Psalm 124 – Help Is Here

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away;
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the hunters;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

As a church pastor, many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

With each new day, our attention needs guidance toward the positive acknowledgment that the eternal and ever-present God is ready and vigilant to skillfully and lovingly direct us through our waking hours. 

There is no biblical reference anywhere in Holy Scripture that God helps those who help themselves. The Lord is indiscriminate in providing aid for all without prejudice. All we need do is ask for it. Whereas we can certainly make positive choices and advocate for ourselves with effective help, our supreme and ultimate help is in the Lord. 

Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our great need for divine intervention. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; the ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these, and all situations, can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. Early in the morning, I deliberately affirm and profess my firm beliefs in the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart. 

I rely on such rituals because faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: What will happen tomorrow? How will that situation shake out in the end? Will this relationship flower or wither?… a million questions can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. Yet, there is a sure and certain truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us.

God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV

Not even the graveyard can limit God. With the Lord, death is defeated. Resurrection is a reality. The enemy is flat on his face. Evil’s power is weakened. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by an almighty God. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates for and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness. I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-19 – Receive the Spirit

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and you will understand the hope given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all God’s people.

I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. (Contemporary English Version)

I meet a lot of people in my line of work. And I cannot recall anyone ever telling me they want to be a weak and foolish ignoramus without hope in this world. No, but I do listen to the longings of people to be wise and knowledgeable, who yearn to brim with hope and be a blessing to others.

Unfortunately, many folk live with regrets. They didn’t seek the good, the true, and the beautiful when they had the chance to do so. They failed to realize that the kind of life they really want requires receiving, opening, and applying. I’m talking about the gift of the Spirit.

The Spirit is graciously given, so we must receive and utilize this ultimate resourceful Person.

Wisdom, knowledge, hope, blessing, and strength are the qualities and virtues which the Spirit of God develops within people. They are accessed by faith and prayer.

Today’s New Testament lesson, on the heels of Pentecost, is a heartfelt prayer of the Apostle Paul to the Church. He desperately wanted the Ephesian believers to experience the fullness of the spiritual power which was available to them.

It’s still a prayer to be prayed by believers everywhere and at all times. In fact, all the prayers in Holy Scripture are meant to be prayed by us, and not left as ink on a page, only to be gazed at a few times in life. Here are a few observations about this biblical prayer: 

  • Praying this biblical prayer makes every Christian a “Pentecostal” believer, whether you are a in a Pentecostal Christian tradition, or not. The Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, the distinguishing mark of a believer.
  • Praying this prayer is what God wants us to pray. The Holy God desires that the Holy Spirit provide us with spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we will experientially know God’s great power for us who believe. Out of all the things we might pray, this is a doozy of a prayer to pray!

Here is an invitation for you: Pray this prayer every day for two weeks, beginning today. Yes, every single day. Maybe even multiple times in the day. Pray it for yourself, your church, your family, your friends, and even for those who do not yet know they need Jesus. 

Pray for the Spirit to be manifested in all of life. After fourteen days, see if there is any change in your life, in your church, your neighborhood, your workplace, and in your relationships. 

There is no need to keep bemoaning the state of religion and the lack of spirituality in this world when we have such a prayer as this to pray. More praying and less complaining, please. Try it and see the difference it makes.

I highlight the need for intentional prayer because asking for the Spirit to show up isn’t always our reflexive response to most things. Instead, we tend to immediately rely on our instincts, abilities, ingenuity, common sense, or our relational connections, and even Google for answers to our most vexing issues.

In Old Testament poetry, the Spirit is sometimes likened to a wise woman for whom we need to pursue in gaining understanding. She will never disappoint but freely gives to all who will humbly ask.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
    when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
    her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
    nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
    with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
    her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
    Hold her tight—and be blessed! (Proverbs 3:13-18, MSG)

It would be great if we could simply fall asleep at night listening to someone talking positive thoughts, and then, wake up and be full of strength and wisdom. But it doesn’t work that way. The spiritual life is far from a chemical-like process of osmosis in which all the negative and stupid stuff gets filtered out with some positive thinking.

The blessings of wisdom and strength come through dogged pursuit, of going hard after Madame Insight and sticking very close to her. The Spirit is available. It’s just a matter of whether we will avail ourselves of God’s mercy, placed right in front of our faces.

Mighty God, I receive your Spirit. May the light of your gracious gospel flood my heart so that I will experientially know all of the blessings of Christ’s redemption and the incomparably great power available to me because of his finished work on the cross. Amen.

Psalm 29 – The Power of Language

Praise the Lord, you heavenly beings;
    praise his glory and power.
Praise the Lord’s glorious name;
    bow down before the Holy One when he appears.

The voice of the Lord is heard on the seas;
    the glorious God thunders,
    and his voice echoes over the ocean.
The voice of the Lord is heard
    in all its might and majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
    even the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes the mountains of Lebanon jump like calves
    and makes Mount Hermon leap like a young bull.

The voice of the Lord makes the lightning flash.
His voice makes the desert shake;
    he shakes the desert of Kadesh.
The Lord’s voice shakes the oaks
    and strips the leaves from the trees
    while everyone in his Temple shouts, “Glory to God!”

