Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Daisy Barn Campground, Wilson, NY

Note to my readers:
As most folks know, the Book of Psalms is the longest book of the Bible. It’s also the lynchpin of the Wisdom Literature in Scripture. By their very nature the Psalms are devotional reading. More often than not, as I read the Psalms I don’t need a commentary as much as I need to listen to what’s being said and then find ways to internalize it into my life. Many people do that by reading a Psalm each day as a part of their daily Bible reading. I don’t intend to write a devotional on each Psalm. Instead, I encourage you to spend some time letting the Psalms feed your spirit. Perhaps the devotionals I do write will serve as primer to help you do that.

Chewing on the word of God
Psalm 1: You chew on Scripture day and night.
The book of Psalms is the world’s finest songbook. For centuries the Hebrew people turn to the Psalms and chant them as a part of their worship. Four part harmony hasn’t been invented yet, but they have the themes of worship down pat. Not only are the Psalms worship songs, they’re often prayers too. They’re not always high sounding and polished prayers. Often they’re prayers from the heart and they reflect the entire range of human emotion. If I know a few things about harmony and chord progression that the Psalmists don’t know, I have to admit that the Psalmists know some things about absolute honesty with God that I need to learn. The first Psalm is a simple consideration of the kind of people God likes. Right at the heart of it is the fact that God likes people who “chew on Scripture day and night.” This goes way beyond doing my daily devotions and reading a bit of the Bible. Instead, it reaches down into my life as I take what I’ve read and consider how it applies to what I’m doing throughout the day. Today, I’m reminded that God likes people who like his Word. That’s a fine reason to allow it to permeate my life.
Take Away: God likes people who like his Word.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – marina in Wilson, NY

Something better
Psalm 4: I have…more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.
Now here’s a current application of an ancient truth. Possessions don’t give true joy but God does. My society is in love with “stuff.” People stand in line in the cold all night to be one of the first to own the latest toy. When that expensive bit of plastic is six months old, do they still think it was worth all that discomfort? I doubt it! David reminds me that living an “ordinary day” in the joy of the Lord is better than having an extraordinary day without him. The thing is that these people standing in line are doing so because they don’t know any better. They think that the latest gadget is the best life has to offer. When I see them sacrificing so much for so little I’m not to feel superior. Instead, I’m supposed to feel compassion. By God’s grace I know something they don’t know and I have a commission to somehow show them that there’s something better.
Take Away: Possessions don’t give true joy but God does.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Marina in Wilson, NY

Being real with God
Psalm 6: If you love me at all, get me out of here.
When I spend any time in the Psalms at all (getting beyond the 1st Psalm, the 23rd, and the 100th) I find that they aren’t all about praising the Lord for his blessings and protection. In fact, there is a lot of heartfelt pain. In this Psalm David cries out to God, asking the Lord to let up on him. He says he’s black and blue and tired of all this! I find here, not only permission to speak to God frankly, from my heart, but I sense the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding me that, if I do complain to God like that it had better be the real deal. That is, if I’m really hurting and broken and angry, then God wants me to freely express it to him. If I’m just complaining though, I need to stop whining. I need to get on with life; trusting God to see me through. There’s a big difference between my bringing my brokenness to God, honestly expressing my heart to him, and my just being a wimp who complains to God about every little setback in life.
Take Away: I can be real with God, in fact, I’d better be.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Chagrin Falls…just south of Cleveland, OH

Safe days
Psalm 7: I’m feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right.
Don’t you just love those “safe days”? What a blessing to look inward and see a heart made right and kept right. How pleasant it is to think serene thoughts, imagining soft, easy-going days in which I relax in the assurance of God’s pleasure with my life. It’s too bad that that’s not the message of this Psalm at all. David is under attack and he’s running for his life. He’s been accused of all kinds of failure, including spiritual failure. If his enemies get their hands on him he’s finished. This isn’t a day at the beach. This is war. And it’s in the middle of this war that David looks to God for help and vindication. As some of his life’s most difficult days rage all around him, he looks upward and finds hope. He looks inward and finds peace. While I really do love soft “safe days” I know that the real test of God’s work in my life is out on the battle field. If I can sense his pleasure with me and find inner peace there, well, I can find it anywhere.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but the Lord is with us and in us even on hard days.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Brandywine Falls…just south of Cleveland, OH

