Psalm 84 — When All Else Fails God Doesn’t

People fail, economies collapse, and nations fall, but when all else fails God never will. He remains constant through everything. How comforting to know that there is One who will never be shaken, who remains consistent and faithful. Jesus spoke of a time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken. Perhaps, He was describing our incredibly insecure global climate.

A few months ago, I felt a “call” from God to write things which I never intended to permanently set in ink. I wept and struggled as I felt the shaking of my comfortable rhythm. His ask meant opening the gates of my heart in incredibly vulnerable ways. Then I turned to Psalm 84,

“LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
Psalm 84:12

Only one path leads to His blessing — the path of humble obedience and radical trust. The Amplified Bible verbalizes this trust as “leaning and believing on (God), committing and confidently looking to (God) without fear or misgiving.” I’m leaning and believing as I commit myself to trust Him in a new way. It would be a stretch to say that my obedience came without fear or misgiving, however.

In these moments, we discover in greater measure that when all else fails God doesn’t!

LORD of Angel Armies

In Psalm 84, the psalmist appeals to the LORD Almighty or the LORD of Angel Armies, just one of many names for God we find within the Scriptures. This name, however, stood apart from the others in that it was understood most deeply when God’s people had fallen away from Him and failed to stand strong in faith.

“In a word, we do not know this name, the ‘LORD of Hosts,’ till we have learnt the Church’s fall … are bitterly divided and destroying one another. But though (we) fail, God ever remains … when His elect have no other helper … God is and must be ever sufficient, for a ruined church as for a ruined world.”
Andrew Jukes1

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
Psalm 84:5-7

We each know valleys of pain and tears. When our trust is in the LORD of Hosts, or the LORD of Angel Armies, those valleys become pools of refreshing, not just to us but to others who follow the same path.

When all else fails God doesn’t!

During our hardest times, God promises to take us from “strength to strength” (NIV) or “increasing in victorious power” (AMP). Only by trusting God in the valley of weeping does the fulfillment of this promise come true. Strength to strength! Increasing in victorious power!

God’s Presence

The writer of Psalm 84 expresses His constant desire to be in God’s Presence.

“I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Psalm 84:2

Or,

A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
Psalm 84:10

Do these words reflect my heart when I feel the conflicting emotions of weeping in the valley and shouting joyfully in His Presence? How clearly do I recognize my weakness apart from God? Do I long to be close to Him more than anything else — forfeiting everything for even one moment with Him? Or have I grown complacent and indifferent to the open door of access to the Father which Jesus provided?

One Step

The LORD of Angel Armies stands ready to receive us. No matter how far we have fallen or how great our failure, He welcomes us into into His courts, into His house, and into His arms of grace and mercy. One step takes us from where we are to where we could be with Him. We are only one step away!

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; He [presents] grace and favor and [future] glory, honor, splendor, and heavenly bliss; no good thing will He withhold …”
Psalm 84:11

When all else fails God doesn’t! His promise to us stands firm!

As we take that one step toward Him in obedience and trust, He carries us the rest of the distance. Our fears of being rejected or falling short dissolve in His love and grace. Even our flawed efforts become radiant with His glorious touch over our lives.

If we choose to trust Him, my story, your story, all our stories become testimonies for the LORD of Angel Armies. He is the Lord Almighty who saves and restores the undeserving.

Your present point of trust may far surpass mine and your valley deeper and darker. But let’s move together in our fragile trusting, moving closer to our God who never fails.

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  1. The Names of God: Discovering God as He Desires to be Known, Andrew Jukes, (Kregel,Grand Rapids, 1967), pg 157 ↩︎

Psalm 90 — The Work of our Hands

At every stage of our lives, the work of our hands significantly impacts both this earthly realm we now occupy and the eternal one to come. Psalm 90 encourages us to continue with our efforts — large and small.

Several years ago, I retired from occupational employment and re-positioned myself into the full-time ministry of writing, artistry, and raising up faith-filled believers in God. The value of the work of our hands does not equate to the size of our paycheck at the end of each month. What we do carries eternal impact in the lives of many others. Only eternity will reveal the true merit of our efforts.

In reading Psalm 90, I find perspective to the ups and downs, and the successes and failures of life.

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12

Wisdom

Another version says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Of course, only God knows how many days we have been granted. Sadly, I have heard people say at the end of their life, “I thought I would have more time.” More time? For what? To do the things we knew to do earlier but didn’t do? For another chance to live better?

May we learn to appreciate and make the best of our days. May we have godly wisdom to realize this moment only comes once. We aren’t promised this opportunity tomorrow. Life is short — very short. Eternity is long — very long. With wisdom, may we live fully and love wholly, without regret and with eternity in focus.

Often, how we begin our day sets the trajectory for the rest of it.

“Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.”
Psalm 90:14

If we awake each morning with a sense of gratitude, thankfulness forms the climate of the day. The psalmist had already learned that a thankful attitude comes not from circumstances but the “unfailing love” of God. When we are grounded and rooted in His love, the decision to choose joy comes much more easily.

The psalmist considers the shortness of his life on earth. He wants to finish well — settled and secure in God’s love.

Request

Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote the words of Psalm 90. We gain a further glimpse into his heart in the next couple verses as he prays.

“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory.”
Psalm 90:15-16

When we remember Moses, we often think of his great exploits in facing pharaoh and leading Israel out of Egypt. Or we remember him speaking face-to-face with God until God’s glory had settled on him.

