Restore and Sustain (Psalm 51:12)

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:12

I grew up singing verses ten through twelve of this psalm during the praise portion of weekly worship. I am tempted to speak of “corporate” worship, but corporations have given the word “corporate” a bad rap and I would much rather keep straight in my mind that this was sung during the weekly gatherings to worship. Not every week, but often enough that I cannot read the words without singing them in my mind.

As the new year looms, I feel that I need to be restored. It’s not that I feel I’ve backslid during the year behind, but that things have changed. I began this year actively looking for a house. Now, the search is more passive. I began the year as the father of a beautiful little girl. Now, my wife and I anticipate our second child. The year began with me in active service where my wife and I fellowship. It ends with me no longer involved with that ministry. The year has brought change, and how.

In the midst of so much change, it is easy to lose sight of how amazing God’s salvation really is. David asks God to restore the joy of salvation. This implies that David once took joy in his salvation and that the joy has slipped away. I suspect that the same is true with all fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 and that our love and peace and patience and so on can also slip. After all, it is salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that brings those. While David asked to have the joy of God’s salvation restored to him, I think I would like to have the whole gamut of Spiritual fruit restored to me. Not just the joy of salvation, but the peace that comes with it and the kindness that salvation inspires and the love that should overflow from me to others. As the new year looms, I need to be restored.

David also asks God to sustain [him] with a willing spirit. My spirit is often rebellious and unwilling, God commands a thing and my mind agrees that I ought to do that thing, but something in me is unwilling. I need to be sustained by a willing spirit. If my walk with God is to endure the year ahead, I need a spirit that is willing to comply with what God instructs. I need a compliant heart.

Father, as one year closes and a new opens, please restore to me the fruit of Your Spirit. Please restore the love and joy and peace and patience and all the others that seemed so freely available to me at the first. And, Father, in the days and year to come, may my spirit be a willing one that my walk with You would be one of sweet friendship.

Stop and Know (Psalm 46:10)

“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

I am often in need of a reminder that I need to stop trying so hard. We, as people, are prone to strive after the things we want and need. We want a better car or house or TV or what-have-you and we work absurd hours in order to get the funds to purchase that thing we want. I’ve caught myself spending hours in the pursuit of things that I want, only to learn that I didn’t want what I thought I wanted.

Meanwhile, God brings this reminder: Stop. The footnotes to this verse say that Cease striving could also be rendered Let go. Relax. It sounds as if, in the modern vernacular, God is saying, “Chillax.” But God, wise God that He is, knows I cannot simply stop and do nothing. He knows that some part of me will be active no matter how still the rest of me may appear.

So He gives another bit of instruction. [K]now that I am God. To know; to really know that He is God is an active thing. I can give mental assent to His Godhood without much effort. He is God. Done. But life is going to lay siege to that knowledge; circumstance is going to call it into question. There will be times when I manage to obey instruction number one and stop, only to find that everything going on around me conspires to make me think that God has lost control; that God is, in fact, no God at all. That is when God’s instruction to know that I am God becomes active. I need to defend my knowledge. CS Lewis wrote, in Mere Christianity, about the difference between belief as giving assent to a truth and belief as holding that previous belief in the face of challenges to it. If I merely assent that God is God when it appears to be true, I’ll be that guy scripture warns me not to be — the one blown about by every wind of doctrine. On the other hand, if I hold to the truth that God is God, even — perhaps especially — when it appears least true, then I am joining with the Apostle Paul in casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Knowing is active.

What God says after instructing me to stop and to know that He is God seems not to follow. God says that He will be exalted among the nations … will be exalted in the earth. If I look at it in isolation, it seems odd. But, if I remember that Jesus told His disciples (that includes me) to let their light shine so that others would see and would glorify [our] Father Who is in Heaven. One of the multitude of reasons God may want me to stop trying so hard is that a light doesn’t try at all. It simply shines. The bulbs above my head right now are not doing anything. The bulbs are passive. In the case of the old bulbs with a filament, the electricity flowed into them and through the filament to generate light and heat. The light was a byproduct of the presence of electricity. Take that away and there was no light and no heat. Just a filament inside a sealed bulb. So, too, am I. If God is in whatever it is I’m doing then His presence will generate light. If it’s just me, then there is no light. Like the filament, I have no light to give.

