SOAP Journal – 21 March 2019 (Psalm 13)

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13:5-6

This psalm seems to divide neatly into three phases.

The first is in verses 1-2 and that is the questioning phase. David finds himself in a time of difficulty and asks God how long He (God) will delay taking action to help him (David). And it sometimes feels as if God is standing back from the difficulties in my life, too. This is not to say that God actually is standing back from the difficulties or delaying taking action any more than is absolutely necessary.

Last night, my daughter and I read the story of John the Baptist and my daughter asked why God did not give Zechariah and Elizabeth a baby when they wanted one so badly. The answer that I found myself giving is that God wanted to give them a baby and He wanted their baby and how he came to them to be extra special; that oftentimes the greatest blessings take the longest time to arrive — they just require more preparation time. That is an answer born of reading the scriptures and learning that God is not slow concerning His promises. It is also an answer born of experiencing God fulfilling the good desires of my heart in good time.

The second phase — verses 3-4 — is the consequence if God does not intervene. The consequence will be that David will sleep the [sleep of] death and his enemies rejoice when [he is] shaken. In essence, David’s adversaries will be victorious and will trumpet that victory. And this has not changed. Human nature is what it has always been: selfish. These adversaries do not think of the cost to David or to the kingdom he rules over or anything else. They think only of their issue with David and their desire to overcome him. If they succeed, then they will not be content with merely succeeding, but will tell everyone what they think they have accomplished.

We are not all that different now. We often make goals without considering their impact on others and loudly proclaim our success when we have accomplished those goals, ignoring those we have hurt or destroyed along the way to our objective.

In the third and last phase of this psalm — verses 5-6 — David transitions to peace and praise. He has laid his requests before God and the peace of God now guards his heart and mind. David can now trust in God’s lovingkindness (mercy), rejoice in God’s salvation, and sing to the LORD. David knows that his own failure or fall is a possibility and that his adversaries may triumph. David also knows God and God’s character. And that is where David finds his comfort. He does not take comfort in knowing that God will act. He does not take comfort in knowing that his adversaries will be thwarted. He takes comfort in God’s mercy and salvation. And, thus comforted, he sings to the LORD.

This psalm reads a bit like a poetic example of Paul’s instruction to the Philippians. Paul instructed them to not be anxious, but to make their requests known to God and promised that the peace of God — which is not always understandable — would guard their hearts and minds. That is David’s progression in this psalm. And this psalm elaborates a bit on the peace. The peace does not stem from knowing that God will do what I ask Him to, but from knowing that God is merciful and has saved me and will continue to save me until I am ushered into His presence.

Which phase am I in this morning? Am I praying at all? If no, then I need to take my cares, concerns, and worries to God.; all of my questions and concerns about what will happen if God does not move. Then I need to rest in His mercy and salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder of what Paul writes elsewhere. It is good to see the same instruction presented in different ways. Please etch this into my character that I would take my difficulties, with all of my concerns and questions, to You  and then rest in Who You are.

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Recall to My Mind (Lamentations 3:21-23)

21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 The LORDS lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 [They] are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

If anyone understood feeling hopeless, it was Jeremiah. Nearly every prophecy he was given was about the ruin of some kingdom. Worse, he knew that the prophecies came with caveats; conditions that could turn aside the worst of things. If people would surrender to the invader who was executing God’s judgment, then those people would live and not endure a horrific siege. In the midst of receiving and passing along terrible news and in the midst of enduring the siege with those who refused to listen and take the path of gentler discipline, Jeremiah remembers.

He writes that God’s compassions and lovingkindnesses; His mercy never cease and do not fail. Jeremiah remembers that both compassion and mercy are new every morning. Every new day seems to bring with it a new example of God’s forbearance and longsuffering with us. Every new day brings fresh mercies and a new wave of compassion. That God would do this; that He would renew His mercy and compassion toward us every day is staggering and Jeremiah responds with the statement that God’s faithfulness is great.

This morning, I want to focus in on the first portion of these few verses. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. I have been struggling with feeling anxious about something on the schedule horizon for a few days now and nothing seemed to be setting me at ease. I kept looking for comfort from friends and family, but everything everyone said just made the anxiety worsen. And this was everyone trying to be helpful. The anxiety has lessened and my heart sits more at ease than just two days ago, but it did not get there by comforting words from friends or encouragement of family. My heart came to a place of increased peace when I did what Jeremiah did: I recalled to mind the attributes of God.

