Praying the Psalms: Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For most Christians that haunting question stirs our hearts with sorrow. That desperate question was uttered by none other than Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus references the first line of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross. The Gospel writers, particularly Mathew, uses Psalm 22 throughout the crucifixion narrative to emphasize the innocence of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and like all psalms of lament, the conclusion ends in praise. As we read in this Psalm about the horrific suffering of an innocent man, it so clearly points us to Jesus, the innocent son of God. Jesus’ crucifixion would not be the end of his story, but ends in great victory through his resurrection. Psalm 22 may begin in great sorrow, but concludes in great praise and victory, following the patter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-5 - The psalm begins with a desperate and anxious question. Why does God seem so far away? Why does he seem so distant? Does God not hear the cries of the innocent? Can he not hear their groans in the dark of the night? The psalmist cries out day by day, night by night, but the Lord doesn’t answer. There is no rest.

We have all felt this way at some point in our Christian life. Where is God when it hurts? Just when we think we need him the most, he seems peculiarly absent in our lives. We may be in agony and anguish, but God doesn’t respond.

The psalmist has put his trust in the Lord continually. He knows that he is the holy one of God. His suffering casts no doubt on the goodness of God’s character. The psalmist knows that in the past, God answered the cries of the faithful of Israel. They trusted God, and were not point to shame.

Yet, the Psalmist is confused. He has grown up hearing about God’s faithfulness towards his people, but in his situation God seems to be absent? What seems to be the problem? So the psalmists is resolutely confident in God, but at the same time confused. Why is God absent for him, when God has intervened in the lives of so many others?

v. 6-18 - The psalmist then describes his condition. He is decimated and despised. He is rejected and scorned. He is mocked and taunted. To his enemies he is but a worm. His enemies scoff at his faith and taunt the Lord, “He trust sin the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v 8) This psalmist is a man who is hated, but for no good reason. He is completely innocent and without faulty, yet he is despised and rejected by men.

Though he is jaded and barbed with the verbal spears of malicious foes, the psalmist trusts the Lord. He reflects on his trust in the Lord from the beginning. He has trusted continually in the Lord, even in his infancy, while he was at his mother’s breast. He has been wholly devoted to the Lord and innocent of these dehumanizing accusations.

Yet, the psalmist continues to be poured out like water. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melting under the duress of the persecution. His strength has dried up as he comes to lay in the dust of death.

The blood thirsty canine scavengers encircle him. They devour the weak as their prey. The count his bones to divide among them as they cast lots to divide his clothing. They pierce his hands and feet. These wicked men seek to take anything of value from this man and leave him in dehumanizing shame. They will not cease until they have turned this righteous and godly man into a worm.

As we read what this innocent man of Psalm 22 is going through, the images bring to our mind the crucifixion of our Lord. From the mocking at the cross—“If you are the son of God come down for there”, or “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”—to the casting lots of his clothing, and to the piercing of his hands and feet, in all of it we see in Jesus.

Anyone who would have walked by Golgotha’s hill on that good Friday would have come to the conclusion that God has abandon this man. There is no way that God delights in him, because God has not rescued him. This is the way many of us think today. If God lets us incur a terrible fate, than either the problem must be in us or with God. Yet, throughout the Bible we see that God allows suffering to come upon the righteous in order to deliver them for the glory of his name. God uses the malicious intent of wicked men and turns it on its head. God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good.

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v. 19-21 - The sufferer cries out to God for help. Those his circumstances seem to swallow him up, his trust in the Lord is unfading. He calls out to the Lord, “Do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” This final desperate cry is one of deliverance and salvation.

When we are in similar situations, we too should pray and ask God for help. May our suffering never cause us to lose our confidence in God’s ability to rescue. Though he may seem far, he is near. Though he may seem incompetent, he is more than able. A crises of life should not become a crises of faith. Despite what this psalmist is going through, his trust in the Lord is resolute. So too should it be for all of God’s people.

v. 22-31 - As lament psalms do, this psalm concludes in praise. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (24). Those who trust in the Lord, place their trust rightly. God is reliable; he hears and responds to the desperate cries of his people. Though it might be delayed, rescue is coming. The result of that rescue leads to praise, satisfaction and joy. This rescue not only leads to the satisfaction and joy of the sufferer, but it leads to world wide praise to God!

All the peoples of the earth will worship before God. The Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he will reign forever. The result of this rescue is the worship of God’s name from generation to generation. Those yet to be born will one day hear of the righteousness that God has done.

As we think about Jesus’ cry on the cross, it is understood much deeper in light of the entire psalm. Yes, Jesus was in great suffering and agony as the innocent man who was pierced on that cross. At that moment of great suffering, God seemed distant and it appeared that God had abandon his son on the cross as Jesus bore the penalty of sin. Yet, God would not abandon his son, even in death. Though Jesus died, on the third day he would rise again to victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center point of history. The entire earth must hear the good news of what Christ has done by dying in our place on the cross. The crucified son of God has been given the kingship that endures for ever. This good news has been told from generation to generation, to a people yet unborn.

The Gospel of Jesus has continued to be passed down from generation to generation. For two thousand years Christian moms and dads tell their children about the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ. As Christians we must continue to proclaim to the next generation that the suffering son of God is the resurrected king and the savior of the world.

