23. Total Security

Reaching into the Psalms:  23. Total Security (end of Psa 4)

 Psa 4:8   In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Process: This psalm starts with David calling to the Lord to answer him in his distress and ends in him declaring his complete sense of peace. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There is a process there: anxiety, prayer, peace, and we see the same thing in the process of this psalm.

David cried out to the Lord with request (v.1), and yet affirms his sure knowledge through experience that when he prays, the Lord hears (v.3). In between he addresses those who are causing his grief, those who demean the Lord and worship idols (v.2) and counsels them to check themselves out as they lie in bed (v.4) and to be faithful to the covenant and offer right sacrifices, trusting in the Lord’s mercy (v.5). He focuses on their wrong thinking, implying that the Lord is not there for them (v.6a) and so he prays that the Lord will let His face shine on this people (v.6b) and bring blessing that will transform grumbling into joy (v.7).

It is difficult to know exactly what is personal testimony and what is challenge to his detractors, but whatever it is, by the time he has off-loaded it all to the Lord, he is left with a sense of complete peace, total security. Yes, the opposition is there, but so is the Lord! Moreover he knows that the Lord is not only with him but also for him, and that means total security so at the end of the day when he goes to lie down, he is at peace.

Product = Peace: It is always good to unburden ourselves by sharing our concerns with someone near us, and the Lord is the obvious starting place to do that and, as Paul said, when we do that there comes a peace that goes beyond understanding. I think the very process of unloading to another lifts the burden, but as we do it in prayer, there comes a mystical exchange.

The Message paraphrase version puts it quite well, “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.” Look at that. A ‘sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down’. That’s a nice way of putting it.

Beyond Explanation: Well that is nice but actually the translations speak about a peace “which surpasses all understanding,” (ESV & NKJV & NRSV) or transcends all understanding” (NIV). Surpasses means exceeds or goes beyond, while transcends means rises above. The product of our offloading our anxieties to the Lord in prayer is a peace that is inexplicable, you can’t explain it. For us it should be rooted in what the Message ended with: “Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life”, i.e. encountering him means we encounter the very source of our peace, the One who is, the One who is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), who is in total control and who is for us (Rom 8:31). Rooted in that, when it happens we just find this peace coming which just is and is beyond understanding or description.

Approaching Sleep: How we go to bed at night is quite significant. I know someone, a friend, who has to have an audio-book story playing quietly in the background to still their over-active mind. For many the thought of going to bed at night is not greeted with pleasurable anticipation. Many go with the worries of the day bearing down heavily upon them. For others, like my friend, they have had a day full of mental (or perhaps spiritual) activity and their mind is still full of it. The experts say beware the blue screen syndrome, the need to play games on some hand-held device for that lit-up screen works against sleep. Perhaps we should learn from David and Paul: off-load the day to the Lord, pour it all out before Him but remember, with Paul, to add thanksgiving for all the good bits of the day.

The possibilities of sleep: Sleep (after having offloaded to the Lord!) can be a time of recreation (Gen 2:21), even a time of revelation (Gen 28:11-), a time of guidance (Mt 1:20), a time of learning (Mt 27:19), a time of the Spirit’s blessing (Joel 2:28). It is interesting in the last quote that it is ‘old men’ (repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2:17). Young people tend to sleep more deeply and therefore dreams tend not to be so near the surface to be remembered on waking, but older people tend to need less sleep and it is often broken or shallower and dreams are nearer the surface, able to be remembered. All of these things – blessings in sleep – are rare when the mind is filled with worries, so good dreams become nightmares and not a blessing. Thus our suggested approach to sleep – offloading the day to the Lord – is an approach of wisdom that perhaps many should heed.

