Study of Psalm 123 (Part Two)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

People are never far from trouble. We thank the Lord God for every reason to rejoice and to celebrate. We ought to do both. However, even when we experience lawful pleasures (like the delight of a skillfully prepared meal or the beauty of a spectacular sunset), we may feel our happiness interrupted by a sad phone call, an unexpected repair bill, a difference of opinion with friends, or in our time, the ongoing reality of the pandemic and civil unrest.

With this in mind, we might be able to be sensitive to the angst of the old covenant people on their way to Jerusalem to keep the Lord’s appointed festivals. After the time of Solomon, there were few happy times. The histories of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were marred by civil conflict, oppression from Assyria and Babylon, struggles with lesser nations, and religious decline. Godly people always consider departure from the true God and the accompanying moral evil to be serious trouble. So those on the journey to Jerusalem had reason to sing, “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

Afflicted people need mercy. When we seek mercy in this sense, we ask God to show compassion toward us in our misery and to rescue us from it. When we seek mercy in regard to our relationship with God, we ask God for forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with him. Probably both senses are in view in this song. As already noted, old covenant Israel was usually an oppressed people. The reason suffering came to them was because of their unfaithfulness to the law covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68; etc.) So then, as the people journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate before the Lord, their hearts would also be filled with sorrow for their sins and sorrows. Each time this song would be sung, it was an opportunity to cry out again for deliverance. “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

So then, this song is for believers in the true and living God, in the midst of their experience of trouble. When it is sung, it ought to be sung with a sensitivity to trouble. The Spirit of God wants us to see our misery and to cry out to God for its relief! Thus this song is far from a glib “Praise the Lord anyhow” view of our troubles. The Spirit teaches us that we can sing during affliction. We can join the art of music with our troubled emotions. Beauty can arise from the ashes of persistent sorrow, broken dreams, and that gnawing sense that things ought not to be as they are. We can sing, because “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

This is part of the walk of faith. We know that we need mercy, and we also know that we can look to the Lord God for such mercy. So, as the travelers made their way up to Jerusalem, they could walk in hope, hope in God. Do you walk in this hope?

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 122 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem (122:1-2 NLT).

Psalms 120-132 are called Songs of Ascent. The law covenant required all males in the covenant nation to assemble in Jerusalem three times a year. All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place he chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Shelters. No one is to appear before the Lord empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16 CSB; cf. Exodus 23:14-17). As is clear from the Old Testament in several texts, the place God chose was Jerusalem. King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and there Solomon built the temple of the Lord. We learn from the heading to this psalm that David was its human author.

After many years of spiritual chaos during the reign of Saul, the Holy Spirit equipped David the prophet and king to restore the worship of the Lord in Israel. (There was not much worship according to the law covenant going on in Saul’s time. The Ark had been separated from the tabernacle for generations. Saul had killed many of the Lord’s priests, and the priests who were faithful to the Lord had been on the run with David for many years.) The second half of First Chronicles records various acts of David to bring about this restoration and indeed renovation of old covenant worship. (For example, he assigned the Levites to new duties, since they would no longer have to carry the tabernacle from place to place.) His greatest contribution to worship was the many songs that he composed for worship. At least two of his psalms are part of the Songs of Ascent. David wrote this one for people to sing as they entered Jerusalem on the three required times of assembly. So picture yourselves among the throng of worshipers. You have made a long journey, probably on foot, from your home to the holy (set apart to God) city. You join in this song with the others and are very happy because your trip has reached its destination.

David puts himself among the crowds that enter Jerusalem. This is what godly leaders ought to do. It has always amazed me how many leaders in churches do many other things during the service besides worship. Why didn’t they do some of those things a half hour earlier? Not so David. He entered Jerusalem fully engaged in worship. He was joyful because of the great privilege of standing inside the gates of Jerusalem. As an old covenant believer, he was glad that he was at the place of worship.

