Devotions In Psalms

Judgment and Joy

Psalm 58.
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked (v. 10).

Lord, the righteous are never allowed to avenge themselves. They can only submit to You as the One to whom vengeance belongs. They must not appoint themselves as instruments of Your vengeance. You alone are free to choose the time and means and agents of Your wrath upon evildoers.

But the righteous will rejoice when You judge the world. How terrible if the wicked rulers of earth, who devise evil in their hearts and do violence with their hands, were allowed to continue forever. It is false sentiment and not true faith that would refuse to rejoice in Your true and righteous judgments. Indeed, if You never exacted vengeance Your character would be impugned and Your reign corrupted. You cannot love righteousness without hating evil, nor can Your people. Your vengeance will establish justice and defeat evil. The alternative to judgment is not forgiveness, for men cannot be forced to repent and seek mercy. The alternative is the triumph of chaos, and that cannot happen in Your universe.

Some may feel morally superior to the psalmist who prayed for the destruction of "Mighty ones" who corrupted and bloodied the world--but did any Christian really grieve when Hitler or Stalin were destroyed?

God Loves and Rules

Psalm 59.
I will sing of your love, for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble (v. 16).

Lord, my enemies are neither as many nor as savage as were those of whom the psalmist complained. Nonetheless, evildoers do oppose me when I speak for You. Always, too, my "enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). I don't want to be his next meal. Therefore, like the psalmist, I pray, "Deliver me from my enemies, O God."

Like him, too, whether awaiting deliverance or celebrating it, "I will sing of your love." In the truth of your love I find my refuge. You are strength for the weak, a fortress for the hounded. In You lies the security of Your people--an ample reason for songs of praise.

I do not have the psalmist's talent for song but I share his motive for singing. You are "my loving God" who denies triumph to my enemies. The night of menace may be long, but "the morning" of Your saving action is sure to come. Believing that, I cannot repress the hymns of praise that flood my heart and spill through my lips.

"I watch for you," my Shield, my Strength, my Savior. The "times of trouble come," but You come also, ruling over Your weakest and least deserving children--over me!

Past Promise, Future Victory

Psalm 60.
With God we will gain the victory (v. 12)

Lord, how pertinent is this ancient psalm to modern civilization. Your people stagger in shock from "desperate times." It seems "all hell has broken loose" in our ravaged world, and promises of Your sovereign intervention seem to have been invalidated or forgotten by an angry Promiser. No one can help but You and You seem in no hurry to deliver.

With equal measures of complaint and petition the psalmist endures his trial of faith. He pleads for You to act, to judge the enemy, to restore the chosen nation, to redeem the past promises with future victory--and soon!

O Lord, I know the feeling he was experiencing whenever I read the paper or catch a television newscast. Surely "the help of man is worthless" to rescue bankrupt and warring nations from total destruction. But where is God, and what is He waiting for?

All we can do, Lord, is what the anguished psalmist did--continue to cling to the promises, continue to pray for Your right hand punch, continue to affirm in faith the coming King and kingdom. "With God we will gain the victory." Maranatha!

Prayer from the Brink

Psalm 61.
From the ends of the earth I call to you (v. 2).

Lord, the scholars who instruct me are nearly unanimous in identifying this psalm as either prayer for a king or prayer by a king. How, then, is it relevant to me, a common man in a republican country?

Well, kings and commoners alike may be depressed by a sense of distance from You. Kings and commoners alike may long for Your presence and protection when life grows stormy. Kings and commoners alike have access to You through prayer. Kings and commoners alike should "sing praise to your name...day after day" for answered prayer and fulfilled promises. Yes, Lord, this psalm is mine, helping me to pray, trust, and render thanks for all Your gifts.

Lord, "the ends of the earth" are not geographical for me, but existential and spiritual. You seem remote at times, though You are closer than breathing. This has been true in sickness, temptation, and depression. But You are "only a prayer away," as someone has put it. Prayer closes the distance and remembered mercies enhance my faith.

You are not partial to kings; a commoner like me is the object of Your "love and faithfulness." Praise Your name forever! From the brink of disaster I can call to You and be rescued. I can be brought from the edge of ruin to the center of the Rock.

