Renewed Strength

This morning, two of my favorite Scripture texts became real to me as never before. You probably love these passages as well. The first is Isaiah 40:28–31.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

The second similar text is Psalm 103:1–5.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 
All my adult life, I’ve considered these as beautiful, meaningful, and true verses. But they hadn’t come to expression in my life. I knew God did all these things in the figurative sense, even in the literal sense for some people. I saw God blessing me in many of these ways over and over; however, I felt older and weaker as I aged.

Yesterday was particularly brutal for some reason. Perhaps recent grief sapped my physical strength. Maybe my adrenaline reserves had been depleted. I suspect I’m fighting off a cold. Whatever the reasons, my physical strength seemed at an especially low ebb. Immediately after dinner, I fell asleep in my recliner. I woke and spent a brief time on the computer, before stumbling to bed at 10:00.

cloudy-skiesAnd I felt just as exhausted when I woke this morning. Although I’d slept fairly well, I was still tired. I crafted some correspondence and did a little online research that initially seemed a waste of precious time. Then I did my devotions.

I’m reading The One Year Chronological Bible, published by Tyndale, and I finished Job this morning. I absolutely love that book of the Bible! I love God’s direct speech to a mere mortal: “Brace yourself like a man” (Job 38:3, 40:7). I love God’s vivid imagery and relentless litany describing His power and sovereignty.

We’re all a bit like Job at times. When we suffer with no apparent cause, a niggling part of our sinful nature would like to give God a piece of our mind. Certainly, we’re tempted to ask, “Why?” But as someone once suggested to my husband and me, better questions to ask God might be, “What do You want to teach me through this?” and “How do You want me to serve You in this?”

As I spent time communing with God after my Bible reading, I realized how my earlier correspondence and online research had piqued my literary interests and fueled my flagging creativity.

The more I thought and prayed, the more I became aware of God’s blessings in my life and His awesome power. Is anything too hard for the God who laid the earth’s foundation and marked off its dimensions, who stretched a measuring line across it and laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:4–7)?

My spirit was refreshed and my strength renewed. I felt as eager to tackle my work as a war horse spoiling for battle (Job 39:19–25). I’m rising on eagle wings.

Truth for today

In light of the state of our country and our current political climate, this text from my morning devotions seems particularly appropriate:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV).

Already delivered, Psalm 54

cotton ball cloudsIn today’s culture of death, when evil men persecute Christians and sin remains deeply woven into society’s fabric, consider David’s pleas and praise in Psalm 54.

As he so often does, David begins the psalm by begging God to hear his prayer:

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth (Psalm 54:1-2, ESV)

He then states the reason he cries to God.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves (verse 3, ESV).

Christians today all over the world and in our own country are beset by ruthless men and strangers who rise up against them. These enemies have no regard for the God who made them and created all things. They do not look to God or follow his commands.

But believers acknowledge their dependence on the Lord and his sustaining power.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them (verses 4-5, ESV).

Christians realize they can do nothing without God equipping them. He upholds us physically through each breath and heartbeat, emotionally through each trauma and grief, and spiritually through each perplexity and doubt.

And he does not allow evil to triumph ultimately. He will put an end to the enemies of Christians, who are also his enemies.

When we see this happen, we can praise God. We may praise him as individuals, but we encourage other believers when we share accounts of God’s deliverance. And our appropriate response is a thankful spirit in corporate worship.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies (verses 6-7, ESV).

David frequently reviewed the many ways God had delivered him in the past. He wrote these words long before his final cold and weak days, while he still fought and sang with youthful vigor. In fact, he wrote this while fleeing for his life from Saul. Despite the present danger, David considered that God had already delivered him from every trouble.

The Psalms often convey God’s deliverance as if it’s already accomplished. How would it change your outlook if you ended each prayer by confessing God’s resolution of your problem?

We may not always see the resolution to every problem or persecution in this life, but from God’s infinite perspective it’s already a done deal. Praise his name!

None Who Does Good, Psalm 53

>Established Mountains & Watered Earth - Psalm 65Most of us tend to think we’re pretty good people. After all, we’re not criminals or murderers. We’re far superior to evil leaders like Hitler or Hussein. Truth is, we’re all sinners.