Read those words again: I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Notice how he models the joy of being part of a God-worshiping community where all encourage their neighbors to worship with them. During the law covenant, the place to be was at the temple in Jerusalem. In the new covenant, we seek no physical place, but we assemble as a spiritual temple (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:2:4-5). One of the best things about the current Covid-19 crisis has been to get the church out of a physical building. Now I realize the many advantages of being able to meet together in person rather than digitally. However, people had so joined building with church that they lost what a church truly is. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it (1 Corinthians 11:18 NIV, my emphasis). A church comes together as people meet to share their new lives in Christ. In this century, we are able to do this the first time virtually; we can interact seeing faces and hearing voices without being in a physical building. May we learn this lesson! We can share new life in Christ apart from a building.

Can you sense the exhilaration all the pilgrims experienced as they sang together, “And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem”? They had reached the place that the living God had chosen for his old covenant people to meet. Observe how the first person singular at the start of the song has morphed into the first personal plural in these words. Here we are! The people have assembled to worship! We sing far too many songs in the singular instead of the plural. For example, we sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” when we could just as easily sing, “On Christ the solid rock we stand!”

What is the new covenant reality compared to the old covenant shadow? It is easy to see in the letter to the Hebrews. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV). They gathered to worship in an earthly city. We gather in the Spirit to worship in the heavenly city. Many thousands of angels worship with us. We come as the church of the firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ. We come directly to God and to the Mediator of the new covenant that is built on his sprinkled blood that always cries out, “Forgive them, forgive them, don’t let those ransomed sinners die!” That is a beautiful reality!

We spiritually stand in Christ inside the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Look around with the eyes of faith. Enjoy our eternal city. We look forward when our faith will become our full experience.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 131 (Part One)

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me (131:1 CSB)

Psalm 131 is a short, little-known song of David. Some dispute that he wrote it (some dispute everything!), but there is nothing to indicate that he was not the author. In fact, what we know of David, the man after God’s heart, agrees well with this writing. Consider his attitude in 2 Samuel 6:20-22. He was very willing to humble himself before the Lord, even if others might despise him. “In general David is the model of the state of mind which the poet expresses here. He did not push himself forward, but suffered himself to be drawn forth out of seclusion. He did not take possession of the throne violently; but after Samuel has anointed him, he willingly and patiently traverses the long, thorny, circuitous way of deep abasement, until he receives from God’s hand that which God’s promise had assured to him. The persecution by Saul lasted about ten years, and his kingship in Hebron, at first only incipient, seven years and a half. He left it entirely to God to remove Saul and Ishbosheth. He let Shimei curse. He left Jerusalem before Absalom. Submission to God’s guidance, resignation to his dispensations, contentment with what was allotted to him, are the distinguishing traits of his noble character.” (Delitzsch)

The psalm is a song about childlike trust and humility before God. A practical use of it would be to teach this godly virtue (like there are songs for children about the fruit of the Spirit). The New Testament Scriptures teach this same attitude in passages like Matthew 18:3; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5. (Also read Lloyd-Jones’ sermon “The Approach to the Gospel” in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, pp. 33-43.)

What kind of trust does God expect his people to demonstrate in perplexing situations? Are you in a perplexing situation now? Are you becoming anxious or frustrated?

This psalm outlines easily:

  • The attitude of childlike trust (131:1)
  • The action of childlike trust (131:2)
  • The invitation to childlike trust (131:3)

The psalm begins with the stance we must take before the living God. David says that we must put off an attitude of being “big” enough to handle life on our own. We must not say that we are able to start from ourselves and understand or that we can unravel life’s mysteries. David immediately directs us to a different kind of approach to God, which, when you think on it, shows the true meaning of trusting God. It is to bow before God and say, “You speak, you explain, and I will listen.”

The text, then, deals with a common human attitude. We want to search, to investigate, and to analyze starting from ourselves. But to start that way is not to trust God, but it is to think ourselves capable of understanding life and the world apart from God. The way of faith is to bow before the Lord and say, “Lord, I need your help. I need you to teach me.” Most people are unwilling to so humble themselves before God.

Here is an amazing profession in prayer before the living God! “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty….” We want to ask, “How can you say that, David?” Is not that statement itself some underhanded way of expressing pride? Cf. Luke 18:11-12.

