Psalms

Choosing Peace (Psalm 131)

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Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.

Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.

vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; 

The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.  

When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!

Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.

Do you need to reign in your heart?

vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;

The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.  

In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.

vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 

Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!  

As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  

If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!

David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.  

I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.

vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 

David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.

In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.

This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?  

In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!

Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…

vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Better than Gold or Honey (Psalm 19)

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Psalm 19 starts with creation and how what God has made proclaims who God is most remarkably so that no one has any excuse to claim that they do not know of God (Romans 1:19-20).

But the rest of the Psalm is focussed on something entirely different. David, in vs7-13, turns his attention and his delight to a meditation on God’s words, on Scripture.

David delights in, he cherishes Scripture. David has a high view of Scripture that has shaped his life and his worship of God. His outpouring of words regarding God’s covenantal words to him, God’s commands, will, ways and wisdom are profoundly convicting and inspiring at the same time.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; 

God’s law given to Moses was a sign of the covenant God had made with His people. God’s covenant is a covenant of grace, an outpouring of love and commitment from God towards people that is faultless and full of unmerited favour and love. God’s choosing us brings our souls to life!

the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 

The ‘eduwth’ (Hebrew) or carved stone record of God’s covenant is rock solid & sure – it can be trusted, and trust in God makes the simple person wise. 

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; 

God’s ways, His commands and instructions straight and true. God created us, so it makes sense that His ways and instructions are for our good and when followed, cause our hearts to rejoice!

the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 

God’s royal commandments are pure with no hidden agenda ever, and when they are followed, trusted and obeyed, they bring light to all situations we ever face.

the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; 

All people need to resolve in their heads and hearts who they are in relation to God Almighty and who God Almighty is in relation to them. The reverent fear of Yahweh is appropriate always is it the only pure way to live both now and forever.  

the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 

The judgements, the verdicts of God, are perfect. God’s perspective on people, on situations and circumstances, is always true and perfectly right.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 

Knowing God’s thoughts on any and every topic is more precious than gold, it is sweeter than honey! God’s Word reveals the thoughts of God, and because it does, God’s Word is to be valued more than anything else and delighted in more than anything else. In God’s Word, we find God Himself, not just ways to live but God Himself!

In God’s verdicts and God’s revealed will, God warns and instructs His children and when we take heed of His ways and His revealed perspective and will and keep them – we are rewarded greatly.

I can testify to this abundantly. Nadine and I met each other when we were just 14yrs old. We grew up in incredible families founded on God’s Word and were part of a wonderfully Bible-centred church and so from our earliest moments as friends, then as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as a courting couple, engaged couple and then a married couple – God’s Word has been at the centre of our relationship and our daily lives. And we can testify that God’s Word has moulded, shaped, protected, enlightened, guided & inspired us! We have been rewarded over and over again by simply believing the Bible and trusting that what God’s Word says is right and true, trusting God’s perspective on life implicitly. Nadine and I have decided that if there is one thing we want to inspire people to do, its to devote themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word, making it the cornerstone of their lives, their daily food and the lamp to their feet. Friend, God’s Word is more valuable and sweeter than anything else – what are you waiting for? 

Is it any wonder that there are always so many things vying for our attention when we want to commit to reading God’s Word, so many distractions, other priorities, interruptions? Is it any wonder that we always seem to have so many excuses why we don’t read the Bible or think that we can’t read the Bible. Our enemy will do anything to distract you, deceive you or discourage you from reading the Bible and making it the cornerstone of your daily life. So be aware of his tactics & resist him. The best form of defence is attack, so dive in and commit yourself to read Scripture daily, and just keep going and in time to come you too will feel like David did about God’s Word.

David closes this Psalm with the following words that have become a precious prayer of mine; 

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

I am convinced I have Italian blood in my bloodline somewhere! I can be hot-headed and quick to speak, and so this single verse has become a prayer I keep on the tip of my tongue when I feel tempted to react or to dwell on someone or something that is not pleasing to God. What a tether for the mind and the heart, bringing us back to the thing we want more than to have the final Word – I want/we want to please God, our LORD, our rock and our redeemer!  

A little example at the end of the Psalm of how God’s Word is living and active, how it speaks and restrains evil and gives God’s perspective in the midst of a moment.

I love God’s Word! Do you? Join me!  You will never regret devoting yourself to Scripture, never – that’s a guarantee, and there is not much in life that can be guaranteed these days.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

 

 

Yahweh! (Psalm 16)

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1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

This Psalm starts with a request that is so relevant to our lives today. God, would you please protect or preserve me! Do this God please because I take refuge in You alone because I have made You my security!

