The Flip Side of Psalm 131

There’s a Bible study technique I like to employ sometimes where you state the opposite of what the Word is saying. It can be highly effective. For instance, in Psalm 103:8, David says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That’s a pretty straightforward and comforting description of God’s character. But what if you took the last phrase and flipped it? It would say, “The Lord is slow to love and abounding in steadfast anger.” Jarring, isn’t it? But step back and ask yourself if that doesn’t represent some of our own secret suspicions about God. Yes, we would declare on Sunday that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We sing it with our whole hearts. But what about Monday? What about when we have to repent for that sin … again? Do we still believe that God abounds in steadfast love? Or do we silently harbor a belief that God is peering over the rail, ready to zap us when we fail?

Dane Ortlund’s timely book, Gentle and Lowly, has worked wonders for many in unearthing these deadly suspicions we sometimes harbor about God. But this technique is still helpful, not only in unearthing wrong assumptions about God, but in revealing our own prideful assumptions about ourselves. Let’s use the same technique with Psalm 131. Here it is in the ESV:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

Now take each verse and state the opposite. And pay attention to what is revealed in your own heart.

O Lord, my heart aspires; my eyes long for lofty things; I am obsessed with getting to the bottom of every mystery.

In the original, the psalmist expresses an intellectual humility. He doesn’t feel the need to poke his finger into every controversy. He knows he will never be able to understand every mystery. But when we state the opposite, we see an insatiable and prideful curiosity to know everything. He must know everything. He must have a hot take. That makes me reconsider that downward tug to refresh my social media feed.

Next:

But I have roused and agitated my soul, like a toddler throwing a tantrum with his mother; like a toddler throwing a tantrum is my soul within me.

In the original, there is an image of deep contentedness of soul. A weaned child can rest against his mother’s bosom without striving for immediate sustenance. But when we state the opposite, we see a soul that’s never satisfied, rising up against his mother who knows best.

Finally we get to the last verse, and here I will stop the experiment, because hopefully we have seen the futility of our own pride and attempts at self-sufficiency. Left to ourselves, we will only strive and grasp at the wind, but Psalm 131 offers us what Eugene Peterson called, “the plain way of quiet humility.” Let’s turn away from ourselves and instead hope in God.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

Praying for the Lost

Have you prayed for people to know the Lord for a long time? For decades? How do we persevere? How do we keep coming to the Lord? Sometimes I feel as if the Father is tired of me bringing the same requests. Maybe I need to word it a different way? Maybe there’s an angle I’ve missed?

And how does the Father feel about those people? If I’ve prayed for decades for someone to come to salvation, and I have seen little to no fruit from those prayers, does that mean that God doesn’t care about them? If God waits to save for decades, what is His current heart attitude toward them? Is He indifferent to them? Is he indifferent to me as I pray? It’s so easy for our minds to fill in those blanks with negative assumptions.

These are thoughts that I never say out loud but seem to be always simmering in my heart of hearts. Usually I push them away and keep praying, but I think we need to take these thoughts in hand and examine them. Are they true? When I do that I realize I need to remind myself of at least two things.

My Limited Perspective

First of all, I need to remind myself of my limited perspective. I don’t know a lot of what’s going on in the hearts of those for whom I’m praying. In fact, I know very very little. And like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, there is a lot I don’t see in the spiritual realm. My perspective is centered on here and now, whereas God isn’t limited by time or space. I want to see the end result, the salvation of my loved one, but God sees everything that needs to happen in order to bring that about. I need to remember John Piper’s exhortation: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life [and in your loved one’s], and you may be aware of three of them.”

The Heart of God

But more than this, I need to anchor my prayers in the truths of the Scripture and in the character of God. I need to put on the corrective lens of Scripture so that I don’t get derailed into thinking that God is a distant curmudgeon in heaven with his arms crossed and I am in constant search for that one prayer that will light a fire under him so he will act. In Luke 15, Jesus pulls back the curtain a little on what God is doing and how he feels toward those who are lost. He tells three parables, and all three have to do with lost things.