  • We must remember that David is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who both knew David’s heart and wanted him to write this. We know from the Scriptures that David had to struggle with pride as the rest of us do. (Read 2 Samuel 24.) But that is not the point of the psalm. It is presenting the general attitude that trust must have, especially in relation to the mind.
  • Notice that David is speaking to God — “O LORD” — and not to people. So, he is not trying to exalt himself before people. It is the saint speaking to his God. But how can we make this kind of statement before the Holy and All-knowing God? We can do it only by the Spirit, as he searches and examines our hearts.

Too often, any of us can have a “know-it-all” attitude. We might despise this when we encounter it in others, but we can be blind to our own pride. Lord, help us learn from this psalm! How refreshing it would be to hear a whole congregation of believers singing this psalm from the core of their hearts!

Grace and peace,
David

After the World Changed (Part Three)

John 21:1-14

The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea. Since they were not far from land (about a hundred yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:7-14 CSB).

After God changed the whole world at Christ’s resurrection from the dead, his disciples had to adjust to living in this new reality. They had already seen Jesus a couple times, and Peter himself had seen Jesus already at least three times (on Resurrection Sunday morning or early afternoon after Mary had met the risen Lord, on that Sunday night, and one week later.) When Peter dived into the water, he was very excited to see the Lord Jesus for the fourth time! Think how you would be in his situation. He had failed the Lord, because of his pride and prayerlessness. But Jesus had been ready to receive him back along with the others and had already recommissioned them (20:19-23). That included Peter. Whatever sorrow Peter still had, and a tragic failure like his would take time to recover from, he still had a great desire to be with his Lord. We should learn from his example. Do not allow your sins to hinder you from returning to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness. He died that we might be forgiven. It is one of the great blessings of the new covenant sealed with his shed blood. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV).

As Peter swam quickly to the shore, his friends followed in the boat, bringing the net full of fish. The Spirit has not recorded what quick conversation happened between Jesus and his learner (disciple), but can you picture the scene. Peter comes up out of the water dripping wet to appear before the Risen Lord of Glory! It has to make you smile. We can come as we are to Him who sits at the right hand of the Father. We ought to have a bold faith.

When the disciples were on the shore together, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. The Lord Jesus had already started breakfast for his hungry followers. Jesus told them to bring other fish that they had caught that he had provided (both sides were true). Their meal was to be a joint endeavor. This is what the Christian life is like: the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake (Romans 1:5 NIV). We trust the Lord to provide, as we do what his word directs us to do.

After the fish were cleaned and cooked, Jesus invited them to the meal. “Come and have breakfast.” Fellowship with the Lord and one another is a great blessing. Like any other men at such a time, they would have enjoyed the food, talked and joked and laughed, as they shared life with each other. Christ wants us to share and enjoy our lives with him. There are times to celebrate in the life of faith, and we ought to join in the celebration! Having dinners with your whole church or with your small group is not a gimmick to enlarge your group. It is sharing our common humanity to the glory of God.

Notice also that Jesus gave them bread. This would have sent off echoes in their hearts about how he had done this on other occasions (cf. Luke 9:16-17; 24:30-32). This whole incident proclaims that the Risen Jesus they ate breakfast with that morning was the same Jesus they had always known. Christ is risen indeed! Life after the world changed ought to be sharing our lives with our Risen Lord!

Grace and peace
David

A Verse for Our Times

Psalm 56:3

When I am afraid, I will trust in you (CSB).

People can have many fears at all times. At times, a relatively few people share the same fears. Those who share the same fears probably don’t have the same degree of fear. For example, some people have a tiny fear of heights; in fact, they’re simply cautious as all sane people are. Others are terrorized by heights, almost sure they are going to fall and die. Others might get paralyzed by their fears. Once in my construction days, I had to help a carpenter with forty years’ experience down off a roof, because he became paralyzed with fear. Yes, I, who have a rather healthy respect for heights, had to do this. (My wife and children are no doubt laughing as they read this!) Yet, I had to help him, and after about fifteen minutes, he was able to inch himself over to the ladder, and I held it securely for him, as he came down under his own power. Needless to say, it was the last time we allowed him to go up on a roof.

