Jesus knew that entrapment to sin is an ever-present temptation with serious consequences. He said: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29, English Standard Version).
Many enticements to sin come through the eye. The things we read, the movies we watch, the clothes (or lack of clothing) we notice can live on and on in our minds. How are we to overcome such temptations?
Some people have moved to a different city to get away from seeing what pulled them down in the last location, but temptations of the eyes followed them to the new location. Some have promised God they would never fall for visual temptations again, but these promises are easily broken. Here are some practical steps to protect ourselves from the temptations that come through our eyes.
First, we need to make deliberate decisions to stay away from circumstances where we will be likely to slip back into our old way of life. If we have a weakness for lust we need to avoid being around sexually graphic images. “I made a covenant with my eye not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1, New International Version)
Second, we must devote our lives to doing good deeds and acts of kindness. Experience teaches us that “idle hands are a devil’s workshop”. When we start doing good things for God and others we do not have much time or energy to get into spiritual trouble. Imitate our Lord Jesus who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38)
Third, let us deliberately focus on wholesome thoughts — reading and meditating on things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable” (Philippians 4:6). Jesus said: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). The scriptures are full of healthy words and pure visual images that will enforce our resolve to overcome things that ensnare us.
Finally, our prayers must be times of praise and thanksgiving for blessings we have received, rather than simply confessing our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and guilt. Confession of sins is important but if failure is the primarily focus of prayer it is not sufficient to build us up. Counting our blessings helps us be humble and instills a positive mind-set that helps grow spiritually. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpassses all understading, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)
When Jesus spoke about tearing out our “right eye” and “throwing it away,” He did not intend for us to literally inflict pain and harm on our bodies, but to motivate us to make serious efforts overcoming temptations of the heart. He meant for us to concentrate on how we can “crush Satan under our feet” (Romans 16:20). It was not a casual resistance to temptation but a definite resolve not to fall. Living in a way where “the whole body will be throw into hell” is too great a price to pay for taking enticements of our eyes lightly.
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord, all the earth!”
Some of us grew up singing a hymn of praise and hope written almost one hundred years ago by J.R. Baxter entitled “The New Song”. It was a song about heaven. The music was composed by C.C. Stafford. It was a fast-paced hymn. Those who joined in to sing had be alert and to know when their “part” (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) came in and dropped out of the song. Whether or not one recalled all the words of the hymn, one absolutely had to know when to start singing! It was almost an art to grasp when your voice was supposed to “jump in” to the quick-moving song about heaven.
THE NEW SONG OF MISSIONARIES
When reading Psalm 96 I was reminded of a song the ancient people of God called the “new song” which focused on the joyful announcement that God is Lord over all the earth. His glory is to be declared “among the nations” and “to all the peoples!” (verse 3). The “new song” honored the Lord and carried the message that He alone is God, the universal Lord, who cares about everyone, and who will judge the nations of the world in righteousness and faithfulness. “When a nation or individual receives God’s blessing, he immediately becomes responsible for telling others what God has done for him” (John T. Willis). This is the “new song” missionaries carry to the world!
THE NEW SONG OF GOD’S POWER
While some may have thought the Old Testament proclaimed that God loved only Israel, Psalm 96 affirms that God cares about people everywhere, even those whose understanding of God is distorted. Our pluralistic society may say that “one god is as good as another god,” that various gods are needed to help people with various needs, and that “all roads lead to heaven.” The truth is there is only one true God, who is Lord of the universe. He is fully capable of providing everything we need — He can do it all! He wants everyone to hear about His “marvelous works”(verse 3). He wants people who bow to man-made images to understand how empty and powerless idol-worship is: “They lift it to their shoulders, and carry it; they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble”(Isaiah 46:7). They “keep on praying to a god that cannot save”(Isaiah 45:20). The true God is not made by human hands. The true God cannot be picked up and carried about. The true God knows everything about everybody and wants idolaters to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The living, eternal God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing. Idols, on the other hand, are incapable of thinking, hearing and seeing. Idols are impotent, but the true God “made the heavens”(verse 5). “All the gods of the people are worthless idols” the psalmist declared. The message of the missionary is this: it makes a difference if one worships the true God or a worthless idol! In today’s pluralistic society this is the song that needs to be sung. It’s a call to worship the Lord in the “splendor of holiness;” to “tremble before Him, all the earth!”(verse 9). It may be a “new” song to many, but it’s the right song to sing. And if Christians don’t sing it, we dishonor the Lord, who is “greatly to be praised!”(verse 4).
THE NEW SONG OF ESTABLISHED ORDER
The “new song” proclaims that God “established” order and harmony in the earth. In Him all things “hold together” (Colossians 1:17). As this psalm puts it: “the world is established; it shall never be moved”(verse 10). Only at the final act of God (on the “Day of the Lord”), when His purpose for earth has been fulfilled, the heavens will “pass away,” be“burned up and dissolved” and the earth “exposed”. On that final day, “all these things will be dissolved”(2 Peter 3:10-11). Polytheism may tell us that the gods are at odds with each other and one god will send fire while another god sends rain to put the fire out, that one god sends health while another sends disease, that one god wants to bless us while the other god sends chaos and tragedy. The reality is that until the day when the true Lord of the Universe determines to bring an end to His plans and protections for life on earth, things will be orderly for those who live on this planet. The true God hasmade a covenant with the earth that “while the earth remains seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
THE NEW SONG OF RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
The “new song” announces the true God will “judge the peoples with equity”(verse 10). Justice and fairness are God’s plan for all human beings, regardless of race, color or country of origin. Those who bow themselves to man-made idols think the gods are biased, unjust, unfair and demand that everyone earn his way into the next life (through re-incarnation or perhaps becoming “one” with the universe) through his own efforts and good deeds. Only the religion of the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, speaks about love, grace and forgiveness. When we commit our lives to Him we trust Him to save us from our sins even though we don’t deserve it, and we commit ourselves to love our neighbors as ourselves. When people pattern their lives upon the example of Jesus they will treat each other with kindness, mercy and justice. Society will be completely changed! Life based on man-made idols leads to hopelessness, terror and injustice. The “new song” of God’s love brings justice, forgiveness, peace and joy. “This psalm throbs with the hope of the Lord’s coming” (H.C. Leopold). As the psalmist said: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice… for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness” (verse 11-13).
