Psalm 18: The Long Rescue

[WARNING LABEL: This blog post is long. Hope it’s still worth your time to endure to the end.]

It was during a rather troubling season of life and ministry a few years back that two verses from Psalm 18 caught my attention. My internal inspiration swelled as I read:

“You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
   my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
   With my God I can scale a wall.” (Psalm 18:28-29)

During this time, I felt like I had hit a wall that was far higher and more imposing than any I had previously faced. Enlightened and encouraged, I wrote out these verses on a note card and dutifully prayed daily that God would “turn my darkness into light”. Since these verses are strategically placed in the middle of an epic Psalm of miraculous proportions, I figured my divinely appointed rescue was probably just around the corner.

Not quite. Actually, not at all. My many days of praying this verse turned into many, many months of praying this same verse over and over. Honestly, laying it out before God each day was getting increasingly painful. Where was my miraculous rescue? Where was my epic salvation from God?

In the time since I started praying these verses, another verse in this same Psalm has also caught my attention. Consider the simple phrase of verse 34:

“He trains my hands for battle . . .

Training for battle is not easy. It does not go quickly. The more skilled in battle one wants to become, the longer and more grueling the training must be. Am I fully trained now? Oh no– not even close. Yet these multiple years of praying these verses taught me that in order to become the follower of Jesus I am destined to become, it will take years and years of sustained effort for God to tenaciously strengthen my mind, heart and soul.

You might be praying for an epic miracle in your own life. Please don’t stop. But also recognize that God may be using this time to build up your internal strength so you’re more fully prepared for a public victory.

Some commentators believe that David wrote this Psalm after a single epic victory. Other scholars conclude that it was written at the end of his life. I’m going with the later option. It wasn’t an epic victory that David was celebrating–I think he was commemorating an epic life.

For what it’s worth, I’ll take an epic life over the one epic victory. I’m just going to need God’s long, sustained rescue effort to make it happen.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church
Roseville, MN

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Psalm 15: Action Hero.

One of the problems with prayer?

It seems so passive. To pray and then wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for God to act can get a bit tedious. What are we supposed to do in the meantime?

Psalm 15 offers insight into the lifestyle God desires. If we want to experience God working in our lives, it’s going to take more than saying a few prayers or occasionally heading off to church. We’re expected to be people of action. This Psalm invites us into the action of following God.

What kind of action? God wants us to be:

  • True (“who does what is righteous”)
  • Tight-lipped (“who casts no slur on others”)
  • Tough (“who keeps an oath even when it hurts”)
  • Thoughtful (“who lends money to the poor”)
  • Tenacious (“whoever does these things will never be shaken”)

There’s nothing passive about this kind of praying. Let’s ask God for the strength and courage to become the live action heroes we were created to be.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville.

Psalm 13: In a funk . . . and back out again.

Sigh.

Our author of unlucky Psalm number 13 seems to be having yet another bad day. He’s sick and tired of being sick and tired. He bemoans,

“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long much I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

He’s become nothing more than a jumbled up mess of depression, hurt and sadness. Pathetic, isn’t it? What’s a person do when enduring another debilitatingly bad day?

As with most of the Bible, when you get stuck . . . you just have to keep reading. Move forward only a few verses and you’ll discover the way our author starts to pull out of this personal nosedive:

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

When life becomes a jumbled mess of depression, hurt and sadness, it’s always recommended to stop long enough to consider the ways God’s goodness has shown up in the past. Both clinical research and personal experience teaches us that those who can find gratitude from past experiences are the best equipped to move through present day sorrows. While the hurt and sadness won’t necessarily instantly disappear, the more we can discern the ways that God’s goodness has been experienced in the past, the greater our strength in moving into a brighter future.

As you pray through unlucky Psalm 13, ask God to remind you of the ways his goodness has shown up through your past experiences. Invite God’s Spirit to use those memories to give you a bit more strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville.

Psalm 11: Wanna get away?

When we hit a tough patch in life, we have natural, immediate reaction–to bail out and go find something more fun to do with our time and energy. Sustaining employment, building a marriage, raising children, serving others, growing a church all have moments when our continued effort seem worthless and possibly even foolish. What do we do when we just wanna get away? Buy a low-fare plane ticket to the southwest?

In the opening of Psalm 11, our song writer David records the strong recommendation others have given him: It’s hopeless, so bail out. Act like a bird and fly away. His response? He’s not flying anywhere anytime soon. He believes that during times of significant challenge, God is looking into his soul–seeing if he’s faithful or not. (Vs. 4 & 5: “He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. The LORD examines the righteous…)

During a season of prayer like this, I would imagine that all of us are facing some difficult, challenging, seemingly impossible circumstances–in our homes, workplaces, church or neighborhood. Is this the time to give up and fly away? Most likely not. God challenges us to express our faithfulness by continuing to pray, serve, support and encourage.