David – and us! David has prayed, has expressed his concerns, addressed his detractors, affirmed the Lord’s goodness and ends the day retiring to bed in peace with a strong assurance of complete security in the Lord. Perhaps we might add to end-of-the-day prayer the suggestion of reading a short passage of scripture that releases faith and encouragement. Some may drink certain sleep-helping beverages – fine! – but what cocktail could be better than a time with the Lord, offloading concerns, giving thanks for the good, and declaring the truths of His word?  As we pray, like David and like Paul, peace descends and so sometimes we may not be able to get to the reading part, the peace just sweeps us into unconsciousness and a time of refreshing and blessing. May it be so.

22. The Joy of the Lord

Reaching into the Psalms:  22. The Joy of the Lord

Psa 4:7   Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

We have had cause already in this psalm to note the difficulty that sometimes comes with having to translate the original, and then cope with different translations. The NIV quote above puts this verse as a desire or request. The ESV and NKJV puts it, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” and other more modern versions put it in a similar way but with some different words, i.e. as a declaration of testimony.

Request or testimony?  Well; let’s consider both. It is a good prayer to pray to ask the Lord to fill us with joy and we’ll see in a moment the good scriptural grounds we have for asking that. It is also a good thing to declare by way of testimony (assuming we have entered into it, and if we haven’t then we’re back to praying for it). But what both things do is highlight to us something we may take for granted, that joy is a part of the believer’s experience.

Joy? Is joy the same as happiness? Some dictionaries might equate it with happiness but, I suggest, happiness is more a state of mind while joy is a specific outworking of a specific experience. Consider how the verse goes on. The NIV puts it, “when their grain and new wine abound.” The word ‘their’ must refer to the ‘many’ who were asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” (v.6a) When he then asked the Lord to, “Let the light of your face shine on us,” (v.6b) there clearly was implied in what follows the expectation that when God’s face shines on His people, it brings with it His blessing and so all their fears about prosperity will evaporate when a bountiful harvest comes from the Lord. There is therefore a flow: people worrying – prayer request – God coming and blessing – harvest in abundance – great joy. The joy is specifically in response to the harvest.

The alternative? Now the more modern translations, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” removes that flow of prayer, answer, blessing, joy and simply reduces it to a testimony. Having said that, seeing verses 6 and 7 in those newer versions is interesting: “There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”  You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (e.g. ESV) The inverted commas show us they include the ‘lift up’ part of the verse as part of the cry of the other people around him and therefore what follows – “You have put…” becomes a strong contrast in David from that of the unbelievers around him, and we should emphasise the ‘my heart’ that shows that contrast. They may have great joy when harvest eventually comes in, but the joy that David knows in his experience of the Lord, vastly outweighs that.

The Possibilities: So we have two possibilities here (and we won’t know the truth until we get to heaven and ask David which he meant!), one that sees the Lord answering his request to bring blessing to His people which will result in great joy, and the other that sees that David’s joy is greater than that which comes in the natural world of men. There is great truth in both. It is absolutely true that when we pray for God to intervene in our difficult circumstances, and He does, that brings great joy. But there is what almost seems a greater meaning, that as children of God, as believers, we know in our everyday experience of the Lord a joy that is not dependant on circumstances. It is a joy that flows from the Lord and because He is unchanging, it is unchanging.

Jesus’ Joy: At the Last Supper, John records Jesus as saying, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (Jn 15:10,11) Now I have included both verses because Jesus refers to his own joy in the context of obedience to the Father. Even as he had obeyed the Father, abiding in His love, so he now wants us to obey him, abiding in his love. The environment, if we may put it like that, is love, the acts are obedience and the outworking is joy.  Later on he prayed to his Father, “now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (Jn 17:13) Again the context was what Jesus has done in his years of ministry and joy flows out of that. Now he wants that same joy to be ours because, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (v.18) i.e. obedience to the will of God releases joy.

Let’s finish with a few additional considerations about this joy. The ‘wise men’ had ‘great joy’ as the star revealed the way to Jesus. (Mt 2:10). The revelation of the kingdom of God – like a hidden treasure (Mt 13:44) – comes with great joy that enables a letting go of the past to enter into a wonderful new future. When we use what the Lord gives us in this kingdom and bear fruit, it brings joy to the Lord and to us (Mt 25:21). A realisation of the wonder of what Jesus has done and of his resurrection should also bring us great joy (Mt 28:8). As part of our relationship with the Lord, answers to prayer, as we noted above, bring great joy: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16:24) And so we could go on; joy is an indelible part of the life and experience of the Christian and it all flows out of our relationship with the Lord. Hallelujah! For David it was the same.