A lost sheep.

A lost coin.

A lost son (or sons).

Remember the context. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. They couldn’t believe Jesus would degrade himself by associating with these kinds of people, people who, they thought, had sinned their way out of favor with God and the religious community. They had no compassion for these lost people. But in telling these parables, and notice the repetition, Jesus opens up to us the Father’s heart.

God is like the shepherd who has 100 sheep but notices if 1 gets lost, and then goes after that one. He leaves the 99 in the open country, unprotected, and goes after the one who is lost. He not only finds his lost sheep, but brings it back on his shoulders rejoicing! He doesn’t whip out the rod and beat this sheep all the way home.

God is like a woman who has 10 silver coins, and losing one, becomes like a white tornado, sweeping and searching until she finds it. And when she has found it she calls her friends and neighbors together so they can all rejoice. She doesn’t easily give up.

Now, if the Pharisees hadn’t gotten the point already, Jesus caps off this trifecta of parables with one that not only expresses God’s heart toward the lost sinner, but is aimed squarely at them. Read the parable again if you’ve forgotten it, and even if you’re familiar, read it again. In the following passage, focus on the father’s reaction and on his heart toward this lost and undeserving son:

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

The father had been looking. He saw him and immediately felt compassion. He ran. He ran! Stop and imagine it – robes gathered up and legs pumping. He embraced him and kissed him. The son repents and asks to be called a mere servant. (He had come up with a plan to come back and beg his father to give him some honest work so he would have something to eat.) But how does the father respond? He calls to his servants and commands them to treat his wayward son like royalty. He throws a party!

But this father hasn’t forgotten his elder son. Notice the father’s heart toward his technically obedient and yet ungrateful and bitter son:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him…”

The father’s heart toward this son is the same. He goes to him. He seeks him out and entreats him. After listening to his son’s complaint, he reminds him of the wealth and privilege he’s had all along. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

In looking at these three parables again, I now see that the focus isn’t so much on what is lost, but on the One who is seeking. Jesus’ point in telling the parables wasn’t to highlight the plight of that lost sheep, the state of the one lost coin, or even the degradation of the lost son. No, Jesus tells these three parables to highlight the heart of the One who seeks what is lost. He is not indifferent. He is not crossing his arms in heaven waiting for us to say just the right prayer so he will act. He is seeking right now. His heart is yearning right now. And because of that, I can go again and again with confidence to his throne of grace knowing that he hears and he will act.

Let’s keep praying, reminding ourselves of our limited perspective and the compassionate heart of God toward those who are lost.

Reflections on Psalm 122

We live in an age of expressive individualism, well documented by Carl Trueman in his excellent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Expressive individualism wears many faces, but can be defined by the slogan, “You do you!” The highest goal of any person is to interrogate themselves and then seek the highest level of self-actualization. Everything is turned inward. Using the late sociologist Philip Rieff’s categories, he says, “In the world of psychological man, however, the commitment is first and foremost to the self and is inwardly directed. Thus, the order is reversed. Outward institutions become in effect the servants of the individual and her sense of inner well-being.”

This inward focus is the spirit of our age. It is the air most people breathe. But we are called, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to not be conformed to this spirit. We are called outward. Just as our Trinitarian God moves outward towards us in love, sending His Son, and pouring out His Spirit on us, we are to imitate Him.

Psalm 122 speaks directly against the spirit of the age, this spirit of expressive individualism. It directs us outward and upward, beckoning us to love others and not ourselves primarily.

I’m going to quote from The Message translation of Psalm 122. I read the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson called A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier, and just recorded a podcast episode talking to a friend about Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I was so struck by the deeply thoughtful manner of this man’s prayer life that I’ve decided to take the month of August to pray through the book of Psalms, using The Message translation. Maybe I’ll write about how that goes when I’m done. I have not been a fan of The Message translation in the past, but learned through reading his biography that Mr. Peterson was a straight A student in Greek and Hebrew and memorized large sections of the Psalter in Hebrew.

