Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Ten)

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (63:7-8).

The fifth vital experience of those who believe in the living God is the experience of trust. It is the starting point and the zenith of the other experiences, only to start them again. Apart from it, we cannot meditate, be satisfied, praise, or glorify God. Trust in the Lord is essential to our walk with God. He calls us to do tasks that cannot be done apart from faith. Belief in our sovereign God enables us to act bravely, going into truly scary places to seek the lost. It helps us to encourage those failing in health as they walk with the Lord into the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). It reenergizes us in the mundane and even utterly boring tasks in which it may be our lot to glorify the Lord. It helps us sense the strength of Christ as we stoop to serve the lowly and neglected. It clarifies our vision when we realize that we will have to go through difficult and thankless events, that if everyone is honest, all will confess they dislike experiencing, in order to build up the body of Christ. When we know the glory of the living God, the spiritual response is to rest in his love and concern for us, in all the above mentioned.

David certainly knew that God was his help. This caused him to do something. He sang! Those who know that God is their helper may have such sweet joy and confidence that we sing even in desert places while pursued by our enemies.

The psalmist David provides a beautiful picture, one probably learned from his great grandparents. Boaz said to Ruth, “May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge (Ruth 2:12 CSB).  And as is written in another place, The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1 CSB). David had found a beautiful place of safety in the desert. He rested, more, he relaxed under the shadow of God’s wings. He was like a little chick that the mother hen protects with her wings. Let his enemies come! They will never be able to pass the wings of omnipotence that protect him!

Next, David changed the imagery slightly. He declared his intense, personal trust in the Lord. His soul was clinging to God, as a little child might cling to the legs of her mother or to the neck of his father when in a frightening situation. Here is a blessed picture. The living God, ruler of the universe, allows us to cling to him! Here is amazing love! A sinner clings to the Holy One! Ah yes, we may draw near to God. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a NASB).

Not only is the preceding true, but David said we can be more confident. It is also true that God’s right hand, the hand of power, upholds his dearly loved people. What security this provides! The Almighty Lord wills to carry his people in his strong right hand. We can rest in this place of safety; a fortress of sovereign strength protects us. This reminds me of a chorus that I learned as a young child. “Safe am I; safe am I, in the hollow of his hand.”

Believer, the Spirit of God reassures us by these word-pictures that God wants us to be confident in him, to move forward in his strength. When I take walks with my little granddaughter, I often sing to her, “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow… Strength for today is mine always, and all that I need for tomorrow! My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” And as I follow, I learn as his disciple that he upholds me in his right hand. Trust is a vital experience.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Nine)

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night (63:6 NIV).

The fourth vital experience of the believer is meditation. Notice carefully the particular kind of meditation. It is not seeking an emptiness of the mind, the contemplation of peaceful scenes, or a visualization of success. David remembered and thought about God himself. Surely we ought to meditate on God’s word (Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2; 37:31; 119:11, 15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148) and on God’s works (Psalm 77:12; 111:2; 119:27; 143:5; 145:5). But here the emphasis is meditation on God himself. It would be strange to want to read texts and emails from a person we love, to think about what he or she does, and yet neglect to think about the person who communicates and acts.

Part of our problem is our concept of God. The living God is not an advice columnist, a therapist, a doctor, a deliveryman, or a repairman. God is personal. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wants us to approach personally, and not acting like we’re ordering something off a website on our cellphone. We ought to think on the awesome God as the One who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

How can we begin to meditate on God himself?

  • Think of him as he is, a personal being, and not some supernatural force. God speaks, interacts, feels, and desires us to talk to him.
  • Think of how God reveals himself as Father for us (Matthew 7:11; etc.) You may need to correct your thoughts about fatherhood to conform with the goodness of our Father in heaven.
  • Think of the way God encourages us to draw near to him boldly (Hebrews 4:16; 10:22). When we meditate on God, it must always include faith in him.
  • Set your desire on him. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night (Psalm 73:25 CSB).
  • Refresh your heart with thoughts of God’s unfailing love for you. God’s love for his chosen people is like the sun shining in its strength. O that our hearts were like the full moon, reflecting his love! People “are afraid to have good thoughts of God. They think it a boldness to eye God as good, gracious, tender, loving: I speak of saints…”! (Owen, Works, Vol. 2, p. 35)
  • Set apart time to meditate upon God. You can’t talk to someone unless you invest time to talk with them! That should be obvious, but we need to unclutter our hearts and lives of unnecessary activities and thoughts, to make room for God. If we can invest time in our families, friends, and other people, shouldn’t we make time to meditate on the living and true God a priority?

