Devotions In Psalms

Forever Right

Psalm 119:137-144.
Righteous are you, O Lord, and your laws are right…. fully trustworthy…. forever right… (vv. 137, 138, 144).

Lord, You do what You are. Your laws necessarily reflect Your character. What You demand of me, what You promise to me, are always consistent with Your being. Pagan gods were inconsistent and inconstant. They could not be loved or trusted, but were notoriously capricious. Not You.

Because You are unfailingly righteous, Your word is "fully trustworthy." What You promise I can, in today's parlance, "take to the bank." The number of politicians, business leaders, educators, and preachers who have been exposed in recent months as liars and thieves is a national scandal. How good to know that One speaks whose words are completely worthy of trust.

Because nature and words are one in You, those words are "forever right." A higher or truer standard for judging my character and behavior will never emerge in the future. What You say today will not be falsified tomorrow. Because "Your righteousness is everlasting," so is the rightness of Your words.

"Your promises have been thoroughly tested" over centuries of time. They abide, fully trustworthy, forever right. I make them the foundation for my life.

Prayer and Promise

Psalm 119:145-152.
I call with all my heart; answer me, O Lord, and I will obey your decrees (v. 145)

Prayer and pledge are the stuff of this passage, Lord, and they are the stuff of my own life.

The urgency of the psalmist's prayer implies a desperate situation. He puts his whole heart into it. He rises "before dawn" to "cry for help." He keeps late hours to "meditate on your promises," searching for bases for his petitions and faith.

For all his strenuous effort, he does not expect an answer just because of his urgency. He puts his hope "in your word," and awaits reply "in accordance with your love." Our works never obligate You, nor do they need to. You save us because You love us. Enough!

The psalmist not only reflects upon Your promises, he makes one himself: "I will obey your decrees." Only Your saving strength can enable that obedience. His promise is not a bargaining chip. He is simply affirming that renewed life will issue in renewed obedience.

Like him, O Lord, I stake my life on the God who is near and the word that is true. Since Your words “last forever” that fully covers present and future needs.

I call and You answer. That, Lord, is the summary of my life--my dependence, Your fidelity.

"My" and "Your"

Psalm 119:153-160.
Your compassion is great, O Lord; renew my life according to your laws (v. 156)

In this Resh strophe of Psalm 119 "my" and "your" predominate. The psalm is intensely personal, intensely relational.

The psalmist speaks of "my life," "my cause," "my suffering." His life was devoted to a cause, a cause determined by Your covenant, a cause that involved him in suffering. Your covenant set him on a collision course with Your enemies, and warfare and wounding resulted.

Against the need created by his life, cause, and suffering, he sets divine resources for help. He writes of "your love," "your compassion," and "your words." Your words take the form of "laws," "decrees," "statutes," "precepts," and "promises." You are love, and love engenders compassion, and compassion speaks the demands and promises by which our lives are made holy and helpful.

In his need, and in view of Your resources, the psalmist prayed, "Look," "deliver," "defend," "redeem," "renew," and "preserve." All these petitions affirm utter dependence on You.

Lord, what can I add to this list except an amen? My life, my cause, my suffering place me in the same situation of need. Your resources of love, compassion and words are my only hope. They are sufficient!

A Treasure Trove

Psalm 119:161-168.
I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil (v. 162).

The metaphor is military. The measure and value of the spoils he finds in the deserted camp of a vanquished foe happily surprise a triumphant warrior. His courage and fidelity are rewarded with great treasure.

I am engaged in warfare, Lord. Serving You brings me into conflict with those forces, demonic and human, that oppose Your work. You are my Commander and Deliverer, and through You I find great spoil. My treasures are not found in the enemy's camp, however, but in "your word."

My "great spoil" includes "great peace." "Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble" (v. 165). Peace in the midst of conflict, and from that peace a strength that keeps me from being knocked off my feet--what a treasure!

The "great spoil" produces "great love." "I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly." I obey You, Lord, not from loveless fear but from fearless love, knowing that You pity my weakness and forgive my blunders. "He remembers that we are dust," and I am one of the dustiest.

Great spoil, great peace, great love! No wonder the psalmist exclaims, "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws." Your precepts and promises shall have my constant praises, too.

The Seeking God

Psalm 119:169-176.
I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commandments (v. 176).

Sheep stray, not from deliberate rebellion but simply from careless inattention to danger. Attracted by the promise of rich grazing they keep nibbling and moving until they are lost. Then the promise proves false. The pleasures are outweighed by the perils, and the helpless stray bleats its misery in plaintive tones. I know! From past experience I know.

