Forgiveness blessings, Psalm 32

In Psalm 32, David meditates on the great blessings of God’s forgiveness.

 

Its first two verses are familiar confessions:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit (ESV).

The believer who trusts in the finished work of Christ is truly blessed. The blood of Christ covers the Christian’s sin. It’s easy to claim to be a Christian; however, without really examining your heart.  The Lord counts no iniquity against the person who has no deceit within his or her spirit. Is there any deceit within your spirit? There are people who claim the name of Christ, yet their hearts are full of pride and self-righteousness. This comes to expression in judgmental words and legalistic actions. There are also people who manipulate and deceive others to promote their personal agendas for pleasure or power. Look into your own heart and examine your spirit. Are you deceiving others? Are you deceiving yourself? These are questions Psalm 32 calls you and me to ask prayerfully and answer honestly.

This psalm clearly shows the necessity for repentance. David confesses:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah (Psalm 32:3-4, ESV)

David implies that failing to confess sin and repent from it can actually lead to physical as well as spiritual illness. Few authors paint such vivid word pictures as David: bones wasting away, groaning all day, God’s heavy hand pressing nightly and daily, and strength sapped as by summer’s heat.

Here in the Midwest, it was a dry summer. Streams disappeared. In the fields, corn curled. These recent visual impressions make David’s images come alive. Recent and ongoing physical struggles help me identify with the feelings David expresses. Don’t we all want to avoid wasting, groaning, and sapping?

In verse 5 (ESV), David tells us how to avoid physical distress as a result from unconfessed sin:

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Truly confession is good for the soul! It is even good for the body! Confession accompanied by repentance brings healing.

David then urges believers to seek God while he may be found (see also Isaiah 55:6).

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah (6-7, ESV)

In the same breath, David confesses God as his protector and deliverer. The rush of great waters will not reach the believer. With David, we can confess: God is my hiding place; he preserves me from trouble and surrounds me with shouts of deliverance.

God speaks directly in the next two verses:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you (8-9, ESV).

God teaches and counsels us. Under his watchful care, he instructs us in the way we should go. He urges us not to be like a brute beast, desiring to go our own way. He wants us to long to be near him.

The wicked will experience many sorrows. But if we trust in the Lord, his steadfast love will surround us (10-11, ESV):

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Because God’s unwavering and everlasting love surrounds us, we can be glad and rejoice. Those who have examined their hearts and purged them from pride and deceit are the truly upright. They can shout for joy.

May you be glad in the Lord and rejoice in him today! May you be upright in heart and shout for joy!

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Do not lose heart

Have you ever noticed God impressing upon your mind the same text of Scripture during the same time frame? Maybe you’ll read a passage during your personal devotions, and then you’ll hear a radio minister preach on it or you’ll hear the words of it in a song.

For the last two Sundays, God has been impressing 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 upon my mind. My husband and I heard it two Sundays ago, when the minister who administered our baby grandson’s baptism touched on it. Following that service, we hurried to our own church where we were scheduled to teach catechism classes. We arrived just in time to hear that portion of Scripture read again. (Yes, that’s twice in one Sunday morning at two different services in two different churches!)

Our pastor’s sermon focused on verses 7-12 that Sunday, but this past Sunday morning he preached on verses 13-18. Before you read verses 15-18, which have had so much meaning for me lately, you must understand that I spent several hours in the emergency room and a day in the hospital between these two Sunday mornings.

I like the ESV rendering of this section of scripture because it seems more personal:

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal  (2 Corinthians 4:15-18, ESV).

The NIV refers to “our light and momentary troubles” and contrasts that which is seen as “temporary” compared to the unseen which is eternal. These verses mean much to someone struggling with pain and uncertainty.

We know so little of what God is really doing with our afflictions. We grow discouraged with physical weakness and with what appears to be the continuing triumph of evil. But no matter how discouraged or depressed we get about pain or malaise, about falsehood or manipulation, we must remember that God controls even those. No discomfort can occur, no disease can degenerate, no lie can be spread, or poison can permeate, unless God allows it–for now–and for a reason.

Lord’s Days 9 & 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism express God’s sovereignty so well. Answer 26 makes the very personal confession that the “eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” who created all things from nothing “still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence” and is “my God and Father.” It concludes:

   I trust him so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and he will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this sad world.

   He is able to do this because he is almighty God;
he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

Question 27 asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” It beautifully answers:

A. Providence is
the almighty and ever present power of God
by which he upholds, as with his hand,
heaven
and earth
and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty—
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but from his fatherly hand.

God is sovereign. He is in control. And in 2 Corinthians 4, he assures us that our afflictions are for our sakes. But not only for our good, but for his glory!

