Psalm 80: This little plant of mine.

It’s rather obvious, as I look outside my front door: Green and growing is no longer in vogue. White and icy is what’s in season right now.

Faith in God certainly has its seasons. There are seasons of our spiritual journey in which growth comes quite naturally. Joy springs up spontaneously, thankfulness emerges happily, and sensing God’s Spirit happens repeatedly. There’s nothing quite like a warm springtime in our cheerful souls.

Yet springtime never lasts nearly long enough. At the end of each growing season, we brace ourselves for winter—as the frigid winds sweep into our bare little souls. It’s during the spiritual wintertime that our faith feels a chill, our sense of God’s love gets frigid, and our joy get buried under a heavy snow-pack of weariness and boredom.

The poet of Psalm 80 longed for the days of a spiritual springtime. He remembers the strength and beauty of the former seasons of dramatic spiritual growth and a high-yield faith. Yet those days are over. The little plant of his people’s faith is now struggling to survive through hostile growing conditions. In desperation, he keeps repeating the same plea:

Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

As we endure through any season of spiritual chill, let’s keep asking God to continually shine his goodness on us. Psalm 80 reminds us that we don’t have control of the growing conditions into which our lives are planted. We daily rely on God to give us the strength, courage, hope and joy we need to continue to grow in our faith, and in our love for God and for those all around us.

This winter I pray we can all grow to radiate the warmth of Jesus into the cold places of our world that lie just outside our front door.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: (Links in blue provide on-line Scripture via Bible Gateway.)

  • Psalm 80: Longing for Growth, Waiting for God.
  • Psalm 81: There’s an “unknown voice” (verse 5) that whispers to our souls. As we consider what God has done in the past and anticipate what he might do in the future, that voice becomes clearer and stronger.
  • Psalm 82: God returns to his judge’s chambers. Who will he condemn . . . and who will he defend?
  • Psalm 83: Our Psalmist engages in a little “potty talk” regarding God’s enemies (verse 10). It’s an effective way to pray against whatever enemies are currently attacking your faith and hope.
  • Psalm 84: On the road of faith, we often we feel far from home. This psalm offers words of hope and peace for the difficult legs of the journey.
  • Psalm 85: Who doesn’t enjoy a good kiss? Check out the divine smooch described in verse 10. Let’s pray this happy reunion takes place always and often in our lives and church.
  • Psalm 86: We battle daily with both the circumstances around us and the struggles within us. Our poet concludes this psalm with a plea for a honest-to-goodness sign of God’s presence and power. That’s something we all could use.

Psalm 73: Giving up on God.

Ever wonder if it’s worth it?

You want to do what’s right—to please God, keep your life pure, give back to others. Yet step back and take a candid look at the way life really works. Do people of faith get any tangible reward for all their sacrifice and efforts? An honest assessment reveals that some of the best things in life fall into the laps of people who don’t give a rip about God.

The poet of Psalm 73 is struggling. Significantly. He’s tried to do what’s right—yet all it’s gotten him is a big pile of disappointment and discouragement. He’s ready to cash in. His faith feels like a fatally flawed experiment.

What do you do when you’re ready to give up?

Us people of faith are rather odd, I believe. When we want to give up on God, we often go right back . . . to God.

In a strange way, this actually makes sense. If God is the source of our problems, then God is the one who needs to fix it for us, right? It’s through the process of deeply doubting our faith that we often find the strength and courage to believe again.

As a well-known worship leader, the author of Psalm 73 knew that he’d make a real mess of things if he let loose with a public rant against God. Instead of a public rant, he tries a sincerely personal prayer—possibly a long succession of them. Though his doubts were truly raw, his conclusions eventually became exceptionally breathtaking.

As you read Psalm 73, I hope it will encourage you to work through the heart-breaking honesty of your own doubts. It’s often a necessary step toward experiencing the breath-taking joy of a stronger, deeper faith.

