A Prayer Primer

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

We don’t pick up on it in the English, but this psalm is an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Admittedly, the acrostic is not perfect. The letter for verse 2 is missing, two letters are skipped, and the last verse is not part of the acrostic at all. However, it is clear that this psalm is anchored in the Hebrew alphabet. It seems the author of this psalm wanted to make it memorable. He wanted it passed down from the priests to the populace, from father to son, and from mother to daughter to aid in worship and prayer for generations to come. In fact, this may explain that very last verse which seems to be tacked on out of left field. It may be true that some later editor of the psalms added that line about redeeming all of Israel out of troubles. However, it seems just as likely to me that the author broke from the acrostic to call attention to the desire for this psalm to not just be personal but to be passed around the nation so that everyone would learn about prayer and meditation from it. And now it is included in the book of Israel’s Psalms and has come to us. We too can learn to pray to God and meditate on God from it. Since it doesn’t match our alphabet, it may be harder for us to remember, but we can learn great things about prayer from it. Keep reading. Keep learning. We’ll talk more about prayer over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 25.


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The Meal of Thanksgiving

Today’s reading is Psalm 22.

Psalm 22:25-26 is a beautiful picture we might miss if we don’t remember the Law. Leviticus 7:16-17 provides the law for votive or vow offerings. What we often miss is these sacrifices weren’t simply slaughtered and burned. They were eaten. Psalm 22:25-31 is a beautiful picture of a votive sacrifice celebration. The delivered king invites the entire congregation of God’s people to gather and watch him offer his votive sacrifice. Not only do they get to watch, they get to eat the feast from the sacrifice. It is reminiscent of the feast Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:62-66. There is sacrifice, feasting, joy, praise, worship. And while I do not want to claim this is a prophecy of the Lord’s Supper, I do want us to see that the Lord’s Supper is a fulfillment of this picture. That is, Psalm 22:25-31 is not teaching us to take the Lord’s Supper, but every time we participate in the Supper we are participating in the votive feast of peace and thanksgiving. Whether we are the afflicted or the prosperous, whether we were part of the Jewish congregation or have come to the supper from the Gentile ends of the earth, we eat and are satisfied. We praise the Lord and we worship. And we tell to the next generation “He has done it. It is finished.” Praise the Lord!!!

Next week’s reading is Psalm 23.


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Today’s reading is Psalm 22.

The entire tenor of the psalm changes at Psalm 22:22. It started as an extreme lament; so dismal we can hardly find a time to actually place it in David’s life. It becomes an extreme praise and thanksgiving; so exuberant it asserts praise not only from the psalmist, not only from the congregation of God’s people, but from the entire world. It is so intense and amazing, we can hardly imagine anyone whose deliverance and salvation would warrant such reaction from the whole world. What produced such an extreme swing? Read vs. 21b: “Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” (ESV). Though that conveys the excitement and reality that would produce such a shift, it actually clouds the really important point David was making. Consider the NKJV: “Save me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered me” (NKJV). I know “rescued” sounds so much more exciting than “answered,” but “answered” is intended to connect us back to vs 2 in which David was receiving no answer. What is the shift? Psalm 22:1-21a is the dismal lament of the one whose request has not been granted though it has been made over and over again, day and night. Psalm 22:22-31 is the exuberant praise and thanksgiving of the one whose requests have been granted. In a very real sense, Psalm 22 mirrors Psalms 20 and 21. Psalm 20 is the prayer for requested blessing on the king as he goes out to battle. Psalm 22:1-21a is the prayer of the king himself in the midst of the battle, but it isn’t going his way. Psalm 22:22-31 is the king’s prayer of thanksgiving and praise when the battle finally turns his way by the grace of God. Psalm 21 is the prayer of thanksgiving offered by the people when the king comes back victorious. Honestly, we likely go back and forth between the two halves of the psalm. Remember, the same God rules in both halves. If you want to be able to offer the praises of the second half of Psalm 22, you have to hang on to God and await His answers while living through the first half of Psalm 22. Yes, He may wait to grant your request until the dogs circle, the mouth of the lion closes, the horns of the oxen vault you in the air. But He will answer. He will deliver. You are not forsaken. You are answered! Hang on!!!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 22.