But how quickly we forget about the Moses who was ripped from his family as a toddler and taught to worship every god but God. We forget about the Moses who fled for his life and spent forty years in the backside of a desert. Did Moses know misery? Absolutely! Had he experienced many evil years? Most certainly! But all those years of misery drew Moses into an unshakeable relationship with God which grounded him for whatever may come.

So as Moses considers the shortness of his life on earth, he asks God for one thing — that he might finish well.

The Work of our Hands

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.”
Psalm 90:17 NIV

Jesus taught his disciples that without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5). Neither could Moses. And neither can we. But when the favor of God — His grace and delight — rests on us, everything changes. Then, He establishes the work of our hands.

Wisdom displays itself through “the work of our hands.” Wisdom determines how we spend our time and where we focus our energy. The New Living Translation says, “make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful.”

I don’t know about you, but I can be full of good intentions. But God never promises to bless our good intentions. He never promises to make our good intentions successful. It is only the work of our hands — that collaboration between wisdom, prayer, and effort — that He blesses, establishes, and makes successful.

Prayer

Father, by Your grace, may all our good intentions transfer into the purposeful work of our hands — a work that focuses on You and others. Whether we are stay-at-home mothers or airplane pilots, may we number our days with wisdom. Whether we are young with our lives ahead of us or grey hair and wrinkles mark the end of our days, may we live with eternity in mind. Give us the single-hearted assurance of Your unfailing love and the deep-seated joy to live each day to the fullest. Though our efforts may feel weak and insignificant, breathe life upon them. May the work of our hands create a long-lasting impact in the lives of others. Lord Jesus, it is only through You and by You that we can and will make a difference in our world and for eternity. So today, we commit to You the work of our hands.

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Psalm 118 — Thanksgiving Opens the Gate

More than the personal transformational power of gratitude, thanksgiving opens the gate, ushering us into the Presence of God. This truth became even more real to me this past week.

Psalm 118 sits between the shortest and longest chapters in the Bible, assuming a central location between the book’s beginning and ending. By accident? Not at all! This psalm contains not only a central position but a central theme relevant for us all. Within these verses, the psalmist encourages us to maintain a heart of praise and thanksgiving toward God.

Did such an attitude come easily? As we read this small psalm, we discover some of the difficulty the writer faced. If he was anything like most of us, to maintain a thankful heart posture took concentrated effort.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.”
Psalm 118:1

The Message translation states it simply, “Thank God because he’s good, because his love never quits.” We all need these affirming words when life clouds our vision, and our perception of God dims. The psalmist reminds us, God’s love never quits. He is always good and always loving.

Love Never Quits

My love quits. It falters and wanes. It has limits — often much too narrow limits. But not God!

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love …”
1 John 4:16

God doesn’t just love, He is love. There is no love apart from God. His love satisfies our soul and sustains us. It never wearies; it builds and releases us to reach our full potential.

A few weeks ago, one of my grandchildren asked, “Grandma, will you ever stop loving me?” Oh, how wonderful to reassure my little one that the love we share would never grow cold. Just like my grandchild, we all need that assurance.

Though people may fail us, God never will. His love never quits.

Strength and Defense

We don’t read very far to realize the psalmist struggled with real fear in the face of real enemies. None of us are promised a tranquil road through life. But just as God’s love and goodness lifted Him through every trial, He will do the same for us.

“When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD;
he brought me into a spacious place.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid …”
Psalm 118:5-6

Do you feel hard pressed? In distress? Troubled or hurting? Even there, God promises to open a way for us. He will never abandon us. He stays close. In His shelter, all fear flees.

“The LORD is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
Psalm 118:14

As I look back over my life, time and again God became my strength in weakness and my defense in trouble. He lifted me out of the pits of depression and addiction. He rescued me from destruction mindsets and patterns. He protected me from harm. None of it instantly; all of it eventually.

With the psalmist we sing,

“…The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”
Psalm 118:15

When we feel like there is no way through, thanksgiving for who He is and all He has done opens the gate.

Opens the Gate

A gate stands before us. Thanksgiving opens the gate to the Presence of God.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

Psalm 118:19-21

Nothing ushers us into His Presence more than a heart overflowing with thankfulness. A friend’s recent experience illustrates this so beautifully.

God has been doing some incredible things in his life since he recommitted himself to the Lord. But his heart grieves over divisions in his family. As he began to thank God for his family, the whole atmosphere around him began to shift. As an overwhelming sense of God’s Presence descended, he wept uncontrollably with joy. Several hours later, the tangible Presence of God continued to arrest him, filling him with a strong sense of God victoriously working through every member of his family.

Thanksgiving opens the gate, setting us free, planting us in spacious, heavenly places while we walk in the confines of earthly bodies.

Give Thanks

Is this a rare and unusual experience? Not for those who develop the habit of giving thanks to God. Like the psalmist, they have learned the open passageway — thanksgiving opens the gate to God’s Presence.

May the Holy Spirit stir within us, awakening us to this living truth. May our hearts ebb and flow with the rhythms of praise.

“You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Psalm 118:28-29

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The Power of Praise Verses

We don’t need to look at recent statistics to recognize the power of praise. Instinctively, we know that words deeply matter. Words of acknowledgement and praise build a person up; while words of criticism and judgment tear one apart. We have all felt the soothing effects of one, as well as the sting of the other.

