Put God first
Proverbs 1: Start with God.
The Bible tells us about God and about ourselves. Many of its pages contain a history of God and us, telling us not only where we have been but God’s desire for us in the future. However, there’s more than even that. The Lord doesn’t just want all of us to go to heaven when we die. Rather, he wants us to live the best lives possible in the here and now. That’s what the book of Proverbs is about. These wise sayings aren’t written to tell us our history and they aren’t written to point to way to heaven. They tell us how to live the wisest way today. So, as we begin to read this collection of insights into life we’re immediately given the foundational secret: “Start with God — the first step in learning is bowing down to God.” Theoretically, I might get everything else right, but if I miss this number one concept before long it will all tumble down. Wisdom begins with God and because of that the satisfied, complete life starts here too. Jesus says it this way, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Take Away: When we build our lives around the Lord we have the potential of building a rich, satisfying life…“Start with God.”
Praise God with the sound of the saxophone
Psalm 150: Praise with the blast on the trumpet.
This journey through the Psalms has been nothing close to exhaustive. I find it challenging to write devotionally from material that’s already devotional in the first place! I can get my teeth into a passage that has a story in it but scripture like the Psalms is more challenging to me. Because of that I’ve hopped and skipped my way along and I know I haven’t done this book of the Bible anything close to the justice it deserves. Today, I find myself at this final Psalm and it stirs a good memory. When I was in high school I was a member of the band and at a banquet for the band I was asked to bring a short devotional (yes, we did stuff like that in public school back in the olden days!). I picked this Psalm and had fun reading about all the instruments that can be used to praise the Lord. After the banquet one of my fellow band members complained to me that I didn’t mention his instrument, the saxophone. We laughed about it at the time, but here I am decades later remembering that event and being reminded that there are all kinds of ways to worship: playing the trumpet, drama, singing, preaching, and, yes, even by playing the saxophone! The psalm writer sums it all up by saying, to put it in my own words, “Just do it!”
Take Away: Whatever it is you have – musical ability, teaching ability, using a hammer and saw—whatever you have, find ways to use it in praising the Lord.
Playing hide and seek with God
Psalm 139: Your reassuring presence, coming and going.
It’s no surprise that this is a favorite psalm for many of God’s people across the years. It’s a celebration of God’s connection to our lives. The writer doesn’t have any concept of an absentee God who spun the world up to speed and then moved on to other things. He doesn’t think of God as aloof and disinterested. His God is an involved God, deeply connected to his life. The psalmist can see the hand of this involved God when he looks back on the events of his life. He has no doubt that the Lord will continue to be connected to him. David imagines his playing a game of “hide and seek” with God, not that he wants to be hidden from God for a moment, but that he wants to be sure of God’s knowledge of his life no matter where he might be. In this imaginary game, David goes mountain climbing, and then spelunking in the depths. As he arrives at those remote, hidden places it’s no surprise to him that God is already there waiting on him. The psalmist finds that God always finds him in both the extremes of life and the common places as well. This psalm speaks to all of us who love the Lord and don’t want to live for even one moment outside his grace and mercy.
Take Away: Where ever I am, God is there first.
A song of praise
Psalm 138: Thank you! Everything in me says, “Thank you!”
In this psalm David immerses himself in thanksgiving. God is good to him and he’s filled to overflowing with thanks. He imagines the angels of heaven stepping aside and stilling their voices to hear his song of thanks. That grateful spirit drives his worship and gives him strength. If David, without the story of Good Friday, who lives hundreds of years before some unknown person dreams up doing the horror of doing executions on a cross; if David can be overwhelmed with thanksgiving then I ought to at least be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this song of praise. So today, David’s song of thanks becomes mine. Thank you, Lord — thank you from the depth of my being — thank you with all my strength. Angels step back. Listen as I call out to God my song of thanks.
Take Away: Praise the Lord – he’s worthy!
Can’t we all just get along?
Psalm 133: How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
Here’s one of those “praise chorus” length psalms, just a few sentences long. It’s another of those songs sung by the pilgrims as they make their way up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. The topic of this short chorus is “unity.” I can just imagine a family making their way to Jerusalem to worship. Maybe the kids are a little tired and irritable and start picking on one another. Mom and dad start singing this song about getting along! Not only that, but as they journey to Jerusalem the pilgrims anticipate not only worship, but the deep fellowship they will enjoy with their fellow worshipers. They’ve come from the four corners of their country to worship together and that’s a beautiful thing. In this dry, arid land, the imagery of the first High Priest, Aaron, being anointed with and overabundance of oil sounds refreshing to them, so they use that image and the picture of abundant dew falling on the parched ground to describe the refreshment they feel in their souls as they join God’s people in worship. As we go through our weeks, dealing with everything life throws at us, we too anticipate the time we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That, too, is refreshing to our souls.
Take Away: it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people get together in harmony.