The Bible teaches that every person who ever lived and who ever will live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is a sinner. No baby is born totally innocent and no saint can achieve complete perfection. Psalm 53 is one of many texts clearly showing that we’re all sinners.

But there are two kinds of sinners, unsaved and saved, and Psalm 53 begins with a picture of the foolish person who does not believe in the existence of God.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good (Psalm 53:1, ESV).

Unless the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, we are all lost sinners, following our sinful natural desires.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one (verses 2 & 3, ESV).

Verse four more clearly delineates the divide between those who do evil and those God calls his own people:

Have those who work evil no knowledge,
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon God?

In many places of the world today, workers of evil devour God’s people as quickly and commonly as they eat bread. But those who do not call upon God have no knowledge.

They may appear to be in control now, but they face fear and destruction.

There they are, in great terror,
    where there is no terror!
For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you;
    you put them to shame, for God has rejected them (5, ESV).

Such persecutors will succumb to anxiety and imagine terror where none exists. God will not allow them to triumph forever. Those who surround his people now will be definitively destroyed, because God has rejected them.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (6, ESV).

David longed for the day of redemption, when the promised Redeemer would come. Just as Old Testament believers anticipated the Messiah’s birth, we long for Christ’s return. Let all God’s people rejoice and be glad in that great news! 

Olive tree, Psalm 52

Image from Wikimedia commons

Looking back on this past year, do you find it depressing to think about the tough times? Try focusing on how God got you through them.

David knew persecution. He was God’s anointed, the appointed successor to Saul. But he was continually on the run for his life.

One of the most tragic episodes during his years of flight is recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22, When Doeg, the Edomite, reported David’s location to Saul and killed 85 priests at Saul’s command. Saul also ordered the destruction of an entire city–men, women, children, and infants, as well as livestock were killed with the sword.

Knowing this background information increases our understanding of Psalm 52, written after Doeg’s report to Saul, and presumably after the deaths of the priests and people.

How can one make sense of such a tragedy? David begins by acknowledging that although the evil man may boast, God’s steadfast love still endures.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
    The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue (Psalm 52:1-4, ESV).

Evil people plot destruction and love deceit. Yet God will not permit evil to triumph in the end (5-7, ESV):

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous shall see and fear,
    and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make
    God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
    and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

David excels at descriptive language. He follows these vivid depictions of the evil man and God’s judgment against him with a beautiful image.

But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
    in the presence of the godly (8-9, ESV).

The one who trusts God, even in what appears to be senseless destruction, is like a verdant olive tree. Believers firmly rooted in God’s love worship together. In the face of great adversity, they are able to live in thankful patience. They trust that God is good and he will manifest his love in his perfect time.

We’ve all had struggles during this past year, but God’s steadfast love sustains his children through every trial and tragedy. Trust him to be with you in the new year.

Far from home, Psalm 43

Most scholars believe that Psalm 43 belongs with Psalm 42. In The Literary Study Bible ESV, editors Ryken and Ryken write: “The case is overwhelming that these two poems actually constitute a single worship psalm” (p. 792). They point out how the combined psalms express the longing of an exile to return to worship God in his own land.

Can we identify with this exile? Although you (like me) probably never were banished or taken by force from your own country, we’re far from our real home. If we’re Christians, our home is in heaven.

The Bible tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

While we climb the mountains and valleys of this world, anticipating that great and final homecoming, we suffer in many ways. Sometimes others manipulate or oppress so severely that we feel God has rejected us (Psalm 43:1 & 2, ESV):

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

Despite feeling rejected by God, the psalmist still puts his trust in him. He is the One in whom we take refuge. He is the One whose guidance we seek (verse 3, ESV):

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!

While we live far from home, we can ask God to split this world’s darkness with his light and to shatter deceitful lies with his truth. We can beg for his guiding light and trustworthy truth to bring us to God, our dwelling place. Led by God’s light and truth, we can truly worship (verse 4, ESV):

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

We can worship and praise God with joy. We can call our downcast soul to task (verse 5, ESV):

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

Our lives are filled with physical and emotional turmoil. Why should that surprise us? Jesus warned, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but he didn’t end there. He added, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Put your hope in God. You will again praise him, for he is your salvation and your God!

Your worst life now, Psalm 42

100_2661Contrary to some popular preachers, you can’t live your best life now. You’re actually living your worst life now.

