Devotions In Psalms

Save The King

Psalm 20.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (v. 7).

This psalm, Lord, is evidently a prayer for the king. That it was preserved and used after the period of monarchy demonstrates its significance for all forms of government, all types of rulers. It reminds the ruler that his people's first loyalty should be to God. The king also has a King.

It reminds a ruler that his choicest subjects are praying people. No act is more patriotic than praying for Your purposes to be channeled through government.

It reminds a ruler that his heart's desire and plans deserve to succeed only when he acts as the agent of Your will for the peoples' lives.

It reminds a ruler that his protection and support and victory depend, not on the size and weaponry of his army, but on "the saving power of [your] right hand."

The mess our world is in stems from the failure of rulers and ruled to recognize You as Creator, Savior, and Ruler. There is no use praying, "O Lord, save the king" if the king is not worth saving--and no ruler is worthy of his office who refuses to be ruled by You. Give us saved rulers, or tanks and planes, guns and bombs, will not save us.

Life Is God's Gift

Psalm 21.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him-length of days, for ever and ever (v. 4).

Lord, the king's crown was Your gift. It could be placed or removed at Your will. Likewise, the king's victories were Your gifts. If his enemies were Your enemies, their defeat was inevitable. If he foolishly became Your enemy, his overthrow was certain. "Through the unfailing love of the Most High" he would not "be shaken." Rejecting Your love he forfeited his security.

This psalm is usually classified as "royal liturgy," associated with the coronation of the king or with the celebration of his military conquests. It makes clear Your kingship over earthly rulers and human affairs. The king went to battle invoking Your protection; he returned to praise You for answered prayer.

I am no king and have no king--except Jesus. But I need to remember that life Your gift, to be granted or withheld as You will. The wisest, bravest, and strongest of persons "cannot succeed" against Your "right hand." And no one can succeed for You except "in your strength."

Today I pray for life and "praise your might," O Lord.

He Never Forsakes

Psalm 22.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (v. 1).

Lord, can any Christian read these words without thinking of Calvary? They were flung into surrounding darkness from the tortured lips of an innocent sufferer. Only then and there did He call on You without using the intimate name, "Father."

And You did not speak from heaven to assure Him, as You had done at His baptism and transfiguration. But You answered Him, mightily and gloriously, in the Resurrection! You did not disdain His sufferings. You "listened to his cry" and demonstrated Your "dominion" and "righteousness" by raising Him from the dead and naming Him "Lord of all."

Those "who seek the Lord" are never forsaken by You. They may seem God-forsaken to others, they may feel God-forsaken within themselves, but they are not. Your silences are hard to endure, hard to understand, but like Your speech, they serve an unfailing love. Those who trust in You will be saved and not disappointed. Those who seek You in prayer will exalt You in praise.

You are close when trouble is near. You are close when You seem to be afar and aloof. Help me to trust when silence and darkness engulf me, as I do when speech and light assure me.

My Shepherd

Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd (v. 1).

I need a shepherd, Lord. Sheep are notoriously dumb and defenseless, and that's me all over. Prone to wander, prone to blunder, weak and witless, I need a shepherd.

I have a Shepherd. Your flock is immense, but You are my Shepherd. I am not overlooked in Your provision for, and protection of, the flock. You call me by name. Your love is not impersonal and I am not anonymous. I may be "Hey, you" to the world, but not to You. I may be a "has been" to the church, but not to You. I may be 263-24-4331 to Uncle Sam, but not to You.

Your care is my life. You provide the "green pastures," the "still waters," and the "table" that sustains me, physically and spiritually.
Your presence is my courage. In the darkest shadows my heart would fail were You not there with me. Your presence dissipates fear, as sunlight does darkness.

Your lovingkindness is my future. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," not because I deserve to, but because Your "goodness and love" have no dimensions and no terminus. Their persistence is my promise of eternal life.

I love my Shepherd.

King of Glory

Psalm 24.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty-he is the King of glory (v. 10).