Perspective
Psalm 8: Why do you bother with us?
In all of life there’s a need for balance and in Psalm 8 we’re given a nice example of this. On one hand, I’m a mere speck in the Universe, practically invisible in comparison to God’s wondrous Creation. Honestly, sometimes I get this and sometimes I don’t. Rick Warren starts his famous Purpose Driven Life book with the words, “It’s not about you” and I can read that and respond, “Yes, I know!” Other times I get caught seeing things only from my tiny perspective: “Why are they singing that song again? I don’t like it nearly as much as I like the others. Let’s sing some southern gospel, that’s my kind of music!” At times like that it doesn’t hurt for me to remember that the worship service isn’t really designed for me in the first place. Still, I know I can go too far with this humility stuff. Back in the Stone Age of my childhood church kids were taught to say, “God didn’t make any junk.” I’m valued by the Lord. Still, once in a while it’s a good idea for me to look around and realize that everything isn’t in orbit around me after all and to join David in humbly asking the Almighty, “Why do you bother with ” me at all?
Take Away: It really isn’t all about me – or you!

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Chagrin Falls…just south of Cleveland, OH

Balancing the books
Psalm 10: God’s grace and order wins.
As did Job, the Psalmist considers the inequities of life. The wicked say, “God is dead” and continue down their evil paths. The Psalmist seeks God, knowing God is just and tries to understand how a just God can allow injustice to continue. He concludes that he hasn’t seen the end of it all yet. Sooner or later (and he hopes it’s sooner) God’s going to make things right. When he does, he says, the “orphans get parents” and the “homeless get homes.” That doesn’t mean I become a fatalist who makes no effort to right the wrongs in this world, but it does mean that I don’t get overwhelmed by it all and give up in despair. My best efforts will make a difference in the lives of those I minister to in the Name of the Lord, but a day is coming when the Lord will square every account. God will balance the books.
Take Away: The Lord has the last word in human affairs.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Kenisee Lake, Jefferson, OH

No wonder we’re so happy!
Psalm 16: I’m happy from the inside out.
David’s testimony in Psalm 16 is absolutely inspiring. He makes the decision to run to God, making him Lord of his life and when he does this all the puzzle pieces of his life fall into place. Because of his trust in God he’s drawn to the best friends he could ever have. As he chooses the Lord he’s pleasantly surprised that before he ever picked God that God picked him! Now, day and night, his life confirms his decision and, when the end comes, he knows that his decision to serve the Lord will go with him into the world to come. It sounds almost too good to be true. Know what? It is true: every word of it. It’s no wonder David has a smile on his face! I guess that’s the reason Christians are so joyful too. After all, our story is every bit as victorious as is David’s. In fact, we know more about it than he does. We have (in Paul Harvey’s words) “the rest of the story.” We know about the Incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. What’s that? You don’t think Christians are all that joyful? Well, shame on them…on us…on me!
Take Away: The people of the Lord have every reason to rejoice.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Lake Erie, NE Ohio

Seeing God, everywhere
Psalm 19: God’s glory is on tour in the skies.
God speaks to us in various ways. When I hear the phrase: “God’s Word” I always assume that it’s the Bible that’s being talked about. David, who thought of the written word of God as the Torah, reminds me that “God’s Word” is much more than written words making up a leather-bound book or a rare and valuable scroll. He says that Creation, itself, is the “Word of God.” Whether I am watching the sunrise or a starlit nighttime sky I’m reading God’s message of love and goodwill to me and to all human beings. These things, David says, are roadmaps to God…roadmaps with easy to follow directions. Of course, beyond the written Word, or the Word displayed in Creation, is the Living Word of God: God the Son, Jesus. David only has a dim, distant knowledge of the Word in the Flesh. Still, even lacking that, he keeps seeing God everywhere he looks. In all of life, God is speaking; I just need to learn to listen on a broader scale that I might more fully hear his message to me.
Take Away: If we pay attention we’ll hear from God in a wonderful variety of ways.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Night Balloon Glow – Debonnés near Geneva, OH