While shopping, I encountered a weary mother not-to-gently plunking her just-as-weary toddler into a seat while muttering harsh words. I cringed as my heart went out to both the mother and the child. Even though the words weren’t directed towards me, they had a lingering effect on my soul.

I was reminded again of the power of words and, specifically, the power of praise. It requires deliberate intention to turn those trying moments into something positive and uplifting. Reversing the effect of negativity comes with effort — serious effort.

If that is how negative words make us feel, how does it make God feel when the words of our mouths cut instead of mend, destroy instead of rebuild, or wound instead of heal?

James calls it like it is,

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
James 3:10

Psalm 103:1

Awareness

Awareness forms the starting point for change. We may easily fall into the trap James speaks about. Rather than becoming discouraged, let’s turn awareness into the motivation to bring personal change.

When we honestly evaluate where we are positioned on the scale between “praise and cursing,” it can actually help us develop better patterns of relating to each other (or even in our self-talk).

The next positive step imagines where, how, or who we eventually want to become. Let’s ask God for a clear vision of who He intends us to be.

Then, let’s ask Him for the first steps to propel us toward that destination.

Even moving through these few steps usually offers enough hope for us to create change in how we think and respond verbally to people or situations. The hardest path, even a path of sacrifice, will reap the greatest and most amazing rewards.

Main Focus

Through focused praise, we can turn discouragement and fatigue around. God doesn’t need our praise. We have a built in need to worship Him, however. Praise focused on Him changes our perspective, because praise turns the direction of focus off of ourselves and our circumstances and on to Him and His consistent character.

No matter how difficult our situation becomes, God remains the same — always worthy of our praise. As we turn our hearts toward Him in praise and adoration, something internally shifts within us despite external circumstances. It welcomes peace and opens the door to hope.

Again and again, I have experienced this power of praise to lift and transform my thinking and heart attitude.

“Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.”
Isaiah 25:1

Isaiah 25:1

Power of Praise

As we develop a habit of praising God, the power of praise infuses all our interactions and conversations. An internal shift overrides former patterns — not instantaneously, but through practice. And through it, God makes it easier for us to discover increasing reasons for praise within the movements of our day.

The power of praise works faithfully within us, as consistently at it works in those around us. The negative critical voices begin to filter through the lens of praising God in His majesty and glory.

“Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Philippians 4:8

Get Started

God gives us ample verses to help us refocus and turn cursing into praise. Our words contain power and exercise authority in both the natural and the spiritual realms. When we speak the following verses (and many others like them) out loud, we reinforce the message of truth they contain.

May we all learn to consistently speak words that build others up, change internal narratives, bless those who might be listening, and give glory to the One worthy of praise.

Psalm 150:6
Revelation 5:13
Psalm 34:1
Psalm 105:1-2
1 Chronicles 29:13
Psalm 71:8
Psalm 91:1-2
Psalm 35:28
Psalm 92:1

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Psalm 91: Promise of Protection

Containing over twenty promises, Psalm 91 declares God’s love and sovereign protection to those who shelter in His Presence.

“He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
Psalm 91:4

As times become increasingly uncertain, may we possess this confidence, resting protected and covered in our Heavenly Father’s care.

The Passion Translation uses more vivid language:

His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you. You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.
Psalm 91:4 TPT

Many scholars attribute Psalm 91 to Moses. It was written during the Israelites wondering in the open desert for forty years. Though they were completely exposed to enemy attack, God proved His faithfulness again and again, covering and protecting them from every danger.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (1066 edition) defines “to be covered” this way:

 ” . . . to have done, gotten, or provided whatever is needed,
to take care of everything,
no worry about anything.
We’ve got you covered.”

Psalm 91 assures us of God’s promises. Each comes under the larger banner of being covered by God. Everything is taken care of. We have nothing to worry about. We’re covered!

Many birds are known for the way they protect for their young by holding them safely under their feathers. The image demonstrates both gentleness and strength.

“I Will Say”

The psalmist declares:

” I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:2

Rulers typically built fortresses from rock on elevated ground, often surrounded by a moat or high wall. This gives us visual imagery to trust God as our ultimate protection — from things seen and unseen, things present and things to come.

Moses confesses a firm belief to rest hidden under God’s “massive arms,” free from all fear.

Will difficulties come? Absolutely! Is evil present all around us? Most assuredly! Yet in the midst of it all, God covers us with His “massive arms” of protection, love, and gentle care.

“If You Say”

The psalmist encourages us to the same acknowledgment of God.

“If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.”
Psalm 91:9,10

The little words in the Bible provoke me the most. “If”, God says. We learn who or where our security lies when we face trials. But “if” we place our hope and confident trust in Him, He commands angelic armies to guard us, lifting us up in their hands. He gives us supernatural empowerment to face the fiercest foes.

For a moment, I imagine the scene. Heaven speaks reality — true perspective. May we see beyond the struggle and trial. God’s “massive arms” surround us. His angels lift us up “in their hands.

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands . . .”
Psalm 91:11

God Says

God promises us, that in this secure position of trust and rest in Him,

“You will tread on the lion and the cobra, you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”
Psalm 91:13

The “lion” represents all open and violent foes; the “cobra,” all secret and malignant ones. The young lion (kephir, the lion in the height of his strength) and the serpent (tannin, the most dreadful form of serpent) you will trample under your feet.