A knowledge — experiential, not conceptual — of Who God is is more necessary than I often realize. His character; His repeated actions toward me and others is a source not only of understanding Him in some small measure but also of comfort and hope for me and every other believer. Aristotle once said that we are what we repeatedly do. This is never more true than when it is applied to God. He is what He repeatedly does. He loves and The Bible declares that He is love (I John 4:8, 16). He tells us the (often painful and sometimes unpleasant) truth and He is declared to be the Truth (John 14:6). Over and over, I find that His declared character and His actions are in agreement. So, when I thought about the verse that says God has not given me a spirit of fear and another that says that perfect love casts out fear, I understood that the fear I was allowing residence in my mind and heart was not from God. When I recognized that and I took it to Him and agreed with Him that fear is not His tool and that my fear and anxiety showed my lack of trust in Him and Who He has shown Himself to be, then the fear subsided. There is still nervousness — I am walking into unknown experiential territory — but the mind-numbing, soul-crushing fear has retreated. It keeps trying to make a resurgence and I, like Jeremiah, must recall to my mind what I have heard and seen and experienced of God’s character.

And all that I have seen and heard and experienced tells me that God is good and His mercy endures forever. Let me recall to my mind what I have heard and seen and experienced of God when circumstance would crush me. If I recall these things, then I have hope.

Right Fear. Right Understanding. (Psalm 118:4)

Oh let those who fear the LORD say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

Psalm 118:4

The psalmist here binds together two things that are often discussed in the psalms: the fear of the LORD and God’s lovingkindness.

First off, the fear of the LORD is often given a bad rap. People hear about fearing God and get this idea of some all-powerful bully looming over us and ready to annihilate us at the first available opportunity. The reality is more in keeping with the parent-child dynamic. I’ve written about it before, but I can use the reminder that most people who grew up in homes with healthy parent-child relationships were, to some extent, afraid of their parents. When we followed our parents rules, we were not afraid. There is no fear in obedience and we none of us was afraid of our parents while we followed the rules. However, when we broke the rules and even when we considered breaking the rules, the fear of our parents came into play. That is an illustration of what the fear of God looks like. Obviously, the relationship with parents matures and changes and love of our parents and a desire to make them proud of us replaces the fear and the same — or something extremely similar — should happen in our relationship with God, I think.

Now couple that notion of fear with what the believer is supposed to say. The word translated say here can also mean say in one’s heart or think. This makes it seem that the verb carries more in it than merely uttering words, but implies a conviction of the truth of the words. I do not merely say that God’s lovingkindness (goodness, kindness, faithfulness) goes on and on without end, but that I say it in my heart and think that it is so. The exhortation to the believer is to begin with a healthy and right fear of God and from there to progress to the understanding that God’s goodness; kindness; faithfulness endures from eternity past to eternity future. I cannot exhaust it. I cannot reach a point where it ends. Wherever and whenever I am, the goodness; kindness; faithfulness of God is. In short, though I am to fear God, I am also to have a right understanding of Who He is (my Father in Heaven) and how He wants to relate to me (good, kind, faithful).

Let me be properly afraid of my Father in Heaven and do so with a right understanding that His goodness; kindness; faithfulness is without end or limit.

Thanks, Praises, and Reminders (Psalm 92:1-3)

A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day.
It is good to give thanks to the LORD
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre.

Psalm 92:1-3

I’m glad when The Bible gives me a listing of things that are good or acceptable or in some other way bless the heart of God. These verses are one such portion of scripture.

First, it is good to give thanks to the LORD. The verse does not specify what I should be thankful for and that is probably just as well. An exhaustive list of everything I have to thank God for would span as many pages as The Bible currently contains … possibly more. I can begin with thanking God for my life and the breath that fills my lungs and move forward from that. Why is it good to give thanks to God? Because being thankful is good for both of us. For God, it is a blessing when I thank Him, just as it is a blessing when others thank me. Being thanked let’s us know that what we’ve done is appreciated and noticed and that those who receive it are not taking it for granted. Being thankful is also good for me. A grateful heart is less prone to sins like coveting. If I am focused on all that God has done for me and given me, it is difficult to perceive a lack in that. Not impossible, but extremely difficult.

Second, to sing praises to [the] name, [of the] Most High. Thanking God is an act of me praising Him to Him. Praising Him in the context of this part of the verse is praising Him to others. Just as it is good to thank God, it is also good to tell others of His goodness and generous heart toward me. This adds another dimension to the blessings. I bless the heart of God by letting Him know that I have noticed His goodness toward me – as with being thankful. I also remind myself of His goodness toward me in praising Him, building my faith. But this action adds in reminding others of God’s goodness and it builds their faith. This action extends the blessing beyond God and myself to everyone who hears and understands God’s goodness.

