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Prayer

Summer in the Psalms

The book of Psalms records every emotion that has ever struck the human heart. Love; anger; fear; hurt; sadness; depression; joy--it's all there. We turn to the psalms because it address the full spectrum of human needs. In these one hundred and fifty songs we find direction for our lives and comfort for dark times. This ancient hymnal of praise speaks to us in ways that affect us beyond words. 

The Hebrew title for Psalms (which is Tehillim) simply means "praise songs." The English title of "Psalms" originated from the Septuagint's Greek title Psalmoi, also meaning "songs of praise." Psalms is a hymnbook of praise directed toward God! The psalms contains several doxologies, which are expressions of jubilant praise, which are often accompanied by a "double Amen." As we come to each doxology throughout psalms (Psalm 41; 72; 89; 106) we rejoice with voices raised in praise, exclaiming "Amen!" in response to God's glory and majesty. The psalms encourage its readers to praise God for who He is and what He has done. The psalms illuminate the greatness of our God, proclaim His faithfulness to us in times of despair and despondency, and remind us of the beauty and importance of His word. 

Let me encourage you as you read the psalms to remember a few principles. First, the psalms meet us in our everyday lives. No matter what you may be feeling or what circumstances you may be facing, these "songs of praise" are relevant and timely. When we are discouraged, the psalms offer us encouragement. When we are lonely, the psalms offer us comfort. When we are uncertain, the psalms offer us wisdom. When we are repentant, the psalms offer us assurance.

Second, the psalms are all about God. The psalms proclaim the majesty of God and His glory! In the anguish cry of the psalmist's song, we hear the melody of heartfelt praise to God. In the journey through the valley of the shadow of death, the faithful, never-ending presence of God is with us--bringing forth the joyful response from the psalmist's pen: "I will fear no evil for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). All throughout the psalms we see that God is our Stronghold, our Deliverer, our Fortress, our Rock, our Strength. He has created us to worship him through tears; through pain; through laughter; through prayer. It's all there in these beautiful songs of hope and praise.

As we journey together through the "summer in the Psalms," my prayer is that you see the psalms as a beautiful offering of praise to Jesus. Because the psalms are offered to God, Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, is the appropriate object of our praise and adoration. The psalms are fulfilled in Jesus and point to Jesus. In one of Jesus' post resurrection appearances he encounters his frightened disciples and responds to their disbelief by saying, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). Jesus as the God-Man is worthy of praise and worship. May we glorify and exalt the One who is both our Strength and our Song (Psalm 118:14).

A Migraine and a Psalm

I woke up this past Tuesday morning at 2:00 am with a migraine. This isn’t uncommon. I’ve been having migraine headaches for close to thirty years. Sometimes the pain is mild, sometimes severe. Tuesday’s was the latter.

By God’s grace I was able to sleep most of the morning and get out of bed without the nausea that so often accompanies the headaches. I figured I’d head (no pun intended) to the Psalms to read through my 'five psalms a day’ and spend some time in prayer, specifically asking—once again—for complete healing from these headaches.

The first psalm for the day’s reading was Psalm 56. Here is David’s poem song asking God for deliverance from his enemies and his declaration of confidence that God will act to bring that deliverance. 

This psalm floored me. I didn’t get past this psalm to the next four because of the gravity of this verse:

"You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.” (Psalm 56:8 MSG)

I wasn’t running from enemies seeking to take my life as was David. I wasn’t lying awake crying out to God for deliverance from oppression or violence. But I was lying awake, as I have many nights before, asking God to bring deliverance from these headaches and sickness.

Have you ever read a verse for the eight hundred and fifth time and it seemed to connect with you on a much deeper level than it had before? Verse 8 is the verse that did it for me on Tuesday morning. I’ve read this verse so many times without giving it a thought longer than a minute or two. But this time it hooked my heart.

Every toss and turn I’ve made all these years; every sleepless night; every tear I’ve shed; every agonizing plea for God to heal and deliver; every headache, stomach ache, nerve ache and body ache—God knows and God cares.

Think about this: God keeps track of our sufferings because it matters to him. He knows everything we’re going through and how it specifically and intimately effects us. Every physical, emotional and spiritual misery we feel is laid out before him. He knows and he cares.

David knows this to be true. That’s why he can declare in verse 9 that “this I know, that God is for me.” Later he sings, “in God I trust; I shall not be afraid” (v.11). 

The pain and misery I feel in the middle of the night (or early morning or late afternoon) may try to convince me that God is not for me. The pain and misery you feel may try to deceive you into thinking that God cannot be trusted. Don’t give in to those lies. God is always present, always aware, and always cares for what his people are going through. 

