships on it,
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it!
27 All your creations wait for you
    to give them their food on time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!
29 But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
    when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to dust.
30 When you let loose your breath, they are created,
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.

31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
32 He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes.
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!
35 Let sinners be wiped clean from the earth;
    let the wicked be no more.
But let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!

God’s love extends to all creation, and therefore we as Christians ought to value creation and work to keep it healthy as well. If God loves it, we ought to love it. If God cares for it, we ought to care for it.  Food for thought.

Psalm 100 and Joy in the Lord

snoopy-joySometimes there is no crisis in life, and we can experience the unmitigated joy of being with God–having a relationship with God, being saved, and being in fellowship with all of God’s people. In fact, having this kind of joy in the Lord is really the default setting for Christians. Sure there are times when life is hard and unfair. That comes with the territory of being a Christian. Yet because one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, this is the state to which we revert when things calm down (some actually never leave this state of joy despite the hardships of life around them!).

Psalm 100 is a perfect psalm to remind us of the joy we have in Christ:

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with celebration!
    Come before him with shouts of joy!
Know that the Lord is God—
    he made us; we belong to him.
    We are his people,
    the sheep of his own pasture.
Enter his gates with thanks;
    enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!
Because the Lord is good,
    his loyal love lasts forever;
    his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.

Only can someone who has experienced the joy of God say such a thing as this psalm. Only those who have been so filled with the love and peace of God that it overflows in their lives can say such a thing as this psalm. Only those who know God, not just intellectually but experientially–not just in their heads but in their hearts–can say such a thing as this psalm.

This is the joy of the Lord. If you have never experienced this joy for yourself, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit to the extent that you do. This is the peace that passes understanding that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:4-7:

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad!  Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.  Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.  Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

The joy of the Lord is wonderful. Don’t miss it.

Psalm 96 and A Vision of God’s Grandeur

Every once in a while people can get a vision of just how tremendously awe-inspiring God is. They catch a glimpse of the enormity of God’s grace and love and they realize how small their understanding of God was prior to this vision. Psalm 96 falls in this category:

Sing to the Lord a new song!
    Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord! Bless his name!
    Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Declare God’s glory among the nations;
    declare his wondrous works among all people
    because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
    because all the gods of the nations are just idols,
        but it is the Lord who created heaven!
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—
    give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
    Bring gifts!
    Enter his courtyards!
Bow down to the Lord in his holy splendor!
    Tremble before him, all the earth!

10 Tell the nations, “The Lord rules!
    Yes, he set the world firmly in place;
    it won’t be shaken.
    He will judge all people fairly.”
11 Let heaven celebrate! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it roar!
12     Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate!
    Then all the trees of the forest too
        will shout out joyfully
13         before the Lord because he is coming!
He is coming to establish justice on the earth!
    He will establish justice in the world rightly.
    He will establish justice among all people fairly.

Here the psalmist sees how all-encompassing God is. The Lord is not just the God of Israel, but rather the God of the whole world. All the nations ought to come and worship the Lord, and it is the duty of those who are hearing this psalm to go and tell the nations about the glory of the Lord.

In ancient Israel, this was a vision of God’s grandeur that was beyond most understandings of God. With how little Israel truly grasped monotheism, since they were displaced from their land because of worshiping other gods, this idea that the Lord alone is God and ought to be worshiped by everyone is a leap forward.

The beauty of this psalm for me as well is that this idea of the nations worshiping the Lord is not coercive. It is good news proclaimed to all the nations.  This is a psalm that is just as much a call to the Church as it was to Israel. We are to share the grandeur of God with the world, telling all nations about the glory of the Lord so that they can worship with us. This is an evangelistic psalm that reminds us of our mission to go into all the world and make disciples.

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Psalm 94 and Having Anxiety

anxietyThe Psalms are so real when it comes to dealing with human emotion. Whether it was David who wrote one or someone else, the feelings in them are raw. There is no attempt to cover over what someone is feeling with pious platitudes. People are allowed to have the emotions they have and to express them. God is big enough to handle whatever we have at the moment. Psalm 94 is a great example of this:

Lord, avenging God—
    avenging God, show yourself!
Rise up, judge of the earth!
    Pay back the arrogant exactly what they deserve!
How long will the wicked—oh, Lord!—
    how long will the wicked win?
They spew arrogant words;
    all the evildoers are bragging.
They crush your own people, Lord!
    They abuse your very own possession.
They kill widows and immigrants;
    they murder orphans,
    saying all the while,
    “The Lord can’t see it;
        Jacob’s God doesn’t know
        what’s going on!”

You ignorant people better learn quickly.
    You fools—when will you get some sense?
The one who made the ear,
    can’t he hear?
The one who formed the eye,
    can’t he see?
10 The one who disciplines nations,
    can’t he punish?
The one who teaches humans,
    doesn’t he know?
11 The Lord does indeed know human thoughts,
    knows that they are nothing but a puff of air.

12 The people you discipline, Lord, are truly happy—
    the ones you teach from your Instruction—
13     giving them relief from troubling times
        until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 The Lord will not reject his people;
    he will not abandon his very own possession.
15 No, but justice will once again meet up with righteousness,
    and all whose heart is right will follow after.

16 Who will stand up for me against the wicked?
    Who will help me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord hadn’t helped me,
    I would live instantly in total silence.
18 Whenever I feel my foot slipping,
    your faithful love steadies me, Lord.
19 When my anxieties multiply,
    your comforting calms me down.