How do our hearts hope? They hope in knowing that our afflictions somehow benefit us while making grace abound to others, which increases thanksgiving, all to the glory of God. We can take heart in knowing that, although our outer selves are wasting away, our inner selves are being renewed daily.

I cling to the promise that my light and momentary affliction is preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison  It’s easy to be dismayed by present experience, the things we see and hear, but we need to remember to look to the things that are unseen. The things we see are as transient and fleeting as the shadow of a passing cloud, but the things unseen are as eternal as the Son in which they shine.

May God bless and encourage you today!

Prayer paralysis

My room was set up similarly to this picture I found online.

A week ago at this time on Monday morning, I was finally getting some sleep–on a bed in my hospital room.

That explains why I didn’t post a meditation last Monday and why I didn’t do much writing last week. (Providentially, I’d scheduled a few news articles to post on my blog.) Now, a week and many tests later, I know that I don’t have an acute cardiac condition. I still have some questions about my health and I will have additional appointments, but it seems I should be able to function normally. I’m trying to trust and rest in the Lord. Just like every issue in life, some days (even some hours!) this is easier than others.

Although I often struggle to write (see my blog post on Paralysis prescription), I rarely find it difficult to pray. I love to pray God’s words back to him. I enjoy leading devotions with groups of women. I’m happy whenever someone asks me to give thanks for a meal or ask a blessing before a meeting. I’ve hosted many prayer gatherings in my home and in the park. I’ve regularly met with other women for prayer. I pray first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but my entire day is bathed in prayer. For me, praying is almost like breathing.

That’s why the most terrifying part of my very brief hospital stay was my inability to pray. While I was in the Emergency Room and lying inside the CAT scanner, I seemed to have forgotten how to pray. I simply couldn’t think of what to say. My brain couldn’t frame the words.

My husband held my hand and prayed with me in the ER, but he couldn’t pray with me when two nurses were working on me or during tests in a strange, sterile room. At those times, I could do no more than repeat, “Father, Father, Father.” But I knew that was okay:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, ESV)

Because the Spirit of Christ lives in me, I can cry, “Father, Father, Father” when I am weak and my mind can’t form an articulate prayer. The Bible assures us that the Spirit intercedes for us during such times:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).

The Spirit sanctifies even our inarticulate groanings and presents them as a fragrant offering to God. When our brains can’t frame the words, God looks past our feeble prayer attempts into the depths of our hearts. He understands our fear and confusion. He sees our faith. The Spirit is the ultimate editor who turns our pain into praise that pleases God.

Most Christians probably consider Romans 8 one of their favorite Scripture passages. But did you ever think about its progression? Did you realize that the above two verses come directly before this beloved verse?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, ESV).

The comfort of the Spirit pleading for us in our weakness is quickly followed by the assurance that God works all things for the good of those who love him. My husband often reminds me that we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.

Since I’m a naturally private person, it isn’t easy for me to share my weaknesses of flesh and faith. But I believe God calls me to write this. I trust that he will bless this effort and use it, as he uses all things in my life, for the good of those who love him. And I love him.

God’s power and blessing, Psalm 21

The content of Psalm 21 naturally follows the content of Psalm 20 and seems to flow from it. Psalm 20 is a beautiful expression of God’s rescue of those who trust in him Psalm 21 rejoices in the blessings bestowed after that powerful rescue.

While David rejoices because God has finally established him as a king who anticipates the eternal kingship of Christ, this psalm also applies to all believers. Recall from our look at Psalm 20 that every believer reflects Christ’s image as a prophet, priest, and king.

The first section of Psalm 21 is a litany of praise for God’s powerful rescue and his abundant blessings:

O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
    and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
    and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
    you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
     length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
     splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
    you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
    and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved (Psalm 21:1-7, ESV).

The next block of text confesses how God will judge all those who hate him and conspire against him:

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
    when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
    and fire will consume them.
You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    and their offspring from among the children of man.
Though they plan evil against you,
    though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
For you will put them to flight;
    you will aim at their faces with your bows  (8-12, ESV).

Those who plan evil against God will be totally destroyed, but God will be exalted.

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power (13, ESV).

When God displays his power and showers his blessings, the only proper response is praise.

May you see his power displayed today! May you bathe in his blessings forever!

Hidden God, Psalm 10

The writer of Psalm 10 wonders why God seems hidden during times of trouble. While the righteous psalmist laments a hidden God, the wicked man revels in God’s hidden face.

The psalmist opens by questioning God:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself  in times of trouble?

He asks God to cause evil men’s schemes to backfire, ensnaring them instead of the poor people they pursue:

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
    let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised (Psalm 10:2, ESV).

