# 107 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 25 The Lord confides in those who fear him.

Perth to Launceston

Seeking wisdom, guidance, direction, are all so very natural for us as human beings, particularly when we are faced with difficult situations or tough decisions.

I remember the conversation with our friend Evan when he asked my wife and I about the possibility of moving approximately 4000 km across Australia to join the staff of a training college for cross-cultural workers. In fact, the very place we had trained at almost 30 years earlier!

At the time, it seemed a big ask! It would mean leaving our 3 married sons and our married daughter and at that time our 3 grandchildren (we now have 11). Considering our previous lifestyle serving in Pakistan for 11 years and the fact that our children attended a boarding school, saying ‘goodbye’ again wouldn’t be easy. It would also mean leaving the so-called “security” of an excellent job in nursing, at a time of expansion and possible promotion, to again join a ‘faith mission’ with no income other than from those who would support us. Also leaving my involvement in a growing media ministry working with some Afghan believers who were great friends, and then leaving our church where we were both very involved in leadership and worship. Moreover, we would need to pack up our house and seek to rent it out while we were away for a number of years (number unknown at that stage). So, we said we would prayerfully consider it.

The prayer of David in Psalm 25 would have been close to what we prayed at that time:

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Saviour,
and my hope is in you all day long.

The psalmist then goes on to reveal the basis of his confidence in God and why he considered that God would answer his prayer for guidance. He said:

Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

David acknowledges God’s mercy and love and despite knowing that he is not deserving of anything from God due to the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways, he also believes that God will forgive because all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful. Because of these great truths concerning the character of God he believes that He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

Kidner calls this “approach to divine guidance…personal and mature” and goes on to speak of the “marks of this prayer [as being]…first, persistence – a patient alertness for ’the first signal of his hand’ [i.e. ‘show me your ways’ (v.5) and ‘My eyes are ever on the Lord (v.15)]…second, penitence – recognizing that one is no apt or deserving pupil but a ‘sinner’ (v8), with a sinner’s bias and guilt; third, obedience – the…attitude implied in the word, humble  or meek (v.9)…and fourth, reverence [‘those who fear the Lord’’ in verses 12 and 14] – the simple piety that God honours with his ‘friendship’ [‘The Lord confides in those who fear him’ (v.14)]”   (see references # 29)

Blaiklock adds: “To know the will of God, and how it applies to personal circumstances is the final and most blessed security in life…A security indeed which makes the true follower of God a pupil in the school of truth, ready and willing to apply ultimate truth in all of life’s contexts, perplexities, decisions…It is because of [God’s] nature, His love, which emerges under rich and varied names in verse after verse, that sinners can expect, not chastisement, but instruction and guidance…[but our part is] gentleness and willingness to learn…patience that looks for reality…[and] humility [which] must precede all…[so] those who reverence God can expect to be guided…The friendship of the Lord can only be for those who trust Him.” (see references # 37)

Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha course gives examples of some simple practical ways that God guides today. They are through:

  1. Commanding Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16)
  2. Compelling Spirit (Acts 13:1-3)
  3. Common Sense (2 Timothy 2:7)

[I like John Stott’s comment: “God’s promises of guidance were not given to save us the problem of thinking!”]

  1. Counsel of the Saints (Proverbs 20:18)
  2. Circumstantial Signs (Proverbs 16:9)

Gumbel adds that we can also ask ourselves the following questions:

Is it loving? (1 John 4:16)

Is it in line with the Bible?

Is it strengthening, encouraging and comforting? (1 Corinthians 14:3)

Does it bring the peace of God? (Colossians 3:15)

From Alpha Series, Week 7, ‘How does God Guide Us?’ (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=alpha+series+2016+week+7)

So, in 2008, when we received the invitation mentioned above, we did pray and consider it carefully and came to the decision that it was indeed God’s plan for us, despite the many challenges. Eight and a half years later when we ‘retired’ and returned to our home and family, we had no regrets that we had obeyed when God had directed. I remember at some stage during those years having a conversation with our daughter concerning the ‘cost’ of being so far away from our family (especially every time another of our 8 more grandchildren arrived). She said something like, “As much as we all miss you, I would prefer parents who obeyed God and went, than those who disobeyed and stayed home!”

