Reading: Psalm 126
A song of ascents.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them (NIV).
This is a psalm that has two parts—two sharply contrasting perspectives. It begins with jubilation, but it transitions to sober reflection and a prayer for restoration.
The historical context of this psalm is readily identifiable. The psalmist is commenting on the joyous return of the exiles following the seventy-year Babylonian captivity—an event that occurred in the sixth century before the birth of Christ. When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
The LORD had brought back the people of Israel and they were filled with joy. Have you experienced the glorious liberating power of God in your life? Have you experienced the pure joy of the Lord as you realized your sins are forgiven? And oh joy—this God you serve is as near as your next breath!
I remember a time like that—a time when I was filled with the Holy Spirit. The joy I experienced was so all encompassing that I remember waking in the morning with my face muscles aching because of the smile that had been permanently etched there.
But alas, we can’t live on that mountaintop high forever. In our pilgrimage with God, we eventually reach this line in Psalm 126: Restore our fortunes, LORD, like streams in the Negev. The Negev is the parched desert region to the south of the land of Judah. Streams in the Negev are intermittent. A raging torrent one day becomes a mere trickle on the next day, and then nothing on the third day. The boisterous river of joy turns into a blank line on the desert floor. Then we join with the psalmist and pray. Restore our fortunes, LORD. Our prayer becomes a plea for a return to the joy of harvest.
Response: Father God, I thank you for times of great joy, when we experience your salvation and your felt presence. Help me to sow the seeds of your gospel message today. Amen.
Your Turn: What season are you in? What season is your church in? Is it seed planting time or harvest?
Reading: Psalm 119
Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors (NIV).
My wife knows all about my blindness. Actually, it’s a condition that afflicts many men. You see I have difficulty seeing what is right in front of me. She will tell me to get a certain item from the next room, but can I find it? Of course not. Eventually, my longsuffering wife will arrive to point out the obvious. To which I will respond with, “Now, why couldn’t I see that?”
She will then reply with, “Because you’re blind.”
I’m sure domestic scenes like this are repeated in homes all over the world. But something very similar happens when we open our Bibles. We read a passage and though we take it in with our eyes, it seems the words go nowhere. The thoughts expressed by those words do not register on our minds or in our spirits. I’m ashamed to admit there are times when I have read a chapter from the Bible and walked away completely unaware of what I have read. Nothing has registered. The psalmist’s prayer in today’s reading needs to become my own: Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
Unless God opens our eyes when we read His word, we are engaging in an exercise in futility. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles and prophets to write the Bible, and we urgently need the same Holy Spirit to bring those words alive for us as we read. The god of this world has blinded our eyes. Often God’s truths are veiled. We need the Holy Spirit to remove that veil. Something marvelous happens when that takes place. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3: 18).
Response: Father God, open my eyes and my heart to the truths of your glorious word. Day by day I want to grow in my knowledge and love for you. I need to be transformed by your Spirit. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you regularly read God’s word? Do you sometimes suffer from Bible blindness?
I will praise Him!
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:18-21, NIV)
(In a departure from the norm, I will be doing brief Advent scripture quotes throughout this week leading up to Christmas. My regular Psalms devotional posts will resume on December 26th.)
Reading: Psalm 99
The LORD reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
Great is the LORD in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name—
he is holy.
The King is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
what is just and right.
Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his footstool;
he is holy (NIV).
What does it mean to be holy? There are several shades of meaning for the word holy. It can mean being consecrated or dedicated for a special purpose. It also means righteous. But the definition that fits best in the light of Psalm 99 reads like this: awe-inspiring—having a character that evokes reverence (Encarta Dictionary).
The psalmist is effusive with his praise for the LORD, but three times in this short psalm, he centers back to this phrase: he is holy. Yes, the LORD reigns, He is righteous and exalted, but what has really caught the psalmist’s attention is the LORD’s holiness. That’s what sets Him apart and elevates Him above the stratosphere.
