Answer me when I pray, O God, my defender! When I was in trouble, you helped me. Be kind to me now and hear my prayer.
There are many who pray: “Give us more blessings, O Lord. Look on us with kindness!” But the joy that you have given me is more than they will ever have with all their grain and wine. Psalm 4: 1; 6-7
I love that David bolsters his faith by reminding himself of the troubles God got him through in the past. That encourages David to trust that God will listen and answer him in his present situation.
A back injury left me incapacitated some years ago. I was living alone at the time and terrified because I couldn’t take care of myself. Friends and relatives helped, but they could only do so much. Alone, I felt shaken, probably because I had been relying on my own strength to get my needs met. My spiritual mentor suggested that I write down five things every day that I was grateful for. Recording what was good in my life forced me to focus on how I was being taken care of and recognize God’s presence in the midst of pain and challenge.
Counting my blessings along with remembering all the scary times God has already brought me through never fails to bolster my faith when it gets shaky. “God brought you this far; he’s not going to drop you on your head now,” as my mentor used to say. It helps me find courage, trust, and feel more peaceful.
As David also points out in this psalm, blessings are so much more than having a comfortable lifestyle. I’m not above asking God for blessings and hoping that he will look on me and my loved ones with kindness, and that’s all right. But God has a way of giving me deep joy when life is most challenging. It happened during times of serious illness. It happened when my mom was dying. It happened when I was out of work. I’ve gotten the sweetest consolations in prayer when God was my only hope.
God not only gives peace that passes understanding, but joy that has nothing to do with circumstances. I’ve experienced it.
How about you?
- What does it feel like to be able to address the creator of the universe and ask him to answer you?
- When have you been in trouble? How has God helped you in those circumstances?
- How does calling to mind the good things God has done for you increase your ability to trust him in your present circumstances?
- Have you ever had a time when everything was going right and your life was full of good things and you still weren’t content? Would more “grain and wine” have made you content?
- What blessings are most important to you today?
I also invite you to read through the entire Psalm and meditate on whatever phrase speaks to you today.
Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. 1 Peter 1: 14
A desire is a wish for something we think will bring us satisfaction. No wonder Peter warned us against the desires we have in our ignorance. Any number of things promise fulfillment, only to disappoint us or worse. Ask anyone who has looked for love “in all the wrong places.” Or burned bridges to get what they wanted only to find out the pleasure wasn’t worth it.
We’ve all made mistakes. But making a mistake isn’t the same as allowing our whole lives to be shaped by mistake after mistake after mistake. The danger is in repeating our mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. We think next time, the right person, place, or thing, will give us what we’re looking for. Continuing to repeat the same behavior with different particulars creates a pattern. Repeated patterns become habits, and before we realize it, they shape our lives, as Peter warned.
The good news is, just because we have a desire, doesn’t mean we have to act on it. We don’t have to allow our longings to determine our lives. We don’t have to pretend they aren’t there, either. We have choices about which desires to act on and when. Discernment allows us to act on the desires that are life-building when they are appropriate instead of being pushed around by our self-will and getting drawn into trouble.
Anyone can learn from their mistakes. Recognizing that we’ve made a mistake is one way of saying that we are less ignorant now than we were when we made it. That wisdom will help us shape our lives into what God has in mind for us, which is always better than anything we could come up with on our own.
Prayer: Lord, save me from the mistakes I make out of ignorance.
Reflection: How are your desires shaping your life today?
I have so many enemies, Lord, so many who turn against me! …Come, Lord! Save me, my God! You punish all my enemies and leave them powerless to harm me. Victory comes from the Lord—may he bless his people. Psalm 3: 1; 7-8
Sometimes it feels like life gangs up on us. Maybe our enemies are people—a demanding boss, a grumpy neighbor, or even a family member. Maybe our enemies are problems: a shrinking bank account, a health challenge, or a relationship issue. Our enemies might even be within us: fears, resentments, or bad habits that push us around. It’s so easy to think that if the problem would just go away, things would be fine. But I’ve had problems get resolved in my life. Sooner or later, other problems popped up.
There are lots of problems bigger than we are. No problem is bigger than God is. Victory over our enemies might not mean they vanish, but with God’s grace, they will be powerless to harm us. Those who crucified Jesus weren’t prevented from doing their worst, but ultimately, their worst didn’t harm him. He rose in victory. When we turn to God, we’re given what we need to cope with our enemies and to come out the other side.
