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Psalm 16: Always Before Me

“I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:7-8)

If you’ve been following David’s train of thought in Psalm 16 this week, today’s passage should seem like the next logical stop. If you’re convinced that all good things come from God, that those who put 100 percent of their hope in him are happier, and that he is providing for you today – and forever – then:

jump_350You wouldn’t stop thinking about him, listening to him, talking to him, learning about him. So why do so many of us do exactly the opposite?

We gather on Sunday morning and sing words like, “My only hope is you!” and “Great is the Lord and worthy of glory!” and “You are my rock and my salvation!” And then we walk out the door and think about him as little as possible until the next Sunday, maybe checking in with him in our minds once or twice a day as an act of duty.

I can think of three reasons I sometimes try to move thoughts of God off of my daily playlist: One, I want to spend some time doing things I know he doesn’t like (sin). Two, I’m not fully convinced God is God in my life, that he really is the source of all good things. Or, three, I’m crazy in the head, behaving as irrationally as someone who has forgotten that one and one is two.

Think: Why do you think anyone would avoid learning about or responding to the one source of all good things? How often do you ignore God? Why?

Pray: Thank God that he counsels you through his Word. Ask him to help you to set him always before you.

Do: Notice this week what percentage of your thoughts involve God in one way or another, even if he’s just “there” while you’re thinking about other things.

Psalm 16: J.J. Abrams and the God of Time

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6)

Are you a fan of writer/director/producer/entertainment philosopher J.J. Abrams? If you have seen some of his work – the “Star Trek” movies, “Lost,” “Fringe,” “The Force Awakens,” etc. – you may have noticed that he wants you to think really hard about time travel.

jump_350More specifically, he wants you to wrestle with the ages-old debates about whether our paths are predetermined or whether we might be able to change our destiny. It’s a fun bone to chew on, but it’s also one that leaves us asking some difficult personal questions.

If I could go back and change my past, would I? Is my “present reality” good enough? What is good? Should I accept things as they are or make every effort in my power to change my reality? If I had unlimited free will and unlimited power to change everything, would I make it better – or far worse? And, finally, what does any of this have to do with Psalm 16?

Only this: David said to the one true God: “You are the only source of good things in my life. I will choose to be content with whatever you give me today – to enjoy it, even – and to look forward to all the good things you’ll give me forever.”

Whatever the answer to all those sticky questions, David focused in this psalm on tuning his heart to God’s goodness – and left the past, present, and future up to his powerful, loving, trustworthy Father.

Think: Tell yourself the truth: Are you willing to trust God with how your life turns out today, with the good things you do and don’t end up with? Do you think you are a source of good; do you think you could create more good things in the universe if you could change the past, the present, or the future?

Pray: Thank God for what he has provided for you today, for your lot in life right in this moment. Ask him to help you to trust him to provide exactly what you need – and much much more – tomorrow and forever.

Do: Read Hebrews 13:4-6 and think about what sexual purity, contentment, and the love of money have to do with trusting the God of time.

Psalm 16: I Will Not

“As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.” (Psalm 16:3-4)

To get the full impact of today’s passage, it helps to read the one before it again: “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ ”

jump_350David describes two big differences between people who are willing to agree with God that without him they “have no good thing” – and people who look everywhere else but God for good things.

The first difference is emotional. Those who chase false gods (of all kinds) in hopes of finding good things for themselves will end up sad. And then sadder. And then sadder still. Those who enjoy good gifts from the one true God will have, well, enjoyment.

Two, David refuses to hedge his bets. He refuses to add any other gods to his worship playlist just in case the God of the universe didn’t come through for him, after all. He was convinced that God never fails. He put 100 percent of his hope in the God who is One.

Think: Most of us don’t worship idols or practice other religions. Our worship is for God alone. But do we sometimes disobey or ignore him in hopes of finding good things without him? What are some of the things modern Christians are tempted to turn into “other gods”?

Pray: Thank God that he is the only source of goodness in your life. Ask him to help you to notice when you start hoping for good things from false sources.

Do: Make a quick list of 10 good things God has given to you that you will enjoy today, and then take a minute to thank him for each of them.

Psalm 16: No Good Thing

“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ ” (Psalm 16:2)

One of the major growing-up steps in the Christian life is to be able to say – and believe (much harder) – the statement David makes to God in this verse.

jump_350It’s a dangerous faith statement. To believe it is to leave all the false self-hope behind. To believe it is to say, “Everything I thought I’d given to myself was actually God’s gift to me.” To believe it is to say, “Every good thing I don’t have right now is something my loving Father didn’t give to me – so I must not need it in this moment.”

