Psalm 109 (My Heart is Wounded)

Psalm 109:22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

This is a Psalm from a few days ago, but wanted to share some thoughts on it. Most of the Psalms we have read is very encouraging, but there are some that are just brutally honest. This is such a Psalm. David begins this Psalm with praise and with prayer.  He says “I am a man of prayer.”  But when he begins to prays, it’s ugly, and it’s harsh. David prays that his enemies would soon die, leaving his children fatherless and his wife a widow.  He prays for his children to be homeless beggars. He prays for his children’s children to be blotted out.  He prays that God would always remember their sins and no kindness would ever be extended to him and his future descendants.  Wow.  And David was a man after God’s own heart?  I don’t see it here. It seems to be in total opposition to God’s heart. 

God’s heart for his enemies is so much different.  Can you imagine an enemy greater than the Jews and Romans that crucified Jesus?  And yet when he prays for them, he prays “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  That is God’s heart.  Just a few Psalms earlier we read that the “LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (103:8-10).”  He removes and does not remember our transgressions. That is God’s heart.   And yet David here asks that God will always remember their sins for generations. 

We may wonder how David’s heart can be so hard, and far from God’s heart, especially when he himself experienced the kindness and forgiveness of God. The answer to me is verse 22, when he says “my heart is wounded within me.”  His heart is far from being like God’s heart, because his heart is wounded.  He has been wounded deeply by one who he thought was a friend.  Few wounds go deeper than the wounds of betrayal from one you love.  In light of his wounded heart, I can understand why his prayers are so ugly and harsh.

The beauty of the Psalms is that God allows him to pray these prayers.  I don’t think God will answer them.  As soon as his enemy is ready to repent, God will not remember his sins, as he did not remember David’s sins.  If God can forgive the Ninevites when they repented, God will forgive David’s and our enemies. He will extend kindness and grace to ALL who seek Him. But God is also close to the brokenhearted and to the wounded.  So even if David’s prayer is far from God’s heart, God is close to David’s wounded heart. 

And just as David is allowed to pray in such anger and anguish, we are allowed to pray freely. He sees the heart behind our prayers. And though he may not always answer us the way we want to, He always hears us.  He always hears us.  The most important thing God can do for David’s wounded heart, and for our wounded heart is to heal our hearts.  Go to Him now, with your wounded heart and let your Abba Father hold you and heal you. That is God’s heart.  

Psalm 107 (Give Thanks)

Psalm 107:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

This is a Psalm about giving thanks.  It begins with the command to give thanks. It follows that up with an invitation to give thanks four times (in verses 8, 15, 21 and 31.)  Each time it says,

”Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

On Sunday we talked about the gift of community, and we read Bonhoeffer’s plea that we would not take this gift for granted.  He said that as long as we have this gift, “Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace…”

Gratitude is the antidote for taking things for granted.  Gratitude allows us to see God’s grace bestowed on us.  When we teach our kids to give thanks, we are wanting more than proper manners.  We want them to recognize and appreciate the gift before them.  Like kids, we too need to be constantly reminded to give thanks. And so this Psalm does that for us.  It reminds us that we are to give thanks for his unfailing love and his wonderful and good deeds for us. 

It is easy to complain about all the things we do not have and we cannot do in this time.  Gratitude alone can change our complaining heart to a heart that sees the goodness of God, the grace of God and the blessings of God all around us.