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The Battle Belongs to the Lord

Today’s reading is Psalm 21.

David may have been a wonderful warrior. For all I know, he may have been a superb strategist and talented tactician. He may have been truly skilled with the sword and brilliant with a bow. No doubt, it seems he was super with a sling. But when the king comes back from the battle victorious in Psalm 21, everyone knew exactly why he did. It wasn’t because of David’s skill or prowess, it was because of his God. The battle was fought in the prayer closet before stepping onto the battlefield. Therefore, the battle was won before it was even engaged. Yet, David did have to engage. When it was over, though, David shouldn’t turn to God in expectation, asking, “Did you see that? Did you see how hard I fought for you?” No, David should bow before God acknowledging the true victor: “Thank you, Lord, for fighting for me.” At the end of our battles, the trophies are not ours. They are God’s. We don’t take our victories to God as badges of our strength or accomplishment. No. We take them as reasons to praise and give thanks to the One who truly won the victories. The battles belong to the Lord. And if that is so, that doesn’t merely mean stepping onto the battlefield in faith, that means stepping off the battlefield with thanksgiving and praise. We don’t get the credit for our victories, God does. In the end, we learn the women who sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands,” caused a great deal of jealousy and turmoil for nothing. In fact, neither had slain any. Both were merely God’s weapons in the wars against His enemies. God, we thank You for fighting on our behalf. We thank you for our victories. Our enemies are too much for us. If we have cowed them today, it is because of You and You only. Thank You.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 21.


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“Thank You!”

Today’s reading is Psalm 21.

In Psalm 20, a pre-battle blessing was prayed for the king. Psalm 21 seems to be it’s companion. In Psalm 20:4, the requested blessing was that God grant the king his heart’s desire. In Psalm 21:2, the psalmist acknowledges God had done exactly that. Once again, we are saying that while each psalm is its own literary unit, we can see why the compilers of the psalms placed these two together. And what a powerful lesson they give when taken that way. When the trouble is upon us, we are quick to ask. But when the request is granted, do we always remember to acknowledge God? Do we always remember to thank Him? Do we always remember to praise Him? You would think everyone would be thankful for every gift, wouldn’t you? But do you know about the 10 lepers in Luke 17 that begged Jesus for healing? As they went on their way, they all were healed, but only one returned to give thanks. I doubt any of the nine thought of themselves as ungrateful people, but only one returned. I’m sure they were all excited, but only one returned. Where were the nine? Certainly, victory in battle is a pretty big thing. We’d imagine the nation would never forget to thank God for that. Remember, however, that Paul encourages us to be thankful in all circumstances, not simply the really, really big ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Are you breathing today? Have you thanked God for air? Is your blood flowing today? Have you thanked God for blood flow? Are you saved in Jesus today? Have you thanked God today for that victory? We could, of course, go on and on and on. But let us especially remember to thank God when He does respond to our requests, whether big or small.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 21.


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The Trustworthy God

Today’s reading is Psalm 18.

Let’s face it. I can actually place myself in the shoes of a skeptic and view the Psalms as a hot mess. Back in Psalm 2 God promised His anointed one, His king, that while the enemies would plot, they did so in vain. They were going to be judged, and so they need to quickly reconcile with the king. But then psalm after psalm after psalm shows David begging for God to go ahead and do what He promised. Many of the psalms show the psalmist in that interim place between the promise being given and the promise being fulfilled. After a while, a reader begins to wonder if the promise ever does get fulfilled. Oh sure, the psalmist always believes it will. The psalmists consistently demonstrated their faith by continuing to call out to and rely on God. But does God ever actually fulfill His promises? Psalm 18 answers with a resounding YES!!! The Lord is in His holy temple; He does hear; He does respond. Remember in Psalm 11 when David refused to follow the counselors who said he needed to flee like a bird to his own mountain, relying on his own strength? David claimed one of the foundations that would not be shaken is God’s residence in His holy temple. He is testing the sons of men. He will rain coals on the wicked. He will deliver the upright. And now in Psalm 18, David’s trust and perseverance is rewarded. God is exactly what David thought Him to be. God is trustworthy. Yes, He works on His time table. Yes, there are moments when it looks like He is going to lose. Yes, sometimes the wicked counselors seem to have a point. But Psalm 18 is a thrilling reminder God really is in His holy temple in the heavens, has us under His watchful eye, and when the time is best, He does keep His Word, fulfill His promises, and shines forth like the sun. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 18.

