image by Luke Stackpoole from Unsplash
Psalm 101 is the psalm I've been memorizing recently; perhaps its shortness appealed to me (it's been a while since I last memorized Scripture.) Just a verse a day, right? Eight days, and you have one whole psalm memorized. However lazy you are--or how bad your memory is; my two main excuses--you can't really argue with that.
There's a reason why memorizing a passage is different from simply reading it through. As your brain struggles to recall, to remember what order the verses come in, whether it's "haughty" or "proud"--or whether it's "haughty heart/proud look" or "proud heart/haughty look" (!!!) you're meditating on the meaning of the words, the significance of their order. I found much more food for thought from Psalm 101 than I had before just reading through on a superficial level, especially since you focus on just one verse each day. I've enjoyed Spurgeon's verse-by-verse commentary on the Psalms for the same reason.
I will sing of your mercy and justice; to You, O God, I will sing praises.
"Mercy and justice"--only with Christ can we celebrate both of these virtues of God without fear or guilt. Knowing that we are sinners, but redeemed ones.
I will behave myself in a perfect way; Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
Behaving wisely, perfectly, starts with our everyday life. Within our house. The small duties that others won't see. The everyday relationships, tasks, decisions that we make--that is where we should start in our quest to be holy, to model Christ's perfection. And as always, David makes clear the connection between behaviour and heart. Our hearts must be in the right place before our behaviour can be perfect, can be pleasing to God.
I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.
Holiness is not merely doing what is right, but just as much the purposeful avoidance of temptation and removal of sin from our lives. We may be going to church, giving generously, behaving with kindness and graciousness; but are we turning a blind eye to the pet sins that we are reluctant to give up? Is there bitterness, pride, or hatred that we need to address, but distract ourselves from by being busy with doing good?
Whoever secretly slanders his neighbour, him I will destroy; The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.
This includes seemingly petty/respectable sins: gossip, lying, jealousy, pride. David does not mince his words. He addresses these sins for what they are, and affirms his commitment to eradicating them from his life.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence. Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.
Within our responsibility and scope, how do we encourage what is right, and discourage what is evil? How do we live making a clear distinction between good and evil, when often culture, society, or environment tries to blur the line and justify what ought not to be justified? Here's a quote from Mark Driscoll I happened to come across that puts it clearly and simply (whatever bones you might have about him otherwise:)
"One of the great themes of the Protestant Reformation was that scripture--not culture--is best suited to interpret Scripture. If at any point our cultural preferences are in contradiction to Scripture, it is culture that must move, and not Scripture."
If you've ever watched any period dramas--be it the Game of Thrones fantasy sort, Chinese palace dramas, or Western historical dramas--politics, merciless survival-of-the-fittest scheming, deception, and backstabbing are the foundation of any court life. How revolutionary is it that David, as king, declares here his resolution to remove lies and deception from his court? Idealistic, some would scoff. As king, David could have shrugged and settled for "it be like that sometimes." Especially as someone who had been majorly exposed as a liar and deceiver over the whole ugly affair with Bathsheba, trying to cover up the sins of murder and adultery. It was all the more humbling, an act of vulnerability as well as an act of accountability, that David took this stance against lies and deception. His resolution did not stem from or cultivate a holier-than-thou attitude because it was common knowledge that the king himself had been a liar. His resolution was an effort of true repentance, seeking to put away all traces of what had been his besetting sins of pride, lust, deceit.
"A Psalm of David. Promised faithfulness to the Lord."
image by Lizzie from Unsplash
Being giving is a natural and necessary mark of spiritual growth.
"But as you abound in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us--see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others." (v 7-8)
If we are seeking spiritual growth in spiritual disciplines but find ourselves hard, reluctant, or grudging when it comes to giving--why should I give, if they've never given me anything? why should I be the one when no one else has? but do they really deserve it? what right do they have to my own money/time/effort?--we may need to reconsider whether we are neglecting this important aspect of spiritual growth.
"And in this I give advice: it is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have."
It is easy to talk about love, but the Bible calls us to "love not in word and speech but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)
Lest we become complacent, excusing ourselves that "God only looks at the heart anyway, and it's not like I don't want to, soooo I'm good I guess?" Paul calls us to remember that the desire ought to naturally be completed by the action.
"For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be an equality." (v 13-14)
If true giving stems from the understanding that our possessions are from God, and the giving of them is both an expression of the unity in Christ and a means of spiritual growth in Christ, then a flip-side (which is often overlooked!) is that we need to receive as well as we give.
We need to give willingly, with humility. We also need to receive willingly, with humility.
Too often in our desire to give, to show love, we end up having (what I call) the Mom-friend syndrome--being that friend who is always stable, always strong; always there to provide a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, a helping hand. But in our own times of need, we feel awkward and unsure, even guilty; we don't know how to ask for help, how to respond or accept when others offer their help. Perhaps it's even unconsciously become something we pride ourselves on, and we can't bear to destroy the facade we've created. I had to realize this about myself.
But this, heroic as it may seem to us, is downright unhealthy and definitely unBiblical. Not only are we depriving others of their opportunity to learn how to be giving, we encourage the wrong understanding of giving as a one-way thing, for ourselves and for them.
It takes humility to accept help, to acknowledge your neediness; and vulnerability to accept others when they try to help. Courage, to risk being hurt or not understood, having clumsy but well-meant attempts possibly cause us more pain or hurt our pride.