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.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Horseshoe Lakes Thousand Trails – Clinton, IN

Highs and lows and in-betweens
Psalm 30: I can’t keep quiet about you.
It’ll come as a surprise to no one, but I confess that I’m no David. He lives larger than life. I have the idea he’s more passionate over his breakfast each morning than I am over the biggest events in my life. When David’s up, he’s really up, filled with joy and praises and song. That’s not me. The top of his roller coaster ride is far above mine! I confess that I sometimes envy those “Davids” in my life, so full of life and passion. On the other hand, when David is down, he’s really down! He doesn’t stop at being somewhat discouraged, instead, he feels absolutely abandoned. He isn’t just frustrated; instead, he’s filled with despair. The bottom of the roller coaster ride for people with the “David personality” is far below mine and when I see them down there in so much pain I confess that I feel a little superior, or at least a bit glad that I’m not like that. The neat thing is that God made both of us and he sees something of himself in each of us. I have a long way to go, but in my personality, and in others who are wired like me, there’s just a hint of God as the “solid Rock,” our “firm foundation.” Then, when I am around a “David” I see something of God’s passion and zest. Of course in God we see it all without the flaws that are associated with the human versions, then in Jesus we see humanity perfected, just as God intended in the first place. It occurs to me that one purpose of the Psalms is to let people like me hitch a ride with people like David. I won’t make it to the top with him and I won’t have to ride with him to the bottom, but I might be stretched just a little. That’s a good thing.
Take Away: There’s something of the Lord in every positive personality type.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Turkey Run State Park, IN

How wonderful to be the people of God
Psalm 33: Blessed is the country with God for God; blessed are the people he’s put in his will.
Our Western culture thinks in terms of the individual. The Psalmist, though, has no such view of the world. He sees God as a national God and his nation as a people of God. In that relationship Israel, he says, is especially blessed. Their military wins major battles, not because of their strength, but because God picks them to be his people and is watching over them. His nation depends on that relationship (and later on will take that relationship for granted – leading to their destruction). Still, it’s a dependable relationship that makes Israel a special nation on the face of the earth. I know that people like to use this verse to call America to God, promising that if the nation comes to the Lord that it will be blessed in all kinds of ways. No doubt, the great need of my nation is to come to God. Still, there’s a big difference between being a nation that chooses God and being a nation chosen by God.
Take Away: How blessed to be the people of the Lord!

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Turkey Run State Park, IN

The God of justice
Psalm 35: Punch these bullies in the nose
This Psalm is one of David’s Psalms of complaint. All David wants to do is serve the Lord. However, his enemies are making fun of him and taking advantage of every downturn in his life. David asks the Lord to act on his behalf and foil the plans of his enemies and ruin the fun they’re having at his expense. When all is said and done, David wants to hear his friends say, “see, everything works together for good for David, the servant of God.” Modern Christians are somewhat uncomfortable with David’s attitude toward his enemies. We know that the One we follow taught us to turn the other cheek. It’s probably reasonable that we filter our reading of Psalms of complaint through the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it’s helpful to view David’s desires for his enemies in the broadest possible terms. In other words, we may not join David in hoping God will strike down our enemies but we can join him in longing for the day when God sets all wrongs right. God is love, and he is also just. When we experience injustice not only in our lives, but in the lives of others it’s acceptable for us to look forward to the time when God gives those bullies a punch in the nose!
Take Away: The day is, indeed, coming when the Lord will set every wrong right.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Turkey Run State Park, IN

