Because of Love (Psalm 21)

God Is Love by Lisa Voss, 2015

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord!
    He shouts with joy because you give him victory.
For you have given him his heart’s desire;
    you have withheld nothing he requested.

You welcomed him back with success and prosperity.
    You placed a crown of finest gold on his head.
He asked you to preserve his life,
    and you granted his request.
    The days of his life stretch on forever.


Your victory brings him great honor,
    and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty.
You have endowed him with eternal blessings
    and given him the joy of your presence.


For the king trusts in the Lord.
    The unfailing love of the Most High will keep him from stumbling.

You will capture all your enemies.
    Your strong right hand will seize all who hate you.
You will throw them in a flaming furnace
    when you appear.
The Lord will consume them in his anger;
    fire will devour them.

You will wipe their children from the face of the earth;
    they will never have descendants.
Although they plot against you,
    their evil schemes will never succeed.

For they will turn and run
    when they see your arrows aimed at them.
Rise up, O Lord, in all your power.
    With music and singing we celebrate your mighty acts. (New Living Translation)

The structure of today’s psalm is significant. Our contemporary way of crafting arguments is by stating a thesis at the beginning of a paper, then providing points of support for that thesis, and concluding with a restatement of the thesis. That’s not how the biblical psalms do it.

The psalm’s major thesis statement is not found at the beginning but in the middle. The verses before the major statement lead to the middle; and the verses after the middle look back and point to it.

So, what’s in the middle? An affirmation of faith in the Lord’s love prevents the king from having a failure of faith.

God’s love is smack in the middle because everything hinges on love.

The Lord leads us to victory, and prayers are answered because of love.

The Lord guides us toward prosperity of body and preservation of soul because of love.

The Lord shepherds us to the green pastures of blessing and encouragement because of love.

God is Love.

The Lord has our backs by eradicating the enemies to our souls.

The Lord follows after us and foils the evil plots of wicked people.

The Lord works behind the scenes for us, putting down devilish strategies so they won’t come near us.

Just as the core of God is love, we have been created in God’s image and likeness of love; love is the very core of our being.

So, why in the world are people not always loving in everything they do and say?

Because we have lost touch with our middle; we lack awareness of who we truly are.

How do we get in touch and reconnect with the core of our being? Here are a few simple ways of doing so:

  • Pray a psalm every single day, even multiple times in the day. Notice I said pray, not read. Psalms are prayers meant to be prayed. Reading them is wonderful but praying them is sublime!

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just. (Psalm 119:164, NLT)

Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. (Psalm 69:16, NIV)

  • Pay attention to what makes you happy. The psalmist experienced God giving him the desires of his heart. He asked for what he wanted and needed to be happy.

Be happy with the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, GW)

  • Pursue someone you’ve lost touch with. Reconnect with an old friend. Oftentimes, doing this helps reawaken a part of ourselves we forgot about.

Loyal love and faithfulness meet; deliverance and peace greet each other with a kiss. (Psalm 85:10, NET)

  • Practice self-care. Observe the Sabbath. Put your feet up. Give yourself a break. and don’t try to be perfect. Make some margin in your schedule – enough to have some extended times of silence and solitude. After all, one cannot connect with their inner core unless they are quiet enough to hear themselves.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4-5, NRSV)

  • Praise the Lord and give thanks to God. Our self-awareness comes alive by means of offering trust and thanksgiving back to the Lord for the great things God has done.

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:3-5, NRSV)

Since God is Love, God is in the middle and is the center of all things. Everything in the universe revolves around the Lord of Love. So, as we align our lives around this reality, we rediscover the love at the core of our being.

If we desire love, then let us go to the source of Love.

Bless us with love, O Merciful God, so that we may love as you love – and that we might be patient, tolerant, kind, caring, and loving to all people. Grant us your compassion so that we may help those in need. And bless us with your divine Love, O Lord, bless us with your love! Amen.

Get Me Out of This Scary Dungeon Cave! (Psalm 142)

I pray to you, Lord.
    I beg for mercy.
I tell you all my worries
    and my troubles,
and whenever I feel low,
    you are there to guide me.

A trap has been hidden
    along my pathway.
Even if you look,
    you won’t see anyone
who cares enough
    to walk beside me.
There is no place to hide,
    and no one who really cares.

I pray to you, Lord!
    You are my place of safety,
and you are my choice
    in the land of the living.
Please answer my prayer.
    I am completely helpless.

Help! They are chasing me,
    and they are too strong.
Rescue me from this prison,
    so I can praise your name.
And when your people notice
your wonderful kindness to me,
    they will rush to my side. (Contemporary English Version)

The modern holiday of Halloween is kitschy with a funny sort of scary. But there’s nothing funny about being truly frightened and feeling helpless. Its anything but a holiday.

The psalmist, David, was in both a literal and a metaphorical cave. Before he ever became king of Israel and Judah, David was on the run from King Saul. He hid in a cave. He had more suspense and was on the edge of his seat much more than any horror slasher film could portray.

David was hiding and just trying to stay alive. There was nothing in his life which deserved such maltreatment. It was sheer jealousy on Saul’s end of things that caused him to give his soul over to oppressive pride. And David was the brunt of that oppression.