Lord, in Your creation of "the earth...and everything in it" You revealed yourself as the King of glory. In Your conquest of chaos, sin, and death You revealed yourself as the King of glory. No king was ever so mighty, no glory was ever so weighty.

With what joy Your people bore the ark, symbol of Your presence, through the "ancient doors" of Your earthly dwelling place.

To worship the Almighty was no trifling matter. Those who expected to survive Your glorious presence needed to have "clean hands" and "pure heart[s]." No person has these by nature, only by grace. They are the products of Your forgiving, renewing, cleansing love. They are a "blessing" to be "received," not earned.

Those who "seek your face" will have that blessing, and with it comes access to Your presence. I know! I know because the door of my heart was opened to admit You as Lord and Savior. And You came in, Your glory transforming my life inwardly and outwardly. My Maker and Defender, You stooped to dwell in me, and the dwelling place has never been the same.

 Great Sin, Greater Savior

Psalm 25.
For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great (v.11).

Your ways are "loving and faithful," Lord. Into those ways You invite sinners! But they cannot remain sinners and pursue Your ways. You justify the ungodly but not their ungodliness. You love sinners but not sin. Only when You become "my Savior" can I walk with You, and that only happens through "your great mercy and love." My prayer can only be "forgive"--and then "instruct" and "guide."

You are the "refuge" of the "lonely and afflicted." You "take away all my sins." You "release my feet from the snare." In that wondrous freedom I bind myself to You. "You are God my Savior"--mighty enough to save, merciful enough to save me.

Great sinners need great Saviors. My iniquity was great; Your saving love was greater. "My hope" was "in you." "Your name" alone could be the ground of my salvation--not my name, nor the names of my race, or nation, or family, or occupation. Saving merit and power reside in Your name. You are "Lord."

To You I lifted up my soul, in You I trusted, and You were "gracious to me." You forgave, and You are teaching and leading. What can I say? "You are good, O Lord."

How well this psalm fits me!

A Choice of Crowds

Psalm 26.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers…. In the great assembly I will praise the Lord (vv. 5, 12).

Scholars tell me, Lord, that this psalm was an "entrance liturgy" component. By such liturgy a worshiper was admitted to (or excluded from?) the temple. The psalmist prays to be tested and approved by You, in heart and mind, confident that his avoidance of evil and performance of good will qualify him to join those who praise Your name and recite Your deeds in jubilant worship.

All of this is educated guessing, but that beats the guessing of boneheads. I thank You for those scholars.

The psalm reminds me of the importance and value of a "blameless life." I cannot have You as an intimate companion if I seek such companionship with "bloodthirsty," "deceitful" men. No person who is comfortable in their gatherings could be comfortable in "the great assembly" of those who worship You.

Warrior and Worshiper

Psalm 27.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life (v. 4).

On the eve of battle, Lord, the king has a single-minded, overriding wish--not to be spared from conflict but from death, that he might continue to experience Your presence in the temple. He did not want anything to happen to him as a warrior that would keep him from continuing as a worshiper. More important than the conquest of enemies was communion with You.

Knowing You as his friend, he did not fear the foe. You were his "salvation" and "stronghold," his "shelter" in the "day of trouble." He sought Your face, confident of Your parental love, a love more constant than that of earthly parents. That love would sustain him in battle and bring him home in triumph.

To be a Christian, Lord, is to "fight the good fight of the faith" against powerful foes--the world, the flesh, and the devil. Victory is given to those who are strong in heart because they "wait for the Lord," not trusting in themselves but in You. Help me, O Lord, to fight and win. As a warrior and a worshiper I seek Your face.

The company we seek is a test of our moral integrity. Even more so is the reason for which we keep company. I have found, Lord, that a blameless life is the product of grace, lived only by those who pray, "redeem me and be merciful to me." Your true worshipers are not smug, self-righteous Pharisees, but redeemed sinners awed by Your love. I am thrilled to be among them.

Strength, Salvation, Shepherd

Psalm 28.
The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever (vv. 8-9).

