SOAP – 22 April 2019 (Psalm 20)

Some [boast] in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.

Psalm 20:7

I have been reading this psalm over for almost a week. The meaning is straightforward enough: this psalm is a prayer for God’s intervention on one’s behalf. The application, however, has been difficult for me. And the why finally clarified this morning.

In verses 4-5, David writes:

4 May He grant you your heart’s desire
And fulfill all your counsel!
We will sing for joy over your victory,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners.
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.

 

It is the presence of the word all in those verses that gives me pause. Do I really want God to fulfill all [my] counsel and all [my] petitions? I often learn at a later time that some of my counsel and petitions were terrible ideas when weighed against what God had planned. Had God gone with my plans or given me what I asked, then things would not have turned out as well.

It is a sobering thought.

And it is this sobering thought that brings me to applying this psalm from a different angle. I do, as David writes, want God to answer in the day of trouble and send help when I call Him and want Him to give victory over the struggles in life that my fellow believers might hear of that victory and rejoice with me. All of this is desirable. Add to this the desire that, as stated in a previous psalm, the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart would be acceptable in God’s sight. To use the words of my Lord, I need to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. If I am ruled by Him and seeking His agenda, then my counsel and my petitions are much more likely to be in line with His.

Father, please change my heart so that it seeks after Your kingdom and Your righteousness before anything else. If that is what my heart seeks, then my counsel and petitions will fall in line.

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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.

SOAP Journal – 16 March 2018 (2 Kings 4:8-37)

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.

2 Kings 4:17

Elisha frequently passed through Shunem and a woman and her husband in that city often hosted the prophet and his servant as they passed through. She went so far as to ask her husband to build an addition onto their home for Elisha and Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, to stay in when they came to visit. Elisha appreciates the generosity and hospitality and asks what good turn he can do for her. She is well situated, but Gehazi mentions that she has no son and her husband is getting on in years. Elisha tells her that she will have a son about that time the following year. And she does.

The years go by and the boy grows and one day visits his father in the fields, telling his father that his head hurts. His father sends him home and the boy dies in his mother’s arms. The situation looks grim, but the woman heads over to see Elisha. As did the widow in the previous account, the woman does not ask for anything, only tells Elisha the situation. But there is an additional element to this story, the Shunammite refuses to go back to her home and the body of her son without Elisha. She is not going back to the situation that sent her to seek God via the prophet unless God, as represented by the prophet, comes back with her. Elisha does go with her and raises the boy from the dead, giving him back to his mother.

This story contains elements that are similar to others. The woman being given a prophecy of a son when her husband is on in years echoes the account of Sarah and Isaac. The woman receiving her son back from the dead echoes the experience of Mary with Jesus. Interesting to me is the sort of negative of this story in Jairus coming to Jesus. In that account, it is a father coming to Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. In a way, it is a reminder that resurrection stories are rather more common in The Bible than one might think. And rightly so, resurrection is the hope of the believer.

In addition to that, this Shunammite woman’s story is also an allegory of a life with God. She invites the prophet, the representative of God, into her home and life and even makes more room so he can stay longer and more comfortably. I, as a believer, should be rearranging my life — inner and outer — to accommodate Jesus. The woman is not looking for anything more than to be in the presence of God’s representative. When Elisha asks what should be done for her, she answers with the verbal equivalent of a shrug. She is well situated in life and does not need anything. Which gives God, through Elisha, the opportunity to give a blessing that the woman was not expecting. I, too, often receive unexpected and delightful blessings when I am at my most content in simply living in God’s presence. The woman goes to Elisha when tragedy strikes and does not leave him until something has been done to make the situation right. She is in that an example of persevering prayer. She refused to go back to the body of her son until Elisha went with her. She may have been looking for comfort. She may have been looking for a miracle. All she says is, “I told you not to lie to me.” It is possible for me to feel like God has lied to me; like He made a promise and started to fulfill it only to pull back. I ought also to cling to the feet of God until He comes into the situation in which I feel hopeless or abandoned or like God is not making good on His promises. He will make good on every promise He has made and He will walk with me into the difficult situation if only I will persevere.

Let me make room for God in my life — my time, my thoughts, my plans, my all. Let me not limit God to blessings that I can conceive of, but leave room for Him to bless as He sees fit. Let me continue to pursue God’s presence in difficult times until He enters the situation and makes it right, however He chooses to make it right.

Father, thank You that You have made room for me. Please teach me to do the same for You. Thank You that You have blessings I cannot conceive in mind for me. Please give me a heart and mind that look for You as my chief blessing and all else will be a pleasant surprise. Thank You that You are near to those who are hurting and in difficult times. Please remind me to cling to You and not let go until You have made the rough ways smooth.

SOAP Journal – 24 January 2018 (1 Kings 8:22-53)

Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive.