From Rest to Reward

Psalm 62.
My soul finds rest in God alone…. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has (vv. 1, 12).

The movement of this psalm delights me, Lord. It begins with rest and closes with reward.

The rest comes, not when all is sunny and happy, but while the storm still rages. Assaulted by deceitful persons, who bless with their mouths while cursing in their hearts, the psalmist was painfully aware of his weakness. He felt like a tottering wall under attack by battering rams. His rest was not self-confidence; it was God-confidence: "My soul finds rest in God alone." "He alone is my rock."

False refuge is denounced. To trust in men invites ruin, for "highborn" and "lowborn" alike are fragile. They carry no more weight than a breath on a scale. To trust riches is to lean on a breaking reed, for one will lose them or leave them. There is but one adequate refuge--the God to whom people can pour out their hearts in times of trouble.

Lord, I rest in You, not in people or things, but in You--"my mighty rock." I rest in Your love, love that cannot fail to reward those who serve Your purposes. Not what I have but what I do will count in the end. Help me, then, to do Your will, resting in You when the pathway of obedient service leads through stormy trials.

 Intensely Personal, Fully Satisfying

Psalm 63.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you (v. 1).

Lord, I rejoice that a relationship with You can be so intensely personal. To say "the God of Israel," or "the God of my fathers" has immense value. But to know You as "my God" is infinitely more. You fill the universe, and yet You condescend to fill my small undeserving life. How great and gracious are You, my God.

You are my God--not that I possess You but that You possess me. You are not at my disposal, I am Your servant. Always You transcend my thoughts, always You retain Your freedom. When You seem remote, I thirst for You as a weary traveler in an arid wilderness craves water. When You draw near, I feast on You and my soul is satisfied. I remember past mercies and glories and, behold, they repeat themselves as present experiences. I lift empty hands to You and You fill them with countless blessings. "In the sanctuary" I behold You, but You are as truly present in "the watches of the night." Wherever I am, whatever is happening to me, "your right hand upholds me." In You I am both satisfied and secure.

"I remember...I sing...I stay close..." Lord, I know just how that ancient psalmist felt. I, too, have found that "your love is better than life." You are my God! Glory! Glory! Glory!

The Shooters Shot

Psalm 64.
But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down (v. 7).

Lord, how terrifying are the depths of unhealed human nature. Sin is deeply rooted in hearts before it emerges into action. There are persons so wicked that they plot the destruction of “the innocent,” then carry out their secret schemes by ambushing their victims in surprise attacks.

All hearts, all lives, would be this abandoned to evil were it not for Your grace. In contrast to “the wicked” are “the righteous,” made so by Your pardoning, renewing, cleansing grace. The wicked are so by nature, the righteous are so only by grace.

Where you are not allowed to forgive sin, You cannot be stopped from judging it. The shooters will be shot. The ambushers will be ambushed. As suddenly as they attacked their unsuspecting victims, You will bring swift and awful destruction upon them, loosing the self-destructive forces inherent in all wicked words and deeds.

A judgment is coming that will disclose Your righteousness and power, convincing “all mankind” of Your sovereign right and might. Until then, You are the refuge of the righteous and the source of their joy. I praise You, Lord, that I have found the hiding place and share the joyful celebration of Your saving love.

Prayer and Praise

Psalm 65
You crown the year with your bounty (v. 11).

Lord, any person can appreciate this psalm, but only those who have farmed the land can fully appreciate it. I was city-bred, but You allowed me to live in the country—and even plow with mules!--long enough to realize how vital the rains were to farmers. I can understand the urgency of prayers for rain and the exuberant praise for bumper crops expressed in this psalm.

I can understand, too, how drought and scarcity would impress farmers as signs of Your displeasure, and serve to prompt them to repentance and to prayers for forgiveness. Even greater than our need for bread is our need for atonement and forgiveness. This need You have provided for "with awesome deeds of righteousness"--the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Your holy Son, Jesus.

You are the God who hears prayer, prayer for pardon, prayer for bread. You shower mercy upon our hearts and upon our farms. "You crown the year with your bounty," causing hills and valleys to echo with songs of joy. "Praise befits you," indeed, and my heart joins today all those who celebrate Your love and power and wisdom. In Your house and from my heart, I sing Your praise. Amen.