As the psalmist describes the wicked man’s vile deeds and how he seems to prosper, he grieves not only the damage to people, but also the harm to God’s honor:

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
    and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
    all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
    your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
    as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
     under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
    in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
    he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
    he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
    and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (Psalm 10:3-11. ESV).

The wicked man thinks God has hidden his face and will not see his evil deeds. He sins without remorse, believing he will never have to reveal or pay for his secret sins.

But the psalmist reminds himself and his readers that God is not hidden and no sin is hidden. God sees and judges each hidden misdeed as well as every heinous crime:

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
     forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
    and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
    that you may take it into your hands;
  to you the helpless commits himself;
    you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none (Psalm 10:12-15, ESV).

God will repay trouble and grief. He is the helper of the fatherless. He will break the arm of the wicked and evil man. He will totally eradicate his wickedness.

Our sovereign God reigns. He listens to the cries of the afflicted:

The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (Psalm 10:16-18, ESV).

The Lord is king forever and ever. He causes nations to rise and fall. He hears the desire of the humble and will strengthen their trembling hearts. He will execute justice for the fatherless and oppressed so that the earthly minded man will no longer strike terror.

Even when God seems hidden and far off, even when the wicked exult in what they believe is his hidden face, he hears. And he will act. His justice will pour down on the wicked and make their schemes rebound on their own heads. They will fall into their own snares.

Because God hid his face from his son on the cross, his face will never be hidden from believers. He will rescue the righteous and judge the wicked in his perfect timing. Praise God!

Wicked are judged, Psalm 9

If world events discourage you or other people attack you or personal problems oppress you, read Psalm 9.

David writes this psalm as if God has already judged the wicked and put an end to evil. He begins by wholeheartedly thanking God and declaring his goodness:

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When my enemies turn back,
    they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
    you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
    you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
    their cities you rooted out;
    the very memory of them has perished (Psalm 9:1-6, ESV).

Notice all the “haves” in this first section of the psalm? David views God’s deliverance as something already accomplished. The nations, the enemy, and the cities are gone. Those who are evil on national, personal, and civic levels have been so completely destroyed that even the very memory of them has perished. In contrast, God has upheld the just cause of the righteous.

The Lord’s eternal throne of justice has been established forever. He never forsakes those who take refuge in him: 

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:7-10, ESV).

God is the believer’s sure stronghold and the world’s righteous judge. He delivers those who trust in him, but they must respond to that deliverance appropriately:

Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation (Psalm 9:11-14, ESV).

God does not forget the cry of the afflicted. When he delivers us, we literally ought to sing his praises and tell his deeds among the peoples. We should recount God’s praises and rejoice in his salvation in corporate worship as well as in the public square.

In verses 15 and 16, David reiterates the accomplished character of God’s deliverance: 

The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah

David uses the past tense to describe God’s actions. Then he moves to present tense by writing that the wicked “are snared” in their own work. God’s deliverance is sure. He has performed it in the past, he does it today, and he will surely deliver his people in the future:

The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever (Psalm 9:17-18, ESV).

Nations forget God, but he will not forget to judge them. Believers may sometimes feel forgotten, but God never forgets those who need him.

Verses 19 and 20 conclude the psalm with a rousing cry for God’s judgment:

Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

God sees the nations that defy him. He knows the people who oppose him. No ungodly nation, city, or person will escape God’s judgment, just as no godly person will perish eternally. God is enthroned over all the earth. He brings down the wicked, but he preserves his people.

May God uphold your righteous cause today and encourage you with hope of his deliverance!

Majestic Name, Psalm 8

When our children were small, Psalm 8 was one of the first psalms I taught them. We rocked imaginary babies in our arms, we flexed arm muscles, we looked up, we wiggled our fingers, we drew moon circles in the air, and wiggled our fingers again for the sparkling stars.

Now I’m teaching it to my almost two-year-old grandson, whose very favorite part of all creation is “da moon!”

Here’s the English Standard Version (ESV):

O LORD, our Lord,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. 
  Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
   to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 
what is man that you are mindful of him,
   and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
   and crowned him with glory and honor. 
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under his feet, 
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field, 
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Lord,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In nine verses, this short psalm contains a concise primer on theology: God is great. Even little children can praise him and silence his enemies. He made all things. God is good. He loves and cares for us. He made people as rulers over creation. God is great!

Torn Soul, Psalm 7

When someone circulates lies and unjust accusations against you, read Psalm 7.

