Psalm 33: The planning process

It’s fun to think ahead and plan what might happen next in our lives (or to at least anticipate what we’re going to have for lunch). Yet, have you noticed that our plans don’t often turn out as we anticipated? What we think is going to be a big deal ends in a thud . . . and what seemed so insignificant at the time later becomes truly magnificent?

That’s the discovery of Psalm 33. Our author steps back from the routine of life and notices something—when people make big plans, things stay pretty much the same. When God puts together a plan, big stuff starts to happen.

Here’s the reality that we regularly face:

  • We speak . . . and our words float away.
  • We plan . . . and our efforts accomplish very little.
  • We watch . . . and often end up frustrated.

Psalm 33 offers a different reality for God:

  • God speaks . . . and things happen. (vs. 6-9)
  • God plans . . . and it always comes true. (vs. 10-11)
  • God watches . . . and his people experience love and joy. (vs. 12-22)

It’s kinda funny. This current 35-day prayer challenge wasn’t part of our original plans. The plan was to produce a community-wide tour of the entire Old Testament. For a number of reasons, that just didn’t happen this fall. So here we are on day 20 out of 35. Was this God’s plan all along?

I’m neither smart enough nor insightful enough to consistently know what God is up to. But I do know this: when I’m willing to adjust to God’s plan, everything seems to turn out a lot better for all of us.

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Psalm 32: Stubborn?

Face it—you’re stubborn.

It’s true. All of us humans possess a natural bent towards keeping life sane by keeping life the same. We like to follow established patterns and predictable routines.

It’s not all bad—these patterns allow us to easily accomplish certain tasks. We brainlessly get ready each morning, drive to and from work, and load and unload (and load and unload and load and unload . . .) the laundry each day because we’ve established consistent routines.

But it’s not all good, either. Some of our predicable patterns can produce a plethora of personal problems. Yelling at the kids, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking you’re smarter than everyone else, refusing to address your health issues or believing God doesn’t care can become habitual routines that lead to long-term misery.

It wasn’t very good for the writer of Psalm 33. It seems that our psalmist struggled through a season of self-willed stubbornness. He simply refused to own up to his own shortcomings. You can hardly blame the guy—it’s never a pleasant process to stare into the face of one’s own demons. Yet something finally snapped—and he found a way to become honest with God and with himself.

But that’s not all bad for us. In fact, as we invite God to compassionately reveal the cracks in our character, it creates an opening for God’s grace to flow into our lives far more deeply.

So let’s pray through Psalm 32, stubbornly receiving God’s love and grace as part of our everyday routine.

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Psalm 30: Dance Lessons

We’re about halfway through our 35-day prayer journey together. It seems to be a good time to stop and consider:

Why do you pray?

We could come up with a lot of good reasons, I suppose:

  • Prayer was a priority to Jesus, so it’s our priority, too.
  • Prayer invites God’s power and presence into a specific problem or need.
  • Prayer offers a good way to gain much needed peace and tranquility.
  • Prayer opens up new ways for God to speak to us personally.
  • Prayer provides a great opportunity to learn how to dance.

Learn to dance? That’s what the choreographer of Psalm 30 discovered. After a grueling season of practicing prayer, here’s the outcome: (Verse 11)

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy . . .

The dancing didn’t come easily. A series of grueling practice sessions had tested our author’s patience, endurance and toughness But the results speak for themselves—there’s an unhinged enthusiasm that bounds through this piece of poetry in motion.

The dancing doesn’t come easily for me, either. Stoic Lutherans raised me and I now lead a Baptist church. That’s hardly the optimal training grounds for producing the next “Dancing with the Stars” co-winner. Yet our Psalmist clearly recommends we try the salsa, a waltz or at least some of weird, awkward tango.

So that’s my prayer—that you and I would keep praying and watching and waiting until God’s joy cuts loose in our lives. I’m sure it’ll feel pretty awkward at first, but I bet God will thoroughly enjoy the results.

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Psalm 29: Chaos Theory

I deeply admire those who are expertly organized and skillfully systematic. Some days my admiration can even morph into envy. While some among us seamlessly arrange life like a 2011 edition Excel spreadsheet, my approach feels more like a 1937 cubist painting. I think my life has all the right parts, yet I struggle to arrange them in a recognizable format.

Maybe Psalm 29 was written for me—or those like me. This worship song paints an expressive portrait of a planet teetering on the brink of breaking apart. Churning water, rumbling thunder, splintering trees, flashing lightening and shifting soil create the image of a world ready to collapse into complete chaos.

