Reading: Psalm 48
A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah.
Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels;
he has shown himself to be her fortress.
When the kings joined forces,
when they advanced together,
they saw her and were astounded;
they fled in terror.
Trembling seized them there,
pain like that of a woman in labor.
You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish
shattered by an east wind.
As we have heard, so we have seen
in the city of the LORD Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever (NIV).
I grew up on a farm in wide open rural Saskatchewan, Canada. It was a cross-country mile to the nearest neighbour, but if you stood at the right spot in our farmyard, you could see our neighbour’s house. I loved growing up on the farm and I still love visiting. Who wouldn’t? I was living in God’s country surrounded by the wild beauty of nature in all its varied, changing forms.
But I have spent the last forty years living in the city—actually three rather large cities with populations of more than a million. Is the God of the open country the God of the city too? The psalmist seemed to think so. He begins Psalm 48 with this declaration: Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
Of course the sons of Korah were referring to biblical Jerusalem, more specifically Mount Zion, the fortified citadel within the walls of ancient Israel’s capital. God was within her. During the reign of David the Ark of the Covenant—the seat of the LORD’s rule—was housed in the sacred tabernacle on Mount Zion. This was where God dwelt.
Where does God dwell today? As partakers of the new covenant, through the blood of Christ we are the temples of God. Paul, the apostle, asks, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). God dwells in the city too—your city. Whether it’s Calgary, Ottawa, New York or Tokyo, God is within her because His redeemed people live there.
Response: LORD, I thank you because you live within us! Help me to let my light shine in my city. Amen.
Your Turn: How would you characterize your city? How is God revealing His presence there?
Reading: Psalm 46
Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress (NIV).
I originally wrote this post during Holy Week—a week of contemplation leading to Good Friday—leading to our Savior’s death on the cross. The opening line of this reading from Psalm 46 grabs me: Come and see what the LORD has done.
Yes. Come and see what the LORD has done! Come and see what has happened to God’s son. Come and see the desolations he has brought on the earth—the desolations He has brought on the dust-formed bundle of flesh that at birth was laid in a manager. Now he is laid on a cross. He is not wrapped in swaddling clothes. He is stripped naked; arms pried wide open and nailed to a cross.
Come and see what has happened to him. This is the LORD’s doing. This is the Father’s will. This is the Son’s willing obedience. Now hear the Spirit’s beckoning call, “Come and see what the LORD has done!”
This is what love looks like—not our love for God, but God’s love for man. Love looks like Jesus on the cross. Love looks like a bloody sacrifice, engineered by God, inflicted on God, God come-in-the-flesh. Love looks painful. It looks painful because it gives to the last drop. It calls us near to the last breath. “Come and see what the LORD has done!”
And when you come be still. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
This is not the time to rush on by. Eve reached for the forbidden fruit. Adam rushed after her. Rushing has brought us this mess—this messed up world—this mess on the cross. Self-centered rushing hurtles us into sin with no thought for tomorrow—no thought for the man on a cross. Instead today, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Be still. Be still before the cross. He is God. The man on the cross is God. Love has a price, always has a price. It’s written in blood—the Savior’s blood.
Response: LORD God, alter me at the foot of the cross. I need you to change my heart, my life, my attitude. Help me be still before you as I contemplate your love—love that I don’t deserve—that I have not earned. But Jesus, you offered yourself freely. Thank you. Amen.
Your Turn: Has your life been altered by the cross?
I will praise Him!
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.
(Psalm 99:1-5, NIV)
Reading: Psalm 44
All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Awake, LORD! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love (NIV).
As previously noted, Psalm 44 begins in a very positive fashion as the psalmist recalls the goodness of the LORD and the great victories Israel has won because of the LORD’s help. But that is not the present reality. The present reality is filled with defeat, death and destruction. The psalmist moves from rejoicing over past victories to lamenting over present-day tribulations. Hear his words of anguish: Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
What do you do in the midst of defeat? Do you put on a brave face and pretend all is going well? There may be occasions when putting on a brave face is warranted, even necessary—but inside, when we are alone with our thoughts we question why God would allow such things. Why would God allow a child to die? Why would He allow a natural disaster like an earthquake to claim countless innocent lives? Normally, these life-shattering matters don’t come with pat answers in tow. We are left in a state of grief and bewilderment.
Often believers see such events as retribution for sins committed against a holy God. But note the psalmist’s complaint: All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.
