The Lord’s Blessing

“How joyful are those who fear the Lord— 
all who follow His ways! 
You will enjoy the fruit of your labour. 
How joyful and prosperous you will be! 
Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine, 
flourishing within your home. 
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees
as they sit around your table. 
That is the Lord’s blessing for those who fear Him.”
Psalms‬ ‭128:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

An idyllic scene, with words such as “wife”, “children”, and “home” intermingled with feel-good words such as “fruit”, “joyful”, “prosperous” and “blessing”. No sign of negative words casting an opposite picture. Is this cameo of family life a bit like a fairy tale, from a story book, or is it a practical reality? Is it perhaps a reflection of family life in the more misogynistic days of pre-Christian Jewish society, and without relevance in our 21st Century Western society?

There are two keys here in these few verses that are timeless, and applicable in all societies, past, present and future. The first is having a “fear” of the Lord. This isn’t the negative place of cowering, petrified, before a more powerful and malignant being. It is having the respect for God, believing and acknowledging that He is who He says He is. The Creator of the Universe. The Giver of life. Our loving Heavenly Father. The all-powerful, omni-present Lord of all. But it is more than just having the head knowledge of God being there. It also involves aligning our lives to His, helped by His Spirit, with a righteous standing before Him through the blood of Jesus. And that brings us on to the second key – we have to follow His ways. This is the process of translating the head knowledge we have about God into a personal and changed life, where we cast aside our selfish desires and take on board God’s desires.

The Psalmist was convinced that a life of God-fear and God-following would transform his life. and he wanted to share his wonderful experience with others, through the words in this Psalm. Words that will change lives, not just individually, but in our families as well. Transformed lives functioning as God intended. That’s where I want to be, Folks.

Old 100th

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! 
Worship the Lord with gladness. 
Come before Him, singing with joy. 
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! 
He made us, and we are His. 
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. 
Enter His gates with thanksgiving; 
go into His courts with praise. 
Give thanks to Him and praise His name. 
For the Lord is good. 
His unfailing love continues forever, 
and His faithfulness continues to each generation.”
Psalms‬ ‭100:1-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The 100th Psalm. An icon in the Book of Psalms. A pillar of praising poetry that has passed the passage of time. Enriched by words such as “joy”, “gladness”, “praise”, “thanks”, “faithfulness” and “love”. All words expressing God’s character and our response. And the whole Psalm describes a relationship between our wonderful God and His people, you and me. So before Him we shout, we worship, we sing, we give thanks, we praise, and we bask in His love and faithfulness. There’s not much else to say about this Psalm. It is an essential part of the pilgrim’s library. A place to go to on the journey through life. A place where our souls can be refreshed in this topsy-turvy world. Let us all read it again this morning, eating and drinking soul-food beyond anything that the secular world around us can provide.

Better Times

Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, Lord. You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Psalm 4:6-8 NLT

Why is it that we are always looking for better times? Always striving for something better than what we already have. The television constantly bombards us with strident demands to get this gadget, or that new car, a cord-less jet washer, a hi-tech wonder mattress, or try a new type of food and so on. An endless list of non-essentials. In our comfortable lives we are apparently unsatisfied, or so the media would like to tell us. 

In the Psalmist David’s days, the poor people really did need better times. Subsistence farming was precarious, to say the least, and a bad harvest could result in starvation. The people of that day must always have been yearning for better days, where they could accumulate something to tide them over when times got hard. The prospect of God smiling upon them gave them a picture of benevolence, of a gracious and generous God, always ready and willing to lavish upon them all they needed in bountiful supply. But David pointed out to them something better. A life of “greater joy” because God’s love was sufficient. A life of safety was there “under the shadow of His wings”. Joy and peace were, and still are, eternal.

But back to 21st Century Britain. Currently we are in the grip of rising energy costs, of food and fuel shortages caused by a lack of transport drivers. And people are anxious. Wondering if they can afford to heat their homes, or obtain their favourite foods or a supply of toilet rolls. Wondering about “better times”. Anxiety about the future drives the conversations in the pub, at the bus stop, in the street. I don’t know about you, but the God I know promised to meet all my “needs”. Not my “wants”, I should add. Not luxuries such as that “useful” gadget or that new car. 