In the midst of the chaos, one thing is constant: God. God can handle the chaos—sometimes he even causes it. From what appears to be an utterly disordered world, God emerges as our only permanent source of personal stability.

So if your world starts twisting and turning, try your best to remember: (vs. 10-11)

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

May we all find a way to enjoy God’s strength and peace, no matter the chaos in us or around us.

enCompass Church

Psalm 27: Scaredy Cat

We’re all scared of something. Our common fears include the fear of flying, of public speaking, of the dark, of germs, of spiders and snakes. I guess that’s good news for me, because I can handle most of those pretty well. (Unless those things were all happenings at once—ewh!)

There’s other fears we don’t often talk about yet are still very, very real: fear of losing a friend or family member, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of public shame or embarrassment, fear of death. Part of living is learning to cope with the fears that lurk around us.

The author of Psalm 27 wasn’t willing to simply cope with his fears—he wanted to conquer them. This expression of finding strength and grace, hope and love in God is one of the most eloquent and inspiring pieces of poetry available. I have a personal bias here—this is probably my favorite Psalm of all.

I’m especially stirred by the closing verse—reminding us that even when things don’t go as planned and our fears start raging out of control, a simple faith in God is all that’s needed.

You’d better read it for yourself. I hope you like it. I sure do.

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Psalm 25: It’s a shame.

A book I recently finished reading highlighted an intriguing (possibly even enlightening) concept. The author noted that in our contemporary culture we look at human activity from the perspective of guilt vs. innocence. We’re always trying to assess who’s guilty, who’s responsible, who’s right and who’s wrong.

Yet the people of the Old Testament had a different outlook. Their angle on life was not guilt vs. innocence, but rather shame vs. honor. Shame is the belief that your personal efforts are futile and your public reputation is ruined. Honor is the opposite—it’s the outlook that your efforts are worthwhile and your reputation is noble.

What does this mean for us today? I wish I had more of an answer—it’s a tough concept to get my mind around (yet probably one that’s worthy of our additional time and thought). This is what I do know: shame and honor are concepts that grab the attention of the Old Testament writers. That’s especially true of today’s Psalm 25. Notice the opening and closing pleas of our poet:

  • Verses 2-3: “I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in your will ever be put to shame . . . “
  • Verses 20-21: “Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me . . .”

Guess I have more questions than answers for you today. (That’s not an unusual experience for me.) Yet, I’m curious:

  • When and where do you experience shame?
  • When and where do you experience honor?
  • How does your relationship with God guide your understanding of shame and honor?

As you read through Psalm 25, pray that God will show us all how to live truly honorable lives. Yes, that’s a big prayer—but a really good one.

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Psalm 23: Messing with a good thing?

Reading Psalm 23 is like singing “Amazing Grace”–no matter where and when it happens, its pretty much always the right thing to do. This Psalm is considered the Bible’s best-known and most-loved expression of God’s comfort, peace and protection. When life is troubling and panic inevitably sets in, these words offer a stability and comfort that has withstood the test of time.

Go ahead, read it and pray it–you can’t go wrong.

Yet . . . is it possible that our familiarity can lull us into sleeping our way through this Psalm?  (If you absolutely love Psalm 23 in it’s most traditional form, you might want to stop reading right here).

From a contemporary perspective, I don’t see many shepherds and sheep on a regular basis. I also never quite resonated with the faux-paintings (often found in Sunday School classrooms) of a placid and pale Jesus sitting on the lush hillside while cradling a cute little lamb. It’s just not my ideal image of Jesus.

This might sound strange (no, it probably IS strange) but it’s been said that the perfect form of national leadership is a benevolent dictatorship. A dictator is one who directs every aspect of a country’s administration. A benevolent dictator is one who truly and deeply cares for the well-being of all it’s citizens. In our broken world, benevolent dictators never work in the long run–eventually the power of the position corrupts the leader’s character. But that wouldn’t be true of Jesus, would it?

So here goes . . .

The Lord is my Benevolent Dictator,
    he’s in complete charge of everything,
    and takes care of every one of my needs.

He has created an amazing variety of places
    for me to rest and relax;
He has established a peaceful homeland for us all– 
    it is pristine and beautiful and free of all pollution.
He offers me guidance when I get confused,
   because his public reputation is always on the line. 

Yes, there are moments when I travel through desolate regions
    that are dark and dangerous and scary.
Yet you’re always poised to dispatch your skilled militia 
    to assist and protect me at every twist and turn. 

