Devotions In Psalms

Desperation and Deliverance

Psalm 38.
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin (v. 3).

Because of his sin and Your wrath, Lord, the psalmist was near death with painful illness. All sickness is not the consequence of personal sin, but much sickness is. When it is, the pain You allow is a message of mercy. It awakens the sufferer to his guilt and compels him to seek Your grace.

The psalmist found no support from "friends," "companions," and "neighbors." They shunned him, fearful of sharing his misery. When others are remote, Lord, You are near. You adopt whom they reject, if the sufferer trusts in You.

The desperate psalmist had one hope--You. He had one recourse--prayer coupled with honest confession. He looked to You, confident of deliverance: "I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer..."

No person is hopeless who can say "my God" and "my Savior." In personal relationship with You, forgiveness and healing and strength and peace and joy are present possibilities. This I know from Your word, Lord, and this I know from personal experience. Sin, wrath, illness, prayer, confession, deliverance--I've been over that road. How great and how gracious You are!

I praise You for Your reinforcing presence!

The Answer

Psalm 39.
Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life (v. 4).

This psalm, O Lord, seems to be the anguished reflection and prayer of an old man nearing death. Since I am precisely that myself it can surely "speak to my condition," as old-timers used to say.

The psalmist was mentally and physically troubled. The presence and prosperity and power of the wicked challenged his confidence in Your justice. His illness, unspecified, was perceived as Your "rebuke and discipline" for his sin.

His self-prescribed treatment was silence. Say nothing bad, say nothing good, for it will only worsen matters. But the fire in his heart forced words from his mouth. Thought led to prayer and prayer stimulated hope.

He prays to know the meaning of life, since life is so brief and can bring such misery. To "look for" an answer in anything so insubstantial as health and wealth is "vain." The answer has to lie in a relationship to You. Therefore he wisely prays for forgiveness, attended and signified by healing.

To live without failure, to die without fear--that is the cry of my heart. Service to human need, trust in divine love--that is the answer I hear from You. Help me to be faithful, whatever my circumstances.

I praise You for Your reinforcing presence!

God's Blessed Man

Psalm 40.
Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust (v. 4).

Lord, no man is blessed who does not find relief from guilt. When one's sins outnumber the hairs on his head, his primary need is a savior. In the "mud and mire" of desperate situations, the need of deliverance is uppermost. You came through for the psalmist. Proud men and false gods were no help. They could only worsen the problem. But You heard his cry and lifted him from despair to joy.

No man is blessed who lacks a valid and durable reason for living. "To do your will" from one's heart is the answer to the cry for meaning. "Your law within my heart"—that alone keeps life from becoming a disappointing hoax.

The psalm is intensely personal. "I" and "my" dominate, reminding me that secondhand religion is empty ritual, devoid of power to save and satisfy. But personal does not mean individual. "My God" is also "our God." The personal victories are recounted "in the great assembly." As a result "many" see, hear, and trust in You.

Salvation from You, service to others--these are the elements of blessedness. They arise at the point of answered prayer, prayer urgent in its appeal--"do not delay." For king or commoner, this is true. For me, this has proved true.

Life Boomerangs

Psalm 41.
Blessed is the man who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble (v. 1).

The psalmist was in trouble. He had sinned and needed forgiveness. He was sick and needed healing. He was ringed with enemies and needed defense. He comes to the temple, to the priests, for supplication and assurance. There he is told that the Lord will treat him as he has treated others. The sick man who was helpful to others in their sickness and trouble will have the Lord as his doctor and nurse!

Lord, in many places Your word declares that life is a boomerang. We reap what we sow. We receive what we give. "What goes around comes around." That bit of folk wisdom was born of experience and observation. It can be learned as well from reading Your word.

Recognizing this truth, the psalmist prays for mercy. What man would dare pray for absolute justice? Mercy that forgives, reconciles, heals is what I need from You, Lord. And You grant it--glory to Your name!

Lord, I will be judged by the Golden Rule. Help me to live by it. Help me to do to others what I want them to do to me, and what I want You to do to me.

