These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
Patience is a virtue, so they say. In fact, according to Paul, patience is the fourth fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience …” (Gal. 5:22).
In this Psalm David is praying for patience to endure a very sticky time in his life: “the desolate pit … the miry bog” (v.2). We don’t know exactly what period of his life is being referred to, but we probably recognise in our own lives that feeling, that the more we struggle the deeper in we sink. We can’t get a foothold to get on top of the situation.
David had several such periods, for instance, being hounded for years in the wilderness by jealous King Saul; or the affair with Bathsheba and the unexpected pregnancy followed by the ‘murder’ of her husband and then the death of the child; or the occasion when his son Absalom drove him out of Jerusalem and slept publicly with his concubines, followed by the untimely death of Absalom.
Sometimes David had to hold onto God in submissive patience. He trusted that sometime, hopefully not too far away, God would ‘return’ and save the day.
And he did! “He drew me up … and set my feet upon a rock. He put a new song in my mouth …” (vv. 2-3). In other words his circumstances changed, Saul committed suicide and he became king, and Bathsheba produced a second child: Solomon!
Our trials are an opportunity to learn trust and patience. The Spirit of God will teach us. As we take our eyes off the frustrations and hardships and focus on God, and as we learn to rejoice in all circumstances, so we will find the time will pass far more quickly.
Father, sometimes your hand is heavy upon me; teach me to rejoice in all circumstances, trusting patiently in you. Amen.
“… wait for the promise of the Father,” (v. 4) RSV
Much of life consists of waiting, but waiting does not mean futile inactivity nor should it involve frustration. Waiting is an opportunity to prepare.
The disciples had to wait ten days after the ascension of Jesus before the Holy Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost. They did not know how long the waiting period was going to be. Jesus had simply told them “not to depart fromJerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father,” (v.4).
How did they use their time? Remember, this was an extended period away from their homes in the north of the country. It says that they remained in the house where they had been staying (St Mark’s mother’s house), and they met in its Upper Room. And there they “devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). They did not idle their time away playing cards or scrabble. They did not go shopping or chat casually.
The ‘in-between’ time is vital if the ‘coming-time’ is going to arrive. The greatest wait we have is for the return of our Lord at the end of time. We are told to “hasten” (2 Peter 3:12) its arrival. Yes, the future seems to be dependent on how we use the waiting time.
The disciples prayed, and there is no better occupation for us, especially if our church is going through a dry or difficult time, or if our own life appears to be stuck. A period of unemployment is a particular challenge, but it does give time to pray and read the Bible.
The Church generally in the western world is in decline and is in need of some Pentecostal fire. Let us unite in devoted prayer; it may well hasten the solution.
Grant me, O Lord, patience when I have to wait. May I use the time profitably, especially in prayer. Amen.
Not only does the righteous person find that what he does “prospers” (v.3), but he also finds that he himself does not wither. Elsewhere in the bible it says “They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green.”
(Psalm 92:14) What a lovely picture of eternal life residing in an ageing person. A good life lived positively, generously and in trusting faith will as a general rule produce a long and healthy life. Now I know there are so many exceptions to that but they only serve to prove the rule.
The promises of God are not meant to be brought to nothing by concentrating on all the exceptions. The basic rule holds good. If we “delight in the law of the Lord” (v.2) then we will, like a tree, “wither not” (v.3). Someone once said that they would rather burn out than rust out. The ageing process is not meant to make us go into a restful ante-chamber waiting to die and go to Heaven.
Life is for living. While it is day (i.e. while we are alive) we should be redeeming the time, for the days are evil.
Our one life on earth is a precious gift. We must not waste a bit of it in idleness. God wants to keep us “ever full of sap and green”. Let’s seek the refreshing Word of God and the filling of God’s life-giving Spirit. Let us be doing the works of God, rejoicing each day that he wakes us up.
Thank you Lord, for your gift of life. Forgive me when I waste my time in fruitless activity or idleness. Fill me with refreshing life that I may please you and not be ashamed. Amen.
