Hope in the Lord

“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. 
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, 
and all their plans die with them. 
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their Helper, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
He made heaven and earth, the sea, 
and everything in them. 
He keeps every promise forever.”
Psalms‬ ‭146:3-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A charismatic figure emerges in a nation and people are attracted to him, electing him as their leader. A familiar situation repeated many times over in ages past. And there have been many shipwrecked nations because they followed a man instead of following God. Great initial expectations are replaced by disappointment and despair. As David, the Psalmist, advises – putting our confidence in a person will not be helpful. And he points out that the grandiose plans the leaders have will die with them. A human being does not have the capability to always deliver on their promises, to provide help for everyone who needs it. When I read these verses I am reminded of the promises made by aspiring politicians when they seek election. Promises that often evaporate and disappear once their office has been realised. 

Thankfully, there is a “but” in this Psalm. When we put our hope and trust in God, we are 100% assured that He will deliver what He promises. Verse 6 finishes, “He keeps every promise forever”. But the meaning the Psalmist implies behind the word “hope” isn’t for something that might or might not happen. Like we hope it won’t rain today. Or the childish hope that Santa will bring a new train set for Christmas. The word “hope” in this Psalm implies an assurance that through our faith we will realise what we “hope” for. The first verse in Hebrews 11 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” 

So we align our lives to “the God of Israel”, our wonderful Creator God. He isn’t just a local “god” hovering over a nation state in the Middle East. As the verse says, “He made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them”. Because of His credentials as the Creator of everything, we can delight in our relationship with Him; in the knowledge that He helps us, replacing despair of human shortcomings with joy in His God-comings. Powerful people don’t make it onto the significance scale when God is around. 

God’s Word, the Bible, is full of His promises. Too many to list here. But just one has popped into my mind this morning. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Having the peace of God within us in a world lacking peace is a promise God will never fail to deliver.

Singing Creation

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with his truth.”
Psalm 96:11-13

These few verses could have come from a children’s fantasy book. Who would ever have considered the concepts of glad heavens, rejoicing soils, and trees singing for joy? The cartoon picture of a face in a tree, singing and laughing away, comes to mind. But the Psalmist was writing about God’s creation bursting out with a tremendous shout of joyful praise. And all because the Lord God Almighty was coming to judge the earth and all within it. 

But a thought has popped into my mind – what would the evolutionary atheists around me think of this spectacle. Those people in the schools, universities, and businesses, who don’t believe there is a God and therefore lack the opportunity to be able to think outside the boundaries of their paradigms. The shock awaiting those people will be total. Their belief systems will crumble and dissolve like a pat of butter before a blow lamp. 

In my morning prayer walks, I find that God’s creation around me is full of movement and potential, even in this season. The weariness of this time of year, with the last leaves of Autumn clinging grimly to what has been their home for the past few months, with the ground-level vegetation dying away revealing the rotting detritus from a previous year, is but a comma in the Creator’s application of His design. The potential, to be revealed in the coming Spring, is there, like a coiled spring waiting to be released. Whispers of new life are constantly around me, in the bird song, the bubbling of the streams, the wind gently blowing, ruffling the tree tops with the breath from Heaven. Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” One day, the “child” will be born, bringing a world singing with praise and joy. It’s coming. Spring will be a poor example of what will happen one day, when the Psalmist’s picture of praise and joy comes to fruition. And God Himself will ride the tide of Creation’s exultation bringing justice and truth at last to a tired world. “What a day that will be”, as the old song lyrics say. And He says to His weary creation, and to you and me, “Hang on, I’m coming soon”.

“Truly”

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. 
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken. 
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. 
My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. 
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
Psalms‬ ‭62:1-2, 5-8‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Truly isn’t a word in everyday usage. You don’t hear someone say, “Truly, that car is a lovely colour”, or, “Truly, the weather was good this morning”. But there is something about the word that underpins some great sentiments in this Davidic Psalm. “Truly, my soul finds rest in God” builds a picture of a place of safety, a warm place of love and peace. Many would perhaps wonder if such a place exists, but that was the very point of David’s choice of the word “Truly”. What he was describing was completely and totally true. His experience of, and relationship with, God Himself was true. And he goes on to describe a dependable God. One who is his salvation. A God who provides safety and a solid foundation in an impregnable place. He uses words such as “Fortress” and “Refuge”. “Hope”, “Rest” and “Salvation”. 