The Soul Athirst

Psalm 42
When can I go and meet with God? (v. 2).

Misery, memory, mourning, mercy--these words describe the psalmist's plight and its remedy, Lord. And if they do not describe mine today, who knows when they will fit like skin?

He was in misery. He thirsted for You as a deer pursued through dry terrain "pants for streams of water." Troubled and ill, he was isolated from the place of worship, where Your presence had been so real and satisfying to him.

He resorted to memory, but it failed to help. Recalling happier times in Your house with Your people only served to sharpen the anguish of his present situation. As a consequence he was "downcast" and "mourning." He feels "forgotten" by You--a terrible inward suffering.

The answer to his plight is mercy. He hopes in You, confident that You will rescue and restore because Your love abides day and night.

Since Jesus came, and since the Holy Spirit was given as an abiding Comforter, a meeting place with You can be anywhere at anytime. The private tryst does not replace in value or joy our corporate worship, but it has sustained the sick, the isolated, the imprisoned, sometimes for years on end.

I praise You for Your reinforcing presence!

 Anticipated Rescue

Psalm 43.
I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (v. 5).

This psalm, Lord, reads like a third verse of the previous psalm. A common lament and a common refrain bind the two psalms. Perhaps a disconnected psalm is a fitting symbol for a disjointed life.

In any case, the psalmist knows that wishful thinking and happy memories will not rescue him from "the enemy" who causes his misery. Only divine deliverance will restore him to "the altar of God" as a praise-filled worshiper.

Thus he prays for Your light and truth to guide him back to the temple "where you dwell" in a special sense. You alone can "vindicate" and "rescue" him. So confident is he that You will, that he reproves his downcast soul and anticipates the deliverance that will convert mourning into joy: "I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

Lord, Your light and truth shone in Jesus Christ, to guide me from darkness and delusion unto You. I praise You for Him who gave His life to give me life. The "altar" at which I worship is His cross. There I learned that I was elected, not rejected, and soon I was no longer dejected. Through Him, You became "my joy and my delight." And this You will be forever!

Where Was God?

Psalm 44
Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love (v. 26).

Israel lost the battle and consternation prevailed. Where was God? Why did He allow the humiliating defeat and retreat? They had kept covenant with You; why did You not keep covenant with them? They had not forgotten You; why had You forgotten them? They had not trusted in their weaponry but in Your might. Where was the God of whom their fathers boasted--the God whose "right hand" had smitten their foes because "you loved them"?

They felt sold out, Lord. King, army, and people sought an answer. They got no answer, but they wisely decided that Your love endured, despite the apparent contradiction of tragic circumstances. Their lament was turned to prayer: "Rise up and help us; redeem us because of You unfailing love."

Lord, nothing is harder to bear than a defeat that seems senseless. To suffer because I have been unfaithful and need discipline is bearable. But to do my best for You and then feel the shattering humiliation of failure--that is unendurable.

What can be done when nothing makes sense, when no answers are given? Just keep trusting Your love and praying for Your help--that all I can do. And when I do, I may lose a skirmish but never the war. Praise Your name!

The Righteous King

Psalm 45.
Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom (v. 6).

I know, Lord, that this psalm was penned as a wedding song for a Hebrew king. It praises the groom. You had anointed him as the royal agent of Your covenant with Israel. His success in battle is assured and his dynasty is secured as he fulfills his role as Your representative. His throne is then Your throne.

The psalm praises the bride for her beauty, and above all for her privilege as his queen and the mother of his royal heirs. She will share his glory and honor and praise.

No king in Israel ever matched the psalm until Jesus came! You have given Him the kingdom that is everlasting. Only that kingdom can survive whose king reigns in perfect justice. Only Jesus so reigns. All other human rulers, in Israel and among the nations, flawed their reigns with injustice, many with gross immorality. Jesus alone is fully righteous, therefore fully qualified to share Your throne and administer Your covenants.