As biblical readers, we know the end of the story. Saul is eventually killed in battle and David is exalted as the new king. Yet, here, in today’s psalm, we have the genuine cry of a desperate man who longed for the justice of God – not knowing what the end of it all would be.

One of the reasons David was a person after God’s own heart is that he was humble and remained connected to God without succumbing to the bitterness of his situation. I strongly suggest that David was able to keep his life free from pride because he regularly liberated his spirit through real and raw expressions of his emotions and experiences to God.

Spiritual confidence cannot be ginned-up through pretending that all is well, and everything is okay. Rather, spiritual courage is forged in the most awful of circumstances through loud cries of emotional pain to the God who truly hears it all.

Anyone who tells you different is flimsily trying to maintain their puny sense of delusional power. God sees you in the dark place and he hears your cry for mercy. He knows your dark cave better than you know it yourself.

One of the reasons I love the psalms so dearly is that they know the human condition. There is no pretense with the psalmist, David. He opens his mind and heart. He lets the genuine feelings of his life pour out in an offering to the God who pays attention to the humble and contrite.

The proud and arrogant will forever be flummoxed by the psalms, not understanding why they are even in the canon of Holy Scripture.

Yet, here they are, for all to examine and experience. Whereas the piously insincere are continually putting up a false front of godliness and keeping up appearances of superior spirituality, here we have authentic religion smack in front of our faces.

For me, the psalms liberate us from the shackles of trying to be someone I am not and enable us to connect with a God who encourages us in our strange wonderings, our emotional pain, and our sometimes horrific situations.

The Lord is perfectly at home with hearing loud cries, agonizing shouts, and desperate prayers directed to heaven.

Those who oppress others, I believe, are easy to spot because they:

  • Ask rhetorical questions to make a point.
  • Assume their thoughts and ways are always best.
  • Accuse without evidence based on their faulty assumptions.
  • Seek to harm and destroy.
  • Enjoy chaos and thrive on taking advantage of others’ misfortune.
  • Refuse to listen and learn from others.
  • Suppress all competing voices contrary to their own.

Autocrats are too smug and too far into their delusions of power, authority, and self-righteousness to be able to hear any voice other than their own.

A self-absorbed despot in power feels like being in a dingy dank prison cave with no ability to leverage a release.

A self-abnegated deliverer in authority feels like being in a wide open field with freedom to help others in bondage.

God hears when others don’t. The Lord advocates on behalf of those caught in the crosshairs of tyrannical injustice and maltreatment. Divine benevolence is always on the lookout for those being oppressed.

The Almighty uses power to listen and respond when distressed persons are scared silly with maltreatment. Voices raised to heaven shall never go unheard.

Since God listens to those in need of mercy, this is precisely the disposition we are to adopt, as well.

The proud, convinced of their superiority, either cannot or will not see those languishing underneath unjust power structures. There is no space within arrogant hearts to accommodate the cries for justice from people beneath them.

Therefore, recourse for the oppressed comes from God – because God acts with equity, integrity, and justice.

It is not the oppressed who need our pity; it is the ungodly, because they don’t know anything about pity, or empathy, or mercy. Oppressors have no stomach for any of that. So, they keep people locked in systems of oppression. They maintain relational distance and turn a blind eye to the genuine frightened screams of those under their boot.

The weak, the distressed, and the spiritually tired in this corrupt world, however, have the chance for appeal. They can call out to the God who knows them and their situations.

Although cries for deliverance may not happen immediately, we can be assured that divine help is forthcoming. And that is scary good stuff.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you made my earthly pain sacred and gave me the example of humility. Be near to me in my time of weakness and pain; sustain me by your grace so that my strength and courage may not fail. Heal me according to your will. Loving Jesus, as you cried out on the cross, I cry out to you in my desperation. Do not forsake me. Grant me relief and preserve me in your perfect peace. Amen.

How To Fortify Your Faith (Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.” (English Standard Version)

Continual Use

Reading and praying the psalms over and over again is a major way of fortifying faith for a lifetime of handling adversity. 

Psalms are meant to be constantly viewed and used, like watching a good movie several times. Lines from the film become etched in our thinking and vocabulary, not because we sought to memorize them, but because of the many viewings. 

Psalm 91 is a good psalm – one we can read and pray so many times that its theology and message are internalized. It can serve as a rock in times of trouble. Security, safety, and confidence eventually replace fear, worry, and insecurity. Let the divine words of the psalter become part of a routine regimen of facing down the troubles of life.

The Church’s Prayer Book

Historically, the Old Testament Psalms have been the church’s prayer book. The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become “professional” pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society.

Many of them lived a complete life of prayer, praying day and night. Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily “hours.” One of the first tasks required of novices was to memorize the Psalms – all of them – which took anywhere from six months to two years.

In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles needed to clarify their most sacred obligations, they decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The New Testament writers pray and quote the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

Praying the Psalms

The best introduction there is to the Psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray. Learning the Psalms means praying the Psalms, and praying the Psalms means praying them repeatedly.