For now, let’s look at how Psalm 122 pushes back against the expressive individualism of our day. It reads this way:

When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, oh Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls!

Jerusalem, well-built city, built as a place for worship!

The city to which the tribes ascend, all God’s tribes go up to worship,

To give thanks to the name of God – this is what it means to be Israel.

Thrones for righteous judgment are set there, famous David-thrones.

Pray for Jerusalem’s peace! Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers!

Friendly insiders, get along! Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!

For the sake of my family and friends, I say it again: live in peace! For the sake of the house of our God, God, I’ll do my very best for you.

This is one of the Psalms of Ascent, which traditionally is thought to have been used as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem to worship. The tribes of Israel were all commanded to go to Jerusalem, to the temple, to celebrate their feast days. They were not supposed to set up their own altars or their own temples for worship. They were to make corporate pilgrimage. So imagine this pilgrim, weary from days or weeks of travel, eagerly anticipating the moment when he sees the walls of the city. Notice his affections. His heart leaps for joy. His affections and his prayers are all directed outward and upward toward the place where God has promised to dwell, the place where he calls his worshipers to go. There are more than 10 references to Jerusalem in this psalm, if you count words like ‘city’ and ‘house of God’ and ‘there’. Pretty much every verse is referring to Jerusalem. The psalmist identifies himself with the nation of Israel and longs to protect the peace of Jerusalem. He calls his fellow Israelites to pray the same way.

While we aren’t required to keep these feasts anymore and we can gather with various bodies of believers in any number of churches, notice the stark contrast between the psalmist here and how we treat the concept of ‘church’ today. When many of us go to church today, and some still haven’t gone back since Covid, we are focused on ourselves. What can the sermon or music give me? We need a boost on Sunday so we go to receive our weekly pep talk. Or we go to experience inspirational music. We may go to church for our children, seeking activities and inspiration for them. Most of our reasons for going to church are inward and self-focused. We don’t identify with the Bride of Christ so much as with ourselves and our felt needs. We want the Church to reflect us, not the other way around. Our prayer life is mostly taken up with ourselves and our safety, our health and our wealth, not the Church. I capitalize the word Church here because it’s appropriate. I’m not speaking of a building with an address. I’m speaking of the blood bought Bride of Christ. The Body of Christ. Do we love her? Are we zealous for her peace? Do we pray for her health? Are our hearts stirred every weekend in anticipation of meeting with the people of God, to bear their burdens, and to be fed along with them from the Word of God?

I remember a specific time in my life when I realized I didn’t really love the Church as I ought. I was spending some time alone in prayer in the sanctuary of my church and God convicted me of my selfishness, of the narrowness of my affections. I wasn’t really praying for my pastor. I wasn’t very concerned about the health of my church. Since then, I have sought to be more aware of how this culture’s incessant focus on the self seeks to distract me from the kind of outward, sacrificial love Christ has called us to. The kind of love He, together with the Father and the Spirit, continually pour out on us.

Essential Skills for the Bible Teacher

This year will be the sixth year I’ve taught Bible study to the women of my church. I can’t tell you how much of a blessing it’s been. I started out with so much passion but not a lot of skill or experience. Over the years the Lord has enabled me to learn a lot more and now I’ve come to a point where I have been able to write my own Bible studies. I’ve had a lot of help from different people and ministries. I’ve attended several Simeon Trust workshops, listened to all of Nancy Guthrie’s Help Me Teach the Bible podcasts, and had other smarter people look at my work along the way. I’ve learned so much about proper exegesis, biblical theology, and how to teach in a way that engages women in active learning. I also know I have a lot more to learn.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about the most essential skills for the Bible teacher. While being able to properly exegete a text and understand how it fits into the story of redemption is vitally important, there are some other things that are essential. If you don’t have these things, all the proper exegesis in the world will eventually fall flat. Maybe not right away, but eventually, over a long enough period of time, your teaching will be less and less effective. I have put these essential skills into two categories: Loving God and Loving Others.