He shall reign forever. His kingdom cannot be shaken. He will never abdicate and will never be defeated. He has conquered death and lives forever. How wonderful to be His subject!

Ever Present Help

Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (v. 1).

Lord, I know that serving You does not exempt from trouble. Indeed, trouble is often increased precisely because one serves You. When trouble comes, You are the refuge in which I shelter. Your are the strength by which I stand.

When nature is in an uproar, You are "refuge and strength." Quaking earth and raging waters cannot terrify those who trust in You. You are present in the storm and chaos, as surely as You are present in sunshine and calm. You are sovereign Creator, undaunted by creation's wildest moods.

When nations are in an uproar, You are "refuge and strength." The convulsions of history no more triumph over You than do the convulsions of nature. "Kingdoms fall," but not Your kingdom. It abides, remaining intact through all the wars that topple thrones and alter maps.

You will be exalted among nations and throughout earth. Ultimately, You will break all bows, shatter all spears, and burn all chariots. Human weapons will be destroyed and peace will extend "to the ends of the earth."

Meanwhile, You remain the "ever present help" of Your people. That help is sufficient; their victory is assured.

The Lord Reigns

Psalm 47.
How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth! (v. 2).

This is language almost totally alien to the present generation, Lord. Who praises You as King over all the earth today? A few religious diehards who form a subculture largely ignored by the "movers and shakers" of society, and by those moved and shaken when these godless leaders act.

But, Lord, this has always been true. Your kingship has never been recognized and celebrated except by those whose vision has been clarified by faith. There have always been humanistic, secular, and pagan explanations for what You are doing in the world. Those who propose such analyses look with contempt or amusement upon those who celebrate Your lordship with joyful worship.

I'm glad I joined the celebrants, Lord. The joy and peace and meaning You bring to my life make it easy to endure the contempt of unbelievers. The earth is Yours. Its future is Your decision. History, with its spectacle of rising and falling nations, bloody with wounds received and inflicted, has its terminus at Your judgment seat. Jesus died, rose again, ascended to universal lordship, and one day will be acknowledged as King of all the earth. That's my faith and it sure beats the skeptic's unbelief in benefits conferred.

Marching to Zion

Psalm 48.
Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell them to the next generation (vv. 12-13).

Today, Lord, that walk is short and saddening. The "fortress" is occupied by a nation of largely unbelieving people. The once proud temple has been reduced to a tiny "wailing wall" where former glories and present miseries are lamented. Kings do not tremble at the sight of Jerusalem and the temple anymore. What are the prospects of earthly Zion? You alone know.

But You are "God for ever and ever" and "our guide for ever and ever"--"even to the end." You are guiding those who trust in You to an eternal city where Your immediate and incarnate presence makes a temple of stones unnecessary. The true end of the patriarchs' faith is Jesus Christ and heaven--that's what every rising generation needs to be told.

"We're marching to Zion," the Church sings. We make the journey, not as tourists to exclaim over ancient sites, but as children of God going home to enjoy His presence and to celebrate His "unfailing love" in endless praise.

You are my God and my guide. I could want nothing more, I would be lost and ruined with anything less. Lead on, O Lord! My heart and feet are attuned to Your cadence.

Death Is Coming

Psalm 49.
…man, despite his riches, does not endure (v. 12).

How foolish they are who "boast of their great riches" and are "destined for the grave." Lord, life is too short and death is too certain for us to make the pursuit of wealth our priority or the possession of wealth our security.

No man can ransom his life or another's. No measure of wealth, no pleasure from wealth, keeps death from one's door. Wealth is something one will lose or leave, and a man is a fool who makes Mammon his god. "Princely mansions" will be exchanged for grave lots, and all the status symbols and toys will be left behind: "he will take nothing with him when he dies."

The wise live for the One who is eternal. You have power over life and death. All that ultimately matters is my relationship to You.

Things? Where they are concerned death makes me an instant pauper. Friends? I will be to them a receding memory. Enemies? They will rush to contend with still-living antagonists. I need salvation and a Savior, and in You I have Someone and something that is death-proof and ages-abiding.

