April 3, 2020- Trust God’s Steadfast Love- Psalm 86

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life,and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86 (ESV)

In these uncertain times it can be hard to pray.  The Psalms contain prayers for all times, and all situations.  They are one of God’s incredible gifts to us, because when we cannot find the words to pray, we have the Psalms to pray.  We have the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf when we cannot even find the breath or the mind to pray.

Psalm 86 reminds us that God’s love is constant and unwavering, even though our affections are weak and fickle.

Martin Luther commented that we are beggars before God.  We have nothing to offer Him, and He has everything to offer us.

Even so, many of us are longing for a sign of God’s favor, especially in this ongoing pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty it brings.  No one is fond of the thought of contracting a deadly disease, or of any of the economic, social and other implications that this disease brings with it.

It is in these situations that God gives us the comfort of His promises in Scripture- that He is merciful, that He is gracious, and that He has already made the provision for our salvation.

Lord, you help us and comfort us.  Lord, we know You hear our prayers and that You answer us.  Lord, we ask that You be our strength, our shelter and our peace.

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

he-came-for-me

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.

 

March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

jesus comfort

Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

January 20, 2020 – Does God Change His Mind? Hezekiah’s Extra Fifteen Years- Isaiah 38:1-8

MSKG - De kruisiging (links), De voorspelling van Hizkia’s genezing (midden), Abt Jacobus Delrio met beschermheilige (rechts) - Jacob de Backer

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
 “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised:  Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.  Isaiah 38:1-8 (ESV)

If God can change His mind, is He really omniscient?

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Was God testing Hezekiah?  Did God know Hezekiah’s prayer before he prayed it?

The threat of imminent death has a profound effect on our perspective.  When all is going well and we are young and in good health it’s easy for us to think that the status quo will always stay the status quo.  We grow complacent in our abilities and in our circumstances…and that may not necessarily be where God wants us to be. When we trust in ourselves instead of having faith in God and trusting Him, we are setting ourselves up as our own gods, which never ends well.

Hezekiah was one of the few “good kings” of Israel.  But even as a “good king,” Hezekiah was not a perfect man.

Perhaps Hezekiah’s “illness unto death” was God’s way of making Hezekiah come to terms with his mortality and to become aware of Who was the source of his power.  None of us gets out of this life alive, but how would our perspectives and action plans change if we knew exactly how much time we had left?  Would we sink into crass hedonism and go for the bucket list with gusto, or would we choose our activities and bequests carefully to leave a legacy for future generations? Maybe it is better not to know the hour of one’s death, and to live as if today is the last day?  Maybe it is better to plan thoroughly and live as if life is going to go on forever?

Many of us have been in a similar place as Hezekiah- pleading and bargaining with God for one’s life, or the life of a loved one, or even for a major life event, only to be answered back with, “No, you are not getting more time,” or, “My plans are not your plans.”

Perhaps the purpose of prayer is not so much for us to get our way as it is to understand why Jesus taught us to pray, “thy will be done.”  God had things planned for Hezekiah to do, and God’s will was done through him.  For Hezekiah, God did see fit to say “yes” to his request, not because Hezekiah was so great, but because the God he trusted is so great.

Often we wonder where God’s will is being done when we look all over this groaning, broken creation. It’s not a satisfying answer to know that we inherited a broken creation, that some things will not be mended this side of eternity, and that God re-creates and redeems and heals in His own time and in His own way.  We question God’s  omnipotence and His control of all things when we think that our problems, our sins, our situations are beyond His power.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

God wants us to pray, whether His answer is, “yes,” “no,” or  “some other way.”

The single most difficult task of fallen humanity is for us to realize we are creatures, not the Creator.

The lesson of Hezekiah’s “extra” fifteen years is that it is God Who numbers our days. God works in and through us according to His will as we live according to the vocations He has given us.

Hezekiah trusted God and made his desires known to God.  Yes, God knows our hearts and minds better than we do, and His will is done regardless of our opinions on it, but He still commands us to pray.

Lord we pray for the faith You gave to Hezekiah, to be fervent and honest in our prayers regardless of what Your answers may be.  We trust that even when we don’t get the answer we want, (and even when we do) that Your will is always best for us in the long run, whether we see it or not.

 

 

 

November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

jesus_strength

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.