Looking to the Lord in the midst of the storm
Psalm 42: Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.
When Peter walks on the water he does just fine until his attention is drawn away from the Lord and onto the storm. It’s then that he begins to sink. Hundreds of years before that, the sons of Korah write this Psalm dealing with the same issue. As is abundantly clear with the drowning Peter, they don’t suggest that God’s people go about pretending all is well. We’re to admit that we’re down in the dumps and maybe even feeling neglected by God, about to be crushed. The solution they give us is the very same thing we learn from Peter’s unforgettable experience on and then in the water: we’re to fix our eyes on the One who loves us and promises to be with us. Toward the back of our Bibles we find the writer of Hebrews telling us, again, to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Since we find this truth here in the Psalms, and then see it powerfully illustrated by Peter in the gospels, and then are taught the same truth again in the book of Hebrews you’d think that we’d have such a firm grasp on it that it would be part of our spiritual DNA. However, this lesson has to not only be learned, but then relearned; again and again. I think I forget it because I tend to attempt to be self-sufficient. I want the Lord to be impressed with me, so I try to handle it myself. Or, the problem is that I’m so “now oriented” that I can’t see the bigger picture of God’s faithful provision for me even in the storms of life. Either way, the answer is given here. When I look to the Lord, even in the harshness of life, in the words of Korah’s sons, “soon I’ll be praising again.”
Take Away: If we “fix our eyes” on anyone or anything aside from the Lord we’ll end up being let down and disappointed.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Turkey Run State Park, IN

Better for our kids than Disneyland
Psalm 48: Then you can tell the next generation.
This Psalm is one in praise of the City of God, Jerusalem. This, I’m told, is a place where worship abounds, and with good reason. Within its walls is the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth. This city is protected by the Lord even when powerful enemies come to destroy it. Every time the song writer looks at Jerusalem, Zion, he’s overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Then he suggests a specific course of action. He says people ought to carefully measure the city and count its towers. He wants them to make careful record of everything about this City of God. Why? So they can recount it all to their children. In other words, it isn’t enough for them to simply rejoice in the here and now in all God has done for them; they’re to record it all and then tell their children and grandchildren about it. We Christians have our own stories of God’s grace in our lives and churches, our families and our nation. It’s good for us to rejoice when God delivers us from some near disaster. However, we need to be more on purpose in passing our stories along. Surely with all the technology available I can make a video or record a mp3 in which I tell the whole story, detail by detail. Of course, beyond that, we need to have such conversations with our kids. For instance maybe on vacation we can make a stop at the church where we attended as children and, there, in the sanctuary, tell our kids about what happened and why. It may not be the same as Disneyland, and it doesn’t have to replace such a destination, but it just might have a greater impact on our kids than we realize.
Take Away: Tell your story to your kids, and tell it often.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Belle Starr CoE – Lake Eufaula, OK

Some lessons are learned the hard way
Psalm 51: Going through the motions doesn’t please you.
This Psalm probably ranks in the top four or five best known psalms and it comes from the worst event of David’s life. He’s sinned against God in his affair with Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up by engineering the death of her husband. His evil plan never has a chance. All the time God is watching as the whole ugly thing unfolds. God sends his man, Nathan, to confront David and when he repents he writes this psalm as his prayer of confession. Its theme is “God’s loving grace.” David pleads for mercy and forgiveness and asks for a changed heart. There’s no, “I’ll try harder” in his cry to God. He realizes that his greatest need isn’t better performance but that he be made new from the inside out. I think the most powerful insight of the psalm is David’s realization that God isn’t nearly as interested in performance as he is in motivation. The Lord isn’t as interested in our behaving in some proscribed way as he is interested in our hearts. When the heart is right, performance (within human limitations) will follow. Otherwise, performance becomes for us, not a source of righteousness, but a source of pride.
Take Away: A changed heart results in changed behavior.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Belle Starr CoE – Lake Eufaula, OK

Real men sing together
Psalm 63 I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God.
I often picture David as the shepherd boy out tending his sheep in some tranquil pastoral setting. I see him playing his harp and composing songs of praise to God with only a congregation of sheep hearing his music. That, I think, is more myth than fact. I’ve recently read the psalm King David wrote after being confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba. Now, in the 63rd Psalm I find him out in the Judean wilderness, as he and his loyal band is on the run from his enemies. The setting is far from tranquil and his audience is not sheep, but warriors Can’t you imagine this rough and tumble fighting force gathering around the campfire to listen to their fearless leader play the harp and sing his latest composition to them. I think that’s exactly what happened! In this case, David’s song is one of transparent praise to God. He tells the Lord, “I can’t get enough of you,” proclaiming, “God — you’re my God.” As David and his rag-tag army sit around the campfire they sing, not “kum-ba-ya,” but “here I am to worship.” I don’t think I’d want to be the person who wanders into that camp to tell these warriors that it’s kind of sissy to sing such songs, and if I did, I’d probably want to have a current life insurance policy! Seriously, it’s nice to be reminded that real men can really worship.
Take Away: Heartfelt worship can be a very masculine endeavor.

