Friday, January 25, 2008

Psalm 27: Goodness

"I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (v.13)

I have one place of confidence,
one place of rest
and peace
and hope.
I have one place of surety,
where courage
can be found
and strength
waits for the taking.
I have one place of wisdom
where foolishness wanes
and truth grants freedom.
Alone I am not confident,
no pride in strength
or knowledge
or character.
I know who I am,
the duplicity of my heart,
the weakness of resolve,
the covert disloyalty
that makes me susceptible
to temptation's hook.
I have one place of confidence,
it isn't a theology
a book
a set of principles
a well-researched observation
a worldview.
No, my confidence is in You.
You are my hope because
You are Good.
I rest in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
in the goodness of your
I have learned
and I am learning
that the physical delights
of the created world
were not designed to be
the source
and hope
of my confidence.
No, all of those things
in their temporary elegance
were meant to be
that point me to the
always available
always holy
goodness that can only be found
in You.
I have learned
and I am learning
that confident living
always rests its foundation
on You.
I am confident
because of this solitary thing,
You are
and you are good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Psalm 27: Why Would God Ever Answer Me?

"Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me." (v.7a)

I never get used to the moment by moment miracle of prayer. It's an amazing thing that God would ever even once listen to me, let alone answer! In little moments and big, again and again, I choose my own kingdom over his. I often run to him for help for messes that in my foolishness and rebellion I've made. I've no righteousness to present as an argument that he should hear me. I've no autonomous wisdom that I can present as a reason for his attention. I've no independent track record of good deeds that would get his attention. I've often been more fickle than loyal. I often justify my sin rather than seek his forgiveness. I struggle with being more attracted to the temporary pleasures of this physical world than I am committed to godly living. The desires of my heart wander again and again. I forget my identity as his child, and in my amnesia seek identity where it was never meant to be found. Again and again I contradict the theology that I say I believe with the way that I live. I sadly have to ask for his forgiveness for the same things over and over again. Undeserving is the way I always stand before him.

This is precisely why David appeals to God's mercy as he prays. He can't look to himself for any reason that God would listen and respond. Yet, the miracle of his existence and ours is that he doesn't have to fear God's rejection or fall into thinking that prayer is an exercise in spiritual futility. Why? Because God is his own reason for answering. Prayer finds its hope, not in the qualifications of the one praying, but in the character and plan of the God who's hearing. He answers because of who he is. He answers because of what he's doing. He answers because he loves to see us come and he loves to provide just the grace for that moment.

Maybe you're thinking, "Paul, be more specific. Why exactly would God respond to me.?" Here are five reasons:

1. Because of his love. He's the ultimate wise, patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving father. He delights in his children. Because of his great love, his eyes look out for us and his ears are always attentive to our cries. Because of his love, he invites us to bring our cares to him and he assures us that he really does care for us. He's never too busy, or distracted, or too tired to hear and answer. He doesn't refuse to answer because of our weakness and failure. He doesn't get impatient because we have to come again and again. He is love and he loves to exercise his power and glory to meet the needs of his struggling children.

2. Because of his grace. Grace provides the whole structure and standing of our relationship with him. If it weren't for the grandeur of his forgiving grace, we would have no relationship with him at all. Because of his grace, he's unwilling to rest until the work of transformation is complete. In grace he looks on us and knows that this work isn't done. We've not yet been completely formed into the likeness of his Son. Although the power of sin has been broken, he knows that the presence of sin still remains. He hears our prayers because, when we pray, we confess that we still need the grace of forgiveness and deliverance, and in so doing, place ourselves in the center of what he's committed himself to complete; his work of redemption.

3. Because of his faithfulness. He doesn't change his mind. He doesn't ride the roller coaster of the rise and fall of emotions. His heart isn't a battle-zone of conflicting motivations. He doesn't get bored, exhausted, or distracted. He won't quit what he's begun. He won't forsake those upon whom he's placed his love. He won't harden his heart, shut down his mind, and turn his back. He won't take a break or go to sleep. He will never tell you that you've asked too much or you've come to him too often. You never have to work to figure him out. You never have to wonder if his response to you will change. He's absolutely faithful to every promise he's made and every provision he's offered. Your hope in prayer is rooted in his faithfulness, not yours.

