# 109 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 27 “crippled gumtrees”

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“The Leaning Tree” – “caused by constant strong southerly winds” – Greenough, WA.

According to the description of this particular Eucalyptus tree, it “is known to be a hardy grower, though it has weak branches.”

Certainly, it appears to be an extremely resilient tree, growing in a region in northern Western Australia, close to the ocean, with minimal rainfall, plenty of hot summers and of course those “constant strong southerly winds”. Randolph Stow in his book, “The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea” (1968), described the scene as, “On the windswept flats, crippled gumtrees washed their hair.” These River Gums survive and grow (if only along the ground) despite the odds against them.

Maybe a good illustration of some resilient people you know, and if not, certainly it could describe the psalmist in Psalm 27. Consider some of the language used by the psalmist in this psalm to describe the things he was under pressure from at the time of writing:

Verse 2: “the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes…”

Verse 3: “Though an army besiege me…though war break out against me…”

Verse 5: “the day of trouble…”

Verse 6: “the enemies who surround me…”

Verse 10: “Though my father and mother forsake me…”

Verse 12: “false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.”

And yet, despite all these “constant strong southerly winds”, the psalmist begins his prayer poem with the words:

The Lord is my light and my salvation–     whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–     of whom shall I be afraid?

Pretty inspiring words from a “crippled gumtree”!

As I observed this tree, I realized that for the early part of its life, before it grew to about 2 metres tall, it grew straight upwards, as is the norm. And yet, all during this time, those “constant strong southerly winds” blew. What changed? Why was it no longer able to withstand the winds and so succumbed and became the now well photographed “leaning tree” that it is today?

Maybe the winds grew stronger or, maybe, it is as the description above says, it “is known to be a hardy grower, though it has weak branches.” Ah, those “weak branches”!

Not so obvious in this psalm of David, but in others, he reveals just how aware he is of his own “weak branches” that so often were the cause of his downfall, that created such regrets, that hurt himself and others and disappointed his God. The most obvious description being in Psalm 51:

“O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions…I admit my shameful deed…I was born a sinner…Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires…Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you…A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not ignore.” (Living Bible)

David knew the feeling of being a “crippled tree”, one with a “broken and contrite heart”, but he also knew that his God and King was “loving and kind” and able to restore him to Himself despite his failures.

And so in Psalm 27, he is able to say in the midst of his troubles:

When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes     who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me,     my heart will not fear; though war break out against me,     even then I will be confident.

No matter how much of a “crippled tree” you and I may feel and no matter what the “constant strong southerly winds” are in your life and mine today, we too can say, “my heart will not fear” and be confident in God to enable us to grow stronger in Him, because as David says:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—     whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—     of whom shall I be afraid?

There lies his secret – The Lord!

I recently received the following from a friend and considering its relevance to this psalm thought I would add it on here:

Truths to Hold When the Path Gets Tough: The Resilience Creed (taken from a blog site by Sheridan Voysey). Sheridan writes that some days we wake to a world of crystal skies and bright possibilities. And other days it’s to rain pelting our windows and thunder rattling our roofs. He then asks how can we stay strong when the storms of life hit? Is it possible not just to weather these trials, but bound back even stronger through them? Many churches have statements of faith they adhere to, called creeds. Some even recite famous one like the Apostle’s Creed weekly in their services. But as Tony Horsfall points out, in times of trial it isn’t these kinds of creeds we usually turn to, but what we know in our hearts about God.  So how about a Resilience Creed that expresses truths we can hold to in times of adversity and pain? Here is Tony’s creed:

I believe that God is working all things together for my good                                                     I believe that nothing can separate me from the love of God that is mine in Christ Jesus   I believe that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength                                   I believe that God is faithful, and will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear, but will also provide a way of escape                                                                                                      I believe that his grace is sufficient for me, and that his strength is made perfect in my weakness                                                                                                                                                 I believe that he who began a good work in me will bring it to completion                           I believe that nothing can take me from his hand I believe that Christ will never leave me nor forsake me                                                                                                                                       I believe that in every circumstance the Holy Spirit is my Comforter, Counsellor and Helper                                                                                                                                                       I believe that God will use every trial to refine me and to make me stronger, wiser and more compassionate

