Psalms — Week 4

Monday, September 24

Read: Psalm 73:1-12

Consider: We’ve all experienced those points in our lives when we’re just exhausted. I’m not talking about the kind of fatigue that is remedied by a good night of sleep. I’m talking about those seasons of life—weeks or even months—of psychological, emotional and spiritual weariness. Sometimes the most descriptive term is “burnout.” Sometimes it’s more like numbness or even emptiness.

When these seasons extend over long periods, it’s easy to wonder if the life you’re striving to live is worth the price you’re paying. You’re working hard, trying to make ends meet. You’re striving to be authentic to family and friends. You’re expending energy to use your gifts and your blessings to help others. You’re refusing to live a self-centered life. And sometimes you wonder if your efforts are misdirected.

During one of those seasons, the psalmist looked at those who were not trying to live responsibility and complained about the contrast.

“I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens…
They scoff, and speak…with arrogance…”
(73:3-5, 8)

The celebrities and the powerful in our society are held up as people who have achieved quality of life. At times, we wistfully wonder what it would be like to never worry about money, and to be unburdened by the myriad details and responsibilities in our lives. In other words, we begin to lose our perspective.

That’s normal. But, sometimes we think that stress is peculiar to the pace of our culture. Yet, centuries ago, the psalmist also said, “It’s just not fair!”

The beauty of this psalm is that, like you and me, as the psalmist utters these words he realizes that he is out of kilter. He knows that God has not neglected him. And, deep down, he understands that the lives of the wicked, powerful and arrogant are not superior to the life he has been called to lead.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how he grabbed reality and recovered his gratitude.

Pray: “Lord, you called me to a new way of living, but you never called me to a life of ease. As I follow and serve you, help me to see the reality of your daily blessings. Help me to make the adjustments that I need to make to simplify my life. But also, help me to see the honor and privilege of serving you right where you’ve placed me for this season of my life.”

 

Tuesday, September 25

Read: Psalm 73:12-17

Consider: As we saw yesterday, the seventy-third psalm finds the psalmist in a funk. He’s frustrated at the difficulty of his life, while seeing the seemingly perfect lives of people who have no regard for doing what it right.

“They have no struggles…they are free from common human burdens…they scoff, and speak…with arrogance…” (73:4, 5, 8)

And he says that he’s the one who’s been a fool…

“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.”
(73:13-14)

Throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament—particularly Psalms and Proverbs—we’re taught the difference between wisdom and folly. And here in Psalm 73, the psalmist gets it exactly wrong—180 degrees wrong. He’s called the foolish, wise. And he’s called the wise, foolish. That’s how crazy it can get when we lose our perspective. We can be deceived and consumed with bitterness.

So, what made the difference? How did he climb out of this hole? His explanation is simple.

“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God…” (73:16-17)

God’s presence is the answer. Now, of course, that sounds too simplistic. We want solutions. We want answers. But when we try to find our answers from a seat of bitterness, we’ll make the wrong decisions every time. When we humbly seek the wisdom of God—the presence of God—things can begin to make sense.

That’s why time alone with God is so essential. It’s why we need to meditate, read scripture and pray. It’s why we need to simplify our lives and carve out times of solitude. It’s why we need to spend time in nature, seeing God in his creation. It’s why we need to learn to see God everywhere, especially in others.

As we learn to do that, the world and our place in the world increasingly make sense to us.

Pray: “Lord, help me to see you today. Help me to find you in the unexpected places. Help me to know you in laughter and in sorrow. Help me to experience you in humankind—the bearers of your image. That will give me perspective. That will help me know what is real.”

 

Wednesday, September 26

Read: Psalm 73:21-26

Consider: The poetry of our Bible helps us see the big picture. So, many times a psalm will begin with one mindset and move to another way of thinking. The psalms recognize our despair and point us to hope. They are amazingly honest. That’s why, no matter what you are going through, you can find your heart and your prayer among the psalms.

For the past two days, we’ve looked at the complaints of the seventy-third psalm. We’ve heard the psalmist say that it doesn’t pay to do what is right. He calls himself a fool for walking a straight path, while watching the wicked, powerful and arrogant prosper and live seemingly stress-free lives.

But, the conclusion of the psalm is his return to reality.

“I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel…
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.”
(73:23-24, 26)

What strikes me about this psalm is its tone. To me, it doesn’t seem like the psalmist is trying to talk himself into believing that God is with him. It feels more like he is taking a deep breath and looking at his reality. And that’s why I love this psalm—hope and reality are the same thing.

I believe when we’ve lost hope, we’ve lost our handle on what is real. We’ve let our culture and the stresses of life dictate an alternate reality to us. But the reality I want to live in is the reality of the presence of God. Returning to that reality—and learning to live there—brings gifts from God, like peace, joy, hope and love.