I’m reminded of a story of a pastor who took a trip to a leper colony on the island of Tobago.  He was leading the music portion of the worship service, and for the final song, he asked for a request from the lepers in front of him.  One woman, whose nose and ears were almost completely gone, raised her fingerless hand. Pastor Hinton asked what she wanted to sing.  She asked if they could sing “Count Your Many Blessings.”  Pastor Hinton was so overcome with emotions that she would request such a song, that he could hardly sing that song.  He would say later that he would never sing this song the same way again. Here are words that the lepers sang in unison:

(Chorus)

Count your blessings, Name them one by one

Count your blessings, See what God has done

Count your blessings, Name them one by one

Count your many blessings, See what God has done

(Verse 1)

When upon life’s billows, You are tempest tossed

When you are discouraged, Thinking all is lost

Count your many blessings, Name them one by one

And it will surprise you, What the Lord has done

(Verse 2)

Are you ever burdened, With a load of care

Does the cross seem heavy, You are called to bear

Count your many blessings, Every doubt will fly

And you will be singing, As the days go by

(Verse 3)

When you look at others, With their lands and gold

Think that Christ has promised, You His wealth untold

Count your many blessings, Money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, Nor your home on high

(Verse 4)

So, amid the conflict, Whether great or small

Do not be discouraged, God is over all

Count your many blessings, Angels will attend

Help and comfort give you, To your journey’s end

May we count our many blessings and give thanks to God, for His goodness and unfailing love!

Psalm 98 (Shout to the Lord)

Psalm 98:4-6 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

There is a lot of noise these days.  A lot of noise that shouts at us for our attention.  Noise about the virus, noise about a second wave, noise about whether to re-open or not, noise about the stock market, noise about what’s happening in our world.  There’s a lot of shouting going on among health experts, politicians and civilians. Maybe there’s been some shouting in your home, as the quarantine is wearing on your family members. 

In the midst of all the shouting and noise, there are two things we can do as followers of Christ.  Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.”  We can drown out the noise by our silence before God.  But we can also do what Psalm 98 says, “Shout for joy to the Lord…shout for joy before the LORD, the King.”  We can also drown out the noise by our shouts of worship.  In many ways, these are the same things.  It is a recognition that there is a God, and He is the Lord and He is the King.  Sometimes we recognize this in our times of quiet and prayer.  Sometimes we need to shout it out and declare this truth with worship.

So often in the Old Testament, the Israelites went out to battle led by the worshippers.  They were the first line of offense and defense.  They would carry trumpets and wage war with worship.  Joshua’s army did that. Gideon’s army did that. Jehoshaphat’s army did that.  We need to do that.  We need to wage war against discouragement, doubt and despair, with the sounds of worship.   It is our declaration that Jesus always has the final word, for He is the King.

I’ve been meditating with my boys on a Psalm before we go to bed.  A few nights ago, we read Psalm 92, which begins with “It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.”

Since it was nighttime, we decided to actually sing of His faithfulness, and so we sang “The Goodness of God.”  We sang of His faithfulness, His goodness and His mercy that never fails.  And it truly was good to praise the Lord.  It was good for our souls, as we went to sleep. Today, I encourage you to worship- to sing and to shout to the Lord, the King.  You’ll find it to be good for your soul as well, in the midst of all the noise.

Psalm 91 (Shadow of the Almighty)

Psalm 91:1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 

This Psalm is one of the most encouraging Psalms in the Bible.  My dad texted me a few times during in the past few months to tell me to read Psalm 91.  It is full of promises of protection.  Protection from “the terror of night… the arrow that flies by day… the pestilence that stalks in the darkness… the plague that destroys at midday (v. 5, 6)”  My dad must have had the virus in mind when reading about protection from the plague.  Verse 10 says “no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.”  Incredible promises, especially in a season where potential harm is all around us.

But, whenever I read the first verse, and specifically the phrase “shadow of the Almighty,” I think of a book of the same title.  It’s a book that had a significant impact on me as a college student.  It was written by Elizabeth Elliot, about the life of her late husband Jim Elliott, who faithfully followed God’s calling, along with four other friends, to share the gospel with the Waorani tribe in Equador, and ended up being brutally murdered.  They were not protected.  The arrows, or in this case, the spears flew at them that day, and their life ended, seemingly tragically at such a young age.  