(c) 2017 Tony Horsfall (author of the book Working from a place of rest)

[Tony Horsfall’s creed is based on the following scriptures:  ➢ Romans 8:28 ➢ Romans 8:38-39 ➢ Philippians 4:13 ➢ 1 Corinthians 10:13 ➢ 2 Corinthians 12:9 ➢ Philippians 1:6 ➢ John 10:29 ➢ Hebrews 13:5 ➢ John 14:15 ➢ 1 Peter 1:7]

 

Father, thank you that you are loving and kind and always with us in the good times as well as the tough times of our lives. Thank you, Jesus, that you too have experienced those “constant strong southerly winds” and understand what we are going through and able to give us the grace and strength to be resiliently and continue on faithfully following you. Amen. 

 

 

# 108 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 26. Search me, God.

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Vindicate me, Lord.  (Psalm 26:1)

Anyone who has ever been in a position of spiritual leadership has most probably had the experience that David describes here in Psalm 26. Of feeling the need, when accused falsely, to be vindicated. Sometimes the accusation is simply due to misunderstanding or miscommunication. Other times it is due to gossip or broken relationships, or maybe jealousy resulting in slanderous talk.  Whatever the reason it is a tough time for the one accused.

So, how does David handle false accusations? Well, the most important action he takes is to talk to his God about it. Listen to his words:

Vindicate me, Lord,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
and have not faltered.

There is no mention in the psalm what exactly he is being accused of, but what is denied by him is that he is not like those who are accusing him, whose lives are lived in ways that he avoids as a faithful follower of Yahweh.

He continues:

I do not sit with the deceitful,
nor do I associate with hypocrites.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, Lord,
proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.

And, he is willing for God to check him out and see if this is true or not, so he says:

Test me, Lord, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.

A big prayer! Maybe it is even a dangerous prayer, to allow our lives to be completely transparent before a Holy God for his assessment of us. Blaiklock calls it a “salutary and subduing prayer to pray” and suggests that “Suddenly to find such a prayer answered might be a painful experience.”  (see references # 37)

David prays a similar thing in Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Often it is difficult to really “understand” what is in our “hearts” and our “minds”, until all of a sudden God reveals it, and often we are shocked by our true motivation, our true feelings, the actual desires of our hearts.

I remember sitting in a worship service one morning a few years ago and listening to a young preacher speak. He was sharing his story and told of, what was, in my opinion, a pretty idyllic upbringing within a stable family life and loving parents. I couldn’t help comparing my own ‘dysfunctional’ family life and the pain and struggle that had resulted, and so felt a twinge of envy that this had not been my lot in life. I didn’t ask God to “search me… and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts”, but He did anyway! And, in the quietness, the Lord spoke and said, “Did I make a mistake, Rod?” Immediately, I answered back what I knew to be true, “No, Lord, you didn’t make a mistake.” In fact, it was in that particular church that for a number of years I had had the privilege of being involved in a “recovery ministry” to other men (some from dysfunctional families) who struggled with various issues, some that I too had struggled with, and so, was able to be of some help to them.

So, David continues his prayer:

Lord, I love the house where you live,
the place where your glory dwells.
Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with those who are bloodthirsty,
10 in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me.

12 My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.

Broyles suggests, “The key factor in this [psalm]…is not absolute moral purity – it is a question of allegiance: is one loyal to the assembly of the wicked or to the assembly of Yahweh’s worshipers? It is about loyalty not legalism…In sum, Psalm 26 petitions Yahweh to verify [the psalmist’s] loyalty to Yahweh’s worship and mercifully to redeem him from the judgement of the wicked…” (see references # 4)

So, in verse 1 the psalmist begins by saying,

[Because] I have [relied on and] trusted [confidently] in the Lord without wavering I shall not slip.

