Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 21

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‘Qoph’

Distraught. That’s how the psalmist sounds as he pens ‘Qoph’, this fourth-to-last stanza in his epic 119th psalm. Anxious. Something is deeply troubling him. Further along he gives a few more details of his dilemma, but he avoids the kind of details that might tempt us to discount his anxiety as an obsolete cultural anomaly. Perhaps he knows how endemic anxiety is in many a culture, in every era, in most people. Perhaps he is giving us clues to lead us to find the kind of relief he has found. Listen to how he puts it.

“I call with all my heart; answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees. / I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes. / I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. / My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. / Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your laws. / Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law. / Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. / Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.”

It doesn’t take much for us to see that, according to the psalmist, relief from anxiety comes from the LORD. Let’s explore that a little. Who is the LORD, what do we know about Him, and how can He help—not only with anxiety, but also with every dilemma that we face?

‘LORD’ is the English term for the Hebrew name Yahweh by which God refers to Himself. The psalmist understands a few things about Yahweh—the LORD—that come into play as he composes this psalm-prayer. Rather than an impersonal cosmic force, the psalmist understands that the LORD is a personal, relational Being whose essence is expressed to humankind in the form of His Word. His Word is not only Scripture—a body of writings including the Law, poetry, historical records, promises, prophecies, and later the Gospels, epistles, and more prophetic writings—but most succinctly in the form of Jesus, who is called “the Word”.

The LORD loves people and He engages in meaningful dialogue with people because it brings Him joy. Through His Word He expresses His eternal views and expectations as far as we are concerned, because they are for our good. He hears and answers those who cry out to Him. He even holds Himself accountable to making and keeping promises with people because He wants to give us hope and a meaningful future. He is not far off (as those who don’t know Him imagine), but is near—nearer than our worst dilemmas, our most overwhelming anxieties, or our most daunting enemies.

And as the psalmist comes to this point—the nearness of the LORD—we can almost hear the soul-deep sigh of relief the psalmist breathes. This is it: the nearness of the LORD is what God’s Word is ultimately about. The psalmist only grasps a small piece of it, but he knows that God’s nearness—His presence—is the key to human flourishing. He is also aware that God’s nearness is on a very different plane from the nearness he experiences from “those who devise wicked schemes.” The nearness of human dilemma, of anxiety and trouble is trifling compared to the great nearness of God to those who call on Him with all their heart.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” asks the Apostle Paul a millennium and a half after the psalmist’s time. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Then he answers, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

The love of God that is expressed Christ Jesus—also known as ‘God-with-us’—is the prescription for our greatest anxieties. The nearer we draw to Jesus through prayer, through exploration of the Scriptures, and through a determination to obey His commands of love, the more we will sense His great nearness. It may mean “ris(ing) before dawn” and even staying awake “through the watches of the night (to) meditate on (God’s) promises” rather than yielding to anxiety, but it will be worth it.

Let’s do as the psalmist does. Let’s call on the LORD with all our heart today. Let’s read His written Word, obey His commands, meditate on His promises, and enjoy the communion we have with Him who is so closely present here with us. “You are near, O LORD.”

CROSSROADS

Ambit_Guarantee

Exploring Romans 4

Promises don’t mean much in our contemporary culture. When we bring home a new appliance boasting the latest technology and most trendy styles, there is an implied promise. It promises to do the job it’s designed to do. It promises to do it better than any other product on the market. And it promises to make our life easier, happier, and freer than it’s ever been before.

When the appliance fails, sometimes only months later, all promises are off. We’re told we should have purchased the extended warranty – the fault is our own; we should have worked to ensure our easy, happy and free existence with the product would endure. The promise was merely wishful thinking on our part.

The same seems to go for most other realms in life: in education, career, marriage, parenting, health and especially our lifespan, there are no promises anymore. Or, at least, we have learned that the promises weren’t really meant to be kept. Our world is changing too fast to be hampered by mere promises.

The one exception to the rule is found here in the fourth chapter of the New Testament letter Romans. In it, we are reminded of a millennia-old promise made by God to us. To who? While it was voiced early on in the history of mankind to an ancient, later named Abraham, there was, even then in the promise, a clause that included us. It said, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” What this meant, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans, is that because of Abraham’s unconventional response of faith toward God, he would be considered the father of all who would also have faith in God.

“It was not through law,” explains Paul, “that Abraham and his offspring received the promise…but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” And later, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed…”

Let’s stop and rest here for a moment. This is heady news. God, the only being truly capable of making and fully keeping a promise of eternal value, has made you and me a promise. He has promised His blessing. The blessing of an all-good, all-loving and all-powerful God is not fairy dust and wishful thinking; it is the most solid, robust and meaningful element available to any creature in this world.