4. For the sake of his kingdom. As I come him in the patterns laid out by Christ and pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," I pray words that bring him delight. He loves the exercise of his will. He finds joy in the success of his kingdom. The spiritual growth and prosperity of his children means the growth and prosperity of his kingdom. He is King and he delights in his children recognizing his lordship and submitting to his rule. Every good thing he does for his children is done to rescue them from their self-focused kingdom of one, and to welcome them into the expansiveness of his kingdom of glory and grace. And his ears will continue to be attentive and his hands will be active until his kingdom has been fully and completely established forever.

5. For the sake of his glory. The thing that God is most committed to is his own glory. But here's what you need to understand. His commitment to his own glory is your only hope. Because he's committed to his own glory, he's committed to draw to himself a multitude of people who forsake their own glory and do the one thing that they were created to do; live for his. So his commitment to his own glory causes him to listen and respond, listen and respond until all of his children no longer look to the shadow glories of creation for their satisfaction, but rather look to him. Because he's committed to his own glory, I can go to him in prayer knowing that he'll hear and he'll answer.

So even though you've nothing to bring to the Lord that would commend you to him, you can approach him with confidence. He really does delight in hearing and answering his children. Your hope in prayer is never found in you, it's always found in him.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Psalm 27: You're Talking to Yourself

"My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" (v.8)

I find myself saying it all the time. When people hear it they laugh, but actually I'm being quite serious when I say it. Here it is. No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. You're in an unending conversation with yourself. You're talking to yourself all the time, interpreting, organizing, and analyzing what's going on inside you and around you.

You may be talking to yourself about why you feel so tired. Or maybe you woke up this morning with a sense of dread and you're not sure why. Perhaps you were surprised by how angry you got at the remark of that co-worker. Or maybe you're rehearsing to yourself your schedule for the day, wondering why you agree to so many things in one day. Perhaps you're reliving a conversation that didn't go too well. Or maybe you preparing yourself for a conversation that may be difficult by conjuring up as many renditions as you can imagine, so you can cover all the contingencies. Maybe your mind has traveled back to your distant past and, for reasons you don't understand, you're recalling events from your early childhood. Or maybe you're simply telling yourself to "buck up,", "slow down," "hang in there," or "take charge."

The point is that you are constantly involved in an internal conversation that greatly influences the things you decide, say, and do. In Psalm 27, David lets us eavesdrop on his internal conversation. He's exhorting himself, in the midst of his trouble, not to run away from God, but to run toward him. Now that's good self-counsel!

What do you regularly tell yourself about yourself, God, and your circumstances? Do your words to you encourage faith, hope, and courage? Or do they stimulate doubt, discouragement, and fear? Do you remind yourself that God is near, or do you reason within yourself, given your circumstances, that he must be distant? Do you encourage yourself to run to God even when you don't understand what he's doing? Or do you give yourself permission to back away from him when you are confused by the seeming distance between what he's promised and what you're experiencing? Are you your own best defense lawyer, laying out arguments for your innocence in places where you're actually guilty? When others talk to you, is your internal conversation so loud that it's hard to concentrate on what they're saying?

Here's the question. How wholesome, faith-driven, and Christ-centered is the conversation that you have with you every day? Do you remind yourself of your need? Do you point you, once again, to the beauty and practicality of his grace? Do you tell yourself to run toward God in those moments when you feel like running from him?
Would you be comfortable with someone playing a public recording of the private conversation you have with you every day?

No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. How well are you counseling you? Reach out for help one more time today. Confess that you don't counsel yourself very well and rest in the rescuing grace of the One who is called the Wonderful Counselor.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Psalm 27: The Shortest Distance between Two Points

"Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my enemies." (v.11)

My Dad was the guru of shortcuts. He lived on an endless quest for the shortest route to all of the places to which he regularly drove. My Mom used to kid my Dad that most of his shortcuts were in fact "longcuts." In his search for the shortest distance to wherever, my Dad would say again and again, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line."

The life to which God has called us is the ultimate straight line. This line starts with dead rebels and ends with people alive and reformed into the likeness of God's Son. The problem is that our living is seldom a straight line. We all take daily detours of thought and desire that move us off the straight path that God has placed us on by his grace. He has redeemed us from the jungle of our rebellion, lust, autonomy, foolishness, and self-focus and placed us on the narrow pathway of his Son. The problem is that we all tend to get tricked into taking detours that get us off God's path and into trouble.