This holds true in small matters as well as big ones. I used to work with a woman who irritated me no end, a non-stop talker. I found the constant chatter distracting and her points of view diametrically opposed to mine. If only she would shut up, or better yet, transfer to another department—I’d be happy. Instead, God showed me how to let go of my annoyance. She didn’t need to change, I did.
As the cartoon strip Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they are us.” If we wait for people to do what we think they should, or for life to be the way we want it, we might be waiting a long time. But we can find peace by changing our attitudes. God will certainly guide us and help us overcome whatever is going on inside of us. Our victory, by God’s grace, is the freedom to choose our response in any given situation. Then those enemies lose their power to harm us.
I believe the Lord does bless his people. Not necessarily by changing our circumstances but by giving us what we need to cope with them.
How about you?
- When have you felt overwhelmed? Was the problem outside of you or within you?
- Have you cried out to the Lord when you’ve felt powerless? What happened? How did you get through the situation? Can you see God’s hand in that?
- When have you faced a problem and found the strength to cope even though the problem may not have been solved?
- What inner enemies are you facing today? Can you believe that God will provide what you need if you call on him?
I invite you to read through the entire psalm and reflect on whatever passage speaks to you today.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and we praise your glorious name. Yet my people and I cannot really give you anything, because everything is a gift from you, and we have only given back what is yours already. 1 Chronicles 29:13-14
C.S. Lewis said doing something for God is like a child asking his father for a dollar, then using that dollar to by his father a present. A sweet, loving gesture, but no one would think the father was ahead by a dollar.
It is right and beautiful that we want to give to God, but our ability to give or do anything at all is—in itself—a gift from God. When we share our time, talent, and treasure, we’re only returning God’s gift. Do we have a useful skill? Or the resources to make generous donations to worthy causes? Can we find the time to listen patiently to someone who needs to talk? We can thank God for our talents, financial blessings, or the willingness to give others our attention when we’d rather be doing something else.
What can we do for God that he hasn’t already done for us? Not much. As Jesus said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) That may be why, at least in part, Jesus warned against doing good deeds so everybody could see them. It’s not about how great we are. We’ve all seen people who do noble things for others and then never let them forget it. It undercuts the gift.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel good about ourselves when we’re able to help others. There’s a satisfaction that comes with service. But healthy humility insures against self-righteousness and means recognizing that we can give only because God first gave to us. Gratitude is much more becoming than smugness.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for giving us the ability to be useful.
Reflection: What has God given you? How can you give back?
Why do the nations plan rebellion? Why do people make their useless plots? …From his throne in heaven the Lord laughs and mocks their feeble plans. Psalm 2: 1; 3
I can’t speak for the nations. I’m not even sure why I make my useless plots…except that sometimes I just want things to go my way! Apparently, I need to keep learning, over and over again, that just because things don’t go my way, doesn’t mean they don’t turn out well—or at least the way they’re supposed to turn out.
Rebellion has its roots in my past. When I was a kid, time and again my mom warned me not to wait until the last minute to work on school projects. I knew she was right, but kept procrastinating, just to assert my independence. The results weren’t pretty. I was a freshman in college before I finally realized that refusing to do things the right way just because somebody else told me to only hurt myself. Surrendering to Mom’s wisdom instead of my own has been a blessing ever since.
I’ve also concocted schemes to steer events a certain way. I’ve rehearsed conversations in advance. If I say x, he’ll say y but I want him to say a, so I better say z instead. I’ve anticipated other people’s reactions and made my choices based on getting the response I wanted. Neither form of manipulation has worked for me. Other people are beyond my control…so are any number of things.
There’s nothing wrong with setting goals. Making plans and working towards them is important, but blind attempts to force the outcomes I want is doomed. For example, I had my heart set on attending a writer’s conference a few years ago. Eager to further my writing efforts, I wanted to participate in all the workshops, network, and do some volunteering. I chose to ignore my physical limitations and carried out my useless plot. My physical problems forced me to leave the conference after only one day. When I fight reality, reality always wins.
I know God loves me, but I’m sure He sits in heaven shaking His head at my feeble plans. He knows my circumstances and limitations much better than I do. If God is all wise, all powerful, and all loving, doesn’t it make sense to surrender to His plans instead of my own? You’d think I’d get it by now…and sometimes I do…but sometimes I’m sure I give Him a good laugh.
