Category Archives: Psalms

Trusting in times of lamentation

Psalm 13

After a fairly substantial interlude, I’m returning this week to my series of reflections on the Psalms, picking up where I left off with Psalm 13.

This is a psalm is a psalm of lament. These are some of my favourite psalms because they are so real and raw and honest. One thing I notice about this one, as with so many others, it has the instruction at the start ‘to the choirmaster’ – implying it was to be used in Israel’s times of corporate worship. I often forget when I’m reading the Psalms that many of them were not simply written as personal prayers. Some of these passages are so full of pain and even anger at God, and they weren’t secret, but instead were public expressions of grief, confusion and doubt. I don’t know much about ancient Hebrew worship services, but I find it encouraging and challenging that they could be so honest in community. It’s something that I wish we would be more comfortable with in our churches today, but maybe it’s just not very British?!

In this Psalm, David feels like God has forgotten him. He is full of sorrow – in today’s terms we would probably say he is depressed – and he feels defeated, as if his enemies are crowing over him. He is asking God to give him new hope because he feels hopeless. But he remembers that God has blessed him in the past, and so he knows he can trust in God. He is confident that he will be restored and that he will be able to praise God joyfully again in the future.

Sometimes, for us too, it can feel like God is far away, that our plans are failing while others are succeeding, like evil is winning in the world. When this happens, we need to remember that God is both Good (Yahweh – LORD) and Great (Elohim – God). He can always bring new hope to us, as we remember all that He has done in the past – both for us individually but also as witnessed by others in the Bible or in the testimonies of people we know. This encourages us to keep trusting Him for the future.

When I read the psalms of lament, it reminds me that I need to be real with God. To open up about my hurts, my fears and my struggles and to hand them over to Him. When the world seems so messed up, I need to cry out to God. When He seems far away, that is when I need to cling on hardest to my faith and keep trusting in His goodness and greatness.

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The precious words of God

Psalm 12

In my personal Bible studies I am still sloooowly working my way through the Psalms. There is so much to love in those pages that I am taking my time and dwelling on each one. I make detailed notes, which I have been using to write some of these posts. If you followed my old blog, you may have noticed that these jumped about all over the place, and when I moved to WordPress I decided to be a bit more systematic: starting from the beginning of the Psalms and working my way through. I don’t manage to read and reflect on Scripture everyday, but I am working on this as I think it is vital when studying theology not to forget the point – which is to love God with my whole mind as well as my heart, soul and strength. My notes have got a few Psalms ahead of my blogs, so this week I have been looking back at my reflections on Psalm 12.

If I could meet any Bible character to sit down and have a chat, David would be pretty high on my list. He is such an interesting person – a warrior poet, a shepherd king, a messed-up man after God’s own heart. I often find the Psalms resonate with my experiences today, and Psalm 12 is no different.

In this Psalm, David feels isolated, like he is the only person around who is faithful to God (and this is actually quite common for Bible characters – Noah and Elijah, to name a couple, felt similarly isolated in their faith). David feels like he is surrounded by deceitful people, those who boast and flatter, and he wants God to bring truth to the situation.

The Psalm seems to take a jump here, to God speaking up on behalf of the poor and needy – but one thing I’ve realised as I’ve been looking more into issues of social justice is that deceit is a big part of the mechanisms of injustice, whether it is to trick someone into slavery, to cover up a crime or to keep someone trapped in a life they haven’t chosen. God sees all of this and He is a God of justice who will act – often through us – to free the oppressed. He keeps His promises to us, and He will protect those who seek His help.

Sometimes trying to live God’s way is a lonely and isolating experience, especially in a culture that is increasingly at odds with what we believe, but God is always with us and strengthens us to live for Him. Sometimes those around us will deceive us, and sometimes our culture and the media will try to convince us that we are idiots for wanting to believe in God and live a way that honours Him. Instead we need to listen to what God says – primarily in His Word, the Bible, but also through Christian friends and older, wiser people in our churches. Because, as David says, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace” (v6) – they are true, clear and precious, and He will not lead us astray.

face to face

Psalm 11

King David was a man of great faith, even when circumstances were not great. It makes me so happy that we have so many Psalms that were written by (or at least attributed to) him. They permit us to be so honest with God, as we can see that David never minced his words when it came to his emotions, his pain frustration and anger, he took it all to God, along with his praise and worship.

In this psalm we see that David is assured of God’s care for him, he takes refuge in God. People are telling him to be afraid, to flee his enemies, but David trusts in the LORD. He knows that God sees what is happening. David is sure that God will judge those who do wrong, and also that the righteous will be tested, purified, but ultimately they will get to see God.

We may not like the sound of the testing/purifying bit, but it is a promise that is repeated throughout Scripture. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is in 1 Peter 1:6-7: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ’. I haven’t had the easiest year, by any stretch of the imagination, but through it all I learned to cling ever tighter to my faith, to God who sees me through every trial. I know that I am stronger, that my faith is stronger, because of what I have been through, and I trust that that is honouring to God. Another of the many verses that have enocouraged me this year is Romans 8:28: ‘and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’. When I look back on the last year, now, with a little bit of distance, I can see start to see the good in it.

See, the thing is, trials hurt, being purified in a fire is painful, but I want to be pure. I want to have my rough edges stripped away and to be made righteous by my faith in the One who created and loves me. Because there is a promise in this psalm that is echoed elsewhere in the Bible. The righteous will see God. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus promises something very similar, though his words are slightly different: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ I hope that I will have the courage to face any trial that comes my way if it means I become more like God and brings me closer to meeting Him face to face.

a new world coming

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Psalm 10

As I mentioned last week, Psalms 9 and 10 were most likely originally one psalm, and thematically, as well as structurally, there are a lot of similarities. David focuses here in this second part on the attitude and character of a wicked person, and how they may seem to prosper for a time, but shows that God is attentive to the cries of the oppressed and will bring justice.

