March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

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O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

May 4, 2018-Joyful Noise and Automatic Praise- Psalm 98, Philippians 4:4-13

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Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

On days like today it’s easy to praise God as we take in the beauty of creation. When the sun is shining and we look around and see the trees and flowers coming to life again after a long winter, the metaphors of the “rivers clapping their hands” and the “hills singing” seem to fit.

Many of our days are not quite so bright. What about days where the weather is dull and grey and we are mired down in pain and buried in cares? What about those days in which the furthest thing from our minds and hearts is singing?

Is praise to God an automatic response for us? Do we praise God only when we experience the beauty and wonder of nature and when we can feel the presence of God?  Can we still praise Him through our pain?  When He seems far away?  When we can see the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory due to our own sins?

Can we see the salvation of our God in a world that very often appears to be beyond saving in so many ways?

By faith we can praise the God of our salvation and trust Him even when we can’t see. The apostle Paul was often in situations where he was exiled or imprisoned and had to trust in the support of others.  He wrote to the Philippians who were supporting him while he was imprisoned in Rome:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (the apostle Paul)—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:4-13 (ESV)

Through the gift of faith in Christ, we can praise and sing and rest in God’s peace even when we cannot see beauty or feel God’s presence. By faith we know He is there and that He never leaves us. May our praise not be connected to what we see or our current circumstances, but may our praise and worship rise up by faith- automatically in response to the promises of God.

January 3, 2017 – Those New Year’s Resolutions! – 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 7:15-20

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!   2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

The new year has begun and so have the fitness commercials- diet plans, exercise equipment, gym memberships.  The marketplace answers to our New Year’s resolutions are out there everywhere- get in shape, unclutter your closet, find true love on some dating website, stop smoking, jumpstart your career, the list goes on.  But most of the time we don’t actually end up doing any of that.  I gave up caffeine once.  It was the worst thirty minutes of my life.

The truth of fallen humanity is this:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  Romans 7:15-20 (NRSV)

We have the best intentions, just like all those New Year’s resolutions that more likely as not are completely forgotten by February 1.

It is only by the grace of God that we can do anything, let alone anything good. In Christ we can do all things (Philippians 4:13) but apart from Him we can do nothing.  Let that one sink in.

In Christ we are made new, every day.  Martin Luther taught that we should “put on Baptism every day.”  It’s not just a one time deal that most of us don’t remember if we were baptized as infants.  In the Sacrament of Baptism, Pastor speaks these words as he anoints the person being baptized with oil: “Marked with the Cross of Christ forever.” That marking is an ongoing, dynamic process that starts from that point forward.

Jesus is constantly making us new.  Even when our half-hearted resolutions fail or we fall on our faces.  This new-making process is always going on even in this “not-yet” world.