What have you got to sing about? – Psalm 33

Watching the news – yet another school shooting, serious concerns about pollution and species extinctions, economic uncertainty… I sometimes think the only way of coping with it, is by becoming immune to worrying about the world we live in, or ignoring the news altogether. Yet Psalm 33 starts of with an instruction to ‘sing joyfully’! True, David, who wrote the Psalm didn’t have News 24 to watch, but his world was, if anything, even less secure.

So what is there to sing about? How do you stay joyful when horrible things happen – personal things as well as the newsworthy? Only by getting to know, understand, and trust that God loves you with an unfailing love. Knowing that he sees everything that is going on in your life – the good and the bad, that he is there with you in it, and that he is still on the throne. We may still not understand why, but we will have grace to cope.

People often confuse joy and happiness. Happiness happens when things are going well. Joy is what you experience when you know God’s unfailing love, whatever happens.

It’s OK to be joyful when the news is grim. In fact, it’s a command. It’s OK to sing, in fact it’s a command to sing a new song, and to shout for joy! That is so hard to do when you don’t feel like being joyful. Sometimes it takes an act of discipline to choose to be joyful, when nothing going on around you agrees with that mindset. Do you think God doesn’t know that? I think it means all the more to him, that you’ve had to make a lot of effort to be joyful, to be obedient in this area. God knows what is best for us. Being miserable does not help the situation one little bit – you just suffer more. That’s why he commands us to be joyful, to sing, and to praise, even when you don’t feel like it!

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Guilty no more – Psalm 32

In all the films and TV programmes I’ve seen, the characters who are the most vulnerable are those who are basically good, but have done something wrong. Some unscrupulous enemy will use it against them to blackmail, and lead them on the path to worse. They discover that sin binds, ensnares, and takes them ways they don’t want to go. If only they hadn’t got themselves in this mess to start off with…if only they would confess and get it out in the open…they’d find the consequences would be less dire than situation they’ve now got themselves in… Recognise that plot? It’s a pretty common theme.

There is a solution, so David found, and wrote about in Psalm 32. It’s repentance. He described the utter relief he discovered when he did just that, and so experienced forgiveness. He also described the pain and anguish of struggling with guilt up until he finally got himself to say sorry. Heavy! Guilt takes its own prisoners and charges its own extortionate price. Why on earth do we procrastinate on seeking God’s forgiveness?

Of course, you may be tootling along fine just now – you’ve found the ‘blessedness’ of repentance and have no big issues you are struggling with. That’s a wonderful place to be! It’s wise to keep short accounts with God – regularly asking him if I have offended him, and seeking forgiveness and freedom from sin. Then ask God to open your eyes to those around who haven’t yet found that safe place of peace. Pray for them, be available for God to use you to help them, then when they do finally give in to receiving God’s love and forgiveness, you can join the party of joy!

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Whatever this life brings – Psalm 31

I’ve listened to plenty of prosperity teachers, and they have some good points. God’s Kingdom is undeniably limitless in resources. But for those who are struggling through life: the sick, weak, disabled, disadvantaged… prosperity theology can make them feel failures – that they are to blame for their own difficulties – that they should just have more faith and all would be made well. I am not convinced the bible says that. David, in Psalm 31, was going through terrible times, as did Jesus himself. Many faithful Christians have been called to the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom, and many more have been called to ministries that were not reimbursed in this life.

The words of verse 5 are familiar to many of us, as the final words of Jesus on the Cross. Handing our lives over to God for his safekeeping does not buy us a life of ease, as Jesus knew only too well. Strangely, the place of refuge, which God certainly is, is also the place where a life is laid down, where rights are relinquished, and consequences no longer our responsibility. Complete faith is the place where the outcome is not my worry; that God will keep me on the planet for just as long as he has work for me to do here; and that he is storing up my rewards for me in a place where moths and rust and economic crashes cannot touch them. I can’t lose, whatever happens.

As Jim Elliot put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”


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Hang on; joy’s on the way – Psalm 30

Life was at one of it’s most bleak points, with serious illness in the family, financial difficulties I couldn’t see my way past, and I was exhausted beyond words. I cried out to God one evening, and the words came right back to me, “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

I heard the letterbox rattle the next morning, and fully expected some remarkable answer to come through it. It was a holiday postcard from a woman named Joy, who I’d only met once, and had exchanged Christmas cards with. No answers. Was this God’s idea of a joke – the ‘Joy’ coming in the morning? Looking back, I can see it was a wonderful promise that the misery would not last for ever; but at the time, I didn’t want a promise, I wanted change, answers, solutions.

