Psalm 73

There are times when we look at other people’s lives and we are tempted to envy them. The Psalmist tells us as much in verses two and three when he states that he “almost stumbles” because “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Why is envy a sin, and why is it so dangerous? There are many reasons, but I would like to share three biblical ones with you.

Reason one is that we envy people because we think they don’t deserve something but that we do. Envy is dangerous because it puts us in the judgment seat that only God can rightly occupy. Think about this…when I envy someone because of something they have received (finances, recognition), I am making the evaluation that they are not good enough, but I am. Remember how the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest? Who would have the seat of honor on the right and left of Jesus? Each of the disciples believed that somehow they had done more than the others, and for anyone to receive honor but them was a horrible mistake. We are not meant to be in the judgment seat of what people should or should not get. That seat is reserved only for God. When we try to sit in that seat, it is idolatry and blasphemy.

Reason two is that envy is destructive because we believe its lie that the “great reward” is found here on this earth. When we start to believe that lie, we forget that we were not made for the temporal but for eternity. Why should it matter if someone gets the promotion over me? Why should it matter that someone has gained financially when I haven’t? Why should it matter that someone has a bigger and better house than me? When we focus back on who God is, His faithfulness, His love for us, His promise to be our Provider for all of our needs, we are able to remember that the best is yet to come for me. Why do I want to trade a few years of things on this earth for that which will never fade or end? Now the question might be, but what about injustices that are done to others? The Bible clearly commands that we seek justice for people, but justice is not personal. It is a standard that everyone is equal and has worth. Justice is concerned with everyone being treated fairly. Envy is concerned solely with me.

Reason three is that we need to remember that God does not think or act like we think or act. We want good people to get blessings and bad people to be punished. There is only one problem with that…the Bible tells us that no one is good. If we are going to apply that standard to everyone equally, God should wipe us all out immediately. But the Bible gives us insight into God’s heart. Why does He allow some to prosper that shouldn’t? Why do some people seem to be blessed even though they seem to mock God with their lives? Because God loves and is patient with people. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” No one gets away with anything. God will judge everyone in the end. However, this verse reminds us that He is patient and that He may be allowing the person to receive what seems like “blessings,” to experience just how worthless and unfulfilling these things are, which can cause them to despair and turn to God. If you are envying someone, it means you care more about your earthly life than you care about what God is doing in their lives. You care more about the temporal instead of the eternal. Are you envious of others right now, or are you fulfilled and satisfied in Jesus? Why don’t you repent of your envy and turn to Christ to be your fulfillment right now? Turn your eyes upon Him! HE is your very great reward!

Psalm 67

Lately I’ve been revisiting the missionary journey of Jim Elliot, his family, and friends as they used everything they had to reach the Auca people and others for Christ. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, shares of their journey of faith in her book Through the Gates of Splendor, giving us a glimpse into the struggles and joys they shared on the mission field. Jim and his friends had such a conviction to spread the Gospel that they gave up a comfortable life in America, moved to the rainforest, and poured their lives into the people around them. They had little use for worldly distractions and comforts to misguide their focus.

Not everyone is called to the foreign mission field, just as not everyone is called into vocational ministry. However, as followers of Christ, we are all called to make disciples and spread the Gospel. My own heart has been convicted as I’ve been pondering the Elliots’ sacrifice. Too often I allow myself to get caught up worrying about other people’s choices and seeking my own comfort. These things point to self, but I desire my life and focus to point to Christ. I want to be focused in my prayer for our missionaries, our community, and the unreached people groups. 

This Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s saving power among all the nations. It’s a call to praise Him for his grace and mercy. God is our sovereign ruler, whom we can trust and should exalt. So today, as you get tangled up in worldly comforts and arguments, re-read this Psalm. Praise God and be glad; our God is good! Seek to share His glory with those around you, be focused on your call as a Christ follower, and lift others up in prayer. Let’s refocus together! 

Psalm 61

I remember it well. It was our first camping trip as a family. We set up camp near Cumberland Falls for the hottest week of the year. I’m not usually one to complain about heat. I love summer, but I also appreciate air conditioning. Despite all the fun adventures we had that week and the great memories we made, I don’t think any of us ended the week wanting to dwell in that tent forever. Clearly, our tent was much different from the one David cries out to God for in Psalm 61:4, “Let me dwell in your tent forever!