You might be ready to give up on God. Yet it’s possible God isn’t quite ready to give up on you.

enCompass Church

Scripture readings for this week:

  • Psalm 73: What do you do when you’re ready to give up on God?
  • Psalm 74: What do we do when the unthinkable happens? (In this case, invading foreigners have destroyed God’s formerly magnificent temple.)
  • Psalms 75 & 76: A simple reminder: Exactly who runs the Universe?
  • Psalm 77: Finding hope in the past, Part 1: Remembering how God helped Moses.
  • Psalm 78: Finding hope in the past, Part 2: Remembering how God guided David.
  • Psalm 79: Begging for God to act—since everyone has pretty much made a mess of everything.

Psalm 68: Becoming Epic

I struggle with impatience. Always have–especially when it comes to prayer.

What’s the source of my struggle? I deeply and strongly believe God can pull off massive miracles. Yet I’ve personally seen so few of them. This impatience hits me especially hard during a season of seeking God, such as our 35-day prayer challenge.

My impatience causes me to continually wonder . . .

Where’s our miracles?
Where’s all our answered prayers?
Please, God, why don’t you act right now?
Wouldn’t a truly epic miracle make you look real good, God?

Psalm 68 is a worship song about an epic miracle. It’s one of those enemy scatterin’, smoke risin’, rebel scorchin’, earth shakin’, plunder getting’ kind of Psalms. It describes the epic journey of God’s people from Mt. Sinai (where Moses pulled off the awe-inducing Ten Commandments event) to the inauguration of the temple on Mt. Zion (where Solomon held the grand opening of the his colossal temple). The miracle of the journey from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion took only about 500 years.

Five-hundred years? Hmmm. That’s a long time for a miracle to happen.

When we travel into the land of prayer, we enter a completely different time zone. God does indeed have epic plan for our lives, yet we often don’t see it. We’re just too focused on what’s happening right here and right now.

What’s the real source of my struggle? My impatience stems from my lack of vision. I want God to fix everything right now. However, God wants to use my life (your life, too) to pull off an epic miracle so big that it can’t be completed during my lifetime.

During our 35-day prayer journey, I hope you’ve started to receive a grander vision of the bigness of God—as we discover together the many ways our lives, our church, and our prayers are all truly epic.

enCompass Church

PS. We’ve reached the last installment of our 35 days of Psalm posts. I’m curious:

  • Has this blog been helpful? In what way(s)?
  • What might you like to see in the future?

Any response you offer is greatly appreciated. I’ve enjoyed this journey—many, many thanks for being a part of it.

Psalm 67: Prosperity Gospel

A gentleman, sporting luxurious hair, an Armani suit and Ferragamo shoes, steps onto the stage. “Something good is going to happen to you today,” he intones with a stylish southern accent. “If you will just believe, anything is possible—God (pronounced “Gauhwwd”) wants to bless you with the abundance of his riches. Can you say, ‘Amen’?”

For unknown reasons, a few people with flashy faith get blessed with a whole bunch of stuff. The rest of us gawk and wonder: why do THEY get so much, when the rest of us have to struggle through just getting by?

Psalm 67 is a little psalm of abundant blessing. It’s a quick offering of thanks for the lavish goodness of God. We might read it and wonder: where are my big blessings?

God often blesses us in ways we don’t quickly see or easily appreciate. The blessings of cheerful friends, a quiet spirit, a supportive family, a comfortable home, an enduring faith, an encouraging church, or meaningful work (to name just a few) are most certainly not “flashy”. Yet an abundance of blessings such as these might be God’s most rewarding gifts. Underneath it all, Jesus invites us to eternally experience the grace and love of God–the most extravagant blessing of all.

I pray we’ll all see and appreciate the blessings of God—we’re far more prosperous than we ever imagined.

Can you say, ‘Amen’?

enCompass Church

Psalm 66: God Sweeps.

We all like a clean home. It’s just the cleaning process that isn’t always enjoyable.

We like a life that’s clean and pure before God. It’s just the cleaning process that isn’t always enjoyable.

Psalm 66 offers us a sweeping view of God’s work. Our poet starts out by reminding us that that God has swept through human history, scooping up and trashing his enemies. We like it when God washes up our world of all the mean, nasty people.

