Living in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Friday, May 7th 

A quick read of this psalm may leave you depressed. There appears to be no resolution for the psalmist in all his anguish. The psalmist is sick and near he point of death. He feels alone and isolated; his friends have abandoned him. He wonders if he has done something wrong and maybe God is punishing him for it (verse 7). He is full of questions and he finds no answers. He is despairing.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt hopeless or broken by life and all of its challenges. At times it seems like God is far away and is not listening or paying attention to what is going on in your life. We can grow frustrated, angry and defeated.

But there is a lesson for us in this psalm. The psalmist is steadfast in calling out to God. Despite his pain and despite his fears he continues to call out to God. He is brutally honest in his conversation with God. He never gives up talking to God. Verse 1—“O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.”  He tells God of the massive troubles he is facing in life and feels totally abandoned by God. But he continues to call on God. Verse 9—“Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread my hands out to you.” He is pleading before God, close to death, with no apparent answers from God. But he still persists. Verse 13—“But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning, my prayer comes before you.” He never gives up.

It is meant to be a prayer for us when we are troubled and really feeling alone and isolated. God is inviting us to pour out our heart to him and to keep coming back to him no matter what happens. He welcomes that kind of prayer.

And ultimate the resolution is only found in trusting in God’s sovereign hand. And we have the perspective of Jesus—who walked in these same places crying out similarly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Faith is expressed in continuing to talk to God and when God raised Jesus from the dead, we have a hope that God will never abandon us and that we will always be forgiven and one day completely healed and restored in the presence of God.

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Zion, the City of God

 Tuesday, May 4th 

The psalmist declares in our text today that “the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God.” Psalm 87:2-3. Zion is first mentioned in the Bible in 2 Samuel 5:7, when “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” Zion was a fortress on the hills where Jerusalem stands. David conquered  the fortress and made Jerusalem (Zion) the capital of Israel. It was known as the city of David. But when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, Zion came to be know in Scriptures as the dwelling place of God. Biblically, Zion can refer to the hills upon which Jerusalem sit, or the city of Jerusalem, or more significantly the dwelling place of God. It is the later meaning that is being referred to in this psalm.

Jerusalem became the capital of Israel under David, the pride of the Jewish people. But beyond that it was to be the place where all the peoples and nations of the world would come to worship and honor God Almighty, the one true God. In Psalm 48:2, the psalmist calls Zion, “the joy of the whole earth. . .the city of the Great King”—God Almighty.

The psalmist here mentions other major cities of the time, Babylon, Philistia and Tyre and many were born in those cities. The implication is that people from the Gentile nations will also worship God in Zion. But undoubtedly the greatest of all cities is Zion. Why? Because “the Most High (God) shall establish her Himself.” Zion is God’s city.

It is at Jerusalem that Jesus is crucified and then raised from the dead opening wide the gates for all peoples to experience the redemption and forgiveness of God. The church begins in Jerusalem. And everything in Scripture points to the day when Jesus returns and rules from Jerusalem. “In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it and people will say ‘Let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:2-3. Revelation talks about the new Jerusalem that will be the dwelling place of God and all peoples will bow to the authority of Jesus.

Zion is the promise that one day God will bring order to this chaotic and violent world and all peoples will come to worship the one true God. Zion is the promise of hope for God’s people. How beautiful is Zion, the city of God!

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A God of Our Convenience?

Friday, April 30th

I think in life we often treat God like he exists for our own personal convenience.  We want to live our lives our own way and often just give God a kind of lip service. Yes, we love God, but we kind of just do our own things in life. But then difficulties enter our lives and suddenly we call on God and want him to make everything right again for us, to correct whatever is wrong.

But often when difficulties come our way and our turmoil and emotions overwhelm us in those times we don’t or can’t hear God. We think God is silent and doesn’t hear us. Or we think that God is not really concerned about or interested in us when he doesn’t fix things right away. Maybe we get angry at God and maybe we pull back a little more from God and our faith grows a little weaker. When that is our reaction, in many ways we are creating a god (small g) who exists for our own personal convenience. He is supposed to be at “our beck and call.” He exists for us rather than understanding that he created us, and we exist to honor and love him.

David is in trouble in this psalm; enemies have arisen around him and seek to do him harm. “O God, insolent people rise up against me; a violent gang is trying to kill me. You mean nothing to them.” Psalm 86:14. It may appear that David is doing the same thing—only calling on God because he is in trouble when we read verse 7, “In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.” But such an approach to God is completely wrong and is not what David is doing. It’s easy to miss that.

Instead David acknowledges that he is supposed to let God  be the focus of his entire life, in both the good and bad times. He is not just someone to call on when we are in trouble. He doesn’t just exist for our own personal convenience. David prays this in verse 11, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”  David is asking for help to honor God in all the phases of his life—in the good times, the prosperous times, and in the difficult times. That ‘s why David is described as a “man after God’s own heart”. He wanted to always honor God all the days of his life.

When we take that approach to God we are truly honoring him, and things just seem to work out (not always for our convenience and comfort) and we find the grace to live life with hope. Even before, David finds help with his current situation David has the assurance of God’s presence with him. ”I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” Psalm 86:12. If we want God’s help in the time of trouble, he needs to be more than a God who exists for our convenience.

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The Promise of Restoration

Tuesday, April 27th

In the Old Testament God worked through and made his presence known in the world through the nation of Israel. When Israel rightly worshipped God and followed his commands God blessed the nation. It is physically seen in military victory and peace and prosperity in the land. They were to be an example to the nations. When then strayed from the faith, worshipped other gods and ignored God’s commands, they experienced defeat and hardship in the land. When they turned back to God, He forgave and blessed them. In the first two verses the psalmist is remembering how God forgave them and met them with his steadfast love in the past and restored their fortunes. “LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.” Psalm 85:1-2.

But the Israelites had turned away from God in the present and the psalmist is remembering God’s steadfast love in the past and finding hope that once again God will restore the fortunes of his people if they turn back to him again. Listen to the psalmist again. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.” Psalm 85:6-7.

 How does this impact us today as followers of Jesus? God is not working through a nation right now, but through people and communities of people who follow Jesus that cross all national and cultural barriers. What can we learn from this psalm?

If we sincerely seek to follow Jesus, we will see his hand in our lives very clearly at different moments, experience his presence, and rest in his peace. But life doesn’t always operate smoothly. We experience difficulties. We lose a job. We are hurt by other people, sometimes those close to us. Unexpected accidents, sicknesses and even death complicate our lives. In those moments we feel like God is very distant from us. The Psalmist is telling you to look back and remember how God has been faithful to you in the past. He has not left us and abandoned us. It just seems like it. So the psalmist invites us to call on God, seeking his wisdom and help and bringing before him all our concerns and pains.

And remembering God’s steadfast love and faithfulness will give us hope that God will meet us again and will help us recover from whatever pain and loss invaded our lives and help us to again live with an inner peace and wholeness. The writer closes with this promise and hope. “Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” Psalm 85:12-13

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