The place David was talking about was, to him, very real and true. Of course he was not referring to a physical place. He was in a spiritual place, where his soul was safe from destruction. A place where enemies and circumstances could not reach him. It was a place where the presence of God was so real and strong to him that, truly, he was in a different world. And the amazing thing was that he was unshakeable – there was nothing in the physical world around him that would destroy his trust and hope in God.

How do we think God thought about David? After all, he had a spectacular moral meltdown over his adultery with Bathsheba, and the attempted cover up that followed. Surely that was enough to separate David from God forever. The truly amazing thing is that God considered David as being a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). You see, it is only unconfessed sins that block God’s love and grace. David put his heart right with God – we can read about the conversation he had with Him in Psalm 51.

Finally, in verse 8, David, from his position of unshakeable strength, appeals to those around him to join him in this place, the fortress and refuge, built on the Rock that is God Himself. He implores the people to “Trust in Him at all times“. That’s a problem for many of us because although we find it possible to trust God in the good times, we don’t find it so easy when times are hard. When a sick loved one is knocking on Heaven’s door. When an unexpected bill hits the doormat. But that is exactly the time when we need to be with God, in His presence. Is David’s invitation possible to accept? Jesus told the parable of the Marriage Feast – we can read it in Matthew 22 – and He finished up with the comment, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Let us be counted among the “few”, chosen to be part of the ultimate refuge.

Poverty

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
The LORD rescues them when they are in trouble.
The LORD protects them
and keeps them alive.
He gives them prosperity in the land
and rescues them from their enemies.
The LORD nurses them when they are sick
and restores them to health.
Psalm 41:1-3 NLT

The very first line of the first verse in this Psalm associates joy with showing kindness to poor people. Sadly, for people in affluent societies, being poor is associated with negative connotations, and perhaps unkind judgements about why they are “poor”. We tend to look at poverty as being a lack of finances, but that is to neglect so many other forms of being poor. There are, perhaps, a few hints in these verses about other kinds of poverty. The poverty of being in trouble. The poverty of being in physical danger. The poverty of sickness. I would add too the poverty of being lonely, without friends or family. 

In Matthew 5, Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” are those people who recognise that they lack the resources God puts value on. Heavenly currency is not anything of earthly value, like gold (we read in Revelation that it is used to make roads!). Having spiritual currency starts with the realisation that we have nothing to offer God of any value. Because of our sins we are destitute before Him and have to recognise this by coming to Him in faith for the salvation He has offered through Jesus. In Matthew 6, Jesus encouraged His disciples to build up “treasure in Heaven” through their service to Him.

But what was David referring to in these verses in Psalm 41? In verse 1, he was, I think, referring to Godly people in his day, who were looking after the needy people around them. And through them God was providing for them. Although God can directly provide the resources people need for life, most of the time He chooses to deliver His provision through His people. So we are encouraged to be His servants by looking out for those who are poor, in our communities, in our families, supplying fellowship, a helping hand. Nursing those in need. Providing a listening ear when needed. The opportunities are endless. There is a young woman in my community who every week, uses her lunch hour to walk the dog of an old lady, now immobilised following a fall. A young woman banking spiritual currency for her future.

So we, as God’s people, have a challenge today. As the King’s servants, what does He want us to do to relieve the poverty around us? There may not just be financial needs, there will be others as well. In our communities, who can we find who is “poor”? 