21. God’s Glory on us

Reaching into the Psalms:  21. God’s Glory on us

Psa 4:6b   Let the light of your face shine on us

We finished yesterday’s study asking at one point, can we stand before God’s gaze and have a clear conscience about the way we use our money and the attitudes we have? And then we come to the second part of verse 6 which raises various thoughts.

God Sees: The first thought, following the use of the words, ‘God’s gaze’ reminds us that God’s eyes are always on us. Intriguingly it was Hagar, Sarai’s servant who focuses this for us first: “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen 16:13) as, in the desert she realised after an angel came, that she might have been alone, but God saw her and her plight. The psalmist expands that to include everyone: “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind.” (Psa 33:17). Then in the famous burning bush incident, the Lord’s starting point is, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.” (Ex 3:7)

The fact that God sees us is both comforting and scary. It is comforting when we think that He watches over us all the time to protect us (see Psa 121) and it is rightfully scary to think that He sees all we do (see the example of Gehazi and Elisha who saw by the Spirit where he went).

God’s Presence: But in the context here, I believe David is using the expression in v.6b to simply mean the Lord’s presence. He has been acknowledging the words of the people, wondering where the Lord is, where the signs of His blessing are, and so his obvious request is simply that the Lord will come and make His presence known. But of course wherever the Lord appears, His glory is seen, that brightness that shines forth from Him, and where that glory shines it brings the blessing of the presence of the Lord with it.

God with us: I have spoken many times in recent series about the presence of the Lord because it seems it is a crucial issue for the church today. There is a sense that God is everywhere (see Psa 139) but we know very clearly that most of the time we are not conscious of Him being there. Yet there are times when He manifests His presence so that although that we do not ‘see’ Him, we sense His glorious and amazing presence in the room with us, and suddenly everything is different. I was in a church service fairly recently (and sadly this doesn’t often happen) but the moment the two musicians struck up, the Spirit within me leapt and I instinctively thought, “Oh my goodness, the Lord is here!” There are such times when He transforms the present with His presence and it is a real transforming. Your spirit lifts, joy flows forth and worship pours out. The sense of His glorious presence releases all those things instinctively.  It is truly a case of Emmanuel, God with us.

His face? Why the reference to His face? Perhaps it is the same thing that we see when we gaze into the face of someone in front of us. There we may see love or even hatred but the face reveals so much about the one before us. Sometimes, it seems, all their thoughts, their feelings or their attitudes in respect of you are revealed in their face. The face is the focus of the person towards us. Watch friends or family meeting a loved one, waiting at the other side of the barrier at Airport Arrivals. Their faces say everything. Yes, body language may contribute but it is the face that communicates most to us.

‘Seeing the face’ of the Lord refers to access to Him. In a later psalm David was to write, “the upright will see his face,” (Psa 11:7) and when he felt separated from the Lord he cried, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa 13:1). Similarly it means personal encounter and elsewhere David wrote, “be merciful to me and answer me.  My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”  Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Psa 27:7,8) Indeed again and again we see David using this terminology.

Elsewhere we find, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Ex 33:11) But then we find that when Moses did meet with the Lord like this, when he left the Lord’s presence his face shone with the Lord’s glory (see Ex 34:29-35) and it is that picture that the apostle Paul uses of us: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17,18) See the language, we “with unveiled faces”. There is a sense whereby with the open relationship we now have with the Lord through the work of Christ on the Cross, and His presence within us by His indwelling Holy Spirit, this openness brings about a transformation in us as encounter Him.