As recorded in Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”. In other words, get your priorities right. Focus on God’s kingdom, living a righteous life, and consequently allow Him to supply what we need. As for striving for better times, we need to follow the example of the Apostle Paul. He said in his Epistle to the Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  That about sums it up. If we can find contentment in our lives through our relationship with God, then we have found something special – the “greater joy” David was talking about in his Psalm. In that place we will find peace and a sound sleep, both qualities that escape so many. Let’s not be in their number.

Praises

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise.”

Psalms‬ ‭47:1, 6-7‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Imagine a whole nation clapping its hands! And shouting joyful shouts! All to our wonderful God, our Creator. But in our secular society, clapping and shouting is retained for sporting events or concerts, temporal activities that provide a brief time of pleasure, soon to be replaced by the more humdrum activities of everyday life. In our church we are sometimes encouraged to offer up a clap offering to the Lord, or make a vocal contribution in praise. But a whole nation…?

The Psalmist goes on to encourage his readers to sing praises to God. And he provides a reason – God is King over all the earth. Praising God produces a peculiar effect within us, because it lifts us out of ourselves into Heavenly places with Him. I recently heard a quote saying, “Praise is the spark plug of faith”, and that is true because you cannot praise God if He isn’t who He says He is, doing the things He says He does. And in the praising process our faith grows and something changes within our spirits.

Saying that God is King over all the earth is disputed by most people. They ask questions such as, “How could a loving God allow that accident to happen?”, or “Why does God allow such evil people to flourish?” And many more similar questions. But in our sin-soaked world, where mankind seems set on self destruction in so many ways, there is still a King behind the scenes. A loving King who breaks His heart over the rebellion of mankind, a righteous King who has to allow man to make choices, no matter how devastating they can be. A faithful King who continues to supply all we need for human life. And a redeeming King who sent His Son to die for us at a place called Calvary, where He took on the sins of the world, past present and future.

So as His people what else can we do other than praise Him? Other than shout our praises to a wonderful God, the King over all the earth. In the quiet of my early morning prayer walks in Dean Woods I sometime shout out the name of Jesus, listening to the echo from the created world around me. Listening to the trees and plants joining with me in a time of praise. I’m not alone in singing my psalm of praise to my wonderful God.

So will you, my reader, join with me today, clapping your hands, shouting and singing your praises to God? If you have never done so before, give it a try. And feel the lift in your spirit as you connect with our wonderful creator God.

God’s DNA

“I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your instructions are written on my heart.” Psalms‬ ‭40:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How is it that people seem to intuitively know when they do wrong? Even when there are no obvious rules, laws or regulations for them to break. The key could be in the verse we read today from Psalm 40. In the Genesis creation story we are told that man was made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). Our God is a righteous God, the Creator of a universe that is founded on what is right, a moral universe within which mankind fits like a hand in a glove. That is, if the glove he chooses to fit his hand into is the one God designed. Unfortunately, in today’s Western society there are many people who make a living by manufacturing different gloves for people who have violated the basics of God’s moral design. Gloves for unfortunate and misguided people who are debilitated by their feelings of guilt and who, instead of going to their Creator, instead find a false god in the form of a psychiatrist or counsellor with the hope that they can help them appease their guilty conscience in a way that avoids bringing God into the remedy.

Am I generalising too much? Am I being too harsh about the psychiatric profession? Possibly, or even probably. But what I do know is that God’s moral DNA is inbuilt. It forms a part of us. It leads and guides us through and by our consciences in the way God has designed for us. David, the Psalmist, realised its importance when he wrote about God’s genetic instructions being written into our hearts, into our psyche. And, as the verse today says, by following His instructions, we will experience a joy not possible to achieve by godless methods.

The remedy for a guilty conscience is through repentance and turning to God. And when we are close to God with a conscience washed clean through Jesus’ blood, we will be hand in glove with the Creator who designed us. Experiencing His joy, love and peace. Set free to do His will.