We live in a world where the heat seems to come from every direction. You’re either too conservative or too liberal. You’re either too serious or too carefree. You either agree with me or you’re the worst person ever. It isn’t just a pressure we feel but a pressure we too often exert. And it isn’t new in 2020, even if it seems it’s getting worse. For a while now, we’ve found ourselves living in a culture of perpetual outrage, one that can leave us with a heart that is faint.

Psalm 61 gives us a path to walk when our hearts are faint. Cry out to the God who hears you. He is a rock and a refuge in a world that is shifting. He is home when it feels like you’re at the end of the earth, unable to get your bearings. The reality is there are much greater challenges than a week without air conditioning in the summer heat, but no matter what you face today, taking refuge in the presence of God never gets old.

Psalm 55

One of my favorite shows on television is Big Brother. If you are not familiar with this program, the basic premise is that a bunch of strangers are placed into a house full of cameras, are not allowed to leave, compete in competitions, and week by week, vote a member of the house out until there is just one person left standing. One of the most difficult aspects of the show is being stuck in the same house for potentially 3 months and not being able to leave…I think we all can appreciate how hard that is at this point in quarantine! One of the key elements of the game are the “alliances” where portions of the house band together to vote others out. The fun ensues when alliances break up or eventually have to turn on each other because, let’s face it, only one person can win.

Not only do I love Big Brother, but my kids do, my friends do, and their kids do. So when we are all together the kids will play their own version of Big Brother with games, voting, and chaos. The problem is that eventually you have to vote people out. Since they are all friends or siblings, people feel betrayed immediately. I don’t know that they have ever played a game of Big Brother where someone, or multiple someones, didn’t cry. It got to the point that when we all got together we had to ban Big Brother so we didn’t have to deal with the fall out.

People do not like it when they feel as though someone they are close with turns on them.

In Psalm 55, we can read and really feel the hurt David is going though because of the betrayal of a friend. In verse 1-11 we can see how in anguish he is over his situation. The hardest part to read is verse 12-14. David is remembering the good times he had with this friend, even walking through the house of God with them. When a friend does something that hurts us, it is hard to wrap our minds around. It flips so many things! A place in your heart that was used for love becomes bitter. Good memories become bad ones. A person you would turn to now becomes someone you avoid.

I dare say we have all been there at some point in our life in one fashion or another.

Verses 15-22 provide a template for dealing with such pain.  We lean not on our own understanding but on that of the Lord.  We trust not in our anger but in the God who hears our distress.  We do not seek vengeance for ourselves because we serve the One who judges the quick and dead.

We live in a world broken by sin so we should not be surprised when people let us down. It will happen, and it will hurt. There is only one thing we can do, and it is found in the last part of the last verse…“But as for me, I trust in you”.

Trust in the Lord in all things.

Psalm 51

I don’t think I am alone in the reality that it seems like it is easy to let clutter build up. Or maybe put another way to let things become a mess. I often clean out my garage by throwing out trash that somehow got thrown on the floor or left on a shelf, by taking tools to the shed or putting them in the tool box where they belong rather than where they were left, and by sweeping out rocks and dirt that have been tracked in by the cars or feet. When I get done I often marvel at how much better it looks. There seems to be much more room when the clutter is gone and less stress since things at least seem more organized. For you, you place might not be a garage but maybe a work room or some other room or place. It might even be your car or office desk. Now, if you are like me, the frustrating part is that it never stays clean. I have even thought before “I am not going to let things get like this again.” However, it always gets messy again and I have to go through the routine of cleaning once more. Unfortunately, our life is like this. We let our life get messy. Not with dirt but with sin and our lives need a good cleaning. The words of Psalm 51 are great words that God had written for us from the hand of David to help us clean the filth out of our lives. It is a Psalm that pleads for mercy, asks for forgiveness, and seeks a cleansing from God. You may even know some of the familiar words. David starts with a great plea. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. And notice this plea is based upon God’s steadfast love and His abundant mercy. We can go to God for a cleansing because he does love us and wants to show mercy to us. David goes on to show us one of the biggest parts of finding our cleansing–confession. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, Unfortunately when it comes to things like my garage, I let them get overwhelming filthy before cleaning, but with sin it is best to confess regularly. Really we need to seek this cleansing daily. And the best news is God is ready to forgive and restore. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. That is great news. On top of this truth, God’s cleansing is the best because as David described it, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Take time today to read through Psalm 51 completely and thoroughly. Then take time to do what David did–go to God for a cleansing of the soul. If you do this regularly, you will keep the clutter of sin from building up in your life and becoming overwhelming. You will then be able to experience what David requested of God, Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 46

