Psalm 46 – Divine Help

Psalm 46:1 by Connie Van Huss

God is our refuge and strength,
    a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
    when its waters roar and rage,
    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,
    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.
God is in that city. It will never crumble.
    God will help it when morning dawns.
Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.
    God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. 

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,
    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—
    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,
    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,
        burning chariots with fire.

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!
    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (CEB)

We possess the unconditional presence of God. Yes indeed, the Lord of all creation is always with us. What a wonderful and radical thought!  But that is not all. What is more, God helps us. The Lord does not stand by idly to watch us squirm in tough situations. Because God is present with you and I, there is divine assistance which can help us in troubling times.

Something we can all seem to agree on is that we are in times of trouble and hardship. Everyone is collectively experiencing adversity. COVID-19 has punched us in our worldly gut and caused us to bend over, writhing in pain. We need the Lord. We require Divine help.

The psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were designed with a certain structure. Unlike the way we arrange things with a thesis statement said right up front, Hebrew poetry has the most important statement smack in the middle of the psalm. What comes before that statement is a growing crescendo meant to highlight the central idea. Everything that comes after is the decrescendo pointing back to the main idea.

What we have in the middle of today’s magnificent psalm is the important truth that the Lord of heavenly forces is with us. This reality is meant to drop its weight on us so that we will feel the impact of God’s presence and power. Consider some of English translations of the Hebrew statement:

The Lord All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. (CEV)

The Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (GW)

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. (MSG)

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. (NLT)

Yahweh of Armies is with us. Jacob’s God is a turret for us. (FT)

Today (and everyday) is a good day to use the statement, “The Lord of heavenly forces is with us,” as a point of thought, contemplation, and deep consideration. God has the back of those who do right and seek to be just in all things. Whenever you are waiting, driving in the car, in-between scheduled stuff, or just sitting at home, repeat this biblical statement many times to yourself and to the Lord. Then, allow God’s Spirit to bring the truth of it home to the depths of your soul. There is no better security, no better hope than to know God is with us.

God Almighty, great upheaval in this world does not make you nervous because you are above it all.  Thank you that you are with me in all the great churnings of my life, as well as all the small things of trouble.  Even if all around me changes, you do not; through Christ my Savior, I pray. Amen.

Psalm 62:5-12 – Our Place of Safety

Psalm 62 by Christa Rosier (1960-2011)

Only God gives inward peace,
    and I depend on him.
God alone is the mighty rock
    that keeps me safe,
    and he is the fortress
    where I feel secure.
God saves me and honors me.
    He is that mighty rock
    where I find safety.

Trust God, my friends,
    and always tell him
each one of your concerns.
    God is our place of safety.

We humans are only a breath;
    none of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less
    than a puff of air.
Don’t trust in violence
or depend on dishonesty
    or rely on great wealth.

I heard God say two things:
   “I am powerful,
    and I am very kind.”
The Lord rewards each of us
    according to what we do. (CEV)

My girls, now grown with families of their own, are wonderful mothers. Recently, I got to hold my newest grandson, which is wonderful! A close second to that experience is watching Mom hold her baby. The little guy has not a worry in the world when he is in her arms. For there is no doubt of perfect love and security.

God is our place of safety. For the believer, it is as if we are a baby having finished nursing, lying peacefully and contentedly in God’s loving and secure arms. There is complete trust because God is the one holding us. Our enemies are nothing but a puff of smoke – toothless lions who can make all the noise they want but will never get a bite on us with God around.

I was reminded of yet another truth as I watched my daughter and grandson. Although tired, both are genuinely happy. Neither riches nor fame can ever buy security and happiness. God, as the source of steadfast love and perfect safety, is our Rock. The Lord’s power and kindness meld together in a wondrous and active care for us.

God’s kingdom is constructed on solid rock, not sinking sand. Trusting in violent vengeance, deceitful scheming, or great wealth might build an impressive looking edifice, but will only be destroyed in the first big wind that comes along. Depending upon God as our refuge and strength is building a relationship which will last and stand the test of time and tribulation.

Jesus, aware of the Psalm’s theology, drew upon the image of the rock to impress on his listeners the need for making wise choices (Matthew 7:24-29). The foundation is the key element. The house built on the rock will withstand the storm; the foundation built on sand will not. The cornerstone of faith’s foundation for the Christian is Jesus. The way of Jesus is the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and the stabilizing presence of peace our lives need. Christ is our place of safety.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts, be with you in all your ways.

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions and from the fear of the known and unknown.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Genesis 16:1-14 – The God Who Sees

Hagar and Ishmael by John Shayn (1901-1977)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so, she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So, after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so, she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. (NIV)

A wood cut of Hagar and Ishmael by Jakob Steinhardt (1887-1968)

I am blind as a bat without my glasses. They are the first thing I put on when waking in the morning, and the last thing I take off before retiring at night.  Without them I cannot distinguish anything well and everything is a blur. Apart from corrective lenses, I can only see who is talking to me when they are inches from my face.

As bad as it would be without my glasses, it would be even worse if you or I were not seen by anyone.  I believe one of the great tragedies of modern Western civilization is that we can live among so many other people, yet not be seen by so many of them. The loneliness of being overlooked and unnoticed is a terrible situation.

