God hears our sincere even uninspired prayer

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.[a]

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who are workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors,
while mischief is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their work,
and according to the evil of their deeds;
repay them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
or the work of his hands,
he will break them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage;
be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

There are times when prayer seems so empty. Maybe I should say there are those special, relatively unusual times, when it seems inspired, as if some wind was blowing in one’s heart, giving special love to pray, as well as insight. Contrast that to the times when the soul feels like it’s in a desert. That God is far off, the soul dry. And where hope is gone, no sense of the divine. Fortunately that is not the usual either, but there are times and seasons when we can seem stuck in that.

What we need to get rid of is the idea or notion that when we feel empty our prayers don’t matter. Sincere prayers do matter to God, and we might even say especially when they come with difficulty and no sense of God’s help. I’m not sure we can measure prayer that way. Yes we’re to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6), but no, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require effort on our part. And as humans we experience many emotions and conditions which can make prayer difficult. But when we open up the psalms we should be encouraged since so many of them come from a troubled heart.

Something to remember and be encouraged by. In and through Jesus.

the Lord as “my” Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd…

Psalm 23:1a

It was pointed out to us in seminary, rightfully so I think, that spirituality in the Bible is communal, or meant to be lived in community. Yes, and we lose so much when we don’t understand this, or take it seriously. We are so steeped in an individualistic mindset in our western culture, that we see most everything in terms of individuals, rather than of each individual as part of the whole. And God though One is also revealed as Three, so that while there’s only one God and God is One, in that Oneness somehow, God is also Three: Source, Word, and Spirit, one way of putting it; or Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that God is also in God’s Self, communal. So when we read a Scripture like Psalm 23, one might say that we’re considering one important aspect of our existence: the reality that we are an individual, and that God deals with us as such. The Lord takes seriously each one of us as individuals. And this most classic of all the psalms one might say, probably most loved and memorized brings this out clearly.

I was sharing this psalm with our grandson this week, and later meditated on it for myself. Yes, the Bible repeatedly likens us humans to sheep. We’re so easily lost, flustered, and then upset. Bleating, often injured, and again lost, again and again. This is the reality we live in. I personally am amazed at my own experience, how a kind of deep settled peace can be so rudely interrupted by what sets me back into an unhappy state, where I no longer feel at home, but long for home as something like the idyllic state which is touched on in this psalm. But we have to read the entire psalm. And happily remember too, who it was attributed to: To David, himself a shepherd as a boy, who became shepherd of God’s people Israel, and who certainly did not live an unblemished life.

If we read the entire psalm, we see that the Lord has us covered. That the Lord as our shepherd, yes “my shepherd” is present with us through everything, through the mess and the hardest times, as well as the good times. Through all of our days, right to the very end. What if we really believed that? What difference would that make?

It doesn’t mean that life becomes easier, that circumstances change, that all is well and good. It does mean that through the better and worse, even through the most troubled and troubling times, the Lord is with us as the shepherd each one of us needs.

I want to dwell on this psalm for a time myself, let it soak in. So that hopefully I can begin to much better appreciate the faithfulness of the Lord as my shepherd whatever circumstances and experience I’m going through. In and through Jesus.

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

rejoicing all the time?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Lament is a missing word in our vocabulary. I remember once leading a short devotional time on Psalm 88, and asking everyone if they thought it might apply to us today. They didn’t think so. I think it does.  So what’s up when Paul tells us more than once in this letter, and others elsewhere in Scripture to rejoice in God, to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what?

It is helpful that Paul gives it as something we’re to do. It’s not something he’s saying we’re caught up into, though that certainly may occur. It is part of the attitude we’re to adopt as Christ followers. Instead of groveling, being down in the mouth over difficulties, we choose to do something. Notice I didn’t say feel different. There’s nothing we can do directly to change our feelings, though what we do can indirectly result in our feelings being changed, given some time. We simply do something. We rejoice, and we rejoice in God.

Some do this loud and often, others like me don’t. Or depending on what we’re doing, we rejoice in the Lord under our breath. This is an important starting point for us, if we’re to live in the life God has for us in Christ. And it doesn’t mean we don’t sorrow or lament. Quite the contrary. If you return to the Psalms, unlike the Psalm mentioned above, you’ll notice that the psalms of lament and complaint are mixed with praise to God. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10a).

Something I’m working on, that helps lift my spirits when I’m weighed down with trouble. In and through Jesus.

Psalm 9 from The Message with a few thoughts

A David Psalm

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart,
I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
I’m singing your song, High God.

The day my enemies turned tail and ran,
they stumbled on you and fell on their faces.
You took over and set everything right;
when I needed you, you were there, taking charge.

You blow the whistle on godless nations;
you throw dirty players out of the game,
wipe their names right off the roster.
Enemies disappear from the sidelines,
their reputation trashed,
their names erased from the halls of fame.

God holds the high center,
he sees and sets the world’s mess right.
He decides what is right for us earthlings,
gives people their just deserts.

God’s a safe-house for the battered,
a sanctuary during bad times.
The moment you arrive, you relax;
you’re never sorry you knocked.

Sing your songs to Zion-dwelling God,
tell his stories to everyone you meet:
How he tracks down killers
yet keeps his eye on us,
registers every whimper and moan.

Be kind to me, God;
I’ve been kicked around long enough.
Once you’ve pulled me back
from the gates of death,
I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs;
on the corner of Main and First
I’ll hold a street meeting;
I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air
with salvation songs.