Christ for the world we sing;
The world to Christ we bring,
With loving zeal;
The poor and them that mourn,
The faint and over-borne,
Sin-sick and sorrow-worn
Whom Christ doth heal.
Christ for the world we sing;
The world to Christ we bring
With fervent prayer:
The way-ward and the lost,
By restless passions tossed
Redeemed at countless cost
From dark despair.
––Samuel Wolcott (1869)
All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
I regret to inform the readers that some biblical scholars, clergymen, and seminary students do not care much for Psalm 90. Personally, I have found it to be profound in its insights! It is one of the outstanding prayers in the Bible. I have used its message as the text for many funerals, including the funerals of those who have avoided every aspect of God in their lives. I know of no psalm which so clearly balances our understanding about life and death, God and mankind, pessimism and hope. I hold Psalm 90 in the highest regard. It is, after all, the oldest psalm in the entire book of Psalms. The introduction states that its author was Moses, and while introductions to specific Psalms are not inspired, there is more reasons to believe Moses actually wrote it than to deny that he did. Moses was a “man of God” who lead the Israelites out of Egypt, hand-delivered the original Ten Commandments and prayed urgently and fervently that God would not cast off His people. Here are great principles that will help all of us have a good life.
WE HAVE A DWELLING PLACE WITH GOD
The prayer begins: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were bought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God”(verses 1-2). A “dwelling place” is more than a place to flee to in time of danger. It is truly our “home” where love abounds, needs are met, comfort prevails and character is formed. Eighty years ago the world heard these words when Dorothy (Judy Garland) woke up in Kansas and remembered her wonderful adventures in Oz, but told her family “there‘s no place like home.” The world has never forgotten those words! But long before Judy Garland uttered them, God’s people were sheltered and nourished in God Himself––the God who is from “everlasting to everlasting.” To this very day, those who are far away from their physical families may enter the dwelling place of God “in the heavens” (1st Kings 8:30). All of His servants are welcome there! On the morning of the resurrection, a loud voice will be heard saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God”(Revelation 21:3). Moses put it like this: “The eternal God is your dwelling place; and underneath are the everlasting arms”(Deuteronomy 33:27). We are invited to enter the everlasting dwelling place of God now, and we will dwell there for all eternity in the world to come!
GOD HAS SHOWED HIS ANGER
The book of Psalms contains a large number of references to the wrath of God, but no psalm is more insistent that we appreciate the fact that His anger is very much a part of who God is. Moses experienced it as he led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years. In fact, there are striking similarities between Psalm 90 and the wandering in the wilderness described in Deuteronomy, so much so that that 40 years experience may indeed be the historical background of this psalm. “We are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed…. For all our days pass away under your wrath….Who considers the power of your anger, and the wrath according ot the fear of you?”(verses 7, 9, 11). The anger of God is not a topic to be lightly dismissed. Many preachers never preach on that topic. But God’s wrath is very much a Bible subject (both in the Old Testament and the New Testament) and we owe it to ourselves to learn about it!
SIN IS THE REASON FOR GOD’S ANGER.
The psalmist wrote: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty….”(verses 8-10). Moses saw God’s wrath at work. At Kadesh the majority of spies came back with a negative report of the land and the inhabitants God intended for Israel to conquer. Because of their sinful fears and refusal to obey God instructions to enter the land, God brought the punishment of death on Israel (Numbers 14:22-23). It is a sobering thought that death is the result of God’s wrath. If human beings had not sinned God would not have been angry with humans and brought death on the world. It is important, however, that we realize this psalm does not teach that everyone who dies does so because he is a sinful person and personally under the wrath of God. Infants, for example, have no sins, yet innocent infants and youngsters pass away every year. Those old enough to commit sin, to repent of their sins and to be immersed into Christ receive the forgiveness of all their sins (Acts 2:38), yet death comes to those who are forgiven even as it comes to those who live in deliberate sin. It is a universal truth that death is the consequence of God’s wrath provoked by of sin in this world. Death entered the world when Adam sinned at the beginning of creation. God said to Adam: “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Death has spread to all men –– even to those incapable of committing sins and those whose sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. It is “appointed to men to die once”(Hebrews 9:27).
LIFE ON EARTH IS FRAGILE.
In five figures of speech Moses speaks of how transitory life on earth really is. It is “as yesterday” when it is passed or “as a watch in the night” (usually 4 hours) (verse 4); it is “like a dream” and “like grass”(verse 5); it is “like a sigh”(verse 9). What a contrast to the nature of God who is “from everlasting to everlasting” (verse 2)! Life-span in the age of Moses was about the same as life-span is today: 70 or 80 years. A few live to be 100 or more, and others die long before they reach their 70’s. Whatever time we have on this planet needs to be centered in what is most important and what prepares us for the world to come. That is, to learn God’s purpose for life and devote ourselves to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This is what “wisdom” is all about! We need to make every day count!