When my daughter was little she did not like dogs. That is to say, she did not like dogs who were hyper and would jump on her. Because she was so small, almost every dog would play with her so rough that they would inadvertently scratch her or knock her down, not because they were mean, but because they were so big and energetic. Every time that she would see a dog, she would quickly run to me and either hide behind me or beg me to pick her up into my arms and hold her. My daughter ran to me for two reasons: 1. She knew I would protect her and 2. I would gently but firmly get the dog under control so as to not be a threat to her. When my daughter focused on the dog, she would be afraid and could think about nothing but being scratched and jumped on. However, when she ran to stand behind me or to climb up into my arms, she believed herself not only to be safe, but also that the dog was not a threat as long as she was with me. My daughter thought I was a superhero and at times would tell others that I had protected her because I loved her.

In Psalm 46, we have this beautiful imagery of God being our very protection and strength. The passage even goes to the extreme in stating that even if the whole earth were coming apart at the seams that the author has nothing to fear because God’s power is more powerful than the most severe of calamities that we could ever dream of. In fact, one of my favorite sections of Scripture is found in verses six and seven. Here we see that kingdoms are at war, rising and falling with power, and that the battle seems to be raging with no end in sight. How does God stop the madness? He speaks and the “earth melts.” Just think about this for a moment. How did God create the universe? Did he pull out various materials and start to hammer away? No. He spoke and that which did not exist all of a sudden burst forth with life! What could God do to end all of battles and strife that occur? He doesn’t only have the power to force armies to lay down their weapons. He has the power to make the world cease to exist by only uttering a word! I am not saying that is what God will do, but what I am saying is that we forget just how powerful God is and just how powerless people and circumstances are compared to Him.

This is why He tells us to find our strength and refuge in Him. There are many situations in our life that we find overwhelming and to an extent, those situations are overwhelming to us…but not to God. God desires for us to run to Him and to trust Him to be our fortress. As our “Abba, Father” He has given us permission to confidently climb into His loving and protective arms and know that nothing is more powerful than Him. It does not mean that I won’t suffer, but what it reminds me is that when I suffer, my all-loving Father has a purpose for what I am going through and that purpose will be for my benefit and ultimately for His glory. He tells me in these overwhelming circumstances to run to Him and find my safety and strength in my relationship with Him. Are there overwhelming situations in your life in which you need to be reminded that God is much more powerful? Just as my child ran to me when she faced something overwhelmingly scary, you can run to God and find comfort in His arms.

Psalm 42

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for you, O God, for the living God When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Psalm 42:1-3

Here the Psalmist clearly communicates his desire to be in the presence of God as he worships. One can feel his melancholy emotions as he longs for God, is surrounded by his enemies, and is kept from the sanctuary. These feelings are so strong that he is repeatedly asking himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?…” (v. 5, 11).  

I had a day recently where things were simply not unfolding to my satisfaction. It was nothing life altering, however, that day it felt like a lot. My heart felt heavy and I just couldn’t find a sense of peace. The people around me probably thought I was mourning for some reason, but really, I was just lacking joy in the Lord. My heart and soul were downtrodden and nothing earthly could fix that. As the day progressed I continually asked myself why I was feeling so blue and restless, but to no avail. I could never put my finger on a reason. That is, until I sat down in prayer and evaluated my day. I was longing to be in the presence of God. I had neglected to spend adequate time with him that morning, I had put my desires first, and I was ultimately kept from daily worship.  Aha! That’s why no treats, no music, and no level of productivity could soothe my soul. 

Many of us may be in this situation of worship separation anxiety (yes, it’s a term I just made up!). We aren’t getting to worship at church like we are used to, things are changing, when we do go to the sanctuary things are different. Sometimes we long for things to be like they were back before Covid kept us from sanctuary worship. We might feel far from God’s presence or like we can’t fully engage. It leaves our souls longing for more. I encourage you with the Psalmists words, in verses 5 and 11. After he asks himself why his soul is tumultuous and down trodden, he gives a reminder, “…Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” (v. 5, 11). Remember that even before our current circumstances, there were things that would try to keep us from true worship and fellowship with God. We have always been surrounded by distractions. Whatever your situations is, take comfort in the fact that God is still present and your hope is in Him. Let your joy come from Him and enter His gates with thanksgiving for the many opportunities for worship that we do have (albeit sometimes non-traditional and uncomfortable opportunities).

Psalm 34

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,

for those who fear him have no lack!