The Church

“The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to Him. All the families of the nations will bow down before Him.”
Our children will also serve Him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything He has done.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭22:27,30-31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a remarkable Psalm, in its prophetic vision of the crucified Messiah. The graphic details leap out of the page as they accurately, but sadly, portray the physical impact crucifixion has on a human being’s body, and Jesus quoted the first verse of the Psalm from the cross in His final moments that “Good Friday”. Who can ever deny, dismiss or disbelieve the many Old Testament prophecies, most of which point to Jesus, the Messiah? But today’s verses point to another prophetic occasion, yet to be realised. It will come, because David, writing this Psalm through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, said so. Simply, there will come a time when our children, including those not yet born, will not only hear about the Lord, God Himself, but will see Him and, with their families, bow down before Him. And it will be a universal occasion – all the peoples, regardless of which nation they belong to, will appear before the Lord – other prophecies point to this being the risen Jesus – and will declare His Lordship. It won’t just be the nation of Israel. The inclusive words used will include those pariah states who try and prevent their people from having anything to do with Christianity. Those states and countries with other religions or ideologies that are imposed top down on a frightened and suppressed population. And will include those states who nibble at the edges of Christianity, trying to replace God’s presence and principles with a secularist agenda and unnecessary anti-God laws.

Many of our churches today in Western 21st Century society are populated by a dwindling congregation of old people, with no sign of a child or young person anywhere. A Church of Scotland building near me has had to close because the elderly congregation is too small to support the maintenance of the building. Roof repairs are beyond their reach. Thankfully, other church groups and fellowships elsewhere are full of young people and families and a couple of years ago my wife and I had the privilege of worshiping with one while holidaying near Keswick in the English Lake District. In our prophetic verses today, though, David could see a time when children will continue to hear “the wonders of the Lord”. Elijah, in the account in 1 Kings 19, was depressed because he thought he was the last of God’s people. But God reassured him that there were 7000 faithful people in Israel at that time. Sometimes we too get depressed as we look on our dwindling congregations, but we can rest assured that His church will live on from one generation to the next. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” That seems pretty decisive to me!

Who will tell the “future generations” of “the wonders of the Lord“? God’s people everywhere have a responsibility to reach out to those around us regardless of how old they are, telling them about God and all He has done for us. Let us pray daily for an opportunity to share about our amazing God to those who are around us. After all, we have a message of hope badly needed in these negative, pandemic-ridden times. And who knows? The next person we meet might be waiting for us to introduce them to Jesus. 

Forgetful People

Don’t kill them, for my people soon forget such lessons; stagger them with Your power, and bring them to their knees, O Lord our shield.
‭Psalms‬ ‭59:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 59 continues the epic journey of David and his thoughts as he focuses on avoiding Saul’s malign attempts to end his life. In this Psalm, David rants before God about the nasty people who are out to get him, waiting for him to return home. They are “criminals”, “murderers”, “vicious dogs”, people with “sinful lips”. David doesn’t have much good to say about them at all. But at the end of the Psalm he again lapses into the comfort of his relationship with God, waiting for Him to rescue him. 

But today’s verse is interesting. David knows what people and their memories and thought processes are like. He knew that if God killed David’s enemies it would be a warning to some at the time but then quickly forgotten. Human nature is still the same today. Take for example someone’s driving behaviour if they see a road traffic accident caused by speeding. Their driving style and speed might moderate for a few miles, but for how long will it stay that way? Sooner or later they will forget or ignore what happened and carry on as they did before. The reoffending rate of people imprisoned for burglary is another example. Many soon forget their period of incarceration and return to their old ways. It is a trait of human nature to forget sinful events committed by others or ourselves, adopting an “it will never happen to me” mentality, or ”I’ll be more careful next time and not get caught”.  

However, David appealed to God to “stagger [such people] with [His] power and bring them to their knees“. He knew that someone repenting of their sins, on their knees before God, would have a far greater impact on the society around them. I know a lovely man in Glasgow, jailed in his teens for a drug offence. He found God in prison and is now the Pastor of a church in the very same community where he committed his drug offences. What an impact he has had! He is a constant reminder to the people in that community of God’s grace being available for all sinners, even him. David knew, and recorded in his Psalm, that a life snuffed out will have no future value, but one redeemed from sin will last forever. If my Pastor friend had continued in a life of drugs and crime, there would have been no lasting legacy, no outpouring of God’s grace, no constant reminder that there is a God in Heaven who cares for all mankind, and particularly those in his community.