There are times we experience remarkable liftings, healings and sparings, like David in Psalm 30 verses 1-3, and to these we testify, and praise God with gusto. But sometimes we have to hang on, in faith, and believe that joy will come, that sorrow will be replaced with dancing, that we will sing again.

Yesterday, in an English mid-January, I noticed a single rose blossoming on dead-looking branches. That is the dogged resilience we need. But it’s only ever developed in times of difficulty. And you know you’ve got it when you can say, “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks FOR EVER.” No matter what.

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Oh wow! – Psalm 29

  Flying down to Guernsey for my son’s wedding last April, we had an amazing Wow! moment as the sun began setting. The colours deepened as we watched transfixed, through the plane window. I tried taking photos, but they didn’t come close to doing justice to the amazing scene before us. It was as though the whole earth was putting on a show just for our benefit!

I think David was having a Wow! moment in Psalm 29. Suddenly struck by the awesome majesty of Almighty God, he seems to have been particularly aware of his voice. And what a voice! The voice that spoke to the voids of nothingness and brought forth all of creation; the voice that carries the weight of authority of a God whose might and power and glory is beyond description. I wonder if David was observing a thunder and lightening storm as he wrote this, and rather than being terrified by it, he was transfixed by the majesty of the God who had ordained it; secure in the knowledge that He who had the power to do this was totally in control.

Our God is an awesome God, and by rights, we should be terrified to contemplate his glory. But this is the same God who “gives strength to his people…and blesses his people with peace.” How can we not be compelled to ascribe to him the glory due to his name? How can we fail to fall on our knees and worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness?

What really saddened me after that wonderful flight to Guernsey, was the realisation that, because the windows were quite small, the people on the other side of the plane did not even catch a glimpse of that wonderful sunset. How much of my life do I live, unaware of the majesty of God, and the wonders he is performing – right next to me – but I fail to notice? God help me see…help me worship…help me ascribe to you the glory due to your name. I don’t want to miss it!

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Stronger than you think – Psalm 28

Ever find yourself smiling at your little self? I remember being on a bus, and as more and more people were packing in, I exclaimed, “The driver must be so strong to be able to make the bus go with all these people on it!” My dad explained how it was the engine that did the work, and the driver didn’t have to be strong to drive the bus. I listened, but I still didn’t really get it until much older.

They say there aren’t many atheists on a plane in distress. When we are deep in trouble, we call out to God with every breath. No hesitation there. But do we trust that he has all that we need? That he will give us all the strength we need? Like the bus driver, we do have to be proactive – we have our part to play; but the power to make it work, the strength to make it go, that comes from God. He is the strength, the power, the fortress. And I haven’t got to make it happen; he is my strength, my hope and my shepherd.

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The sweetest thing – Psalm 27

If you were to be granted just one wish, what would that be? What is the one thing dearest to your heart, that you just long for? Much of David’s life was dogged by strife of one sort or another – from the lions and wolves that would attack his sheep, to the armies of King Saul out to kill him, to his own sons trying to depose him, not to mentions the threats from other nations. His greatest need was to find a place of security in the midst of the troubles. What he found, was that in his darkest places, he could run in his mind to the place where God dwells, to the place of safety that is the very throne room of God. Here was peace, security, light, even joy.

When we were going through a very dark time, when our teenage son was gravely ill, a friend taught us to create in our minds, the ‘high tower’ or ‘stronghold’ of God’s presence. Going there in peaceful times, choosing the design, the furniture, the layout, and becoming thoroughly acquainted with it, and spending time in God’s presence there, meant that it was easier to access it when things got really stressful. By being familiar with your own high tower, you could quickly go there when troubles came, and find the peace, security, light and joy that David had discovered. That’s why it was David’s dearest wish, to be able to spend his whole life drawing close to the only One who could help him in the rough times. That’s what I think he meant in ‘seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’. He could be totally confident that God would come through for him, every time.


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