They’re trapped, those godless countries,
in the very snares they set,
Their feet all tangled
in the net they spread.
They have no excuse;
the way God works is well-known.
The cunning machinery made by the wicked
has maimed their own hands.

The wicked bought a one-way
ticket to hell.
No longer will the poor be nameless—
no more humiliation for the humble.
Up, God! Aren’t you fed up with their empty strutting?
Expose these grand pretensions!
Shake them up, God!
Show them how silly they look.

Psalm 9; MSG

My post today is mostly just this rendering of Psalm 9 by Eugene Peterson. But a few thoughts added.

I find this psalm so encouraging on so many levels. The entire human race is in this life together, and the sooner we recognize that and take it seriously, the better. We who are followers of Jesus should be endeavoring to live in the utmost humility and show the love we’ve received in Jesus to others. God will take care of the messes out there, but like the psalmist (maybe David, a David psalm, whatever that precisely means) we bring our true thoughts to God and prayers. Wishing for God’s redeeming mercy on all. In and through Jesus.

the breakthrough we need

A David Psalm

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.

Psalm 4; MSG

There are times when we may have quit in your spirit. Where there seems no where to go. When one feels hopeless. That is partly what is so great about the psalms . We encounter real people living in the real world. The psalms speaks our language, sometimes in ways that are uncomfortable, and probably a bit off the mark, sometimes more than a bit. Sounds like us at least in our private spaces at times, doesn’t it?

But we find just like the psalmist here, David, that God answers us. We may have to keep reading in the psalms before we land on one that meets us where we’re at. That was the case with me last night. So I opened my The Message Bible to Psalm 1 and began to read. But stopped after reading Psalm 4. And sought God’s help in prayer from that. And God helped me, removing the complete discouragement with a sense of peace, as well as an imagination for something that was encouraging.

So we need to find our space with God. The psalms are perhaps the best in helping us do so. Meeting us in our various circumstances and moods, God helping us as we enter them to find God and what we need from God. In and through Jesus.

strength from God against opposition

It’s interesting how again and again in Psalm 119, the psalmist appeals to God for strength to stand in the face of opposition. You find it sprinkled throughout that long chapter. And it’s not enough just to note that. One really needs to go through the entire chapter to get the feel of it. It’s real life with all its struggles and our responses to them. It is quite experientially oriented, as well as the emphasis on God’s word and law.

We expect to see that in many of the psalms, but may not expect it in this psalm. But it’s there, meant to help and strengthen us in the midst of opposition. Spiritual opposition of course, but also when others oppose us. We hopefully learn where we might be off. The psalmist was certainly not infallible themselves. We can see attitudes in the psalms, and in this psalm which are likely wrong even in that day, and definitely off track for us today as Jesus followers. So we need to be open to needed correction that may come from those who oppose us.

But we also can expect God to strengthen and help us as we seek to humbly take a stand for Christ, for the gospel, for mercy, justice, righteousness and truth. In and through Jesus.

tell it to the Lord

Over and over in the psalms you see the psalmists speaking to themselves and to God. And we know the psalms aren’t always nice. The psalmist is pouring out his/her heart to God, telling God their troubles and their unvarnished thoughts and feelings in the struggle.

We need humans no doubt, to speak with, listen to, and sometimes receive counsel from. Sometimes we might even need a special professional counselor to help us along the way, be it a psychologist or psychiatrist. There should never be an ounce of shame in that.

But do we realize we can talk to the Lord? To the Father through the Son by the Spirit. To Jesus or the Father. Even to the Spirit, though in Scripture the Spirit seems to help us in prayer. Let him know about it all? Bring every detail of life, all our thoughts to him? Do we really believe that? As Christians we might pay lip service to it, say, “Yeah, that’s true.” But isn’t it all too rarely practiced? At least I can ask that to myself looking at my own life, and say sadly, “Yes.”

Tell it to the Lord. It doesn’t matter what it is, tell it to him. Jesus will listen, give us that sense that he is indeed listening. And we’ll get the help in our spirits that we need. To carry on hopefully better. To keep learning wisdom. Which means to learn more and more to follow the way of Jesus. Tell it all to him.

fond farewell to a week of vacation- Psalm 103

Of David.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

realism and relief from the Psalms

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.

Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.

As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
But you, God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

Psalm 55

I love the psalms in part because of their unflinching realism. The psalmists tell it like it is about their own experience, understanding, and faith. Of course it is part of God’s word, and gives us revelation concerning God and God’s will for humanity, and especially for God’s people, either directly, or more indirectly like in this passage.

This psalm is lively and stirring, and a bit of a head scratcher when comparing it to Jesus’s teaching, such as his command to love our enemies. But inherent here is the concern for justice to be served. We know the bigger picture now, Christ providing the means in which both justice and mercy together are fully revealed and offered to all.

I love how one of those precious promise verses appears in this passage. So good to see its context. And that can help us realize that whatever we’re up against (for us, not physical warfare, but spiritual), whatever we’re facing, God is present for us. That we can cast our cares completely on him, that God will see us through everything. In and through Jesus.

 

part of what draws me to Scripture

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

I said, “I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
you consume their wealth like a moth—
surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
before I depart and am no more.”

Psalm 39

One thing about the Psalms I love is their rugged, realistic approach to life, and the honesty expressed. There’s no pretense, nor is anything held back. That is a characteristic of all of Scripture actually, but especially evident in the Psalms.

For those who are suffering and reflective, the Bible has so much to offer. And not just words of wisdom that can help shape our lives in the struggle, but the path to wisdom itself. In and through Jesus.