I don’t know where you are on “the fear spectrum” concerning Covid-19, the latest corona virus. Some people need to gain a healthy respect for it and act circumspectly. Others might be terrorized or paralyzed by fear. Many are in the middle or at some other point on the spectrum. No one can simply tell another person not to fear. We need to confront our fears with truth, and then replace them with faith in God.

David wrote this psalm. He had experienced strong, serious fears nearly his whole life. Many enemies tried to kill him. Yet escapes from possibly fatal encounters did not make him arrogant. Some people have that reaction after a brush with certain death. Arrogance is never wise.

The condition of his heart was complex. He was afraid, yet he trusted at the same time. He did not allow his fear to immobilize his soul. “It is possible, then, for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment. We are strange beings, and our experience in the divine life is stranger still. We are often in a twilight, where darkness and light are both present, and it is hard to tell which predominates. It is a blessed fear that drives us to trust” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, on this verse).

If you are afraid of what consequences Covid-19 might wreak in our nation and world, you are thinking. But don’t let your fears stop you from an active, growing, vibrant trust in the Lord. At the very moment you feel overwhelmed with fear, remember that God is in our situation. He is not far away and unconcerned. He is sovereign and ruling for the good of all believers in one way or another.

What David does is to encourage himself in the true and living God. If he had put his trust in idols and false gods, his faith would have been futile. But it was not. His faith was in the Lord of the covenant, in Yahweh (56:10-11), in the Great I Am Who I Am. His name, the Lord, is the hope of his people, the brightest star during the darkest night, the refreshing breeze on the hottest day, the one who is able to supply all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Let us not be like the unbelievers in the wilderness. They demanded food from God, but immediately questioned if he could provide (Psalm 78:17-22).

To trust God, you need correct ideas about him. The right beliefs come from his word. Read Isaiah 42-55, Mark 1-8, and the Gospel of John to fill your soul with the truth about our God. Then you must replace your fears with faith in the true and living God, the Almighty, the Ruler, the Sovereign God over all. Where is your heart today? Are you filled with fears? Or are you filled with the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ present in your heart, the same Christ who healed the sick and calmed the troubled seas. If the Lord can do that, he can be with all of us through this pandemic.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

Who, Then, Is This? (Part Three)

Luke 9:1-17

Then he told his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did what he said, and had them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them. He kept giving them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate and was filled. They picked up twelve baskets of leftover pieces (9:14b-17 CSB).

Jesus is someone who is able to satisfy (9:12-17). This is the only miracle, except Christ’s resurrection, that is recorded in all Four Gospels. Clearly the Holy Spirit considers this to be a significant event. Consider also that this miracle occurs within the context of Jesus seeking to provide his disciples with rest. This is another example of his compassion. Notice also that Jesus welcomed the crowds.

Christ demonstrated their insufficiency (9:12-14a). The disciples acted in a manner that is psychologically and emotionally accurate. They were tired after their journey and the long day, and they were concerned about the people. As they heard their own stomachs growling, they thought of others being hungry.

The Lord Jesus seized this opportunity to teach his disciples and to provide for another teaching occasion with the crowds. (He also gave what is called “The Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6 following this; first came the sign and then the word to explain it). Luke focuses on the apostles. It’s as if Jesus said, “Good thinking, men! Now what are you going to do about it?” The apostles look at their own resources and present two facts to show their own insufficiency.

  • First, Philip takes out his “smartphone”, opens the “calculator app”, and figures out that it would take eight months wages to feed a crowd that large. “We don’t have that much money!”
  • Second, Andrew finds a boy who still has five small loaves of bread and two fish. Obviously, that’s not enough to feed the crowd. “We only have a little!”

If you look at your own resources, you are only going to see how much you need and how little you have. We will never attempt great things for God with that kind of outlook. To follow the Lord requires faith. Jesus acted in this way to lead them to him, to the One who could provide and for whom they could minister to others in need. Too often Christians become mired in talk of “we never did that before” or “we could never do that”. And so the world goes on unreached into deeper evil, while the church is stuck in her lack of vision and faith in the Lord. It is imperative that we break out of this swamp of depression immediately! The current pandemic is a time to believe and to obey.

