Lenten Devotionals, Week 5… March 15-21

March 15, Monday…Psalm 42:5 

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him for his help. .  

The mistake we often make is that we look for a source of comfort in ourselves rather than in God. Our hope is in God not what we feel him to be at the moment. For it is only in His countenance or presence (not our own) that our help (salvation) is found. That is why the Scripture is so important to our prayer life. The Word of God reveals to us the being and character of God and encourages us to place our hope and trust in him.  

Notice also how the psalmist here speaks to himself.  Why are you downcast, O my soul?  I think that is one of the traits of spiritual health.  We get into trouble when we listen to ourselves:

Why did God allow this if he loved me?

Maybe I’m being punished for my past sins.

Going back home to God will be such a long process I don’t want to try.

Instead we need to learn to speak to ourselves and utter forth a confession of faith and trust in the Lord.  “Why are you so discouraged, O my soul?  All of your past experience adds up to the fact that God has not abandoned you.  Hope in him, hang onto him, though you may feel no reason to do so, your past gives you full warrant to trust God.”  This is faith at its strongest- believing in God in spite of our feelings and circumstances, because we have remembered his goodness to us in the past. 

My God, my Life, my Love.

To thee, to thee I call.

I cannot live, if thou remove,

For thou art all in all.

Thy shining grace can cheer

This dungeon where I dwell. 

‘Tis paradise when thou art here.

If thou depart, ‘tis hell.

Thou art the sea of love,

Where all my pleasures roll,

The circle where my passions move

And center of my soul. (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

March 16, Tuesday… Psalm 42:6-11

Here the psalmist turns from talking to himself to speaking with God in prayer.  Mark that; though he is in despair he is also in prayer.  He also says that God is “my God.”  It reminds me of the prayer that Jesus prayed from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”  Most of us don’t even speak to God when we have a crisis of faith. Instead we speak about him, almost like we talk behind his back:  

If he is so powerful why didn’t he do something?

If he is so loving, why did he let that happen?

In addition to claiming God as his God, the psalmist also says that he “remembers God.”  In the face of crisis, he rehearses what he knows to be true about God so that he has a context in which to work out the things he does not yet understand. To put it another way: he is speaking out his strong convictions so that he might have a framework in which to work through his strong emotions.  He goes back to the basics through his remembrance and finds a place for his faith to stand.  Like a calf on ice, he gathers the legs of faith under him.  Look at what he remembers about God:

v. 8- The steadfast love of the Lord. The word for steadfast love is hesed, God’s covenant love to his people.  It is a love that has been pledged by God to those he has chosen and therefore can never be withdrawn.   

v. 9- God is my Rock.  He is unchanging even though life has changed for the psalmist. “I was young and now I’m old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.”  God will never change from the time we called out to him when we are children to the time we take our last breath.  God is our Rock.

Do you see what he is doing?  He is rehearsing what he knows to be true about God’s character in order to put into perspective what he doesn’t understand about God’s ways.  This leads to the refrain of hope in v.11, “Why are you cast down O my soul.  Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God.”

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness hides His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. (Edward Mote)

March 17, Wednesday… Psalm 139:1-6

The intimacy of relationship with God is reflected in God’s comprehensive knowledge of us.  It should be noted that the perfect tense is used throughout this section indicating that God is not some “heavenly deteco-guard system,” continually testing and evaluating us. He already knows all there is to know about us.  

To search for something usually implies some measure of ignorance, some lack of knowledge. However, the Psalmist is saying that He has always known us completely.  As Spurgeon said, “There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there will never be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.”  

To paraphrase: “He has always known my sitting down and my rising up- my passive and active moments. He has always discerned my thoughts from afar- not merely detected what I’m thinking but has discerned them even before they are fully formed in my mind. He has always comprehended my path (my journey), my lying down (when I stop off at the hotel), and all my ways (the very reason for the trip). He has always known the words I will speak before they are formed. He has set limits on my behavior so that I am not able to ultimately destroy myself. He has always guided me by His hand.”