The request reveals some underlying beliefs;

  • David believes that God is able to preserve him
  • David believes that God knows him personally
  • David believes that God is a refuge worthy of trust
  • David believes that God rewards & responds to personal faith 

What we pray reveals what we believe. Prayer is not some cosmic game of darts or insurance scheme. Prayer is personal; prayer is powerful because God is personal, and God is omnipotent.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 

The HCSB translation translates vs2 in the following way; “I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.”  David uses Israel’s name for God and appeals to the personal, covenantal relationship God has established as the foundation for his appeal in prayer. He says essentially, ‘Yahweh; You are my LORD! And all the good in my life I attribute to You!’

Yahweh is the source of every good thing in our lives because He is good and because He established a gracious, loving covenant with us who believe in Him.

David declares that there is, in fact, NOTHING GOOD that is in his life that did not come from God. Or said another way, there is no good outside of God.  

This declaration takes us back to the original sin. Adam and Eve believed the enemy when He tempted them with the insidious thought that God was not good – tempting them into thinking that there was something good, something better for their lives in disobedience rather than in obedience to God’s spoken word. 

Brothers and sisters, there is never any good outside of our God. Sin promised good to Adam and Eve outside of God; sin always promises some good, some fulfilment but Scripture declares here that there is no good outside of God.

Personal reflection: 

Is there any way in which at the moment the enemy is tempting me with something which might feel or look ‘good’ but is, in fact, just you looking for good outside of God and God’s will? See it for what it is, a lie and a trap. Declare today with David that there is no good outside of God and His will for your life.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 

Since there is no good outside of God, for anyone to ‘run after’ anything other than Yahweh is futile.  

No other ‘gods’ or people or created things can deliver as they promise, can satiate our longings or be the sanctuary and refuge we need.

But note that sin isn’t just the absence of God. No sin is active; sin multiplies sorrow, and sadness! Sin results in multiplied sorrow since the good God had for you is forfeited plus, the path you chose outside of God and His revealed will for your life has no good in it anyway either (vs2). So to choose a lifestyle of sin and compromise only multiplies your sorrow and loss!

As a pastor for nearly 20yrs, I have seen the truth of this verse over and over and over again. Sin multiplies sorrow, don’t believe for a minute that you’ll be the exception.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

The better way to live is to resolve that God is our portion – He is enough for us. God ‘You hold my future’ the HCSB translation says.  

In His sovereignty and His love, God has determined the details of our lives, where we live, the arrangements of our lives (work, family, job, timing…) and contentment with that which God has ordained is good for us!

This Psalm doesn’t bluntly declare that all circumstances we encounter and endure are good or pleasant. Rather it expresses faith (‘inheritance’ is in the future), for when good can’t be seen or isn’t being experienced, God is all we need. More than that, trust is expressed here that God has our good in mind somehow in whatever we are facing in the present.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 

David knows what it’s like to need counsel in the night, to awake disturbed by worry but then to have God draw alongside us and settle us in our innermost being with His presence. Because God is our God, our everpresent Help in trouble, because God is always at our right hand, we can go back to sleep knowing; “I will not be shaken”!

Our fortitude is not in some stoic stand but founded on the firm foundation that God is with us always.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Exultation! Everything inside of us rejoices, peace comes upon us, because we know God is with us. We will never be abandoned even if we die. For even when we do die, God will resurrect us who have believed in Jesus to new and eternal life in God’s presence forever and ever – joy indescribable.

Personal Prayer:

Thank God that because you have believed in Jesus your eternal future is secure, that even in death you can be secure because you know that death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life with God forever and ever!

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Pour out your heart (Psalm 142)

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Sometimes we feel trapped in situations and powerless to change them like David felt when writing this Psalm (vs 7). In moments like this, it’s hard to know what our next step should be. It can be overwhelming. Perhaps you remember being in a situation like that or you might find yourself feeling like that today.

I cry out to the Lord;
I plead for the Lord’s mercy.
2 I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles.
3 When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.

Like David, telling Jesus how you’re feeling is a step in the right direction. He already knows what’s in your heart and the struggles you’re experiencing, but when we pour out our hearts to him, we are inviting him to walk with us and do it together rather than alone. It’s crucial that we acknowledge him and the fact that he knows what the way forward is. By acknowledging God we are showing him that we trust him. We are also helping ourselves by speaking truth to our troubled hearts.