Prayer Guide

  • Have you ever felt abandon by God? Share your heartache honestly to the Lord.
  • Pray that God would give you the faith to trust him even when things go badly in your life.
  • Ask the Lord for deliverance from your enemies, particularly when you are suffering for righteousness sake.
  • Praise the Lord that God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him again on the third day.
  • Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with others.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 18

The crescendo of victory reverberates as a joyous moment. David has spent many days frightened by his enemy, yet God would deliver him. The context of this psalm is important, it is almost an exact copy of the song of David from 2 Samuel 22 as David celebrates the victory God had given him over Saul. Yet, this personal song of David is included in the hebrew hymn book, indicating that the future prosperity of the people of God are tied to God's blessing on David and his offspring. As God's people would sing this psalm, it serves as a prayer for God to bless the line of David and grant their king victory. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-3 - The psalm begins with a summary of the praise that will unfold. Interestingly, this Psalm concludes a section of psalms in which David is praying for deliverance against his enemies. (See Psalm 16, 17). The Psalm begins with David stating his love for the Lord. God has been a great rock and refuge for David. God protects like an impenetrable shield or a stronghold that can not crumble. Because David called on the Lord, God saved him from his enemies. The rest of the Psalm is a celebration of God's victory over David's enemies.

v. 4-6 - David begins to reflect how he had called on God in his most desperate moments. When the throngs of death surrounded him, when the torrents of destruction assailed him, and when the cords of Sheol ensnared him, he called out to God, his help. He calls out to God and the Lord heard the prayer of David.

One of the main applications we can make as we study these psalms of David, is his unwavering reliance on the Lord. In the moment of crises and desperation he is quick to get on his knees and go to his God. Shouldn't we do the same? Yet, whenever we find ourselves in crises, we quickly engineer a plan or vent our frustrations to a friend. How slow we are to simply get on our knees before God and pray for help!

v. 7-19 - These verses use vivid language to describe how God had delivered David from his enemies.  The imagery is extravagant and moves quickly from one metaphor to another. David describes God as a dragon riding swiftly to come to his aid (v. 10). Then he begins to describe God's arrival as a powerful storm filled with hailstones and fire as the thunder crackles (11-14). God drew David out of many waters, as his rescuer from his enemies.

The point David stresses in this vivid scenes is clear: God brought David his victory. David is helpless and surrounded, but God fought for David. God handled his enemies, and rescued him from their mighty hatred. So too does God single-handedly rescue us from our enemies, especially as we consider our greatest of enemies, sin and death. No power exerts such strength that the mighty hand of God cannot overcome.

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v. 20-30 - David then moves to claim his faithfulness to God during his difficult trial. He has kept the ways of the Lord; he kept the statutes of God, and was blameless before him. So the Lord rewarded David and delivered him. God loves the righteous and showers them in mercy. God shines as a  lamp to David, protecting him from his enemies and from sin. His love strengthens David as he follows the perfect way of God.

v. 31-45 - The Psalm begins to move to a great celebration of the work of God's victory. "For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?" (31). God has been his refuge and has equipped him with strength. He has been his shield and God has given him his support. It is by the power of God that David has been granted victory and his enemies destroyed like a fine dust. God has brought victory to the divinely appointed king.

v. 46-50 - The Psalm concludes with an important reflection on God's faithfulness to his anointed King. David summarizes, "The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation.” God has saved and delivered his anointed. God spared and rescued David from his enemies.

The last two verses serve as important reminders for us as we understand the flow of redemptive history. God brings great salvation to his king and shows love to his anointed. God has specifically chosen David and his offspring to bless and to bring about a blessing to others. As we look at the ways in which God rescued David from his enemies, God would rescue the greater David from his enemies. Many years down the road, another offspring of David would be anointed in the Holy Spirit as the divinely appointed King.

The God-man Jesus Christ was arrested and flung into the rushing waters of blood-thirsty men who sought his life. Yet, God was with his king. Through his flogging and crucifixion, God would not abandon his anointed. On the third day, God would raise his son to victory overcoming his enemies and conquering sin and death.

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Like Israel, our blessing is tied to God's blessing of the King. The victory of Jesus is our own victory, given to us by the mighty hand of God the Father. Through Jesus we share in his victory and we share in the glory of God's salvation as recipients of divine grace. God shows his steadfast love not only to his anointed, but to those who by faith submit their lives under his rule.