The Lord rules over the deep waters;
    he rules as king forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people
    and blesses them with peace. (Good News Translation)

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in the Midwest of America, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I routinely said to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

Yet, there is even more going on in today’s psalm than a reminder of God’s glory and power throughout creation. God’s very voice is the source of all the power.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

God generously gives through speech.

Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is language. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses us creatures through language. Out of all creation, humans are the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God with the power of connection through speech.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

Not only are we as people capable of speech, but we also have the ability and the capacity to form our own generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with how we use our power of language.

“Life and death lie in the power of language”

Helen Keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forgot those words.

Unfortunately, we also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

We must listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech neither disappoints nor destroys. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others.

It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future. 

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God than us bigger folk. Kids effortlessly make connections between words and reality – whereas older people barely have an idea this even occurs.

My grandson once remarked, when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’” – Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of the Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create and recreate with but a word.

As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others.

May our words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Mighty God, the Lord who is King and all powerful, I am overwhelmed before such awesome majesty, and my response to your voice is reverent worship through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 97 – Celebrate the Lord

The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let all the islands celebrate!
Clouds and thick darkness surround God.
    His throne is built on righteousness and justice.
Fire proceeds before him,
    burning up his enemies on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees it and trembles!
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of the whole world!

Heaven has proclaimed God’s righteousness,
    and all nations have seen his glory.
All those who worship images,
    those who are proud of idols,
    are put to shame.
    All gods bow down to the Lord!
Zion has heard and celebrates,
    the towns of Judah rejoice,
    because of your acts of justice, Lord,
    because you, Lord, are the Most High
        over all the earth,
    because you are so superior to all other gods.

Those of you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    God guards the lives of his faithful ones,
    delivering them from the power of the wicked.
Light is planted like seed for the righteous person;
    joy too for those whose heart is right.
Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones!
    Give thanks to his holy name! (Common English Bible)

Being overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of majesty for King Jesus is an appropriate response, especially in the wake of Ascension Day – the Christian holiday celebrating Christ’s return to heaven.

Today’s psalm portrays the Lord as a huge God whose presence impacts the world in cataclysmic glory. God is truly large and in charge. 

Nothing moves God; but God moves mountains. 

This is no wimpy deity who needs creatures to sustain him and his memory. Conversely, all of creation is dependent upon God for life, sustenance, and flourishing.

Our view of God deeply impacts how we think, feel, and live. Whenever people catch a mere glimpse of God’s glory, it causes them to renounce useless idol worship, and brings forth humble celebration from the penitent. 

The sheer dearth of penitence and praise to God in today’s world ought to clue us to the reality that we are not seeing God for how God truly is. And what is the God of Holy Scripture? The Lord is the great and glorious king who is so immense and so concerned for justice that just a snort of his nostrils could thoroughly lay waste to the earth.

Confronted with such a majestic and awesome Being, the ultimate conclusion in how to order our lives is this: Love the Lord. Hate evil. Why? Because we are God’s people. 

Therefore, celebration and praise to God are in order. So, let us collectively make a simple choice to celebrate and praise God in some simple ways:  

  • Acknowledge God in both the big and the small things of life
  • Talk about God’s grace in your everyday conversations– we don’t have to be preachy, just real, genuine, and authentic
  • Praise God in public as well as in private
  • Pray to God with simple heartfelt prayers – they don’t need to be eloquent, because God simply wants to hear the voice we have been given
  • Be generous toward others through forgiveness and tangible help because the Lord is a generous God
  • Read God’s Word because it honors the Lord
  • Give thanks to God and have a predetermined mindset to find gratitude in all things God has put in your life
  • Count your blessings today, and then again, tomorrow, so that it eventually becomes a spiritual habit
  • Sing to God with the joyful noise you are able to make

The power of God is more than enough to bring effective and lasting transformation of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The might of God is unlimited, able to establish social change, economic uplift, physical healing, relational peace, spiritual hope, mental rest, and so much more.

Celebrating the sovereignty of God is downright good for us. It releases our stress, energizes us, provides a positive way of reflection, challenges evil, and acknowledges realities which we might have forgotten – especially that God is with us, loves us, and has only good plans for us.

Praise and celebration are both organic acts on our part and need to be intentionally planned. That is, celebrating the Lord ought to be both spontaneous and prepared. Liturgical rhythms of worship to God need to be both formulaic and free.

The shape of our worship can remind us that we are in continuity with believers throughout history and in all places on earth. We are not alone. We are joined by the entire community of worshipers, offering our celebration – both old and new.

Having both fixed forms of worship and free expressions of worship enable us to tap into the full dimension of faith. Practicing both personal prayers in our secluded closet and corporate prayers together with others strengthens our faith, makes more sure our hope, and connects us with the God who is Love.

A big God ought to be worshiped with all the means available to us.

Mighty God, you are worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory I can give you. May my life be a simple offering to you, so that your kingdom comes not only in my own life but impacts the lives of others; through Jesus, my King. Amen.