And concludes in verse 12 with the words:

My foot stands on a level place;  [because] In the congregations I will bless the Lord.   (Amplified Version)

Longman concludes, “At the end, the psalmist again asserts the stability of his life. He has not faltered, but rather stands solidly on level ground, and he intends to continue to praise God in the public place of worship.” (see references #30)

Paul in his letter to the Ephesian believers to encourage them in times of persecution, says:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…   (Ephesians 6)

Father, thank you that in times of trouble, you are with us, and in your mercy and grace, you deliver us. Thank you that victory over evil is ours in Christ, and in your mighty power, as we trust in you, we shall not slip over but stand our ground, standing firm on level ground as we bless your holy name. Amen.

# 107 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 25 My hope, Lord, is in you.

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Watching the news on TV has its positives and negatives. The positive’s being that at least we have some idea (if not necessarily the ‘whole truth’) of what important things are happening around the world. The negatives being that these events are, more than often, overwhelmingly devastating, impacting people in terrible ways. But, we still like to be up to date and particularly in the light of the fact that many of our friends live cross-culturally in these nations where tragedy of some type is happening.

For example, friends serving in Cambodia living in the midst of monsoon flooding; friends serving in Spain in the midst of internal political strife related to the Catalan people; friends serving in Iraq where the issues relate to the Kurdish people; friends serving in Mexico in the midst of earthquakes; others in Japan, and in Korea, and so the list goes on.

And, not only are there expatriate friends living there, but there are the national people and amongst them the many national believers, the Church, who struggle in the midst of injustice, internal conflict, natural disasters, etc.

Psalm 25, most probably written by David, was relevant to whatever situation he found himself in when he wrote it, thousands of years ago. But, it is still very relevant to so many people in 2017 who find themselves in the midst of troubles. Maybe you are one of them? If so, this prayer psalm is for you. You can, like David, pour out your struggles to God, remembering, and being encouraged by all that David has reminded us about our faithful and good God up to this point in this psalm (i.e. verses 1-15).

And so David prays to the Lord:

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord, is in you.

22 Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

In these verses David uses a number of verbs describing what he desires God to do for him, such as:

Turn to me…be gracious to me…relieve the troubles…free me…look on my affliction…take away my sins…see how numerous…guard my life.

I wonder, how often in our requests to God do we use such language? How bold are we as we talk over with our King the issues in our lives? It seems that David’s relationship with God was so intimate that he could talk over anything and everything and never considered that there were any subjects too insignificant or irrelevant to bring before God. And, I think, maybe even more important, was that David had little doubt that God was able to do as he requested and that He even desired to answer David’s prayers – even if not exactly in the way David would have liked.  In other words, David’s understanding of who God was, and of His ways, although not perfect and ever growing, was such that he was emboldened to pray as he did.

Longman suggests that “this prayer is a model for those who suffer, particularly at the hands of others, to call on God to help them. It expresses a fundamental trust that God will indeed answer the prayer, in spite of the supplicant’s acknowledgement of sin. It speaks of an eagerness to learn more from God and to grow in relationship with him, based on the covenant.” (see references # 30)

But, as Wilcock says, “the prayer…is a recognition of the forces arrayed against one who seeks to learn God’s ways. There are enemies who see this precious intimacy between the believer and his Lord as their key target. The maintaining of it must therefore be my chief aim.” (see references # 5)

When we turn to the New Testament we are encouraged to be confident and bold when it comes to praying to our Heavenly Father. In the letter to the Hebrews, for example, the author writes concerning ‘Jesus the Son of God’, calling him our ‘great high priest’. He exhorts us to ‘hold firmly to the faith we profess”. Why? Because Jesus is ‘a high priest who is [able] to empathize with our weaknesses’ because when on earth he was ’tempted [by the enemy] in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.’ So, says the writer of Hebrews, ‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Father, the world around us seems to be filled with bad news and desperately needs good news. Thankyou that the story of Jesus is not only good news but great news. A story of love, grace and mercy, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of present peace in the midst of suffering and of future hope and joy in your presence forevermore. Teach us your ways for the glory of your Name. Amen.