Loving God

What does it mean to love God as a Bible teacher? It means you don’t stand at arm’s length from the text you’re studying, treating it merely as an intellectual puzzle to be solved. You must get into the text yourself and allow it to change you. After all, this Word you’re studying leads you to the God of the Word.

Yes, look up the cross references and read the commentaries but stop and pray. Engage with the Author of your text. Ask Him to open your eyes to the wonders contained in it. Ask Him to incline your heart to Him through it. As you ask questions of the text, let it ask questions of you. Submit to what it’s saying and allow the Spirit to point out the things in your life that need to change. And take time to worship. Don’t be satisfied with merely finding the correct interpretations and applications. Let your study lead your heart to be satisfied in the Lord.

Loving Others

And what does it mean to love others as you prepare to teach the Bible? I think it means that you don’t see your role as a teacher as an avenue to display all your tremendous insights. One thing I’m learning about being a good teacher is that sometimes you have to say less! Yes, less! Did you know that lecturing is one of the most ineffective and inefficient ways to teach people? So I have to give up my desire to tell the women everything I learned in my study and instead think about them and how they can best learn. Teaching the Bible to others is not about showing off your knowledge. It’s about leading others into the treasures of God’s Word so they can see how amazing He is, not you.

Loving others as a teacher also means that you tailor your teaching illustrations and homework questions to the women you’re teaching. Do you spend time getting to know the women you’re teaching? If they’re young moms you will use different illustrations and ask different application questions than if they’re empty nesters. Knowing your women well will cause you to adjust what you’re doing, maybe on the fly. But this communicates that you love them more than your pre-prepared teaching outline.

So as I enter into this sixth year of teaching the Bible, I think I need to make sure to spend more time letting the Word I’m studying change me and praying for the women who will hear this Word. My deepest desire really is for them to see more of Him and less of me.

Cul-de-sacs or Conduits?

I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity during my morning devotions and one thing struck me as he was describing how God works in creation. He speaks of God’s love in creation and then spends a page and a half detailing what the Puritan Richard Sibbes said of God’s bountiful nature in making all things fruitful. Reeve’s paraphrases Sibbes’ meaning as follows:

“That is, God is simply bursting with warm and life-imparting nourishment, far more willing to give than we are to receive.”

He then makes note of what Sibbes says the effect of this life giving God should be on his followers:

“Those that are led with the Spirit of God, that are like him; they have a communicative, diffusive goodness that loves to spread itself.”

I had never made the connection between the triune nature of God and how he wants his children to emulate him. Of course we are to grow in Christlikeness but how? What does this look like? Most of the time I focus on the lists, the do’s and the don’ts. But I think we learn more of what we’re being called to when we look at the nature of God and notice the clues from his creation. If God is this life-imparting fountain, this being of ineffable generosity, then it would make sense that his creation would be designed in such a way that in order to be most healthy and most blessed, it would give and love and multiply for the good of others. It would not be like the Dead Sea which is a terminus, a cul-de-sac, if you will. Always receiving, but never giving out.

And what about us? What about me? Am I a cul-de-sac? Do I receive the blessings of God for my own benefit without passing them on? Do I hoard them for myself alone? Or am I a conduit of God’s blessing and love, spreading his blessing to others? Lately I have felt a kind of conviction about certain behaviors that goes beyond the black and whiteness of do this/don’t do that. This new kind of conviction is pointing me higher, to the calling of the Christian to be like this ever-blessing triune God.

Amy Carmichael wrote a book of poetry called Toward Jerusalem. In it, she has a poem that has become a prayer for me and now takes on deeper meaning as I meditate on the triune nature of God.