Yet God’s cleanup efforts don’t stop there. God’s purification project gets real personal in verses 10-12:

For you, God, tested us;
You refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a to place of abundance.

Would a loving God actually allow us to experience significant pain so that our lives can become more pure?

In short? Yes. God is more concerned with the quality of our character that with the quantity of our comfort. If our highest desire is honor God with our lives, the process of preparation won’t always be pleasant. In fact, those who have suffered most greatly are often the ones who love God most deeply.

How can we endure through a season in which God sweeps away the unwanted clutter from our lives? It’s not going to be easy. We try to remind ourselves that God loves us more than we love ourselves—even if it doesn’t really feel that way.

God eventually brought our Psalmist to “a place of abundance.” May God sweep grace, strength, and hope into your life as you work through a season of deep-cleaning in your soul.

enCompass Church

Psalm 65: Signs

We believe in a God we can’t see. We pray to a God who offers us no verbal response in return. We trust our lives and eternity to a God whom most others seem to completely ignore or dismiss.

So how can we know that God is there . . . that God hears our prayers . . . that God actually cares about any one of us? We all have our moments when faith in God seems vague, irrational, and possibly even foolish.

In seeking to solidify the foundations of his faith, the poet of Psalm 65 landed on a whole series of proofs regarding the certainty of God’s goodness and love. By the time he completes his growing list of evidence, he’s ready to enthusiastically publish his majestic conclusions.

What’s the source of this budding confidence in God?

Psalm 65 offers a great starting place for your own investigative project. My recommendation is that you slowly read it out loud. The bountiful evidence for God can’t be missed. As you speak through these thirteen verses, I’m confident you’ll find whole fields of research that build mountains of evidence regarding God’s care for us all.

I pray that we can all see the signs of God—they happen to be far more abundant than we ever realized.

enCompass Church

Psalm 59: Night Dogs

Though most nights are quiet, they are not always serene. In the early hours after the clock strikes midnight, any number of strangely irrational thoughts can cause our minds to race. How do we chase away the dark fears that dog our unsettled souls?

Psalm 59 escorts us into the troubling world of terrors in the night. Our author’s enemies keep coming out after dark to howl at him:

They return at evening,
snarling like dogs,
and prowl the city.
They wander about for food
and howl if not satisfied.

I suppose very few of us have predators that lurk around our neighborhoods at night. Yet it’s not unusual for nocturnal fears to claw their way into our minds—robbing us of our hope and peace. Like dogs scavenging for food in the night, these dark thoughts keep hounding us, determined to heighten our feelings of loneliness, vulnerability and even despair.

Jesus promised to give us the calming power of his peace and the bright of hope of his presence. Since God never dozes off, we can confidently trust he’s awake and willing to respond to our prayer—even in the middle of the night when we’d much rather be sleeping. Our troubled minds can be actively reassured by the presence of God’s protection.

These troubling night dogs might not go away instantly. Yet as we continue to seek God throughout the day and into the night, his Spirit will start chasing away the fears that dog us. Our Psalmist knew that out of the darkness of night, God’s bright hope would soon dawn in his life:

But I will sing of your strength,
In the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.

You are my strength,
I sing praise to you;
you, God, are my fortress,
my God on whom I can rely.

I pray that Jesus’ peace will protect and lead you—in the morning, throughout the day, and most especially at night.

enCompass Church

Psalm 58: Poetic Justice

Humanitarian crises rage throughout our world. The history of our planet is strewn with a shockingly long list of corrupt people who instigate police brutality, civil war, ethnic strife, religious persecution and economic oppression. Devastated communities and family members are left to sorrowfully bury the dead, as well as tend to the needs of the maimed, the orphaned, the widowed and the childless.

How do we respond to such atrocities? As one who has lived the entirety of life in communities sheltered from the harsh realities of injustice and oppression, it’s not an easy question to answer. Most all of us feel rather powerless to offer anything remotely helpful in the face of such blatant evil.

Is there anything we can do?