The Psalmist responds in amazement, “such knowledge is too wonderful,” it is too lofty for his finite mind to comprehend.  How could such a great God take such a personal interest in him? And for the believer in Christ, how can such a great God know me so completely and yet love me so intimately?  As someone has said, “Isn’t it odd, that a being like God, who sees the façade, still loves the clod, he made out of sod. Yes, isn’t it odd?”

Could we with ink the oceans fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,nor could the scroll contain the whole tho’ stretched from sky to sky. (Frederick Lehman)

March 18, Thursday… Psalm 139:7-12

The Psalmist considers another characteristic of God’s nature, His omnipresence.  He wonders if there is any place where he can go where God is not present.  I don’t think he is asking this question because he is guilty and wants to run away from God. Instead, the Psalmist meditates on the extent to which God’s presence permeates His creation and he takes great comfort from this.  Probably better to translate it “Where could I go from your presence?” The Psalmist explores the physical dimensions of the universe; its height and depth, its breadth, its light and darkness, and concludes that there is nowhere in the universe that he could go beyond the presence of God. An old poem by Bela Edwards (1802-1852) says it like this:

How from thy presence could I go,

  Or whither from thy Spirit could I flee,

Since all above, around below,

  Exist in Thine immensity?

If up to heaven I take my way, 

  I meet Thee in eternal day.

If in the grave I make my bed

  With worms and dust, lo! Thou art there!

If on the wings of morning sped,

  Beyond the ocean I repair,

I feel thine all-controlling will,

  And Thy right hand upholds me still.

“Let darkness hide me,” if I say,

  Darkness can no concealment be;

Night, on Thy rising shines like day; 

  Darkness and light are one with Thee.

For thou mine embryo form did view,

  Ere her own babe my mother knew.

We could also personalize this section.  “Could I reach any point in my life that would separate me from your presence?  If I experience the heights of success, you are there.  If I am dragged through the depths of failure, you are there as well.  If I fly away from responsibility and live in the land of my own self-gratification, even there you are present and will bring me back to my senses.  If depression and despair come over me like a dark cloud so that I feel you no longer care, I will remember that you are also present in the darkness where you are doing your greatest work.”    

March 19, Friday… Psalm 139:13-18

The Psalmist indicates that God’s knowledge and care of us flow from His creation of us.  It is almost as if the writer sees himself as some kind of masterpiece of God’s design. 

      “You formed my vital parts (literally the kidneys, those deepest organs which cannot be detected, like a heart through its beat) and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

        “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  We are to consider ourselves so wonderful as to recognize that we have been wonderfully created by an awe-inspiring God. Here we see that the main focus of the Psalmist is God and yet creation takes on significance because of the character of the Creator.  (When we jettison God we also scuttle our human dignity- Romans 1:18 f.)

        “My very frame (literally my bones (our strength and latent potential) was not hidden from God when I was being made, skillfully made in the lowest parts of the earth.”  This is a poetic expression. All of us like Adam come from dust and “the same skill that made Adam makes every son and daughter of Adam.”  (H.C. Leupold) 

         “All of my days were ordained” by God, even before I came out of the oven. God has given us significance by virtue of our creation and a destiny by virtue of his sovereignty. Compare this to Jeremiah 1:5.

Instead of getting caught up in questions concerning foreknowledge and foreordination the Psalmist asserts how precious these thoughts are to him.  Who can comprehend God’s love and mercy?  Who can number God’s thoughts for all his creation? I may at times be unimportant in my own sight or that of the world, but I am never thus in the sight of my God.  

March 20, Saturday… Psalm 139:19-24

There is a surprising turn in the mood of the psalmist which is baffling. He seems to lash out at the wicked for their disobedience and ill-treatment of God.  This is not a New Testament response. We are not told to hate those who hate God, but to pray for them.  However, I do not believe that the Psalmist is motivated by a spirit of revenge (as in Psalm 63) as much as a spirit of grief over the dishonoring of a Holy God who is merciful and gracious.  We may be more tolerant, but are we as zealous for God’s honor and glory?  Do we grieve when others used the name of the Lord in vain? Do we grieve when we see those wonderfully created by God and blessed by His providential care blaspheme that same God, worse yet, ignore their God and live at the level that belies their dignity and significance?