A lost sheep is a helpless animal. It cannot find its way but must be sought and saved by its caring shepherd. Lord, You sent Jesus to seek and save the lost. He is "the good shepherd" who gave His life for the sheep. He is "the great shepherd" who tends the flock. The Christian religion is the only world religion that posits a seeking God. In the others, Lord, men must seek their gods. But You are the Seeker and Savior of lost persons, and You quest for them at great cost to yourself. The "good shepherd" is also "the Lamb of God" sacrificed for the "sin of the world."

When he was lost the psalmist remembered Your words. In their promises lay his hope of deliverance. Thank You for the words that instrument our salvation and guide our lives. Keep me attentive to them lest I stray from You.

 Distress and Deliverance

Psalm 120.
I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me (v. 1).

"Lying lips" and "deceitful tongues" caused the psalmist's "distress." Lord, I've shared that distress. I recall a church member who deliberately slandered me. If people had believed her my ministry would have ended in disgrace.

I not only shared the psalmist's distress, I also adopted his strategy. He did not seek to vindicate or avenge himself. Instead, he placed the traducer in Your hands, as Paul did Alexander, who "strongly opposed" the gospel and greatly harmed the apostle. "He will punish you," says the psalmist, not "I will punish you." The psalmist was "a man of peace," the victim of unwanted conflict.

I, too, kept my peace and trusted You with my reputation and career. Looking back I am confident that I chose the right course. I prayed and You answered.

After years of self-destructive behavior, my slanderer faced a premature death. She called me to her bedside in the hospital, and I shared with her Your word and prayed for You to save her.

In every situation of distress, Lord, You have been my Savior and Friend. I praise You.

 

The Sleepless Sentinel

Psalm 121.
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth…. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life (vv. 2, 7).

How amazing! You are the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and yet You take a personal interest in the life, not only of a nation, but of an individual. I dare to believe that You watch over my life.

Unbelievers call that egotism. How wrong they are. The idea of Your caring watch does not exalt me; it deeply humbles me. I know that I don’t deserve Your care. You act on my behalf in sheer grace. Your mercy, not my merit, keeps You at Your post as a vigilant sentinel.

You are ever alert. You never fall asleep from illness or exhaustion. How often has that simple truth kept me from walking the floor in tormenting anxiety!

That You keep me "from all harm" does not mean no harm befalls me. It does mean that no harm defeats me. Nothing bad will happen apart from Your knowledge and consent—and therefore even the negative experiences are compelled to serve Your purposes.

Thank You, faithful unsleeping guardian of my "coming and going."

The House of Joy

Psalm 122.
I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord (v. 1).

Lord, I "pray for the peace of Jerusalem," but I do not share the love for that place that the ancient psalmist-on-pilgrimage felt. I've never lived, or even visited, within its walls. It is not the capital of my nation or the focus of my future. I belong to a King whose throne is in heaven, to a kingdom without national or racial boundaries. My faith has no earthly center, no Jerusalem, no Mecca.

But I do rejoice when I go to Your house and worship with Your people. Your house is a house of joy to me. I delight to be there, to share the words of Your book, to share the lives of Your folks. The preaching of the gospel, audibly in the sermons, visibly in the sacraments, keeps me refreshed and encouraged. The songs of faith and the testimonies of the faithful channel grace to my heart. Every worship service reminds me of the source of my peace and security.

When "the tribes of the Lord" assemble "to praise the name of the Lord," I want to be among them. I will join them in this world and in the world to come, "both now and forevermore" (to back up a step into the preceding psalm.) Amen!

Looking to the Lord

Psalm 123.
I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven (v. 1).

The psalmist looked to You, Lord, as servants and slaves look to their master or mistress.

I am glad that I have never been a slave to any man. Indeed, I find sad and embarrassing the role played by many churches and preachers in the history of slavery in my country. But I have no qualms about looking to You for orders and sustenance. As Your servant I find my true freedom.

However, what the psalmist and his compatriots specifically desired from You was not orders but mercy. They had endured "much contempt" and "much ridicule" from arrogant enemies in an unspecified situation. To You they looked for deliverance. They were confident of Your power, for Your throne is in heaven, exalted above all earthly thrones. They were evidently convinced of Your love, also, for they resolved to continue to look to You till You showed them Your mercy.

Mercy, too, is my constant petition, the mercy that accepts me, forgives me, sustains me, renews me, and guides me ever onward in this chaotic, violent, godless world. You delight to show mercy, I delight to receive it.

Free as a Bird

Psalm 124.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare (v. 7).

Apart from Your help, Israel would have been "swallowed alive." It's bad enough to become a post-mortem meal. How much worse to be eaten alive. The psalmist certainly had a flair for dramatic metaphors.

You did not allow them to be "torn" by their attackers' teeth. They were trapped like birds in a fowler's net, apparently doomed, but You broke the net and they escaped. The love and power that fashioned "heaven and earth" brought deliverance to them. You were their help, and that's help enough in any situation.

