Reading: Psalm 76
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of Asaph. A song.
God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great.
His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.
You are radiant with light,
more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered, they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors can lift his hands.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
both horse and chariot lie still.
It is you alone who are to be feared.
Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
Make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them;
let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth (NIV).
Has the church abandoned the fear of God? Has our messaging focussed so exclusively on the God of love and forgiveness that the very idea of cringing in fear before God is a completely foreign to us? In more general terms is fear a bad thing—an emotion we should always avoid? Is there something wrong with our relationship with God if we fear Him?
First we need to acknowledge that fear can have both good and bad consequences. A healthy fear of a sharp blade will keep me from sticking my hands under the deck of a running lawn mower. There is wisdom and there is safety in that kind of fear. But the constant fear of a violent, abusive spouse can be devastating to a person’s health and happiness. In brief, fear is essential for self-preservation, but too much of it has terrible consequences. It has a crippling effect by producing paralysis of the human spirit.
A complete lack of fear can have terrible consequences too. I still have both my hands because of a healthy fear of whirling blades. We all need a healthy fear of God. The psalmist states, “It is you alone who are to be feared.”
Jesus essentially said the same thing. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Response: LORD God, you are the One I need to fear. Give me a healthy dose of fear. I want to love and fear you, so that I will walk in full obedience to your commands. Amen.
Your Turn: Is there a place for both love and healthy fear in your relationship with God?
Reading: Psalm 66
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me! (NIV)
I grew up in a family that prayed. But that statement might give you the wrong impression. It might be more accurate to say, “I grew up in a family that religiously recited prayers.”
We recited a common table prayer before every meal and the Lord’s Prayer before breakfast. My mother taught me a very scary bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.
To a six-year-old, that’s a scary prayer. It’s enough to keep you awake lest your soul be carried off in the night, while you’re off in la-la land.
I don’t think I really prayed—prayed from the heart—until the end of my grade four school year. The memory is still fresh in my mind. The little one-room country school I attended was closing. In September I would be bussed to the big school in town. This change was frightening. The familiar was being taken away and in its place was something big, strange and intimidating. Could I survive there? Could I thrive there? These thoughts troubled me.
On my last walk home from my country school, I left the country road and walked into a grove of poplars. That’s where I prayed—not a meaningless recited prayer—but a prayer from my heart to God. I asked for wisdom, strength and God’s favour for the challenging year ahead. God answered. After all these years I can say, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”
Response: LORD God, thank you for answering prayer—not once but thousands of times. Again and again you have proven your love for me. You are the God who hears me. Amen.
Your Turn: When did you learn to pray from the heart? Do you remember the occasion?
Reading: Psalm 53
For the director of music. According to mahalath. A maskil of David.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on God.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
where there was nothing to dread.
God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
you put them to shame, for God despised them.
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When God restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! (NIV).
There is something very fresh and current about Psalm 53. Though David penned this psalm in about 1000 BC, he is describing today’s world. The fools of the world in the twenty-first century are still busy spouting their lies. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
The fool, using the logic of a fool, observes that there is no God. But it is God’s observations about mankind that strike me as being more accurate: They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
When God is taken out of the picture, corruption runs rampant, and no set of laws or regulations will change that. The problem is not laws or regulations; the problem is the state of a person’s heart. Without the love and fear of God, restraint is cast off and everyone does what is right in their own eyes. See Judges 21:25.
You see the fool doesn’t stop at claiming there is no God. He takes matters to the next logical step. In the absence of God, he asserts that he is god. He is the master of his own domain and not accountable to anyone but himself. This quickly leads to moral rot of the worst kind, since the devious mind of man can self-justify even the most heinous crimes. On a personal level it’s a rot that we must all guard against. None of us can claim moral perfection. When we do, we turn God into a liar.
Response: LORD God of heaven and earth. I bow my knees before you. Grant me a pure heart so that I can see you at work all around me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Your Turn: Do believers deny the existence of God when they wilfully engage in corrupt behavior?
Reading: Psalm 36
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD.
I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.
In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong (NIV).
Psalm 36 is a psalm of contrasts. David compares the wickedness of man with the amazing goodness of God. This opening portion of the Psalm 36 touches only on the depravity of man. The picture we see of ourselves is not particularly flattering.
According to David the problem begins with our eyes. He states, “There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.”
The sinful person has a vision problem. He cannot see the dire consequences of his sin. Sin exacts a terrible price. Consider the lives wrecked by addiction to alcohol, drugs or pornography. Furthermore, the damage is not limited to those caught in the terrible grip of sin. It overflows and contaminates all those around. Sin blinds the eyes so we cannot see the suffering we are causing to ourselves and others.
Over time, even so called “small” sins can exact a heavy toll on our lives. Often in subtle ways sin robs us of intimacy, peace and joy. While we are blind to the problem, sin interferes with our relationship with God and those who are near to us. Daily, one should be asking oneself, do I have the right view of myself. In my mind am I flattering myself too much to detect or hate my sin? Have I become blind to my faults—faults that may be obvious to others?
There is a biblical prescription for the blindness caused by our sinful condition. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding (Psalm 111:10). The fear of the LORD opens our eyes. The fear of the LORD leads to repentance and the fear of the LORD enlightens our understanding.
What is keeping you from intimacy, joy and peace? Is it a plethora of secret sins that blind and bind you into unhealthy patterns of thinking? Ask God to give you a right view—an unflattering view of yourself—so that with His help you can change.
Response: LORD God, help me to see a true picture of myself. If I see sin in my life, help me to change. Grant me the gift of repentance through Jesus, who loved me to the point of death on a cross. Amen.
Your Turn: In our mind, all of us flatter ourselves. How do you maintain a right picture of yourself?
Reading: Psalm 112
Praise the LORD.
Blessed are those who fear the LORD,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing (NIV).
Is there a blessing to be had for those who fear the LORD? Absolutely yes, according to Psalm 112! When we put the LORD first in our lives and honor Him in all we say and do, He takes note. Blessings come from the LORD. Those blessings can come in various forms.
The psalmist begins by speaking of the blessing that flows to our children. A home where the love of God reigns is blessed indeed. Children grow up in a secure environment and that sets the stage for their advancement as adults in society. The psalmist asserts the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Are you finding great delight in the LORD’s commands? There are consequences for that. You may be blessed with wealth and riches as a result. Fearing God brings a reward, but that reward must be used wisely in the service of God and others. Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
But this psalm does not promise us a trouble-free life. Though bad news may come, those who fear God will trust in Him and overcome adversity. Even in darkness light dawns for the upright. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Response: Father God, I thank you for every blessing that comes from fearing you and living uprightly. When my way seems dark, shine your light on me. Lead me forward in the way of Christ. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you experienced God’s blessing? Which blessings do you value most?