Psalm 58 (as well as many others) offers us at least one positive option: to pray for God’s justice to be seen and experienced by those who face oppression and injustice. The writer of this Psalm graphically calls for the full force of God’s retribution to crush those who perpetuate evil in our world. The cries for fierce vengeance may shock us—until we consider the depth of emotion for those who have endured such inhumane treatment.

Is this Psalm (and others like it) in direct conflict with Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? No, as we can simultaneously pray for the courage to love our enemies as we continue to pray for God’s justice to overpower all human brutality.

Today let’s pray for those in our world who face oppression and injustice—that God would act quickly and mightily on their behalf. In doing so, we’re also asking God to create in us a renewed compassion and commitment to those whose struggles go far beyond our own.

enCompass Church

Psalm 55: Unharmed?

It’s happening yet again–our psalmist is fighting through another season of personal crisis. Psalm 55 loads up a whole series of anxiety-riddled expressions: he’s “distraught” . . . experiencing “anguish” . . . feeling “terror” . . . even facing “horror.”

What’s the big problem?

The mystery of his misery is solved in verse 12. He’s not facing an attack from a foe. No, he’s been betrayed by a friend. That hurts. Nothing cuts deeper than getting torn up by someone we love and trust.

In the midst of the pain of betrayal, our poet presents a particularly intriguing prayer and promise:

Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.

He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

Unharmed. Really? Is it actually possible to endure betrayal by a friend and emerge from it unharmed? I think we’d all agree that wounds from a friend are the most difficult to heal. Many of us have spent years, possibly decades, trying to gain a sense of grace and hope after enduring mistreatment, manipulation or abandonment from someone we trusted.

Yet I do believe that God wants to heal ALL our wounds. Not just some of them, but all of them. It’s going to take some time—that’s why our psalmist was crying out to God in the evening, the morning and in the middle of the day. As we continue to bring our grief to God, he can be trusted to create in us a reservoir of strength and a depth of wisdom that’s actually far wider and deeper than our original losses.

So today we bring to God our feelings of betrayal, resentment, hurt, abandonment and loss, knowing that the eternal depth of his love can wash over the sting of all our wounds.

Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

enCompass Church

Psalm 51: Big Falls

I’ll admit. I’ve always been jealous.

As we read through the novella of King David’s life, (1 & 2 Samuel invites us to a front row seat of his epic drama), we’re offered a vivid depiction of his astonishing abilities and accomplishments. There’s simply nothing average about him: he’s a rugged outdoorsman, expert sharpshooter, master musician, inspiring poet, relational genius, loyal soldier, heart-throb romantic, brilliant strategist, military champion, and compassionate companion kind-of-guy. To top it off, he somehow manages to stay humble before God. It’s all too good to be true.

It is too good to be true. The epic story of David’s life crashes and burns in 2 Kings 11 & 12. His overactive libido leads him toward lethally illegal action. The Bathsheba affair, and its aftermath, would unleash a deadly dose of betrayal that would poison his entire family and future.

Guess I’m not so jealous of David anymore.

The truth is we all have falls from grace. For some, it’s an epic crash and burn. For most of us, it’s a steady erosion of gratitude and grace that leads us towards callous attitudes and thoughtless actions. Either way, we all eventually find ourselves in a place that’s far away from where God wants us to be.

As David came to terms with the fallout from his massive moral failing, heart-felt words of regret and forgiveness, sorrow and hope poured out of his soul. His eloquent confession in Psalm 51 reflects the epic nature of his life, of his fall from grace and of his faith in God.

No matter how far your fall from grace might be, cling to this truth: God’s faithfulness and love are far greater than any of your personal failings. My prayer is that you’ll accept and embrace the epic grace that God is offering to you.

enCompass Church

PS. Interesting to note: it’s likely that David penned Psalm 51 about a year after the “Bathsheba Affair”. That’s human nature—we often don’t realize how destructive our actions might be until long after “the incident” (whatever it may be) is over. The point? We’d better give God’s Spirit plenty of time and space to complete his work of restoration in us . . . and in those near us.