Love Through Me

Love through me, Love of God,

Make me like Thy clear air

Through which unhindered, colours pass

As though it were not there.

Powers of the love of God,

Depths of the heart Divine,

O Love that faileth not, break forth,

And flood this world of Thine.

Even the Sparrow

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.” Psalm 84:3

I’m not a person who regularly does yardwork or gardening. It’s actually a little embarrassing how often I kill plants. But the one thing I try to do at least a couple times a year is trim the holly bushes in the front of my house. I could use a manual hedge trimmer but I have a lot of holly bushes and I don’t want my arms to be sore for days afterwards. So at least twice a year a drag out the electric hedge trimmers, search in the garage for the extension cord, and crouch down on my front stoop to plug them in.

Many years ago I was doing my duty, filled with energy and determination. I wanted these bushes to look nice. But as I started hacking away I noticed a bird making a lot of noise. I ignored it for awhile but as I went down the row of bushes, the squawking and carrying on just got louder. “What is up with this bird?!” I thought to myself. Then I heard something else. The high-pitched beggings of baby birds. Oh no! In my haste to make these bushes look just so, I hadn’t noticed the fragile little family that had made its home in the bush. That poor mama was doing the only thing she could do to prevent me from killing her young, besides going full on Alfred Hitchcock and pecking my eyes out!

I thought of that experience with hedge trimming as I was meditating on this verse in Psalm 84. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young. Birds don’t build nests in dangerous places. They take time to find places that are hidden and secure from harm. As they gather the tiny twigs, bits of grass, and pine needles for their nests, they are preparing a place where they will lay their eggs, where they will sit patiently for their defenseless young to emerge. Those little ones won’t be able to leave the nest for a while so these mama birds find places where they know their fragile eggs and soon to be needy babies will be safe and undisturbed.

But look where these sparrows and swallows, some of the smallest and most humble creatures, find a perfect haven to hatch their families. At your altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.

If these tender creatures could find safe refuge for their offspring at the epicenter of the Temple, the place where the psalmist yearns and faints to be, what is keeping us from drawing near to God? Through our precious and great High Priest, Jesus Christ, we have gained entrance to that epicenter, to the very Holy of Holies. And we are exhorted to draw near with boldness. Yes, boldness to this throne of grace.

“Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Let me share Spurgeon’s thoughts on these verses. He once preached a whole sermon on Psalm 84:3. You can find it here. But here is a part of what he says:

Let us learn, then, from the sparrow finding her house near to God’s altar, that although we are inconsiderable and insignificant, although we are full of needs and although we may even deem ourselves to be uninvited, yet we are at liberty to come to the Savior and find in Him our eternal dwelling place! There we may find a safe refuge from every danger, a perfect security for all time, and even for all eternity. O you who think yourselves despised and forgotten, remember that the sparrow has found a house on God’s altar! Come, then, and see if there is not also space there for you! Jesus said, “Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.”

None of the Above

Prayer is interesting and unpredictable. It can be as simple as asking the Lord to help you remember where you placed your keys. I’ve done that more times than I’d like to admit. It can also be hard and frustrating, especially regarding those big prayers, the ones that have to do with our loved ones and their futures. We may go through times of frustration, filled with the temptation to give up. We cry out with those common laments, “How long, O Lord?” “Why?” These are the hardest prayers because they require me to keep coming back, to keep offering up my desires, to keep submitting my will to the Father and wait. At the first offering, I know what I want and I tell God. But over time, when I don’t see the answer I want, I’m faced with a choice. Do I quit praying about it? Do I adjust? I’m left pondering in my frustration and finitude. I thought I knew what to ask for. I thought I knew what was best in this situation. I thought my will aligned with the Lord’s. Using my own fractured wisdom, I may end up praying through a list of choices. ‘A’ would be great, and that’s what I spend a lot of time on. But then ‘A’ is not happening, so I go to ‘B’. ‘B’ is ok, not my first choice, but something that is still acceptable. I can pray my way into accepting it. But over time, ‘B’ becomes more and more unlikely. ‘C’? Not really, Lord. I would rather not, but perhaps, if too much time goes by, I could get used to it.