Is there any frequent-flyer reward for such tenacity? Consider how the final phrase of this Psalm (vs.7) closely reflects the 6th of Jesus’ Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart–for they will see God.”(Matthew 4:8) It is those who continue to seek God and his strength during challenging times that get see the God of the universe work wonders in their lives.

That might be even better than a $49 fare to Atlanta.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

Psalm 9: The Underdog

Everyone loves it when the underdog wins. (Unless, of course, you happen to be rooting for the odds-on favorite. Yet it’s been decades since a Minnesota professional sports teams has fielded an odds-on favorite. So yes–we all love an underdog.)

Psalm 9 is all about rooting for the underdog. As you read through this rouser, you’ll notice the team names given to these competitors: “the oppressed” (vs. 9), those facing “times of trouble” (again, vs. 9), “the afflicted” (vs. 12), “the needy” (vs. 18). Clearly these team names aren’t near as cool as “The Raiders,” “The Storm,” “The Crimson Tide” or “The Gophers.” (Uh, strike that last one. It’s odd living in a state that presents a rodent to intimidate the competition.) Those who are troubled, afflicted, and needy are tough to root for because they don’t appear to have any chance to win.

God continually roots for the underdog–he’s actually expecting them to win. During this season of prayer, I’m thrilled we have the opportunity to partner with Central Park Elementary School. It’s a great honor and privilege to pray for these families who take on significant, daily struggles beyond what many of us face. Through prayer, we can be rooting for them. Through action, we can appreciate the courage, strength and determination it takes to be an underdog.

Take time today to pray for the staff, faculty, students and families of Central Park Elementary School. Also pray for any you know who are facing significant times of trouble, oppression or affliction.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

Psalm 8: C’mon–pick me.

Remember the selection process for teams at school recess? A couple of bigger-than-life sports captains would propel themselves forward to carefully draft teammates one-by-one. If you were one of the supreme athletes of the school, you’d confidently get chosen in the first, or possibly second, round. Most of us landed somewhere in the middle of the pack. A few of us shudder at this memory–still horrified by the elementary nightmare of standing there alone, forced to be drafted onto the squad of a captain who really didn’t want us.

In Psalm 8, our author looks up to consider the greatness of God’s universe. God’s creative genius is magically displayed in any night sky or morning sunrise. Then the thought hits him: God has drafted you and me to be on his team. Clearly our divine captain’s astonishing abilities make our talents look remarkably feeble. Yet, God doesn’t really care. He wants us on his team. The God of the universe doesn’t feel forced to choose us–he’s actually excited to welcome us as one of his teammates.

Use this Psalm in two ways:

  • To consider the astonishing power and artistic talent of God (our fall colors provide us a better-than-average reminder.)
  • To consider the honor it truly is to play a part as a grandparent, parent, family member, co-worker, neighbor, fellow-church member or teammate-at-large on God’s team of universal all-stars.

It’s my prayer that you’ll feel both awed and honored by this Psalm.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

Psalm 6: Road Weary

Over the past three years, our family has made a Spring Break drive to Florida. It takes about 26 hours via our faithful ’02 Honda Odyssey (an aptly named vehicle for a journey such as this). Having embarked on this epic endeavor a few times now, I’m able to make a rather accurate prediction: at about hour number 19, we’re all on the brink of partial insanity. We’ve simply been in the car together too long to actually believe we will EVER arrive.

Our poet seems to be facing something similar in Psalm 6. “How long, Lord, how long?” he cries out. I guess he’s also reached the brink of his own insanity. He’s tried and tried to believe in God’s love and goodness, but honestly doesn’t feel like it will ever arrive. Painfully, the poet’s experience is also a part of our own life-long odyssey of faith. We all eventually hit the wall–our patience and endurance run out. “How long, Lord, how long?” we ask. “Will your love and grace and hope and goodness EVER show up in my life?”

Your encouragement? Keep praying . . . and keep reading. Our poet comes to a bold conclusion in verses 8 and 9. God’s answer still hasn’t arrived–yet he’s confident that God hasn’t dumped him out at the nearest exit on the journey of faith. During a season of near insanity, it’s my prayer that you’ll gain greater confidence in God as you find encouragement from other road-weary traveling companions on this epic endeavor we call “following Jesus.”

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

Psalm 3: Sweet Sleep

This Psalm associated with King David offers an astonishing proclamation: he’s able to enjoy sweet, peaceful sleep, despite a swirling array of personal threats, worries and dangers. As far as I know, this piece of poetry was penned long before the creation of sleep aids like NyQuil and Lunesta. How does a person enjoy such a satisfying snooze when everything seems to be going so wrong?