In any and every generation these two foes represent the most vicious and deadly threats — sure destruction and loss of life! Except for God! God enters our circumstances. He changes everything.

God inspires us to take action. Secure in Him, we move forward without fear. Enemies growls and spits, showing fangs and bared claws. Take courage brave ones! It is time to trample the head of the enemy.

Let’s keep our fixed focus on and unwavering trust in God — our Light in the darkness, our Hope in the storm, our Strength in weakness, our Help always.

“Says The Lord”

We sometimes make declarations. God declares truth!

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD,
“I will rescue him;
I will protect him,
for he acknowledges my name.”
Psalm 91:14

“Acknowledges” means to be known intimately or to have experiential knowledge. God responds to our cries for help. In His intimate and personal love, He declares over each of us:

“He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-15

In one sentence, God offers multiple promises! He responds to our frail declaration, “I WILL!” When no one else can, God will! When nothing else will do, God will! Though we each face our own set of difficulties, God declares, “I WILL come to deliver you and honor you.”

Protection

Every promise given in Psalm 91 rests within the intimate relationship of “dwelling” in His Presence. God invites each of us into this place of shelter and protection — circled by His “massive arms,” held in the hands of angelic forces.

God gives perfect rest, while lions roar, cobras rise, and storms rage. Here we say, “His is our refuge and our fortress, our God, in whom we trust!”

“Father, I thank You for Your massive arms of protection and Your angelic covering. May courage and confidence arise in each of us. This is NOT the time to run for cover to lesser things. We put on our stomping boots, ready to trample every attack of the enemy against us and our households. Your love is violent toward us. Your faithfulness guaranteed. Oh, Father, how great is your love. Thank You!”

Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come

Joy to the World

Some of my fondest Christmas memories include the singing of “Joy to the World.” Its familiar chords link my past with the present, and then reaches forward to a future time.

How comforting when warm memories spring forth from some hidden well — cherished for a moment, then returned for safekeeping.

Today’s memories swirl around Austrian-German extended family and Christmas Eve services. Of course, the beautiful German classic, “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) would take prime position, but inevitably, “Freude der Welt” (“Joy to the World”) would also take its place. Though I never learned to speak German, even decades later, whenever I hear either of these melodies, the familiar blend of German-English simultaneously flows through my heart.

After meditating on Psalm 98, Isaac Watts scribed “Joy to the World” as a poem, pointing not to the nativity, but rather to the triumphal Second Coming of Christ. His adaptation of the psalm, usually sung at Christmas, draws us to both bow in reverence of His humble birth while also considering His return to rule and reign as Sovereign King.

Christmas Carol

Shout for Joy

Perhaps, if there is one thing we could each use a little more of this Christmas, it would be joy. Or rather, a re-centring of joy. Honestly, I have overly depended on family gatherings, church community celebrations, school programs, sparkle tours, and a host of other activities to open my joy portal at Christmas. As wonderful as they are, most only vaguely reflect the real purpose of our celebration.

The battle for joy darkens many of my Christmas memories. Oh, I “joyfully” busied myself with shopping and baking, cleaning, and decorating, hosting and serving, singing and celebrating. All my efforts somehow fell short of the anticipated pinnacle I hoped for. Deep inside, I knew I was missing an important something — or rather Someone.

The days following Christmas often brought an emotional crash!

Shout for joy to the LORD,
all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn
— shout for joy before the LORD, the King.”
Psalm 98:4-6

Pipe Organ

Shout for joy to the LORD,” the ancient psalmist admonishes. Not, “Wait until you feel joyful. Then shout!” He calls for the shout of joy before the fulfillment of promise. Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Choose Joy

Rather than an emotion, joy is a decision that leads to emotion. At any moment, even in the darkest and most hopeless of moments, it is possible to “shout for joy.” When shouts rise to Him, because of Him, for Him, and through Him, the “shout for joy” often brings breakthrough.

When I remember the significance of His first coming as a helpless babe lying in a manger, I’m reminded that everything good about my life results from His grace, reaching into my helplessness, bringing hope, purpose and dignity. Countless others experience the same!

Though we don’t yet see Jesus Christ as He is, someday we will. In anticipation of the coming of the King of all kings, we shout. We shout for joy!

Here is my personal paraphrase of Psalm 98:4,

“Make a joyful noise (split the ears and shout) to Yahweh, the LORD (The One Who makes that which has been made, Who brings into existence all that exists, the All-Powerful Creator, Redeemer, and Preserver) of all the earth, break forth with a ringing cry of celebration in song and music.”

Joy to the World

You may feel very little cause for such exuberance in your present circumstances, but in looking up and remembering Him, choosing joy becomes possible.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Justice Reigns

Whether it sounds joyful or not, begin making a noise. Give an ear-piercing shout to the One worthy — not because of what we now see, but what will eternally be. Celebrate His birth. Then celebrate His coming again.

“Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth,
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the people with equity.”
Psalm 98:7-9

King Jesus is coming to reign and rule with justice and righteousness. Get ready! Receive Him!

King Christmas

Christmas is an extremely difficult time for many people: some grieve the loss of or separation from loved ones, others struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), fear and anxiety plague even more. There are no pat answers or quick fixes. Our assurance rests in the truth. Some day — on that awe-some day — tears will be wiped away, answers will become clear.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

Joy to the World

No wonder this powerful carol stirs something so inexplicable within us. Listen again to the words scribed so long ago:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Christmas Music

No more let sins and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

One More Memory

Many years ago, a young schoolteacher quietly made her way to the front of the sanctuary to accompany a small hodgepodge choir. They assembled for this one occasion — a small church program. At the nod of the director, her agile fingers descended upon the keys of the nondescript piano with intensity.