The Lord Jesus demonstrated his all-sufficiency (9:14b-17).

  • Christ prayed and gave thanks (cf. John 6:11) for the food. His prayer pointed people to seek God for the meeting of their needs. Jesus was always “making room” for God in the lives of people.
  • Then he constantly broke the bread and the fish, while the apostles passed the food out as the people sat in one hundred rows of fifty each. “They all ate and were filled or satisfied!” Everyone had enough, and each apostle had his own lunch box filled.

Who, then, is this Jesus? Clearly, he has a great message and a great vision, but he is also able to greatly satisfy! Is the lunch box of your heart empty? Jesus is able to satisfy, though money, possessions, vacations, entertainment, sports, drugs, alcohol, and sex cannot. Think about our current situation. People cannot go on vacation, cannot watch live sporting events, and cannot go out for entertainment, like casinos, bars, and movies. It is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how you’ve been spending your life. Why not change your mind about your life, turn and trust in Christ, and receive a full life? Christian, why not use this time to make the Lord the center of your life and lifestyle? Focus on the Lord today. Look at a world filled with fear and hate, and then get down on your knees and plead with God for mercy! Pray for the salvation of men and women, and girls and boys everywhere.

Grace and peace,
David

A Door of Hope (Part One)

Hosea 2:14-23

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt (2:14-15 NIV).

Previously in God’s always relevant Word, we read how God announced judgment on Israel for falling away from the Lord. It looked like Israel was finished! What hope could there be for those who turn their backs on the living God? What hope is there for those whom God threatens to punish? Some would write off America and other western nations as beyond hope. But is that so? What passage of Scripture can they appeal to? Doesn’t the Bible and church history present the darkest scenes of human hopelessness as the best opportunities for God to show his power?

The message of the Bible is a message of good news for the undeserving. God speaks of confident anticipation and of free and full forgiveness for the darkest sins. When all seems beyond hope, God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). God gives hope to the hopeless, joy to the grief-stricken, and peace to those torn apart by strife. The Lord is the God of new life and fresh vitality. And when he gives new life, it is a better life than previously known.

The Lord points to a new beginning (2:14-15). The key idea is unexpected and unmerited favor. God had just announced a just judgment upon Israel. She would be ruined! And now he speaks of leading her into the desert. How much worse could it get?

  • Biblically speaking, the desert has been a place of hope for God’s people. In the desert God formed Israel into a nation. In the desert, John the Baptist preached repentance and pointed people to Jesus, the Lamb of God. In the desert places of your life, the living God can speak tenderly to you (cf. Psalm 119:71). If you’re in a dark place now, look around with the eyes of faith and see the rays of hope breaking through the clouds.
  • God promises to reverse Israel’s fortunes. The destroyed vineyards (2:12) would be restored. The Valley of Achor, “Trouble”, which was always a dark memory because of Achan’s sin at Jericho, would become a door of hope. When you’re at the end of your rope, you’re at the place where God is able to untangle the knots in your life.

Sometimes God’s people go down into the “valley of trouble”, but in free grace God can open a door of hope unexpectedly before them. And when we walk through that open door, we have new opportunities to serve and enjoy the Lord. Remember Psalm 43:5: 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 (CSB).

The Lord foretells coming days of joy and celebration. Israel would sing to the Lord again, as she did at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). The lost song can be restored. This is very important. Yes, we can mess up our lives because of our sins, especially the sins of unbelief and the lack of thankfulness and worship. But God gives overflowing grace. Get off the performance treadmill, follow the Lord in faith, and rejoice in him anew!

God’s people sing when God makes us glad because of his salvation (Revelation 15:1-4). Has the Lord been gracious to you? Do you have good reasons to sing his praises? Yes, you do when you remember his saving, redeeming, matchless grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Five)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

So then, we should through faith obey God’s command to seek his face. God’s pattern for our behavior is always to follow his will, trusting him to supply what is need to walk in the way he directs us to walk in.