1 Kings 8:30

The core of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple is contained in this morning’s verse. Solomon’s desire is that the temple would serve as a focus point for prayer. He asks God to listen to the supplication of those who pray in and toward the temple; asks God to hear in Heaven; asks God to take action based on those prayers. In verse 39, Solomon prays that God would act and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart [God knows], for [He] alone [knows] the hearts of all the sons of men. The core request, the thing that Solomon is actively seeking is the attention of God and God’s appropriate response to the prayers of His people.

This is a common theme throughout The Bible; the attention and response of God. Abraham speaks with God often, so much so that their relationship seems almost casual, like old friends. Moses, too, spends a great deal of time speaking with God and the LORD regularly responded to the prayers of Moses. Over and over again, the theme comes to the fore that those who would walk closely with God must approach in prayer.

Last night was the first night in a six week course of study on prayer for me. My prayer life is lackluster and I often feel as though my walk with God lacks real power. And that is not God’s fault. How can He empower and direct and do the sorts of things that He wants to do if I refuse to connect with Him through prayer? He will not force the issue. But I am convinced that Solomon has the right focus as he prays for the temple. It needs to be a place where prayers are offered up and that reminds people to pray. If I am, as Corinthians says, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), how much more should I be offering up prayer to God?

Father, my prayers have not been what they ought. This I confess and seek Your forgiveness. Please teach me to pray.

SOAP Journal – 05 January 2018 (1 Kings 2:10-25)

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.

1 Kings 2:19

In verses 10-12, David dies and Solomon is left as the king without his father to give him counsel. In that moment, I am reasonably sure that Solomon felt overwhelmed. He had gone from being one of the king’s sons to being the king. That is quite a change.

And it is in these early days of Solomon’s reign that Adonijah has a chat with Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, and asks her to take a request to her son. In this is a picture of intercession; of going to one who can supply on behalf of another who does not have the necessary standing to make the request. Adonijah asks for Abishag as a wife and Bathsheba, apparently unaware of the political ramifications of such a marriage, agrees to ask Solomon to make that happen.

And she does. Bathsheba goes to see her son and asks him to give Abishag to Adonijah as wife. Solomon sees the ramifications of such a union instantly. If he lets Adonijah marry a woman who was that close to David, the people would at best be confused about who was really the king and at worst would think that Solomon was ceding the throne to Adonijah. Solomon understands that this is not a request that Bathsheba would have come up with, but that she was put up to this request by Adonijah. Solomon sees in this a continued pursuit of the throne, despite God’s choice, and decides to put an end to it. Adonijah is executed.

I find encouragement for my prayers in this passage. It may seem odd to look at a mother asking her son for something that would spell political suicide and the resultant execution of the reigning king’s half -brother and see encouragement to pray, but it is there.

Adonijah asks Bathsheba to go to Solomon on his behalf. So far, the picture of intercession is clear. This is exactly how it works. Someone who lacks standing or relationship asks one who has both to make request on their behalf. Add to this picture the relative simplicity of the one being asked to intercede. If I have an effective prayer life, a friend or colleague may ask me to pray to God on their behalf that some circumstance be changed. Like Bathsheba, I do not see all the ramifications of the request. I cannot look forward and backward down the corridors of time to see that this was the inevitable consequence of some previous action or that this is the more merciful of the possible circumstances that could be transpiring at that moment. My vision is limited. My scope of understanding small compared to my King.

Bathsheba goes and makes the request. Knowing what little she knows of the situation, she takes things to her son, the king. And the king receives her. He comes to greet her and has a place of honor set up for her to sit and talk with him. Likewise my King is only too glad to meet with me when I come to Him in prayer. He meets me and takes time to sit with me and hear what I have to say.

Solomon hears Bathsheba and denies her petition and explains why. The text is pretty clear that Solomon understood where Adonijah’s request could lead. What is more important is that Solomon explains to Bathsheba why the request is denied. The text does not give any indication that she got up in a huff and stormed out of the king’s presence. Nor does the text indicate that she was any less welcome the next time she visited her son in the throne room. So, too, if I will but take the time to make my requests known to God and sit a while, He may very well explain why some requests are denied while others are cheerfully granted. He may decide that I need to understand the implications of the thing I am asking — implications of which I may be wholly unaware.

All of this encourages me to pray; to take any and all petitions to God with the understanding that He will refuse any request that does not further His kingdom and is willing to help me understand why the thing I ask does not contribute to that furtherance. God does not want me to be some thrall, held to Him because I have no choice in the matter. He wants me to grow from child to trusted steward to intimate friend. And one of the ways He does that is to give me understanding; to teach me so that I can pray in the right way and for the right things.

Thank You, Father, for this passage that encourages my prayer. I need the encouragement, as I do not pray in the way that I should or as often as I should. Please stir in my heart a desire to sit with You and pour out my heart and listen as Your pour out Yours. Let me grow from child to steward to friend and to increase my boldness in prayer proportionate to the relationship.

SOAP Journal – 27 November 2017 (2 Samuel 14)

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart [was inclined] toward Absalom.