Prayer Guide

  • How has God brought you victory in your life? How has he crushed your enemies? Praise the Lord for his redemption.
  • Thank God that he honors those who by faith in Jesus seek to live righteously.
  • Praise the Lord for his power, greatness, and salvation.
  • Thank the Lord that he blesses his anointed, and that by faith we get to share in the blessed victory of Jesus Christ.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 17

Have you ever been so frustrated and so hurt that all you can do is pray? Psalm 17 is a prayer of lament from King David. David is being attacked unjustly by another individual and he cries out to God in hope. How should Christians respond when we are unjustly criticized or accused of wrong doing? Well, as we look at psalm 17, David’s prayer will  help us learn to pray in such situations. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-2 - David begins crying out to God in prayer, seeking his attention. David is again expressing personal suffering unjustly, accused by his enemies.  So, he cries out to God, the great arbiter of justice, to hear his plea and case. David comes before God to plea his case, because he trusts in the judgement and justice of God. God is not fooled by the deceitful lies and subtle twisting of tongues that so often dominates the judicial courts of humanity. God has no concern for popular consensus or opinion, rather God is a God of truth. David, knowing that he has been unjustly accused has confidence to go to God, the just judge, to get the account straight.

v. 3-5 - David then begins to plead his innocence before God. He tells God that he has tried his heart. God knows everything there is to know about David. Whether by day or by night, God has visited him and knows it all. David challenges God to examine him and he will find innocence. Though David is accused by others, he seeks God to have the final word. David's mouth has not transgressed. He has avoided the ways of the violent. His steps have held firm on the narrow path and have not slipped.

Now David's plea for innocence does not mean that David considered himself sinless, but rather David sees himself as seeking to live righteously under the law of God. The stones that his enemies are throwing at him for sin are unjust. There are no evidence for their accusations. David pleads his case as he has been examined by God and found innocence. The accusations have nothing to do with David's own life or character, but only from the malice of the enemies.

v. 6-9 - David then turns in this next stanza to pray and call out to God. He asks for God to incline his ear and hear his words.  He knows that God is a fitting refuge for him. God is a safe place to lean on in times of tribulation. He requests that God would protect him from his enemies. David knows that God is a safe place because God has his eye on him. Indeed David is the apple of his eye. David can safely reside in the shadow of God's wings. There is no safer place to be than in the arms of the living God. From those enemies that seek David harm and who surround him, God is a refuge for him.

v. 10-12 - David then begins to ponder on the malicious aggression of his enemies.  They have no pity; they only seek to devour. They are predators on the prowl. They surround like a pack of wolves, bent on bringing their prey to the ground. They are like lions lurking in the shrubs waiting to pounce and tear a part David's flesh.

Sometimes as Christians we will have enemies just like the ones David had. There is a hatred and an intention to destroy at any cost. As the church becomes increasingly marginalized in our country, we too will feel the deadly blood-thirst of our enemies as they plot our destruction. Sometimes following Christ, means making enemies, not because you are seeking to make them, but rather because following God runs contrary to the ways of the world. Therefore, men and women of evil and blindness begin to gather, lurk, and tear apart the people of God.

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v. 13-14 - Here, God is summoned for action. "Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!" This man who has such vicious hatred for David is to be taken out. David is crying out for deliverance from this man. Then the Psalm moves to some profound reflections on the nature of the wicked and the hope of the righteous. Men, who are like David's accuser, find hope only in this life. Though wicked men among us might be financially prosperous and wield great worldly success, that is the extent of their hope. Their portion is only in this life. Though they may have children, their riches cannot go with them to the grave. Their abundance is passed down to their children.

One of the great questions is the prosperity of the wicked? Why are so many wicked people so visibly prosperous while so many good and righteous people are in poverty? Well, David begins to look at things from God's perspective. Though the wicked might enjoy 70 years of wealth, comfort, and power, what is 70 years compared to 100 billion years? Even 100 billion is but a scratch on the surface to the unfathomable idea of eternity. David begins to recognize that his hope is not in a comfortable life now, but his hope is in a life to come.

v. 15 - David's confidence is found in God himself. He concludes his lament by reflecting on his true treasure. Though the wicked might have wealth and power, David’s hope is in the righteousness of God. Isn't that our hope as well? We don't need riches and we don't need comfort and we don't need fame. We need the righteousness of Jesus. We need God. And by the grace of God, His son is sent to liberate us from the bondage of sin and gift us with his righteousness! Our hope is not in this world, but in God himself.

So as David falls into the deep sleep of death, when he wakes he will be satisfied with likeness of God. We have this hope too. No matter what enemies might attack us, those made righteous by Christ set their hope on the life to come. Our reward is not temporal treasures, but the eternal and satisfying treasure of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer Guide

  • What enemies are attacking you? Call out to God for help.
  • Ask God to help trust him as you refuge.
  • Ask God for strength and protection from the lions.
  • Trust in God’s wisdom in confronting and subduing your enemies.
  • Regardless of what happens, ask God to help you to find hope in Christ, not in this world.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 13

Forgotten. We all have moments when we feel like God has abandoned us. Each of us will face dark days, when it seems like the present sufferings are unceasing. We take one punch after another and we long to collapse. Psalm 13 is a classic example of a psalm of lament. Psalms of lament are all over the psalter. Lament simply means complaint. The idea of lament can sound very uncomfortable to Christians today, because it can appear like a lack of faith and trust in God. In so many ways when crisis hits, we feel the pressure to put on plastic smiles and act like everything is ok. Is complaining against the Lord and expressing frustration appropriate for people of faith? Is there any room for lament in the Christian life? As we examine Psalm 13, I think we will discover the answer. IMG_0500

Commentary

v. 1-2 - The psalm begins with questions. Each question begins with the phrase "How long?” The question itself is not one necessarily looking for an informative answer, but David is expressing his anguish and feelings. David is laying his soul bare before God. He feels forgotten and that God has hid his face. He is in sorrow as his enemies exalt over him.