What is it that God is instructing me to do? Stop. Stop trying so hard to accomplish anything at all for His kingdom. It’s His kingdom. He’ll handle it. Know that He is God. That knowledge will be assaulted. My job is to defend it. To seek out buttresses and bolsters for that knowledge. To make it secure against attack and to shore up the places where I find my knowledge of His Godhood lacking. The result is that He will be exalted. People will see what He does in me and will know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that I am incapable of doing what has been done. They will know that God has done that thing in and through me. They will see His light.

God, please teach me the stillness You require of me and give me yet more reasons to know that You are God. I do not lack reasons, but I crave more. Until there is no room at all for doubt; until doubt flies in the face of rational thought, I will crave more.

Thirsty (Psalm 42:1)

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.

Psalm 42:1

As the new year approaches and I look back on the old, I wonder if this has been true of me. Have I really longed for God as a parched animal longs for water?

There have been times when it has been true. When circumstance is difficult and I do not understand what God is doing, then I have a tendency — as do many, I think — to seek Him out. I look for Him and try to understand what He is doing and to understand as much of the “Why?” behind it as I am able. During those times, I read more extensively and pray more often. In short, I feel exactly as the psalmist has described. I am seeking fervently for God and only satisfied when I find Him.

There have been times when it is not true. When I think I understand what is going on and circumstances are easy, I tend to slack in my seeking God. It’s not that I stop reading or praying, only that the fervency dwindles. I read, but I am content to read less than during the difficult times. I pray, but I am not aching for the presence and touch of God in quite the same way as when I am confused.

In the year ahead; in the day ahead, let me rectify this situation; let me long for God as a dehydrated animal longs for water. Let me crave Him and seek Him until I have sated the craving. Then let me crave Him still more. There is a band that wrote the words, “You alone are what my soul needs … the thirst is taking over.” Let that be true today and in the year to come. May I be keenly aware that You, oh, Lord, are what my soul needs desperately. May the thirst for You, Jesus, take over my thoughts in a way that makes me utterly Yours.

Extent of my Days (Psalm 39:6)

LORD, make me to know my end
And what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am.

Psalm 39:6

We are all of us just passing through this life. But there are folks who live as if this life will last forever. For that matter, Science seems to think it would be a great idea if we could unlock the ability to live forever. I have a problem with that notion.

See, David looks at the situation like this: He had some stuff to say — both good and bad — and he clamped his mouth shut to avoid saying the bad, but found out that he stopped talking altogether. Sometimes, our actions are like that. We try to stop doing something that is bad and end up ceasing from good, too. Where this experience leads David is to the point where he wants God to show him how brief a time he really has in this life. How short a time will there be a King David sitting on the throne of Israel. It was not a long period of time.

The average human life span in the United States is between 70 and 80 somewhere, though I hear that the number is dropping. If the sum total of recorded human history is rounded to about 7000 years (I think it’s more, but this number makes for easy math), then a human life is, at the moment, about 1% of the total recorded history of humanity. And the ratio keeps on dropping.

So what? So everything. See, David wants to get that perspective. I think he wants that perspective for two reasons.

One, I think that he wants the perspective to understand how comparatively little time he will be alive and thus to have his mind blown anew by God’s intimate involvement in such a miniscule sliver of human history. God takes the time and trouble to be intimately involved with the lives of His children. He not only arranges every event in my life, but arranged every event in my genetic history to eventually result in me. He did the same for every person alive. All of us are deliberate acts of creation on the part of the Master. Despite our comparative insignificance in the timeline — our lifespan is often compared with vapor in The Bible — God is intimately involved and intensely interested in each and every one of our lives. That insignificance against human history coupled with that level of interest from my God is a tension that resolves in comfort.