1. Which two OT men were great examples of long and godly lives?
Deuteronomy 34:7 and Joshua 14:6-12
2. Which two old NT people in the Temple were still living for God?
The “wicked” are …? Who are they? It couldn’t mean you or me … could it? We might agree that Stalin and Hitler were wicked. Well, their actions were, but were they? What is meant by a wicked person?
The Bible seems to have got it right when it says: “Now the men ofSodomwere wicked, great sinners …” (Genesis 13:13). But did you realize that their sin was not primarily ‘abominable things’ but inhospitality? (Ezekiel 16:49-50) Yes, failing to be hospitable to strangers was a heinous crime. The heart of God is generous, open-armed and hospitable; He longs to invite us to His Banquet. But godless people are small-minded and inward looking.
I think we would be surprised at what makes Jesus angry. He could not stand the petty-mindedness of the Pharisees and their judgmental and censorious spirit.
Nor can Jesus stand unbelief and faithlessness. He became so exasperated with his disciples, who often showed such little faith and even less understanding.
Jesus tells a story of a wicked servant. The man had been forgiven a huge debt by his master, but he then goes out and fails to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a mere pittance (Matthew 18:23-35). Unforgiveness is unforgivable; it is wickedness. Such an attitude causes us to shrivel as people and to become “like chaff”. (v.4). Sadly such people will not want to loiter in church; and even more sadly, they will not have a leg to stand on at the Day of Judgement.
Dear Lord, take from me a small, mean and judgemental attitude. Give me your heart of love and generosity so that I may be hospitable. Amen.
1. What is the end of the righteous and the wicked?
“… the Lord knows the way of the righteous” (v.6) RSV
This Psalm has shown us the secret of blessing. It has differentiated between the righteous and the wicked. It has set us on the right path if we wish to read the rest of the Book of Psalms. Today we come to the end of our thoughts on this Psalm – “… the Lord knows …” There is nothing better than to be loved by one who knows us. God knows far more about ourselves then we will ever know. He knows our hopes, our fears and our sins.
He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5 and Matt. 28:20). Another Psalm says, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? … If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!” (Psalm 139:8) wherever we go, whatever we may be going through, God knows and God is there.
When Moses was at the Burning Bush and God was commissioning him to return to Egypt, to the place of his failure many years before, and when he was being sent to confront Pharaoh and to demand the release of the Hebrew slaves, he naturally quailed and prevaricated. After many excuses he finally said, “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person.” (Exodus 4:13). But God’s response, and it made all the difference to Moses, was, “My presence will go with you.” (Exodus 33:13-15).
God knows us, he knows our ways, he will never let us down. All is well: “If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
Thank you, Lord God, for the strength and assurance that the promise of your presence gives. Even when I don’t feel you, I know you are by my side. Amen.
1. What effect did the absence of God have on Samson?
2. What effect did the presence of God have on Moses?
This verse is such an encouragement. The Christian whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” (v.2) will “prosper”. Now a warning, “prosper” does not mean grow sleek and wealthy. It quite clearly says that what he “does” (v.3) will prosper. And what are we doing? The follower of Jesus Christ will be doing the works that he did, and that he has sent his followers to do. That person will be fruitful in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth. He or she will be a peacemaker and a spreader of the Word of God.
It is of course true that God has promised to give us food and clothing (Matt. 6:31-33), and in a general sense if we work hard and honestly, our labours will usually bring us material growth and prosperity. That is the law of nature. But it is sadly true that many, many people work hard in slave-like conditions and receive hardly any benefit.
But the Christian, whether he prospers materially or not, can work the works of him who called him. He can bring blessing and prosperity to those around him.
Another warning. When it says “delight in the law …” it does not mean only spending time reading the Bible, and learning verses, and having theological thoughts: the Pharisees spent their time doing that! It is referring to reading with a desire to be changed and to try to live out the “law of the Lord”. The person who does that will prosper in “all he does” (v.3).
Help me, O Lord, to find out not only what You have done for me, but also how I can live in such a way that pleases You, and enables me to be fruitful. Amen.