David's prayer is both bold and refreshing. Often we think that God is unable to handle our emotions, our grieving, and our sadness. David's prayer breathes true authenticity into our plastic and superficial Christianity. Yet, David expresses in these pounding questions his feelings of abandonment at God's apparent indifference to his circumstances. There are situations that we face that lead us to ask questions just like David. When our spouse continues to battle cancer for years we pray, "How long, O LORD?" When we experience the heartbreak of a wayward child rejecting Christ we weep, "How long, O LORD?" When we are laid off from our job and the bills are piling up we cry, "How long, O LORD?" When we stand over the casket of our child through the sorrow we whisper, "How long, O LORD?"

This broken world is filled with hardship and sorrows. In times of great sadness we can feel that the Lord is not near or that maybe he has forgotten. We feel abandoned and isolated as we are paralyzed by depression and anxiety. When we feel this way should we just ignore it? When we walk into the church should we hide our sorrow with a insincere glibness? I suggest not. Rather, we should follow the pattern that David lays out for us in this psalm. We should get on our needs and express our heartache and brokenness before the Lord. God knows how we are thinking and feeling better than we know ourselves. There is no emotion you can express to him in words that he does not already know.

As we will see in this Psalm, the expression of lament leads to healing, comfort, and ultimately worship. When we burry our emotions in a sea of fabricated pretense, we do not allow the Almighty to restore us with his presence. Like David we must go before God in prayer. It is often through prayer that God teaches us in his presence and renews us. When we hide our emotions and frustrations with God we rob ourselves of healing and God of his glory as he moves us from lament to praise.

v. 3-4 - David begins making petitions towards God. He asks the Lord for his attention, to consider him and answer him. He is asking the Lord to intervene in his depression. He feels so low he could die. He begs the Lord to lift up his eyes  and to help him in his moment of desperation. He prays for deliverance from his enemies which are causing him to be shaken with fear.

Through the ocean of emotions David is experiencing, he begins to ask God for help. Simply coming to God in lament is a sign of great faith. David is not lamenting to grumble in superiority towards God, rather he is lamenting because he is so dependent on God. His attitude is not disrespectful towards God, but he is incredibly honest with his thoughts and feelings. David in asking the Lord to address his depression is already beginning the process of healing. In that simple act of asking God for help, David is admitting that he is insufficient for this pit he has found himself. His prayer in these verses is an expression of trust in the God who can help him and deliver him.

v. 5-6 - As David is lamenting, and as he comes to God in prayer something begins to happen. As David lays himself bare  before the presence of God in prayer, God doesn't change David's circumstances, but he does change David. As we look at the final two verses the tone is remarkably different from the repetitious "How longs" in which this Psalm began. David in the presence of God is filled with resolve and confidence as he is renewed by God.

Now, instead of doubting God's presence in his life, David has turned to trust. His heart is no longer filled with sorrow, but now his heart is rejoicing in God's salvation. He has moved from complaint to praise. What explains this change? Well here we see the pattern of lament as laid on the Scripture. Biblical lament has a flow to it. Lament moves from complaint to praise. The process of lament changes the lamenter. As a man or woman comes before God in anxiety, that simple act of faith begins to change the person. It is not always immediate or even within the same day. Sometimes this process may be stretched for weeks or months, but when we go to the presence of God in our trouble, our sorrow will turn to joy.  Though our circumstances may not change, our rigorous prayer expresses a dependence on God in which God gives us a joyful contentment regardless of our present circumstances. In a similar way the apostle Paul in Philippians says something similar when writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7)

This is key for us to understand the Christian life. When we bring our anxiety to the Lord in prayer, that simple act of trust changes us as we express dependence on a God who knows all and is able to help. Even though the cancer may not go away and though our child remains in the casket, God by grace gives us a peace and a joyful contentment even in the pain.  As David says, he rejoices because God has dealt bountifully with me. Certainly God has dealt bountifully with every Christian. For in Christ, we have been given salvation from sin and death and are promised victory when he returns. The inheritance and glory waiting for us when we cross from life to death far outweighs our present sufferings, no matter how great they may be. As Paul writes, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17).

Though God doesn't always promise us answers to our questions and though he may be silent on how long we must endure our present sorrow, we can trust that in our lamenting God gives us a supernatural trust to those who come before him in tears. And though we may cry out in our agony, "How long, O LORD?", we must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Behold I am coming soon." (Rev 22:7)

Prayer Guide

  • What emotions and frustrations are you having with the Lord? Express them to him.
  • Ask the Lord to help you in your situation and to help you find trust in him through our sorrow.
  • Ask the Lord to give you joy and peace in light of the Gospel promises he has given you.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 10

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. Psalm 10 is a continuation of Psalm 9. The two are connected thematically. The two also share an acrostic patter in the writing that continues into Psalm 10. In addition, their is no subscription to Psalm 10, indicating it is a continuation from the previous psalm. Psalm 10 is largely focused one big question. Why does God allow the wicked to prosper and get away with it? It is a perplexing question that even the most devoted Christians wrestle with in understanding God. Indeed, we can’t fully understand. Psalm 10 is a humble inquiry into the mind and will of God that culminates in an unshakeable faith in the goodness and justice of God.