And that brings us back to verse 6. In the face of the unbelief in the nation, in the face of the grumbles about His absence, David asks the Lord to come afresh and make His presence known in the midst of His people again, because he knows that, even in accordance with their history, when the Lord did that it brought about transformation.  And that is what you and I need, that is what our churches need, and that is what our communities need, the transforming presence of the Lord Himself, and in our case that transformation of church and community will be as it comes in and through us.

20. Uncertainties with money

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 20. Uncertainties with money

Psa 4:6a   Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”

Focus: Here we have one of those verses that appears almost inconsequential and yet, I sense, is potentially a bomb that will go off beneath our feet if we will but take time to think about it. The presence of the word ‘LORD’ where it is indicates that David is addressing God, is important, and when we move into the second half of the verse we will see that even more clearly. The presence of the word ‘Many’ indicates that David is speaking about people that he knows – possibly close to him, possibly others – and he is drawing the Lord’s attention to these people. This is the focus of what we have here – David talking to the Lord about others.

Their negativity: Each of these words point out something. The word ‘asking’ speaks of a questioning people and questions can be positive, genuinely seeking out information for a good reason, or they can be negative and critical and there is a probability in the words that follow that they are just that, negative and critical and, subtly, they are a criticism of God. The Lord had pointed out the negative aspects of so many of their lives in verse 2 when He asked, “How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” He clearly saw that their relationship with Him was utterly shallow, having turned away to idols, to ‘things’ they obviously thought might help them. Superstition is a weird thing.

Self-concern: This question, “Who will bring us prosperity?” is an expression of self-concern that, I suggest, most, if not all of us have. We want to survive but more than that we want to prosper. Some of us may be locked into work and life-styles that prevent us progressing financially, but we still dream – which is why so many do lotteries or other forms of gambling – “who knows but one day my circumstances could be utterly changed and I would never have to worry about money again.”  When money is short it is a natural concern.

Challenge to the church: We have a particular friend at the present who, through circumstances beyond her control, is struggling financially. That presents a challenge to the rest of us in the church: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44,45) Here in the West, I suggest there are usually in the church, those of us with sufficient financial resources that we don’t need to sell off things, we can simply dip into a bank account.  The questions are, will we be compassionate and caring and can we hold our finances lightly, and will we be obedient to Scripture, for example, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth,” (1 Jn 3:17,18) and “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Lk 3:11) and “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32) Challenging teaching and challenging examples for those of us in the affluent West.

Holding a Right Attitude: Now we have suggested that these words in verse 6a come in a negative manner and in the light of the spiritual state of the nation as highlighted by verse 2. But we have also said that it is right to be concerned about how to make ends meet when money is short. It is a difficult subject sometimes and truth and integrity as well as wisdom are sometimes lacking. Our church runs a food bank and provides Saturday brunch for ‘vulnerable families’. Thus we seek to minister to people who do fit that description, of those who are concerned about how to make ends meet. But all is not always as it seems.

Those who work with street people tell of how sometimes poverty and begging is a professional means that brings in money in excess of 100,000 a years (dollars or pounds, it doesn’t matter). That may be an extreme abuse, yet we have encountered a family that turns up for free brunch where the father has an income in excess of some of the well-paid people in the church. A leader was asked by a family to go around to talk to them about how the church could help them out of their financial straits. When he entered their house he observed that all of the children had their own cell-phones and iPads. When questioned they denied they could do without them. Now such situations (and they could be multiplied) indicate possible lacks of wisdom, if not of integrity, in the lifestyles of some in our society and hence Pauls words about “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) present a challenge to us if we are to minister to such people.

And Us? Always such considerations come back to us. We try not to point fingers at others, especially if we ourselves are struggling to hold right attitudes. Implied behind the words of verse 6a there is the attitude, “Why won’t God help us?” and for them they had turned superstitiously to idols in the vain hope that that would help. But the Bible calls us to honesty and integrity about our own situations. Do we work? Do we work as to God? Do we overspend? Do we need to learn about budgeting? Are we discontented because of what we see others have? (Ex 20:17 speaks to that). Are we unwise in our use of credit cards and the like? Can we stand before God’s gaze and have a clear conscience about the way we use our money and the attitudes we have? Indeed, if we are Christians, have we sought the Lord’s wisdom over all these things? Maybe we need to find a Christian of maturity who can counsel us, give us their wisdom, so that we are not alone in these things.