You are my "strength," O Lord. You are the "Rock" upon which the church, and every person in it, is grounded. If character and behavior depended upon my own strength, I would live and die as one of "the wicked" whose words and deeds invite Your demolition. But You are my strength, and in You I can triumph over sin and death.

You are my "salvation," O Lord. I cried to You for mercy. You heard my plea and forgave my sins. You gave me life and peace and strength as unmerited gifts. I deserved none of those mercies because of "what...[my] hands have done," but I was saved by "what...[your] hands have done." Your hands were spiked to a tree in the death of Jesus, and those cross-marked hands lifted my burden of guilt and hurled it into oblivion.

You are my "shepherd," O Lord. Your strength is so gently and lovingly employed for those who trust in You. Across a lifetime You have provided and protected more caringly and faithfully than any earthly shepherd ever did for his flock. My heart sings, "Praise be to the Lord"

The Lord Speaks!

Psalm 29.
The voice of the Lord is majestic (v.4).

I love, O Lord, this ancient hymn that ascribes to You the glory due Your name. The "mighty ones" are called upon to worship a mightier One, the Almighty One.

The voices of angels and humans unite in praise of "the voice of the Lord." This phrase, repeated seven times in a brief psalm, reminds me that You are a speaking God, a self-revealing God. O, let me be a hearing man!

The psalmist heard Your majestic voice in nature. The storm that shook the desert, that split the cedars and twisted the oaks, was Your voice. The lightning that flashed, the thunder that pealed, was Your voice. In such powerful tones Your lordship was asserted over the work of Your hands.

But You speak also in gentler accents, Lord. You speak a message of love and power that creates a people whose chief business is to "worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness." You speak to give Your worshipers "strength" and "peace."

You are "enthroned as King forever" over "the flood" that threatens the world with chaos. Let me hear Your voice today, giving me strength and peace in the midst of the forces that imperil my soul.

The Morning Ends Mourning

Psalm 30.
…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (v. 5).

These are the words of a man who refused to allow sin and sickness to be permanent. He had been foolishly proud and self-confident, feeling secure when You favored him with health and wealth. He trusted in the gifts, not the Giver.

Suddenly You brought him low. You hid Your face and he was in "the depths" of illness, at the very door of death. But he knew that You delighted in mercy, that Your anger was serving Your grace and his good. Your anger was "a moment," Your favor "a lifetime." His confidence now rightly placed, he "called" and You "healed." You lifted him from depths of despair to heights of praise. you turned "wailing into dancing," removing his sackcloth and dressing him "with joy." Now hear him sing! Now watch him dance!

I join his praise and thanksgiving, O Lord. You lifted me from sin, sickness, and sorrow. Even when my troubles were self-made You abandoned Your anger and asserted Your mercy. There is no joy more delicious than that which attends Your forgiveness and healing. The "night" is past, the "morning" breaks, and life is bathed with light. Sing, my heart!

Security

Psalm 31:1-15.
Into your hands I commit my spirit….My times are in your hands (vv.5,15).

Lord, an insurance company, in its advertising, keeps telling me that I am "in good hands" with them. I know that my only real security is "in your hands."

What security You were for the psalmist. He was surrounded by terror. Scheming enemies set a trap for him. Misunderstanding friends deserted him. Death was near and the situation seemed hopeless. But he "trusted in you," and found You to be a "rock," a "refuge," a "rescuer," a "redeemer."

I remember, Lord, that Jesus spoke the words of verse five when He entered into death on the cross. The psalmist prayed and trusted to be kept from dying. You heard and healed. Jesus prayed and trusted to be kept even in dying. You heard, and raised Him from the dead. Your hands are the security of Your people in this world, and in the next world, and in the passage between them.

I remember a godly woman who lived near us in our second pastorate. At her funeral her daughter sang, "Safe in the arms of Jesus." I thought then, and still do, "How truly secure are those who trust in You." My times, my future, are in Your hands. My heart, therefore, rests and sings. I will not fear for You do not fail.

Great Goodness, Good Greatness

Psalm 31:15-24.
How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you (v. 19).