Two, I think he wants to know how important every word and action really is. We each receive 24 hours in a day. If we do what medical folks tell us, then we’re sleeping for a third of that. I am left with 67% of my life in which to do or say something. I have work to do, and that consumes another third of my day which explains a lot about Paul telling the believer to do everything for the glory of God. If I work as unto the LORD, then that third of my day says something, even if I never utter a word. If all I do is show up and do the bare minimum to get by, my work says something else. Something that does not impact the world the way that God wants it to. Once sleeping and working is removed from my day, I have one third left. Eight hours. Two of those are consumed by commuting, another one and a half in eating (give or take) which leaves me four and a half hours a day to do or say something good. How am I using that time? That, I think, is one of the places David was going with the desire to know how short his time was. I only have a limited amount of time in a day and I only have a certain number of days. I want to make them count. God, please remind me of how short this whole thing called “life” really is.

Which leads nicely on to application. I and my time on this Earth are not significant when held up against the sum total of recorded human history. But God is intimately involved with my life and intensely interested in how my tiny portion of human history is lived. He has used the insignificance of a human lifetime to turn the world on its head multiple times. He can still do so if He so chooses. MY time needs to be at His disposal and my efforts need to always be focused on doing everything I do as if it were done for Him. Yes, everything. From the meeting with executives and VIPs all the way down to making sure I take the trash my wife left for me on the porch down to the trash cans. It may not seem significant, but God used a child’s meager lunch to feed thousands. It’s not the actual significance of the action in and of itself; it’s what God can make of it. My time, used for me, is wasted. My time, placed in the hands of God, can change lives and save souls and comfort the hurting and it can do so without me ever realizing that it happened.

Lord, please teach me to know the extent of my days and to know how transient I am. Please give me surety with regard to my end that I may live confidently in You.

Delightful Gifts (Psalm 37:4)

Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

I’ve heard people use verses like this one to support all manner of selfish thinking. We, as people, want to find some way to reduce God to a genie who pops up when we call and gives us what we want. We crave all of the blessing, but want none of the burden. Worse, we want what we want and are heedless of what God wills for us.

This verse speaks something different, I think. I don’t think the semicolon is necessary in this verse. I think that it could and probably should read Delight yourself in the LORD / And He will give you the desires of your heart. Why is that important? Because it is more of a cause and effect statement this way. What I do is delight myself in the LORD. What God does is give me the desires of my heart. Simple enough, but there are implications to delighting in someone. When I am delighted in my wife, I want more of her — more of her thoughts and more of her presence, more of her touch and more of her laughter. Everything that is part and parcel of her is what I want. The implication of delighting in the LORD is that what I want will be more of Him. I will want more of His insights and more of His presence, more of His guidance and more of His pleasure with me.

If what I want is more and more of the LORD, then He is more than happy to give me the delightful gifts of Himself and all that comes with Him — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. Being delighted in the LORD is a prerequisite, I think, for Him giving me the desires of my heart. Once my heart desires Him and what He wants, then there is no conflict. He can freely lavish on me what I want, because what I then want is Himself.

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday. It was a modest day for me. No fanfare or huge party and I didn’t really want one. I was well content to work and come home to my wife and daughter and enjoy the delightful gifts of them. My daughter came over and wanted “UP” as soon as I walked in the door. Her favorite place is in mommy or daddy’s arms. I know it will pass and I relish it for now. My wife had done several things to make the day special. And all of those things are part and parcel of who she is. I received gifts from her, yes, but I received the more delightful gift of being reminded of her love in ways small and large. Those gifts given me by my wife and daughter are echoes of the delightful gifts my Father wants to give me and would like for me to give Him. My daughter is an example of simple delight in a person. My wife looks to give me the good desires of my heart (she knows there are bad ones in there and she does her best to help me discourage them).

Today, I need to give God the delightful gift of simple delight in Him. Let me seek to be taken “UP” into my Father’s arms as my daughter so often does with me. A simple, delightful gift that warms the Father’s heart. Let me want Him so that He can give me what I want without reservation or limit.