If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the Psalms, let me offer some more reasons:

1. We learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises. It is both appropriate and necessary to acknowledge God’s promises, remind God of those promises, and look for God to fulfill them.

2. We pick up how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.

3. We discover that our hearts need some help with prayer.

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Our hearts can sometimes deceive us. Yet, if we can be mindful to tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can focus on what God has promised – and not simply on what we want or expect.

What’s more, by only following our hearts, we may only pray when we feel like it. 

A common temptation is to give up reading Scripture and praying whenever our enjoyment is gone. If we only do things when we feel like it, most of us would never get up in the morning. Prayer and Bible reading are important spiritual disciplines, even on the days we are not inspired to do so.

In truth, to enjoy the Word of God, we must continue to read it; and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read, the less we desire to read; and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

4. We attain confidence and joy in speaking with God, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.

5. We unearth direction and guidance for our lives; the Psalms are the GPS for our souls.

6. We join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures. Our spiritual forebears serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.

7. We realize the heart of God and adopt that heart as our own heart. In praying, we get to know who God is, and we discover the prayers the Lord delights to answer.

In summary, we bring our own situations and experiences to the Psalms and permit the psalter to reshape our thoughts and our prayers. 

This mentality and discipline forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans. 

The Psalms are meant to transform us. Repeated exposure to Holy Scripture and daily praying through the psalms will change the way we live our lives and our perspective on the world.

May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, the sinful nature, and the fear of both the known and unknown.

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

Psalm 10 – Backstabbers

Why are you far away, Lord?
Why do you hide yourself
    when I am in trouble?
Proud and brutal people
    hunt down the poor.
But let them get caught
    by their own evil plans!

The wicked brag about
    their deepest desires.
Those greedy people hate
    and curse you, Lord.
The wicked are too proud
to turn to you
    or even think about you.
They are always successful,
though they can’t understand
    your teachings,
and they keep sneering
    at their enemies.

In their hearts they say,
    “Nothing can hurt us!
We’ll always be happy
    and free from trouble.”
They curse and tell lies,
and all they talk about
    is how to be cruel
    or how to do wrong.

They hide outside villages,
waiting to strike and murder
    some innocent victim.
They are hungry lions
    hiding in the bushes,
hoping to catch
    some helpless passerby.
They trap the poor in nets
    and drag them away.
They crouch down and wait
    to grab a victim.
They say, “God can’t see!
    He’s got on a blindfold.”

Do something, Lord God,
and use your powerful arm
    to help those in need.
The wicked don’t respect you.
In their hearts they say,
    “God won’t punish us!”

But you see the trouble
and the distress,
    and you will do something.
The poor can count on you,
    and so can orphans.
Now break the power
    of all merciless people.
Punish them for doing wrong
    and make them stop.

Our Lord, you will always rule,
but every godless nation
    will vanish from the earth.
You listen to the longings
    of those who suffer.
You offer them hope,
and you pay attention
    to their cries for help.
You defend orphans
    and everyone else in need,
so that no one on earth
    can terrify others again. (Contemporary English Version)

Nobody can go through life without having to deal with evil in the form of two-faced people. It’s just part of the human condition to experience it. 

The O’Jays sang about such persons in their 1972 song, Backstabbers: 

(What they do!)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place.

The psalmist knew first-hand about such people, all too well. He experienced their lies and their constant thoughts about cruelty to others and doing wrong. He watched their schadenfreude, that is, their delight in seeing others harmed and hurt. Outwardly, such devious people feign friendship; but meanwhile, they inwardly sneer and plot how to destroy. 

Schadenfreude: satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

However, there is a God who sees all of it, both the outward calloused deeds, as well as the inward plotting of insidious works. And, what’s more, God will act.

The problem for most of us, the victims of the backstabber’s blade, is that the time between God seeing and God acting is sometimes far too long. We cry out for justice, and rightly so. God sees and hears. And God acts when it is time to act, without being on our schedule to do it.

Meanwhile, during this awkward in-between time, until God dispenses the divine will on both the evil and the good, the righteous person remains hopeful and confident that their cries are being heard and that divine protection will prevail. The psalmist assures us that the Lord listens to the longings of those who suffer. God offers them hope and pays attention to their cries for help.

Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Romans 12:21, MSG

The way to face down the presence of hard-hearted people is to be both active and passive in the right ways: 

  • Actively cry out to God in prayer
  • Actively work for good
  • Take a pass on exacting revenge
  • Take a pass on nursing grudges and hate

If we can encourage one another to persevere in being consistently good, even while in the teeth of evil, it will go a long way toward spreading God’s benevolent and gracious kingdom and seeing God’s moral and ethical will done in our families, communities, and world.

Unfortunately, backstabbers will always be with us, no matter where we go, this side of heaven. Stay calm, don’t let the evil stick to your soul, and step back to see the big picture that vengeance belongs to the Lord… and maybe listen to some O’Jays while you’re at it.

God of justice and righteousness, you defend those who are vulnerable and in need. You will act so that no one on earth can terrify and harm others again. Shoo the bullying and belligerent ways of Satan away so that your heavenly kingdom may take root in the church and the world for the sake of Jesus our Savior. Amen