 It is important to notice that the Psalmist finishes his thought not by condemning the sin of the ungodly, but by directing the radar gun on his own life. He asks God to continue to search him and know him and point out to him the unwholesome things that may keep him from the path of life.  He submits himself to the scrutiny of God. More specifically he asks that God might know his “anxious thoughts.” In what ways do our worries lead us to sin? Since he has already acknowledged that God knows him better than he knows himself, this is a prayer for further sanctification. He desires that God reveal things about his life that he does not yet know so that he can be purified.

 There are two kinds of hypocrisy: one where we deceive others and a second where we deceive ourselves. The first kind is dealt with by recognizing God’s omniscience and omnipresence in our world and in our lives. The second kind of hypocrisy—that of self deception, is dealt with by placing ourselves under the search light of God’s holy gaze and asking him to reveal the filth of our own natures to our own eyes. He doesn’t say, “I have searched myself and find no wicked way in me,” rather “Search me O God…and see if there be any way of pain in me.” That is an interesting way to describe sin- “the way of pain.”  However, it is true isn’t it? When we live our lives apart from the command of God we bring great pain upon ourselves and others. This way of life is put in sharp contrast with “the way everlasting” in which the Psalmist desired to walk. The way of pain results from the unexamined life. The way of righteousness comes as God searches us out and purifies us. 

In which way do you desire to walk? What are you going to do about it?

March 21, Sunday… Matthew 26:26-28

A universal question: What do you do with your guilt? The discussion of guilt takes religion out of the theoretical and brings it down to the real. So, let me ask you that question again: what do you do with your guilt?  What do you do with those feelings of shame or remorse that haunt you because of certain things that you have done? Someone has likened dealing with guilt to wrestling an octopus in a dark aquarium at midnight. We all have to do it and we have set up ways to deal with our guilt:

Denial. “What, me? I don’t have any guilt.” Psychology over the last forty-five years has tried to get rid of guilt through psychotherapeutic means –  helping people relieve their guilt by convincing them they did not do anything wrong. The problem is that guilt does not disappear just because we deny its existence. In fact, we are learning that many physical, psychological, and character disorders are the result of the following cover-ups for guilt: 

Transfer- shift the blame. “I know I shouldn’t have said those awful things about her, but she deserved it for all the things she’s done to me.”

Rationalize. “I know I lied, but it was just a little one—not nearly as bad as others who lie all the time.”

Conceal and Self-Punish.   Many of you have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne is prosecuted in a New England Puritan town as an adulteress and has to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothes as a life time punishment for her sin. She would not reveal the name of the man with whom she had committed adultery, who is none other than the local pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale. He does not go public with his sin and it eats away at him and causes him to literally carve a letter “A” into the skin of his own chest. 

All of these responses indicate that guilt is both powerful and important. What we need to understand is that guilt has a pay-off; it serves a purpose and that is why it needs to be dealt with and not ignored. God has given us the ability to feel guilt very much like he has blessed us with the ability to feel pain. Did you ever think that if you could not feel pain you would never know that something was wrong?  If you put your hand on a hot stove and didn’t feel it, you might never know that your flesh was burning until it was too late. Likewise, when we feel guilty it usually indicates that something is wrong, and that we have to do something about it. Is it time to “fess up?” 

Let me warn all careless members of churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world, and the devil. You pass through life a smiling, laughing gentleman-like or lady-like person and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven, and no hell. Oh, careless Churchman…awake to see eternal realities in their true light! Awake and put on the armor of God! Awake and fight hard for life! Tremble, tremble and repent. (J,C. Ryle, 1816-1900)   

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