The brutal truth is bad things happen to good people. Sometimes Christians are martyred on a beach in Libya. Sometimes a cruel disease hems us in on every side and there is no escape, aside from death and heaven’s door. Sometimes all we can do is pour out our complaint before a God of unfailing love.
Response: LORD God, when life is hard, help me to remember to bring my complaints and travails to you. You are bigger than any agony or grief I may face. I call out to you, my Savior and my God. Amen.
Your Turn: In your opinion has God been unfair to you? How do you respond?
Reading: Psalm 44
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.
We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever (NIV).
What brings you success? There are thousands of books, blogs and advice columns out there that promise you success. If you will just do this, that and this other thing, success is sure to come your way. Now don’t misunderstand me. Many of those self-improvement tips and success formulas can be helpful, if applied. And educating yourself on sound habits and business practices can be rewarding. But…
But if you succeed, what is the source of your success? The author of Psalm 44 would respond by saying success does not come from a formula, a habit or a tip. Success and victory come from the LORD. In this psalm the psalmist refers to the conquest of Canaan by the children of Israel. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
If you succeed in your field of endeavor, what will be the reason for your success? Undoubtedly, hard work, sound practices, wisdom and creativity all play a part, but there are plenty of people who have these character traits in spades, but still they fail to reach their potential. We only succeed—succeed in the fullest sense—when God is working with us. Paul, the apostle, reminds us of this truth, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
We conquer in our field of endeavor when God is working with us. If you succeed, who is the reason for your success?
Response: LORD God, any success I have comes from you. Every triumph is a victory that you bring. Help me to always remember that you are my source. I succeed because of your love, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Your Turn: Who deserves the credit for your success? Take a moment to give thanks to God.
I will praise Him!
Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
(Psalm 98:7-9, NIV)
I will praise Him!
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
(Psalm 98:4-6, NIV)
Reading: Psalm 42
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God (NIV).
Let’s face the truth. We all go through times when we are downcast. A few minutes ago my wife asked me, “Are you grumpy today?”
I was surprised she noticed. I thought I had been hiding my downcast state quite well. After reflecting a moment I answered, “I guess I am.” Then I began to justify my grumpy mood. “It’s cold, windy and raining. Again! And my face feels numb and puffy from my visit to the dentist.”
What I didn’t say was that I was discouraged about my writing career. My literary agent may drop me as a client. Every news report I read seems to be filled with gloom and dire predictions. I have a backache, probably from stooping over a computer screen. And did I mention that this dreary weather feels interminable? Along with the psalmist, David, I can say, “My soul is downcast within me.”
But David didn’t stay wallowing in his pity party. He rallied through songs of worship and prayer. Hear his words, “By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”
When I am discouraged—when you are discouraged—we can both do the same. We can turn to the LORD in song. I can pray to the God of my life—the God who knew me in my mother’s womb—the God who left His throne to rescue me. Why should I be downcast when Jesus cast himself down on my behalf? He was cast down so that through faith in him, I will be lifted up.
Response: LORD God, I thank you for Jesus. I am thankful that he willingly laid down his life so that I could be forgiven and experience new life. I put my hope in my Savior and my God. Hallelujah! Amen.
Your Turn: What do you do when times of discouragement come? Do you turn to the Lord or from the Lord?
Reading: Psalm 41
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend, someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me.
But may you have mercy on me, LORD;
raise me up, that I may repay them.
I know that you are pleased with me,
for my enemy does not triumph over me.
Because of my integrity you uphold me
and set me in your presence forever.
Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen (NIV).
This concluding portion of Psalm 41 comes with a prophetic twist. You need not take my word for it. As he sat with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus himself said he was fulfilling the words of this psalm.
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me” (John 13:18-21).
The psalmist, David experienced the heartbreak of betrayal. It was betrayal of the worst kind. Not only did David’s friends turn on him, but his own son, Absalom, sought to snatch the throne in a bloody coup—an act of open rebellion. See 2 Samuel 15-18.
David was betrayed by his son, Absalom; Jesus was betrayed by his friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot. But Jesus stayed loyal to his heavenly Father. He willingly went to the cross when he could have resisted arrest. He rebuked Peter for using his sword. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53).
Jesus experienced the resurrection truth of David’s words. Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
Response: LORD, I thank you for Jesus. Through Jesus I can overcome all things, even betrayal. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you experienced betrayal? Has the LORD upheld your cause?