How about you?
- When have you felt defiant/rebellious? Have you acted on it? How did it help or hurt you? Did you get what you wanted? Was it worth it?
- When have you schemed or manipulated to get things to go your way or to get others to do what you wanted? How did that turn out?
- When have you felt “feeble” in the face of complications/situations/elements beyond your control?
- Think back. Are there times when God, although loving you more than words can say, might also have been chuckling at your activities? Can you laugh at yourself? How is the ability to laugh at yourself related to a healthy sense of humility?
You know me well [Lord], and yet you honor me, your servant. 1 Chronicles 17:18b
King David was a man “after God’s own heart” even though David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. It’s not an error-free existence that makes us attractive to God, it’s a sincere heart. David acknowledged his mistakes. That truthful, trusting relationship made him a man after God’s own heart.
We are people after God’s own heart, too, every time we find the courage and willingness to be honest with Him about who we are. That’s where He meets us. God doesn’t love us because we’re perfect. He loves us because He is Love. He knows us through and through—better than we know ourselves. Most of us have parts of ourselves we deny, conveniently forget, or avoid looking at. We may put on our “Sunday best” attitudes when we pray to God, thinking He deserves the best…and He does.
It’s safe to be honest with God. He loves us anyway—even though He knows all our secrets. When we share our secrets with him we bring them to the light of his love. That’s when healing can occur. Like David, we can be honored by God for our sincerity, for our humility, for our trust in His love.
David felt honored by God as he counted his blessings. How many good things do you have in your life right now? Take some time to think about them. Write a list. Can you see how God is honoring you—even though He knows you well?
Prayer: You know me well, Lord, and yet you honor me, your servant.
Reflection: What does God know about you? How has he honored you? How would you like to thank him today?
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do. Psalm 1: 1-3 (GNT)
I joined “those who have no use for God” during my college years. Listening to God didn’t sound like much fun at the time. I did things my way. I thought that would guarantee happiness. Instead it let me down. When pain brought me to my knees, I turned back to God. He was waiting for me with open arms. Instead of fun, God offered me joy.
As far as studying God’s law day and night, Jesus said the most important laws were loving God with all our being, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. That gives me plenty to reflect on. I can’t think of a single conflict with others or internal struggle I’ve ever had that can’t be traced back to my neglecting one or more of those.
Like a tree growing beside a stream? I can tell you that since I’ve recognized my need for God and have started spending even a little time each morning in prayer, I have increasing peace in my life. The fruit I have to share is the story of my mistakes and limitations and God’s unconditional and limitless love.
Succeeding in everything I do? That depends on what you call success. I’m gaining a sense of who I really am instead of who I thought I was supposed to be. Jesus warned against gaining the whole world and losing our own selves. If a more honest sense of self counts as success, I guess I’m succeeding.
What about you?
- When have you followed the example of those who have no use for God? When have you rejected their advice? How did things turn out in each case?
- Think of a time you found joy in doing what you felt was right, even though it seemed beyond you at the time. Looking back, can you see that God gave you all you needed to do what you felt called to do?
- Are you feeling “dried up” today or refreshed and replenished? What can you do in either case?
- What will success look like for you today?
I invite you to read this psalm through on your own and reflect on whatever phrase or idea might speak to you at this moment in time. I welcome comments if you’d care to share your reflections. Peace and good.
I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer. Psalm 5:2b-3
Beginning next Saturday, this blog spot will feature the Psalms.
Come and explore what these heart-felt prayers have to say to you. Our circumstances may have changed since they were written centuries ago, but our humanity has not. Psalms run the gamut of human emotion. Like the psalmists, we feel joy and sadness, awe and regret, anger and gratitude.
Each week, excerpts from a different psalm will be posted along with questions and comments to help you connect with it in a personal way. I also invite you to read the entire psalm in your own bible, to focus on whatever phrase catches your interest, and reflect on what it means for you in this present moment.
Join me, starting next Saturday, as we open our hearts to God the way the psalmists did. Make this treasure trove of prayer a part of your spiritual journey.
Prayer: I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice.
Reflection: Like the psalmists, we can tell God everything that’s in our hearts. What’s in your heart today?