Maybe I’m the only one who prays like this, but I suspect not. In the Bible we have a picture of some who prayed for a long time but we don’t ever get an inside look at the daily struggle. Take Isaac and Rebekah for example. In Genesis 25:21 we learn that Isaac prays for his wife who is barren. The very next sentence says that the Lord grants his prayer. But it isn’t until verse 26 that we learn how long he had prayed. Twenty years! Have you ever noticed that? I didn’t until maybe the tenth time I’d read it. What did Isaac go through during those twenty years? How did his prayers change? What did they sound like? Did he start out with option ‘A’ and then move down the line to ‘B’ and ‘C’? Did he ever stop praying for a time? He had witnessed his father’s faithfulness and heard his prayers. He saw God provide the ram for that fateful sacrifice and his wife had been the undeniable answer to the prayers of Abraham’s servant. Isaac must have been confused. He knew the promise God had made to Abraham and his seed. He, not Ishmael, was the chosen seed. But then, after 20 long years, God answers. And with twins. Twins with a promise. Rebekah doesn’t just carry the weight of two children but the weight of two nations. Did Isaac have that option on his prayer list?

In Luke chapter 1 we learn of another couple. Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also barren and they also prayed. For many many years they prayed until they were both advanced in years and the physical evidence of their bodies made their dream impossible. What were those years of prayers like? Did they start out dreaming of a large family and a future filled with grandchildren? Luke tells us they were righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments. They may have thought it was a sure thing. But as the years went by perhaps they went from asking for ‘A’ to asking for ‘B’. Then they may have switched to ‘C’ but after more time, realized it wasn’t going to happen. Surely they had stopped praying, right? But in Luke 1:13 we hear the angel proclaim to Zechariah that his prayer has been heard and Elizabeth will bear a son. And not just any son. She will bear the one who will prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. What?! This is not what he expected. This option probably never entered into his prayer vocabulary during those silent years. Zechariah responds with unbelief and bears the consequence of months of muteness followed by a flood of Spirit filled prophecy after John is born.

What we expect is not always how God answers. But we know from Jesus’ own words that we are to keep asking, to keep seeking and knocking. When God’s children ask him for bread he will not give them a stone. If they ask for a fish he will not give them a serpent. God never lies to us and he never tricks us. He means to give us good things. But those things are not always ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’. Sometimes he makes us wait a long time for ‘D’. What is ‘D’? None of the above. And ‘D’ is always far more abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think.

“God will either give you what you ask, or something far better.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Delighting Yourself in the Lord

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

Many of us know this verse and love this verse. Perhaps though we focus too much on the last part of the verse. I want to talk about the first part, this delighting in the Lord. How exactly do we do this?

I have wondered this for a long time. I’ve prayed through this verse and asked the Lord to teach me how to delight myself in him. This past week I may have found a key to doing it. I was studying Psalm 100 and pondering the commands contained in it. We are called to make a joyful noise and to come into his presence with singing. There are seven commands in this psalm and they all center around worshiping God. Worship is obviously not a Sunday-morning-only thing.

Then I realized how little I worship God from Monday to Saturday. I read my Bible and I pray, but do I worship? And do I get to the heart of worship which really is delighting in God? I saw a severe lack in this area of my relationship with the Lord.

The end of Psalm 100 contains the reason why we are to obey those seven commands to worship God. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” I began meditating on that and was struck by how little joy I have day to day compared with how amazingly great God is. My choice of adjectives are anemic compared to what he deserves, but as I pondered and thought on who God really is, I was struck by how lackluster my joy has been. He is worthy of so much joy and in the day to day of living I barely express any of it.