1. What did the foolish man do wrong, and the wise man right?
The foolish person seeks wisdom and guidance for life from ungodly people, people whose lives do not show blessing. But the wise person seeks the source of blessing from the Lord. The “law of the Lord” (v.2) offers the wisdom of the ages. It contains a combination of experience and revelation. We ‘pooh pooh’ it at our peril!
The “law” of God is not just referring to the Ten Commandments, but to all the prophetic guidance contained within the scriptures. When Paul extolled Timothy for knowing the scriptures from childhood, he was referring to the Old Testament, for at that time there was no ‘New Testament’.
Just recently someone rang me to say she had been reading Deuteronomy since I advocated that book in a sermon I preached the previous Sunday. She claimed to have been incredibly blessed.
It’s not just the Jew who can benefit from these pre-Christian books. They are inspired for all who wish to seek wisdom. The Christian reader will gain insight and discover the secrets of a wholesome and fulfilling life.
But in reading, it is essential that we “delight” in it. The scriptures are not like some nasty tasting tonic that we hold our breath to swallow. We need to pray for a desire and an insight as we read. We need to be hungry to hear the voice of God. We need to chew (i.e. meditate) “day and night” like a cow chewing the cud!
Lord, open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous, wondrous things out of Thy law. Amen.
“Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) says St Paulwhen writing to the Corinthian church. He was quoting a wise maxim of his day. But it is equally true today. We tend to be like a chameleon that changes it colour according to its surroundings. Unless we are very careful and strong we will become like the people with whom we mix.
Psalm 1 warns us against the process of spending more and more time with those whose lives we don’t want to copy. And yet by a process of osmosis their morals soak into us, and we end up joining them in the slide into destruction (v.6). Note the process as given to us in this Psalm: “Walk not … nor stand … nor sit …” (v.1). A casual walking conversation turns to a more permanent standing, and finally a sitting in deep involvement.
Note also the sorts of people who we need to beware of having for close friends: “the wicked … sinners … scoffers …” (v.1). It is so easy for us to become critical, cynical, and coarse. Instead we want to cultivate beautiful and robust character traits.
Now, of course, Jesus mixed with all sorts and conditions of people. He was known for spending time with “publicans and sinners”. The Pharisees thought this was terrible. But Jesus loved all people, and indeed had come especially for the ‘lost’. However, his strength was not drawn from such people. He drew his strength from communion with his heavenly Father and fellowship with like-minded people.
So when we mix with others let our aim be to bless them and to be an example of godliness.
Dear Lord, thank you that you love all people and mix with everyone. Help us to be so rooted in You that we can bless others rather than be tainted by them. Amen.
1. Who moved towards, and then lived among the people of Sodom?
We are going to consider the whole of this short Psalm over the next few weeks. It will impart to us the secret of a fruitful and prosperous life, both here and hereafter. It is the perfect Psalm to introduce the other 149 Psalms; its sets us on the right footing. The Psalms have always been the prayer and worship book of God’s people, so let’s pause and delve into this first one.
“Blessed” is a wonderful description of what God offers the man or woman who follows Him. Although the RSV uses the word “man” that is a generic word that, like “mankind”, includes all people whatever their age or gender. Yet, in this case it is not referring to the human race as a whole, but to each individual.
“Blessed” does not mean “happy”. Happiness depends on what happens! Life will throw at us both pleasant and unpleasant circumstances.
The latter may make us feel unhappy. Blessedness is dependent on something much more consistent than circumstances. It comes from the consistent, loving and encouraging presence of God. The Holy Spirit who lives within all believers, causes us to exult or rejoice in our innermost being, in spite of the ups and downs of life.
St Paul was a great exponent of rejoicing in all circumstances. His letter to the Philippians, written whilst in prison, is shot through with the word ‘Rejoice’.
Forgive me, O Lord, when I spend my time grumbling; it shows such lack of faith. Help me to rejoice in all circumstances, and so bring glory to You. Amen.
1. What does Paul instruct us to do?
Philippians 2:18 and 4:4
2. Who are blessed according to Jesus?