Afflict to Perfection (Psalm 34:19)

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:19

I find it somewhat poetic that I began to write this entry yesterday morning and, mid-sentence, the power went out. It had been doing that all night long, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but it did highlight the notion of being afflicted. Losing power and becoming frustrated that you cannot finish what you were doing is a minor affliction, but it registers. To add to the mix, my wife woke me at about midnight saying that someone was knocking on the door. Turned out to be police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call in our apartment complex. The caller had not been sure which apartment the noise was coming from, so the officers checked on us. I appreciate their diligence. I wish the caller had been more specific. All of that to say that my thoughts may seem a bit disjoint.

Somewhere along the line, some believers accepted the notion that suffering was not an integral part of being conformed to the image of Christ. I do not know why and I do not know what verse or verses they mangle in order to come to that conclusion, but Jesus said that His disciples would have suffering in this world (John 16:33) and Paul spoke of our light and momentary affliction, a.k.a. “life” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The long and short of it is that every believer will have afflictions.

There are major ones like the persecution being endured by believers in Iraq and Syria and places where ISIS is beheading people for professing faith in Christ or being cut off from our family because we have placed out faith in Christ. Sometimes friends become hostile and people lose jobs and worlds are upended. Years ago, my youngest sister passed away and, a few months later, I realized that the woman I was engaged to and I needed to take a step back and work some things out before we were ready for marriage. She disagreed and the engagement, my friendship with her brother, and a host of other things came crashing down. In the midst of it, I learned the peace of God. I had never experienced anything quite like it. When my sister was called home, I pushed it aside and carried on. When everything came crashing down a few months later, I was ill-equipped to push anything anywhere. There was no work to bury myself in and no glut of activities to move my gaze away from what had happened. In that place where I was forced to face my pain and feelings of betrayal is where I learned God’s peace. He knows pain and betrayal and He gave to me the same peace that He had in the midst of His pain and betrayal. But that conformity, that bone-deep understanding of something God wants to teach does not often come from reading The Bible and praying, it most often comes through affliction. Those affliction, the major ones, I liken to chisels and coarse grain sandpaper. They take off the visible, major chunks that make us look less like our Savior than like a lump of stone. Michelangelo is reputed to have said that he went into the block of marble to free the statue within. God does much the same with His children. He goes into the raw material He created to liberate the image of Himself within us. We are created in His image, He wants to chip and sand away all the things that mar that image.

There are minor ones like cars not starting or power going out or the host of minor nuisances that are like fine grain sandpaper and rub away the tiny, almost unnoticeable imperfections. But God sees those imperfections and uses the fine grain to get at them.He provokes my irritation and impatience and unkindness in order to draw them to where I see them for the problem they are and allow Him to work. That, I think, is how my partnership; my cooperation with God works at the moment. He shows me what is wrong in me and I do my best to sit still while He works on that spot. It is not easy and it is not comfortable, but it is worthwhile.

The greatest sculptures I’ve ever seen are so lifelike; so completely true to what they portray that no burs at all were allowed to remain. God is interested in that level of fidelity in representation in me. He wants me — insignificant, flawed, weak me — to be a perfect representation of Himself. He wants my imperfection to put on perfection. That cannot happen without some affliction; some pain.

The afflictions of the righteous are many because he is righteous. To be right with God entails affliction. Exhibit one is Jesus Christ. The only perfectly righteous human being in human history spent His life being misunderstood, shunned, mocked, and eventually beaten, spit on, mocked some more, and executed for a crime He did not commit. He is my pattern. While I do not seek to be tortured or mocked or beaten or executed, I have to admit that all of these are potential scenarios for me, because they were reality for my Savior. If I am misunderstood, Jesus understands. If I am shunned, Jesus welcomes me. If I am mocked, Jesus praises me (Matthew 5:11-12).