"But God will redeem my soul from the grave; he will surely take me to himself." The man who can say that to death is a success. The man who cannot is a failure.

Comes the Judge!

Psalm 50.
Our God comes and will not be silent…that he may judge his people (vv. 3, 4).

Lord, only You can truly judge Your people, for only You fully know them. You see their motives and intentions more clearly than others can see their actions.

Nothing is hidden from You. When Your people break covenant with You, You become their Accuser and Judge, saying, "I will testify against you." You do not let us hide behind rituals. Our offerings cannot deceive or bribe You. "You desire truth in the inner parts"--and You know when it is or is not there.

You "will not be silent"--and You cannot be silenced. In human courts the guilty have often escaped punishment by intimidating or eliminating witnesses. None can daunt or destroy You, and Your righteousness will not allow You to connive at sin. "God himself is judge"--there is no escape for wrongdoers.

Those who keep covenant with You need not fear. You will "show him the salvation of God." He will call upon You "in the day of trouble" and You will "deliver" him. He will honor You, not with empty rituals but with sincere "thank offerings."

Lord, You have spoken as my Savior. I will not fear when You speak as my Judge.

A Pure Heart

Psalm 51.
Create in me a pure heart, O God (v. 10).

My sins, O Lord, are rooted in my heart. I cannot blame them on external factors or other persons. They are my choices, my actions, arising from my heart.

I do not discount the power of negative influences, Lord. The psalmist was aware of a defective heritage and environment, and so am I. While these facilitate evildoing, they do not necessitate evildoing. The fault lies, not in my stars, not in my peers, not in my ancestors, not in my neighborhood, but in me.

Only You can radically change my heart. Only the power that translated Your thought into our world can make me inwardly clean and steadfastly loyal. I can resolve and strive, but my exertions will only result in repeated failures. You can make me "whiter than snow," but I can only rearrange the dirt. I cast myself in utter helplessness upon Your "mercy," Your "unfailing love", Your "great compassion," Your creative and renewing power. What I am is my problem; what You are is my hope.

I bring You "a broken spirit" and an earnest prayer. These You "will not despise." You will cleanse and I will sing, I will praise, I will teach. Amen.

Trust That Transforms

Psalm 52.
But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God (v. 8).

Lord, the "mighty man" who plots destruction and practices deceit will have a rude awakening. He trusted in his riches and abused his power, unconcerned about "the eyes of God" which marked his course of boastful evil. But his judgment approaches and cannot be stayed. You will bring him "down to everlasting ruin."

How wonderful, by contrast, to be a tree of Your planting, adorning Your house and glorifying Your name. I would not envy any sinner his wealth, power, or fame, for all men have an appointment with judgment.

The wealth he cannot keep and the judgment he cannot escape conspire to destroy the man who refuses You as a stronghold. Those who flee to You for salvation will live to praise You "in the presence of your saints" in this world and in the next.

The character and destiny that so endure are not the product of human efforts, Lord. They come by trusting in Your "unfailing love" forever. They are not products of our genius; they are Your gifts to the penitent. You have conferred them upon my trusting heart, even mine! Surely, “your name is good"--or mine would be mud!

God Looks Down

Psalm 53.
God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God (v. 2).

Lord, did You see any then? Do You see any now? The psalmist sounds totally negative: "there is no one who does good, not even one." Surely, though, he knows of some wise enough to seek You, some who call upon You. In other psalms a righteous, believing remnant is recognized. Even here, in writing these words about "fools" who live as though God did not live, he certainly excludes himself from the category of corrupt practical atheists.

Lord, when You look down I want to be looking up. I want, in the worst of times, to be numbered with the best of folks, those who seek You, who call on You, who trust in You, who expect deliverance from You, who see beyond the present distresses to future occasions for rejoicing. I don't want my life determined by fools enroute to meet in judgment the God they deny in practice. I want it determined by the grace and wisdom You bestow.