Paul, no slouch with metaphors himself, claimed deliverance from "the lion's mouth," and expected rescue from "every evil attack" and safe arrival in heaven. Yet he declares in the same epistle that the time had come for his departure, and he made that departure as a headless prisoner.

All this tells me that I may not always escape nets and teeth, but I am immortal until my work is complete and my race is finished. Fowlers and snares will be defeated until You are ready to beckon me home.

Until then, my times are in Your hands and my help is in Your name. If the floods are ever allowed to sweep me away I will wash up alive on heaven's bright shore.

Surrounded

Psalm 125.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore (v. 2).

Elsewhere, Lord, a psalmist complains of being surrounded by enemies and by troubles. Here a psalmist rejoices that You surround those who trust in You. , By implication, he restricts Your protection "to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart." Those among Your people "who turn to crooked ways" You "will banish with the evildoers."

To be ringed about with enemies and troubles is a threatening and stressful situation. But when I remember that I am environed by You, I have peace, for You are mightier than all the forces that menace my soul.

A psalmist also speaks, as I recall, of being surrounded by Your favor "as a shield." No enemy lance can penetrate that shield. Your protection is my shield and peace. I also recall, Lord, that a psalmist speaks of being surrounded by "songs of deliverance." Your enduring presence brings both peace and joy.

But let me not forget that You surround the "upright in heart" who trust in You and do good to others. Help me to keep trusting and serving. I want to be enclosed by Your comforting presence.

Song of the Liberated

Psalm 126.
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (v. 3).

This was the song of exiles restored from captivity to their homeland. Tears had given place to "songs of joy," sowing was followed by the harvest.

We often sing, "To God be the glory, great things He has done." Lord, those whom You liberate cannot help but jubilate. Any music within them has to surface. What You save us from, and what You save us to, combine to produce "joy unspeakable and full of glory."

When Your people were in captivity their harps were not plucked, their songs were not sung. Sorrow stilled the music. But now it's "strike up the band" and dancing in the street! Free at last!

Freedom was all Your doing. When I was estranged from You and captive to sin, I was helpless to deliver myself. I could only lament, but not liberate. You did "great things" for my salvation. Through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ--miracles all--You acted to deliver me from sin and reconcile me to Yourself. I know how Luther felt, gazing upon a crucifix and exclaiming in awe, "For me, for me!" And now, I must sing.

Get Enough Rest!

Psalm 127.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves (v. 2).

This sounds like a good word for the anxiety-ridden workaholic, Lord. John Wesley told his colleagues that if they were doing enough to hurt their health, they were doing more than You expected. You provide for Your people without them losing sleep and getting ulcers.

Some are overworked because they overvalue things. Jesus insisted that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." We can often improve our spiritual and physical health by curbing our desire for material things.

The psalmist regarded children as a reward from You. Sometimes they become our excuses for overwork. We kill ourselves providing for them because we aren't careful to distinguish their needs from their wants. They need time and help from us more than they need more toys.

Lord, give me sense enough to push my work and not be pushed by it. Help me to structure my priorities according to Your word. Give me wisdom to work, play, and rest as I ought.

To work hard, rest well, and spend wisely pleases You. Give me grace to live like that from day to day.

Family Blessings

Psalm 128.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord (vv. 3-4).

Lord, You blessed me with a fruitful wife and ringed my table with sons and a daughter. I took delight in them, and still do. And the "fruitful vine," no longer bearing, is as precious and attractive to me as ever. I thank You for the abundance of blessings that I have enjoyed as a family man.

Some of the children have strayed from You, and this breaks my heart. But while they can break my heart, they cannot exhaust my love or escape my prayers. I know, therefore, that You will keep loving and pursuing them. I expect them to return to You some day--soon, I hope and pray.

Meanwhile, their mother and father will keep serving You, modeling the joy, peace, and strength that comes from loving and trusting You.

Thank You, again, Lord, for all the blessings of family life.

 

Valuable Lesson, High Tuition

Psalm 129
Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long. But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked (vv. 3-4).

Haters of Zion had persecuted Israel unmercifully. Then You, the covenant-keeping Lord, freed them from their bitter bondage.

Rescue came, but not until suffering had been endured. In allowing the suffering, Lord, You taught Your people to hate sin and trust You. Throughout their Old Testament history, Israel's enslavement and misery resulted from their disloyalty to You. When they were prompted by the misery to repent and cry for help, You came to the rescue.

Sometimes Your rescue seemed inexplicably delayed. Witness the cry, "How long, O Lord," that arises so often in the Psalms. But Your timing is determined by Your wisdom, not ours. Sooner or later, to use our human terms, You bring judgment upon oppressors and freedom to Your people.

The plowed back is a terrible means of education, Lord, but if it takes that to teach us to renounce sin and trust You, the tuition is a blessing in disguise. The cruelty of an oppressor can highlight the mercy of the Redeemer.