Can you imagine a manuscript titled Your Worst Life Now? Any editor or publisher consider that proposal an epic fail in marketing strategy. It’s too negative! It’s too pessimistic! But it’s only too true. What you’re living now as a Christian in this broken world absolutely, positively is your worst life now.

This good life is as bad as it gets for the believer. When we die and go to heaven, that life will be a whole lot better. And when Christ returns and makes all things new, that life will be by far the best! But a book titled Your Best Life Won’t Be Until Christ Returns or Your Worst Life Now won’t sell well.

Psalm 42 reflects the reality of living in a broken world while reminding us of the hope we have for the future. Life is hard, but believers have hope.

This first psalm in Book Two of the Psalter begins with a literary image of a thirsty deer (Psalm 42:1 & 2, ESV):

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

We envision a deer that has run hard and far, its tongue hangs from its panting mouth as it stumbles and searches for a refreshing stream. The deer has run from a threat, perhaps pursued by hunters or a predator.

Just as that thirsty deer pants for the refreshing water that will restore its vigor, our souls often thirst for the living God. He alone can refresh our spirits. People or events often seem to conspire in stealing our joy.

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival (3 & 4, ESV).

When people mock our faith or we feel alienated from other believers, it’s as though we subsist only on our tears. Food and drink have lost their taste. Christian joy disappears. Glad worship is only a memory. We pour out our souls in weeping and prayer.  We become depressed and anxious. Our souls are cast down.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar (5 & 6, ESV).

We feel the force of God’s bitter providence surging over us like the drowning power of a relentless undercurrent beneath a roaring waterfall or a breaking wave.

Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me (7, ESV).

But even when we feel abandoned or oppressed, God remains with us (8-10, ESV):

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?” 

We may cry out to God from pain-filled hearts, we may feel that we are fatally wounded, but God is with us in our loneliness and persecution. Since God never leaves or forsakes us, why should our souls be cast down?

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

When cares and concerns bring down joy or flare up fear, we can remind ourselves that we don’t need to be depressed or afraid. Yes, we live in a world full of pain. Feeling despair or anxiety is normal, but it isn’t necessary.

There’s no need to wallow in an emotional slough when we can climb out by clinging to the rungs of hope. Our hope in God is sure. He may work out deliverance sooner or better than you think. God is your loving Father, your equipping Spirit, and your redeeming Christ. You will praise him again. Maybe not as much as you’d like in this life, but certainly more than you can imagine in the next.

This present reality is your worst life now. Your bliss in heaven with him will be better. Your future glory at Christ’s return will be best.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God!

Measuring Days, Psalm 39

A bit over two years ago, I blogged on Psalm 39 under the title, “Carpe Diem!” That Latin phrase means, “Seize the day,” which still seems an apt title. But in revisiting the psalm today, I’m struck by the ESV heading, “What Is the Measure of My Days?”

In this personal lament that conveys the brevity of life, David displays impatience as well as repentance and submission while he waits on God’s will.

He initially determines not to complain:

I said, “I will guard my ways,
    that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
    so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent;
    I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse (Psalm 39:1-2, ESV).

David doesn’t want to give unrighteous people an opportunity to criticize him or the Lord. But while he holds his peace, his distress increases. He speaks, but he speaks to the Lord (verses 3-6, ESV):

My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

“O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
    man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

David’s prayer begins with a petition that God will make him more aware of the brevity of life. He seems to have a good grasp of life’s transience and futility, but he asks God to increase his concept of measuring his days.

He knows that the days of his life measure a few hands, like one might measure a pony or horse, and that his lifetime is nothing compared to God’s infinity. Every day, billions of people breath in and out countless times. Yet the sum total of all the breaths of all people who have ever lived and who will ever live is like a mere breath to God! We think our lives are so substantial and important, but all our actions are like fleeting shadows. Why are we so concerned about obtaining and keeping stuff? What will happen to it when we’re gone? Our children will have to sort through it, perhaps keeping a few meaningful mementos, but selling much of it at an auction or giving away whatever has a little value or tossing more than we care to know.