Even though enemies lurk at our borders
    You still declare national holidays
    and offer lavish receptions
that my friends and I always seem to enjoy.

I never have to worry that you’ll
    lose your power or get overthrown.
Your care and concern will never go away,
    so I’m proud to be one of your citizens
    who is on your side forever.

Psalm 22: Misery loves company.

Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain. Bob Dylan

Psalm 22 invites us into the world of personal suffering. It’s not a pretty sight. Our author graphically expresses the depth of his suffering:

  • There’s spiritual pain–feeling truly abandoned by God (vs. 1-2)
  • There’s relational pain–facing constant ridicule from others (vs. 6-8)
  • There’s physical pain–forced to endure the breakdown of his own body (vs. 12-18)

Where’s God in all this? Isn’t God supposed to be there for us humans when we’re suffering?

That’s the point–God is there. God is the one who is suffering.

It’s shocking how the expressions of pain in Psalm 22 so closely mirror the suffering of Jesus on the cross. I can’t quite get over how the author of this Old Testament lament could so graphically understand and express the conditions surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. Not only does this Psalm help us pull together the storyline of the entire Bible, it also alerts us to consider the miraculous nature of this very ancient book.

God doesn’t just watch our suffering. God suffers with us. It’s my prayer that no matter the depth of your spiritual pain, relational pain, or physical pain–you’ll know that Jesus is right there with you. He’s going to stick it out with you and endure through the pain with you. His love for you wouldn’t have it any other way.

One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love. Sophocles

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PS. It’s worth noting how this Psalm ends. Verses 22-31 crescendo towards an exhilarating conclusion–forecasting a dramatic world-changing victory for the one who has greatly suffered. Sounds kind of like a resurrection, doesn’t it?

Psalm 20: Nervous Energy

I’ve never had to go off to war. I’m very thankful for that.

I have to imagine that the sense of fear and foreboding going into a battle in which one’s life could be lost creates more than a little nervous energy. Preparing for a day or night of death-defying battle must push one’s sense of personal anxiety to it’s highest possible levels.

Psalm 20 captures for us the moments before a battle. The psalm offers a public blessing prayed over a military king and his troops just before they embark on a journey to engage the enemy. I can’t help but imagine that the praying crowd included many weeping mothers, apprehensive fathers and sick-hearted sweethearts. The dire need for God’s strength, protection and help would be deeply felt by every bowed head.

By God’s grace, most of us won’t have to go off to war, nor send off our sons or daughters. Yet everyday we face countless spiritual dangers–battles in which our enemy is rarely seen or heard. As we head out the door each day, we’re making decisions that determine the eternal legacy of our lives. The stakes couldn’t be higher: today we’ll either find victory through God’s grace, hope and wisdom . . . or we’ll allow our souls to be slaughtered by selfishness, bitterness and despair.

So let’s bow our heads and pray Psalm 20, nervously pleading for God’s strength, protection and help through each and every battle.

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Psalm 19: Voices

Everyday I hear voices . . .

  • My garage keeps hinting, “Dude, you outta sweep me out sometime.”
  • My favorite radio talk-show host intones, “My friends at the men’s hair institute restored my youth–they can do the same for you, Kevin.” (No, he doesn’t actually say, “Kevin”–it just feels this way.)
  • My offspring chirp from our family nest, “What’s for dinner, Dad, what’s for dinner?”
  • My inner conscience probes, “When’s the last time you called your dear mother?”

It makes a guy stop and wonder: which of these voices are most important  . . . and which ones should I simply ignore?

The poet of Psalm 19 has discovered the singular most important voice in his life: God’s voice. Considering the clamoring of all these other voices, how’s it actually possible to hear God speak? Two divine broadcast channels are highlighted:

  • The gloriousness of nature. Read verses 1-6 and you’ll witness our author’s personal rhapsody in hearing God’s chorus singing through the brilliance of a sunrise and the happiness of a warm afternoon.
  • The goodness of Scripture. In verses 7-11 our author attentively takes notes from God’s universally acclaimed lecture series on “Living the Good Life”.

In a noisy world, maybe we should try these same listening techniques: read a chapter from the Bible, then go walk outside–asking God to speak to us openly and honestly. What are we likely to discover? A renewed sense of awe and a humble desire to listen and respond to God’s voice. This Psalm closes with one of the best prayers ever:

May these words of my mouth and
this medication of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Yep, amen to that. That’s the kind of voice I hope to carry in my soul everyday.

enCompass Church