Pray: Although we’ve read them today, let’s pray these words from the seventy-third psalm…

“I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but you are the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.”

 

Thursday, September 27

Read: Psalm 85:10-13

Consider: There is a fascinating phrase in this song. I believe it is very important for us to grasp its message. If we don’t see it, we’ll miss so much of what Jesus taught. We’ll reduce the scope of the new reality he brought—the Kingdom of Heaven, the reign of God that is here and is yet to come. That kingdom came when Christ the King visited our planet and it will be fulfilled as we pray and live the prayer he taught us to pray — “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Poetically the psalmist teaches us a major tenet of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” (85:10)

That could also be translated, “justice and peace kiss each other.”

There is an unfortunate tendency to see righteousness as simply a personal virtue. Many Christians have been taught that way. But the biblical concept of righteousness is much broader. It is synonymous with justice, and justice means that I must go outside of myself and outside of my people to be the hands of Christ to all who suffer. If our Christianity only serves our own interests and makes us better people, we’ve only heard a portion of the gospel. If I want to feed my soul, but don’t want to help feed the poor, I’ve missed the point.

There is an old axiom that helps us comprehend Psalm 85:10 — “If you want peace, work for justice.” Peace and justice are inextricably intertwined. Where justice for the oppressed is absent, there is strife and violence. Where violence is rampant, the poor—particularly poor children—suffer most. Peace and justice cannot be separated.

So, do you want to be a peacemaker? Feed the hungry or embrace the lonely or visit the sick or welcome the refugee. In other words, stand with and for the oppressed—those the world considers “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).

When we ask Christ to make us righteous on the inside and to teach us to work for justice all around us, something beautiful happens — “justice and peace kiss each other.”

Pray: “Lord, you are called the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6) and you said your children are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Help us—help me—to work for peace by serving and advocating for those who are weak, vulnerable and oppressed. I pray that through me and through your people, justice and peace will kiss each other.”

 

Friday, September 28

Read: Psalm 86:1-11

Consider: The wisdom that is taught in Psalms and Proverbs cannot be separated from humility. I know that is obvious. But sometimes, if you’re like me, you need to be reminded of the obvious.

The wisdom writers portray arrogance as foolishness. The tragic thing is that an arrogant person is so foolish that he doesn’t know he is foolish. His arrogance will not allow him to see it. That’s why it is so difficult for arrogant people to change. It’s not possible to change until you see the need to change.

So, one aspect of humility is teachability. A humble person is willing and eager to learn. And a teachable person is a beautiful person.

There is simplicity and power in the prayer found in the middle of the eighty-sixth psalm — “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness” (86:11).

That prayer brings to my mind a beautiful moment in Jesus’ life with his disciples. Jesus had gone to spend time in prayer. “When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’” (Luke 11:1). I think there was yearning in that request. That disciple had seen the presence of God in Jesus, and he wanted that presence to be real in his own life. He knew that his need was great, and he was humble enough to say, “Please teach me.”

There are a lot of people who talk as though they have God all figured out. They seem so certain when it comes to God’s will for themselves, for you and for everybody else. But the people I trust the most are those with a humble, teachable spirit. Perhaps we need fewer people to point us in what they deem to be the right direction, and more people who will journey with us to find our way.

Pray: “Lord, humble me so that I may learn from you. Your Spirit can lead me if I allow you to lead. Help me to be a learner and a discoverer. I’m willing to grow and change. And please use me to humbly walk this journey with others who are seeking to know you.”

 

Saturday, September 29

Read: Psalm 86:11-17

Consider: Yesterday we looked at that powerful prayer in the eighty-sixth psalm — “Teach me your way, Lord…” (86:11). The possibilities that come from that kind of humility are beautiful and exciting. And the next phrase holds more promise — “Give me an undivided heart.”

There’s an interesting term found in the New Testament letter from James — “double-minded.” The literal translation of that compound word from the original language is “two-souled.” Perhaps a common term for that today would be duplicity.

Duplicity is the opposite of integrity. To be duplicitous is to be two (or more) people. You know, to be one person at church and a different person at home. To show a virtuous image in public and to be someone much different in private. Integrity, on the other hand, is to be one person.

By the grace of God, each of us can be one person. The double-mindedness that crushes our souls and destroys our relationships is overcome by giving ourselves fully to God for God to form us into who he wants us to be.

There’s great power in the two requests of this prayer.

“Teach me your way, Lord…”

— Change the way I think. Broaden my outlook. Expand my understanding. I’m willing to jettison by biases and prejudices to discover your way.

“Give me an undivided heart.”

— Don’t just change my mind. Change my values. And I’m willing for those values to change the very structure and course of my life.

Pray: Again, let’s pray the psalm…

“Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may honor your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me.”
(86:11-13)