Archive for April, 2016

Psalm 131

Psalm 131 is three short verses that begins with having the psalmist’s heart where it belongs:

  • my heart is not lifted up
  • my eyes are not raised too high
  • I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me

This isn’t merely a cry of desperation.  Things may not be going well at all and it’s hard to get your heart uplifted and to keep you eyes on God.  The writer does begin by acknowledging the Lord who is the only true source of comfort and peace.  When things are tough, we need to run to Him and keep our eyes fixed on His goodness and love.

In the Old Testament, the metaphor of the lifted heart describes haughtiness or pride.  Psalm 131 is another of the songs of Ascent and it’s purpose is to keep people grounded and focused on their place in God’s Kingdom. As pilgrims walked toward Jerusalem, the physical “ascent” requires a spiritual evenness: a heart not lifted up, eyes not raised too high. So while there may be some rough spots in the authors life, there also is a realization that God is in control and we need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  He alone is worthy of being lifted up.

The psalmist uses another metaphor in this chapter as he describes his calm and quiet soul “like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me”.  He doesn’t use a nursing child in this description, but a weaned child which insinuates a child that has grown up some and has experienced things in the world. In the midst of what happens in the world, a child may certainly return to his mother, and is what we should do when we face things that are overwhelming or when we feel a need for protection. We should run to God.

We should assume that the psalmist has experienced God’s hope alongside the world’s cruelties.  He’s lived life and experienced the good and bad.  He can focus on the negative, or choose a positive attitude. His anxiety is overcome, and he is free to encourage all of us to put our hope and trust in God because He is faithful and worthy of our praise.  He makes it clear that we should hope in the Lord forever.

Psalm 130

Psalm 130 begins with the writer being in the depths of despair and in need of God’s help.  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”!  When things get tough, we can certainly get down in the dumps.  We can allow circumstances to overtake us and cause us to be overwhelmed and out of control.  It’s in those times we need to remember that God is there, and we can cry out to Him.  He won’t be on vacation or out to lunch.  God stands ready for our call.  The only question is whether we’ll cry out, or continue to try and deal with whatever the situation on our own.

That’s the problem with man – we want to be self-sufficient.  We want to do it ourselves and deal with things on our own.  But God desires us to cry out.  “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy”!  God is listening.  He’s waiting for us to come to the end our ourselves and cry out to Him.  He knows we’re not perfect. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand”?  And He is keeping score.  We will give account for our sins (iniquities) someday soon.  We’ll stand before Him and be asked to justify what we have done.

We have a problem when that happens.  It’s a three letter word called SIN.  Every one of us has the disease.  We are all guilty and face a very unpleasant future if left to answer on our own.  The good news is that God made a way for us to deal with our sin problem. His name was Jesus, and God sent Him to this earth to pay the ultimate price for our sin so we can experience His forgiveness.  “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared”.  Forgiveness is based on God’s love for us, and our fear of Him should be based on His justice and righteousness.

God has made a way.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope”.  God has given us hope for eternal life through Christ.  There is no other way, no other hope, no other life.  We can only achieve victory over our sin by a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  It isn’t limited.  “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption”.  Redemption is plentiful and free if we’ll only accept His gift of grace and the love He expressed to us when He sent Christ to the Cross.  It’s there, it’s available, it’s free for you and me.  Have you taken Him up on it?

Psalm 129

Psalm 129 is a psalm of Ascent that is focused on the impact of evil on life.  The writer has experienced the affliction of evil and the enemy.  Yet even with the impact of those circumstances, he has chosen not to be downcast or over trodden.  “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me”.  We have a choice when we are faced with things that don’t go our way.  We can choose to let it control us and drive us down, or we can refuse to let the circumstances of life overtake us.

Attitude is a choice, and how we respond to the negative things of the past is our choice.  Life does not happen to us unless we allow it to.  We need to happen to life.  We need to choose how we’ll live and what we’ll do and the way we’ll respond to whatever the situation.  We have that opportunity.  We can choose not to let evil prevail and the negative things to take over our attitude.  So many don’t realize they truly do have a choice.  It isn’t an accident – it is a choice.