NUMBERING OUR DAYS
Moses prayed: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (verse 12). Numbering our days is not a matter of arithmetic. The New Bible Commentary explains: “Human life is set between two points: the wrath of God, which makes life transient, and peace with God which gives it stability and permanency.” We owe it to our Creator to get to know Him better than we do today, and to serve Him more effectively than we did today. To put it another way: numbering our days is to “realize how brief life is on earth, in order that he might use his time in the most meaningful way possible” (John Willis, Insights From the Psalms III). It is a matter of establishing priorities for life. It means resolving to bring glory to God, to do good to those around us, to spread the gospel to the farthest reaches of the earth, and to get ready for the judgment day that is certainly coming! It means to live life in a way that we will be able to hear the Savior say: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
ANTICIPATE GOD’S STEADFAST LOVE
Moses looked forward to the Lord doing great things for him, his family and the nation. He prayed: “Satisfy us …with your steadfast love….make us glad…let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us. Yes, establish the work of our hands!”(verses 14-17). Our God does not want to be estranged from us; we need His love and power to bring out the best in our families. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well”(Psalm 139:14). Even if life is short and death comes sooner than we would expect, yet the Lord sustains us with fresh favors each day. We have important tasks to accomplish and we need divine help to accomplish them; we need God to “establish the work of our hands”! God’s steadfast love will give us the strength we need. Life will be good and the works of God will be seen in the lives of parents and children. Is there anything more valuable than God’s kingdom power which endures from one generation to another?
DEATH IS NOT THE END
It is a mistake to interpret Psalm 90 as focused entirely on death and dying. On the contrary, Moses says that what we do with our brief lives will enable us at the end of our earthly journey, to “fly away”(verse 10). This is a promise of great hope! Death sets the spirit free to return to God. Solomon spoke of this exit from earthly life: “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”(Ecclesiastes 12:7). Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred for the Faith prayed as he was being stoned to death: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59). And our Lord Jesus, while dying for us, endured the cross because of the “joy that was set before Him”(Hebrews 12:2). He cried out: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Having said that His spirit flew away into the very presence of God.
We “fly away” not like a frightened and jittery sparrow flees from one dangerous branch to another, but like a mighty Bald Eagle rising with grace from his eyrie nest to soar upward toward the skies above to the highest peak where he will be safe from all predators that would harm him. When we come to the final hour of life on earth, may we with hope, love, courage and peace be carried in the arms of angels to the “dwelling of God” who will shelter us with His presence and put His “everlasting arms” around us.
Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away
“They will go from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7)
It is true that we do not know how much we miss certain things until we are denied the privilege of having them — seeing the things we remember, breathing in the scents, touching the furniture, hearing the old familiar messages and enjoying the company of friends or family. Perhaps you have a favorite congregation which brings happy memories. It may have been a congregation where you had a sense of fulfillment because you loved the people, felt well-fed from the word of God, grew spiritually and had opportunities to serve the Lord in meaningful ways. For godly people in Israel that unique and special place was the temple in Jerusalem. In Psalm 84 the sons of Korah express the joy of going to worship God, to sing, to pray, and resolve to “trust in the Lord”. It is one of the best loved psalms in the entire Psalter. One commentator has said: “Seldom has that love (for the sanctuary) found such touching and eloquent expression.”
For Christians, the assembly of God’s people for worship is the sanctuary we love. We may have been deprived of the opportunity to meet together due to circumstances beyond our control, such as being stationed in remote corners of the world, being overcome by failing health, being quarantined due to the corona-virus or although surrounded by churches in a new city, being unable to find one “like the church back home.” A case in point is a Christian lady who had not been able to assemble to worship with God’s people for several weeks due to government restrictions that churches close because of the spread of COVID-19. As she walked back into the church building she was heard to say: “I love this place. I have missed it so much!” All of us can be strengthened by reading Psalm 84.
FAITH IS STRENGTHENED BY WORSHIP. The sons of Korah wrote: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (verse 1-2). The Lord’s church, where we meet to sing and pray, is not intended to be a place we fear, or are forced to attend against our will. We should have a comfortable feeling when we enter the doors, like birds which felt comfortable around the ancient sanctuary in Jerusalem. They built their nests and gave birth to their young there (verse 3). Meeting together to worship gives us strength in the knowledge that the God we love and serve is the “sun and shield” to protect us (verse 11).
GOD IS STRONGER THAN OUR PROBLEMS. In the sanctuary we worship the “Lord of hosts”(verses 1), the “Living God”(verse 2), the heavenly “King” (verse 3). We come together with the burdens and disappointments of life on our shoulders, we leave with the strength of God to take on another day. Being there, hearing the word, praying and singing, gives us more strength than we had before. We gain what we need to go from “strength to strength”(verse 7).
OUR STRENGTH CAN BECOME A BLESSING TO OTHERS.“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs….”(verses 5-6). For truly godly people, going to church is not just a constitutional right, a family tradition, something good for business. It is discovering the path that leads to a better world, where people love their neighbors as themselves, racism vanishes, justice prevails for the weak and strong, and the world is made a better place. In the words of Psalm 84: “the Valley of Baca” (a dry and arid place where is life is hard) is changed by “springs” made by godly people and God blesses the land with “early rain and covers it with pools.”(verse 6). Probably Psalm 87 is not to be taken literally. However, those who live in arid parts of Africa and elsewhere are truly thankful for wells drilled by members of Churches of Christ and “non-profit” organizations which make it possible to grow crops and have clean drinking water. In a symbolic sense, Christians provide “springs” in the deserts by spreading the love of God and the promise of His forgiveness of sins and the gift of His Holy Spirit for spiritual transformation.
SERVANTS ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO BE HUMBLE. When priorities are straight we find many experiences that show humility and a servant’s heart to be preferred over the attractions of wickedness. Listen to the writer: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness”(verse 10). Doorkeepers did not earn much money for what they did (if any!). They were not into service in the sanctuary to become famous or get special favors. They opened the doors because it was a job someone needed to do so people could come in to worship. Jesus taught us those who follow His steps: “Whoever is great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many”(Matthew 20: 25-28). I appreciate the way Thomas Kinkade put it: “Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.” If I had to choose between one day to live and serve the church or many days in self-seeking wickedness, I hope I would have the wisdom and courage to choose to live that one day as a servant in God’s sanctuary, the church.