The great irony, or so it seems to me, is that it comes by faith. We are asked to simply believe it and entrust ourselves to the hope it will ultimately embody. But there is more. There is a guarantee. Unlike the new front-loading washing machine that self-destructs after only one year of service and is not worth repairing, God guarantees that our simple faith in His promise of blessing will never be disappointed. Faith is the full cost we bear in the transaction. The extended warranty is His responsibility alone.

“Having believed,” explains Paul in the letter Ephesians, “you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”

It’s good to think that through again, or maybe for the first time. God offers blessed relationship with Him; God provides the means for it to happen through Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross; and God guarantees our inheritance will be delivered by imparting His own Spirit to live within us. He is fully invested in His promise becoming reality for us. And again, what is our part? Our part is simply and only faith. Yes, it will be life-changing faith if it’s authentic. Our lives will be the expression of our relationship with God, not our means of purchasing it. That’s what happens when God makes a promise, and we accept it.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Ambitibo)

THOUGHTS FROM HEBREWS ELEVEN continued

SURE AND CERTAIN

Hebrews 11:1,2

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Prayer is a thing of faith. It enters the realm of the eternal. It speaks to God who is spirit and invisible. So when we read that the ancients were commended for practicing their faith in a sure and certain manner, we are presented with an oxymoron. We more commonly associate sure and certain outcomes with non-faith-related experiences. We, of the enlightened scientific era, have been raised and nurtured to apply certainty only to empirical data. If an outcome can be reproduced reliably and consistently we are sure and certain of its truth.

Remember the pungent smell of the Bunsen burner in High School chemistry class? Mixing this with that over its blue heat produced such-and-such every time. It was sure and certain. The conclusion always confirmed the hypothesis.

Surely the prayer of faith does not fall within the confines of empiricism. There is no formula to ensure the granting of requests made by mortals to the Immortal One. How then can our prayers of faith be sure and certain?

Perhaps a phrase from verse eleven might give us a hint of the wisdom we seek. Abraham and Sarah’s strangely barren situation had been an obstacle to their family-production plans. They had even tried the surrogate-parent option; this had only succeeded in creating the beginnings of a nation that would plague the people of Israel for millennia to come. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes their story: Abraham “was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” What was that again? Abraham considered the promise-maker faithful. He focused on the character of God (His faithfulness) and the Word of God (His promises). There may be a hint here of how we could learn from the ‘ancients’ who practiced a sure and certain faith.

The ancients’ certainty rested in the unchanging character of God. His goodness, integrity, justice, patience, righteousness and loving-kindness (to name a few) are integral to who He is; they cannot be altered. So while we pray a particular request to God, our certainty rests in the realization that His response will be perfectly consistent with these eternal attributes. Can we say as much for ourselves had we the power to answer our own prayers? His wisdom, far beyond ours, and His power, unlimited, will ensure a better-than-humanly-possible scenario ultimately. Admittedly, from our point of view we cannot always see the good, but our certainty is not in our ability to see all; our certainty is in the unmatched character of God.

Secondly, the ancients’ surety rested on the promises of God. Our faith must cling not to notions we ourselves have devised regarding how God must act, but only to promises He has made. There are enough promises to meet every need in our lives; we do not need to fabricate more. (See Annie Johnson Flint’s poem, ‘God Hath Not Promised’).

As we express our faith in our prayers to the Almighty One, let us keep foremost in mind His character and His promises. These will guide and protect our hearts and minds as we pray. Then we will be “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

 

 

 

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON: Part 9 Conclusion

John 14:8-26  Part 9: Conclusion

 

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

PROSPECTUS: A document that advertises an enterprise in order to attract or inform members.

 

This series on the PROSPECTUS FOR PRAYING PERSONS comes to a completion. Today’s wind-up is not so much an ending as a beginning, not so much a conclusion as a commissioning.  Jesus makes the seven promises not only to ‘attract or inform’ us; He wants to TRANSFORM us. He is calling us to place these promises as central to our hopes and dreams, to place them above every plan and intent of our day. Remember what He offers?

 

LIMITLESS POWER, INDWELLING COUNSEL, SPIRITUAL VISION, ETERNAL LIFE, HOLY COMMUNITY, APOCALYPTIC LOVE, and INTIMATE MENTORING.

 

Let’s rise up and take what He promises. Let’s enter into the adventure of daily drawing from the promissory notes God places within our reach. Jesus was vitally concerned to communicate these promises—His final instructions prior to His earthly death must be significant.

 

Jesus closes His discourse with a prayer of intercession for us (see John chapter 17).  He uses words like ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘glory’.  He wants very badly to see us actively participate in this great plan of His; He can see something we don’t yet fully see, and it’s good. Very good.

 

So let’s encourage one another to embrace a life that strives after these promises.  He wants to give, so let’s be receivers of the benefits. The prospects are excellent.

 

(Challenge: Find the gospel of John and read through chapters 14-17 every day for a week or more. What does God highlight for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.)