20 Can a wicked ruler be your ally;
    one who wreaks havoc by means of the law?
21 The wicked gang up against the lives of the righteous.
    They condemn innocent blood.
22 But the Lord is my fortress;
    my God is my rock of refuge.
23 He will repay them for their wickedness,
    completely destroy them because of their evil.
    Yes, the Lord our God will completely destroy them.

Here the psalmist knows that the Lord sees all and understands all. He (or she) knows that the Lord avenges the covenant people who are faithful and yet are still persecuted. He knows that the Lord’s discipline is for our benefit.

And yet he still has anxiety. He still feels his foot slipping in life. This is real life.

There are times in our lives when everything seems to go as wonderfully as if we could have planned it out. And there are times when it seems like nothing goes right–like we move from one tragedy to another and cannot see light at the end of the tunnel. Even in those instances God is still with us. Our challenge is to connect with the Lord even in the midst of trouble and be able to experience his comforting to calm us down.

This can be difficult, but if we pray regularly, pouring our hearts out to God, it is a beginning. Having a regular time of prayer each day is important. Establishing that routine helps us when life gets so tough that we do not feel like we have the time, desire, or inclination to pray because we have the habit of praying at the same time every day. Of course prayer at other times during the day is good, but have at least one time intentionally set aside for prayer. Talk to God. And leave some time to be still and quiet before God. Eventually you may begin to discern God’s responses to your prayers–through thoughts, feelings, desires that seem to come from nowhere, or an actual voice.

If you are a morning person, set aside time in the morning to pray. If you are a night owl, set aside some time at night. If your best time of the day when you are most alert is midday, set aside some time then to pray. Whatever your best time of day is, offer a portion of that to God in prayer. Then you will be able to pour out your feelings like the psalmists and still know the Lord will answer.

Psalm 80 and A Cry for Salvation

reaching-hand1When we find ourselves seemingly cast out from whatever we thought was good and right in the world, we cry out for someone to help us. The ancient Israelites were no different in this respect. After they had been sent into exile, they cried out to God to restore them. Psalm 80 is one such cry:

Shepherd of Israel, listen!
    You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
    You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
    Wake up your power!
    Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Lord God of heavenly forces,
    how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
    you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
    our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

You brought a vine out of Egypt.
    You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
    then it planted its roots deep, filling the land.
10 The mountains were covered by its shade;
    the mighty cedars were covered by its branches.
11 It sent its branches all the way to the sea;
    its shoots went all the way to the Euphrates River.
12 So why have you now torn down its walls
    so that all who come along can pluck its fruit,
13     so that any boar from the forest can tear it up,
    so that the bugs can feed on it?

14 Please come back, God of heavenly forces!
    Look down from heaven and perceive it!
Attend to this vine,
15     this root that you planted with your strong hand,
    this son whom you secured as your very own.
16 It is burned with fire. It is chopped down.
    They die at the rebuke coming from you.
17 Let your hand be with the one on your right side—
    with the one whom you secured as your own—
18     then we will not turn away from you!
Revive us so that we can call on your name.
19     Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Notice that the cry is based upon remembering God’s mighty deeds in the past. The psalmist knows that God has acted in the past and desperately needs God to act in the present. It is on the basis of those past actions that this author cries out to God, knowing that God can do what is being asked.

When we find ourselves in a position where we need to cry out, remember what God has done in the past, and make your request on the basis of those past actions. God has proven over and over again in history, both in the history of Israel and the Church and in individual’s histories, that God will act on behalf of his people. Sometimes it may take some time–Israel cried out for seventy years in exile–but God will answer.

Psalm 77 and Repentance

crying-out-to-godPsalm 77 is another psalm about repentance. This time, though, we get more of the feeling people have when they know they are separated from God. This is the kind of emotional and spiritual anguish people experience when they have been in fellowship with God and then fall away because of sin.

Again, the key to even desiring a renewed relationship with God is the remembrance that God has done mighty things in the past to bring people into relationship with him. Therefore, if we are sincere about wanting to return to a right relationship with God after sinning, God will make it happen just as sure as he delivered the Israelites out of Egypt.

I cry out loud to God—
    out loud to God so that he can hear me!
During the day when I’m in trouble I look for my Lord.
    At night my hands are still outstretched and don’t grow numb;
        my whole being refuses to be comforted.
I remember God and I moan.
    I complain, and my spirit grows tired.    Selah

You’ve kept my eyelids from closing.
    I’m so upset I can’t even speak.
I think about days long past;
    I remember years that seem an eternity in the past.
I meditate with my heart at night;
    I complain, and my spirit keeps searching:
“Will my Lord reject me forever?
    Will he never be pleased again?
Has his faithful love come to a complete end?
    Is his promise over for future generations?
Has God forgotten how to be gracious?
    Has he angrily stopped up his compassion?”    Selah
10 It’s my misfortune, I thought,
    that the strong hand of the Most High is different now.

11 But I will remember the Lord’s deeds;
    yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past.
12 I will meditate on all your works;
    I will ponder your deeds.
13 God, your way is holiness!
    Who is as great a god as you, God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
    you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people;
    redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph.    Selah

16 The waters saw you, God—
    the waters saw you and reeled!
        Even the deep depths shook!
17 The clouds poured water,
    the skies cracked thunder;
        your arrows were flying all around!
18 The crash of your thunder was in the swirling storm;
    lightning lit up the whole world;
        the earth shook and quaked.
19 Your way went straight through the sea;
    your pathways went right through the mighty waters.
        But your footprints left no trace!
20 You led your people like sheep
    under the care of Moses and Aaron.

Take heart. Whatever you have done in your past, God can bring you back to himself. It is all his love and grace, and it is freely available for all of us, no matter who we are.