Sometimes it seems that God just does not care. Sometimes it seems that the world is going to the dogs, evil people are threatening the innocent and everything just feels really messed up. Many situations nationally and worldwide spring to mind. David felt the same way. He describes for us a typical evil person: boastful, greedy, arrogant, deceitful, foul tongued, murderous, scheming and thieving.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that on occasion I can show any or all of these characteristics, but there is one right at the centre of David’s list, in verse 4, that is the key characteristic: ‘In the pride of his face, the wicked does not seek Him, all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”’

It is not what we do that makes us righteous or wicked, it is whom we believe in.

Because the truth is that God does see everything that goes on in the world. He does hear when we cry out to Him in pain and anguish. It breaks His heart to see the horrible things humans do to each other and to the planet. And when we cry out to Him, He will always respond. He will bring comfort with His presence, which is the thing we need most, and sometimes He will bring answers to our questions and relief to our distress.

I can’t answer the question of why there is suffering in the world, why evil seems to prosper or why there are natural disasters, diseases and wars. But David gives us an answer: one day this will all end. In verses 16-18 he says: ‘The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.’

God’s kingdom is coming. In some ways it is here already, little glimpses can be seen in the kindnesses we show to each other, when we imitate Jesus and sacrifice our selves to help those in need. We don’t do this to seek approval from God or to be made right with Him. We do this because we have been made right with Him by trusting Him and we want to love others because of the love He has shown us.

A few years ago I heard a talk given by the Rev Graham Cray at the Soul Survivor summer festival. One thing he said has stayed with me ever since, and for me it sums up this Psalm beautifully:

“God does not call us to be holy just to please Him. It does please Him, the Bible makes that clear, but He calls us to be holy so that the world sees the new world that’s coming right in the midst of the old world that’s broken.”

The Name and character of God

Psalm 9

Psalms 9 and 10 were originally one Psalm, so consider this post like to be like the first of a two-part episode of your favourite show (or any show, I’m not assuming you like my blog more than anything else you read online…). Together the structure of the two Psalms forms an acrostic poem, with each stanza beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and there are several other Psalms that follow this pattern.

David, in this Psalm, tells us he is continually praising the LORD, the Good God, and telling people of what He has done. He is thankful, for God has overcome David’s enemies – those who are not righteous cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. God is a righteous judge who rebukes those who persist in wickedness. He rules over the earth. David makes it clear that God will judge the earth and that He loves justice to be done, but he also wants us to know that God is a safe haven, a refuge, for those who seek after Him and want to know Him. He says to God: “those who know your name put their trust in You”. (v10)

This made me reflect on what names we know God by. I’ve said before, and will say many times in the future, that when we see God called ‘God’ in the Bible it is a translation of the word Elohim, which refers to God’s greatness, as in the first chapter of Genesis when God’s creative power is established. When we see the word ‘LORD’ used, written all in capitals, it refers to God’s covenant name, Yahweh, which is used to emphasis His goodness. The clearest example of this is Exodus 33/34, when Moses asks to see God and God says that He will pass by Moses and declare His name over Him. And this is what happened: ‘The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.’

Notice how long God’s name is?! Because knowing God’s name is about more than knowing what to call Him. Knowing God’s name means recognising His character: His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, His forgiveness, His judgement. And Moses’ response to hearing God’s name is the same as David’s, and is what ours should be: worship. Recognising the truth of what God’s character is like can only lead us to praising Him and telling others of His goodness and greatness. Seek Him, and lead others to Him.

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and I think to myself, what a wonderful world…

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Psalm Eight

This short Psalm is packed full of the wonder of God. The very first verse emphasises God’s goodness, by using His covenant name, Yahweh, LORD, but also His majesty by using the name Adonai, translated as Lord. We are also told what He rules over – all the earth and in the heavens display His glory and majesty for all to see. Even the very youngest of God’s creation can recognise the wonder of what He has made and praise Him for it, and through His creative power He has shown His authority.

This Psalm is deep, and I love it. David sits, pondering the wonder of creation, all the amazing things God has made and how tiny we are in the scope of it all, and yet, and yet, God cares about us. God cares about people, He is concerned with our everyday. He has given us such a high status in creation, and charged us with caring for His earth. He has honoured us and given us the great privilege of stewardship over the world He has made, over domestic and wild animals, fish and birds. We need to think about what we have done and are doing with this great responsibility entrusted to us.

God is good, but He is also Lord, the master of creation – the maker/owner, I once heard it put. His Name is majestic and He deserves glory, this is shown in creation. He created the universe, but He still cares about us, mankind, and has given us honour and responsibility. He has given us authority on the earth, we are His stewards.

In my mind this means we should be helping the earth to continue to display God’s glory, nurturing the planet and sharing the resources. Instead, we flawed human beings tend to plunder the earth and take what we can get with little concern for those we share the planet with – animals or other humans.

So I think it’s time for a challenge – what one thing can you do this week to help take better care of the planet? It could be as simple as reusing paper or recycling it instead of just throwing it in the bin. It could be only buying locally produced products for a while, or donating unwanted items to charity instead of chucking them away. For me it’s water – I’m going to make a real effort to waste less water this week: shorter showers, less water for washing up, not running the tap unnecessarily. This is a way of saying thank-you to God for the amazing earth He created for us, by taking better care of it.

So please share your ideas for looking after the planet!