Know-where to turn?

King David Art
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Psalm 27:7, 8 ESV

 

As Christians we need never say, ‘I just don’t know where to turn!’ In all our troubles, grief, and pain; in the exhaustion that makes us feel, as disciples (even the prophets did at times) that we would rather give up than struggle for another minute, let alone another day, we always have someone to turn to.

Certainly, the Psalms encourage us in this.

Psalm 27 (above) Psalm 105:4 ‘Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!’ and Psalm 121:1, 2 ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’

And the old hymns too (I am happily of that generation).

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found of thee. (Anon.)

And the New Testament confirms it.

In our search for strength, at any moment, when we don’t even know ‘what to pray for as we ought’ (Romans 8:26) the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us, and our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:32). Perhaps no New Testament passage affirms this encouragement more strongly than Hebrews 12.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Hebrews 12:1, 2, 12, 13 ESV

Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Psalm 105:4

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Joy for the Fight?

King David ArtAnd now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:6, 14 ESV

Some things that gave us joyful feelings as children still, rightly, may. Others we may have outgrown. Some things that we enjoyed before we became Christians we still, rightly, may, and some of those, in Christ, are even amplified to us, while other things that we rightly aim to set aside, we perhaps struggle to. But Jesus surprised his disciples when he told them on one occasion not even to rejoice in successful service, ‘Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you ,but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10:20).

When the Psalmists encourage us that we may find strength in God; strength for the Fight, strength to endure in pain and to be courageous in trouble, the note of joy is often also present, not just in success, but, perhaps surprisingly, at every stage of our experience. While they tell us that, ‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ (Psalm 30:5) and while there are many examples of celebrating victories with joy (like Psalm 27 above) there is the note, later developed in the New Testament, that, ‘steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice…shout for joy,’ (Psalm 32:10-11) and, ‘may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (Psalm 40:16).

Paul makes this connection of  rejoicing in God even during the Fight, in his letter to the Christians at Colossae when he writes,  ‘And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light….To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1: 9-12; 27-29 ESV).

This echoes Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90:14, 16-17.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

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Fit to Fight?

King David ArtFor who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.

Psalm 18:31-35 ESV

Modern fitness culture makes much of the role of the personal trainer, and, for the committed, the results may be plain to see, at least in readiness, even if never in competition. The strength with which God equips His people is never simply for show. When God trains us, it is always with our Fight in mind. As David says, ‘He trains my hands for war…’

Paul, writing to the Christians at Ephesus knew from experience the struggles they faced. Living in a ‘modern’ city they would be condemned for the shadow of criticism their witness cast over the cherished sins and false Gods of the population. In reminding them of the strength available to them in the conflict, and its source, Paul pulled no punches. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”

Paul continued, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God …”  Ephes. 6:10 -12; 16-17 ESV.

And Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy (2 Timothy2:15) with similar advice, emphasizing the matter of training with his preferred weapon; not a bow of bronze but a sword. ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Elsewhere, Paul added his personal testimony regarding the fighting effectiveness that comes when our goals, as well as our strength, come from God. He wrote, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  Colossians 1:27-29 ESV

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Yesterday, today and forever…

King David Art
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
Psalm 59:16-17 ESV

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10 ESV

We need never doubt that the Psalms are meant for our encouragement in this 21st century, and that the truths of the Psalms regarding the nature of God and His faithfulness towards his people are timeless.

‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’ (Zechariah 4:6) was the text of an address to a conference of pastors and students by Dr. J. Oswald Sanders about forty years ago. At the same conference, another speaker reminded us that, ‘The Lord’s person, the Lord’s power, and the Lord’s purpose do not change’ (‘For I the Lord do not change….’ Malachi 3:6 ESV). It’s not just proof of the power of alliteration, I think, that I can recall both all these years afterwards.

So, when we read the likes of Psalm 59 we may be confident that the Strength that David found may still be our Strength too. When we read that, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:8 ESV) we may be assured that Paul’s encouragement to the Christians at Ephesus remains true for us too; that we here and now, in all our troubles, as well as in all our joys, may be ‘strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.’

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Strong Singers?

Old David
But I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love.
Psalm 59:16-17 ESV

 

I recently came across a ticket stub from a 1986 game (soccer) between Spurs and Forest in London. I remembered clearly that the half-time entertainment that day came from Chas and Dave (Google them?). Out on the field they sang, or maybe lip-synched (there was a suspiciously phony piano and a guitar with a lead that led nowhere) one of their hits, Ain’t No Pleasing You. I looked it up on You Tube, a version with a string section in the arrangement, and listened to it. My mistake.

Why we humans sing at all bears some thinking about, but the power of this (silly) song to trigger old emotions, provides a clue I suppose. I realised why I remembered the song after thirty-something years – it had certain associations for me back then and I found myself reliving old feelings with a surprising clarity…

 To ‘sing the Lord’s song ‘in a foreign land’, in ‘Babylon’, may be difficult. We may weep when we remember Zion. But the tears may be just as much tears of joy as of sadness. To recall Zion, to recall God’s past blessings in the midst of present suffering, or to recall His strength exerted for us in the past and His promise to do it again, according to our need, is a powerful encouragement which may be amplified in the singing and especially in singing together with others who share our neediness.

An old friend, long widowed, shared with me her experience of feeling, in her grief when it was fresh, the strength of her husband’s arms comforting her. We may, sometimes, or we may never, experience the strength of God in a similar way in our need, but the promises remain true and in all our waiting for long hoped for resolution to our problems, and in our celebration afterwards, or in our songs of praise at any time, we may be wonderfully surprised at the clarity and depth of the encouragement we experience.

 

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But I will sing (louder)…

King David ArtEach evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
They wander about for food
    and growl if they do not get their fill.
But I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.

For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love.
Psalm 59:14-17 ESV

Believing I had completed the task of sharing from all 150 Psalms (see previous post) and ready to make a start on the theme of God as our Strength in the Psalms, I chose, after quite a lot of thought, to return to Psalm 59 – and found that it is (I hope) the one Psalm I had neglected; a draft made in 2012 was never finished though I had marked it so in my diary….

I was looking forward to revisiting some comments on the idea of God ‘laughing’ at his enemies (59:8) but found that the comments I recalled were made in regard to Psalm 2:4. This tried my own sense of humour anyway… but there’s a bit of (Godly?) serendipity about it too, I think. It came as a timely reminder of our dependence on God, of our fallibility in even our best efforts; of our need for God’s Strength in our weakness.

In His great Grace, God is willing to make up what we find lacking in ourselves, and to bring us back again (and again) to the places of our failures and meet us there, as He met Peter one morning on the lakeshore, not with the derisive laugh that he saves for his enemies (and ours) but with a smile (and maybe breakfast). At such times surely we are right to praise Him singing (if even just between Him and us) gratefully and joyfully for His steadfast love and faithfulness.

As for those other times, when greater trials come, when prowling dogs truly do set to barking, well, we must sing all the louder. God is our Strength and our fortress.

“But (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

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A personal note…

Psalms decorative

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Psalm 150:6 ESV

My previous post (September 27th – on Psalm 150) marked the fulfilment (after six years, I see with some surprise) of two intentions; first (in priority and value) to share the text of the Psalms themselves, and then to record some comments on the Psalms, mostly from teachers and preachers (like Charles Spurgeon) that have meant a lot to me during some thirty years of daily readings. Every Psalm has been included; some more than once (like Psalm 119). That I did not approach the Psalms in number order has, I am afraid, made finding particular Psalms now something of a chore; I simply went to my favourite Psalms first. Any further posts will take a thematic approach, for example, the theme of God as our Strength in the Psalms.

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