Because this is true of God, I can trust him as I continue to pray for healing. I can hold firm to his promise that he is for me and will bring me deliverance. He will answer my plea. It may be today or next Tuesday or the day I stand before his glory. But deliverance is coming—physical, emotional and spiritual.

So when you find yourself tossing and turning in the night, turn to him. When your tears flow, let him collect them in his bottle. When your aches become more than you can bear, cry out to the God who listens, cares and answers.

The Proof of Love

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on living everyday life in faithful and joyful obedience to God. While reading Psalm 26 this morning, I was struck by what David says in verses 2-3:

“Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness."

Just for a bit of context, David is writing this song quite possibly because he has been the victim of some undeserved wrong. He declares his determination to follow God “without wavering” (v.1). The Hebrew verb means “to slip, slide, totter, shake.” In spite of mistreatment, David is resolved to trust God without slipping or sliding under the burden.

In verse 2, David is opening up himself to the Lord. He invites the Lord to “Prove…try…test” his inner being (see Psalm 139:23-24). David wants God to scrutinize his very heart, to make an examination of his motives and desires. When wrong comes David’s way, he turns to God to test his character so that he does not give in to sinful attitudes or responses. He is trusting that God knows his innocence in light of this mistreatment.

David continues to in verse 3 by declaring his commitment to remember God’s “steadfast love” and to live obediently in God’s “faithfulness.” No matter what comes along, David is resolved to view all of life through the lens of God’s steadfast love. When tough times come, David’s eyes on are on the Lord’s love, and his guide is the Lord’s truth.

David is declaring his willingness to obey God no matter what. The proof of David’s love for God is his obedience to God. Remember what Jesus says about the proof of love for him?

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21)
"Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'” (John 14:23)

Our love for God manifests itself in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Our obedience to God is motivated by God’s love for us in Jesus.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

Our willingness to obey is coupled with our ability to obey because we have the Spirit empowering us to obey.

"Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24)

No matter what you’re facing today, resolve to walk in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Mediate on his steadfast love toward you. Saturate your heart with his faithful promises found in his word. If you’re struggling to obey, ask God to transform your heart to learn to walk in his ways in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Withdraw and Pray

Luke 5:15-16-" But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray."

Jesus had just healed a leper and again demonstrated his power and authority over physical sickness. Once again Jesus poured out mercy as he brought immediate healing to an societal outcast. Jesus' touching of the leper made him unclean in the eyes of the religious authorities, and thus, demonstrated his identifying with the leper rather than the religious establishment. Jesus showed, as he had so many times before, that he came to rub shoulders with the isolated; the unclean; the broken; the lost.

Jesus told the leper to tell no one what he had done (v.14), except for the priest to whom he was to go and sacrifice according to the Old Testament Levitical law (Leviticus 14:2-32). The sacrifice itself would not cause the cleaning; the sacrifice would be one of thanksgiving for the cleansing Jesus had done. The man's sacrifice would be an opportunity to witness to the priest, proving that Jesus was divine and working miracles throughout the region.

So why does Jesus tell the leper not to share the incredible miracle that just occurred? So that crowds would not continue to build and riot, seeking Jesus only for miracles. Yet we get the sense that the leper may not have kept the good news to himself. For "now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities."

Jesus' popularity continued to grow. People wanted to hear him and be healed by him. The amazing news could not be contained. But instead of embracing the popularity and following the demands of the crowds, Jesus withdrew to desolate places to be with His Father. Jesus went where prayer led, not where people led.

Time and again we read of Jesus spending time in silent prayer (Luke 6:12; 11:1). The Son of God desired to commune with his Father and delighted in following his Father's leading. God knew where Jesus' work was to be done and how it was to be done and with whom it was to be done. Time in prayer gave Jesus clarity in his ministry and mission as he sought the Father's will, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, who empowered Jesus for his ministry (Luke 4:14; 4:18). Quiet, intimate times of prayer in secluded, desolate places gave Jesus the right mindset, which was to obey his Father, abide in his love (John 15:10), and to preach the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 4:18).

Let me ask you: has your prayer life diminished recently? Are you seeking to live life in your own power instead of God's power? Are you feeling crushed by the crowds? Is anxiety taking over? Has the lure of popularity and worldly desires hooked you? Let me encourage you to do what Jesus did: pray. Find a desolate, quiet place to pray and pour out your heart to the Father. Ask him to strengthen you in the power of the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-17) so that you can live each day in joyful obedience. Plead with God to grant you wisdom in everything going on in your life today. If our Savior needed to meet with His heavenly Father in prayer, how much more do we!