Mud and Clay

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalms‬ ‭40:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Imagine the scene. You have wandered over some fields and come to a bank, down which you accidentally slip. You find yourself stuck in a bog, mud up to your knees and you are starting to sink further. Your cries for help are unheeded because of the remoteness of the place and very quickly the enormity of your predicament floods over you leaving an acute feeling of fear and despair. So you cry out to God for help, waiting with patience for Him to answer, full of assurance that He will do just that. And then, out of nowhere, a rope falls in front of you. You grab it and find a stranger at the other end who manages to pull you out, back up the bank, to a place of firm ground. God hears your cries and prayers for help and sends someone to rescue you.

Imagine the scene. After several days of heavy rain, the local river has burst its banks and your house is being flooded. The ground floor is now under water but you have managed to get onto the roof. You look anxiously around at the water-filled devastation, watching trees, rubbish, even cars, float past. Despair and fear increase. There is no-one to help. But God hears your prayers and sends a rescue helicopter, that quickly lifts you to a place of safety where you can wait for the flood waters to recede.

Imagine the scene. You realise that you are heading for a lost eternity because of your many sins. You are filled with fear and despair. Your situation appears to be hopeless because you realise you can’t save yourself. You cry out to God for help. But God has a plan. He loves you so much that He sends His Son, Jesus, to rescue you. But it’s a costly exercise – to rescue you Jesus has to become a sacrifice for your sins. There is no other way. And through His death on a cross, Jesus takes upon Himself all your sins, leaving you without guilt and shame, in right standing before God and able to say with confidence that your future with God in Heaven is secure. You have found a place of security. Solid ground on which to stand. Paul wrote in his Roman epistle, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Three scenarios. Two of physical danger, one of spiritual danger. But all three a potential “pit of despair”. But after rescue what do you feel? Elation? Relief? Most probably an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to God for His rescue. A song you have never sung before comes from deep within you, as you sing grateful praises to God. A song that tells of God’s amazing works. A song that brings others into a trusting relationship with God too.

Far-fetched scenarios that don’t apply in real life today? God may, or may not, rescue us from all occasions of physical danger. It wouldn’t be danger if He always did. But we can have an assurance that God will always rescue a repentant sinner from spending eternity in that place Jesus called hell. How do I know? The Son of God, Jesus, told me. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

Taste

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him!” Psalms‬ ‭34:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Tasting is one of our five physical senses. Touch, sight, hearing, smelling and tasting. And they will all, or in part, interrelate to help us build a picture, an image or thought in our minds, of whatever we are encountering in our daily natural life. We have spiritual senses too, but, sadly, in most people, these remain largely undeveloped, forgotten or ignored. Our verse today seems ridiculous when viewed from a natural perspective because people fail to understand or appreciate that there are spiritual senses that parallel our natural ones, and consequently they will reject the possibility of a spiritual world because the application of our natural, physical senses will not find it. And so, most people will reject any thought of God out of hand, without ever having undertaken a spiritual ‘taste’ test, without even considering that He even exists. 

The Psalmist, David, knew better and his life was lived in both the physical and spiritual realms. To him they weren’t two separate worlds, but one integrated whole. And his relationship with God never faltered because his natural/spiritual combo was so real to him. He could say, with total confidence, that God is good and by keeping close to Him, he will experience a joy unknown to natural man. In this verse David encourages us to try the God taste test. To switch for a moment from the natural to the spiritual. And as we come to God, openly and honestly, we will experience something incredible. We will find that God is good, and we too will find amazing joy in His presence.

Joyful Dancing

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever!” Psalms‬ ‭30:11-12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this Psalm, David writes about the various problems he has encountered. His enemies are giving him bother. He has become seriously ill, almost to the point of death. He has suffered financial challenges. And he ends up pleading with God for mercy. Put in those terms, it seems he suffered in a way that is not unknown in lives today. During this pandemic, people have become sick, to the point of death. Loss of employment has led to money problems. And just as in David’s case, suffering people end up in a place of mourning. A natural response.

But David ends the Psalm with the realisation that God has the answer, the remedy, to his problems. He doesn’t say that God solved all that had gone wrong, bringing healing, and restoring his prosperity. But David does move into a place of joy, realising that in God there is no place for mourning. Easy to say, but there is a key here. As we set aside the problems and instead focus on our wonderful Heavenly Father, offering Him our praise and thanks, then we will move from a place of sadness and mourning into a place of joy and worship. Perhaps even to the extent of joyful dancing. And find there is so much more to thank God for. Amen?