“Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
While I live I will praise the Lord;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”
Praise is pretty common. If you have ever watched a sporting event you will hear it. One team goes ahead in the final seconds and the arena bursts forth in praise. Sometimes however the opposing team hits the final shot at the buzzer and the crowd is stunned into silence and the praise evaporates from the room.
Often we approach God in the same way. If all is well in the world we offer him praise, but as soon as things become difficult we have nothing to offer except complaint. We base our praise on our emotional condition rather than basing it upon who God is and what He has done. Regardless of what our day is like God is worthy of praise. Rain or shine, blessing or buffeting, joy or sadness, God is still the one who loves us, saved us and promises to work in and through us. If we are in the midst of a difficult season of life it is important that we do not lose sight of God or become consumed with our grief. Whatever hardship we are facing Jesus is still alive from the dead, seated at the right hand of the Father, sending forth His Spirit to work in our lives and preparing a place in eternity for us. While we cannot always celebrate our circumstances or our emotional condition we can certainly celebrate the amazing great and unending love of God who promises to be with us as we walk through the fire.
2 Chronicles 13:18
“Thus the children of Israel were subdued at that time; and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord God of their fathers.”
I spent much of my life in California before moving to Florida. The people I first met in Florida would often tell me they could never live in California because of the earthquakes, when I visited California people would say they could never live in Florida because of the Hurricanes. If you live in the Midwest it is the tornado that people fear and if your in the north east it is the cold. The reality is everywhere in the world has its challenges and things that make life difficult.
Walking with the Lord is like that. Every season of life comes with its trials and challenges. The struggles we face today might not be the same ones we were facing in our youth and may not be the same ones we will face in the years to come. As the seasons of life change so too the trials we face often change. That being said the solution is always the same. 2,800 years ago Abijah and his troops found that they prevailed in the trials of life when they chose to rely upon the Lord.
We may not be surrounded by angry and hostile enemy armed with sword and bow, but even if we are the solution is to put our confidence in the Lord, cling to His precious promises, cry out to Him and keep marching forward.
“They surrounded me like bees; They were quenched like a fire of thorns; For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”
A few years ago I was part of an outreach in a remote area of northern Ghana. One afternoon a few of us went for a walk along a path that led us to the small river that skirted the village. As we weaved our way through the bush we were suddenly confronted with an odd buzzing sound. At first it was difficult to discern exactly where it was coming from, that is, until, we made our way past a large tree and the obscure noise suddenly made sense. We had inadvertently walked right beside a large bee hive. We could now see what was making all that noise. We immediately turned and began to run as fast as our legs would take us. As we ran a friend reminded us of the B-budget movie from the 70’s about a swarm of killer African bees that attacked unsuspecting people. All we could think of was to run for a body of water to dive into and escape.
Fortunately, we escaped unharmed and were able to laugh about our close encounter with the dangers of wild Africa. Apparently, the psalmist had some bee experiences of his own that he reflected upon when times got tough. He speaks of his trials surrounding him like a swarm of bees. It does not take personal experience to know that this would create chaos, confusion and fatigue. While we may not all have been chased by bees, we can all speak of times when difficulties mounted up against us and made life almost unbearable and all we could think of was how to escape. During those times it is important to remember that the mercy of God endures forever and that He wants to come to our aid and to provide us with comfort for the difficulty and ultimately deliverance from our struggles.
If life is like a swarm of bees turning your world upside down, remember that there is a secret place of the most high where you can hide and find comfort, protection and deliverance.
“Who turned the rock into a pool of water, The flint into a fountain of waters.”
Israel was in a bad place. Conservative estimates calculate the camp of Israel to be nearly 2 million souls. They had left the comfort of the Nile river and began the arduous journey through the desert en route to the land of Promise. It did not take long before the difficulty of their journey began to take its toll physically and emotionally. The hardship of their experience coupled with the lack of basic provisions caused them to doubt the power of God to carry them safely to their destination. When their water supply ran out it is understandable that their faith was challenged and their weaknesses revealed. Their hardship would provide another opportunity for God to reveal His loving kindness. The characters in the scene include the congregation of Israel, an arid desert, a solid rock and a stick in the hand of Moses. What looked to be an impossible situation turned out to be a means for God to reveal Himself to the nation.