The author has experienced some long and difficult times. “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows”.  It would be easy to let that pull down the attitude and cause despair.  But instead, he turns his attention to the Lord.  “The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked”.  The truth is that no matter what’s happened, God is still in control.  His righteousness will win out in the end.  We may suffer some pain and suffering but God is in control.  He has won the war.

No matter what’s happening in life, we need to keep in mind that in the end, we know who wins.  “Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up”. It may seem unfair, and that the forces of evil are winning the battle, but this story has already been written.  Evil will fade.  God’s righteousness and justice and holiness will prevail.  We need to keep our eyes on Him and the truth of that outcome.  Evil will fade away.  It withers when God takes it on face to face.  Our God wins, and He reigns. Hallelujah!

Psalm 128

Psalm 128 is another of the psalms of Ascent – this one focused on the blessing of obedience and family.  Check out it begins: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways”!  There is plenty of blessing to go around – God won’t run out.  We don’t have to worry about blessings being limited or handed out on quota – God has more than enough.  The trigger for blessing is pretty simple: fear the Lord and walk in His ways.  When we do that, we open the flood gates of what God has in store for us.

The foundation for obedience is not ‘what seems right to us’ though.  Obedience means we ‘walk in His ways’.  It isn’t a matter of interpretation for us.  It is a matter of obedience to Him, and He’s already given us a lot of direction in what that looks like in His Word.  The psalmist also reminds us that we have to work if we intend to eat.  “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you”.  Work brings about God’s blessing, and it puts food on the table.  It’s part of God’s wellness plan for us.

He also paints the picture of a happy life.  “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table”.  When we are leading well in our family, life is good.  Our spouse and kids are growing and bearing fruit – they are living out the life God intended.  God’s plan is for us to experience a full and joy filled life with our family.  We are to grow together as we live in fear of the Lord and we walk in obedience.  It is our job to instruct our kids and lead them toward obedience.

The ultimate blessing of family is to see our grandkids or beyond.  “May you see your children’s children”! What greater blessing than to not only watch out kids grow up and become productive and blessed in their walk with the Lord, but to be able to see that happen for generations.  We have that opportunity, not only to see the generations to but impact and influence them as well.  How we live matters.  It determines the blessing of life.  It provides the goodness of God’s hand not only on our own life, but on those we love and lead.

Psalm 127

Psalm 127 is one of the most practical passages in scripture.  It talks about two areas that compete for our time and attention all the time – our work and our family.  We could call this the passage for workaholics.  Lots of us, particularly men, get our priorities out of whack in this area of life.  Far too many work 60 to 80 or even 100 hours a week in the name of doing it for the family.  That’s a lie.  In this psalm of Ascents, Solomon deals with the one who can’t seem to stop working.  He points out how all that hard work is worthless in God’s eyes.

There are two activities that he points out in the first verse that are in vain, or futile, if God is not in it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain”.

  1. Building the house
  2. Watching the city

If we are doing either of these on our own, without God being involved, it’s a waste of time.  God is concerned with how high a priority we place on our houses.  It should not be the driving force.  He also cares about our motives for why we are building a house.  House building is vain when we engage in it without God!

God also makes it clear that security also needs to be done with Him involved or it too will be in vain.  There have been a couple of occasions in scripture when God has removed Himself from the security of His people:

  1. The first instance is when safety is sought in the midst of sin. The sinner is never secure in sin.
  2. Man’s safety is only in God. When our efforts to be secure distract us from our devotion to God, we have no protection.

There is more effort in vain related to being a workaholic.  “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest”.  God created us with the need, and His design, for rest.  God gives to those who have learned to rest in Him, not to those who strive in their own strength.

Children and the gift they bring are the focus of the last part of the chapter.  We get things all out of balance.  It isn’t work that is the crown of life.  It is family – the children that God allows us to have.  “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward”.  We may toil to build a house, but by giving us children God builds our home.  “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them”!  In this time, it referred to the way children looked after their parents and saw that they were taken care of.  Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Challenging at times to raise, but a blessing none the less!