The ancient woman, Hagar, certainly felt that way. Even more, she felt a worse circumstance: Hagar neither believed that anyone saw her and cared, nor that God saw her at all. It was as if God lost his glasses somewhere. 

In a convoluted series of decisions, mostly outside of her control, Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s son.  Then, Sarah, Abraham’s “real” wife got pregnant with another son.  It got really complicated, real fast. Relational dysfunction abounded, leaving Hagar and her unborn son, Ishmael, with no one to help. Hagar was so distraught that she simply expected to die alone.

We can feel Hagar’s despair and desperation.  She saw no hope, and nobody saw her… but there was someone watching: God. The Lord saw everything that happened to her – all the craziness, all the mistreatment – and stepped-in to act on behalf of Hagar.

As a result, Hagar began to call God, “The God Who Sees Me.” She never again had to wonder or doubt whether she was seen. 

You might feel today that God is overlooking you and not seeing your pain – that somehow the Divine is aloof and distant from your hurt, and blind to your deep wounds. Oh, but the Lord sees it all, everything. God may not be working on the same timetable as you and me, but nevertheless sees you like no one else can. You and I never have to wonder about it. “See” for yourself the God who lovingly observes and knows us:

The Lord’s eyes scan the whole world to find those whose hearts are committed to him, to strengthen them. (2 Chronicles 16:9, GW)

God sees the ends of the earth, sees everything under the sky. (Job 28:24, GNT)

The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees every human being… Look here: The Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him, all who wait for his faithful love. (Psalm 33:13, 18, CEB)

You, Lord, know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you.

Psalm 139:15-16, MSG

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, NRSV)

May you be encouraged to know and believe that the God who formed billions of people, sees you and loves you, just as you are.

God of Hagar, just as you saw her in the desert and the desperate position she was in, so I ask that you see me and act according to your great mercy, through Jesus Christ, my Savior, with the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – Specially Crafted by the Divine

Psalm 139 stained glass by Dutch artist Ted Felen (1931-2016)

Lord, you have examined me.
    You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
    Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
    You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
    that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
    You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge is too much for me;
    it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it….

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,
    before any one of them had yet happened.
God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!
    Their total number is countless!
If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!
    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you. (CEB)

It is no wonder so many people struggle with their self-image. Beautiful people reign in television and movies; the rich and powerful are highlighted in the media; and people with perfect teeth and immaculate attire are splashed in front of us in the daily barrage of advertisements. Meanwhile, the rest of us 99% of the population quickly notice we do not measure up to such a standard. You don’t have to be a people watcher to know that less than perfect bodies are the norm and that most folks do not have a budget to live like the other 1% humanity.

If we make comparisons with others too much and for too long, it gets downright depressing. Yet, into this dark abyss of one’s self-image enters the biblical truth that each one of us, no matter our station in life, was personally hand-crafted by a heavenly Being who loves us dearly. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Creator God took great care to make us and form us just so. The psalmist, David, praised God for the way we were created. The real standard from which we ought to judge ourselves is this: God knows us intimately, inside-and-out, and neither condemns us nor shames us but loves us wholly.

Psalm 139 by Dutch painter Ellen Van Randeraat, 2013

So then, rather than wasting our emotional energy and mental faculties on wishing we looked different or were more like so-and-so who seems to always have it all together, try practicing what David did: Praise God. 

Whenever we have the notion that we do not measure up to our imposed arbitrary standard, keep in mind that the only real measurement is grace. No matter who we are, the entire race of humanity has been created in the image of God, and, on that basis alone, we have inherent value, worth, and majesty. Let us, then, treat ourselves and others with the yardstick of grace.

The inner critic, that is, the inner judgmental dialogue we have with ourselves, needs to be replaced with the truth of Psalm 139. Although we might be rather hard on ourselves and say things in the reclusive parts of our minds and hearts that we would never say to others, nor tolerate others saying about someone else – God speaks to us with tender words of grace. Perhaps you think that only you know the depth of your own sorrows, hurts, fears, insecurities, and worries.  Except….

God. The Lord knows it all intimately – and is not one bit repulsed. You see, God knows that the answer to all the self-doubts is Divine care and protection. You and I have the freedom to plumb the recesses of our hearts and souls – to bring out all that is inside the cluttered closet of our minds and lay it all on the table without fear of God calling you what you call yourself.

Therefore, please do not quickly pass over the inspired words from Holy Scripture contained in today’s psalm. Take the time to carefully digest each phrase slowly so that the message becomes internalized and believed in real-time experience.

One of the theories of human psychology is that people are driven by two primary needs: 

  1. To intimately know another person.
  2. To be intimately known by another person. 

God knows us even better than we know ourselves – and still loves us! There is nothing we learn about ourselves that God does not already know. No human relationship can even come close to the level of knowing that God has for us and about us.

To know God is perhaps the greatest and highest pursuit we could ever enjoy. God is so immense and infinite that we will spend an eternity getting to know the Lord and will never get to the end of it. That is the kind of God we serve. Be encouraged today and always with the reality that you are known and can know God – and even more, loved deeply as a specially fashioned creature.

O God, thank you that I am wonderfully made in your likeness.  I praise you that I am fully accepted, even when I do not accept myself.  In Jesus Christ you have demonstrated the height of your love and mercy.  May this grace be with me every day so that I will conduct myself in a manner worthy of being part of the human family.  Amen.