Commentary

v. 1–11 - The Psalm begins with a question. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?” If we are honest, in the present sufferings we face and in the wickedness of this world, it seems like God is absent. From the tyranny of Islamic terrorism to the rape and murder that floods the news or to the men and women who prosper in wealth by taking advantage of the weak, we cry out, “Where are you God?” The psalmist is wrestling with the same question that we wrestle with today. If God is completely in control and perfectly good, why does he allow evil to continue?

The psalmist spends the first half of this psalm describing the wicked who prosper. They take advantage of the poor. They are greedy in their lusts. They are proud and resist and reject the Lord. These wicked people openly mock the Lord stating “There is no God”. Yet, at least in the present, the wicked seem to continue to prosper at all times. Their unrestrained evil seems to continue with God not lifting a finger to do anything to put a stop to it. God’s judgments seem high and out of sight. The wicked perform such evil knowing that they will get away with it. They say in such proud self confidence, “I shall not be moved”.

The description against the wicked continues. They are filled with mischief and deceit. They ambush villages and murder anyone in their way. Like a lion on the prowl he keeps his eye always open for the weak, the runt, and the helpless to devour. The poor are drawn into a net for their own destruction. The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall.

In v. 11, their is a stunning confession of the wicked man’s heart. He arrogantly states, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” How many people today live just like this wicked man. They do things thinking no one will ever know, that they will never be found out, and that no one will ever see it. So many of us operate and live our lives thinking God is not watching. In summary, the wicked described in Psalm 10 are arrogant selfish brutes who take advantage of the weak and openly mock and defy God, yet the continue to prosper.

v. 12–15 - The reality of the wicked prospering is to much for the psalmist to watch. In v. 12, he turns to prayer begging God to arise and lift his hand. He is asking the Lord to do something and to intervene in the evil all around him. Yet, the psalmist affirms that though the wicked will say that God will not hold them accountable, the psalmist knows the truth. Even though the wicked think their evil deeds will never be revealed, God sees all. No matter their scheming and their deception, God knows. Every man secretly enjoying the perverse titillation of child pornography to the sexual trafficking taking place in a dark ally in India, God sees it all. Though wicked men think they are getting away with their evil deeds in secret, He sees their mischief and vexation. God does not turn a blind eye to evil. In fact, God knows the horrors and evil of this world better than any human being ever could.

Yet, God does not only see the evil of the wicked, he plans to take action. He is a God who protects the helpless and commits himself to their cause. Spiritually, we know this to be true. In Jesus’ arrival he came and surrounded himself with the weak and helpless. The Gospel of the kingdom came to the outcasts and oppressed in society. Jesus came to deliver us from our sins, and save us not only from our personal sins, but to restore this broken and fallen world from wicked men.

One day, Jesus will come back for his church and break the arm of the wicked and evildoer. Those who practice such evil, greed, murder, and oppression will one day stand before a holy and blameless God to give an account. Every secret motive of the heart and every evil action done in secret will be revealed. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account”. There is a coming day of judgement, and on that day justice will be administered. The wicked will one day be exposed, naked, before the frightening and terrifying holiness of the glory of God. Those not in Christ will find themselves cast away from his presence into the eternal death and torment in hell.

v. 16–18 - The Psalm concludes with an affirmation and trust in God’s just rule. God is King forever and ever. God hears the cry of the afflicted. He will bring about justice to the fatherless and to the oppressed.

By the end of the Psalm, though there is a celebration of God’s kingship, the question is not fully revolved. Yes, the wicked will one day be held to account, but why does God allow them now to prosper? Why is his judgement and justice delayed? Well there are a few reasons why the Scriptures tell us. One of them is that God is being merciful in delaying his judgement so that his kindness is meant to lead to repentance (Rom 2:4). If God was to execute all of his justice immediately the sin was committed, than no human being would be left in existence. God in his kindness delays his just wrath towards the wicked in order to give them an opportunity to repent and trust in Christ.

Yet, the question of why God allows evil acts to continue ultimately remains a mystery. We are not God and we are not sovereign. He is. Therefore, as we struggle sometimes as to why God seems to be so very far away in light of the evil we experience in our lives, we can trust knowing that he is a good God who knows all. We know that he hears the cause of the afflicted and he will one day hold the wicked account for their actions in the final judgement. In those moments of struggle, as we witness evil men and women prosper, we can rest assured that there is coming a day when Christ returns when the King of Kings will execute his perfect justice “so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

Prayer Guide

  • Express your concerns to God concerning the evil you witness.
  • Ask the Lord to intervene and bring justice in those situations
  • Praise the Lord that he knows all and is not ignorant of human evil.
  • Praise God for Jesus and for the day of his return to come quickly.
  • Express your concerns to God knowing that he hears the desire of the afflicted

How Can I Have Joy in Difficult Circumstances?

Are you in a situation you'd rather not be in? Have you been given a hand by God and you'd rather just fold and give up? There are always situations that God puts us that are not how we want them to be. We question.

We get angry.

We doubt God's goodness.

Needless to say we have terrible attitudes and we often begin to find our wicked hearts rebuking God.