Lord, it could be said with equal truth, "How good is Your greatness." The great persons of earth, those who wield great power over others, are often not good but evil. Cruel and corrupt leaders exploit and abuse their hapless prey like vultures at a bloody feast. Loveless power and powerless love are the bane of our existence. But Your greatness is good. You rule in love. Your will and our highest welfare are congruent. Therefore, my "fear" of You is respectful and thankful awe, not cringing and servile dread. You can be trusted. "My times" are safely "in your hands."

"How great is your goodness"! It is a vast reservoir of divine resources, a treasury of answers to the prayers of troubled saints. From those infinite resources, which Paul termed Your "glorious riches in Christ Jesus," You preserve the faithful. Your "unfailing love" assures their ongoing victory amid "the intrigues of men" and "the strife of tongues."

I have tapped those resources of goodness, Lord—again and again. I can say with this psalmist, "Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me." "You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help." Now hear my songs of praise!

The Bliss of Forgiveness

Psalm 32.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (v. 1).

"Forgiven" is one of the happiest words in the Bible, Lord. Your forgiveness brings a freedom and peace to my heart impossible to measure or describe. Guilt produces ultimate misery; forgiveness creates ultimate joy.

Sins may be "covered" by guilty silence or by blood atonement. Silence, as the psalmist learned, leads to illness. Honest confession leads to forgiveness.

Forgiveness should lead to new life, reformed life, holy life--to life that needs no forgiveness. But holy life requires more than the bliss of forgiveness. Our problem is not only sin; it includes ignorance. We need to be instructed, and to be taught we must be teachable. We are cautioned, therefore, against the stubbornness of mules. I have plowed with mules, Lord, and I understand the caution.

Lord, I have been forgiven and I am being taught. Don't let me miss Your guidance by my stubborn attempt to choose my own path. Help me to be wise-hearted, not mule-headed. I come from a line of stubborn and independent people who often confuse as virtue what is detriment. Surround me with Your unfailing love and You shall have my unceasing praise.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 33.
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does (v. 4).

Lord, "it is fitting for the upright to praise" You for the power of Your word. By Your word "were the heavens made." By Your word are the seas controlled. Your creative word produced all that we see about us in nature. You "spoke and it came to be." You "commanded, and it stood firm." As the almighty Creator, You are worthy of endless praise.

"It is fitting for the upright to praise" You for the stability of Your purposes. You "foil" the purposes of those who oppose You, however intense their hatred, however immense their armies. You are the Redeemer and Defender of Your people, the "help" and "shield" of all who trust in Your holy name. Nothing can finally prevail against them because Your "plans...stand firm forever." You are Lord of history as surely as You are Lord of nature. The word You speak as the eternal lover of "righteousness and justice" cannot fail.

Like the psalmist, O Lord, my hope is in You. You are faithful to the covenants You make in "unfailing love." You are watching "all who live on earth"--that includes me. And I expect to live in heaven, delivered from death, because Your word is "right and true." To Your word my heart cries, "Amen!"

The Test

Psalm 34:1-10.
Taste and see that the Lord is good (v. 8).

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating." So runs an old adage. "Taste it--you'll like it," my mother used to say, impatient with my almost irrational reluctance to try new foods or new recipes. Personal experience is the final proof of what is good.

Reading this passage is like overhearing a testimony meeting. One saint declares, "I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." Sounds great! Another rises with glowing face to exclaim, "This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles." Another declares, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." Sounds wonderful!

The fellow in charge of the meeting spots a hungry but doubtful face in the group. "Taste and see," he exhorts.

Lord, that's how it was when I was first among Your people. They would tell how You delivered from sin and death, How You protected and provisioned their lives. Was it really true? My hungry heart could hardly believe them. Then I tasted for myself. Lord, You are good! Now I'm ready with my praise when someone says, "let us exalt his name together."

Ultimate Learning

Psalm 34:11-22.
Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (v. 11).

Lord, this is an invitation to the only education that ultimately matters. Learning awesome respect for You, respect that discovers Your love and power, respect that responds with obedience and trust to Your word--this is education essential to true life.

