A Psalm for Everyday

January 18th, 2017

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day. (Psalm 86:1-3 ESV)

Psalm 86 is a simple prayer of David to His God. It seems not to be borne out of harsh difficulty or dramatic circumstances, but rather it came from David’s heart on what we might call a normal day. Pressures were still there in his life, for in it he says in it, “A band of ruthless men seek my life” (v. 14), but that could have come from any number of sources. It appears at least to me that that was just another day in the life of David. Ruthless men were always seeking his life.

But whether in the midst of difficulty or not, the prayer in its essence was about David and his God - he prayed from the assurance of his relationship with God. The trouble he mentioned did not dominate the prayer. David called out to his God constantly. His thoughts in the midst of any circumstance reached out to God. He lived his life in faith and with the awareness of God.

We may establish the habit of thinking about God regularly and it being poor thoughts about Him. We may forget how merciful and gracious and faithful God is, and focus mostly on His sternness and holiness or judging qualities. But David knew that God was best understood by His “steadfast love” (vs. 13), or chesed, toward David. So this was the thought of God that he treasured in his heart all the day long.

We find an insight into David’s life by the mentioning of his mother and her faith:

Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant. (vs. 16)

The scripture never mentions the name of David’s mother. His father Jesse was the grandson of Ruth, the widowed Moabite and woman of faith whom Boaz redeemed. Perhaps it was Ruth that David had in mind, for the word ben in Hebrew could also mean grandson. But it speaks not merely of genetics or lineage but of the tender conveyance of faith that was passed down to David.

The account of David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16, suggests at least that David’s father Jesse did not think much of David. He was the youngest of his sons and Jesse left him to tend to the sheep when Samuel came to his home to anoint the next king. And his brothers also had a problem with him, as revealed in the account of David and Goliath. It does not appear to be anything more than typical family rankings, and the normal squabbling that happens between brothers, but, nevertheless, it was there. I tend to think that here David is speaking about his mother who was a woman of devout faith He called her the “maidservant” of God - someone devoted, ready to serve her God. Often the unnamed people of history, even of sacred history, have done more to shape its outcome than the famous ones. There is no disgrace in obscurity, no indignity in being unknown by mankind, so long as we are known by God and have sway and power with heaven.

Great meaning and profound strength are discovered very often in the simple truths and simple realities of life. These thoughts are worth being in our minds and in our prayers everyday, as they are here in the prayer of David.

  • The steadfast love of God
  • The example of piety and faith - “Frömmigkeit” auf Deutsch - that is seen in those close to us
  • The privilege of prayer and the closeness of God to us at all times
  • The assurance of relationship with God

These truths ought to surround our hearts at all times and in every circumstance.

Prayer ,

Holy God

January 17th, 2017

Your way, God, is holy. What god is great like our God? (Psalm 77:13 ESV)

We should give serious thought to the nature of God when we pray. We easily fall into the trap of being swallowed up with the perspectives and the concerns of the world, yet they are as far from heaven as we could ever imagine. God is holy and He is consumed with His own holiness. He lives in pristine purity and we come to Him sullied by the world and our own natures, where we imagine a dark shade of moral gray is the same as His glorious whiteness. We feel good about ourselves if we are less filthy than others, yet in God’s heart, as in His heaven, no sin is admitted, not even one.

We may begin our prayers either with our own fears and desires, or we may begin them with God and His holiness. Often due to the urgency of the moment we pray like Peter did on the water with Jesus, “Lord, save me!” - brief, to the point, focused on our need. There is nothing wrong with this. God answers such prayers, and even the tax collector in the temple prayed a prayer focused on his own needs when he said, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!”  A vision of God’s holiness will highlight our own need of forgiveness.

But there will be something lacking about our prayers if we never start with God in them, if we never take the time to meditate on who He is. The psalmist Asaph knew where to start - he began with God. If we would understand prayer, we must first understand God. If we would make spiritual requests we must first know His ways, or we will ask for the wrong things, or for the right things to be answered in the wrong ways. The beginning of understanding the ways of God, and thereby all that we might properly ask of Him, is to understand that He is holy, utterly and completely holy.

John Calvin wrote, “The ways of God rise high above the world, so that if we are truly desirous to know them, we must ascend above all heavens.” We must go beyond the finest earthly thoughts, and by the illumination that comes through His Word and His Spirit, let Him enlighten our hearts and minds that we can know who He is.

There is a disagreement in this verse among scholars of exactly how to translate it. The King James took a literal translation and said: “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary.” The modern translation have interpreted the verse to be using His heavenly sanctuary to depict His holiness and say, “Your way, God, is holy.” The way is singular, not plural. Though we may properly speak of the “ways of God,” in this passage the word is singular to emphasize the one clear plan, the one clear ethic and method of God.

And “sanctuary,” if there is any benefit to using this term over the word “holy,” emphasizes His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. We may simply say that this verse, properly understood, means that the way of God is the exaltation of Jesus Christ. We read in Colossians:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Col. 1:16-20)

There is no true passion for God and for His holiness that is not also a passion for Jesus Christ - for his Person at work in us today, for His work on the cross, for His resurrection, for His exaltation, for His return, and for His gospel.

When we pray, our prayers are deeper if we start by bowing before Christ and confessing: “You are holy!” And then contemplating what His holiness means, and start with Him and His plan and His way, and then bring our requests to Him in humility. Often when we begin with His holiness, our requests are revealed to be unholy in some way or another. But if they are not revealed to be entirely unholy, if there is anything fitting or righteous in them, a vision of God’s holiness will purify our prayer requests even further, and make them less selfish and more godly.

Prayer , , ,