You see, the uncomfortable truth is do we desire God? Everything in our life, words, and actions, including the use of our time, comes from our hearts, the core of our beings. God wants our hearts.

Grace and peace, David

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Three)

Acts 14:21-23

Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22 CSB).

The book of Acts records what the Lord Jesus continued to do to build his church through the ministry of the apostles by the Holy Spirit. As we read this record, we discover a pattern of ministry that can guide us in the work that the Lord of the church has called us to do. Previously, we have seen these aspects of this pattern:

  • Real life ministry
  • Preaching
  • The gospel (good news)
  • Make disciples
  • Strengthen disciples

This brings us to the next part of this pattern of ministry. We are to encourage disciples (learners of Jesus Christ). This is an important but often overlooked part of the gatherings of believers. I think this is because the emphasis in most Bible believing churches has been “don’t do these naughty things” and “do your duty by serving the Lord”, which is often reduced to such matters as hand out bulletins, work in the nursery, and help out at the building on work days. On the other hand, a contemporary alternative is “you can feel happy or be successful or prosperous (in your marriage, parenting, job, or finances) by doing these steps”. All this stuff has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity! The average person leaves a meeting rather frustrated or depressed or ready to drop the whole church routine.

Encouragement is a goal of Christian ministry. After the so-called “council of Jerusalem”, the church at Jerusalem sent out men to encourage the church at Antioch, after some had caused a disturbance in Antioch (Acts 15:30-32). When a church has been upset, its members need encouragement! After the apostle Paul had to set right some matters in Corinth, he made certain that he directed them to be encouraged. Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). Paul sent Tychicus to the Ephesian believers to encourage them (Ephesians 6:22). He sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on the same mission (1 Thessalonians 3:11). To encourage is an essential part of preaching God’s word. Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV; cf. also 1 Corinthians 14:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

The world and the forces of evil press hard against the people of God, and so we need encouragement to remain faithful. When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts (Acts 11:23 CSB). Barnabas himself was a model of encouragement (Acts 4:36). Like him, some have encouragement as a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8), but we all are to encourage one another, especially with the truth of our Lord’s second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Encouragement is a need of those who are suffering. This is what God our Father does for us: who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:4 ESV). As the children of such a loving and comforting Father, we ought to be known for our concern and skill in encouraging each other.

Encouragement is necessary to prevent spiritual decline. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7 NIV). But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:13 CSB). Clearly, this is our mutual responsibility in our gatherings: not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).

So then, I plead with everyone to make our local churches gatherings for encouragement. This is my prayer for Christ’s followers in every place. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eight)

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you (63:4-5 NIV).

Our focus is on being satisfied in our relationship with the holy and majestic God, the overflowing source of love, joy, and peace. This happens as we worship (declare and display the worthiness) in the fullness of life. God did not “invent worship” to make us feel miserable or to give us an emotional high. Instead, the Lord wants us to be satisfied or filled. In his book Desiring God, John Piper mentions three stages of worship that saints go through.

  • The lowest stage is that of barrenness of soul, where a person scarcely feels any desire for God, yet is repentant for having so little love for God (Psalm 73:21-22). In this stage, we have our souls focused on ourselves and the events of life. We do not think of God properly (according to how he has revealed himself in the scriptures), and we may feel frustration or perhaps even bitterness. Yet we continue to know that God is involved in life.
  • The second stage is that of tasting something of God and longing to know more of him (Psalms 42:1-2; 84:2; 143:6). The soul begins to hunger and thirst for personal fellowship with our sovereign God. We begin to experience hope and preach that to our souls. Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5 CSB).
  • The third stage is that mentioned in our text. We begin to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 CSB). We are satisfied in what he is. We drink of his living water and are glad (Psalms 4:6-7; 5:11; 9:2) We taste of him with our spirits and find in our experience that he is good. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8) Our hearts become stirred by a noble theme as we lay hold of the ascended Christ by faith (Psalm 45:1).