Our nation, Lord, is full of people who learned to make a living but never learned to make a life. Their pursuit of money and things, of pleasure and power, crowded You from their thoughts and lives.

But knowing You matters more than knowing anyone or anything else. To know You is to be made righteous. You watch the lives and hear the prayers of the righteous (v.15). You do not spare the righteous from trouble, but You deliver them from trouble when it comes (v. 17). You redeem Your servants, You are their refuge from desolation (v. 22). Surely, Lord, to know You is to know the world's best friend.

I thank You today for those who taught me to fear You. I took refuge in You, and I have proved Your loyal love across many years through many troubles. Now I can say to children and grandchildren, "Come, listen, I will teach you what I have learned. `The Lord is good...'" I am a teacher who is still a learner.

 

A King's Prayer

Psalm 35.
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation” (v. 3).

Lord, the scholars tell me that Psalm 35 is the prayer of a Hebrew king facing a military crisis. He has been falsely accused of treaty-violation. Malicious lies have smeared his character. "Ruthless witnesses" have cross-examined him. His good has been repaid with evil. "Enemies without cause" have marshaled armies against him.

You are his only hope. You alone can vindicate him by turning the treaty-curses upon his foes. Thus he prays for You to defend him at court and deliver him in battle. For this he and his people will praise You "all day long."

What can a king's prayer say to a common man like me?

I, too, am in a battle, and no match for the cunning and strength of the enemy. You must fight for me if I am to have victory.

I, too, have been falsely accused, sometimes mistreated by persons who were recipients of my love, prayers, and service. You must vindicate me by making my ministry effective and fruitful.

Arise, arm yourself, and deliver me from my enemies--that too is my prayer, O Lord. I need to hear You say to me—to one of the "poor and needy"--"I am your salvation." You are, O Lord, You are!

Unflattering Truth

Psalm 36.
For in his own eyes he flatters too much to detect or hate his sin (v. 2).

One thing is sure, Lord, Your word never flatters. The Bible "tells it like it is." The evils that corrupt human hearts and infest human lives are unsparingly condemned.

Here the psalmist describes "the sinfulness of the wicked." "In his own eyes" he deserves congratulation, not condemnation. Self-adoration has produced self-blinding. He sees no wrong in his abuse and exploitation of others. Indeed, he falls asleep at night plotting the next day's evil.

Unable to detect or hate his sin, he cannot repent and will not be forgiven. He lives and dies in the trap dug by his refusal to "fear God" and "do good."

Against the unmitigated sinfulness of the wicked, the psalm sets in vivid contrast Your immense love and justice. They fill the earth, as high as the skies, as deep as the seas. They extend to "man and beast." They lighten our darkness and provide our refuge. They are, in a word, "priceless."

Your priceless love, O Lord, opened my eyes, saved my life, and has guided my steps since first it shined in my heart. Mine would have been the folly and the fate of the wicked except for Your "unfailing love."

I Have a Future

Psalm 37.
…there is a future for the man of peace… the future of the wicked will be cut off (vv. 37, 38).

The psalmist faced a problem common to those who serve You, Lord. The wicked prospered, the righteous suffered, and that seemed to impugn Your justice.

"Do not fret," he says three times, indicating a strong and persistent temptation to fret about the situation. What is the answer to fretting? "Trust in the Lord.... Delight yourself in the Lord.... Commit your way to the Lord..."

The unjust situation is for "a little while." Those who oppose God may prosper for a time, but "they will vanish...like smoke" The wicked have no future, but "the righteous will inherit the land." In the light of the future, the "little" of a righteous man is better than "the wealth of many wicked." In the long run, Lord, the person who serves You can't lose, the person who rejects You can't win. And as J. B. Chapman used to remind us, "We're in this matter of following Christ for the long run."

Out on highway 369, Lord, I've been reading these words on a church's outdoor bulletin board: "When the devil reminds me of my past, I remind him of his future." My past was sin, guilt, and misery. My future is You, love, and heaven. I shall not fret but trust.