Take it easy
Psalm 127: Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Wise King Solomon is credited with writing both this psalm and the 72nd as well, and there’s considerable wisdom here. He reminds us that unless God is the builder a project will produce nothing worthwhile and unless God guards a city all other efforts at defense are a waste of time. It’s the next phrase that gets my attention today, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” Since it’s true that God is the One who builds things that last perhaps we can relax a bit. Without the hand of God all that we accomplish by working 16 hours a day will be exhaustion. It isn’t that we have nothing worthwhile to do. The Lord graciously invites us to labor in his fields and be coworkers with him. He goes with us out into our daily lives with an agenda of his own. The reminder of this psalm is that our Master also enjoys giving us time off for rest and, especially, to enjoy our families. As we’ve heard many times, no one, at the end of life says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office and less with those I love.” Remember, the direction given in this psalm is from the wisest man who ever lived!
Take Away: Life is a gift of God to be appreciated and enjoyed.
The joyful journey
Psalm 122: When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy.
I know we like to take this verse and use it to describe people waking up on Sunday morning, thrilled at the prospect of going to church, but this psalm isn’t really about that at all. This is a song sung by pilgrims as they journey to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple there. From across the country God’s people set their faces toward Jerusalem to worship. The song writer describes the decision being made to make that journey: someone says, “Let’s make the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover this year.” The response is one of joy, “Yes, let’s do it!” Thus plans are made for that long journey, quite likely several days of walking, traveling up to Jerusalem. As they walk they sing, and this is one of their songs. While I’m okay with using the opening words of this psalm to celebrate our opportunity to attend worship services at a nearby church I think we somewhat shortchange the application of it. The journey described here isn’t necessarily a short drive bringing us to 9:45 Sunday School and 10:45 Worship. A better application is our journey to the New Jerusalem. That journey isn’t by land or sea, but through life. The best use of this passage for us is to see it as an expression of the joy of our walking together with God’s people through life and our anticipation of entering the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, at journey’s end.
Take Away: It’s a joy to serve the Lord as we journey through life.
“A” is for “Apple”
Psalm 119: Every word you give me is a miracle word.
Even with the excellent effort of Eugene H. Peterson in bringing us the paraphrase that is The Message we don’t have much chance of grasping what’s happening in Psalm 119 without some outside help. This is the longest psalm, having, I’m told, 22 parts. If the shorter psalms are called ancient praise and worship choruses, this one might be called a full blown cantata! Now I’m only repeating what I’ve been told as I’m no expert in Hebrew (or English, for that matter) but the reason we miss the neat thing that’s happening here is that this psalm is all about the Hebrew language. The 22 parts of the psalm are based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is built around one of those letters, working through the alphabet. Then, in each section, there are eight lines, each beginning with that letter. So, what we have happening here is along the line of “‘A’ is for ‘apple'” and “‘B’ is for ‘boy'” and so on. Then eight lines of verse, each beginning with the letter “A” before moving on to “B” and right on through the alphabet. Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with writing a devotional. Well, not much really! It does, though, cause me to better appreciate the creativity of the psalmist.
Take Away: Often knowing the back story of a passage of scripture makes all the difference in the world in our understanding.
My story of rescue
Psalm 107: If you are really wise, you’ll think this over — it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.
Each verse of this song tells a story of God’s love and deliverance. In one verse I hear the story of those who wandered for years in the desert. When they called out to God he rescued them. In the next verse, the focus is on those locked up in prison. Once again, God saves them. Another verse tells the story of sickness and I’m told that God “spoke the word” and they were healed. Then I’m led to think about sailors out to sea and caught in a mighty storm. As in all the other verses, they call out to God and he rescues them in the nick of time. The psalmist sums it all up by saying I ought to think about all this and appreciate God’s deep love for us. I don’t have a dramatic story like those told in this psalm but, in a sense, not having a story is a story of rescue in itself. Which is better, to have nearly drowned in my sin or to be rescued early in life and not have the ugly scars of sin in the first place? My story is also a story of God’s deep love.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord rescues us from the disaster before it ever has a chance to happen.
Passing the faith along
Psalm 105: All because he remembered his Covenant.
Psalm 105 is one of those “remembering great things” psalms. The events retold in the song happened hundreds of years in the past. I can imagine the boys in the congregation grinning to one another during the verse about frogs in the bedroom of the king and flies filling the air. That kind of imagery gets a boy’s attention! Something else is happening as that psalm is sung. Even as the boys think about flies and gnats and frogs they learn the story of God’s faithfulness, how he kept his promise and delivered his people from Egyptian slavery. Thus that old story becomes their story. Someday, they’ll be the grow ups leading the worship and it will be their boys getting a kick out of the “frog story.” Thus another generation takes ownership of the story of God. We have the same opportunity. Our children need to know of the faithfulness of God. Stories that seem like the same old stuff to us are brand new to these little ones. We owe it to them to tell it to them with the same conviction and wonder and celebration that it was told to us. As we do that we connect them to the God who keeps his promises no matter what.
Take Away: Tell your children the story of God – tell it to them with conviction, wonder, and celebration – make it their story.