If a plowed back leads to a freed heart, it serves a noble purpose.

Forgiveness and Fear

Psalm 130.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared (vv. 3-4).

From "the depths" of guilt, a "cry for mercy." From the heights of mercy, a response of forgiveness. That is the history of every redeemed person in a nutshell. Lord, Your "unfailing love" and "full redemption" is the sinner's only hope.

Strict and swift justice would be the doom of everyone, for "all have sinned," and all deserve damnation. But You delight in pardoning the penitent who "wait" for Your merciful intervention.

I must come to the New Testament to learn the awful cost of my forgiveness. There I am told that "Christ died for our sins." His blood atones for sin. The cross allows You to be just and the justifier of those who trust in Jesus.

Forgiveness leads to reverence, not to license. Your mercy is not to be presumed, as if sin didn't matter. The response of the grateful heart is not the old life resumed but a new life developed in obedience to Your word.

Thank You, Lord, for blotting out my "record of sin." Thank You for changing my heart and redirecting my life.

The Humble Heart

Psalm 131.
My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty (v. 1).

Lord, I know that a humble heart is the product of grace, not of nature. Since Adam's fall, the human heart has sought to displace You with itself.

I was no exception. I had no famous ancestry, no exceptional talents, no distinguished feats to cause or to enhance pride. But my heart was bent on setting its own goals and choosing its own course, defiant of counsel from parents or friends, and rebellious toward You. In my heart I thought I was good enough to determine my own character and destiny.

You might have squashed me like a bug. You might have allowed my ambitions to outrun my abilities--"great matters" and "things too wonderful for me" would have reduced me to a frustrated, embittered failure.

Instead, You patiently convicted me of sin and mercifully forgave my transgressions. Since then, I have been contented with Your will, as dependent and happy as "a weaned child with its mother." Your will has not always been easy to discern and do, but has been good for me. My soul is "stilled and quieted," even amid storms, as I trust and hope in You.

The Kept Vow

Psalm 132.
For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling (v. 13).

David vowed to provide You a dwelling, Lord, and You vowed to place a descendant of David upon the throne forever.

You did not accept Jerusalem and the temple as Your dwelling because David desired this arrangement. It was Your choice, Your desire, that initiated and approved the arrangement. You are neither commanded nor manipulated by earthly rulers. They are Your appointees, Your servants, whether they know and admit it or not.

When Zion rejected Your Son, the city was destroyed and the temple demolished. A heavenly Zion now headquarters the global mission of Your people, for Jesus Christ occupies a throne with You.

When Your desires and choices are not ours, we embark on courses of self-destruction. The wonder is that You graciously continue us in existence, providing opportunities to repent and be saved. You are indeed Sovereign, but Sovereign with a Shepherd's heart.

Your vow to David is kept in Jesus Christ, whose obedience to You has international and everlasting meaning for us. I praise Your faithfulness, O Lord.

God's Will, Our Unity

Psalm 133.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity (v. 1).

I am reminded, Lord, of the strong pleas made by Paul in his letters for the peace and unity of the church. Your people, for all their diversity, are one. That oneness results from the participation of each in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and in the submission of each to His lordship over the church.

The "precious oil" that ran down Aaron's beard marked him as Your choice for the office of high priest in Israel. He did not come to that office through competition with brothers but was sovereignly called by You to that particular ministry. It was not a reward for his ambitious efforts to grasp the honor; it resulted from Your decision.

As long as we all rejoice in Your choices we will have unity. Upon our assemblies You will bestow the blessing of "life forevermore." But if we oppose our wishes to Your will, determined to "rule or ruin," we will forfeit Your life and insure our death.

Lord, help me to value as I ought the unity and peace of our people. Help me to value Your church, not as an arena for the assertion of personal ambition, but as the instrument of Your loving and saving purposes.

A Focal Point

Psalm 134.
May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion (v. 3).

The "servants of the Lord" who ministered in the temple are exhorted to "praise the Lord." In turn they pronouncebenediction upon departing worshipers.

Lord, this brief psalm stresses Your power channeled into Your people's lives through worship. Its relevance been proved often in my own experience. I have come to Your house weary and vulnerable, to depart refreshed and strengthened. In corporate worship I have found individual blessings, enabling me to triumph in toil and trouble.

All heaven and earth are Yours and yet You single out specific locations as the focus of Your bestowal of grace. You are not bound to time and space, but I am. You bring me to the times, places, and events of Your choice and there impart Your blessings. Your blessings are not restricted to Your house, but they are especially and unfailingly granted there to me.

The church doors open upon my entire life. The blessings I receive as I praise You there hallow every relationship and empower every achievement elsewhere. I will be joyfully faithful in meeting You "in the sanctuary."