The chords resonated with force and accuracy, as the tiny candelabra all but lost its grip on the polished walnut surface. The entire piano seemed to come alive under her masterful touch as the audience voluntarily stood in united declaration, ‘”Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

The Lord is Come!

Everyone present felt the significance of the moment, as they temporarily cast aside weighty cares. Some lingered in stunned silence, others stood in awe, many were filled with fresh anticipation. Christ is come; He is with us!

For a moment this little assembly caught the essence of the “why” behind the joy.

“Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.”
Psalm 98:1-3

Whether the psalmist looked behind or ahead, He saw the magnificence of the LORD. Joy to the world — the whole world!

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Notes: History of Hymns: “Joy to the World”
https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-joy-to-the-world

LORD Almighty – Blessed is the One Who Trusts

The LORD Almighty promises to bless those who trust in Him. Psalm 84 has brought me encouragement, hope and help in suffering on many occasions. As a result, this psalm ranks among my favorites. The last verse creates a summary.

“LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
Psalm 84:12

LORD Almighty, is Yahweh Sabaoth, the LORD of Hosts — the God of armies or powers. This name declares God’s sovereignty over every army, both spiritual and natural. It was the name used when hope for deliverance through any other means vanished.

Each one of us, at one time or another, will have no one or nothing sufficient to hold to, except for God. This short psalm continues to acknowledge the LORD Almighty from beginning to end. The writer declares Him worthy of adoration and praise.

Wooden Doorway

When we, like the psalmist, put God first, sustain an awareness of Him through thick and thin, ups and downs, good times and bad, it is then that we discover Him to be truly sovereign over all — seeing us through to the finish.

LORD Almighty

Whether the psalm speaks of the exiles returning or the annual pilgrimage of worshipers to the temple is uncertain. No matter the occasion, these God-seekers possess one provoking attribute — a hunger for God alone.

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.”
Psalm 84:1,2

Every part of their being hungers for one thing, or rather One Person, the LORD. Long before Jesus’ words echoed across the Judean countryside, these pilgrims walked the talk,

“. . . Love the Lord your God
with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Matthew 22:37

Doorway Grand Entrance

They passionately longed to dwell with God forever, praising Him. Is that my longing? Is that the underlying hunger of my own heart? Does such a passionate desire drive me deeper into a personal relationship with God, not just when everything else fails but constantly declaring Him to be

“. . . my King and my God.”
Psalm 84:3

God my Strength

Along the trek between where they were to where they needed to go loomed a dreaded valley, the Valley of Baka. Baka means “weeping.”

Sound familiar? Smooth pavement may be our expectations, but rocky trails, steep climbs and deep valleys also crisscross our paths from where we are to where we need and want to go — God’s Presence.

Unwelcome but necessary; for them and us.

“As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.”
Psalms 84:6

In the valley, when weeping is all we know, we dig deep. We dig deep into the barren places, the drought-stricken hidden places of our souls, and find God present. The Living Water meets us, sustains us, refreshes us, and moves us closer to Himself.

Palace Entrance

These springs and pools of relief, that we discover in the LORD Almighty, dot our personal pathway. They become significant places of refreshing for all future travelers that follow behind us.

Oh how often God uses someone’s experience of venturing through a dark valley to bring life and light to others following the same path. The victory of one becomes the victory of many. The strength God offers to one becomes strength and hope for multiple others.

Strength to Strength

In the Valley of Weeping, little strength turns to great fortitude, weak strength becomes tenacious and strong. The strength of one creates a life link for others every bit as significant as a fresh pool of water in a wasteland.

“They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.”
Psalm 84:7

The Amplified Bible says, “They go from strength to strength, increasing in victorious power.” Isn’t that what we all desire? I pray that increased victorious power would be the aspiration of us all. Unfortunately, we want it without the weeping, without the valley, without the struggle.

Just like the pilgrims of old, we too must be willing to walk the difficult path. In the midst of the struggle, the LORD God Almighty draws close. The Passion Translation says that in the valley God gives, “them a brook of blessing filled with the rain of outpouring.”

Entrance Fountain

My heart cries out, “God if a valley is what it takes, lead me through the valley. If a valley will reveal your sovereignty, then prepare me for the valley. May I not miss it! May I not choose an easier way, a quick fix!”

I love this next verse in the Passion,

“Your wrap-around presence is our defense.”
Psalm 84:9

Now if only, we can maintain that imagery in the midst of our tears. The LORD Almighty wrapping His Presence around us, protecting, shielding, and comforting. Yes, Lord, wrap us in Your Presence.

God’s Presence

Any problems we face and all sacrifices made dims in God’s Presence. Just one moment with Him makes the journey worth it. Everything else fades behind us; the struggle seems all but forgotten.

“Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
Psalm 84:10

If you could choose anywhere to be, where would you go? What type of escape from work or responsibility floats through your thoughts with the notion?

Ancient Doorway

For those whose souls, hearts and flesh yearn for the living God, only one thought permeates theirs. “One day” with God, even if it is only from a distant “court”, surpasses all other desires. Even assuming the lowest position in God’s Presence, as a doorkeeper, outweighs the highest comforts the world could ever offer.