Now, it’s your turn. Answer the following questions after reading both passages to learn more about seeking the Lord through faith according to his word. What promise did the Lord give to Joshua prior to the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1-9)? How is this promise like the one given to the church (Matthew 28:18-20)?

“So though David said, ‘I will seek thy face,’ yet there was a spiritual virtue that enabled him. God must find us before we can seek him. He must not only give the command to seek his face, but together with the command, there goes a work of the Spirit to the children of God, that enableth them to seek him” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 119).

Consider Christ’s commands to the paralyzed man (Mark 2:11-12) and to Lazarus (John 11:43-44). Christ commanded both what they were unable to perform, but with the commands came to them with the ability to obey. We might wonder how weak creatures could seek the face of the Almighty, Eternal God, who is beyond our comprehension. But with the call to draw near to God comes the power of the Holy Spirit to approach the Father through the Son.

What kind of obedience through faith should we give to the command to seek God’s face?

  • We should give an immediate obedience . To seek fellowship with our Father is not something that we should put off. Don’t be like the child who calls, “I’m coming dad,” while he or she continues to play with the toys.
  • We should give a cheerful obedience. For example, Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7 CSB). God is always to be approached joyfully. Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2 ESV). This was the kind of attitude that Isaiah had when he heard God’s call (Isaiah 6:8). It was the kind of response that the apostles manifested after they experienced the pain they would suffer from obedience (Acts 5:41-42). “God would have things in the church done by such people” (Sibbes, p. 120).
  • We should obey sincerely; that is, we should be seeking God himself and not merely benefits from him. God sees through all hypocrisy. Though he wants to supply our needs and commands us to pray accordingly, the Lord first wants us to fellowship with him. Let us not mix these things up in our attitudes. It is far too easy for all our communication with the Lord to degenerate into sessions in which we only ask for stuff! Would you like to talk with a child who had that kind of attitude?
  • We should seek God perpetually. Resolve on seeking him now; determine to keep on seeking him daily. Our lives are made up of far too many false starts. We fizzle out like a sparkler that a child plays with. Think of something that you really like to do. How do you persevere in doing that action? You seize every opportunity! Seek God in that manner.
  • Our obedience must conform to the command. We only conform when we seek God’s face, regardless of our circumstances. Above all else God wants us to be devoted to seeking him, though we may not see how we will find him.

So then, we seek God successfully when we seek him in Jesus Christ through faith, and as James wrote, this faith produces actions consistent with who God is. “There is no good received by religion if we be not earnest for it. Religion is not a matter to be dallied in” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 304).

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Four)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Let us look more closely at this. God speaks to us and we may speak to him, but how we speak to God flows from our heart’s direction: “My heart says….” As our minds think about the truthfulness and preciousness of God’s word to us, and our emotions join in with proper corresponding attitudes, then our wills issue correct orders to our whole being. These responses will vary according to the various parts of the word of God to us. For example, reading Psalm 8 should produce a different response than reading Psalm 51.  Reading Lamentations 2 should stir something different in us than when we read Romans 8. This will occur if our whole heart is directing our response to God. If we find the same responses to varied passages, we have a fairly strong reason to believe that they are canned responses, like the “canned laughter” in TV sitcoms. Or perhaps we are just being highly selective listeners. An example is the programmed responses to established rituals from various churches, including from those churches that claim to lack ritual.

What should be happening is that the whole heart should listen attentively, and then the mind, emotions and will should jointly frame an appropriate response, as we see that happened to David in the rest of this verse. But to use another example first, think of Psalm 34:8. Here we hear a call to Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (NIV). What can you learn about framing an appropriate response to the Lord from this verse?

God expects us to apply the word and direct our whole being to seek him. This is necessary when the word of God exposes our true character to us. As we learn from the Bible our sinfulness, we may become discouraged from seeking the face of the Holy God. But it is at such points that we must by faith act upon the Scriptures and believe that God will receive us for Christ’s sake (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22). For example, what application and direction should we receive from Romans 15:7? What should we receive from Isaiah 40:28-31?