However, the experience of many evangelicals in the previous 150 years to the present has been reduced to a barren intellectualism or decisionism. They have acted like or taught that the experience of the early church (cf. Acts 2:46-47; 4:23-31; etc.) is not for today. They have become strangers to truth written in passages like (Ephesians 3:14-19; 5:18-20; Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:8; 2 Peter 1:8; etc.) Since most teaching in churches concerns how to be happy personally and to solve one’s problems, God has become the missing person in most churches.

“Where is the knowledge of God? Where is the sense of awe? Where is this great thing found in the Bible, when men and women have known that they have been in the presence of the living God? Surely this is the great difference between modern evangelicalism and that older evangelicalism that obtained until the middle of the last [nineteenth] century…? Where has this sense of godliness gone, this sense of wonder and amazement and the ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’?” (Lloyd-Jones, Enjoying the Presence of God, p. 115)

“The end God designs is, to draw our hearts and affections unto himself, and unto this end he gives unto us a glorious internal light, whereby we may be enabled to discern the true nature of the things that we are to cleave unto with love and delight. Without this we have nothing but false images of spiritual things in our minds; not always as unto the truth or doctrine of concerning them, but as unto their reality, power, and efficacy… He that believes in Christ in a due manner, who thereon discovers the excellency of his person and the glory of his mediation, will both love him, and, on his believing, ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 447).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). Amen.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Seven)

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you (63:4-5 NIV).

Having presented the reason for his experience of praise in an unlikely place, David next described how that praise is expressed. Four ideas come to our attention.

  • God is the object of his praise. His relationship with the living God that included an experience of the Lord’s glory would certainly cause David to praise his God and none other. True praise is not merely participation in religious ritual. Anyone can do that, even the most wicked of humans. Praise to the Lord is the overflow of one’s heart in love, joy and gratitude.
  • David’s praise was expressed verbally in the form of music. He used the talents and skill that God had given him to paint musically a picture of God’s wonderfulness. While those blessed with musical gifts should use them for the glory of God, those lacking them should not neglect this important part of worship. God is the maker of art and beauty, and so we should use artistic means to make known his splendor. To fail to sing praises robs God of the glory that we ought to bring him. Sing to the best of the ability that he has given to you. Our Father knows that some of us were not blessed with musical talent. He still desires to hear our voices.
  • The praise of the Lord should be a constant, lifelong activity. How can we do otherwise when we are in a personal relationship with God, have experienced his glory, and know that his unfailing love is better than life?
  • We should notice the involvement of the physical body in worship. Here David wrote about the lifting up of his hands. There are times to worship and bow down. (Please don’t try to avoid lifting your hands by piously saying you worship quietly. I rarely see anyone on their knees, much less falling prostrate before the true and awesome God.) In the Bible we see people shouting, dancing, clapping, and clanging cymbals! There are times for exuberant praise. When was the last time anyone could say that clearly you joyfully and enthusiastically praised the Lord in public worship?

The third vital experience of the believer is the experience of satisfaction in the Lord. This is something that has been neglected by the typical believer in evangelical circles. Consider the popular Christian books. We have a host of books on “Christian fiction”, prophetic matters, and how to solve your personal problems and prosper. We have a growing number of special interest study Bibles. Dare I mention books about the Christian and politics? I think it is fair to say that most of these books say little about the living God and finding satisfaction in him. To feel good about the form of worship and liking the songs sung to us by “worship leaders” is very far from the experience of delighting in the Lord. We can become so concerned about how we feel about the music, the message, and the other stuff of a typical service that we do not think about worshiping God together as his people. While we will benefit from praise and worship when we do both in faith and love, our benefits are not the goal. We worship and praise in an overflow of our hearts to God. We responsively declare with the outer persons of our bodies and the inner persons of our hearts the greatness and surpassing worthiness of God. More on how this relates to our satisfaction in God next time!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Six)

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you (63:3 NIV).

Why is God’s love better than life? First of all, because it is the love of the Almighty, Eternal, Sovereign, Holy, Wise God. It is love that is sacrificial, shown by giving his Son to save people from our sins to eternal glory. God reveals various aspects of his wonderful love to us in the Bible.