Our problem is two-fold. First we get diverted because we are impatient. The trip to where God is taking us is not an event, it's a process. And the process isn't easy. God's road takes us through the heat of the sun, through storms and cold, through the dark of night, through loneliness and confusion. So, we get tired and impatient and begin to convince ourselves that there's a better way. But, this isn't all. We get diverted because we're disloyal. Our hearts aren't yet fully committed to God's glory and his kingdom. We're still attracted to the shadow glories of creation and we still carry around in us allegiance to the small-agenda purposes of the kingdom of self. So in our impatience and disloyalty, we see pathways that appear easier and more comfortable, but they only ever lead to danger.

There's no time when this temptation is more powerful than when we're facing difficulty. This is exactly what the verse we're considering recognizes. When you are being hammered by the enemy, it's very tempting to debate within yourself as to whether God's way is the best way. It starts with bad attitudes. Perhaps you begin to doubt God, doubt his goodness, and question his love. Perhaps you give way to anger, impatience, and irritation. Or maybe you begin to allow yourself to envy. You wonder why the guy next to you has such an easy life, when yours is so hard. These bad attitudes lead to bad habits. You quit praying because you reason that it doesn't seem to be doing any good. You stop reading your Bible because those promises don't seem to be coming true in your life. You quit attending your small group because you can't stand to hear the stories of God's love that others share, when your life is so hard. You even begin to give yourself reason for missing the Sunday worship service, reasons you once wouldn't have given yourself. Before too long there's a coldness and distance in your relationship with God that would have shocked you in the early days of your faith. Your difficulty has deceived you into thinking that you've reason for wandering off God's straight path, and your attitudes and habits have placed you on the dangerous side-paths of the kingdom of self.

Have you gotten off God's straight path? Have you given yourself reason to take side-paths? How about praying, once again today, "Teach me your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path."?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Psalm 27: Mercy Prayer

"Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me." (v.7)

I have no resume
to hold before you,
no track record of accomplishments,
no letters of commendation,
no rights of birth or ethnicity.
I hold nothing
that would place you in my debt,
that could curry your favor,
that would obligate you.
I wish unbridled zeal
would commends me to you.
I wish unbroken obedience
would draw your attention.
I wish model wisdom and model love
would convince you that I'm worthy.
But I have none of these things
to offer you.
I stand before you with shoulders bent
and hands that are empty.
I approach you with no
argument in my mind
or words to offer in my defense.
I stand before you
naked and undeserving,
broken and weak.
I am quite aware of the
duplicity of my heart,
the evil of my choices,
and the failure of my behavior,
but I am not afraid
because I stand before you
with one argument,
with one plea.
This argument is enough.
This plea is sufficient.
This argument is the only thing
that could ever give me
and sturdy hope.
So I come before you
with this plea;
your mercy.
Your mercy is my rest.
Your mercy is my hope.
Your mercy makes me bold.
Your mercy is all I need.
Your mercy
tells me you will hear.
Your mercy
tells me you will act.
Your mercy
tells me you will forgive.
Your mercy
tells me you will restore.
Your mercy
tells me you will strengthen.
Your mercy is my
and my rescue.
I rest in this one thing,
You are mercy
You will answer.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Psalm 27: Uber Music

"I will sing and make music to the Lord" (v.6)

While the minor-key music
of the fallen world
drones on
sung by the choir
of the lost,
the blind,
the deceived,
the wounded,
the poor,
the weak,
the rebel,
the lame,
the willful,
and the enslaved,
singing the sad notes
of a world
once beautiful,
now broken,
of hearts
once pure,
now corrupted,
of darkness
where light was meant to be,
of death,
where life was meant to flourish,
of slavery
where freedom was designed to reign,
You have given me
a song to sing.
It is a song
of boundless love.
It is a song
of rescuing grace.
It is a song
of tender mercy.
Its verses tell
how redeeming hands
touched a broken world,
giving life again
giving freedom again
giving peace again
giving hope again
giving broken hearts
a reason to sing again.
Its chorus swells
to heights never before sung
and its constant refrain
Alleluia to the Lamb,
Your grace
has placed in my mouth
the only song worth singing.
Your love
has placed on my tongue
the only words worth repeating.
Your mercy
has returned to my heart
the only music worth playing.
It is the song of songs,
and one million years
into eternity
it will be
as beautiful and new
as the moment
the first note was sung.