Exciting Invitations

Psalm 66.
Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf…. Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me (vv. 5 16).

Lord, these are the grandest invitations I ever received. I was given a ticket to a White House reception for a visiting queen and chose not to use it. How glad I am that I responded positively to the psalmist's invitations to "come and see" and "come and listen."

In worship with others I "saw" Your awesome works, so crucially important for the salvation of all people. In the communion service we remembered and re-enacted the third Exodus. I was "there" when Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins. You redeem forever in love and rule forever in power (vv. 6 7).

In worship with others I heard testimonies of those whom You heard when they cried to You for salvation. I made their testimony my own. Not cherishing sin, but deploring and confessing it, I prayed and You saved. What You did for mankind became what You did for me. Ever since, O Lord, I have known what it feels like to want to shout and sing Your praise!

No, I didn't see the queen, and have no regrets. But I met the King, and You have made life glorious through the years.

Blessing and Praise

Psalm 67.
May God be gracious to us and bless us…. May the peoples praise you, O God (vv. 1, 3).

The "us" is Israel, but "the peoples" include "the nations of the earth." Through the one Your blessing is channeled to the fortunate many. This has been true, Lord, of Your greatest blessings. Through Israel You have given the Bible and the Savior. Thus Your "salvation" has been "known on earth...among all nations." Thus You have ruled and guided nations, creating global joy.

Your "blessing" is comprehensive, Lord. It ranges from bumper crops to pardoned sinners, and links worship services to daily lives. Your face shines upon Your people to enhance the quality of their lives in all aspects. Your blessing is as broad as our needs.

The human counterpart to divine blessing is praise. As all peoples and all nations have been recipients of Your gracious acts, all should join in praising You. Indeed, grateful people everywhere, who recognize the source of every good, praise You. To "the ends of the earth" glad voices are raised in praise to You.

My voice is added to theirs today. You have blessed and You are blessing; I have praised and I am praising.

The God Who Comes and Stays

Psalm 68.
May God arise, may his enemies be scattered…. You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary (vv. 1, 35).

Lord, this psalm seems longer than it is because its many parts are so disconnected. No wonder one brilliant scholar concluded that Psalm 68 was a first-line index of a number of psalms!

Yet, it doesn't lack focus. It all centers upon You in Your power to deliver Your people, provide for their maintenance, and inspire them to grateful praise.

You are "the God who comes," as some have expressed it-- the God who strides into battle, conquers His foes, and leads a victory parade. Before You the enemy flees, his vaunted strength dissipating "as wax melts before the fire."

You are also "the God who abides," who chooses a sanctuary where worshipers may throng to celebrate Your presence and power. You not only deliver Your people, You dwell in their midst.

You are on the battlefield in the times of crisis. You are also, as Savior, the bearer of our daily burdens (v. 19). What a God! I rejoice to be one of Your people.

Seven names are given You in this one psalm, along with a half-dozen colorful epithets. All of them together do not tell the half of who You are. "Praise be to God," the One who comes, the One who stays.

Help! Hurry!

Psalm 69.
Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble (v. 17).

Lord, I've been there--neck deep in trouble, exhausted from prayer, needing help in a hurry. You always came through with "grace to help" in "time of need." At times You cut the margins close, but You never failed.

I don't pretend, Lord, to have suffered as greatly as this unnamed "servant" who speaks in Psalm 69. He was at the point of death. Friends betrayed him, family deserted him, cruelly worsening his misery. He was slandered, robbed, and shamed by men who pretended a concern for justice. All this he endured because of loyalty to his mission and zeal for Your house. Only the treatment accorded to Jesus exceeds the portrait of undeserved agony drawn in this psalm.

Still the suffering servant was confident of rescue, and prepared to praise You in song when deliverance came. You are the one constant when all life seems to have turned upside down. "The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people" (v. 33). Your unfailing love and unstinting mercy is our sure hope when we are helpless prisoners of circumstances that threaten our ruin..

Your cosmic love, deserving cosmic praise (v. 34), includes the helpless individual. That's me.