2 Samuel 14:1

After Absalom murdered his half-brother, he fled the country. His father, King David, longed to go out to Absalom (13:39), but he did not. Joab perceives the king’s heart and decides that Absalom needed to come home. So Joab convinces a wise woman to come to King David and present a fiction like the one that the prophet Nathan had presented, designed to evoke a response from David. So the woman presents the fiction and David offers her the protection that she ostensibly sought, but when she persists, David sees through things and realizes that Joab is behind the whole thing. The king gives Joab what he asks for — Absalom is brought back to Jerusalem — but the king does not see Absalom. Eventually, Absalom goes so far as to set a part of Joab’s field on fire to get his attention and get an audience with David. Absalom says something that, were David a man inclined more toward justice and less toward mercy, would have been the end of Absalom: Now therefore, let me see the king’s face, and if there is iniquity in me, let him put me to death (14:32). There was, in fact, iniquity in Absalom and he should have been put to death. But he was not.

Joab’s non-battlefield judgment was poor. I have already read of his murder of another general during peace talks in retribution for a killing that happened in war time. I continued reading and saw that Absalom stages a coup some years after being brought back to Jerusalem. Joab saw that David’s heart wanted something and Joab thought that David’s heart was good. What Joab did not stop to consider is whether or not David’s mind had a reason for leaving Absalom in his self-imposed exile. There is nothing in the text that says that David said or even implied that Absalom could not come back. Perhaps David, who knew a thing or two about living in a state of non-repentance, wanted to give God time to work on his son’s heart. Perhaps David just wanted to give Absalom some time and space to sort things out. Whatever the reason, David had not gone and gotten his son, despite longing to see him, and Joab missed the mark entirely.

David, for his part, allowed himself to be swayed by Joab’s charade. David saw through the smokescreen and yet still gave Joab what he was after. It is interesting that the text tells me that David did what Joab asked, not what David thought wise or prudent or even that David sought God’s counsel and acted accordingly. David gave Joab what he wanted. There may be people in my life who are able to sway me to do things that I know are imprudent or outright wrong — there have been in times past. It seems that Joab is such a person in the life of David.

Absalom, far from appreciating the mercy involved in his situation, flaunts it and demands to see the king or be put to death for any iniquity in himself. Absalom had plenty of iniquity within him and plenty of reason why he should have been put to death.

In Joab, I see for too much of myself with God. I understand a portion of God’s heart, but I do not know His mind. So I pray and ask Him to do things that may have terribly ramifications. As Paul writes, I do not know how to pray as I ought. So, like Peter, I keep talking despite not knowing what to say. Israel would probably have been better served if Joab had left Absalom in his self-imposed exile. My prayer life would be better if I could come to God knowing that I do not know how to pray as I ought and if I would rely on the Holy Spirit to intercede and speak the words I cannot speak.

In David, I see something of myself. I have been, in times past, unduly influenced by people that I cared about and with whom I had been through much. I am still wont to be thus influenced, I think, but the number of people who are close enough to me and have endured as much beside me is few.

In Absalom, I see a tendency that is sadly common to all people. I see a lack of appreciation of the mercy shown us and a blindness to our own transgressions.

Father, I do not know how to pray as I ought — if Paul didn’t, then I most certainly do not — and so ask that Your Spirit would help my weakness and intercede with groanings too deep for words. I know that the tendency exists in me both to allow myself to be influenced — especially when the direction of that influence agrees with my desires — and to take for granted the mercy shown me. Please work in me so that I am influenced by You and by counsel that comes from You through trustworthy friends. Please give me eyes that see just how much Your mercy has extended to me and how far down Your grace has to descend to reach me.

SOAP Journal – 15 August 2017 (1 Samuel 1:10)

She, greatly distressed, prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.

1 Samuel 1:10

The book(s) of Samuel cover the life and times of the prophet Samuel, as the name implies. This book includes a brief summary of how the prophet came into his office as prophet then spends the rest of its time dedicated to the selection and reign of the first two kings of Israel. The portion that covers Samuel’s life includes a story he must have heard from his parents and from the priest, Eli: the story of how Hannah came to have her son.

Hannah had been unable to conceive and she, like many women before and after her, had a great desire to have children. Her husband did not understand her desire — though, in fairness to him, he already had children by his other wife, Peninnah — but tried to be supportive.

This morning’s verse is a portion of that story. Hannah, desperate to have a child, prays to God about her desire. The Bible tells me that children are a gift from the LORD and that wanting them is a good things, as far as God is concerned. So Hannah’s heart was in the right place. But her inability to conceive left her embittered — against who or what we are not told, but it may have just been angry with circumstance. And she does with that bitterness of soul what we should all do: She prays.

Is there something making me bitter? Then let me pray about it. Let me take the things that would poison my soul and leave them at the feet of God. More than once, He turns the bitter things sweet. He turns bitter waters sweet for the Israelites during their wanderings. He turned a bitter life sweet for Naomi in the book of Ruth. He can take the thing that is bitter to me and make it sweet, if only I will take it to Him in prayer.

My God, please train me to bring all things to You in prayer that the bitter might be made sweet. Thank You for being willing to make that change for us and in us.