Why?

Grace and Favor

When one comes to know Him and experience Him in a personal way, He is both all one longs for and all one needs. The pilgrimage becomes worth it; the blessing of His Presence fully satisfying.

“For the Lord God is a Sun and Shield;
the Lord bestows [present] grace and favor
and [future] glory
(honor, splendor and heavenly bliss)!
No good thing will He withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
Psalm 84:11

Our relationship with the LORD Almighty isn’t ‘pie in the sky when we die.’ He releases the outpouring of His blessings to us continually, here and now.

The blessings of knowing God and being loved by Him endure beyond time. They can be summed up only one way, “No good thing will He withhold!”

Palace Stairway

What a promise! Now, I look back at my life remembering valleys of tears I feared I’d never escape and the toil of digging deep. Decades later, I continue to hunger for one thing — that moment in His Presence — sensing His voice.

LORD Almighty, blessed is the one
who trusts in you.”
Psalm 84:12

The LORD Almighty remains worthy of our trust. Yes, “blessed is the one who trusts, leaning and believing on You, committing and confidently looking to You and that without fear or misgiving.” (AMP)

Psalm 81 – Open Wide Your Mouth and I Will Fill It

God says, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” But what does He mean and how inclusive is this guarantee? These are the questions I asked my friend when she reminded me of God’s promise to supply. Though I already knew the verse, our conversation sent me on a quest to find out more.

The first image that came to my mind as she spoke was of a nest of hungry birds desperately chirping and cheeping upon their parent’s approached with a thick juicy worm — each tiny featherless upstart demanding more. Yes, that’s me! The one right in the middle insisting to be filled!

But as with all promises in the Bible, fulfillment is contingent on our response to God. He is more than willing and able to come through for us, but are we positioning ourselves to receive the fullness of His promise?

Worship God

Psalm 81 can be divided into three distinct sections, the first of which calls us to worship God for who He is.

Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Begin the music, strike the timbrel,
play the melodious harp and lyre.
Sound the ram’s horn . . .”
Psalm 81:1-3 

Loosen up your voices, tune up the instruments, get ready for a noisy, all-out shindig! This is God we are celebrating, not some here-today-gone-tomorrow celebrity. No instrument is too large or too small; it isn’t too soon to start. “Begin the music!” the psalmist announces, “Let’s get this praise rolling!”

This isn’t a new admonition. As a matter of fact, it’s been in existence since God brought His people out of Egypt. That was a LONG time ago. Surely you remember! Well, maybe it wasn’t literal Egypt for each of us, but we’ve all known our share of sins cruel chains of oppression. Those who have claimed the Name of Jesus have experienced the freedom of His deliverance.

But then we catch the first startling glimpse of trouble.

Unknown God

“I heard an unknown voice say . . . ”
Psalm 81:5

What? Did I read that right? The God who once set us free is now “unknown?” How could they, and for that matter I, forget? Oh, but it’s our human nature to easily forget the greatness and goodness of our God.

“I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.”
Psalm 81:6-7

Since God has done so much for each of us, you would think we would always remember his goodness. Surely, after all the grace and mercy He has shown, we would remain grateful. Even though the call to remember resounds throughout the Bible, we too forget. We forget not just His deeds but the sound of His voice — His voice that reveals His unchanging character and love.

The title for the second segment to this psalm could easily be, “My Forgetful Children.” As a mother of many, all too often I felt the exasperation of not being listened to and my wise counsel left unheeded. (Of course, what sounded wise to a mother didn’t always ring true to fledgling children — then or now!)

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”
Psalm 81:10

“Open Wide Your Mouth”

Little birds open wide their mouths because their very lives depend on it. My problem isn’t forgetting to open my mouth or making my need known, but rather how I attempt to satisfy that need. As another friend once told me, “There are many non-gods we can go to.”

She is right. If I forget who God is and lose awareness of His voice, I will seek fulfillment in many other places. As horrifying as it sounds, it’s true. And I’m not alone! We live in fleshly bodies that refuse to be satisfied, filling our proverbial mouths with lust, greed, and gluttony of various kinds. Humanity reeks. We are too often like self-made garburators of the vile and disgraceful.

Our electronic devices buzz with incessant pollution to minds and souls, drawing us ever deeper into a new, yet all to familiar, bondage God once delivered us from. Oh, but God’s heart cries to us still,

Hear me, my people, and I will warn you —
if you would only listen to me . . .
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”
Psalm 81:8-10

Despite our failure to hear and to heed, God calls with open arms, “Come back to me and I will satisfy your hunger.”

“But my People”

The third segment of this psalm might be called, “They Would Not!” This is only my opinion, but I think the greatest crisis of mankind is forgetting that we are people made in the image of God, with purpose and destiny. When we fail to remember our God, we quickly fail to remember who we are as well.

“But my people would not listen to me . . .
If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways,
how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!”
Psalm 81:11-14

Do I close my mouth long enough to listen, refusing to self-gratify, self-satisfy, or self-proclaim? Do I open wide my mouth to acknowledge my God with singing and shouting His praise? Maybe not with cymbals and ram’s horns, but noisy acclamation of His greatness? Will I remember that I am His and follow Him?

If I will, and that is the BIG “if,” the promise is mine! When I open wide my mouth, no matter what the need, God will fill it.