  • God’s love saves his people from disaster. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Psalm 57:2-3 ESV; cf. Psalms 31:7-8; 32:10; 94:18) God’s love is experienced at a time of crisis.
  • God’s love counteracts God’s wrath. Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love (Micah 7:18 CSB; cf. Isaiah 54:8; Lamentations 3:31-33). This kind of redeeming love is revealed especially at the cross of Christ, Romans 3:24-26.
  • God’s love sustains life. Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror. And you, Lord—how long? Turn, Lord! Rescue me; save me because of your faithful love. (Psalm 6:2-4; cf. Psalm 119:88, 149, 159). God’s love restores and refreshes us internally and externally. How I know this by personal experience!
  • God’s love is enduring, persistent, and eternal. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10 NIV; cf. Jeremiah 31:3; Psalms 118; 136). In the words of an old hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
  • God’s love is a reason that we can bring our requests to him. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1 NASB; cf. Numbers 14:17-19; Psalms 25:7; 44:26; 109:21, 26; 115:1). The Spirit of God encourages us to find a warm welcome at the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16.
  • God’s love has a prominent place in the life of his people. With your faithful love, you will lead the people you have redeemed; you will guide them to your holy dwelling with your strength (Exodus 15:13 CSB; cf. Psalms 13:5; 17:7; 26:1-3; 33:18; 36:7; 40:10; 48:9; 89:1; 90:14; 92:1-4; 101:1; 107:43; 143:8; Isaiah 63:7). This point is worthy of a study of its own, because it provides a model of how God’s unfailing love ought to affect our worship in a community of believers.
  • God’s love is abundant. For his faithful love to us is great; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117:2 NIV; cf. Nehemiah 9:17; 13:22; Psalms 86:13; 103:8; 106:7, 45; Joel 2:13). Read through each of the scriptures cited and see how amazing God’s love is for us!

When we realize the nature of God’s unfailing love, then we will declare that his love is better than life!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Five)

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you (63:3 NIV).

This psalm concerns being in a desert place, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Life is hard in such a place; a change for the better is unpromising. Yet David glorified the Lord in that desert place. What could cause him to praise? Verse three provides the answer. The motivating power behind his praise is his understanding that God’s love is better than life. At the time of our new birth, God teaches us about himself (Psalm 71:17; John 6:45; etc.) We know the Lord, which is true of all the new covenant people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11). We know his love, although we need the Spirit of God to explore the greatness of his love (Ephesians 3:16-19). What is begun at salvation develops in us as the Spirit uses the Scriptures.

It might make us uncomfortable, but the Biblical viewpoint expressed in this verse is a way to test the reality or quality of our spiritual experience. “The children of God want [long for] this presence of God, this felt realization of God’s lovingkindness; they want this above everything else” (Lloyd-Jones, Enjoying the Presence of God, p.100). The genuine believer in the Lord God is convinced about the value of God above all that life and this world have to offer. We can see this through various Scriptural examples.

  • Abraham chose to allow his nephew Lot to select what part of the land that he wanted. He did this because he considered himself on a journey to God’s city. Later, Abraham was willing to part with his son Isaac, because God asked him to.
  • In the depth of suffering, criticism, and doubt, Job remained faithful to God, because he believed in the Redeemer and the resurrection (Job 13:15; 19:25-27).
  • Daniel resolved to pray, though he knew it would probably result in his death (Daniel 6:10).
  • Paul was familiar with being in jail for the Lord. One time he declared that life for him meant Christ (Philippians 1:21), while another time he was ready to be poured out like a drink offering for Christ (2 Timothy 4:6).
  • Jesus describes the happy people as those who are persecuted for righteousness, because they have a reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12).

Every time we choose to live for God and the good of others, rather than for ourselves, we declare that God’s love is better than life. The life of faith is an ongoing process of making this evaluation. In humility, we investigate the various situations that God in his providence leads us into… and through, and by faith we say that God and his ways are better than life. Think of how God’s word presents this perspective to us.

  • Obedience to God is better than any alternative (1 Samuel 15:22).
  • Righteousness is better than wealth (Psalm 37:16).
  • God’s word is better than wealth (Psalm 119:72).
  • To please God is better than an earthly family (Isaiah 56:4-5). Indeed, when we risk everything to follow Jesus Christ, we find a larger, holy family than we ever dreamed possible (Mark 10:28-30).

Our text proclaims that God’s love is better than life itself. Next, we will consider what it is about God’s love that makes it better than life.

Grace and peace, David