So we need to be gracious. We need to pray, and keep praying, for those in our communities, workplaces, families, circle of friends, anyone we know who may be causing us difficulties. These people may not be enemies in the way David describes, but they may be telling lies, or posting unfavourable comments on social media about us. They may be ignoring us in the street. They may even be unpleasant to our faces. But prayer changes things. As we pray God will work on their hearts, and give them the opportunity to kneel before Him, asking for His forgiveness. And as we pray, He will change our hearts too, helping us see these people through His eyes, even loving them as He loves us. I can only say in response to such a gracious God, “What a Saviour!” Do I hear an “Amen”?

Justice

“Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity? No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Then people will say, ‘Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’”

Psalms‬ ‭58:1-2, 11‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

“Do you judge people with equity?” Surely a good question. A question just as relevant today as it was in David’s time, but with a difference. In 21st Century UK society I would like to think that the laws set out by our parliamentarians are judged upon by our various courts with total and complete honesty. Justice is administered with almost total transparency, and avenues are available for appealing decisions that might be perhaps a bit dubious. However, in David’s day judges had a reputation of being corrupt, accepting bribes, with no right of redress. It didn’t stop there – hundreds of years later Jesus spoke a parable about the “Unjust Judge” – you will find it in Luke 18:1-8. And throughout history, justice has been a rather hit and miss affair.

So to me the issue of justice is not about corruption within the UK legal systems, but about the way secular and godless principles are creeping into law through unjust parliamentarians. Historically, UK law has been established on Godly principles over many years and these have established a society that is strong and stable, a society that is, for the main, implicitly comfortable with the fairness of its laws. But sadly, in recent years, UK governments seem to have lost their moral compass, and have weakly given in to godless minority groups and passed laws at odds with God’s principles. And the consequences of such legislation has had an unsettling effect on society, with unintended consequences coming to the fore. Verse 2 of our Psalm today talks about “violence on the earth”, surely another description for a society without peace, at war with itself.

David ends his Psalm with the comforting thought that God is still on His throne and will judge righteously, rewarding His people, those who abide by His principles. Though we would like God to judge now, He patiently allows everyone the opportunity to respond to Him, and we too need to be patient, trusting Him to bring about righteousness in all the earth. So we pray. And keep praying. For our governments, for our parliamentarians, for our judges, for our communities, for our families. For those who seem set on anarchy with their lobbying and disruption. And with faith, wait for God to bring about His will and purposes. Will we have to wait long? It may be a lifetime. We may never see justice served in the way we would like or expect. But we can be assured of this one thing – God is still on His throne and will one day judge those who devise injustice in their hearts.

Yo-Yo

“Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens! May Your glory shine over all the earth.
My enemies have set a trap for me. I am weary from distress. They have dug a deep pit in my path, but they themselves have fallen into it.”
Psalms‬ ‭57:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 57 is a “Yo-Yo” set of verses. David’s thoughts, captured in this Psalm, seem to bounce between praise to God and despair about his predicament. He’s on the run again, and Saul nearly catches him this time. You can just imagine him and his men holding their breath as Saul’s soldiers pass by. And we read that Saul was even within reach of David as he “relieved himself” in the same cave in which David was hiding.

In today’s Western society it is difficult to relate to the dangers David faced into, almost on a daily basis, as he tried to keep out of Saul’s way. Most of us do not experience threats to our lives. But we do experience difficulties in which God’s help is just as important as it was in David’s circumstances. As I write, the fallout from Brexit and the pandemic are manifesting themselves in all sorts of societal problems. Security of food and road fuel supplies are under threat. Energy prices have rocketed. We are constantly being told that the NHS cannot cope with the demands being made of it. People are anxious and nervous about the future. Their worlds have been shaken and there seems to be no remedy in sight. So what do we do? We do what David did. Share our worries and concerns with our loving Heavenly Father, and concentrate of praising Him. Verse 5, “Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens! May your glory shine over all the earth” is repeated again in verse 11. Why? Because that was David’s heart. No matter what he was facing into, the important bit was putting God in His rightful place.