“You Will Be Fed”

God brings us back to the promise. If only they will lay aside all their “would nots” the promise still stands.

“. . . you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Psalm 81:16

“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Whatever the root of our hunger, whatever the need or longing, God is good enough, strong enough, and loving enough to fill it. But He is waiting to hear our voices sing and shout, for the ram’s horn to blast His praise; He’s waiting for us to turn our ears intently toward His voice; He is waiting for us to remember all He has done for us; He’s waiting for us to catch the passion of His heart, to turn from lesser things. When we do, He’s prepared to swoop low, satisfying every deep craving within.

Our God is enough! No other god will do!  “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it!”

David, A Man of Wholehearted Devotion to God

Only a few biblical personalities are said to possess wholehearted devotion to God.  What qualifies such a description? How can one develop this attribute? Who were these individuals?

All were exceptional yet ordinary people. They are people God continues to look for and calls us to emulate.

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

The list of those who possessed wholeheartedly committed to God reads like a who’s who in the spiritual hall of fame:

  • Noah was called “righteous and perfect in his generations” and built a means of salvation for all who would listen. (Gen 6:9)
  • Mary Magdalene followed Christ with wholehearted devotion in her worship, attentiveness to his teaching, faithfulness at His crucifixion and stalwart declaration of His resurrection to His unbelieving followers.
  • Job was declared to be a “perfect and upright man, one that fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8)
  • Because of Hannah’s unwavering commitment and sacrificial devotion her nation was turned to God in a single generation (1 Sam 1 & 2)
  • Hezekiah’s self assessment reads, “I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion” (Is 38:3)

What about Abram and his wife Sara, Esther and Mordecai, or many New Testament forerunners, world changers, fearless defenders and promoters of the faith? The Bible says of Jehoshaphat,

“His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD…”
2 Chronicles 17:6

Above All Others

The Hebrew words often translated as “devotion” have the sense of “being complete or full, whole and wholesome, innocent, and having integrity.” It also stands for “truth, virtue and uprightness.”

The person the Bible describes as having wholehearted devotion above all others is, beyond a doubt, King David. Every succeeding king and ruler would be measured by the devotion found in this godly man.

David was a young shepherd tending “a few sheep” — out of sight, unnoticed, and insignificant by all earthly perspective. In obscurity, however, David’s heart became a God-shaped container of radical devotion to the one and only true God!

Even David’s son Solomon, the wisest of all men, was unable to emulate his father’s example,

“…his heart was not
fully devoted to the LORD his God,
as the heart of David his father had been.” 
1 Kings 11:4

I appreciate the honesty with which David judges his own heart, however. He, as much as any other man, knew the pitfalls of walking wholly committed to God while living with human passions, desires and weaknesses. 

I’m trying my best to walk in the way of integrity,
especially in my own home.
But I need your help!
I’m wondering, Lord, when will you appear?
I despise what is evil

and anything that moves my heart away from you.
I will not let evil hold me in its grip.
Every perverse and crooked way I have put away from my heart,
for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.”
Psalm 101:2-4 TPT

A Committed Path

Do you ever feel like David? “I’m trying, Lord, but I could use some help!” I sure do!

Wholehearted devotion requires a commitment, a predetermined resolve to allow nothing and no one to separate us from our allegiance to God. But how exactly did David foster and protect such an attitude?

David makes no excuses for himself. A quick glance at Psalm 51 reveals his all-to-real struggle with human weakness.

“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me…”
Psalm 51:3

Four key elements are evident in David’s life: a soft heart, value for God’s Word, persistence in prayer, and unrestrained worship. All are essential to obtaining wholehearted devotion.

Soft Heart

David’s hope and anchor rested in his personal relationship with his Heavenly Father. A soft heart, quick to repent, always leads to wholeness and restoration.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51:10-11 

Humility, a quickness to forgive, concern for the oppressed, and genuine love stood as witness to the softness of David’s heart. 

Value God’s Word

David wisely established godly disciplines to live above reproach. The Hebrew word for “fully devoted” also means “truth, virtue, uprightness and righteousness.” It is impossible to possess these attributes without saturating ourselves in the oil of divine truth, the Word of God.

David attributed many defining benefits to God’s Word.

“… perfect, refreshing the soul…
trustworthy, making wise the simple…
giving joy to the heart…
radiant, giving light to the eyes…
pure, enduring forever…
 firm, and all of them are righteous… 
more precious than gold…
 sweeter than … honey from the honeycomb.”
Psalm 19: 7-10

Persistence in Prayer

Maintaining an undivided heart toward God also requires transparency and vulnerability. David recognized God’s law as a perfect light shining upon his heart, revealing what would otherwise remain hidden even from Himself. He prayed,

“But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgressions.”
Psalm 19:12,13

Because hidden faults and willful sins are common to us all, Jesus told us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God lovingly reveals our hidden faults when we ask — either speaking through the Holy Spirit or mentors and trusted supporters He has positioned in our lives. 

Unrestrained Worship

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” also means “get ready or be prepared.” The attitude of prayer turns the key to wholehearted devotion, while the practice of worship opens the door, preparing us for godliness.

The psalms ring with David’s anthems of adoration and worship. Communion with God in prayer, combined with worship, prepares the hard ground of our hearts, tenderizing and mellowing it into fallow soil, yielded to God.

“You, God, are my God, 
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1-3

Wholehearted devotion recognizes God as the sufficient Source of all we need.