GOD GETS THE CREDIT FOR OUR STRENGTH. “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (verse 11). It is important that we understand what “good” means if we anticipate receiving “good things” from God. Jesus said: “How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”(Matthew 7:11). In a similar scripture He said; “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”(Luke 11:13). Just in case anyone thought he would receive a new car if he asked God to give him one, the context of this promise is that “good things” are the things one receives when he receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is promised to all who “repent and be baptized (immersed) for the forgiveness of sins”(Acts 2:38). God gives the Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). God’s Holy Spirit instills the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). He helps us in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27). He fortifies our hearts so we can overcome the deeds of sin (Romans 8:13). He strengthens us “with power” in the inner person so that Christ may dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:16). In short, the work of God’s Spirit, given in answer to our prayers, enables us to go from “strength to strength” living the Christian life.
We have much to be thankful for because our God is faithful to us. “Blessed is the one who trusts in Him” (verse 12).
(Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version.)
A new congregation of the Church of Christ will begin soon in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Weekly communion, acappella singing, back-to-the-Bible messages, loving Christian fellowship, undenominational. For more information contact: email@example.com
The words of Israel’s king David will help put everything into proper perspective. Please read Psalm 73 carefully, then think about these reflections . . . .
A New England friend of mine told me why he quit going to church. He said: “I was not growing spiritually; nothing really changed for me. I did not become an atheist, or an agnostic. I consider myself to be a spiritual person. But “church” had no meaning in my everyday life. I live in the real world of family demands, health issues, unsteady jobs, broken relationships and moral dilemmas. I don’t see how going to church is going to help me meet these challenges. I have lots of questions and sometimes I am not sure how to work through my confusions, but is the church really going to make any difference? I don’t think so.”
It is true that many non-church goers are good neighbors, appear to be happy and successful. In fact, sometimes they have more money, bigger houses, newer cars, fewer problems, and are well on their way to fulfilling their “bucket list” of 1,000 Things To Do Before You Die. David wrote: “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (verse 3). The ancient king protested strongly: “All in vain I have kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence” (verse 13). Have you thought about all the good things that non-church people enjoy and compared all the trials you have experienced? Have you thought about the hypocrites that go to church every week but never change their dishonest ways? Organized religion is not helping them. In fact, church leaders seem to be most concerned about money.
It is also true that many who go to the “sanctuary” are financially strapped, have troubles in their marriages, appear to be “narrow minded” and emotionally unstable. Going to church is not doing much for them, either. In fact, it is like being “stuck” in religious ruts, traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
For some who have dropped out of church, it is easier to live without a consciousness of God’s presence which makes one feel accountable for the poor choices he makes. If God is not aware (or not interested) of what’s going on around us, is it because there are no absolute rights and wrongs, and we do not need to be concerned about the behavior of people who live in our town? Is it because there is no coming day of reckoning — no day of the righteousness judgment of God? (Tragically, even priests and preachers who are supposed to be the moral conscience of society are not sure if the Bible is true or relevant!) It is tempting to decide what we believe and how we are going to live on our own. As my friend said: “I just don’t need someone else telling me how to live my life!” People described in Psalm 73, put it like this: “How can God know? Is there knowledge inthe Most High?”(verse 11)
For King David the meaning of life had become confusing. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to be a wearisome task.” His wearisome task continued, he said, “until I went into the sanctuary of God”(verses 16-17). According to the scriptures, God “sanctuary” today is the church Jesus built. It is called the “holy temple”(Ephesians 2:21), “God’s building”(1 Corinthians 3:9). It not a physical structure, such as a cathedral or church building. God’s “sanctuary” is now the spiritual place where God dwells. God’s sanctuary is not a denomination; it was established before there were either Protestant or Catholic denominations. Jesus died on the cross so His blood could purchase His spiritual church(Acts 20:28). Today God’s spiritual sanctuary has spiritual “priests” who offer spiritual “sacrifices”(1 Peter 2:4-5).
If Jesus thought so highly of His divine church that He would die for it, why do some people have a hard time going to church? Why do those who have left have a hard time going back? What’s wrong with this picture?
First, some stop going to church because of problems they themselves have. They fail to focus their minds on what is happening in a worship environment. During the prayers, communion and hymns, they are thinking of a hundred other things they plan to do that day. Worship is boring. Their hearts are not where they need to be. Almost no time at all is spent in personal Bible study and prayer. Jesus described it like this: “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me”(Matthew 15:8). God wants Hispeople not to let the church down! It is difficult to get more out of worship than one is putting in it.
Second, some stop going to church because of problems the church has. Often organized religion is not teaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God’s church is supposed to be the “pillar and buttress of the truth”(1 Timothy 3:15). The church should proclaim the word of God. Its mission is not to entertain people, take political positions, make everyone laugh, tell witty jokes or make people “feel good” about themselves. The mission of the church is much higher than that! Today we are seeing the fulfillment of a prophecy made in the Old Testament: “ ‘Behold the days are coming’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will send a famine on the land––not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and from, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”(Amos 8:11-12). When the clergy feed people a few short readings from a religious book, focus on rituals of kneeling and rising, solicit a few “amens” and “responses” to printed liturgy, then dismiss the worshipers with rote blessings, the people are not being properly fed. When people are not properly fed they get little to nothing out of the service and eventually decide to quit going to church. They are reluctant to start back. It is our conviction that they deserve to hear the word of God which will change their lives, help them understand the will of God, bear their burdens, deepen their faith, repent of their sins, sharpen their convictions, answer their doubts and produce meaningful spiritual maturity. They deserve to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In first century Christianity, God placed knowledgeable leaders in His church to help believers attain “mature manhood,” so they would no longer “be children, tossed to and fro by the waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” He designed His “sanctuary” as the place where believers hear “the truth in love” and “grow up in every way into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-15). God wants His church to not let the people down!
