SOAP – 20 May 2019 (Psalm 24)

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?

Psalm 24:3

This psalm begins with the statement that the Earth, all it contains, and all who dwell in it belong to God (v. 1). God did, after all, create the dry land on which all humanity lives (v. 2).

From this fact of God’s ownership, David turns his eyes upward and wonders who can go up to the place where God dwells and who can stand before God (v. 3).  David already knows the answer, as God’s Law gives the criteria of having clean hands and a pure heart (v. 4). But David seems to shift away from ascending to Heaven or standing before God, because he then writes of receiving a blessing and salvation (vv. 5-6). Appropriately, David here inserts the word “Selah”, which invites us to pause and reflect.

The psalm then pivots from people approaching God to God coming down to visit people. The “gates” and “ancient doors” are commanded to lift up their heads and be lifted up in order that the King of Glory may come in (vv. 7, 9). The question is asked, both times, Who is the King of Glory? (vv. 8, 10) and is answered with variations on the LORD each time.

For all that David claimed that the Israelites — called Jacob in this psalm — seek God’s face, he was well aware of how feeble our attempts to approach God really are. It may have been this awareness that took him from wondering who was able to approach God to looking for God to approach people.

And that is where I find application this morning. For all that I would love to be a person who has clean hands and a pure heart and has not sworn falsely, I have sworn falsely and neither my heart nor hands are clean in my sight. I have harmed others in word and action and have promised that which I did not perform. I am, in short, not able to ascend into the hill of the LORD or stand in His holy place. I am unworthy.

But God came down to me. God wrapped Himself in flesh and lived with us and died to put to death my sin and raised Himself to life again that He might show me what He planned to do with me. I was already dead in my sins and He raised me to life. Jesus says, in Revelation 3:20 that He stands at the door and knocks, ready to come in if invited. The gates and doors of my heart and mind must be opened to Christ that He might enter in.

Once Christ has entered in, there is another change that happens. During our songs of worship yesterday, we sang a song with the lyrics “I am who You say I am.” Neither my heart nor my hands are clean in my own sight — I know what I have thought and purposed and done. But I am not judged by how I see me. I am judged by how God sees me. I am who He says I am. And He sees His Son because I am found in Christ.

If someone wandering the internet happens across this, know that the same can be said of you. You may see the filthiness of your hands and heart and know how often you have promised and not followed-through. God wants to cleanse those hands and that heart and to make you faithful. The cleansing can happen as soon as we recognize our guilt and ask God to cleanse us. He will then work with us to give us clean hands and pure hearts and make us faithful. It is not a one-and-done moment, but a day-by-day, moment-by-moment life lived pursuing God. It is simple, but not easy.

We are who God says we are.

Who does God say that I am?

Father, thank You for this psalm and for David’s shifting perspective – from Earth below to Heaven above. Thank You for causing him to see clearly that I might hear from him all these years later. And thank You that my identity is in You; that I am who You say I am.

SOAP – 13 May 2019 (Psalm 23)

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalm 23:2

This is possibly the most recognizable psalm in scripture. For all that I hear it often, I do not as often stop to consider what David says and how it applies to me.

The summary of the psalm is that God is David’s Shepherd and all that that implies. The Shepherd looks after the sheep, guides it, and protects it. The sheep’s responsibility is to accept the Shepherd’s care, to follow, and to stay where it can be protected.

As I was reading the first few verses this morning, I had questions.

How do I come to the place where I do not want? Not merely the place where all my needs are supplied, but the place where I have ceased wanting every bauble that the world dangles in front of me.

Why does God have to make me lie down in green pastures? Should I not want to rest in the place where I am provided for?

Why does He have to lead me beside the still waters? Should I not be drawn to them?

And it seemed as though I saw something of a progression.

To come to the place where I do not want requires me to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first and foremost. Paul wrote that he had learned how to abound and suffer lack; to be wealthy and poor; to be loved and mistreated. He had learned these things by seeking God. Along the way, circumstances had changed, but Paul’s pursuit and the God he pursued had not changed. That constant thread of pursuing a fixed goal brought Paul to the place where he could say that he was content with whatever God brought his way. And David had a similar experience. He had been a simple shepherd, then anointed king, then living in the palace with the king and best friend to the king’s son, then pursued into the wilderness where he lived in caves and tents, then into a palace as the king, then back out on the run, and back into the palace. I have often heard that this psalm was written in David’s youth, but I wonder if this is not the sage voice of an aged king looking back on all his experiences and seeing his Shepherd’s rod and staff guiding him the entire way.