Our Psalmist expresses an impressive and truly enviable confidence in God. It’s his trust in God that produces his great nights of sleep. During this season of prayer, let’s all pray that our confidence in God becomes greater and more impressive than the challenges and worries swirling in and around us. For many of us, to simply enjoy an extended run of great sleep would be an almost miraculous achievement.

SIDE NOTE: This Psalm (like a slew others) expresses a concern over many enemies and foes. While we all have people who irritate us, I’m not sure that your annoying neighbor or that obnoxious person in the adjacent cubicle at work can truly constitute a foe or enemy in the biblical sense. Without question, there’s evil people in our world, yet I can’t say that I run into many of them on a daily basis (for which I am deeply grateful, truly.) When I read about Psalm’s “foes and enemies,” I often think of the struggles in life that seem to wear my soul ragged–struggles like anxiety over the future, anger over specific irritations, disappointments over a lack of progress. It’s these “enemies” that Satan often uses to weaken my resolve and cause me to second-guess God’s goodness. As you pray through this Psalm, consider the internal “foes and enemies” that sabotage your joy and then, in turn, invite God to conquer them with you and for you.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

Psalm 2: God Giggles.

We live in a world of power plays. We often hear about how certain politicians, corporate bosses, world leaders (yes, and I suppose we have to include hockey players, too) all engage in maneuvering around, seeking to put themselves on top of our opinion polls, income brackets and government structures. It’s pretty easy to feel small and powerless in the world in which we live.

Ever wonder how God responds to ego-driven people who put themselves forward in an attempt to personally dominate an industry, a population or a country? Psalm 2 gives us an insider’s look at God’s most natural reaction. We’re reminded here of who truly controls human history.

The New Testament quotes this Psalm quite often–because it reveals how God transfers his power and authority to his “anointed one.” The people of the Old Testament would have seen the “anointed one” as the king of their land. As we (and the writers of the New Testament) look back on this Psalm, we catch a glimpse of the authority that Jesus (the true “anointed one,” or “the Messiah”) has over the power plays of human history.

Where do we find hope from this Psalm? Take a look at the last line. In a world of power plays, it’s actually us little people who are in the best possible position. Spend time praying over the events of your day–that you’ll sense God’s power and protection through it all.

Kevin T.
enCompass Church, Roseville

The Psalms of our Lives: An Introduction

During our Fall ’14 Prayer Challenge, you’re encouraged to read and pray through one Old Testament Psalm each day. As you already know, these Psalms are quite ancient–causing us to wonder how they might relate to the contemporary conundrums we battle each day (things like overcrowded email in-boxes, an annoying work commute and a refrigerator with strange, fuzzy foods hiding in the back of the meat/cheese drawer come to mind).

Yet, as I’ve ventured into the world of the Psalms, I find something quite striking happening to me. I momentarily get to lose track of my own present-day irritations and instead enter into the great mysteries of human history–namely how us very mortal, limited humans can find God in the midst of our life’s joys and struggles. There are many days I simply don’t know what to pray. I’m too frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, distracted or even occasionally euphoric (a.k.a: “really, really happy”) to want to slow down long enough to attempt to hear God’s voice and rediscover God’s pattern for working in my life.

That’s where the Psalms come in–they offer me a chance to consider the deeper themes of life and reflect back on the ways God may be working in and around me. When I read a Psalm, its a bit like I’m transported out of my often mundane existence and for those few moments, I get to participate in the great challenges that have faced all of humanity throughout the history of our crazy little planet.

I hope you’ll enjoy taking this daily journey with me. My goal is to post one Psalm each day, with a short commentary/introduction about what I find significant in the Psalm. Some days the Psalm might speak directly to the struggle that you are facing. Other days you’ll wonder why it was worthy of your time and attention. Still other days you might find the whole experience to be completely maddening (especially when a Psalm of pure praise hits you on a day when your world seems to be spinning off it’s axis). Thus the Psalms are just like life–somedays everything fits together and others days . . . it just doesn’t.

That’s why we’re here–to find hope and encouragement from these ancients prayers in the midst of our often tedious, occasionally turbulent lives. In addition to checking in here each day, you’re also invited to post your own comments after my commentary, offering your own take on the Psalm for the day. It’s quite possible, even likely, that you’ll find something far more insightful and profound than what I can muster up.

Thanks for your interest and your desire to pray. I believe it matters far more than any of us can actually imagine.

Kevin T.
Lead Pastor Guy of enCompass Church (Roseville, MN)