How do we make sense of such Psalms, that seems to promise protection, with the reality that the arrow, the pestilence, the plague may touch us indeed, and we may be harmed and disaster may come near us?  Even Christ was not protected, though Satan tempts him with this Psalm.  Satan quotes verse 11, about angels protecting him from striking his foot on a stone.  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

It’s not a question of whether God can protect us fully and in every way the Psalmist writes about, but the true question is will we trust Him?  The opposite of testing God is trusting God.  Do you trust Him enough that even when the arrows fly, the spears kill, the virus harms, you will trust God and continue to make God your refuge? Can you say with confidence “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (v.2)’?”  Then, no matter what happens, we are ultimately safe under the shadow of the Almighty. 

Elizabeth Elliott trusted God in the midst of such tragedy, and found strength in the “shadow of the Almighty.” Many of the family members continued the work of reaching the Waoranis and years later, many of them, including the very ones that killed Jim and his friends, ended up coming to Christ.  They were witness to the good work and plan of God being fulfilled even in the midst of harm and pain.  No matter what you’re going through, may this Psalm find its way into your heart, and may you make the Most High, your shelter, your refuge, your fortress, as you rest in the “shadow of the Almighty.”  

Psalm 80 (Restore Us, O God)

Psalm 80:3, 7, 19 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

There is no mistaking what the chorus of this song is.  It is a cry of His people, in the face of great adversity, praying that God would restore them, make His face shine on them, that they may be saved.  Three times this chorus is repeated and with each repetition, the passion and desperation of the cry grows.  They are in such a difficult situation that the only hope they have is that God would turn His face towards them.  The restoration and salvation they seek has two aspects to it. 

The first is the physical aspect.  They are surrounded by enemies, and they have been battered and bruised by them.  They need a reprieve.  They need salvation desperately.  They cannot take much more of this pain.  We also need reprieve from the pain this virus has caused us.  So, we ask and cry out for salvation from this virus, from this pain that the world is under.  As hard as it may seem for us here, can you imagine the pain that the rest of the world is under?  We need a vaccine.  We need businesses to be restored.  We need life to resume again.  And we should be praying for those things. But this is not our greatest need.

The second and more important is the spiritual aspect.  They need to be restored to God.  They need their hearts saved and transformed by God.  They need to return to Christ and for God to return to them.  “Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see (v. 14)!”  History for the Israelites was the story of their relationship with God.  And what was going on in the physical realm often mirrored what was going on in the spiritual realm.  When they were prospering, they began to forget that it was because of the sheer mercy and grace of God.  And as they forgot, and they persisted in their sins, God would give them over to their sins and their enemies.  Finally, they would cry out and in His grace, He would restore them again first to Himself.  This Psalmist is in the place of crying out for restoration. 

I don’t claim to be a prophet, but can this worldwide pandemic be His way of calling the world and calling us back to Him?  CS Lewis said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Have we become deaf to the Word of God and the Spirit of God? If so, this too is His instrument of mercy to call us back to Him.  And so we pray not just for physical restoration and salvation, but more importantly, for spiritual restoration and salvation.  We pray that God would restore us back to Himself.  That God would take His rightful place in our lives and in our world. And we would take our rightful place kneeled before His throne.  So, let’s cry out with the Psalmist, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”

Psalm 73 (Desiring Christ Alone)

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Verse 25 is the goal of our lives- to be so in love with Christ, that the things of this earth no longer has hold of our attention or our hearts.  What would it be like to love and desire God so singularly and so passionately, that “earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  Even as the Psalmist (Asaph) writes these words, we see that this was not always the case. 

Psalm 73 is such an honest Psalm.  By now we realize the honesty of all the Psalmists. This Psalm begins with a case against pursuing God.  He says at the outset that “my feet had almost slipped, I had nearly lost my foothold (v. 2).”  He is saying that he almost lost his faith completely, and was ready to give in and give up.  The reason? He did not see the point of pursuing God anymore.  He observed those who clearly do not follow God, and they seemed to prosper and enjoy life so much more than those who pursue God.  He, admittedly, was filled with envy “when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (v. 3).”  They seemed to have “no struggles” and be “free of care.” 