So are we anxious today? 1 Peter 5:7 reads, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Jesus said in John 16:33, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We have a choice – accept God’s loving care as He “overcomes the world” or worry ourselves into an early grave. Stark language I know but David went on to become Israel’s greatest king. What will we achieve as God’s overcomers?

Noble Themes

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” Psalms‬ ‭45:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is, I think, a beautiful verse, in its construction, in its descriptive poetry. The Psalmist seemed to be in a lofty place in the company of the “great and the good”; perhaps a palace or somewhere similar. He used words like “noble”, “king”, “skilful”. This was not the vocabulary or company of the peasantry of his day. But I wonder what his “noble theme” was. He was obviously engaged in the recitation of a passage of literature or poetry before a king, probably his king. Perhaps stories from Israel’s past, recorded as part of the historical legacy of the Jews. Or perhaps some writings from another of the ancient peoples living in the Middle East at that time. Or even some poetry he himself had written – quite likely because he obviously was an accomplished wordsmith. But in the reading the reciter found himself inspired as he got caught up in the content of the words. We can only wonder and guess at the content of his “noble theme”.

To Christians here on Planet Earth, our “noble themes” have to do with God. There is no other thought or word that could contain a lofty enough concept to adopt the descriptor “noble”. The only true noble king is our King, God Himself. We recite our verses to Him through our songs, through the Psalms, through our prayers. And we cannot but experience a stirring through His Spirit as we spend time before Him, reciting our verses. And through the stirring, men have found themselves on the mission field, training for the “ministry”, or inspired once again to reach out through a ministry of helps, to the fellow and less fortunate members of the societies and communities in which we live.

So let me ask the question – do you have a “noble theme”? Is there some thought or idea lying dormant in the recesses of your mind, something that perhaps you filed away long ago, but is still waiting for an opportunity to emerge into the daylight of 2021? Something that needs the dust and cobwebs brushed off and represented before the King, so that it is ready to be transformed from a thought to a deed, from something written to something verbalised? We need “noble themes” to proliferate in these dark Covid days. How about yours? How about mine?

Legacy

“O God, we have heard it with our own ears— our ancestors have told us of all You did in their day, in days long ago:” Psalms‬ ‭44:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What legacy has my ancestors left me? There is the cache of memorabilia at the back of a cupboard. My father’s war medals. My mother’s diary and items of jewellery. A box of photographs. An unusual item of furniture from a great-aunt. But what about “all [God] did in their day”? My parents were very private in their faith and have left little, if anything, to describe their experience of God. Not even a reference on a tombstone. But what about me? What faith and God-experience legacy will I leave my children and grandchildren? And even beyond to future generations? Will it just be an epitaph below my name and life-dates on a marble monolith, located in a graveyard somewhere? Or will I just leave a Bible with a few notes in the margins? Will that be the only legacy I will leave?

Traditional Jewish families were very good at story telling, and particularly the wonderful stories of what God did in the lives and circumstances of their ancestors. The Red Sea and Jordan crossings. The David and Goliath story. The first Passover. But I don’t want to fall back on the stories of previous, more recent, generations. The exploits of men and women like John Wesley or Charles Finney. Smith Wigglesworth or Corrie Ten Boom. I want to leave my descendants something significant from my life. Something wonderful that God has done for me. Of course, there will be many small things that happen in the lives of faith-filled Christians, as God’s people look to Him for guidance and provision. But there will also be bigger things, and I can look back at the way my wonderful God answered my cries for help when my daughter was at death’s door in a hospital bed. When a boat journey was perilous and all I could do was call on His name as He helped to steer my boat to a safe harbour. And that wonderful time when porpoises interacted with me and my grandchildren when boating on the Sound of Jura.

But today’s verse encourages me to be more vocal with my God-life experiences. So that the next generations can hear what God has done for me because I choose to communicate as often as possible all that God did in my day. So that my ancestors can tell of memories of “days long ago”.

So let’s ask the question this morning, “What legacy will I leave my ancestors?” Hmmm….