The promise that tags along with the promise of affliction is the promise of deliverance. If I am afflicted, I will also be delivered. God will bring me — not my imperfections and the things that mar my likeness to Him, but me as I was meant to be — out of the afflictions in my life. I will not enjoy it. I will not find it pleasant. But God will complete what He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6) and will bring me spotless before His throne (Jude v.24). It is His to perfect me and deliver me through the afflictions that come. It is mine to endure the light and momentary afflictions in order to allow God to work through them an eternal glory.

Confess and Be Forgiven (Psalm 32:5)

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5

A very similar sentiment to this is expressed in 1 John 1:9 (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.). Sometimes, I get caught up in the words. What do these words mean? Were these chosen on purpose? Is there something I’m missing about how this particular aspect of being a believer works? It is both the blessing and the bane of being a wordsmith. It is a blessing because going spelunking for meaning and clarity often yields treasures. It is a bane because the simple concepts — the ones with no alternate meaning and no hidden messages — can sometimes prove the most elusive to comprehend.

Take the idea of confession, for example. I grew up in the midst of Catholics. My family was not Catholic, but a fair few of my friends were. So the concept of confession for them meant going to rattling off the things they had done wrong to a priest who was sitting on the other side of a screen and the priest would tell them what sort of penance they had to do to be copacetic with God again. The Bible says that I should confess my sins to God. But what did that mean? The basic meaning of confess is to admit that something is true. Is that it? Is that all that God requires to forgive me of my sins? Short answer: Yes.

Faced with the simplicity, I have trouble. God wants only for me to own that my sins are utterly sinful. He is not asking me to do anything more or less than that. Seeing my sins for what they are is the first step, I’ve learned, in God being able to root them out of my life. By confessing, I’ve learned that some sins are rooted in simple things. Swearing is rooted in nothing more than frustration and a desire to vent my spleen. I can accomplish much the same thing with non-verbal sounds of aggravation and thereby avoid idle words. I can even do something as simple as heave a sigh. God understands the frustration whether I vocalize it or not. There are other sins that are rooted in many places. Pornography, more accurately called adultery, is one such. Some folks want to simplify it and say that it springs from whatever they think is its root cause. But plants that large and complex have equally large and complex root systems. Sure, it is rooted in sexual desires, but it also comes from a desire to be in control and a desire for predictability and a desire to understand (I don’t understand my wife, though I try) and more besides. Every time I think I’ve know where it comes from and can work to avoid those areas, I learn that the temptation comes from some previously unknown source, as well.

I am encouraged that David says that he will confess [his] transgressions to the LORD. I’m encouraged because transgression is a deliberate act of rebellion. David knew what was right and wrong and did the wrong anyway. The longer I walk with God, the less “gray” I see with regard to what is righteous and what is sinful in my life. The less “gray” there is, the more often my wrongdoing is transgression. I knew better, but I still did what was wrong in God’s sight.

God, via David, gives still more comfort when David writes that God forgave the guilt of [his] sin. David came to God and admitted that he had done what he knew to be wrong. And, simple as that, God forgave it. Something in me wants it to be more complicated than that. But it is not. It is as simple as that. I admit; I acknowledge; I confess that I have done wrong and God forgives me.

A last thought before I sum up and wrap up. David writes that God forgave the guilt of [his] sin, not the consequences. If I engage in certain sins, they have things that follow them. Sexual sin may bring with it disease or unplanned children. Anger may damage relationships (it is likely to) and can lead to far worse (which is why God says that I should be angry and yet not sin). My sins and my transgressions may have a baggage train behind them. God does not promise to stop the baggage train, only to forgive my guilt. My conscience will be cleansed, but the results of my wrongdoing will still show up in due course.

Confess and be forgiven. Simple as that.

Father, I’ve a great deal that I’ve done wrong in recent times. While others may not have seen or known, You have. To You I confess my wrong, for against You and You only have I sinned. Thank You for forgiveness. And thank You that it is simple enough to confuse me and bring me back again and again to the concept to be amazed anew at the simplicity of it all.