When the psalmist returned to the sanctuary and paid attention to the message of the word of God, his confusions and doubts began to fade away. His faith became stronger! He wrote: “You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me into glory…. God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!” (verses 24-26). He concluded Psalm 73 with this affirmation: “It is good to be near God”(verse 28). What David wrote is absolutely true! If your interest in spiritual things is growing again, if you need to return to the Lord’s sanctuary, don’t let that desire pass. Seek out the Church of Christ in your community!
(All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
A new congregation of the Church of Christ will begin soon in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Weekly communion, acappella singing, back-to-the-Bible messages, loving Christian fellowship, undenominational. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently my wife, Paula, and I drove along one of Connecticut’s little known roads when suddenly we came upon the Dewey Granby Oak. Actually, we had already passed it when we realized we should turn around, go back, and take a second look. What is so remarkable about the Dewey Granby Oak tree? After all, the USDA says there are 806 million trees in the Nutmeg State. Ninety-nine percent of them are far less than 200 years old. But the Dewey Granby Oak is almost 450 years old! In 1620, when the Pilgrims landed in the New World this white oak was just getting started in an open field. There were no road, no town of Granby, no state of Connecticut, no colonists. I wonder, if ancient trees could talk what stories would they tell? If old trees could pray, what would they pray about? We know we will never have an answer to such questions. However, mature, godly people do pray, and if we have ears to hear we can learn some important things about how to pray.
King David wrote Psalm 69 in his mature years. It was not a time to pray about trivial things, even things once considered to be urgent. Life’s priorities were clearer now than when he was younger. His prayers focused on the most important things.
What should we pray about today — especially when coming face to face with the fact that life is not always easy and that life is but a mist that evaporates in a moment? Do our prayers show godly maturity?
• ASK GOD TO HELP YOU SET A GOOD EXAMPLE.“Let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me”(verse 6). Even your children, grandchildren, extended family, friends and acquaintances are influenced by the way you live. The things you talk about are remembered. Today you have opportunities to help someone see what it means to love God. You can be an encouragement to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”(Matthew 6:33). Ask the Lord to keep you from being a stumbling block to anyone.
• CONFESS YOUR SINS EVERY DAY. We do not know David’s age when he wrote this Psalm, but I can assure you from 78 years of life on earth that no matter how old one gets, Satan never stops trying to entice us to neglect our Christian duties, to compromise our moral standards or corrupt our thoughts. The kinds of sin we face may change as we grow older, but the fact of temptation to sin never changes. David prayed: “O God, you know my folly: the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you” (verse 5).
• LOVE GOD’S CHURCH. Jesus exemplified loyalty to God’s house by the life He lived and the death He died. When He cleansed the temple, His disciples remembered that David once wrote: “Zeal for your house will consume Me” (John 2:16-17 a quotation from Psalm 69:9). If you are unable to do what you used to do in serving Christ, continue to be diligent in prayer for the church as long as you live. Pray for the church to grow numerically and spiritually, for missionaries to serve effectively, for elders to lead as shepherds, for teachers and preachers to be faithful to the word of God, for new congregations to be planted, for those who have strayed from the faith to return. Neither age nor poor health, financial setbacks, broken marriages nor disappointments with the life choices of family-members should be allowed to hinder our prayers!
• COMMIT EACH MOMENT TO GOD’S DELIVERANCE AND LOVE. This is what David did! “At an acceptable time O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire…. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good”(verse 13-17).
• PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES. Some have been offended by David’s request that his enemies face the judgment of God: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous”(verse 28). We need to consider the wider context. It is not personal revenge for which he prayed. David knew that some people had evil intentions toward God’s plans for Israel and its divinely appointed king. If they were willing to repent of their evil ways, David would have been the first to ask God to be merciful to them. But if they were unwilling to change their ways, David prayed that the Lord would not let their evil plans succeed. His prayer arose from a pure heart of genuine concern that God’s plans prevail; that God’s justice be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. He prayed that the willfully wicked and unrepentant experience the holy righteousness of God. To pray for the wicked to succeed in their destructive intentions is the very opposite of what God desires. When our attitude is what it should be, we can pray for God’s justice to prevail as David prayed.
• SET YOUR HEART ON GOD’S SALVATION.“Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!”(verse 29). The best is yet to be! The great day of the Lord is coming. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”(1 Peter 1:13). Other versions put it like this: “fix your hope completely” (NASB), “be perfectly attentive” (ABPC), “with perfect stedfastness” (DBT), “calmly and unfalteringly” (WNT). Our spiritual focus should not be half-hearted. We cannot afford to allow the distractions of the world and our surroundings deter us from our hope. Heaven is real and our reward is guaranteed!
• PRAISE GOD! In Psalm 69 the psalmist affirms the power and worth of God. “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving …. When the humble see it they will be glad; you will seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them”(verse 30-34). There are some who see the Dewey Granby Oak, and never connect the dots to God. They do not praise the God of nature for His magnificent handiwork. Let the humble remember to praise God for His beautiful world and for His mighty designs. Our God is the great God whose “eternal power and divine nature” are clearly perceived in the things He has made (Romans 1:20). Today and every day praise God from whom all blessings flow!
“But what lays ahead for the Granby Oak? If we are to consider the range of recorded ages for some of the oldest fallen white oaks in the Eastern United States, the Granby Oak would already seem to have cheated death out of as much as a century. In 2005, cross-dating of a remarkable white oak in Virginia revealed an age of 464 years, easily the most extraordinary specimen on record. And yet, if the Granby Oak’s estimated age is correct, then it’s quickly approaching even the most extreme known boundaries of longevity for the species. Truth be told, while the tree remains apparently healthy and hopefully endures for several more years to come, it seems quite unlikely that another century lays ahead. It stands today as an iconic and wondrous denizen of Connecticut, having outlived virtually all of the billions of trees that existed on the day it sprouted so very long ago. What a grand life it has lead!” (J.G. Coleman, August 29, 2018).