June 20, 2018- Preserve Us From Violence- Psalm 140, Romans 12:19

protect me jesus

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. *Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. *Selah

 I say to the Lord, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!  O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!  *Selah

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!  Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140 (ESV)

This Psalm is attributed to David. Many times during David’s life he encountered people who didn’t have his best interest in mind.  His predecessor, Saul, tried to kill him more than once. (1 Samuel 19) His own son, Absalom, tried to take over David’s throne. (2 Samuel 16:5-13 ) We encounter adversaries and people who oppose us also.  We will rub some people the wrong way just because we believe in Jesus (John 15:20).  We will encounter people who take delight in scandal, and in spreading lies, or who are unwilling to forgive us for real or even perceived wrongs.

Our prayers to God are meaningful. He hears every one of them. God knows our anguish when wrong things happen to us and other people are cruel to us. The psalmists in Scripture bring every condition and emotion to God in prayer.  God knows when we are angry or unforgiving or frustrated anyway.  We should be honest with Him when we pray, because prayer is one of the ways that God changes our hearts and minds to conform to His will.  When we pray the Psalms we discover a depth of sincerity and emotion.

This being said, in the frank and sometimes violent language of the Psalms we see the humanity of the writers. We want violence done to our enemies, especially for the times we don’t deserve to be slandered or harmed by them. It is better for us to commit our enemies and those who oppose us to God in prayer. God does protect His people.  He forgives us when we do wrong things, and we can trust Him for His vindication and for His mercy when people treat us in wrong ways.

Jesus was persecuted and wronged also, yet He bore the punishment for us -for all the times that we were and are the evil wrongdoer.

It is good to pray first and let God deal with our anger when other people hurt us. The apostle Paul reminds us that God reserves vengeance for Himself.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Only God knows the entire story behind us and our enemies, and only He can see both sides impartially.

We need to take everything to God in prayer- thanks, praise, supplication, grief, anger- He wants us to come to Him with it all. We can trust God that He will protect us.  We will be vindicated and forgiven, as well. In Christ, we have the freedom and the grace to commend our enemies to the judgment and mercy of God.

April 13, 2018- Pray, Let God- Psalm 4, Luke 12:4-7

prayerAnswer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?  How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?- Selah –

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. -Selah-

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4 (ESV)

Prayer is conversation with God. The Psalms are timeless prayers given to us in the word of God. They are given to us to memorize and write on our hearts. They are prayers of praise, prayers of thanks, prayers of supplication, and prayers for those times when we are crushed in spirit and can’t find the words.

We learn much about the character of God, and how He reaches out to us when we study and pray the Psalms. God does hear and answer our prayers- though His answers aren’t always what we expect.

We all come into difficult times. Those difficulties are no secret to God.  He knows our every need and He knows every detail about us. He knows our trials, He knows our thoughts, and He calls us to trust Him with everything.

Jesus said: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

Fear in this context is a reverent respect. Jesus tells us to be aware of who we are made by and to whom we belong, and to whom we pray.

We aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know when we pray. He knows when we are distressed. He knows our anxiety, our anger, our need, and our distress already anyway, even if we aren’t comfortable admitting them to ourselves or bringing those not-so-nice things to Him.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent (Psalm 4:4)

God does not want us to deny our anger, but He does want us to keep from acting in anger. He wants us to live according to His will.  We can trust Him even when we cannot trust others or ourselves.  We can let Him deal with our anger. Yes we get angry and there is plenty of misery out in the world, and there are plenty of bad circumstances in our lives to be angry about…but…take those concerns and fear and worry and anger to God.  Don’t deny what we feel, but don’t let feelings lead us into sins. Let God deal with that anger and frustration and pain instead. Let Him bring us His peace.

God who spoke the universe into being can deal with our anger- a LOT better than we can.

The Psalmist reminds us that God has brought us through past distress in our lives. We are reminded that God has named and claimed us for His own.  We are reminded that we find our joy and our peace in God.  Our very life is in His hands. We can trust Him with everything when we come to Him in prayer.

God who is the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Creator of all, is also God of the sparrows, God who knows the number of hairs on our heads, God who comes to us in, with and through His Sacraments. The almighty God who suffered and died a cruel death on a Cross to save us from our sins, cares about every part of our lives.