Psalm 126

Psalm 126 combines the theme of restoration with that of rejoicing.  It is another of the psalms of Ascent that were likely a collection of psalms used by folks who were on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year. The psalm begins with a memory of God’s history of restoration.  It’s a verse that reflects on what is to come.  “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream”.  The psalmist is dreaming of the day when God’s people return to their land following the Babylonian exile.

There have been plenty of restorations that have happened in history before and after this time:

  • the restoration of Sarah to Abraham
  • the restoration of Joseph to Jacob and his brothers
  • the restoration of the people to the land after the Exodus
  • the restoration of the ark to the people after the Philistines captured it
  • the birth of the Messiah; the restoration of Jesus to his parents
  • the resurrection

God is in the restoration business.  He often restores us if we’ll only allow Him that opportunity.

Coming out of that restoration was praise and rejoicing.  “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.””  The people of God praise God.  They recall the reality that “the Lord has done great things for us; we are glad”.  It’s the reality of God throughout history.  We don’t always see it as we’re too close to the actual events, but God has done lots of great things – enough to justify the psalmist writing those exact words twice in these short six verses.

The psalm ends with repeated requests for yet more restoration.  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him”.  Life is not always going to happen the way we wish.  There are plenty of times we’ll have the need and opportunity to seek God’s restoration.  This may refer to a physical drought, but it also is a metaphor for other kinds of crisis such as spiritual drought or the drought of a nation’s leadership.  God can restore the joy.  We need to cry out to Him!

Psalm 125

Psalm 125 is another of the psalms of Ascent, or ‘Songs of Degrees’ which were the pilgrims song book for their journey to Jerusalem.  This psalm talks of the topography of Jerusalem which not only sits on a mountain but is also surrounded by them.  I’ve been blessed to see this City of God first hand, and while they aren’t the Rockies or Himalayas in size or scope, they are some significant mountains in their own right.  The Temple Mount is cut off from the rest of the city by deep ravines and sits high atop that mountain.

The writer calls on those images as he pens this psalm. It is almost as if the author is describing what he sees as he crests the hill and sees the city from afar.  His attention is first drawn to the mountain where the temple sits, high and amidst the other mountains of the area. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever”.  Mount Zion represents the stable, powerful and unmovable place of God.  It never changes. It is the mountain surrounded by all the others.  God never moves and is worthy of our praise.

He goes on to describe the rest of those mountains surrounding Zion, Mount Olivet and others, which wrap around and surround the Holy Mount.  “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore”.  Symbolic of how God surrounds and protects His people, these mountains give us a view of the steadfast God and the protection he offers to those all around Him who trust in Him and keep their eyes focused on Him.  He gives us stability and defense.  He is our rock and protection.

The psalmist calls on God to bless His people.  “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts”!  If we walk uprightly with God, He will do good for us.  In order to be good we must have a good heart which comes from a deep and intimate relationship with God Himself.  We have to walk in faith and learn God’s ways through His Word and hearing His voice.  There is a price to pay for those who insist on living in their evil and crooked ways.  How we live matters.  God is alert and paying attention.  We need to walk in obedience to Him!

Psalm 124

Psalm 124 continues the psalms of Ascent as David reminds God’s people that they have been saved from the peril of their enemies.  Their safety depends wholly on God’s grace and power.  “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us”.  David makes it pretty clear.  Without God they would be toast. Their enemies would have swallowed them up and defeated them.

The secret weapon is God.  He’s been on their side.  He has provided their protection.  And David drives that home by saying it twice: “if it had not been the Lord who was on our side”.  He doesn’t want the people to miss the obvious.  They are able to make the trip to the temple because God has been actively protecting them.  Their deliverance and very lives are the result of God’s power and hand.  There was no other option for help but God Himself.  He was their only option, and He not only showed up, He saved them.