In my heart and with my lips I say, "God is." Let me affirm You by confessing Your name and doing Your will! Whatever it costs to be a wise man in a society of fools, help me to gladly bear the price.

The Good Name

Psalm 54.
I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good (v. 6).

Your name, O Lord, identifies You as present, living, and active. You are not remote, nor are You aloof. You are the God who cares deeply and acts accordingly. To invoke Your name is to assure victory--not in some automatic or magical way, but as "the one who sustains" Your people.

You save "by your name," but that name is never at my control, never subject to my manipulation. Your name, and the deliverance it implies, enters my life through prayer, and prayer is my confession of dependence, or weakness, of trust. In the face of threats I am a goner unless You choose to hear me and come to my rescue.

Your name is "good," therefore Your might is exercised justly, never arbitrarily or capriciously. You are good when You forgive the penitent. You are good when You punish the arrogant. You are good whether Your response to my prayer is "Yes" or "No" or "Now" or "Later." Always, in all situations, You live up to Your name.

Reason to Trust

Psalm 55.
But as for me, I trust in you (v. 23).

Lord, this psalm really speaks to me.

It begins with prayer and ends in trust. Prayer is vain where faith is absent. A cry for help is a waste of breath if You are unable or unwilling to help. You are neither.

The poor psalmist had reason to pray. The wicked threatened and a friend betrayed. He lived as a stranger in a city filled with strife and violence. Lord, I live in that place; I know those people. In his anxiety, the psalmist longed for escape--to be like a dove at peace in the wilderness. I know that feeling.

But if he had reason to pray, he had reason also to trust. Your power supplied a reason--You are "enthroned forever." Evil rulers and their cohorts rise and fall. I have seen ruthless dictators, savage and lethal, come to power and sink to oblivion. Your throne abides.

Your loyal love is a reason to trust. The one who hears "the voice of the enemy" in raging hatred, and the voice of a betrayer in buttery deceit, needs to hear the voice of a steadfast friend. You speak the promise, "Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Your loyal love does not immunize against trouble, but it sustains in trouble.

Fear and Faith

Psalm 56
When I am afraid, I will trust in you (v. 3).

You know, Lord, how much there is in life to inspire fear. Among the causes today, in this country, are violent thugs who lurk and scheme and waylay the innocent to rob and kill them. They don't fear You and don't value life. They are every bit the equal, in murderous intentions and actions, of the "enemies" who pursued and attacked the ancient psalmist.

I confess, O Lord, that streets and strangers chill me in a way never true when I was young. There were evil people and violent crimes then, but never on such a scale as now.

"I am afraid" can only be remedied by "I will trust." Like the psalmist, my confidence will be grounded upon Your word, not upon arms of flesh.

"God is for me"--I believe that. It doesn't secure me from being wronged, injured, or killed--as I know from reading Your word and looking upon life. It does mean that in the worst of times I am in the best of hands. What You permit may sometimes puzzle, but it will never defeat me. The "light of life" doesn't end where violence occurs or death comes. It continues forever. I will walk before You now and always. I will be afraid at times; I will trust at all times.

The Steadfast Heart

Psalm 57.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast (v. 7).

The steadfast heart is hidden. "I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed." Lord, how often have I sought that refuge! How comforting it always proved. To know that anyone or anything that threatens me must go through You to reach me bestows a great sense of peace and security on my tested soul.

The steadfast heart is happy. Even in "the midst of lions" it exclaims, "I will sing and make music." In a dungeon at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns. They interpreted the darkness as "the shadow of your wings" and vented their joy in worship. Lord, I know that feeling, too. You give songs in the night.

The steadfast heart is hungry. Its appetite for communion with the saving God prompts early rising and eager devotions: "I will awaken the dawn."

Lord, I can understand the movement of this psalm from "my soul" to "the nations." When You send from heaven to save me, I want the whole world to know of Your great love and towering faithfulness. I want the whole world bathed in Your glory. No wonder churches have recited this psalm on Easter mornings! No wonder this psalm excites my heart today!