(All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
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“Awesome is God from His sanctuary; . . . He is the one who gives power and strength to His people. Blessed be God!” (Psalm 68:35).
Please read Psalm 68. Underline its key words; circle the verse numbers that are special to you. Then consider the following reflections on an unusual Psalm filled with joy and thanksgiving for the power and greatness of God.
“Awesome is God from His sanctuary; . . . He is the one who gives power and strength to His people. Blessed be God!” (Psalm 68:35).
King David begins by tracing the history of God’s providential care in Israel’s history. With confident faith he declares: “God shall arise, His enemies shall be scattered” (verse1). These are almost the same words used by Moses as he led the children of Israel through the wilderness, moving the ark of the covenant from Sinai to Jerusalem, its ultimate destination. Whenever the ark set out, Moses prayed: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered” (Numbers 10:35). It was a call to the Lord of Host to lead His people safely along the way. God could do this because He rode “through the deserts” and “marched through the wilderness”(verse 4, 7). He defeated His enemies along the way, while women divided the spoil and sang: “The kings of the armies–they flee, they flee!”(verse 12). His enemies were scattered, blown away like smoke, melted like wax melts before fire (verse 2). God proved over and over that He was truly “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (verse 5). In all His goodness, God “provided for the needy”(verse 10). No other god was as powerful and protective as “the One of Sinai,” the “God of Israel”(verse 8). The one true God is still all-powerful! “The righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” (verse 3).
The theme verse quoted above states that God is “awesome” — a word which originally meant “full of terror” then much later came to mean “amazing, astonishing, marvelous, stupendous, sublime, wonderful, and worthy of praise.” When used of God we should not think of the weakened word “awesome” which has evolved in modern English to describe a good sandwich, a large library, a piece of rock music or a child’s poster made in art class. Words may fail to express the full meaning of “awe,” but we know it when we experience it! God is “awesome” in the sense that His holiness, power, actions, character and blessings evoke deep reverence in our hearts, an overwhelming feeling of astonishment at His marvelous greatness. Psalm 68 is about our awesome God before whom we are motivated to bow in His presence, to be astounded at His greatness and to praise Him for all He has done and continues to do.
Maclaren, a Bible commentor wrote: “This superb hymn is unsurpassed, if not unequalled, in grandeur, lyric fire, and sustained rush of triumphant praise.”
God chose Mount Zion as His dwelling place. His choice was not based on physical beauty or geographical height (there were other mountains in the northern fringe of Bashan that rose over 9,000 feet with multiple peaks more striking in appearance (verse 15). God did not choose any of the peaks of Bashan. The ark of God found its home on Mount Zion, a mere 2,500 feet above sea-level and not known for any peaks. How like God–to choose what is lowly and insignificant over what is impressive as His holy mountain! (verse 15). There “thousands upon thousands” of God’s chariots would await his orders (verse 16). We join the psalmist as he rejoiced in the all-powerful God: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation”(verse 19).
Centuries later the apostle Paul quoted Psalm 68:8 when He spoke concerning Jesus: “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul said Jesus Christ, “descended to the lower regions of the earth, then ascended far above the heavens”! The “gifts” He gave to men were “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers” who will faithfully teach the word of God to the Body of Christ so His church will “attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood” (Ephesians 4:12-14). People who think the church of Christ is unimportant need to contemplate the fact that God planned its establishment, prophesied its spiritual mission, announced that its head would ascend back to heaven and gave gifts of leadership in Psalm 68. Something that important to God ought to be very important to us!
David declared that “God settles the solitary in a home; He leads out the prisoners to prosperity”(verse 6). It is a beautiful picture of the church, where even today those who are alone, who have no earthly family to turn to in the hour of need, find the greatest family on earth, a family of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and children all around them (Mark 10:29-31). Many have discovered that the spiritual family in Christ is closer to them than their physical, earthly family. In addition, the psalmist declares that God “leads out the prisoners.” This is especially true for those who have found themselves enslaved by sinful habits, addictions, poor decisions, enduring the loss of both physical and spiritual freedom! Jesus promised: “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). In God’s church-family we are able to live as “people who are free”(1 Peter 2:16).
Our blessed God wants people of all nations, colors and languages to hear the joyful news of salvation. The gospel should be proclaimed in Israel, Africa and other “kingdoms of the earth”(verse 32). (Gentile) Kings “shall bear gifts” to God (verse 29). “Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God”(verse 31). The divine mission to spread the message of salvation is the greatest, most important mission ever assigned to mankind! Because Christians take this great commission seriously, we anticipate that on the morning of the resurrection we will see the fruits of our labors: people of all races, cultures and ages enter the gates of heaven. God will give light and “by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” On either side of heaven’s river the “tree of life” will bear fruit “for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 21:23-24; 22:2). The universal church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing the spread of the gospel (Ephesians 3:10). Each of us should ask ourselves: what am I doing to take the gospel to those at home and in the nations of the world?
Praising God for all He is and all He has done is certainly an important thing for individual believers to do in the privacy of their own homes and among their own family members. However, there is another place where it is important for us to praise God: in the assembled church. The psalmist wrote: “Bless God in the great congregation”(verse 26). It is vital that all Christians find a place to serve and praise our Blessed God in the local congregation of God’s church. God’s people from every nation should “sing praises to the Lord…to Him who rides in the heavens; the ancient heavens.”(Verse 32-33). Let each one of us “Ascribe power to God” because “He is the one who gives power and strength to His people”(verse 35). “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”(Hebrews 10:24-25).
During the COVID-19 pandemic most of us have been unable to assemble as a church. Now that things have improved in our nation, we are anxious to assemble together. This will not only be our privilege; it will be our duty.
As we go about our duties this day, remember three simple words:
“Blessed be God!” (verse 35).
(All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.)
Please read Psalm 55, underline words that are important to you, then consider these reflections on the psalm.
