Psalm for Prayer - April 29, 2019

Psalm 150 (ESV)

1 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 

2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 

3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 

4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 

5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 

6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Psalm for Prayer - April 15, 2019

Psalm 114 (ESV)

1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 

2 Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. 

3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. 

4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. 

5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? 

6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? 

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 

8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

Arms Up, Not Crossed

God is not aloof. He says continually through the centuries, “I’ll help you, I really will. When you’re ready to throw up your hands, throw them up to Me.~Jim Cymbala


If you are reading through the Old Testament books of poetry for the second time this year, you are at the point where Job is in need of help, and he knows it. But his combative relationship with his miserable comforters disguised as friends has affected him. The tit-for-tat has put him on edge, and it’s tinged his relationship with God.  At this point, Job wants a hearing, a chance to explain himself. Worse than that, he wants God to explain himself.


Job 23:1–5 (ESV) – Then Job answered and said: “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me.” 


I understand Job’s angst.  There have been times that I wanted to explain myself to God and to hear his explanation for why things were going the way they were going. But you can’t sit across a table from God with your arms crossed and get the comfort that God only offers to those who humble themselves before him and reach toward him with their arms up.  


So, please throw your arms up to God.  This is precisely what faith demands.  He may not give you the answers you so desperately want from him right now; you might not be able to handle them yet.  But he will embrace you and reassure you of his promises and his ability to keep them. He really will help you get through your trails. He will help you all the way to heaven.  


Miserable Comforters

Job 16:1-2 – I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. 


Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz: some choice names expecting parents may consider.  They’re biblical after all.  Straight out of some of the most beautiful and profound poetry ever. 


These guys had a lot of good things to say. They said some theologically accurate things to Job.  “Sin causes suffering.”  “People who are suffering are sinners.”  “You are suffering because you’ve sinned.”  All of these statements are true on many occasions; some are true on all occasions. They were right in the things they said. But they were wrong in how they said them.   


A theology of sin is absolutely vital if someone has any real hope of spiritual growth.  But a theology of sin isn’t the only thing a hurting person needs.  They need truth from every angle and every possibly perspective. And sometimes that truth isn’t propositional; it’s personal. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Everything Jesus said was absolutely, perfectly true.  But he was also appropriate, helpful, thoughtful, tactful, sympathetic, and empathetic.  He said the right thing in the right way at the right time.


One can be theologically correct, as straight as a plumb line and as precise as a paring knife, and still be wrong. When the right thing is said at the wrong time or in the wrong way, it can be as hurtful as it is correct.  Like Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). The word has to fit; it needs to be said in the right way and at the right time.


When a person has been bombasted by the rough and tumble of life in a cursed world, they not only need to understand sin, they need to see God properly as well. There is no doubt about it.  But they first need to be able to see.  The soul has recently been concussed. A concussed soul doesn’t need to be theologically correct that very moment; it needs to be restored.  It can’t see clearly because it can’t see at all. It needs love, somebody to listen carefully and then say something that fits.  A discussion on Hamartiology or the intricacies of Theology Proper are probably a ways down the road.


So when you are trying to encourage somebody who has recently gone through some kind of trauma (like, say, the death of all of your children, the loss every penny, and your wife turning atheist), be careful not to say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time.  Be careful not to enhance misery in your attempt to comfort. Be careful not to be a Bildad, a Zophar, or an Eliphaz.  Listen carefully. Pray passionately. Touch appropriately.  And then, at the right time, and in the right way, you can be a tool in the hand of God to provide real comfort.


Psalm for Prayer - April 8, 2019

Psalm 118:1–2, 19-29 (ESV)

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 

2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 

20 This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 

21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 

22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 

23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 

24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. 

27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 

29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

How God Really Feels

Letting God speak for himself is a must.  And listening to everything that he says is vital.  We can all tend to approach the Scriptures and find the things we want to see and overlook the truths that are not convenient.  


I am so glad that the Gospel offer goes out to all people indiscriminately.  I am thankful that I can preach it and know that nothing in the person who hears the Good News either necessarily qualifies or disqualifies him or her for believing and receiving the hope of eternal life.  God must do the same miracle of regeneration in the dead heart of the nicest lady as he does in the dead heart of the hardest man.  


That, however, does not mean that God does not discriminate against people who are dead set against him and his sovereignty.  The Bible has a term for such people: they are wicked.  And honestly, anybody who does not gladly fall under the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ is in that category.  I used to be in that category.


Listen to the word of the Lord:


Proverbs 15:8 (ESV) – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. 


Proverbs 15:9 (ESV) – The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who pursues righteousness. 


Proverbs 15:26 (ESV) – The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure. 


Psalm 5:5 (ESV) – The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 


God hates their worship, their ways of living, their thoughts, and he hates them.  These verses are not all that the Bible says about how God feels about the lost. It would be wrong to leave it at that.  The Bible has plenty of other things to say about God’s loving offer of his Son for the wicked, and his amazing grace to bring life to their cold, dead, hateful, wicked hearts. But it does say these things too. Evidently God knows how to reach out in love to those he hates.  We must let God speak for himself. 


Psalm for Prayer - April 1, 2019

Psalm 126 (ESV)

A Song of Ascents. 

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 

3 The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. 

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! 

5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! 

6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

A Pastoral Prayer

What would you think if I prayed something like this from Psalm 32? 


Oh Father, please work in these people’s lives. You must grow them if they are to grow.  You must change them if they are to change.  I realize they each have a part in this.  I realize they each need to learn how to trust you more confidently and obey you more faithfully.  But ultimately, you must do what only you can do.  Please be gentle with all of them, but to whatever degree any of them are failing to confess known sins to you, please help them to groan all day long (v.3). Please help their bones to waste away (v.3).  Please place your hand heavy upon them and dry them up (v.3).  Please do this until they confess their sins to you (v.5) and walk in the obedient faith they promised to you at their baptism and to all of us when they became covenant members at NRBC.  Please love them in whatever way is necessary to make them holy, to make them more like Jesus.  Please do this in my life as well, all that Jesus might be glorified and that we all might each truly experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (v.11).


I may or may not have prayed for our church family like that today.

Keeping Short Accounts

One of the reasons a believer should “keep short accounts” with the Lord is because sometimes the effects of unconfessed sin can have disastrous long-term consequences.  


In our Psalm for prayer this week, David prays, “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psa.32:3).  His unwillingness to confess his sin affected his body. I don’t know if he experienced an abnormal amount of broken bones during those several months or whether he was unknowingly referring to early onset bone marrow cancer.  Probably neither.  But the connection between his soul and his body is pretty clear.


He says much the same in v.4: “my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”  The burden of guilt on this soft-hearted shepherd-king had a parching effect on him, almost like a heat stroke.  His guilty conscience affected his energy level. Made him sluggish.


You’ve heard it said that confession is good for the soul.  It is, but it’s also good for the body.  Unconfessed sin long ignored can affect your bones and your vitality.  It may even cause more permanent damage after a while.


Your situation may be a bit more destructive than simply a guilty conscience. Maybe your struggles include active and aggressive destruction of your body through substance abuse. Either way, the solution is the same. It begins with confessing your sins to God. It doesn’t end there, but it does begin there.


It’s so much more pleasant to say “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (v.1).  That comes after confession.  So as you pray through this psalm this week, make it a point to work at developing the godly habit of keeping short accounts with God.