The young lions suffer want and hunger;

but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:8-10, ESV

There aren’t many points where everyone agrees these days, but you won’t find a large base of support for fear. Fear is almost universally viewed as an obstacle to reaching our goals, as a threat to being at our best. We’re told to face our fears with courage. We’re told to choose faith over fear. The Scriptures tell us famously in Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened.” And then in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

You won’t find many voices speaking out in favor of fear, but here in Psalm 34, we do find one. David comes to the height of this song, extolling the goodness of God. Taste and see! If you have any personal experience with the Lord, then you know that He is good! If you have ever sought refuge in the Lord, then you know that you are blessed! Then, in the midst of this overwhelmingly positive praise is a word that doesn’t usually seem positive at all…fear. “Fear the Lord” is David’s call because “those who fear him have no lack!” It’s clear from Psalm 34 that to “fear the Lord” is not something to be avoided but something to be celebrated. Why? Because fearing the Lord doesn’t steal your joy like fearing anything or anyone else does. Fearing the Lord secures your joy.

In verses 9 and 10, those who lack no good thing are categorized in two ways: as those who fear the Lord and as those who seek the Lord. Fearing the Lord and seeking the Lord go hand in hand. Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear that causes us to run and hide from Him. It’s the type of fear that leads us to seek Him out, to pursue a closer walk with Him. Take a look at verse 4, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Fearing the Lord means seeking the Lord, and seeking the Lord is the only way to be free of whatever else it is you fear. The Lord is a refuge. The Lord is good. Fear Him, and He will deliver you from all your fears.

Psalm 31

I had to unplug the last couple of weeks.  I didn’t move out into the woods with no cell signal or take one of those trips celebrities and CEOs do to the desert where they don’t even speak for multiple days.  I just tried really hard to stay off social media and read only the vital news that was curated and not “breaking” or “this just in” type of reporting that throws information around before it is fully formed.  Why would I do this?  I did it because it felt like the walls were slowly moving in on me.  It felt like there were fires all around me and I didn’t even have one bucket of water.

When I read Psalm 31 I feel a kindred spirit with David.  I don’t doubt that his personal situation (his enemies were always coming for him and his life was literally in mortal peril) was far more serious than my own, but his feelings resonated with me.  David has feelings of distress, anguish, grief, and sorrow.  He relates himself to “broken pottery” while dealing with all this affliction.  He even feels like a burden to those around him.  What is a person to do in moments like these?

It is impossible to read this Psalm and not have verse 5 jump off of the page.  David in this time of despair goes to the only place he can find comfort, his God.  His cry is that he will place everything into the hands of the Lord.  Of course we will see this echoed in the words of Jesus as his last words upon the cross.  As a sinless Savior was crucified without cause the words he spoke were the same as David penned as he felt helpless.  We can, in the same way, cry out when it feels like the walls are closing in on us.  

One of the best benefits of unplugging was a re-shifting of my eyes towards the God who loves me.  He is faithful and trustworthy.  He is our rock and our salvation.  This Psalm is a reminder that we all go through the ringer from time to time, but our God is always there.

Psalm 30

Have you ever noticed that when you are in the midst of something bad it seems like time goes more slowly and the hard time lasts forever?  Some even now look back and talk about how March seemed to be the longest month ever as we began our  journey of quarantine because of COVID-19.  However, when you truly consider things, this past March was the same length as last March–31 days.  The difference is our perspective.  As our eyes were on the difficulty we were facing, time seemed to stand still.  In Psalm 30, David is trying to give some perspective.  He says, 1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. 2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. David seeks to turn our eyes to the source of strength and deliverance.  By the way, if you notice in the introduction of this Psalm it says “A Psalm at the dedication of the temple.”  This is a reminder to you that one aspect of worship is to refocus your mind on God when you have turned your eyes to other things for help.   As your eyes focus on God you are given perspective in regards to your bad times.  If you are suffering punishment from God for sin, you are reminded that God is still your source of help, 5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  If your suffering is part of the general suffering in life God is still your source of strength for 11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.  As you look to God you are reminded that your suffering is really temporary and God will turn your suffering into joy.  What a great comfort when suffering seems to be lingering.  But let’s not forget it is not just in your suffering that you turn to God, it is also when things are going well. 6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” 7 By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face.  Maybe the real reminder here is that you should always make worship of God a priority because worship turns your eyes to your source of strength in both good and bad times.  Remember you need this because we have the tendency to get our eyes off God and onto other things.  Let worship be a priority in your life.  Are you worshipping God today? 12 O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!