God’s gaze? Having just referred to this, it brings us to the second part of the verse: “Let the light of your face shine on us,” and as I go to ponder that, I think it would be wise to consider it in a separate study, so let’s do that tomorrow.

19. A Right Approach

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  19. A Right Approach

Psa 4:5    Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

Context: So often with the psalms (and I suppose with so much other Scripture) you have to catch the flow of the verses to better understand where you are. David, we have seen, cried out for relief in his difficult circumstances (v.1) but the Lord called for us to look at the bigger picture of the state of the nation in which those circumstances flowed (v.2). David’s response within that is to declare his faith role that opens up the relationship with the Lord that brings the confidence that the Lord hears him when he cries out to Him (v.3). Then we saw that verse 4 was a call to hold a right perspective in respect of wrongs, to be angry but not allow it to become something out of control but simply something that highlights the wrong to be presented to the Lord (v.4).

Imperfect life: There is underlying all of this a constant awareness of living in a Fallen World where sin abounds, people do wrong, and the walk of the children of God is to be a walk of righteousness, but that is not always as easy as we might like it to be. We get it wrong, we stumble, we occasionally give way to temptation, we fail and have to repent, pick ourselves up and start again. How easy those words flow, how glib we can be, so what grounds do we have to be able to utter them?

Approaching God: Have you ever wondered why Leviticus exists with all its talk about sacrifices and offerings?  Pages of talk about sacrificing animals or birds? It’s all about how the Israelites were to maintain a right attitude, a right perspective, in respect of God, how they could come back into a right place after failure. There were fellowship offerings that could be used as expressions of their desire for a good relationship with the Lord; there were sin and guilt offerings to deal with failure – and don’t we as frail human beings get it wrong sometimes! Here they were called to be a holy people, the people of God and yet they are still very ordinary human beings and human beings never get it entirely right. It’s not even a case of not living up to God’s standards, it also about not living up to our own standards, or maybe the expectations of the community around us. So if we get it wrong in their eyes or even our own eyes, how can we (they) possibly have a relationship with a holy God?

The work of Sacrifice: The answer had to be to simply do what He said when you sinned. The sacrificial law was there and was taught: you offered a particular sacrifice in the manner laid down. In one sense it was simply your obedience to the Law of Moses, given by God, that put you right. At a deeper level it was the awareness that another life was taken (of an animal or bird) instead of yours to pay the price of justice in respect of your sin and your guilt. So there was an obedience factor and an atonement factor and perhaps also there was a deterrent fact; when you saw the life ebbing out of an animal at your hands, the severity of the punishment would speak of the seriousness in the eyes of God (it has to be Him for sin so often blinds our eyes so we don’t realise how serious it is) of what you had done, and that experience would hopefully ensure you would not repeat it.

The act of the righteous: And so we come back to David, very conscious of the fallen nature of himself and mankind around him, of the fact that they stood before a holy God who has just spoken about their shortcomings. It doesn’t matter what the sin, how minor or how serious, the path of righteousness is the path of the sacrificial law. For the Israelite that was the path of righteousness, acknowledgement of failure, of sin, and then a response in accord with the Law of Moses found in Leviticus. So the sacrifice of the righteous is first obedience in attitude and then the offering as the expression of that obedience.

Trust in God: For them – and us – there is always the human desire to try and work ourselves out of a place of guilt and shame, we always try and justify ourselves and if we can’t explain away our sin, we try and make up for it and compensate for our failure by doing something ‘good’.  Some over-zealous and misguided believers of the past (and maybe a few in the present) used to beat themselves or wear sacking as a form of penance, but all such things are acts of ‘self’ and are nothing to do with the faith that the Bible speaks of.