Devotional on the Psalms

2019 – Waco, TX

Be still and know…
Psalm 65: Silence is praise to you.
“Silence is praise to you.” What an interesting phrase to be found in the world’s most famous book of songs. Songs are about, well, sound: music and singing, instrumentals and key changes. Now I’m told that it doesn’t always take some meaningful praise song to have meaningful praise. David, that famous song writer and harp player, says that silence can be full of praise. One of his examples is found in nature. Not only does he see praise in the crashing of the waves but he also sees it when those things “come to a stop.” Also, he hears songs of praise in the stillness of the dawn or as dusk settles on the land. Silence is a missing element in most of our lives. I tend to treat silence as a small child treats darkness. In other words, I want a “night light” of sound; maybe the radio playing in the background. My prayers are filled with the sound of my own voice and when I run out of things to say I think that means my prayer is finished. David reminds me that silence is a perfectly acceptable form of praise. Learning to worship in silence is a powerful lesson to learn. It’s an element almost completely absent from our public and even personal worship experiences.
Take Away: Those who learn to worship in silence have learned a powerful lesson of worship.

Devotional on the Psalms

2020 – Dickinson, TX

Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.

Devotional on the Psalms

2022 – Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales

Helping God be God
Psalm 73: I nearly missed it…I was looking the other way, looking up to the people.
Asaph is one of David’s choir directors and the writer of eleven of the psalms. The Bible also mentions the “sons of Asaph.” These are probably people who are disciples of this talented worship leader. Asaph and David are kindred spirits and the themes of their psalms are similar. In this song Asaph declares the goodness of God and talks about how the Lord patiently led him even when he was “totally ignorant” of what was going on. It’s the opening part of this psalm, though, that gets my attention today. He declares the goodness of God but then confesses that he nearly missed seeing that goodness. Why? He was too busy looking at people to see God. Asaph’s attention was drawn to the seeming success of others, then, as he considered their success he saw that some were wicked people and he began to question God as to how it could be that wicked people enjoy such success. The truth is that I can fail to see God because I’m enamored with the success of others. I can also fail to see him because I am too busy telling him what I think he should do. In trying to help God out I place myself in danger of losing sight of him altogether. I need to remember who God is and that he can handle the inconsistencies of life. My main job is to keep my eyes on him and live in obedience to him. It’s not my job to point out things I think he may have overlooked.
Take Away: Always remember that the Lord can handle the seeming inconsistencies of life – we can leave such things in his hands and keep our eyes on him.

Devotional on the Psalms

2020 – Dickinson, TX

Telling it like it was
Psalm 78: He…commanded our parents to teach it to their children.
Asaph’s longest psalm tells the story of Israel’s failure and God’s faithfulness. In the opening part of the psalm he states that its purpose is to tell their story so that the next generation will learn to trust God. Honestly, from Israel’s point of view this isn’t a very flattering story. Each verse of the song describes a failure of Israel and how God responds with compassion to rescue them from some mess they’ve gotten themselves into. I don’t know about you, but when I’m telling the “next generation” about God I usually skip the “I failed” part and jump straight to the “God helped” part. Maybe that’s a mistake. It might be that I’m unintentionally saving face instead of teaching others to trust God more. Of course, there are things in all our pasts that must be told carefully and at the right time, but there’s likely a time for the telling. If I’m not careful I give the impression that I wised up and decided to give my heart to the Lord. In doing that, I make God into a concerned bystander in my story, wringing his hands, hoping I’ll turn it all around and then pleased that I’ve done so. It really isn’t that way. It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption. Yes, I have to cooperate with him, but he’s the one who ought to get all the credit. I need to be sure that “my story” is truly “God’s story.” A part of that is my, at the appropriate time and place, honestly admitting my failure. That gives God the glory and also gives hope to that one in the “next generation” who already has some spiritual failures of his or her own.
Take Away: It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption.

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