Has the LORD’s holiness caught your attention? Have you been filled with awe by the holiness of God? I fear that far too often we have diminished God. We have tried to make Him like us—powerful but a bit quirky—maybe short-tempered or set in His ways. What nonsense! Our God is holy. We need to wake up to that fact.
In the Beatitudes from his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). To clarify, I might add that the pure in heart will see the true God, not a distorted caricature. Our sinful nature has a way of distorting our view of the LORD. That’s why personal purity or holiness are so essential. The apostle Peter provides this admonition: As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
Response: LORD God, I want to see you at work in my life. Help me with the help of your Holy Spirit to clean up those areas that distort my view of you. You are holy. I worship you in the beauty of your holiness. Amen.
Your Turn: Are there times when you have seen God as short-tempered or set in His ways?
Create pure thoughts in me
and make me faithful again.
Don’t chase me away from you
or take your Holy Spirit
away from me
(Psalm 51:10-11, CEV).
This week’s I Love the Psalms theme is creating.
King David, the author of many of the Psalms, fell deep into sin. Adultery and murder are about as deep as anyone can sink and David sank that low. But when Nathan, the prophet, confronted King David, he repented and prayed these words:
Create pure thoughts in me and make me faithful again. Don’t chase me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me (Psalm 51:10-11, CEV).
The New International Version reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Beauty and truth are found in both translations cited here. But what is most striking is David’s admission that it’s not within his power to create a pure heart or pure thoughts. The purity David needed is not found in himself. Purity comes from God and from Him alone.
In a world of violence and quick-access pornography, we desperately need purity—God created purity that comes from His throne room.
Response: LORD God, create pure thoughts in me. Create in me a pure heart. Holiness comes from you and without holiness we cannot see you, LORD. Speak your creative word into the dark places of my life.
Your Turn: Are you in the grip of pornography? Do you believe God can free you?
A river and its streams bring joy to the city, which is the sacred home of God Most High (Psalm 46:4 CEV).
This week’s I Love the Psalms theme is joy.
Are you drinking from streams of joy? Jesus promised that through the gift of the Holy Spirit we would become a source for joy. “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38 NIV).
Where the Spirit of God is moving there is newness of life and joy.
Response: LORD God, I want to experience your joy. Give me a greater measure of your Holy Spirit. Fill me to overflowing. Amen.
Your Turn: Is Jesus a source of joy in your life?
Reading: Psalm 19
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 transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (NIV)
What is your response to God’s word and His voice as it speaks to your heart? In this final portion of Psalm 19 we see David’s response to God. God has been doing the talking thus far. The LORD has been speaking to David through the stars, through the night sky, and the blazing heat of the sun—the first witness. He has spoken to him through the Word of God—His written revelation—the second witness. Now as this Psalm draws to a close, we hear David responding back to God.
In actuality, David is responding to the third witness. His heart is bearing witness to the reality of God. His conscience is convicting him of his sin and of the righteousness of God. We all have this third witness within us—a witness that will not be silenced, though we may try to drown out this inner voice of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in every case when we respond in a right way to God.
If along with David, we have heard the voices of the first and second witness, then there is only one appropriate response. It is the response recorded here in Holy Scriptures. If we see and grasp the awesome power and majesty of God, if through His word we have glimpsed His holiness, then we are brought low. We are humbled before him. Our greatest achievements are nothing. Our pride dissolves. Our weakness, our smallness is self-evident in the presence of the LORD of heaven and earth. We are exposed; our sin is exposed before this holy, magnificent God.
Along with David we cry out, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”
If we perceive God correctly, and if we assess ourselves accurately and honestly, then we quickly realize our greatest need. Our greatest need is for forgiveness. This is the bedrock on which any human relationship with God is built. I need forgiveness. What about you?
Response: Heavenly Father, please forgive my sins. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you confessed your hidden sins to God?