5 Then I pray to you, O Lord.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.

Putting Christ at the centre of our lives is the best decision we could make. It’s about coming to a place where we genuinely want his input above any other in our lives. He should be the only thing that we put our hope in and the biggest desire in our life. He is the best thing for us and should be the longing of our hearts.

6 Hear my cry,
for I am very low.
Rescue me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.

Once we’ve acknowledged him and invited him into our place of need and trouble, we can confidently ask him to help us and rescue us from this place where we feel stuck. He wants us to ask him. He is our Father, and he loves us with unfailing love. He also happens to be the Lord of Heaven’s armies and is powerful and able!

7 Bring me out of prison
so I can thank you.
The godly will crowd around me,
for you are good to me.”

In this Psalm, David asks God to free him from this trapped and powerless place, so that he can thank him. Let’s not forget to thank our Father when he does show us a way forward and lead us out of difficult situations. When we focus on being thankful for what he has done for us, it helps us to see life in a different light.

Lamenting before him and sharing what’s in our hearts is an important thing to do; however, we can become stuck in this mode if we don’t focus our eyes on Jesus and allow him to help us out of that place. If we are intentional about thanking him, our hearts become more focused on the wonders and goodness of knowing Jesus in our lives.

So let’s turn to him, acknowledge him, ask him and be thankful for all the goodness he brings into our lives.

[All references are from the NLT translation]

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Future Song (Psalm 30)

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I find it fascinating to think that according to the title of the Psalm – David composed Psalm 30 for the dedication of the temple.

And yet, David was not alive for the dedication of the temple since it happened after he had died, during the time of his son Solomon’s reign.

But in faith, David wrote a song to be sung at some time in the future. A future he would not see with his eyes, but one which by faith he could see – and so prepared a song for it.

Psalm 30 itself is a Psalm of thanksgiving to God. David thanks God for deliverance (vs1), for healing (vs2-3) and the restoration of joy and thankfulness (vs11-12).

It is so important to stop and to thank God. After all, when we express our thanks publicly at least six things happen;

1. God gets glorified as the Giver, Protector, Provider, Source, Comforter, Guide, Sustainer, Forgiver, Redeemer, the ONE who answers prayers, who heals & as our loving Father.

2. We get right-sized (humility); we get the right perspective. Because by thanking God for something we are acknowledging that we did not do this thing, it was not our power or ability or cleverness.

3. We have our faith strengthened for the future – seeing past grace is the foundation for future faith!

4. Others get encouraged – if God did that for you, then others are stirred to keep trusting God themselves.

5. God’s nature & character get displayed – God stories help all who experienced them and those who heard of them to grow in their understanding of God. More than this, those who are on a journey towards faith can hear about what God is really like, not from a book but from real-life stories!

6. The Devil is defeated – Revelation 12:11 tells us that it’s by the blood of the Lamb & the Word of our testimony that the Devil will ultimately be conquered. The more we honour God, the more glorious His praise, the more defeated is the enemy.

Through his life, David had experienced God in such amazing ways that He had faith that God would do what He had promised to do – to bless David’s line and to allow His son Solomon to build God a temple (1 Chronicles 22:6-19)!

And so David in faith wrote this Psalm of thanks for the future. What have you experienced of God? What can you thank God for, and how can that become a testimony to others and a foundation of hope for the future?

Let me tell you… (Psalm 34)

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This Psalm is just absolutely jam-packed with gems about God and how God interacts with us his people.  It is a psalm full of personal and experiential knowledge of God’s nature and character.

It’s almost like David is explaining in the rest of the Psalm why he says in verse 1; “I will bless the LORD at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

David wants you and I to join him in magnifying the LORD with him, wants us to join in and exalt God’s name (God’s character and attributes) together.

My God answers prayer! (vs4-6,15,17)

David can testify that he called out for God, he enquired after God in threatening life situation after threatening life situation (David was a fugitive fearing for his life for 15yrs!) and he can testify that God answered when he called.  More than that God delivered him from all the threats that put fear into his heart.  ‘This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles’ (vs6)!  And because of this testimony David can declare that the face of those who look to God for their help – their faces are radiant (vs5).

What are you facing today?  Call out to your God who answers, who delivers, who saves.  Put your trust in the trustworthy ONE, so that your face may radiate on the day that God delivers you.