David recognizes life’s brevity and wants to become even more aware of it in order to make each day count. But he also wants to guard against running ahead of God’s will. He waits on the Lord and hopes in him.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my transgressions.
    Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
    for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me;
    I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man
    with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
    surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah (7-11, ESV)

While David waits, he asks God to keep him from sin. He doesn’t want to dishonor God by giving unrighteous people an opportunity to mock him and God. As David reverts again to silence, he recognizes the sovereignty of God over his afflictions, he repents from his sins, and he reiterates the brevity of life.

Psalm 39 concludes with a cry to God (12-13, ESV):

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
    and give ear to my cry;
    hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
    a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more!”

In this cry, David begs God to see his tears and act. He confesses that we are all sojourners as our ancestors have been (and as our children will be). He seeks relief from distress so that he may smile again before God calls him home.

We have only a limited number of days on earth. When we’re young, they seem to stretch out like an endless road before us. As we age, we begin to sense how close we’re drawing to the end of our journey. The older I get, the more I feel an urgency about working for the Lord. I want to accomplish what he wants me to do while I’m here, and I realize I don’t have all that much time left.

What is the measure of my days? None of us knows the answer to that question. But an awareness of their limit leads to a better perspective of how we use each one as we work for the Lord and wait on his will.

 

River of Delights, Psalm 36

Since I have a lot going on in my life right now, I’m not taking time to craft a new meditation on Psalm 36 today. Instead I’m posting a link to a brief reflection on some of the most beautiful images of the psalm, which I originally posted almost three years ago:

Drinking from God’s river of delights.

New Year resolved

Resolution. We hear a lot about it at the beginning of a year. People make New Year’s resolutions to lose some weight or spend more time in personal devotions. But often the year comes and goes and we end up making the same vague resolutions at the beginning of the next year.

Perhaps the trouble is that most New Year’s resolutions are too vague. Instead of thinking about losing weight, implement a specific plan that includes meals with fewer calories. Eat smaller portions at home and pack up half your meal when dining out. Instead of thinking about spending more time in personal devotions, commit to a specific Bible reading plan. The Bible Gateway site offers several reading plans. There are also a wide variety of reading plans available on the ESV (English Standard Version) website.

Since I’m a word person, however, this morning I’m thinking about the various definitions of the word: resolution. Merriam-Webster.com defines it in six main ways:

Definition of RESOLUTION

1
: the act or process of resolving: as

a : the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones

b : the act of answering : solving

c : the act of determining

d : the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance

e : the separating of a chemical compound or mixture into its constituents

(1) : the division of a prosodic element into its component parts (2) : the substitution in Greek or Latin prosody of two short syllables for a long syllable

g : the analysis of a vector into two or more vectors of which it is the sum

2
: the subsidence of a pathological state (as inflammation)
3
a : something that is resolved <made a resolution to mend my ways>

b : firmness of resolve

4
: a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group
5
: the point in a literary work at which the chief  dramatic complication is worked out
6
a : the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light

b : a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device (as a video display, printer, or scanner) can produce or record such an image usually expressed as the total number or density of pixels in the image <a resolution of 1200 dots per inch>

The definition that first comes to your mind may relate to the kind of work you do or your primary interests.  I initially thought of definitions 1c and 3a since today is the first day of a new year, but definition 5 was a close second since I’m a writer. I admit that definitions 1d, e, f, and g, as well as 2 were totally off my radar.

But the point I really want to make on this first day of 2013 is that the new year has already been resolved (according to M-W fourth definition: dealt with successfully, cleared up, found an answer to, made clear or understandable).

Although we don’t know exactly what will happen in our lives or our world during 2013, we can be certain that God is in control. And God doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6 (ESV) tells us:

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Isn’t it comforting to know that we will not be consumed in 2013? Psalm 102 provides this additional assurance about God:

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
     but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before you (25-28, ESV).

God will keep us and our children secure, even when he unmakes his created cosmos. He loves us and cares for us. We can have confidence in his love because it lasts forever:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22, ESV).

We can trust our unchanging and loving God to bless us in the new year with his good and perfect gifts:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17, ESV).

Our loving heavenly Father blesses us through our relationship with his Son. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us” in the past, today, and for the future:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8, ESV).

Reflecting on the past year, we can see how God held us in his hands. Looking to the coming year, we can know with certainty that we can trust him for today and every tomorrow.