The superscription tells us that David sang this psalm to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite. Since Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, Cush may have been one of Saul’s relatives. From the context of the psalm, Cush apparently spread falsehoods that unjustly accused David of repaying a friend with evil and plundering an enemy without cause. These accusations so drastically distress David that he feels as if his essence is being shredded.

But even in this great emotional turmoil, David takes refuge in God:

O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge;
    save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
   rending it in pieces, with none to deliver (Psalm 7:1-2, ESV).

David knows that if God does not deliver him, no one can. Since he speaks of multiple pursuers, Cush evidently wasn’t the only one shredding David’s soul. Lies damage the core of one’s being so severely that David compares it to a lion tearing apart his very soul.

Recognizing that an honest assessment of his own sin and repentance are crucial, David examines his heart and his actions. But that self-examination leads him to know the truth. He has not done the things of which he is accused. He brings these accusations to the Lord and lays them at the throne of grace.

O LORD my God, if I have done this,
   if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
   or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
   and let him trample my life to the ground
   and lay my glory in the dust (Psalm 7:3-5, ESV).

Being convinced of his innocence regarding these accusations, David places himself totally in God’s hands. If he has, indeed, committed such sins, he asks God to allow his enemy to triumph over him.

But since he has not committed these sins, he has the confidence to beg God to act on his behalf:

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
    lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
    awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you;
   over it return on high (Psalm 7:6-7, ESV).

David knows that God has appointed a judgment over his enemies. Even if David does not see justice during his life, he knows that God will judge his enemies some day. Every evil person will have to give an account of their actions before Christ on Judgment Day. Christ will return from on high to judge all people who have ever existed, the living and the dead.

While he acknowledges God’s great judgment in the future, David implies that God will judge people in the present as well. He asks God to judge him in this particular situation according to his righteousness and integrity.

The LORD judges the peoples;
    judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness
   and according to the integrity that is in me (Psalm 7:8, ESV).

God knows the hearts and minds of each person. David prays that the wicked will fail, while the righteous are established (Psalm 7:9, ESV):

Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
   and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
   O righteous God!

God is the shield who saves the upright. God does not ignore sin. He is a righteous judge, who daily feels angry over sin.

My shield is with God,
   who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
   and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:10-11, ESV).

The next section of Psalm 7 vividly depicts God’s judgment against the unrepentant.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
   he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
   making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
   and is pregnant with mischief
   and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
   and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
   and on his own skull his violence descends (Psalm 7:12-16).

Failure to repent brings destruction. The wicked will not win. Their plans may grow and develop as they scheme for months, before giving birth to lies. But God will turn their elaborate schemes upside down. He will orchestrate events so that the wicked man’s plots become his own downfall. He falls into the hole he has dug. His violence descends upon his own head.

Confident of God’s justice, David thanks and praises God:

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
   and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High (Psalm 7:17, ESV).

With David, we can have confidence that wicked people who spread lies about us and accuse us of falsehood will not ultimately succeed. God is our shield and a righteous judge. He will not allow evil to go unpunished. He will work all things for the good of those who love him. Trust him!

Loving discipline, Psalm 6

In difficult and distressing times, Christians long to be freed from this body of death and translated to glory. In Psalm 6 David cries to God during a time of intense physical and emotional distress. David acknowledges suffering as discipline when he implores the Lord (Psalm 6:1, ESV):

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
   nor discipline me in your wrath.

We know from Proverbs 3:11-12 and Hebrews 12:4-6 that the Lord disciplines those he loves as a father disciplines a dearly loved child. The first verse of Psalm 6 demonstrates David’s understanding that God uses struggle to refine his children’s faith. David prays that his struggles may not originate in God’s anger, but in his love.

When Israel sinned and turned from God, he punished them by sending wasting disease or plundering enemies. Yet Job, who was a righteous man, suffered huge losses. Struggles can be the direct result of our own sin or part of God’s punishment for a specific sin. But they often are the refining fires God’s uses to incinerate the dross and purify the gold of our faith. If we’re in the middle of an intense struggle, how can we tell if God disciplines us because he is angry over our sin or because he loves us?

Troubles should always bring us to our knees in humble self-examination and genuine repentance. No one is free from sin and life’s struggles provide an opportunity to recognize and repent from that sin. We especially need to recognize our sin when our struggle is the direct result of it. Too many people deceive themselves with self-righteous conceit.

But those who humble themselves in true repentance can take heart. Job was depressed and longed for death, yet God did not rebuke him. He rebuked Job’s “friends” who falsely accused him of sin, but not Job. If we truly repent of our sin, we can be assured that God allows life’s trials our of his love for us.

The following two verses show that David’s struggle was emotional and spiritual as well as physical (2-3, ESV):

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
   But you, O LORD—how long?

