The favorite Psalm
Psalm 23: God, my shepherd!
Some portions of the Bible are like the peaks of a great mountain range. It’s all awesome, but there are passages that take our breath away. There are the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer; in fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount. Then there’s John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. Also, there’s the great Hymn of Creation of the opening pages of our Bibles. And there’s the 23rd Psalm. Here we find such beauty and such comfort and encouragement that we return again and again, especially in times of pain or fear or grief. I’m reminded today that David wrote it as God, the Holy Spirit, carried him along. The words are those of an experienced shepherd. The concepts are inspired by the Lord. This favorite Psalm is, then, the result of a cooperative effort between God and man. This mountain peak Psalm is not simply a product of David’s creativity and it’s not the result of the Lord acting unilaterally as he did in Creation (in other words it isn’t a result of “God said ‘let there be a Psalm’ and there was a Psalm!”). As surprising as it is, the Almighty forms a partnership with a man and the result is Psalm 23. In this I see not only how God desires to work in this world, but also the great potential in such a partnership. As I cooperate with God in my life he works with me to bring about wonderful results. What happens may not be exquisite poetry like Psalm 23, but it will be something of value to the Lord and to me.
Take Away: It’s an unlikely and wonderful partnership – the Lord working with, in, and through human beings.
Numbers 27: Give us an inheritance among our father’s relatives.
In preparation for entry into the Promised Land a census has been taken and the method for division of the land is made public. A group of sisters, all daughters of the late Zelophehad appear before Moses to seek justice. The division of land is by families and it’s sons who are to inherit from their fathers. These women explain that their father died without any sons and because of that his descendants are being left out of the plans for property ownership in Canaan. Moses takes the issue to the Lord and the Lord agrees. The plan is rewritten to take into account men who die with no sons to inherit their property. This is a historical decision that elevates the status of women in Israel. I find the circumstances quite interesting. What would have happened had these women not come forward with their petition? My guess is that their unique situation would have been overlooked. As individuals, they would have been okay because when they married they would have shared in their husband’s inheritance. Because of their bold request, though, the Lord listened, agreed, and responded. This then, becomes an example of prayer having a direct influence on the Lord. He willingly listens to us and allows us to have influence in what he does in this world. Had they not stepped forward things would have been okay; but because they did, things happened as they desired. To think that the Almighty welcomes my petitions, considers them, and is willing to respond to them amazes me. This is quite a powerful lesson to find buried here between the report of the census and more instructions concerning burnt offerings in the book of Numbers!
Take Away: As surprising as it is, the Lord welcomes my petitions and is willing to consider them and to grant them.
Genesis 18: Abraham stood in God’s path, blocking the way.
I can’t imagine a more shocking description of how Abraham begins his intercession for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah than this statement. I’ve read this passage countless times and never realized what it meant for Abraham to, in the language of the NIV, “Stand before the Lord.” The Almighty has graced Abraham with a unique visitation. The Lord has made a wonderful promise to him. Now, he’s honored him by giving him advance knowledge of what he’s about to do. As the Lord prepares to depart on this mission, Abraham stands before him, ready to plead for mercy in one of the best known prayers of intercession in the Bible. It’s pretty clear that the Lord welcomes Abraham’s involvement in this. For one thing, had the Lord not told Abraham what’s about to happen, he would have found out about it after the fact like everyone else. For another, when Abraham stands in God’s path it’s akin to my going out to the interstate and “standing in the path” of a Mac truck. The only way Abraham survives this shocking event is that the Lord allows it. As I look for an application to my life from this passage I don’t want to go overboard here. I need to remember that Abraham’s pleading a case and not insisting that things go his way. Still, it’s enlightening for me to realize that the Lord sometimes welcomes me into the conversation about what he’s doing in the world. It seems to me that this is the key is the Lord’s informing Abraham of his intention. In that, I get the feeling that Abraham’s being given permission to respond from his own perspective. When the Lord gives me a burden, or even a unique insight into something, I can take that as being granted permission to respond in prayer from my own perspective and maybe to even “stand in God’s path” in a reverent and respectful way as Abraham did.
Take away: As amazing as it is, sometimes God welcomes me into a conversation concerning his intentions.
Making God’s plan my plan
Isaiah 22: You looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city…who has long had plans for this city.
Disaster’s coming and Isaiah speaks of it as though it’s already happened, in what’s called “prophetic perfect tense.” He describes the preparation for battle: weapons, fortifications, even the securing of the water supply. It seems they’ve done all they can do. However, they’ve totally missed it. In all their plans they’ve failed to look to the One who has plans of his own for their city. Isaiah says that God’s plan includes their repenting of the sins that brought them to all this in the first place. Instead, they make their own plans and then throw parties, saying, “Eat and drink now, for tomorrow we may die.” This refusal to acknowledge God and, instead, to rely on themselves is going to cost them everything. The truth is that we ought to identify with all this, possibly as a nation, but definitely as individuals. God has plans for you and me and his good will to us has been abundantly demonstrated. With that in mind my life should be focused on him. Instead, I tend to do things my own way and then, once in a while (especially when things get difficult) I pause to look to God and ask him to help me do what I’ve decided to do. That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It isn’t that I’m to never have a thought of my own, but it is that I’m to live in partnership with the Lord. Instead, I tend to “look and look” but never look “to him who gave” me life in the first place; to him “who has long had plans” for my life. When I fail to look to him it’s a recipe for disaster.
Take Away: Failing to look to the Lord is a recipe for disaster.