To believe this statement – and all the implications it brings – is to step into the deeper end of the faith pool. It’s an idea that should fill us with gratitude as we notice all the good things we have. But it’s also one that will challenge our willingness to trust the powerful Father who knows us best to give us what he decides is for our good in his timing.

Think: How convinced are you that you have no good thing apart from God? Is there a difference between agreeing with this idea on paper and actually living like it’s true?

Pray: Thank God that he is the source of every truly good thing in your life. Ask him to help you to trust his timing to provide you with good things in the future.

Do: Read another expression of this idea in James 1:16-18.

Psalm 16: Keep Me Safe!

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)

We’re going to spend this next week listening to how the songwriter David worshipped God in Psalm 16. I wish we could hear the music, but the words – written under the inspiration of the subject of the song – hold deep secrets about what it means to trust him and enjoy the life he gives to us.

jump_350Ever wonder what the most popular prayer in history might be? My guess is that these words would make the top 5: “Keep me safe!” David spent years at war, in battle, and on the run for his life from powerful enemies. Aside from armed conflict, I bet this request gets used a lot in heavy traffic, in hospitals, and even in sleepless bedrooms.

David was convinced that God’s answer was loud and clear: “Yes!” And that faith provoked him to put all of his eggs in one basket, all of his hope for safety in the hands of one loving, powerful, and good God.

Think: When are you most likely to feel the least safe? Is your first instinct to ask God for help? Are you convinced that he hears and answers that prayer?

Pray: Ask God for the courage to put all of your hope for safety in his hands. Thank him that he is trustworthy to provide for all of your needs in every kind of dangerous situation you might face.

Do: Make a quick list of 3 of the most dangerous moments in your life up until this point. Think about how God protected you in those moments.

Peace Week 2!: Love Life and See Good Days

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10 – 12)

Would you like to love life and see good days? Sounds like a trick question, doesn’t it? Sounds like someone is trying to sell you something by offering a deal that’s too good to be true. I understand the skepticism, but it’s way simpler than that.

peace_350Peter is quoting David here to make the case that right living is always better living. Right living is usually simpler, too. Saying hurtful things; telling lies; doing evil stuff – it all makes life so complicated. It feels simple at first, because it comes so naturally. But the result is confusion and stressful work to keep all of our evil hidden (sometimes from ourselves).

Instead, David and Peter say: Just do good. Just say right out loud: “My goal is to find peace and do good for God. Oops, I messed up. My bad. My new goal is to find peace and do good.” God is for us when we make that our simple goal.

Think: Why do you think that simply trying to do good and find peace would lead to loving life and seeing good days? Why would doing wrong and telling lies lead to hating life and seeing bad days? Can it really be that simple?

Pray: Ask God to give you the simple desire to do right things for him, to tell the truth, and to chase peace – and ask him to help you to love life and see good days because of that.

Do: Read all of Psalm 34 to hear the full context of David’s psalm.

Peace Week 2!: Who Wants Quiet?

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

These two verses are bursting with big ideas worth talking about, but I want to focus on just one of them. Why does Paul want us to pray for those in authority over us? So we can live peaceful and quiet lives . . . in all godliness and holiness.

peace_350This verse bothered me for a long time. I didn’t want to live a peaceful and quiet life. I wanted to live a life of noisy excitement, great adventure, and action-packed thrill rides. What I learned, though, is that you don’t grow very deep in godliness and holiness on the action-packed days.

You might grow faith in the storm when all you can do it trust God to get you through – but you’re more likely to grow holiness in the stillness. It takes some peace and quiet to know more fully the God we serve.

I don’t know any longtime Christians who don’t have enough action in their lives. But the ones who have embraced the quiet moments with the Father seem a lot stronger when life gets noisy again.

Think: Which appeals to you more today, action or quiet? How can you make the most of peace and quiet, in terms of getting to know God better? Do you have a plan for the peaceful days – or do you try to fill them with more noise?

Pray: Pray for the people in authority in your life to do their jobs well in order to provide you with some peace and quiet in which to practice godliness and holiness.

Do: Find a whole hour sometime this week in which you do nothing but sit – awake! – without any music, TV, Internet, cell phone, or anything else. Use the hour to talk to God about anything and everything – and otherwise to just sit.