All of us find ourselves face to face with difficulty that is beyond our ability. We might not be in a physical desert or be in want of water but we are certainly in the midst of circumstances that are beyond our ability to handle. What a joy to know that God can use whatever means are at our disposal to provide whatever is lacking in our lives. The one who turned the rock into a pool of water is the same one who will provide for you in whatever struggle you are currently facing.
“Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified!’”
We can never be sure what the day in front of us holds. We can each testify of times in life, where our days were suddenly interrupted with something good or something bad. A phone call, text, email, or visit to the doctor, can suddenly change the course of our day and even our lives. David exhorts us that regardless of what life throws our way, we should always respond by magnifying the Lord.
The word magnify has two related, yet almost opposite, meanings. In certain cases, it can mean to take something that is too small to see and enlarge it. Scientists use highly advanced microscopes to look at things hidden from the naked eye. However, the word magnify can also mean to take things that are too far away to see and bring them closer. Years ago, my wife and I were walking around an outdoor mall in Southern California where a large telescope had been set up in the courtyard. For a few dollars, we were able to use it to look at the moons of Jupiter. What was impossible to see, suddenly came to light. Magnifying God is like using a highly sophisticated telescope to bring the person and work of God into view in our daily circumstances.
It is quite common for us to question God when our life is interrupted with unsettling circumstances. It is during those times that it is all the more important to fix our eyes upon the Lord, and begin to magnify Him. As we look heavenward with hearts of worship, we will be reminded of His mercy, grace, power, love and presence. If you are in the midst of a particularly trying time, perhaps it would do you good to take your eyes of the circumstances, and begin to magnify the Lord.
“Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!”
Sometimes knowing the setting in which a psalm was written is beneficial to understanding its content. Other times, like in this psalm, the setting is not given because the truth is universal. Whatever our condition, whether we would classify it as good or bad, blessing or trial, God remains the same and is always worthy of the highest praise. The truths tucked away in this psalm transcend every experience the child of God endures. Whatever state you are currently facing, it is a good idea to clap your hands and shout out the loudest praise.
The Psalmist declares that God is awesome because He is the great King who subdues all things under His feet. Our praise is often lost when we become frightened or overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. We wonder how anything good could come from the difficulties we are facing. It is during those times that we must realize God is King of all the earth, and capable of moving mountains in order to accomplish His purposes. We can then learn to celebrate Him, even when are circumstances seem bleak.
The Psalmist declares that God will select our inheritance for us because He loves us dearly. For Israel, the inheritance speaks of the land allotted to each tribe. For the Christian, our inheritance is the blessed life God desires us to experience. Israel needed to trust God beyond fear and circumstance if they were to walk in the land. We must do the same if we are going to walk out the life God intends for us. We must be willing to set emotion and selfish desire aside, take up our cross, and walk after the things of Christ if we want to find the inheritance He has laid aside for each of us.
Finally, the Psalmist speaks of the shields of the earth belonging to God. What a blessing it is when we realize, the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. Sometimes, walking with the Lord will make us vulnerable and that can lead to worry and fear, unless we realize the center of His will is the safest place for us. Israel’s fear kept them from entering Canaan, which in turn put them outside of the protective care of God. What frightened them was the very thing keeping them from experiencing the protective care of God.
“Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!”
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
It is not uncommon today, to hear messages in the church making it sound as though walking with Jesus will mean we will no longer face difficulty, and our life will be filled with increase. This teaching is referred to as “prosperity doctrine”, and while catchy, it is clearly not Biblical. The saints of old did not expect to walk through life without trial, difficulty or opposition. Instead, they expected that in he midst of whatever life threw at them, they would find help, comfort, consolation and strength from the Lord. Perhaps no one more clearly expresses this than the prophet, Habakuk. He paints the darkest picture a farmer could ever imagine and declares, in spite of it all, he would continue to rejoice in the God of his salvation.
Clearly, the prophet considered life to be much more than the temporal successes or failures we experience here. He looked beyond the hardships of life into the face of eternity, and celebrated the fact that a day would come when this life would reach its end and he would be face to face with the God of salvation. Often, we lose sight of God because we are focused only upon the here and now. We forget, the real reason Christ came was not to make this life better, but to prepare us for the life to come. The trials and triumphs we experience here are only truly understandable when we keep in mind, we will soon be standing in eternity.
If we are only following the Lord in hopes of larger flocks and crops, we are on a course destined for disappointment. We are certain to become disillusioned the first time we face a trial, or come up against a hardship that is designed to get our eyes on eternity. Instead of looking to Jesus to make you more successful, look to Him to make you more holy.