But it wasn’t merely against their enemies that God has blessed them.  He was there when they faced the struggle of nature.  “The flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us….over us would have gone the raging waters”.  God has been faithful.  He has saved their skin multiple times.  “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth”!  God is our refuge and strength.  David understands it and makes it clear through this psalm.  He points to the faithfulness of our God.

David gives us the hope that has sustained him during life.  “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”.  The great reality for us as believers is that the very creator of heaven and earth stands ready to be our help.  Just like He was for David, and we can faithfully see over and over throughout scripture, God is able and can defeat any evil that comes.  The question is whether or not we’ll call on His name and seek His help, or we’ll muddle through life on our own struggling at every turn with our limited ability.  God is and willing to be our help.  We need to call on His name and put that power into action in our life!

Psalm 123

Psalm 123 is another psalm that was sang as God’s people traveled to the temple to worship.  They expressed their faith as they made their way to the community of others who would join with them at the festivals.  “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens”!  There are fourteen of these psalms of ascent that seem to suggest a journey from far away in the midst of distress as they head to the temple for time with God.  They are looking forward to getting into the safe keeping of the Father.  Thus they have their eyes fixed on Him, the only source of their protection and care.

This psalm is all about trusting God.  The people are facing constant attack and persecution from their enemies, so they have learned to keep their eyes on the One who can keep them safe.  “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us”.  The focus of this psalm is on the eyes and keeping them focused on God who is King.  The psalmist talks about how we should keep our eyes on God, as a servant or maidservant watching their master.

That means we are focused on the provision that is provided.  The master and mistress both provided for the slave and maidservant.  IN the same way, God provides for us.  We need eyes wide open focused on the skies in anticipation of God’s provision.  Prayer is our tool to seek God’s hand, and we much keep looking toward Him to receive His love and blessing and protection.  Not because we are worthy though.  “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt”.  God’s response is not based on our being worthy, but on His love and mercy.

Mercy is about God not giving us what we really deserve.  We are sinners doomed for destruction and death.  The outcome of our pathetic lives should be eternity apart from a holy God who has set a standard that we cannot reach.  If not for God’s grace, we’d all spend the rest of time apart from the God who loves us, not because He lacks love, but because He is godly and righteous and just and we are none of the above.  That’s why Jesus had to come to earth and go to the cross.  God’s mercy allows for Jesus’ grace to save us from our sin and overcome the contempt that would send us away forever!

Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is another of the psalms of ascent which were sang as the people headed toward the temple in Jerusalem.  It’s a very common start in verse one – a ‘poster verse’ used in a lot of ways.  “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!””  How do you enter your worship experience on Sunday morning?  Are you glad you get to head to God’s house, or is it a task or activity you do because it looks good to those who know you and you won’t have to answer any questions if you show up.

Spending time with God and a community of believers is definitely something to be glad for.  It’s core to God’s design for the church and our walk with Him.  But worship is only one part of the gladness this psalm is referring to.  The interaction is much broader and not only includes worship, but justice, thanksgiving, coming together, safety and peace.  The power of coming to the temple is about much more than a few songs and a sermon.  And it was compelling – it drew people – it wasn’t something that had to be done but made a huge impact in the lives of those who journeyed there.

The psalmist talks about the unity and power of being bound together.  “Jerusalem – built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord”.  It was a place people came together and became as one.  They had a common purpose – to give thanks to God for all His goodness and blessing.  They knew that they would find justice there.  “There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David”.  The Lord’s house was a place that burdens could be lifted and restitution’s made.  It could set you free.

It was also a place of peace.  “Peace be within your walls and security within your towers”!  God has promised to be here, so it is a place filled with His presence and protection.  It is a place where we can go and find peace and safety, when we abide with Him.  We can find peace when we sit at the Father’s feet.  It is the only place we will be able to find that everlasting peace.  God is our rock, our security, and our future and hope.  Like people back in David’s day, we need to go to Him.  We need to be glad about pursuing God and His presence as it truly is our most holy place!

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