This is why Paul's attitude in the book of Philippians never ceases to amaze me. Paul is writing this letter in prison, yet it is one of his warmest and joyous letters he ever wrote. I'm not sure what situation you find yourself right now, but I doubt you are in chains being guarded by a burly Roman guard.

So what is Paul's secret?

What does he know that we need know?

What is he believing that we are not?

Well as we begin to look through the letter of Philippians, we begin to see why Paul is so joyous despite his circumstances. Here are three ways you can face whatever situation with joy.

1. Make Jesus Your Chief Treasure

Paul loved Jesus. Not only did Paul love Jesus, he counted all his worldly accolades and his prestigious reputation as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ (Phil 3:8). If Paul's whole life could be compared to a shelf, Jesus was not just an item on the shelf of Paul's life. Jesus is the shelf itself. Paul had a laser focus on Jesus, and ultimately nothing else mattered as long as he had Jesus.

When Jesus is all you live for, you will be surprised what you can live without. There is not cost to high, no persecution to great, and no suffering to overwhelming when Jesus is your treasure.

In fact the great irony is that it through those difficulties that the ecstatic joys of Christ increase. Just like a fine wine cleanses the palate and accentuates the flavor of the meal, so does suffering accentuate the depths of our knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul longs "I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (3:10). Paul wants to experience the joy of the resurrection of Christ and he knows that that joy comes through suffering.

Paul saw his chains not as obstacles to his joy but as catalysts. When you begin to see your trails not as obstacles in the way of your joy, but pathways to deeper joy there is nothing that life can throw at you that wills shake you.  The obstacles we fear become tools in God's hand for our joy and His glory.

2. Live Believing Dying is Gain.

Because Christ was Paul's chief treasure, he had a reckless fearlessness concerning his own life. Paul's chief concern is the glory of Christ and knows that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death (1:20). This is why Paul could say so boldly and confidently "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21).

Can you imagine that sort of freedom? Though Paul was chained to the imperial guard he was the freest man in the room. What could they do to him? If they keep him alive, he was going to live for Christ. If they kill him, great! He gets to be with his savior.

Christians should be the most fearless people on the planet. Because Christ has redeemed and set us free from the condemnation of our sin, the penalty of death is removed. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Rom 8:1). Therefore death is not a horrific, tragic end but a beautiful, new beginning. Paul, with Christ as his chief treasure, got this. Do you?

This is why he could go on to be content whatever the circumstances (see Chapter 4). Whether his stomach is filled or he hasn't eaten for days, Paul says he is content. Why? Because he is a man living for eternity. He is a man with his eye on the prize. He is a man striving for Christ and there is nothing on earth that can get in the way of his pursuit. He is running the race and pressing on to cross the finish line of death and receive his prize–his treasure, Jesus.

Do you live with such laser focus on Christ? Are you living as if dying is gain? Do you see the world through the lens of eternity? If so, there is no situation of your life that can still your joy.

3. See Your Hardships as Opportunities

I love Paul, because the man is sitting in prison and in chains. Though Paul is bound, the Gospel is not. In fact, it is spreading ever the more rapidly while Paul sits in his cell. Paul tells the church,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers having become more confident in the Lord by my imprisonment are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (1:12-14).

Isn't that amazing? When Paul gets locked up he doesn't throw a pity party. He doesn't say, "Ok God, I'm not sharing the Gospel with anyone until you get me out of here. I don't deserve this!" Nor does he say, "If God really cared about me he wouldn't have let me get arrested". No! Paul with Christ as his treasure continues to proclaim the Gospel to the audience the Lord has given–the prison guards. Even in his imprisonment, the Gospel was going forth and God was converting the guards. Not only that, but the Christians in the city are being stirred to evangelism through the example that Paul is setting. Rather than seeing his imprisonment as an affliction, he saw it as an opportunity to boldly proclaim Christ.

You're Right Where You Need to Be

I'm not sure what sort of situation you have found yourself. Maybe it is not ideal. Maybe it is not what you wanted. Maybe you are frustrated and burned out. Learn from the apostle Paul's example. Live with Christ as your treasure. Live knowing dying is gain. Live looking for opportunities to proclaim Christ. As you do you might just be surprised that this difficult place the Lord has placed you is right where he needs you to be.

Lessons From a Tragic News Week

If you have been even mildly been paying attention this week, you will know that it has been a tragic week for America. It seems like every time we turn on the news we are hearing of some devastating story. The Boston Bombing. Poision Letters. Explosions in Texas.

It seems like every time we turn around, especially this past week we are hearing account after account of evil and tragedy. However, observing all of these events and the discussions surrounding them, there are a few lessons about ourselves and the nature of reality that we can learn.

Human Beings Long to Know Why

Anytime some unspeakable tragedy happens the question of why develops. Whether it is Aurora, Newtown, or Boston, we want to understand what would motivate someone to do the hanous acts. Our questions reveal something about the way we were created. Our souls desperatly long for justice and we desperatly long for understanding. We crave meaning. We are purpose seekers. It is our questions that reveal that we are more than just biochemical reactions. We are more than just the result of random naturalistic process. Our constant search for answers reveals that we are created in the image of God. The law of God is written on our hearts. We long for justice and we long for answers because God has created us that way.