David languished; both his bones and soul were troubled. In physical weakness or emotional distress, our faith falters. We feel overburdened to the point of death and are assailed by doubts. The struggle seems too long and we cry for relief.

Yet how can we praise and serve God from the grave? David asks that same question (4-5, ESV):    

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
   save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
   in Sheol who will give you praise?

By telling God about his steadfast love and the grave’s silence, David reminds himself of these two inconvertible facts. Trite as it may sound, David knows that God loves him and has a plan for his life. David knows that God’s love never fails, and he knows that he has more work to do for God while he lives. But he is so weary!

I am weary with my moaning;
   every night I flood my bed with tears;
   I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
   it grows weak because of all my foes (6-7, ESV).

Do you toss and turn during the long watches of the night? Does your pillow grow damp with your tears? Does grief overwhelm you? Do enemies surround you? Do your senses and strength fade? David and countless other believers throughout history have felt the same way.

But David ends his prayer with a rousing confirmation of God’s deliverance. 

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
   for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
   the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
   they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment (8-10, ESV).

With confidence that God has already heard his prayer, David grows bold. He commands those who work evil to depart from him. He doesn’t make this demand in his own strength, but in the firm conviction that God has heard and accepts his prayer. David’s struggles may seem to linger, but his enemies will be routed and put to shame in a moment.

Take heart! God hears the prayers of those who recognize their sin and truly repent from it. You may be weak. Sleep may elude you. Tears may fall continually. But God hears your cries. And he does more than listen; he acts. Before you finish your prayer, he already orchestrates events leading to your enemies’ reversal and sudden shame.

Sin-free anger, Psalm 4

David covers a lot of territory in the short Psalm 4, but one striking section contains the apparently contradictory command to: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4a, ESV).

Prior to the first verse, this notation appears: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.” The psalmist begins, as he does many psalms, by crying to God for relief and grace (verse 1, ESV):

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
   You have given me relief when I was in distress.
   Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

David acknowledges God as the source of personal righteousness and expresses his confidence in him. His confidence is rooted in hard evidence; he has seen God’s deliverance in the past (“You have given me relief when I was in distress). Because he has witnessed God’s mercy first hand, he prays with hope for God’s grace.

In the next verse, David addresses the men who seek to discredit him (2, ESV): 

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
   How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
                         Selah

These men try to damage David’s reputation with vain words and attempted lies. We know that this has been a chronic struggle from David’s repeated cry, “How long?”

Perhaps still speaking to those trying to dishonor him, but also to all of us, David declares two truths about God: He has set apart a people for himself; he hears them when they call.

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
   the LORD hears when I call to him (3, ESV).

Then comes that rather puzzling verse about anger (4, ESV):

Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
                         Selah

The gospel accounts of Christ cleansing the temple best portray sin-free anger (Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 2). Christ made a whip and drove the money-changers out of the temple, overturning their tables in his righteous wrath. That’s action! And that’s anger!

But not even the least taint of sin stained this or any of Christ’s actions. This was righteous and sin-free anger.

What does it mean for us to “Be angry, and do not sin”? Because anger often causes us to fall into distressing sins, it’s difficult for us to wrap our finite minds around the concept of righteous anger.

Taking our cue from Christ, we realize we cannot ignore evil that dishonors God’s name. Although we don’t have money-changers in our temples, there may still be practices or people today that call for us to take drastic action. We must follow Christ’s lead in any situation, taking care that our anger is because God’s name–not ours–is dishonored.

That seems to be where the next part of the verse comes into play: “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” Our actions must follow serious self-examination that recognizes and repents from personal sin.

The humble and repentant person trusts in God, rather than himself, and takes appropriate action.

Offer right sacrifices,
   and put your trust in the LORD (5, ESV).

Only those who truly trust in God can offer themselves and their work as proper sacrifices to him.

In the ancient world and still today, many look for answers (6, ESV):

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

The only answer then, and the only answer now, is to look to the Lord. Good comes only from God. He lifts the light of his face so that it bathes believers in warm illumination. God’s light is the source of blessing and joy.

You have put more joy in my heart
   than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
   for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety (7-8, ESV).

Imagine the joy of a farmer whose harvest exceeds expectations. His family and friends join him in a feast and raise a toast. But the joy God puts in believers’ hearts far surpasses that fleeting moment of fuzzy feelings in the candle’s rosy glow.

The joy in our hearts lasts long after the candle’s flame sputters and disappears into a rising string of smoke. It is a deep-rooted assurance that doesn’t depend on momentary feelings. Because we know God is always with us, we go to bed and sleep through the night without fear. We dwell now in safety and we will dwell forever in safety. Our home is in the Lord.