So when David says, “and trust in the Lord,” that is not just a reference to a general way of living but is a specific command in respect of our attitude towards how our sin is to be dealt with. No, we are not to be complacent and just shrug it off, saying, “Well everybody sins, so what.” No, God is concerned that in the big picture justice is done, justice is appeased. Justice is that demand that wrongs are properly dealt with, paid for, that unfairness becomes fair, that injustice becomes just. We all have this instinct and although it may not come out until we personally suffer at the hands of another, it is there.

Past and Present: The good news is that you and I no longer have to offer sacrifices because Jesus’ death on the Cross acted as a once and for all sacrifice that covers all and any sin. (Heb 9:14,25-28, 10:10,14). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses looked forward to the coming and work of Christ, although the people then did not realise that. The sacrifice brought was, as we’ve said, an act of obedience, this is God’s way laid down for how to deal with your failure, your sin.

Today the call to you and me is to believe what the Bible says, that Jesus has died for all our sins and so when we sin, we confess it and repent (1 Jn 1:9) and we are forgiven on the basis of what he has done. When we have sinned and the Holy Spirit has convicted us, the weight of the failure so often makes it difficult to believe that all it needs is our repentance and the work of the Cross deals with it, removes it and cleanses us of it. That is where the trust comes in. We have to trust that what we read is true – there is no other way – that God’s way of dealing with our wrongs was the Cross and we can do nothing to add to that. All we can do is believe it and ask for forgiveness on the basis of it – and then trust that forgiveness HAS been granted.

Yes, we live in a fallen world and we get it wrong and, yes, God is a holy God, but HE has decreed the way back from our sin that satisfies justice and we must simply accept that, give thanks and not try to add to it. Blow it?  Confess it, ask for forgiveness on the basis that Jesus has died to pay for that sin, believe it, trust God be at peace and go on living thankfully. It’s a new day ahead.

18. Warning about Anger

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   18. Warning about Anger

Psa 4:4 (ESV)   Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

This is another of those verses that translators have struggled with. I have used the ESV which is the same as the NKJV and some older versions, but even they have a footnote attached to ‘be angry’ that suggests an alternative as ‘be agitated’ or ‘tremble’ (NKJV) and “Tremble and do not sin” is the NIV.

Anger? Let’s take the thought of anger first of all. In the New Testament the apostle Paul uses this verse: “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Eph 4:26) The truth is that anger is an experience we all have at some time or other. David spoke of this more fully in a later psalm: do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psa 37:7,8) We may get angry when we are offended and that is more of a defence mechanism. However we may rightly get angry (because God does) when we see wilful wickedness in the world around us. Habakkuk, we noted in the study of the previous psalm, was obviously angry when he cried out, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Hab 1:2) It is right to be angry about things that are clearly seriously wrong.

The Danger: The problem with anger is that it can flare up, burst forth and cause harm and upset. As David said, “it leads only to evil.” Not only can it cause harm to others as you may inflict your emotions on them, but it may in turn inflame them and cause them to retaliate and both might well be unrighteous. So the version above says, “Be angry (BUT) and do not sin.” I have inserted the ‘but’ there to imply that anger may be right but if it is carried on it may lead into sin.

Complexity: On the other hand there is a case to be made for suggesting that David is almost instructing us to be angry so that we do not sin. The challenge in verse 2 had been about godless unrighteousness in the land (and maybe in those bringing about these circumstances) and it is right to be angry about such things, in fact complacency almost becomes sin (“forgive us the things we have not done.”) What a complex things this anger is. Sometimes it is sin not to be angry but when we do become angry it becomes sin if we hold on to it.