Meanwhile, he has been struggling to keep afloat.  He has been struggling to balance his faith with his real desire of wanting what he sees the wicked enjoying.  Not only was he filled with envy, but he was struggling with grief and bitterness (v. 21). He was not in a good place.   So, what changed for him, so that this same person can now say “earth has nothing I desires besides you?” 

He had a glimpse of glory. He had a glimpse of the glory of God, when he entered the sanctuary of God (v. 17).  He had a glimpse of the glory awaiting the righteous (v. 24).  He had a glimpse of the terror awaiting the unrighteous (v.19).  He had a glimpse of glory, but also of God’s patient and steadfast love.  He realized that God had been walking besides him this whole time. And that the only reason he had not completely fallen, was not because he was hanging on to God, but God was hanging onto him (v. 23).  God’s glory and love begins to change his heart, change his desires, until one day he can say that he desires God above all things. 

Now, even as he says that, he knows that he can fall again.  So, he reminds himself and us, that “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (v.26).”  God will continue to uphold him and strengthen him and bring him back to Himself, his portion, and our portion forever.

I’m not sure where you are in your spiritual journey.  Maybe you feel your feet slipping.  Maybe you feel overwhelmed with envy or grief or bitterness, or any other emotions that cloud your vision of God.  Let’s pray for a fresh vision of God’s glory and unfailing love.  Let’s pray for a renewal of our heart’s desires, so that we too can say “earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  And when (not if), but when our hearts fail again, may we find that His strength and grace is sufficient to keep holding onto us, until we see His glory face to face. 

Psalm 57, 61 (Under His Wings)

Psalm 57:1 I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

In two of our readings this week, we are told about God’s wings, under which we can take refuge. In Psalm 57:1, we can take refuge in the “shadow of Your wings,” and in Psalm 61:4, we can take refuge in the “shelter of Your wings.”

I remember hearing a story of forest rangers, who were going through an area, after it had been ravaged by fire. One scene amazed them. They saw an eagle with outstretched wings.  The eagle was burnt, but from under her wings, they found chicks that were still alive.  They had taken shelter under her wings and had been protected through her sacrifice.  

In many ways, this is our story as well.  Under the shadow and shelter of God’s wings, we have been protected from sin, satan and death.  Christ sacrifices Himself for us, so that we may live. Christ continues to invite us to take refuge in the shadow and shelter of His wings.

In Psalm 57:1, David speaks to himself to take refuge under His wings, until “the disaster has passed.”  This disaster due to the virus, as difficult as it is, will one day pass.  But until then, you can take cover under His wings and receive the protection and provision you need to endure this disaster. 

In Psalm 61:4, David speaks about how much he longs to be in God’s presence and take cover under His wings.  The reality is that though we CAN take shelter under His wings, some will NOT come under His protection and still try to handle this or any disaster on our own.

In Luke 13, while looking over Jerusalem, Jesus weeps over the unwillingness of the Israelites to take cover under His wings.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

God extends His wings, His arms and invites you to take shelter and refuge under it.  Will you today come under the shadow and shelter of His wings and find refuge and strength?  I pray you will.

Psalm 51 (Create in Me A Clean Heart)

Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,                  and uphold me with a willing spirit.

When I was a youth student, this was one of my favorite passages without even knowing it was in the Bible.  Our youth group sang a song with these lyrics.  I can still remember singing out the chorus in earnest “…Cast me not away from your presence, O Lord…”.  These words seemed so relevant to us as young teenagers. I didn’t realize it was penned by King David thousands of years ago.  This song of repentance was relevant to him then. It was relevant to me decades ago. And it’s still relevant to me now, and I’m sure is relevant to you as well, no matter your age.  