So this past week I’ve been hunting down worship songs and doing more singing. It hasn’t been easy because I have never really transitioned from CDs to digital music. I don’t have an easy way to carry it around. But I do have an old car that still has a CD player. So I’ve begun to do more singing and worshiping in the car. And I’m going to find more good worship music on a digital platform so I can carry it with me and worship while I work and run and go about my day.

We were made to worship God. We were designed to find our soul satisfaction in him. And part of what it means to delight yourself in the Lord is using every means available to nourish your soul in who God is and who he is for us. I’m sure there are other ways to do this besides singing, but this is where I am going to start.

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” Psalm 146:1-2

Just Pray?

Many times I find myself saying and thinking things like, “I wish I could do something more than just pray.” That statement makes prayer seem like an impotent afterthought. But that’s not how the Bible portrays it, not by a long shot.

In Ephesians 6, Paul says to put on the whole armor of God and concludes that section by exhorting us to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Prayer is an indispensable and integral piece of our spiritual armor.

In Philippians 4 he tells us to be anxious for nothing, but to pray about everything. Prayer with thanksgiving is the pathway to peace.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul details the afflictions he’s endured, some of which brought him near to death. Then he says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” The prayers of the saints bring real help and blessing resulting in much thanksgiving to God.

In Colossians 4, Paul asks for prayer that God “would open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” He then describes Epaphras as a servant of Christ “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” Prayer opens doors to the gospel and moves God to build steadfastness and maturity in those who receive and believe it.

In James 5, James exhorts the believers to pray for all kinds of things. Pray for those who are sick. Pray and confess your sins to one another. Then he says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” He further encourages them to engage in prayer by speaking of Elijah and saying that he was a man just like they are, and Elijah’s prayers effected a drought. Prayer can do much more than we can imagine.

The next time I’m tempted to think of prayer as a last resort I need to remember how powerfully Scripture speaks of it. Dwell on the incredible privilege and opportunity to intercede, asking Almighty God to act.

“The most important lesson we can learn is how to pray.” EM Bounds

The Other Side of the Story

I got ‘behind’ in my Bible reading lately. Don’t you hate that word, ‘behind’? It’s not like anyone is holding me to a schedule beside myself. But being the ‘upholder’ that I am, I decided to play catch up and read the last half of Judges all at once. Dark. Depressing. There’s just no way to look away from all the evil done by God’s people in that book. It seems there is no one in Israel who really knows the Lord and is faithful.

But light shines on the very next page with the very next book. When we read the Bible in chunks or in ways that aren’t chronological, we sometimes miss out on the timeline of the story. We can miss lessons that we otherwise would see. Ruth begins with an important detail: “In the days when the judges ruled…” Wait! This familiar story is happening during the dark days, during the time when I thought no one was faithful. From one perspective the story looks like that. But Ruth tells the other side of the story.

There was a prophet named Elijah. One time he had a battle royale with the prophets of Baal and he prevailed. But then his life was threatened by wicked Jezebel and he ran away. He was left alone in the wilderness. Alone with his thoughts and questions. Is anyone faithful? Is God still there? God questions him and Elijah declares his loyalty: “I, even I only, am left…” But God shares the other side of the story. He gives Elijah his perspective. He interrupts Elijah’s pity party and gives him an assignment. Oh, and by the way, God has kept a remnant of 7,000 for himself.

In my perplexing circumstances, I need to remember the limits of my knowledge. I never know the whole story. My perspective is only one grain of sand compared to the vast desert of time and eternity. And I certainly don’t have all the wisdom that God possesses. Why am I so quickly confused and left downcast? Maybe I’m just like dejected Elijah, or the person who only reads Judges without going on to Ruth. I am only reading one side of the story. I have the perspective of an ant carrying that one grain of sand when all the while my good and gracious God sees the whole desert and reigns over each and every grain. Right now he is working, calmly and triumphantly working all things according to the counsel of his will.