A 911 Call

Psalm 70.
Hasten, O God, to save me…. O Lord, do not delay (vv.1, 5).

This psalm is short and urgent, Lord, as most cries for help are. It has a "mayday" quality. It's a 911 call. It's a drowning man shouting to the lifeguard.

Who was this man who felt like a goner? What had chased him to the cliff's edge of desperation? We don't know, and that's good, Lord. I can fill in the blanks with my own name and troubles, for I often need this prayer for help in a hurry.

What is stated and implied about You comforts my soul. Implied is the conviction that You care and will come to the rescue of the "poor and needy" who call upon You. You are neither indifferent nor inadequate. You can and will draw near to those "who seek you."

Lord, how many times I have urged You to hasten and help! You were close enough to defy time, mighty enough to defy need, and loving enough to defy cost. "I am poor and needy.... You are my help and my deliverer." Between my desperate situation and Your adequate salvation lies only the plea, "Come quickly." And You are always on time and always triumphant. "Let God be exalted!"

Living with Purpose

Psalm 71.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation (v. 18).

Though "old and gray," Lord, a man still wants to live. I know! I know! Perhaps prophets and psalmists, kings and commoners, of the Old Testament period would not have clung so tightly to earthly life had they enjoyed the revelation concerning resurrection and heaven that brightens the pages of the New Testament. And yet, even with that clear hope, I pray to live when faced with death. Lord, I'm like the fellow who said, "I'm ready to go but not raring to go."

Though "old and gray," a man wants more than merely to live. A person needs something to live for, a reason to face each new day. To tell a younger generation of Your power, to tell of Your righteous acts all day long, is the finest reason any old person could have for living. To commend You as "rock" and "refuge" and "redeemer" in a world where You are so desperately needed is high purpose, exciting purpose.

"Old and gray,"-- that's me, Lord. My days are numbered and the numbers are declining. As long as You grant me life and strength, I intend to "proclaim Your righteousness, yours alone."

Hail, King Jesus

Psalm 72.
All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (v. 11).

No doubt, Lord, this psalm was a prayer for Israel's king, especially on his coronation day. Many suppose it was David’s prayer for Solomon. If so, it remained tragically unanswered. Indeed, even the best, wisest, and strongest of Israel's monarchs failed to fulfill the descriptions and petitions of the psalm.

I read the psalm today, Lord, and my heart exclaims, "Hail, King Jesus!" He judges in righteousness. He defends the afflicted and delivers the oppressed. He pities the weak and saves the needy. He does "marvelous deeds," the very works of God by which redemption is provided for, and offered to, sinners. He endures through all generations. And He is destined to rule from sea to sea. He will receive recognition and homage from all kings and all nations. All nations receive blessing through Him, all nations will ascribe blessing to Him.

Lord, the psalmist did not have the Christ in mind when he wrote, but I sure have Him in mind when I read. Lord Jesus, You are the King Eternal. You are my King. This ancient psalm beautifully finds its fulfillment in You. To its truth my heart says, "Amen and amen."

The Sanctuary Steadies

Psalm 73.
…I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood…(v. 17).

The sanctuary, Lord, is a saving place, for there in worship one may learn what is real, what is illusion; what is enduring, what is ephemeral; what is significant, what is unimportant. It is a place for corrected vision and re-ordered life. I've found it so.

In the sanctuary I experience a new awareness of You. You are the refuge of hurting people, and You comfort them, not by reversing their fortunes but by cleansing their hearts. The "pure in heart" see God and know what really matters.

In the sanctuary I formulate a new definition of good. Good is not the prosperity of the wicked but the presence of God. The health and wealth of famous sinners can disappear overnight. Things have no durable value. What is good is "to be near God" (v. 28), for You alone can satisfy the heart's craving for reality.

In the sanctuary I realize a new dimension of glory. "Glory" is the "afterward" of an earthly life guided, not by the warped notions of the wicked, but by "your counsel." The path of glory leads, beyond the time when flesh and heart fail, to a reception into heaven. Poverty or plenty, storm or calm, hardly matter in the light of that "final destiny" (v. 17).

"Why"--The Question in Crises

Psalm 74.
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them! (v. 11).