The Fall Has Corrupted Humanity

As we look for answers, the question of humanities nature rises to the fore front of our minds. Are humans basically good or evil? With the rise of the humanist movement, the argument is that humans are generally good. However events over this past week shatter the dillusion of humanism and prove that their beliefs about humanity and the world fail to hold up in the face of reality.

It is here I believe that the Christian faith provides the best answer to the question of why and the nature of humanity. Humanity was created good in the image of God. However due to the Fall, man's rebellion against God, sin has come into the world and corrupted the created order including the human heart. You see the Christian faith alone provides answers to why humans can do incredible altruistic good and at the same time do unspeakable evil. The reason humanity is capable of the boston bombings is because of sin's power and influence in this world. The world is not as it should be, and it is only by the restraining grace of God that things are not nearly as bad as they could be.

Humanity Knows that there is Absolute Truth

In an age were postmodernism continues to greatly influence and shape contemporary culture, deep down we know that truth is not relative but absolute. Reading the articles and hearing the news shows we still use absolute terminology by throwing words around like evil. Deep down we all know that there is right and there is wrong. There are moral absolutes that are not decided by popular consensus. The terminology of referring to the actions this week show that even a media far removed from a Christian worldview will acknowledge that some acts deserve the label of evil and rightly so.

Christ is the Only Hope for this Broken World

The tragedies over the past week reveal that we live in a broken world. The world is torn apart by sorrow, suffering, and death. As families mourn the loss of loved ones and as amputees heal and learn to live without their limbs, cries of anguish will be heard and tears will be shed. Here again, Christianity alone provides any sort of comfort to those suffering. Justice is coming and judgement will be had. At the return of Christ all the evils of this world will be abolished and the effects of sin will be removed. Christ will execute his judgement because he is faithful and true. We long for justice, and justice will be delivered by God.

However, we must remember that you and I are broken too. We are sinners and rebels deserving of judgement and punishment. Yet it was by the mercy of God that he sent his son Jesus to die in our place for our sins. This is the incredible truth of the Gospel! The justice of God is preserved and for those who place their faith in Jesus, they will be spared of the judgement to come by receiving forgiveness of sins.

Christ is the only hope for this broken world. As we mourn, grieve, and cry in response to this unspeakable tragedies that have unfolded this week may we cry "Come, Lord Jesus". The King is coming. He has risen from the grave. He is coming back for his church. Sin will be eliminated and evil will be defeated. The sufferings of this earth will pass away and the kingdom of our God and King will endure for eternity!

Stop Punishing Yourself For Your Sins

The cross is a glorious, God-ordained, tragedy. The young Jewish Rabai would be arrested in the dead of night, trialed by a lynch mob, and given up to be crucified to pacify a blood thirsty crowd. Jesus would be beat. He would be whiped. His skin would be swollen from pain and his muscles exposed as he is flogged. A crown of thorns would be shoved on his head, cutting into his skull. He was forced to carry a rugged cross on his bloodly exposed back to a hill called Golgotha, which means place of the skull. On that hill Jesus wouldld hang, nailed to a tree among other criminals. The perfect son of God hung naked as he suffocated, chocking on his own blood. All the while the crowd of people stand jerring, mocking, hurling insult after insult. That was the day humanity killed God. God himself hung on that cross. The horrific suffering of the cross is enough even to make the most hardned heart tremble.

When we think about the cross we must remember one thing. Jesus paid it all. On the cross, Jesus was enduring the wrath of God that you and I deserved. Jesus did this in our place. He was flogged instead of you. He was nailed instead of you. He was suffocating instead of you.

In the 13th and 14th century there were a group of radical Catholics who began to whip themselves in order to make pennace for their sin. This self-flagelation was done in order to purify the body for sins. They were doing it to punish themselves because of their sins. In fact, there are some who even attempt to do this today.

Although must of us don't particpate in self-flagelation, often times we do try to punish ourselves for our sin. We try to make ourselves pay for our short comings, punishing ourselves for our disobedience. We want to experience what Christ experienced. We want to suffer like Christ has suffered.

I suggest to you that this is a very dangerous practice. There is some truth to these desires. Our sins do deserve punishment. However, the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus has bore our punishment for us! We do not have to make penance for our sins, Jesus has. We don't have to suffer for our sins, Jesus has done it for us! We must be so very carefeul lest we add our own piety to the Gospel. Our sins do deserve punishment, but God has provided a scape goat - Jesus Christ the righteous one.

As you dwell on the events of Good Friday, remembering the death of Christ, praise God that Christ has endured the sufferings of the cross for you. For those who have faith in Christ, your sin has been paid for. Jesus has paid it all. There is no punishment for your sins, because Jesus was punished instead of you. This is why the tragedy of the cross is glorious! Because in the tragedy of Jesus God-ordained death, we have been washed clean by His blood. We are forgiven once and for all. There is no more work to be done and no more price to be paid. As Jesus cried out with his dying words, "It is finished!"

Was Jesus Forsaken by God on the Cross?