I think I need to be made to lie down because life has always been moving at a frenetic pace. Even when the most important things were to take care of crops and livestock so that there would be provision, there was always something that demanded our attention. David knew this well. Shepherding his father’s sheep would have required constant vigilance from him. Living in the palace would have required the same. Likewise living on the run or being the king over the nation – every phase of David’s life required his attention. There is nothing wrong with being attentive and vigilant, but I can get so fixated on vigilance in some aspect of life that other parts of my life suffer. The circumstances of life are going to move quickly and I am going to be tempted to try to keep up. I cannot. There is always one more thing that needs doing, one more task that should be completed, one more project, one more line, one more note, one more … whatever. Sometimes – and my Shepherd knows when these times are – I need to be made to lie down in a good place and rest.

And the same is true of the still waters. I ought to be drawn to them, but there is all the bustle of life; all the roar and spray of the rapids. Years back, I stopped watching television. It was not so much a conscious choice as it was a time consideration. I worked two part time jobs for a while. When one of them became full time, it came with a hefty commute. And there was not enough time to work and commute and watch TV and spend time with my wife. Simple choice. I stopped watching TV. When that source of noise was removed from my life, I noticed things I had not noticed before. The still waters become most attractive when we are near them and can see their charm. When we are near the noise of other waters, it is a simple thing to overlook the still waters and to forfeit the peace they bring.

Jesus said that all who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him and find rest for their souls. He might very well have been echoing what David said in this psalm. I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd. I can choose the Good Shepherd, Who will lead me into His provision and peace. Or I can choose another.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being the Good Shepherd. Thank You that Your offer of rest is open to all who would come to You. Please make me lie down in Your green pastures and lead me beside Your still waters that I would find rest and peace in You.

SOAP – 06 May 2019 (Psalm 22)

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.

Psalm 22:27

Psalm 22 is a prophetic psalm and speaks of Christ’s crucifixion. If I need the connection to be made explicit, Jesus quoted the opening line of this psalm from the cross (My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?). I have reflected on the description of crucifixion in this psalm before and the thought process comes easily now. What is more challenging is seeing how a psalm about Christ’s crucifixion could apply to my life.

And the observation came that the God to Whom Jesus cried out on the cross and to Whom David writes in this psalm is the same God to Whom I can cry out in my trials and difficulties.

When David writes that he cries out to God day and night, but receives no answer (v. 2), it sounds very familiar and feels almost too real to me. There are circumstances in life that I think I have been talking to God about for so long that I have wearied of even speaking of them. David goes on to say that God is holy and that our fathers trusted in God and were delivered (vv. 3-5).

David then turns to how he feels. He speaks of being a worm and not a man (v. 6) and poured out like water (v. 14). The imagery is easy to picture and even easier to empathize with. When considering things that I take to God and talk about for an extended period of time, it can seem as if I have been poured out and have nothing left. I feel as though I have exhausted all my words and energy and have nothing else to say on the subject and no energy left to bring it, yet again, to God.

But that is just feeling.

Because my life, as the psalm, comes around to the realization that when we cried out to God, He heard (v. 24). He is not silent out of inability or shock or any of the other reasons that might leave me speechless. He is silent for reasons I am unable to comprehend. He would probably love to explain everything to me — including His silences — but I simply cannot understand. What I do understand is that He has never left me helpless, but has always come through with what was needed. Sometimes, circumstances changed. Sometimes, I changed. Sometimes both changed.

This morning I am exhorted and encouraged. Exhorted to return to praying about those things I have let slip because I had lost heart. Encouraged to remember that God has never once failed to take action on anything I brought to Him.

Father God, thank You for this encouragement to continue in prayer and this exhortation to return to prayer about things I have let slip. Please renew me in that, that I might come boldly before You to intercede on behalf of others and to cast my burdens on You.