Psalms — Week 2

Monday, September 10

Read: Psalm 37:23-27

Consider: These verses from the thirty-seventh psalm sound a lot like the Book of Proverbs, which sets forth the life of wisdom. Here David sounds like Solomon. In sharing this wisdom, David instructs and encourages us to live beautiful lives. In doing so, he points to one of the struggles we all experience. He talks about our pursuit of safety and security.

Scripture repeatedly warns us about looking for our security in the wrong places. That’s because we are continually drawn back to those places that will inevitably fail us. That comes from a mentality of scarcity. As we try to make sure that our needs are met, we’re tempted to hoard our blessings. We think that is wise. But David wanted us to see the world in different terms. He’s calling us to a life of abundance. But this is not an abundance of possessions. It’s a reciprocal abundance of being blessed and being a blessing to others.

“I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.”
(37:25-26)

Many years ago, a person called me and asked for money. I was a new pastor and our church had not yet developed our ministries aimed at alleviating poverty. That day in my office I had no money—the church’s or my own—to give. But on that day, Psalm 37:25 took on a new reality for me. I couldn’t offer this person cash, but I could offer her a beautiful group of people—a body of believers—who would welcome her and care for her as they cared for one another. I realized that day that, because I was part of that body, I knew that I would never be forsaken, and my children would never have to beg for food. I knew that, no matter what happened, I was surrounded by an abundance of people with an abundance of love. My security was not in money. It was in a much greater gift—God’s presence through others. If I would generously give my love away, it would pour back into my life.

The Bible was written to a community. The Old Testament was written to the nation of Israel—the covenant people of God. The New Testament was written to the church—those who had placed their lives in Christ’s hands. And the psalmist said that, in communal living, they “will always live securely” (37:27).

Pray: “Lord, thank you that in the generosity of love we live securely. Thank you for the amazing reality of the Body of Christ, which is comprised of those who will never forsake one another. Help me to love with abandon. Save me from the deception of scarcity—from believing I must hoard my blessings to feel safe. Take me to a broader place where I live securely in you, for you are love.”

 

Tuesday, September 11

Read: Psalm 22:1-19

Consider: In Matthew’s account of our Lord’s crucifixion, he read that…

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ — which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46)

In the chaos of the moment, and in the context of unspeakable evil and incredible suffering, most of the people witnessing that event probably didn’t realize that Jesus was quoting a psalm. (See Matthew 27:47.)

Psalm 22 is rare in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The prophecies of Christ’s coming to earth—what we call the Messianic Prophecies—are largely found in the writings of the prophets. But read this psalm of David and you see an amazing description of Jesus’ crucifixion.

“All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say,
    ‘let the Lord rescue him…’
I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My mouth is dried up…
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
…they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”
(22:7-8, 14-18)

This is a powerful psalm, and like the New Testament accounts of Christ’s death, cannot be read quickly. It is good to set aside time to prayerfully read Psalm 22. As you dwell in the depth of these words, a few things stand out. First, we’re reminded of great love and great passion. It’s difficult for us to read and ponder the day we call Good Friday. But it is good and important for us to do so.

Secondly, we see that when we feel God-forsaken, we really are not alone. The author of our faith had those intense feelings of abandonment. Author Philip Yancey says that this was the moment when God felt God-forsaken. So, he knows and understands our heart when we ask, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We also see that this psalm of despair is also a psalm of hope. The one who was despised and scorned, and who felt abandoned said…

“For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.”
(22:24)

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for understanding that I don’t always feel close to you. Thank you for your closeness even when I feel abandoned. Thank you that you are never the one who despises or scorns me, and that you have always heard my cry for help.”

 

Wednesday, September 12

Read: Psalm 23

Consider: “The Lord is my shepherd.” If that were the entirety of the psalm, it would be enough.

How do you see God? Is he your greatest critic? Is he the one who is impossible to please? Is his love conditional on how well you perform? How do you see God?

David saw him as a shepherd. A shepherd cares for, feeds and protects his sheep. A shepherd lives with his sheep. Some shepherds even love their sheep. But David wasn’t talking about some ordinary, generic shepherd. He was talking about a different kind of shepherd, who Jesus would later explain…

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
(John 10:11-12, 14-15)

So, how do you see God? Don’t look to Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” that stands distant and removed from his creation. Don’t look to Jonathan Edwards’ angry God who will cast you into hell. Look to Jesus. That’s right. Our Bible tells us that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” and “the exact representation of his being” (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). And, of course, John teaches us that, as part of the Trinity, Christ is God (John 1:1).

So, who is your shepherd? The One who hung out with sinners. The One who loved the oppressed. The One who is moved with compassion. The One who weeps with those who weep.

God is love. And God is fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Pray: “Jesus, you taught us that your sheep recognize your voice. But sometimes my eyes are clouded, and my vision impacts my hearing. Clarify my vision. Help me to see you and teach me to listen. Thank you for loving me beyond what I can comprehend.”