Third, to declare [His] lovingkindness in the morning and [His] faithfulness by night. Jeremiah wrote that it is because of God’s mercies (lovingkindnesses) that we are not destroyed and that those mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Every morning, God trots out a fresh set of mercies to cover the new day. Every night, I can reflect on God’s faithfulness to me; how He never left my side. Morning and evening; day and night I should be considering God’s mercies and His faithfulness and making them known.

How do I do all of this? Well, the psalmist assumes that music will be involved. Lutes and harps and lyres are all mentioned. And music is an excellent way to praise God and to reflect upon His mercy and faithfulness and to thank Him. But music is not required. I can thank God whenever I notice that He has done something for me. I can praise Him by speaking well of Him and what He has done when I talk with others. I can make known His mercies of the day to me when I sit and talk with friends and family at the end of the day. Music is excellent and God definitely loves to hear His children sing to Him and for Him and about Him, but I must be certain that I do not limit myself to that mode of praise and thanks.

One last note: This psalm was written to be sung on the Sabbath. This was intended to be sung when Israel was taking time off from their work to reflect on God and His goodness toward them; to be part of the idea of speaking God’s words to our children when we are at home and when we get up in the morning and go to bed at night (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).

Let me be thankful for all that God is and does. Let me praise Him to anyone who will listen – especially to my fellow believers, that we may swap stories of how great is our God. Let me make known His mercy in the morning and His faithfulness at night. His mercy is what makes relationship possible. His mercy is what dusts me off and sets me back on my feet when I fall. His mercy endures forever.

God’s Reasons (Job 37:13)

Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

Job 37:13

Elihu is still talking. Wraps up what he has to say about how God deals with clouds and rain and all related things (snow, ice, thunder, lightning, etc.) with these words. These words give only three possible reasons for why God does what He does, but these three are a cross-section of His reasons and give an idea as to the full scope of why He does what He does.

The first reason Elihu gives is correction. This has been the subject of Job and his friends’ conversation through the whole book. God is correcting you. You did something wrong. Blah, blah, blah. Now we know that Job did nothing to warrant what was happening to him as the introductory chapters tell us as much. God was talking about how great Job was as a righteous man and Satan was given leave to test Job. Correct is not why all of this started. Correction is how it will wrap up, though. Job has been spouting off about things he does not fully understand and God will show up to personally correct Job. The point of what Elihu is saying is that sometimes God does things to correct us. An illness, a business failure, the loss of a job, a broken friendship, and so many other things can potentially be God’s correction. It bears note that He corrects out of love Or, as Elihu mentioned in the verse for yesterday, because He wants to justify us.

Next on the list is for His world. This tells us two things. First, that the world belongs to God. Notice that it is His world for which He is doing something. Second, God loves His world. He does some things solely for the purpose of doing good to His world. In The Law, God told Israel to take a sabbath year every seventh year. They were to work hard and do their thing for six years and year seven was to be a year of no farming. Give the land a break. Just grab whatever happens to grow on its own. Since Israel did not obey this command (among others), God sent them off into captivity. It “just so happened” that the length of their captivity was precisely equal to the number of years of rest they had denied the land. Some things God does for His world.

Last on the list is for lovingkindness. The King James renders this as for mercy. Sometimes God allows one “bad” thing to happen in order to avert a much worse thing. Maybe I got a speeding ticket, but the alternative was to be T-boned by a vehicle at the next intersection and be left paralyzed. I would definitely count the second option as “worse.” I do not see all the branching possibilities, but God does and He chooses the one that ultimately results in Good for me. God will sometimes let a “bad” thing happen in order to turn us away from doing something truly Bad. Years back, God had instructed me to stop going to industrial clubs. I did not share this with anyone (and I should have) and a friend invited me (not knowing) out to an industrial club. We had been before and she was just extending an invite to go dancing with a friend. I accepted, despite knowing that God had said I should not do it. That morning, I slipped and fell and in the shower and bruised my tail bone to the point of walking being painful. What would have happened? I do not know. But I can trust that God let that happen and one of the possible reasons is for mercy.

These three are far from being the full gamut of why God does things, but they are an excellent representational sampling. Some things He does to correct us; some things for His world; some things for mercy. He has, I am sure, millions upon millions of other reasons to do the things He does. The point, I think, of this sampling is to remind Job (and me, by proxy) that God’s reasons are Good and that everything God does has a reason. Let me learn to trust that everything God does is done with a reason and that reason is Good.