It’s because we still get our hearts dirty, and our spirit is often at odds with the Holy Spirit, and is not right with Him.  We still experience the pain of sinning. Pain to God, who though He died to take away our sins, still grieves over our sins (Eph. 4:30). Pain to ourselves, as we separate ourselves from the source of Life. And pain to others, as sin is never private. It leaks out to others.  

The way to getting our hearts clean again, to renewing our spirits, so we are right with His Spirit, and to experiencing the joy of our salvation, is through the gift of repentance.  Today, I encourage you to take some time to repent.  To come clean before God, with your sins, so you can leave clean by His grace.  To come with “a broken and contrite heart,” which are pleasing sacrifices to God, which He gladly welcomes and does not despise (v. 17).   

David did just that, and as he writes in another Psalm, he experiences the joy of forgiveness, that I pray will be yours in Christ too.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered… I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:1, 5).

Psalm 40 (My Help and My Deliverer)

Psalm 40:17 You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.

In Psalm 40, David ends the Psalm with confident hope in God.  He declares that “You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God (v.17)”   For a time though he was not so sure, that God would come through and deliver the help he needed.  Verses 11 and 12 show this clearly:

11        Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;

                        may your love and faithfulness always protect me.

12        For troubles without number surround me;

                        my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.

            They are more than the hairs of my head,

                        and my heart fails within me.

He’s hoping, but not sure if God would withhold His mercy from him.  You see, he is bombarded with “troubles without number” from the outside and with sins that seek to overtake him from within.  And the result is loss of vision.  Not literally, of course, but spiritual vision. He cannot see God.  His troubles and his sins cover his sight of God.  And once spiritual vision goes, his heart fails him.  Another translation says “my courage leaves me.” 

We think of David as a man of courage, but he says, as he loses sight of God, that he is discouraged and filled with fear.  Have the troubles you are facing now, or the sins you are struggling with now, caused you to lose sight of God, or caused your heart to fail and be filled with fear?  

David says of his troubles and his sins, “they are more than the hairs on my head.”   He may have felt this way, but this hyperbole, for I doubt David knew the number of hairs on his head. But this reminds me of someone who does know this about me.  In Luke 12, Jesus says…

Luke 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Christ says to us, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t lose courage. Don’t let your heart fail you or fill you with fear. I know you and I haven’t forgotten you. I will not delay.  I will deliver. I will be your help. For I am your God!”

Ask the Holy Spirit to let you see beyond your troubles and your sins, so that you can see Christ, and His mercy that He does not withhold from you.  Rather, his love and faithfulness will protect and provide for you today and in the days to come.

Psalm 34 (His praise will always…)

Psalm 34:1 I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

This is the first verse in today’s reading.  The words “at all times” and “always” stand out, as “at all times” include these current times of crisis that we are living in.   It is during times of crisis that our true heart of worship is tested.  It is inevitable that what is in our heart will make its way to our lips, and I wonder, are words of praise and thanksgiving what is on our lips?  If I’m honest, my psalm would say “His praise will SOMETIMES be on my lips.”  I’m challenged by this Psalm that says “His praise will ALWAYS be on my lips.”  I read this, and it causes me to pray that this would be true of me.  How does one have such faith and such love that they can worship God “at all times” including these times? 
So much of this beautiful Psalm is about invitation.  God is inviting us to Himself.  For example:

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

(We are invited to experience His goodness and grace.)

11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

(We are invited to come and listen to and learn from Him.)

18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(We are invited to come into His presence as we are, in pain and in brokenness.)

Search this Psalm and there are many more such invitations. What if we said “yes” to those invitations, and found ourselves in His presence, at His feet, experiencing His goodness.  No matter what crisis or circumstance we are in, would not our lips, naturally speak words of worship, thanksgiving and praise?  
The focus then is not to force our lips to say something that it does not feel, but rather to draw closer to our Christ who invites us to Himself.  Especially in these times, may we do so, and find our lips utter His praise “always”, out of love and gratitude.