 

Thursday, September 13

Read: Psalm 23

Consider: I serve as a pastor to people who are terminally ill. Every week I interact with patients at various points in the latter stages of life, along with their families. Some patients are days, or even hours, from death. Others have more time. Some have accepted their impending death. Others are grappling with their diagnosis. As you can imagine, many of them are dealing with fear.

Much of my ministry is the ministry of presence. Sometimes all that can be said has been said. So, before every encounter, I pray that I can be the face and presence of Christ, and I look for the face of Christ in my patients.

But, even when words are few, I often turn to the twenty-third Psalm. You’d be amazed at the number of times a person who can barely speak will join me in quoting that psalm. And when we get to the fourth verse, we boldly say…

“Even though I walk
    through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me.”

In some ways, hospice workers are powerless. We can’t heal. But we can remind people that they are not alone. Conquering fear is not about finding hope in circumstances. It’s about finding peace in the presence of the Good Shepherd.

Of course, we don’t have to wait for that dark valley to know his presence. In fact, I believe that the goal of spiritual formation and the goal of our spiritual disciplines is to bring us to a continual sense of Christ’s presence with us and in us.

That’s the most dominant prayer I pray for others—that they may know the presence of God. I pray that for my patients, for my wife, for my children, for my friends, for myself and for you. For when we know his presence, we “lack nothing” (23:1).

Pray: “Lord, you taught us to pray for our daily bread. But even more than food, I need the daily bread that is the powerful sense of your presence in my life. For that bread I hunger. Please give us today that daily bread.”

 

Friday, September 14

Read: Psalm 23

Consider: The terms “pastor” and “shepherd” in our English translations of the New Testament are actually the same word in the original language. So, the Good Shepherd calls men and women to serve as shepherds of God’s people.

Pastors have a saying that our calling is to feed the sheep, not to beat the sheep. And the twenty-third psalm paints that beautiful picture. After the affirmation that the knowledge of the presence of God overcomes fear, David told the shepherd, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (23:4).

The shepherd’s tools—the rod and the staff—were not used to beat the sheep. The rod was a defensive tool, used to ward off or strike down predators. At times the crook of the staff was used to grasp a lamb and pull it out of a crevice. But most of the time, the staff guided the sheep.

Picture this. As the sheep are moving to greener pastures, one lamb keeps veering off the path. At first, there’s no real danger. But if that lamb separates from the flock, the result could be fatal. So, the lamb, unaware of danger, feels the staff of the shepherd on its side. Gently, the shepherd puts pressure on the staff to guide that lamb back into safety.

You are that lamb. I am that lamb. Left to our own devices, we will stray. The problem is that when we stumble, we tend to fear the rod as if it were a threat to us. But David, whose sins were great, understood that the staff that corrects—that gently realigns us—is a comforting gift from the Good Shepherd.

Pray: “Lord, you never beat me. But sometimes I beat myself over my shortcomings, my perceived failures and my sins. But your way is greater than mine. Thank you for the guidance of your Spirit—guidance I can trust. If I listen, you will not let me stray. Thank you!”

 

Saturday, September 15

Read: Psalm 27:1-8

Consider: As we see when we read various psalms, they explore the full range of human emotion. Today’s psalm is full of courage. David’s confidence is striking!

“…of whom shall I be afraid?
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.”
(27:1, 3)

Wow! Give me some of that!

I always loved that part of Psalm 27, but then the rest got a little boring for me. That part about dwelling “in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (27:4) didn’t sound too exciting. The dwelling that David referenced was the tabernacle, also called the tent of meeting. It was a temporary structure used by the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the Land of Promise. It was beautiful, but who wants to spend their entire life there?

Let’s remember that the psalms are poetry. So, when they speak about the house of God they’re using imagery to point to a greater temple.

When I think of the dwelling place of God, my mind goes to Genesis 28. There we read a fascinating story about a dream—a vision—that God gave to Jacob.

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:16-17)

Jacob called that place Bethel—which means “House of God.” God’s house is where God is encountered. Therefore, the entire cosmos is the house of God, for “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1).

That means to go to the house of God, I simply need to open my eyes. I need to allow God to enliven my spiritual senses. Every moment of every day we dwell in the house of God, but, like Jacob, we’re usually oblivious to that reality. But when we, like Jacob, begin to comprehend God’s presence, we’re overwhelmed by the beauty of the world in which we live. We realize that we live in Bethel—the House of God.

This expansive image of God’s dwelling, this truth that if I open my eyes I’ll find myself in his presence, makes this psalm come to life for me. That’s why David said…

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord…
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent.”
(27:4-5)

No wonder he asked, “of whom shall I be afraid?

Pray: “Lord, I want to dwell in your house. I want to know your presence. Open my eyes to see what you have already given me. Thank you for making your home my home.”