Angelic Help (vs7)

Angels are ministering spirits sent out by God to serve and protect God’s children (Hebrews 1:14).  David can testify to angelic protection, a heavenly body-guard for those who fear God.  This reminds me of the moment in Israel’s history when Elisha’s servant feared because of the formidable Syrian army amassed around the city and the servant was afraid and Elisha prayed that God would show him the mighty heavenly host that was arrayed around them to protect them and declared to his servant; “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us (angels) are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:15-17).

Know this.  God the Holy Spirit is with you (Hebrews 13:5) and God has sent an angelic body-guard to encamp around you!  So, do not fear.

Taste and See (vs8)

We learn in lots of ways, from what we read or hear from others, through modelling etc but experiential learning is one of the most powerful sources of learning.  David urges you and I to do as he has done – do ‘taste and see’ that God is a faithful deliverer.  This is an invitation an exhortation to find out for ourselves to experience that God is good!

Such knowledge of God hewn out of the experience of everyday life is unshakable and precious!  There are no short cuts but this is the exhortation of Scripture for you and I to discover for ourselves what David has discovered – God is good.

Recounting, Praise & Prayer (Psalm 9)

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(vs1) Whole hearted thanks, gratitude expressed is the bone and marrow of the Christian life!  David declares that he will give thanks to God with his whole heart.  Gratitude expressed is a heart matter and a head matter in that it requires a decision of the will to express what one is grateful for.

(vs2) Gratitude is founded on remembering, recounting what has happened, recounting what God has done for you and for His people.  Again, David declares that he will recount, he decides to remember and as he does, recounting leads to feeling grateful and expressing it to God in prayer and in songs of thanks!

(vs3-9) David recounts God’s interventions for His people.

(vs10)  When God is thanked, God is honoured, we get perspective and our faith for the future is fortified.  In this verse David declares that those who know God put their trust in Him (because He is worthy of trust) and those who have put their trust in Him can testify that God does not forsake those who trust in Him.

(vs11) So it’s appropriate to praise Him with singing, for He alone is King of kings, it’s appropriate to ‘tell among the peoples His deeds’.

(vs13-20) Emboldened by his recounting and his praise, reminded of God’s faithfulness to him and to Israel, David transitions into confidently asking God for some things which is totally appropriate since his thanksgiving has reminded Him that God is worth praying to and bring your requests to.

Reflection:

  • Decide to recount what God has done for you, for us as a church.  I challenge you to write down no less than 25 things right now that you can thank and praise God for & then take some time to do just that.
  • (vs11) Why not decide to tell 1 person at least 1 of those 25 things you’ve just recounted in a way that honours God today, encourages you and them
  • Having recounted and thanked God, confidently bring your requests to your Father in Heaven.

Two Bookends (Psalm 8)

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This Psalm is one with two bookends (vs1&9) that hold within them some reflection as the content held within those bookends of praise and exaltation of God.

Bookend #1:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

King David here addresses God as Yahweh, the eternal self-existent and only God of all who is also ‘our God’, the One who made a covenant with His people and established a unique relationship based love and commitment with us.

King David breaks out in praise and worship delighting in how majestic God is in all the earth!  When king David says; ‘how majestic is your name’ he is referring to God’s character, God’s attributes that are known to His people and in fact are known not just to His people, but known to the whole earth, all the nations because of the way God has intervened for His people and judged the nations of the earth!

The content between the bookends (vs2-8)

‘Out of the mouth of babies’ – the ESV commentators think that this phrase probably refers to God’s people who seem like little and insignificant babies compared to some of the impressive nations around them.

(vs2) David is reflecting on how God is His wisdom uses weak, small and seemingly insignificant people on the planet to make Himself known as the strong and mighty  One, through His interactions with them and through their actions and history.

(vs3-4) David considers all the magnificent things God has made in creation, and finds it astounding that God has set His attention and affection on us, on human beings.

(vs5-8) And yet David knows that God’s given us as little human beings a position, a place, a role as His agents having authority & responsibility for everything on the planet, and that is just an amazing thing to think about, to ponder and to praise God for and a responsibility to take seriously.

Bookend #2:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

At the end it all, Yahweh, our Yahweh we praise You for who You are and for what You’ve chosen to do, how You have set up the planet and how You have intervened for Your people, even for little me.  I praise You, we praise You.

Reflection:

•Write down the names of God you know and what they say about WHO God is WHAT God has done and then praise God for those things.

•Do you feel week, think of the church as weak and insignificant?  Can you see how God’s people have always felt like ‘babies’ compared to the nations?  How does this encourage you to think differently?

•Consider the role God has entrusted to us within creation, are you taking that role seriously?  What might need to change?