Betrayal is hurtful. “The worst pain in the world goes beyond the physical. Even further beyond any other emotional pain one can feel. It is the betrayal of a friend.” –– Heather Brewer (aka Zac Brewer, New York Times author.) Perhaps at some point in your life you, too, have experienced the pain of being betrayed by a friend.
David, the second King of Israel, fell victim to betrayal by a friend, and wrote about it in Psalm 55. He described a friend who turned against him: “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.”(verse 21).
David knew that what his ‘friend’ had done did not happen by accident; it was a deliberate act on the part of one who “did not change” who “did not fear God.”(verse 19). David was stunned. He could hardly realize it really happened until it did happen. There was little or nothing he could do about it. The harm has been done. “It is you a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,” he wrote. Thinking about the years that their friendship has lasted, he said: ‘We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (verse 13-14). As we might say today, “We even went to church together!” David struggled to forgive him. Like William Blake, the 18th century English poet expressed it: “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.”
“Of all people, a man should be able to open his heart fully to his Christiana brother, but unfortunately there are those even in the church who do not hesitate to betray a brother’s confidence to promote their own quirks and interests, just as the psalmist’s best friend had done.” (John T. Willis The Psalms III.)
Sometimes when one has been deeply hurt there is a strong urge to move somewhere else as soon as possible, to escape the hurts by running away. David considered that option: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest”(verse 6-7). The dove is recognized for its innocence and swiftness of flight. A dove could cover a great distance in her flight. Reflecting on that option, David decided he did not need to go elsewhere. There was something he could do and stay in Jerusalem, his home city. And that is exactly what he did! He let God know what had happened and how he was hurting inside: “I call to God, and the Lord will save me”(verse 16).
His prayerful words were agonizing, painful, pointed and urgent. “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me and answer me…. They drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me”(verse 1-2). Stanley Morris, a Christian brother and Biblical linguist, translated it like this: “Pay attention to me; answer me. I’m worried, and I’m upset…. I have great anxiety…I’m scared; I’m shaking, I am overwhelmed with horror” (The International English Bible, 2014).
It has been suggested that the betrayal which hurt David so much was that of Ahithophel, a trusted comrade, counselor and spiritual leader of Israel whose betrayal is described in 2 Samuel chapters 15 through 17. Read this story for yourself. You will discover how Ahithophel turned against David during the rebellion of Absalom, and gave Absalom advice on how he could trap, capture and kill his father (king David himself!). Another trusted friend of David was Hushai, who took on the responsibility of protecting David in answer to David’s prayer: “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness”(2 Samuel 15:31). David had learned a very important lesson in life: in troublesome times you don’t need to run away, but you need to pray about it and trust in the Lord to work things out.
Psalm 55 is recognized by Bible students everywhere for this promise: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved” (verse 22). This became one of the favorite Old Testament passages of the apostle Peter. He quoted it in 1 Peter 5:7––”casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.”
Rowland Hill (1744–1833) an English preacher and an influential advocate of smallpox vaccination, penned the words to a hymn based on Psalm 55. They are still being sung in churches after 250 years:
“Cast thy burden on the Lord, Only lean upon His word; Thou shalt soon have cause to bless His eternal faithfulness.
He will gird thee by His power, In thy weary fainting hour; Lean then, loving, on His word; Cast thy burden on the Lord.”
What a great God we have! A great and faithful Friend! He will never betray our trust, but will renew our strength and courage in every trying circumstance.
“Do thy friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee; Thou will find a solace there. –– Joseph Scriven
(Scripture references from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.)
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns”(Psalm 46:4-5).
Please read the eleven verses of Psalm 46, underline words with special meaning to you, then consider these reflections:
Around 1,000 B.C. king David conquered the Jebusites, took over Jerusalem, their national capital, and renamed it the “stronghold of Zion, the City of David”(2 Samuel 5:6-7). David had no idea how important the city would become in the history of Israel. Historians say that through the centuries Jerusalem became known by 72 different names, including “the City of God,” the “habitation of the Most High”(Psalm 46:4). It was a holy city, the capital city God’s holy nation, the city where God dwelt, a city which would bring safety in troublesome times. By reflecting on God’s power and strength displayed in Jerusalem His people would find solace in God Himself, for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”(Psalm 46:1). To speak of God as a “refuge” is to affirm that He “is like strong fortress into which a man may flee and be absolutely safe; to affirm that He is a “strength” is to declare He is “an unfailing source of strength, enabling one to cope manfully with the dangers that assail him” (H.C. Leupold, Expositions on the Psalms). Martin Luther’s famous hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was based on the words of this psalm.
For followers of Jesus Christ the earthly, physical Jerusalem is symbolic of the “Jerusalem above” where our citizenship is (Galatians 4:26). As God’s spiritually chosen people, we have come to “Mount Zion, the city of the living God”(Hebrews 12:22). Nevertheless, there are valuable lessons we can learn concerning God and that ancient geographical city.
In Psalm 46 the sons of Korah (authors of the psalm) remind us that the Israelites were surrounded by serious dangers in the world outside the city. Things people took for granted could and would be shaken and destroyed. Using poetical language, the writers let us know that mountains could “be moved into the heart of the sea;” while waters would “foam and roar” as floods rushed to cover the ground (verses 2-3). It is not necessary to identify specific times and places when such natural disasters literally occurred in ancient times. The psalmists may be using poetic words describing spiritual, and emotional upheavals that came upon the ancient nation. In such times God would be their “refuge and strength.” Neither is it necessary (as some biblical commentators have attempted to do) to identify literal national and international conflicts and wars when God stepped in to bring wars to an end and to “break the bow and shatter the spear”(Psalm 46:9). God’s holy people knew that whatever fears and disasters came upon them, God would be an “ever present help” (the foot note in some Bibles reads “a well proved help”) in time of trouble (verse 1).