Wrong and Right Responses: Why might that be? Why does it become sin to hold on to it? If we hold on to anger it means we are revelling in it, relishing it almost, using it, but it is never meant for that. I conclude that anger is meant to highlight injustice and wrong, but once we have observed that, the righteous ongoing response is to give it over to the Lord. Why? Two reasons. First, we may be wrong, we may have wrongly understood or only partially understood the situation and so we need to hand it back to the Lord for His assessment of it – “Lord will you judge this.” But second, more often than not, in reality you and I are incapable of really changing that evil, only God can, and sometimes we have to give it to Him and submit to His wisdom over it. He may want to deal with that person, here and now, or He may leave them for His greater purposes and only deal with them at the Final Judgment. Whichever it is, He knows best and we would be wise to simply submit it to Him. Perhaps part of our ongoing praying might be to ask, “Lord, is there anything you want me to do about this situation?” Merely because we say ‘submit it to the Lord’, does not imply passivity; it is simply suggesting we present the situation to the heavenly court for the will of God to be worked out in respect of it.

Ponder it: “Ponder in your own hearts on your beds” or as the NIV puts it, “when you are on your beds, search your hearts.”  i.e. we need to check out what we are feeling and thinking. Why I am feeling like this? What has caused me to react like this? Is there an element of self-centred, self-interest in my response? What is the truth about this situation? What does God feel about it? I wonder how many times we let things fester in our minds because we do not submit our feelings and thoughts to rigorous examination. Do I need to hold scripture up before me? I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:44,45)

Am I perfect? Do I always get it right? What is my ‘offender’ going through? What has brought this about? Could I have prevented it? Was I the cause of it? The more I ask such questions of myself the more I silence and quench the anger.

I am aware that in these paragraphs I have veered away from anger that arises from observing general human iniquity (such as human slave trading) to anger that arises when I am dealing with another person, and I have done that because I don’t believe most of us get angry about the big sins of the world – we duck them because they seem too big for us to do anything about – but we do often encounter trying circumstances that involve others and it is within those that we hear words spoken, things said and done, that raise our ire.

So yes, when I start asking the questions of myself that challenge my honesty and integrity, then I find I go silent. Thus David’s last words of this verse: “be silent”, and they come as a result of the pondering in bed. In bed? Yes, in line with Paul’s words, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” i.e. don’t go to sleep in a state of agitation. If you go to bed still angry, get up and sort it, don’t let it drag on. If there is an unrighteous situation, do what we said above, commit it to the Lord with the option of being told what part He might want us to play in changing things.

Can I insert a word of wisdom here before we finish? If you are angry within yourself because of something someone else has said or done, it may be that it is your sensitivity or your misunderstanding of the situation and nothing to do with the other person. If we have contributed to the situation then it may be appropriate to apologise or even ask for forgiveness but if your anger is one of these other things, then can I counsel you not to dump it on that other person with an apology, especially if they know nothing of your wrong reaction. The other thing today is don’t go public with your unrighteous indignation, certainly not on social media. If someone has offended you, you confront them lovingly in private and with humility. If you are out for blood, you are acting unrighteously. Don’t do it. If you genuinely want to be godly, then seek reconciliation with grace, wisdom and humility and only after you have paused, slept on it for a night and been open before the Lord. Such a simple verse but with such profound potential.

17. Confidence in God

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 17. Confidence in God

Psa 4:3   Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Possibilities again:  In yesterday’s study, as we considered verse 2, I suggested two possibilities in respect of the way we view the first half of that verse. The first half could be David speaking about the rebellion robbing him of his glory as the Lord’s anointed, or it could be the Lord speaking through David to His people Israel.  The ‘my glory’ could refer to David’s glory as God’s anointed one, presently disgraced, but it could also be the Lord’s glory. In verse 3, the ‘I’ near the end of it clearly indicates it is David speaking.

Bounce back: Now whether it is either of the two options we have just considered doesn’t matter because of David’s confidence in the Lord. Verse 1 was an appeal to the Lord to respond when he called to Him, an appeal for the Lord to deliver him from the present pressing circumstances; rather heavy if not gloomy words. Verses 2 comes either as a challenge from David to those against him or from the Lord similarly. So far, all downhill, and so in some ways verse three shows us David bouncing back with faith declarations.