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The God of “And”

Today’s reading is Psalm 18.

How great is our God, Yahweh? The graces and greatnesses add and multiply one on top of another. He is our strength AND He is our rock AND He is our fortress AND He is our deliverer AND He is our refuge AND He is our shield AND He is the horn of our salvation AND He is our stronghold AND He is worthy to be praised AND He saves us from our enemies. Yahweh is the God of AND! AND we have every reason to praise Him today. Thank You, Lord God for being who You are and for letting us be Your people!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 18.

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Count Blessings, Not Sheep

Today’s reading is Psalm 4.

Maybe Irving Berlin was on to something (or Bing Crosby or Rosemary Clooney). When you’re struggling to sleep, instead of counting sheep, count your blessings. This psalm contrasts the person who is angry or agitated while in bed and the one who is able to both lie down and go to sleep. What seems to be a key? Is it life circumstance? Is it warm milk before bed? Is it deep breathing? The psalm begins with a plea for God to hear the prayer, but the second statement is, “You have given me relief when I was in distress.” That is, David, in the midst of his present distress, is able to sleep because he remembers how God has acted on his behalf during previous times of distress. That is, he counted his blessings. He not only mentions those previous times of blessing, but also talks about the joy he has in his heart because of the Lord’s presence with him. When trouble and stress are keeping you awake, spend some time recounting how God has already been taking care of you. Then put yourself in God’s hands for the night and go to sleep. What if that doesn’t work? Keep counting until it does.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 4.

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Taking Courage from the Brethren

Today’s reading is Acts 28.

Who knew? Paul needed encouragement. I’ve always viewed Paul as one of those lone wolf, “Me and God got this,” always at the top of his game fellows. I mean, I know it has been a hard couple of years for Paul, but God has promised a trip to Rome (something he’s always wanted) and God just saved him and all his buddies from a shipwreck. And through all of that, he is constantly encouraging others. What kind of encouragement did he really need at this point? And yet, Luke says when he saw the brethren who came out to meet him from Rome, he thanked God and took courage. Even Paul needed a pick me up. Even Paul needed a shot in the arm. Did you notice where he found it? He found it from his brethren. Paul had written to Rome before, but he had never been there. It’s possible some brethren he knew from his travels had made their way to Rome. But for the most part, these are folks he hasn’t met. They heard about his coming and came out to meet him. And it encouraged him. Never underestimate the need your brothers and sisters have to be encouraged. They may put on a stiff upper lip, but we all need encouragement. And never underestimate what encouragement your presence will be if you just show up to be of service and support. Paul needed it. The people around you in your congregation need it too.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 28.

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Give Thanks for Even the Small Blessings

Part of me wonders what the crew and prisoners thought when Paul started giving thanks for the food he was eating. I mean, it looks like we are all going to die. I know you claim your God is going to save us, but I’m still in doubt. I’d be thankful for the storm to quit. I’d be thankful if some sign showed itself in the heavens demonstrating we are going to be delivered. I’d be thankful if God’s hand reached out of the sky, lifted me up, and brought me to dry land. But as it is, we are still in the middle of a storm-tossed ship and you want to thank God that you are getting to eat a final meal? That seems a little backwards. But isn’t that life? Sometimes we are in the midst of all kinds of difficulties and hardships. There are really big picture problems surrounding us. We have begged God to deal with them, but nothing has happened yet. In the middle of all that, we need to pay attention to the small blessings. We are still getting to breathe because of God’s mercy, grace, and providence. We are eating a meal because God has provided it. We have clothes to wear because of God’s provision. We have friends, brethren, family. The list goes on and on. Sure, there are times when God hasn’t responded to our big requests. In those moments, Satan wants us to believe God is ignoring us. He isn’t. The small blessings are still happening. Every good and perfect gift comes from God, even the small, regularly provided gifts that we take for granted. Don’t forget to thank God for those.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 27.

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