Lord, I can empathize with this frustrated, puzzled, and angry psalmist. Your silence and inactivity when things are falling apart result in crises of faith. "Why" is the language of broken people in desperate situations, whose prayers seem to bounce from the ceiling unanswered.

The psalmist knew You could intervene and bring deliverance. Employing the emphatic phrase, "It was you who...," he rehearses Your prior deeds as Creator and Victor. Your hand is not withheld because You lack power to throw a knockout punch.

Knowing You could change the situation, the psalmist was convinced that You should do so. As Israel's covenant-making God, this was "your cause." "Your sanctuary" had been desecrated and burned. "Your foes" mocked as "your people" were destroyed. "Your covenant" named You as their defender. Arrogant pagans had scorned "Your name." So do something! Take "your hand" from "your garment" and smash "your enemies."

Lord, You do keep Your promises--but You decide when and how. I can only wait and hurt in faith until You deliver me. Give me grace to do so. Nothing is harder than waiting with unanswered "whys" on my lips.

In His Time

Psalm 75.
I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly (v. 2).

Lord, when my oppressed spirit raises the "why" of Psalm 74, then I need to read Psalm 75. I need the reminder and the assurance that You are in charge, and in Your own chosen time You will set things right.

I cannot manipulate You, not by the recital of my troubles, not by the desperation in my prayers. These are not inappropriate, but neither are they decisive. In Your own time and way You will judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous. My words to You betray my doubts and fears, my confusions and hopes. You words to me encourage faith, patience, and thanksgiving.

You will restore order to a morally chaotic world. You will dehorn the arrogant tyrants and rehorn Your deprived and oppressed people. The wicked shall drink Your cup of wrath to its dregs. The meek shall inherit the earth.

These things I affirm but cannot prove. I trust what You have promised will be fulfilled. In dark hours and rough places, "I will sing praise to the God of Jacob." Lord, my times are in Your hands. Your times decide my destiny. "Your name is near," therefore my heart is still. I wait in faith and hope and love.

Awesome Anger

Psalm 76.
Who can stand before you when you are angry? (v. 7).

Your anger, Lord, is rarely mentioned in today's pulpits. Preachers are eager to seem "positive" whenever they preach. Preference is given to what people want to hear, not to what they need to hear.

Prophets and psalmists had the courage to preach the whole truth. They knew You were angered by human rebellion and said so. They knew Your wrath flamed against those who afflicted Your defenseless people and said so. They did not empty Your love of its capacity for moral indignation; they did not reduce it to sentimentality. They rejoiced in Your saving love expressed as judgment upon tyrants.

Your wrath is terrible, Lord. Unleashed against evil men it leaves them defenseless and terrified. Kings and armies, however well equipped for war, were helpless against the power of Your righteous wrath. When they met You their weapons were shattered and their corpses littered the fields. As a consequence, "the land feared and was silent."

You are the "One to be feared," not trifled with. Your outpoured wrath restrains evil and elicits praise.

Lord, Your "name is great," and not the least because "you pronounced judgment" from heaven. Your awesome anger is invincible.

Has His Promise Failed?

Psalm 77.
Will the Lord reject us forever? (v. 7).

Feeling abandoned by God and pouring out unanswered cries for help--this is the deepest grief that a devout person can experience. The terrible thought, edging close to blasphemy, persists unbidden: Has God changed? Has His compassion failed? Are His promises no longer true? Only those who have wrestled with these thoughts through sleepless nights can imagine the psalmist’s anguish. Lord, I’ve been there, and thinking the unthinkable creates horror that defies description.

Remembering past miracles does not always stimulate present faith. Sometimes the sharp contrast between God’s saving actions then and His apparent inactivity now serves only to heighten the pain and to crush the wounded soul. Remembered love and deeds and songs accent the fact that nothing is being done to relieve the distress now consuming the helpless sufferer.

The psalmist does not answer these tormenting questions with a booming “NO!” I sense, Lord, that he was nearing the point of recovered faith and hope, but he never says so. I know, from my own experience, that You came through for him, and that He lifted new songs to You in joyful thanksgiving. Your trackless paths through mighty waters (v. 19) brought You to his rescue, as they have to mine.