We live 3,000 years since David declared Jerusalem to be the City of God. Through disobedience Israel lost its holy city. The physical city of Zion is no longer the place where God dwells. All people–– Jew and Gentile––can now respond to the gospel commands to “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” and become God’s spiritual people (Acts 2:38).
The apostle Peter declares that today Christians are God’s “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:4). We are the “Israel of God”(Galatians 6:16). If God promised to be an “ever present help in trouble” to the Israelites of old, think of what He has promised those who are his spiritual Israelites today! Our modern world is enduring the corona-virus which has closed our schools, strained our mental capacities, caused loss of income, shut down our shopping malls, brought thousands upon thousands to hospitalization and ultimately to death. This pandemic has hindered our ability to meet together, to study the Bible together and to worship God together. We may be tempted to think God has abandoned us. However, we do not need to be filled with fear of what the future holds. In the words of Psalm 46: “We will not fear though the earth gives way”(verse 2). God is still on His throne! He is helping us here and now, and He will help us “when morning dawns”(verse 5). We look toward the return of our Savior Jesus Christ, who will come down from heaven with the “new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”(Revelation 21:1-4). We will live in that City forever. Truly, it will be the eternal “City of God,” the “habitation of the most High God.”
“There is a habitation, Built by the Living God, For all of every nation Who seek that grand abode. O Zion! Lovely Zion! I long thy gates to see! O Zion! Lovely Zion! When shall I dwell in thee?”
–– Love H. Jameson, 1882
Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version
The 39th Psalm is one of the most difficult to examine and discuss. With humility I will attempt to share its timeless lessons. There are only 13 verses. Please read this Psalm, underline words that are important to you, then consider these reflections:
DAVID STRUGGLED WITH HIS SUFFERINGS. He did not identify whether the suffering had to do with sickness, disappointments in the heirs to his fortune, political unrest, constant scheming of his enemies or something else heavy on his heart. Whatever it was, David felt that he was being disciplined by the Lord through these sufferings. “It is you who have done it…I am spent by the hostility of your hand” (verse 9-10). He felt he should not share this burden with anyone, so he kept it to himself. He mused about it over and over until he became extremely upset. He said: “My heart became hot within me, as I mused, the fire burned” (verse 3). David especially did not want to discuss it with people who did not share his faith. Whenever ungodly people came around he just “clammed up,” he put a “muzzle” on his mouth “so long as the wicked are in my presence”(verse 1). Perhaps he thought ungodly people would use his weaknesses against him, to make things worse than they already were. Perhaps the wicked would use David’s confessed sins and subsequent discipline to scoff at him.
DAVID TOLD GOD HIS HEART ACHES. As he struggled, he prayed: “O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (verse 4) He did not ask that God would reveal the number of days, weeks or years he would have to suffer before he died. The word “measure” is a noun indicating “an estimate of what is to be expected” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It means David was asking God to help him understand what really matters, to realize that life on the earth is very fragile and to understand how to fulfill God’s purposes for life. It is much like Moses who prayed: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), or as the apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”(Ephesians 5:15-16). Men and women of faith know that God wants His people to bring their problems and frustrations to Him, to cast those anxieties on the Lord so that He can sustain them. Truly, God “cares for you”(1 Peter 5:7)! The hymn-writer put it like this: “Are you weary, are you heavy hearted? Tell it to Jesus! Tell it to Jesus! Are you grieving over joys departed? Tell it to Jesus alone.” Here is a timeless lesson: When something is distressing (or even depressing) in the deepest recesses of your being, don’t keep it to yourself, don’t refuse to talk about it; don’t hold it inside; don’t muse over it until you become bitter with life or angry with God. You may not want to share it with those who cannot help, who may fail to encourage you, who may use what you tell them to scoff at your faith. Remember what the psalmist said: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (verse 7). You do not need to put a “guard” or “muzzle” on your mouth when you pray! (verse 1) You can tell the Lord all about it. Be sincere; be open; be honest; explain how you feel. Then arise from prayer to trust in the Lord to handle it! Your hope in God will be the anchor you need.
SUFFERING HELPS PUT TIME AND THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE. God does not intend for life’s problems to embitter us. God’s love is much, much stronger than that! Life is too short for that! In the words of the psalmist: “Let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”(verses 4-5). True, God’s people cannot control everything that goes on around them. We don’t have control over what happens to the things we have labored and saved for the future — to be used wisely by our heirs. Sometimes what our heirs do with their inheritance may be the exact opposite of what we would want them to do. As David stated: “Man bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it”(verse 6, NIV). Things that may have “dear to us” may be consumed “like a moth”(verse 11).
OUR ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO “LAY UP TREASURES IN HEAVEN” where neither moth or rust destroys” (Matthew 6:20). We must commit ourselves to God’s plans and purposes and ask Him to give us “peace” instead of “tears”(verse 12). We need to confess our sins and to ask Him to deliver us “from all transgressions”(verse 8). When we do that we will be able to “smile again”(verse 13).
FINAL THOUGHT: When David wrote that he desired the good life, “before I depart and am no more”(verses 13) he was speaking of receiving the divine peace and God’s favor during his present, earthly existence. He did not imply that this life is the only life ––that the here and now is all there is, that when death comes we cease to exist. Unfortunately, some have used this Psalm to teach that death destroys the person, that nothing survives the death of the body. Those who lived prior to the coming of Christ did not have a clear understanding of what happens at death. It remained for Jesus to bring “immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Other psalms affirm the reality of the world to come. Listen to these affirmations: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”(Psalm 23:6); “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73;24). “God will redeem me from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”(Psalm 49:15, NIV). Job also had many struggles and disappointments, but he declared: “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in (or ‘apart from’) my flesh I shall see God”(Job 19:26, NIV).
May each of us take on this day with the peace of God in our hearts and the wisdom of God in our plans.
David Tarbet, Outreach Minister Church of Christ, New Milford, Connecticut email@example.com
(All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)