For some of us, we need to learn to be more giving. Some of us need to learn to receive. Some of us need to learn how to do both, better.
Being giving is something every Christian must learn in their journey of spiritual growth, yet something they cannot learn in isolation--something which once again reinforces our need for community in the Christian life.
image by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash
Being a giver--of our time, abilities, and other possessions--is an essential aspects of the Christian life and of our spiritual growth.
I've been studying 2 Corinthians for my Search the Scriptures devotions recently, and Paul has written extensively on serving/giving in chapter 8. He gives guidelines, unpacks the motivations and significance, and finally, urges the Corinthians to see this as something both precious and vitally important, for them even more than for the recipients.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." (v 9)
In the first place, we need to have the right perspective.
We need to be giving out of an existing awareness of the grace we have received in Christ; of how much Christ has already given to us.
Our giving is the natural consequence of God's grace towards us through Christ. That we are willing, and able, is also the evidence of God's grace towards us.
"For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." (v 12)
Being giving has nothing to do with our situation--the situation of the recipient--how much we have, how much we give. It is an attitude of the heart. A willingness, humility, and love in action. God values that. Like the widow's mites (I just realize how unfortunate this sounds.) We should not be held back by fears that we can't give enough (will it even make a difference? is it even worth the bother) or we can't give something costly (I can volunteer, but I'm not that good at it.)
That is not what God sees.
"...that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their great joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality." (v 2)
Being giving (I'm going to use this term, instead of the more results/action-oriented "giving") produces abundant joy. Again, it is not about the amount, the act itself, the item we give, but about our hearts and attitudes. When we are tempted to feel that we've got not enough for ourselves, that we are most entitled to be selfish, that we have excuses not to be giving, those are actually the times when we most need the joy and assurance of God's grace, awareness of God's grace and providence, that comes with being giving.
(to be clear, for those who may misunderstand, this is not about blindly and irresponsibly meeting every request or need that we encounter, or failing to consider Biblical priorities in caring for ourselves and our responsibilities/those depending on us.)
When we give, we remember God's goodness to us, and are comforted and strengthened. When we give, we declare our faith in God's ability to provide for us, just as He is using us to provide for others; and His ability to bless us abundantly in the process.
"And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God."
Again, being giving is about our attitude and perspective--this time, how we view our possessions and our role as stewards. When we give ourselves to God, we also give our possessions and our abilities and resources (though admittedly we tend to conveniently forget that!) Being giving is not out of a sense of obligation or guilt-tripping, but a willingness to share what you were given, entrusting God will use you and your gift within the wider scope of His providence.
(continued in part 2)
image by Jakob Owens from Unsplash
"...faith that moves mountains."
If only, we think, we had such faith.
Jesus was very gentle with His disciples when they humbly and simply acknowledged their lack of faith in Luke 17:5: "Increase our faith." Jesus' response was encouraging--"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Cryptic as this sounds, it is the same response that Jesus gave to the father of the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:14-29. This father was at his wit's end; exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster the disciples had put him on--getting his hopes up yet again, the bitterness of disappointment, the hopelessness of failure, the pain of seeing his son suffering still. He was hurting. He was confused, broken, and needy. "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
He wasn't even asking for healing, now. He did not know how much he could expect--or how much more disappointment he could take.
Like that father, many of us struggle with disillusionment, disappointment, bitterness, pain. Perhaps we feel betrayed by the church or let down by its people. Perhaps it seems foolish to cling to the belief that God is good, and will continue to be good, when our lives seem dark and hopeless. Perhaps we have been hurt deeply. Perhaps we feel like we have to sacrifice our desires and dreams to follow Christ. Perhaps we feel like God has not provided for us, has not blessed us, has ignored our most heartfelt prayers.
The answer is not looking for an explanation in reason, in theology even. Feeling guilty for struggling to trust, for struggling to have faith, yet being unable to emotionally and mentally reconcile what we feel and what we claim to believe. Becoming cynical and bitter, and telling ourselves we were naive to expect anything else. Or shrugging it off in despair as "something only reallyyy spiritually mature people will be able to have."
Jesus challenged the father directly on the root of the problem. Not assuring him He could heal his son, not explaining why His disciples couldn't, or demanding why he couldn't trust more, but probing him to examine his heart. "If you believe, all things are possible for those who believe."
At times like this, there is no shame in coming to Jesus exactly as we are. Confessing our doubts, our wounds, our lack of faith--but most importantly, our desire not to stay this way.
"I believe; help my unbelief!"
And with that--more of a plea for help, a confession, than a declaration of faith as we might expect--Jesus answered him. He healed the boy, with one sentence.
At first, the healing was not obvious. A terrific struggle. A brief moment of stunned tension.
"Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, 'He is dead.'"
Is my son dead? Has God, after all, shown that He cannot be trusted? Has God, after all, struck me with the blow I cannot bear, shown a merciless hand to me at my most vulnerable point?
"But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose."
The dramatic effect of this line reminds me forcefully of that other (famous) verse in the Bible: "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
It is not "how much" faith we have, as we tend to think. In both cases Jesus' reply subverted what we would expect by reinforcing that it was not how much, but more of are you willing. It was not an equation, a recipe, where x amount of faith was required to produce a reaction; but an attitude of the heart.
Even if it is only as much as a mustard seed. Even if there is a good dose of unbelief struggling mightily with it. Are we willing to bring it all humbly before Him, to show it to Him, to ask Him for his help to supply not just our need but the faith we lack?
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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