When God becomes real

Psalm 89:46-52 (NIV):How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity! Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave? Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, the taunts with which your enemies, Lord, have mocked, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.
Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.

In today’s study, Selwyn writes: ‘If all of the 150 psalms included in the book of Psalms – focused only on joy then they would not be true to life. In fact, a close examination of the book of Psalms shows that psalms of complaint, confusion, doubt, and heartache significantly outnumber the psalms that focus on joy. …

We need never be afraid of expressing our real feelings in God’s presence: the more real we are with God, the more real we will discover Him to be.

I think that one of the main benefits that we have, is the indwelling of God’s Spirit. It’s God’s transforming power, which helps us to face up to the realities of life. Consequently, I believe we are better positioned than the ancient Israelites in being honest in our relationship with Jesus – because the Holy Spirit assists us to recognise our true feelings; and He helps, in leading us away, from the denial of reality.

What are your views?

On being real

Psalm 88:1-18 (NIV): ‘Lord, you are the God who saves me;  day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead?  Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,  or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbour –  darkness is my closest friend.’

The above verses are an excellent example of a lament – they paint a picture of someone drowning in their sorrows. And, haven’t we all had that feeling at some point in our life?

Selwyn writes: ‘Today we continue reflecting on this important issue of lament. … We seem to be as afraid of lament as we are of catching a serious case of the flu. Why is this? Is it because we fail to see that openness and honesty is the soil out of which grow true confidence and joy.

The ancient Israelites sang their songs of lament as worshipfully as they sang their hymns of praise. … God delights in our passionate engagement with Him.

Perhaps – there are some people who find it hard to express their grief to God, when negative things happen; maybe because they feel it demonstrates a lack of faith or trust in God’s goodness. Our journey with Jesus will bring with it – a number of difficult times, our faith (empowered by God’s Spirit) will help us survive the long, dark nights.

In James 4:2b, we read: ‘You do not have because you do not ask God.’ To ask God for deliverance from trouble, implies that we first need to be honest with God, about the difficulties we face.

 

‘Praise in a minor key’

Psalm 80: 1-19 (NIV): ‘Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.

Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. Its branches reached as far as the Sea,  its shoots as far as the River.

Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it, and insects from the fields feed on it. Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.

Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

I found today’s study to be thought provoking; perhaps because it’s a subject that is not often talked about in church.

Selwyn says: ‘We cannot discuss the subject of worship without touching on the issue of lament. … The freedom to complain to God is a feature of Israel’s relationship with Him. Without it, worship could become untruthful. Lament in many ways is best understood as complaining with confidence – admitting to God how we really feel because we are confident He will hear our prayer.

Lament is an expression of sorrow, regret, unhappiness about something. To mourn the loss of someone or feelings of grief, are also examples of lament. Our lives are not usually a level path of contentment, therefore in the difficult times we should be honest with God concerning the way we feel – as, He already knows!

Yet, in this psalm we see a community lament, by Israel, to their Shepherd. It’s this corporate plea to God that I don’t think is seen that often in our churches.

The prayer for today, is a good summary: ‘Father, help me grasp this concept of lament for I see I need to be willing to acknowledge life’s extreme negatives and therefore save myself from denial or unreality. Please enable me to remain balanced on this issue. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

Thank You

Psalm 35:1-18 (NIV): ‘Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and armour; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me,  “I am your salvation.”

May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise  may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation. My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief  as though weeping for my mother. But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.

How long, Lord, will you look on?  Rescue me from their ravages,  my precious life from these lions. I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. … ‘

Selwyn introduces today’s study, wit these words: ‘One of the key elements of worship, we said earlier, is the giving of thanks. The psalm we are looking at today begins with a prayer for divine protection but then includes the psalmist’s pledge to give God thanks for the deliverance he is sure He will grant him.

The psalm we are looking at – while it contains a list of hardships that the psalmist has suffered – it also contains a couple of great verses which demonstrate the unshakeable trust that David has in God.  I love the expression of trust found in this simple verse: ‘Say to me,  “I am your salvation.”

In his conclusion, Selwyn uses Romans 2:4 to highlight the point that ‘the goodness of God leads you to repentance’ (NKJV). The two proceeding verses provide the context, Romans 2:2-4 (NIV): ‘ … Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

I think that the desire to thank God, comes from our hearts flowing with love for Him – in the knowledge that we owe our existence to Him, alone.

The most important thing

Psalm 34:1-22 (NIV): ‘I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.’