3647674018_d1aa8dac84_bOne of Jesus's last words on the cross is a mysterious phrase. As darkness sets over Jesus he cries out, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" It is interesting to note that even the most liberal and critical New Testament scholars believed that Jesus said "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Why? Because it seems like Jesus has finally cracked. His whole arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion Jesus says absolutely nothing in Mark's Gospel. "Like the sheep before its shearers, he is silent and does not open his mouth." But here in v. 34 Jesus finally breaks, crying out that he has been forsaken by God, believing that God had abandoned him, right? Well there is more going on here then meets the eye.

What Jesus cries out is the first line of Psalm 22. Jesus is quoting a Bible verse. You see, there were no chapters and verses in the bible originally. Those were added much latter. In Jesus' day, the way you referred to a passage was often by quoting the first line. This is what Jesus is doing here. So to understand what Jesus means by this cry we must turn to look at Psalm 22. Read through these few selected verses from Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2, ESV)

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”” (Psalm 22:6–8, ESV)

“For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:16–18, ESV)

The Psalm seems so clearly to point to Jesus that it is astonishing. On the cross Jesus was experiencing incredible physical suffering but also spiritual suffering as he was bearing God's righteous wrath for the sins of God's people.

Although Jesus quotes Psalm 22 in reference to his horrific, unjust death, I believe that Jesus is also quoting this Psalm in hope of his deliverance. Jesus was forsaken by God, but he had confidence that he would be delivered. When we look at Psalm 22 as a whole it makes much more since. Jesus quoting this Psalm indicates the extreme pain he was enduring, but he was also proclaiming his own deliverance.

In Psalm 22:19 the tone of the psalm changes from lament to hopeful deliverance:

"But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!"

Jesus was forsaken by God, but he had confidence that he would be delivered. When we look at Psalm 22 as a whole it makes much more since. Jesus quoting this Psalm indicates the extreme pain he was enduring, but he was also proclaiming his own deliverance.

Jesus quoting this Psalm causes the crowd to believe that Jesus is calling for the prophet Elijah to deliver him, so the crowd gives Jesus some sour wine to quench his thirst to see if he will hold on for a bit longer. This is not an act of compassion, but an act of hate. I think the crowd is wanting Jesus to hold on because I think they want Jesus to break. He had been being mocked and ridiculed and they want Jesus to feel the isolation of being abandoned by God.

What the crowd didn't know, is that Jesus would actually be delivered, not by Elijah, but by God himself. His deliverance would not be immediate, but delayed by 3 days when Jesus rises from the grave!

When we look at Jesus' words on the cross as Jesus quoting Psalm 22 we get much greater insight into what Jesus was thinking in the final hours of his life. Jesus did not believe he was abandoned by God, but knew that God would deliver him on the third day as he would rise again!

True Faith Perseveres

How is it we are saved?  As many would say, we are saved by faith alone.  That is absolutely 100% right.  We are saved by putting faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  However, the great danger is that we twist the doctrine of justification by faith into a get out of hell free card.  Many reduce this doctrine into simply praying a prayer when you were a kid and then your eternity is secure.  The danger is that we have turned faith into a one time decision not a life long decision.  In the Scriptures we see that true faith is a lasting faith.  Authentic faith is a faith that endures to the end.  Let me show you in 1 Peter 1. Salvation Comes through a Faith that Perseveres

In 1 Peter 1:6-9 Peter encourages a church in the midst of persecution.  He provides a reason for why they are suffering so incredibly.  Peter tells them that the reason they suffer various trials is so that their faith may be tested.  This means that trails in life are testing grounds to see if our faith is legitimate.  The hope is that the fires of suffering reveal whether our faith, "may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ".  It is in the perseverance of our faith that we receive the outcome of our faith, "the salvation of your souls".  This means that we receive our inheritance and our reward by enduring till the end.  True faith is a lasting faith that survives the various trials of life that come.  If we endure to the end, then we will receive our eternal reward given to us in Christ, the salvation of our souls.

Does this Mean we Earn our Salvation by Persevering?

No, we are justified by faith alone.  However our perseverance reveals whether our faith is real or fake.  To understand this truth better, we must look at the verses before in 1 Peter 1:3-5.  Peter blesses the Lord because "According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope".  In other words, God is the one who initiates our salvation causing our new birth and thus our faith.  As Peter continues he tells us about an inheritance we have that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading".  This inheritance, he tells us, is kept in heaven for us.  This is "by God's power being guarded".  You see our initial faith and our persevering faith is all the result of the power of God.  He is the causal agent that initiates the new birth, and He is the one who protects our inheritance and causes us to persevere to the end.  In other words, God finishes what he starts.  Our initial faith and our persevering faith is all an act of divine grace.  It is not of our own doing, but it is the gift of God.

Trusting in God's Power to Persevere

This means that we must pray and ask God to give us faith until the end.  The only way our faith will survive to the end is if the power of God sustains it.  This means we confess our utter dependency on the power of God.  We cling to the cross daily and rely daily on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let us then live our Christian life with the end in sight.  Salvation is more than praying a special prayer but a life sustaining faith in Jesus.  Over the course of our lives we will watch friends whom we thought were Christians reject Christ and reject the Gospel.  It is emotionally painful to watch, but we must remember that true faith survives till the end.  May we never cease to pray that God by his power would sustain our faith until we breathe our last breath and enter into His glory.