And, by the way, God honoured our decision and blessed our time at the college. Moreover he:

  1. provided for our families through others, including the other “grandmas and grandpas” (thanks!) and provided (on average) for us to return home twice a year to visit.
  2. My employer survived me leaving (😊) and God provided our needs in wonderful ways over the years. We were and are blessed with all we need!
  3. Another person took over my role as chairman of the media ministry and these days the ministry has grown from my Afghan friends producing radio programs to now producing Satellite TV programs!
  4. The church also survived us leaving (😊) and supported us over our years away. It was great to be involved with them again recently helping to facilitate the Alpha course.
  5. Then, our house was rented by the same excellent tenant for the whole 9 years!

So, the psalmist continues:

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

May we all seek God as we journey with him, and when he guides may we humbly obey!

Father, you are good! What a privilege to be your children and experience your good purposes for our lives. What a thrill to serve the Living God. May we seek your will in all that we do, and then respond with total obedience. Amen.

# 106 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 25 Honour and Shame

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Twice in Psalm 25 David asks God, “do not let me be put to shame”. I think, for most of us we would consider this a pretty reasonable request. For David though, this was especially relevant, who, similar to many people from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures today, lived in, what is called, an “honour and shame culture”.

One definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness [or due to an accusation, whether true or false] of wrong or foolish behaviour.” (Wikipedia) Another word often used is “loss of face”.

“Honor is a public claim to worth or value and a public acknowledgment of that claim. Positive shame is a concern for maintaining and protecting one’s worth, value, reputation. Negative shame is the loss of one’s honor. Refusing to be concerned about one’s honor is to be shameless.” (http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com)

So, David in Psalm 25 said:

In you, Lord my God,     I put my trust.

I trust in you;     do not let me be put to shame,     nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you     will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those     who are treacherous without cause…

20 Guard my life and rescue me;     do not let me be put to shame,     for I take refuge in you.

For someone like me, not being from a so-called “honour and shame culture”, it has sometimes been difficult to relate to the concept, even though I lived in Pakistan for 11 years, a typical “honour and shame culture”. I recall one day in Pakistan when I failed to be sensitive to this cultural norm.

It was a typical day in the clinic I worked in with about ten patients sitting around while I examined them, heard their histories and suggested a treatment. All were poor, illiterate farmers from the surrounding villages. Then, a 4-wheel drive vehicle pulled up in front of the clinic, which indicated a wealthy “landlord”, i.e. one of the people who owned the land that the farmers lived and worked on and from whom they received an income.

When he entered the clinic he asked me to go with him to see his daughter who he said was unwell. Having asked some questions concerning her “illness”, I determined that this was far from an emergency and so promised to come after I had closed the clinic in a couple of hours. Not used to being disobeyed, the landlord began to insist that I come right then. I was very conscious of the 10 patients who had travelled far (and definitely not by a 4 wheel drive!) and would have to leave not having been seen by me, and so again I said I would come after I had seen these waiting patients. The landlord, obviously not happy, abruptly left!

I was immediately informed by the waiting patients (whom I was concerned about) what a big mistake I had made! They told me that I should have gone with him and they would not have been worried about it, but rather, just left and returned the next day. Basically, I had dishonoured the man publicly (i.e. he had “lost face”) in front of those who were basically his “servants”. I never saw him again (or his daughter)!

Concerning this subject Longman, commenting on Psalm 25, gives further insight as follows:

“Biblical Israel was as an honour and shame society, in which ‘honor refers to the experience of being esteemed by one’s group or other social entities on the basis of embodying that which is deemed desirable, virtuous and socially productive. Shame refers, generally, to the opposite experience of being devalued and belittled on the basis of failing to measure up to or transgressing the same’ (deSilva 2008:287). To be shamed publicly has negative connotations. According to Pemberton, ‘to be “put to shame” means the loss of social position which negatively affects every familial relationship and business interaction. For an enemy to take honor (status) at the psalmist’s expense is no small matter in a society with foundations built on the bedrock of honor and shame (Pemberton 2012:81).”