It’s a great psalm – don’t you think? At first, I was only going to include a subset of the 22 verses – but, after reading them a few times, I decided they were all too good, to leave any out. I like this verse: ‘I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.‘ It highlights the fact that when we feel overwhelmed by life’s burdens, we can still rejoice and experience joy when we give Jesus the glory He deserves.

Selwyn says in today’s study: ‘In this psalm, we are urged to glorify the Lord and exalt His name together. Glorifying God is our number one priority when we gather together to worship the Lord.

I also totally agree with this statement, taken from the Donald McCullough quote: ‘ … [Our church services] must always point towards God, must reinforce again and again that God has taken the initiative and called us together, that God’s grace is more important than our sin, that God’s will is more important than our desires, and that God’s glorification is [the most important thing]’.

Selwyn makes a good point in his conclusion: ‘Our worship should always be just about Jesus. It should never be about ourselves. … How might our services pulse with the energy of the Spirit if our worship, too, was centred only on glorifying the name of Jesus?

I worry that our church services lack ‘newness‘, what I mean is that often a service follows a fixed routine, ‘old’ songs are sung at fixed points during the service, sermons are often on common truths found in a bible reading – set for that day. It’s rare to hear a talk on how we can grow in spiritual maturity after we have given our lives to Christ – I mean, those talks which cover the meaty issues – the “what’s next?” The church services I attend today are often re-runs of services I attended twenty years ago – perhaps, they are stale? Or, the problem is with my attitude?

Yet, I think Selwyn makes important observations – in this series of studies – perhaps, we have taken our eyes off Jesus; maybe we just pay ‘lip service’ to glorifying the name of Jesus? I’m not sure of the answer – do you have any thoughts on this topic?

We know His name

Psalm 29:1-11 (NIV): Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his nameworship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.’

Selwyn writes the following: ‘In the psalm we have read today, the psalmist draws our attention to another reason why we ascribe glory to God: because of His name.

As you are aware, a relationship is transformed when we are able to call a person by their name. God has revealed Himself to us as a personal God who can be known personally and loved and worshipped.

Biblical worship has many facets, one of them being a joyous celebration of the fact that God has revealed His name – a name that demonstrates and introduces us to His reliability, faithfulness, love, mercy, deliverance, power and compassion.

A person’s name in Scripture often indicated a characteristic of their personality; and it’s also true with the various names ascribed to God throughout Scripture. The most amazing aspect of knowing God’s name – is that we are given an insight into HIs character. Our God, is not like other people’s gods; which are often seen as distant, can be malevolent or change their mind on issues, yet more often or not  – are presented as unknowable, in a personal sense.

As followers of Jesus, we have something which is very unique. We have the words of God as taught by Jesus when He was with us. We now have His Spirit with us, to guide us on all aspects of truth. Jesus, as God with us, has made His nature known to us.

In John14:12-14 (NIV), we read: ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Also, John 1:11-13: ‘He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Finally, in Luke 11:2 – ‘Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. … ” ‘

In the above verses, you can see that in knowing Jesus’ name we can pray directly to Him – as God’s children we have been given the right to know His name; and, in our prayers, our first priority is to recognise the holiness of God’s name. In no other faith system is there such a strong, personal relationship between man and God – it’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Your thoughts?

 

Justifying God’s goodness

Psalm 22:1-11 (NIV): ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.’

Selwyn, says the following in today’s study: ‘The song on which we are concentrating – gives the lie to the suggestion (as we saw with Job) that worship is possible only when things are going right. Far from it. Worship is not a superficial response to the blue skies and fairness of life.

Often we discover the Bible’s richest worship is a cry of praise from the depths and from the darkness. It is the God-forsaken, [God’s people are never forsaken, but it may feel like it, during dark times.] it is also interesting to note, who affirm that God is ‘enthroned’ on the praise of His people (v3).

Worship in times of darkness is the defiant answer of faith to praise God if not for everything then certainly in everything.

To give praise and worship to Jesus in very hard times is to demonstrate that we have a relationship with Him and that we truly believe that He will be with us, all the days of our life. It’s our conviction that life here on earth is only temporary; yet, our life with Him in eternity will never end.

We can live through the terrors of this world caused by evil spirits and people because we trust that we have been saved to live in a promised land of peace and love; that our joy will never again, be threatened by destructive forces.

As Selwyn says: ‘We glorify God by continuing to give Him praise and worship even when our circumstances might seem to deny,’ His total control over a fallen world.

Any comments?