I have commented here recently on going through a test with the Lord. It was to allow the Lord to be God in what I felt were ungodly church circumstances. I had shared this with my wife. Then suddenly somebody did something in the church that was both unwise and foolish and unhelpful and I was angry. No, let’s be honest, I was fuming, seriously fuming! My wife saw my face, nudged me and whispered, “Say nothing. Remember the test.” At that moment I had a choice before me. Either to let my anger go bang and explode in this foolish situation or reign it in and let the Lord be the Lord. Grace prevailed and within two minutes the anger was gone and the Lord was the Lord. Now here’s the point, and I think we see this often in David: we can be confronted by seriously trying circumstances but we have a choice of how we will respond. We can either sink in the gloom of the situation or we can choose to make faith statements to rise up above it.  David is doing the latter.

“Know”: What a forceful word that is. When someone says, “Know this…” you know they are making a forceful statement, a declaration that needs to be heeded. So when David says, “Know that the Lord has….” he is making a strong statement to those around him, those who will hear him or read or sing this psalm, that is a strong declaration of faith, a strong statement of what he is sure is true – and they had better heed it!

Self-awareness: When he then refers to “his faithful servant” he is referring to himself. Now when you think about that, it is quite remarkable; I wonder how many of us would say we are God’s faithful servants? To claim you are faithful is a declaration of awareness but, even more, a declaration of confidence in who you are before God. David has just uttered a word in verse 2 that either exalts him as the Lord’s anointed, or exalts the Lord, and so is very much aware of the Lord. To be able to stand in the Lord’s presence and declare your faithfulness is both an example of confidence and of security. He is not expecting the Lord to tell him off for making such a claim. One of the Old Testament scribes makes an amazing assessment of David’s life: “David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” (1 Kings 15:5) David, the man after God’s own heart had been faithful, except in that one instance and for that he was now paying.

Self-direction: But there is also in such speaking a speaking to oneself, perhaps a chiding or maybe encouragement. The Bible is all in favour of talking to yourself. Perhaps the most famous one in the psalms is, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” (Psa 42:5) I often say to people, “When you get up in the morning you need to look in the mirror and declare the positive truth about who you are – to yourself!”

Who you are: Do you know this about yourself? “Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant (YOU) for himself.”    Have you ever thought about your life as a Christian like this? “he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4), “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” (Eph 1:13) Do you know the original meaning of ‘church’ in the Greek – ekklesia – (Latin ‘ecclesia’, hence ecclesiastical) is ‘the called-out ones’, a word that was used of an assembly called out to hear proclamations.  But note also the incredible truth that David declares: the Lord has set him apart, “for himself”. He – and we – have been called by God, set apart by God, to enter into relationship with Him. We have not been created to simply exist in this world; our destiny is, as the New Testament puts it, to become ‘children of God’ (Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1,2), ‘sons of God’ (2 Cor 6:18, Gal 4:6, Eph 1:5) We dare claim this level of relationship because the Bible says it is so.

Heard: “the Lord hears when I call to him.”  It is because we have this relationship we can rest in this wonderful knowledge. The example is often given of a mother in a place near where her child is playing in the midst of lots of other children. The child falls and hurts itself and cries. Out of the noise of all of the children’s voices, the mother picks up the unique sound of her own child and runs to find out what has happened. If that is true of a mother, how much more of our loving heavenly Father. But that is not to say that He will come running at our beck and call; sometimes He will wait until the right moment before He acts. To Moses he said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.” (Ex 3:7,8) That misery and their crying had been growing over the years, only now was it the right moment for the Lord to act.

And So: Downcast and crying out, a rebuke comes to the nation, but then David rises up with a declaration of faith.  He is the Lord’s and so the Lord does hear his cry. He hasn’t yet seen the answer to his cry but it will come. Are faith declarations part of your life and mine? They should be; declaring the truth builds faith. When we utter truth as a faith word, the Holy Spirit within takes and establishes it so that we are established. A lesson to be learned; a lesson to be applied.