So, in this psalm David desires that his enemy (by triumphing over him) would not get his way by causing David to “lose face” as the King in front of all those who were his “subjects”.  He desired to keep his honour, his reputation as a godly man. He had given a definition of such a person in previous psalms:

“The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to his neighbour, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honours those who fear the Lord; and keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.”  (Psalm 15:2-5)

Or the shorthand version:

“…one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” (Psalm 24:4)

Longman concludes: “Such an attitude and behaviour would win the praise of the community of the faithful. The psalmist’s present situation is problematic, however, because his enemies, who are treacherous (verse 3), are trying to shame him, although he is one who hopes in God. He calls on God to assert proper order by having shame come on those who are trying to shame him (verse 3).”   (see references # 30)

Maybe that is your situation and if it is, then follow David’s lead and cry out to the Lord, do not let me be put to shame.

 

Father, thank you that “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame”. Teach us to live lives that bring honour and praise to you and lives that cause us never to be ashamed. May we be those who have clean hands and a pure heart. In Jesus Name. Amen.

 

 

# 105 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 24 Worship the King of Glory.

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The Eastern Gates, Jerusalem, Israel.

Most of us don’t live in palaces or fortresses. Few of us are surrounded by huge stone walls with sentries standing on lookout for enemies. And most of our visitors don’t stand outside our formidable gates or “ancient doors” seeking to come inside. But, such was the way in the days of the psalmist who wrote Psalm 24. He says:

7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

All that has happened so far in this psalm has been leading up to this mighty climax, most probably, the entrance of a victorious army carrying the Ark of the Covenant, signifying the presence of the “Lord Almighty…the King of glory” into Jerusalem, the City of David.

Of course, as Blaiklock suggests, although the “Ark was a sign of God’s presence…David was clearly anxious that neither Ark nor hill should be considered the dwelling place of deity – like some tribal god, confined…to a narrow house. The Ark was no more than a symbol…Hence the stress [in verse 1] on the Lord’s work as Creator.”

And so, what follows is this interesting dialogue between those on the inside and those wanting to gain entrance.

Blaiklock describes the scene:
“…the gates of the old fortress of Zion are in view and dramatically the cry arises for their opening. ‘Gates, raise your arches, rise, you ancient doors,’ the Jerusalem Bible renders it, as though the very walls should open and the great wooden leaves swing back of their own accord before such a demonstration. God is coming in, throned in a multitude of hearts, as the glorious King.
‘Who is He?’ cries the single voice, dramatizing the watchman who demands name and password. The words and the answer are repeated. In the midst of the pageantry it must have been a thrilling moment…The Lord of Hosts, ‘the Commander of all heaven’s armies’ (LB), is demanding admittance.” (see references # 37)

The psalm doesn’t tell us, but I’m pretty sure that the gates were opened, and with great enthusiasm and awesome worship of the One described in this psalm as:
Creator: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
Holy: Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
Saviour: They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Saviour.
God of history: Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.
King of Glory: Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
The Lord, strong and mighty in battle: Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

So, how does this apply to us, as Christians, in 2017? Maybe the architecture has changed but little else about the state of mankind, and the sort of ‘spiritual warfare’ type activities happening in our world. If you live in the Korean Peninsula region of the world, there is the very real threat of nuclear war. If you live in the Middle East there are the ongoing wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. If you live in South America there is political unrest and strife happening in a number of countries. Then there is tension in Africa and terrorism in Europe. In Australia the pressures are different – with questions of same-sex marriage and other vital lifestyle issues being pressed for by certain minority groups.
No less than in David’s day, we need to be clear in our understanding of who the real enemy is, and Who is on our side. We need to remember that it is the LORD who created and owns this earth we live on is for us. He is sovereign over all the nations of the earth. We need to remember that He alone is Holy and Just and will work out his purposes throughout the nations. That he is the One and Only Saviour of the world, the one who came to save and not to condemn and so this is the message we proclaim. That he is the God of history, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and we are living in His-Story here and now. And that as messed up as our world is and as strong as the forces of evil may appear, our God is the King of Glory, strong and mighty in battle. Victory is ultimately His.

Whether we like to admit it or not, as Longman says, “Christians too are engaged in warfare [see Ephesians 6:12]. Psalm 24 encourages [us] that [our] God continues to fight for [us] in the midst of the turmoil of life. [We] also wait in hope for the future reappearance of [our] Warrior, Jesus Christ, who will bring all evil, human and spiritual, to an end.” (see references # 30)

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

Father, just as Elisha prayed, we ask, ’Open [our] eyes, Lord, so that [we] may see.’ Then , as you did then, ‘the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha,’ so may we see your world as you see it,  and live accordingly.  (2 Kings 6:17) Amen.