God’s Promise

Let’s finish where we began,

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

God is looking, scanning the nations, browsing the streets of our cities, searching through our homes, peering into pulpits and pews, desiring to find someone, anyone, he can “strongly support”! His eyes are watching for those He can strengthen, fill with unwavering courage, and give power to overcome all opposition, because that is what strongly support truly means.

Oddly enough, this same word for “strongly support” defines David’s “triumph, prevail, and defeat” over Goliath (1 Sam 17:50). When God found a boy whose heart was fully devoted to Him, He moved with strong support to help the lad. The shepherd’s stone hit the mark with supernatural accuracy and force.  The giant fell never to rise again!

As God gazes upon our generation, may He find many, young and old, men and women, with wholehearted devotion to Him above all else.

**********

 

Wait Patiently for the Lord: The Lord is Sufficient

More than once, someone has encouraged me to “wait patiently for the Lord.” Dare I say these are not my most cherished words!

My dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” Understandably, my name is not inserted near that definition as a prime example. As a matter of fact, my children laugh at the way I carefully choose routes of travel to avoid stop signs, traffic lights and construction zones. Neither the words “wait” nor “patiently” form the foundation of my genetic makeup.

How about you? What thoughts enter your mind as you read this passage?

Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.”
Psalms 27:14

Note the double emphasis David used. Perhaps first to remind himself and then a second time to remind the rest of us.

Wait Patiently

The Hebrew word for “wait” means to bind together and to expect. I’m not alone in choosing more tangible, readily available things or people to “bind” myself to rather than trusting and relying confidently in God as my soul support.

Israel had a similar problem. They had a habit of “going” when God specifically asked them to “wait”; they “mumbled and grumbled” instead of “patiently” binding themselves to God as the source for all they needed. No finger pointing here! I associate more with their twisted attitude and off-centered focus than with the psalmist’s clear directive.

God is loving in all He does; He is an inerrantly good and gracious Father. As such, He works His friendly persuasion to lead us to rely on Him as our soul support and help.

“The Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will take away from Jerusalem and Judah
everything they depend on:
every bit of bread and every drop of water.”
Isaiah 3:1

If God were to do the same with me, removing every level of support and supply, every attempt to protect or sustain myself, every self-created prop I so confidently depend upon, what would remain? I fear that I would quickly realize how little, rather than how much, I am actually waiting patiently on God.

Trusting on God

Two years ago, I purchased a small weeping birch tree. Although it was about eight feet tall, the trunk was quite slender and weak. To protect the new addition to my landscape, I staked it firmly on three sides, and tied it securely with soft cords. Weekly, I gave it the water and fertilizer it needed for steady growth and root development. There it stood flexing and bending during the summer storms.

In early winter, however, a fierce winter blizzard hit with freezing rain. The gale force winds and weight of icy boughs broke the support cords, pressing my little tree horizontal to the ground. All natural support had failed! I gently broke the ice from its frail branches and retied the little sapling, hoping it would somehow survive winter’s assault.

“But I am trusting you,
O LORD, saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.”
Psalm 31:14-15

Man made help and support might be adequate for the everyday “storms” of life, but only God is sufficient for all seasons and circumstances. David learned this truth on the hillside protecting his sheep from lions and bears — a truth reinforced while hiding in desert caves from a king who put a bounty on his life.

How willing am I to wait patiently on the Lord declaring, “my future is in your hands?” If I find it difficult to trust Him in this moment, with patience, how will I possibly trust Him with my unknown tomorrows?

Grace to Wait

Though I look impatiently to the destination God is pointing me toward, He is creating in me the grace to wait. He patiently develops my character with a greater “capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” With God, patience is an attribute of His character: for me, however, patience is a process.

Although I don’t experience it moment by moment, through hindsight I vividly see the grace, strength and ability to endure taking form. What once caused a great deal of anxiousness and annoyance, now has far less power to control my emotions. Progress may be slow, but God continues to faithfully work in me.

My little tree doesn’t need artificial staking and support any more. It has developed an ability to bend and flex in the wind and endure extreme conditions. The trunk has thickened sufficiently to support the tree through the worst weather thrown its way. The unseen roots have spread out to securely anchor the sapling, producing vibrancy and growth. I hope the same can be said of each of us.

If we back up a few verses in Psalm 27, we discover the reason for David’s ability to wait patiently for the Lord with strength and courage. We see clearly where he plants his spiritual roots for optimum growth.

The LORD is my light and salvation —
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 27:1

The Lord Is!

When God removed every previous support system that David had once depended on, David was still secure, confident and solidly grounded. Why? God was enough! When all else is stripped away, we discover (often to our surprise) that the Lord is enough — He is sufficient to satisfy our every need.

Herein lies the joy of having all human and artificial supports removed from our lives. What nothing and no one else can bring, God supplies within Himself.

One thing I ask from the LORD this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. . .
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!
Your face, LORD, I will seek.”
Psalm 27:4-8

When we finally come to realize that the Lord is all we need, the essential for our lives, we too possess an ability to wait patiently for Him. In Him, we find the strength and courage not just to wait, but to move ahead into what God is calling us to do — trusting fully that our future indeed is in His hands.

Looking Ahead

This one thing I want to remind myself of and encourage you with, “God is enough!” As we enter a new year, either with trepidation or optimism, we wait patiently for the Lord to lead us through.

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6,7