We must grasp that God truly wants us to seek him. Using the word of God with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are to venture on God’s call to the soul and by faith approach the Lord. God speaks to us through the Scriptures in order that we might fellowship with him. The way is already established in Christ; now we may simply by faith draw near to God.

However, too many use the word improperly. We allow other matters to distract us. For example, when we hear the word preached or taught, we care more for the way the message is presented than for the content of the message. What are some mistakes people make when they listen to the Scriptures?

  • They desire to hear ideas cleverly presented.
  • They wish to increase speculations about doubtful matters.
  • They are eager to hear what agrees with their church tradition.
  • They like easy answers that ignores life’s complexities.
  • They want to hear moving stories.
  • They want to receive memorable phrases.
  • They like to hear what will make them feel good rather than change.

What direction does Christ give us? Listen to two challenges from the Lord Jesus. And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:24-25 CSB, my emphasis). Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (Luke 8:18 CSB, my emphasis). Both the what and the how of our listening matter.

Thinking of how we hear, a lack of concern about our sin and a failure to repent will interfere with seeking God. Christ tells us that those who are poor in spirit, and who mourn (over sin) will be blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-4). But the Lord promises nothing to those who are unrepentant and refuse to listen to the word of God (Deuteronomy 29:19-20; Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 28:9). These truths also must be applied to our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part One)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

Consider the great contrast between chapters 18 and 19. It is hard to comprehend that they are speaking of the same person. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel.

A great victory does not prevent future troubles, whether it was a victory in service to God or a victory over remaining sin. People hope to solve all their problems by triumph in one shining moment. “Let’s win this one victory so we can get on with our lives.” We should never think that sin, the rebellious world and the evil one will surrender so easily. The believer’s life is a constant warfare against sin. Why else would we need the full armor of God?

Let us think about some problems that Elijah faced immediately after seeing God answer his prayers for fire and rain.

Elijah felt the pressure of fear (19:1-3). He looked in the wrong direction. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose the proper spiritual outlook. Peter experienced this while walking on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Remember what happened to the ten spies (Numbers 13:33). They had known God’s miraculous provision and victory over two powerful enemies within two years. Yet they did not believe that God was able to give them the land.

Elijah fell into fear, because he did not wait for the Lord’s direction. Contrast 1 Kings 17:2-4, 8-9; 18:1. He had done so well before, but he did not wait for a word from the Lord now. By the way, it’s useless to speculate about “what would have happened if….” Don’t waste your time in empty wishing that you would have done something different. Repent, believe and get on with the good work of serving the living God. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Great Lion, says to one of the children, Lucy, “Child, I do not tell people what would have happened.”

Even in his failure, the Lord was working for his prophet’s preservation. Elijah failed to see what God was doing for him at the very time he fell into fear. Why didn’t Jezebel slay Elijah immediately? Why did she wait? The Bible teaches us confidence in the living God who controls everything. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Lord can protect when everything seems hopeless.

Elijah felt the pressure of fatigue (19:4-6). We must be aware of the effect of our bodies upon our souls. A human is a functional unity of the spiritual and the physical. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to rest (Mark 6:30-32). Not only does the body affect the soul, but the soul can also affect the body. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV; cf. 17:22). This physical fatigue influenced Elijah to pray foolishly (19:4). It is grace that some of our prayers are answered “no”, because we can ask for some foolish things. I do not think that Elijah really wanted to die. If he did, he could have stayed where he was and Jezebel would have been happy to cooperate. God wisely and lovingly supplied what tired Elijah really needed then. He gave him sleep (Psalm 103:13-14), and he gave him food.

We must apply this knowledge to ourselves. Some cases of spiritual depression have physical roots. If your soul is down in the dumps, you may be ill or mistreating your body. You may need to see a medical doctor. Make sure you have proper rest. Choose wisely when you read your Bible. This can involve hard choices for busy moms. Some people function quite well at night and they can profit from Bible reading late at night. You may not be that way. You may be a morning or an afternoon type of person. Know yourself. The axiomatic wisdom of Jack Sprat. Know the rest you need before you go to church services. Get to bed earlier on Saturday night.

Grace and peace, David