Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to find out who God is, what is He like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: Psalms

Flashback Favorite - A progressive relationship

There are a lot of moving parts in my life at the moment. Sometimes, life moves at an easy pace. Sometimes, it feels like you’re at the bottom of the dogpile. When things feel more like the latter, I’ve found it’s best reconnect with God through through two things - going to the Psalms and grounding myself in truth God has already taught me.

With the parts of life I’m working through right now and as I’m sorting through the next post series, I need to go back to these truths I learned all the way back in 2015. I hope this reminder is as helpful to you as it is for me.

A progressive relationship
originally posted on May 20, 2015

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Clarity in a cloud

Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house?  You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?

Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week.  We just needed o-u-t, OUT.

Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home.  She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling.  I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge.  I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water.  The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum.  That’s when I saw it.

Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat.  While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly.  So I watched.

Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain.  And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.

But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.

What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved.  It wasn’t uniform.  It wasn’t symmetrical.  The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky.  In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time.  When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge.  All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.

What really stood out was the cloud’s depth.  As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.

Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.

God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.

While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator.  Both David and Paul wrote about this:

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.


Romans 1:20
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:

Not even 15 minutes.

In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.

Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?

The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite: Tired hearts

Tired hearts
originally posted on April 10, 2015

As Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in psalms that David had written.  A psalm has the distinction of being both poetry and a song.  When David wrote a psalm, he was not afraid to bear his raw feelings, thoughts, and fears to God.  David’s topics ranged from great celebration of what God accomplished all the way down to personal, deep feelings of despair. 

It’s during one of those low times that David wrote the following psalm.  Although his circumstances were dragging him down and he felt like his own heart was without strength, David clearly believed that God was able to handle his difficult situation.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me, 
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

David’s request is as simple as it is profound – Lead me.  David sought God’s guidance and direction to see him through the trial in front of him.  When we find ourselves in trouble, our first inclination usually isn’t a desire to be told what to do next.  We want to find our own way out, and if we can’t find a path…then we figure it’s time to blaze one.  So how is it that David is able to muster the response of actually wanting God to lead him? 

The answer is found in the verses immediately following his request.

David can confidently ask God to lead him through his present problems because he remembers how God has provided for him in the past:

for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

David recalls the previous times when God was both his rescuer and his strength.  Essentially, he’s telling God “When I relied on you in the past, you came through; so I trust you to lead me now.” 

What’s also interesting is that as he remembers his past experience with God, David’s trust isn’t limited to his immediate problems.  He’s already committing his future to being under God’s protection.

I will live in Your tent forever,
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Based upon God’s history, David trusts Him with the present issues as well as any future ones that he can’t see yet.  This is an excellent example for us.  When we struggle with letting God lead us through today’s trial, all we have to do is remember the times when God has previously protected and defended us.  Keeping that in mind makes sure that we aren’t overwhelmed when the low times come and our hearts are without strength.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Flashback Favorite - Being heard

Preparing the next study is taking longer than I anticipated, so I offer this Flashback Favorite.  I love the reminder that God hears us...always and with everything.  We don't need to hold anything back from Him.  He can handle us - our fears, our emotions, and our messes.

Being heard
originally posted on May 27, 2015

We are social beings, God created us to be in community with Him and with others.  So when a crisis hits and grief wears us out, our natural response is to seek the companionship of others.  The times we get blind-sided, as soon as we recognize that resolution may not come quickly, the next step we typically take is to look for someone to go through it with us.  We tell ourselves “I just need someone to talk to.”

But that’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it?  There have been times when I didn’t feel like I had someone to talk to, or that my situation was different enough that no one I knew could relate all that much.  In addition to the struggle of trying to process the mess of my situation, I also felt lost and stuck because it seemed like I had to go through it alone.

Perhaps the author of Psalm 119 felt the same way, but instead of looking for another human being to talk with, he seeks out God.  Look for what happens when he approaches God with his grief and sorrow:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to Me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

There is so much comfort in the phrase I told You about my life, and You listened to Me.  From this, we know that we can bring any grief-filled situation to God, and He will hear us out.  There’s no indication in the text that what the psalmist said about his life was only the good, or only the bad, or only the things that he thought God would want to hear.  There are no limitations on what he feels he can or cannot say about his life, and God doesn’t run away from him because he’s feeling worn out, tired, or stressed from grief.  He can approach God with everything - I told You…and You listened.

The Hebrew word for You listened contains two ideas – of someone being heard and of that person being answered back.  While most translations focus on God answering, it is also reassuring to know that God is actively listening. 

This section of Psalm 119 ends with the author stating what he’s trusting God for as he navigates his grief.  He is looking to God to broaden my understanding, and the literal translation of the phrase is to enlarge my heart

I’ve been told that life’s events can make you bitter or better…that in our difficulties we can shrink back, or we can expand and grow.  But the psalmist knows, as we intuitively recognize, that real growth comes from our relationship with the God who actively listens to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For my son - Influencing generations

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the second post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our right-now words, activities, and choices affect more than just "right-now".  There will be a future echo to how we live out today.  I hope that my influence on my son has been both good and godly.  I pray that he intentionally pursues God, and that he is mindful of his echo-influence on future generations.

Influencing generations
originally posted on April 22, 2015

One day, totally unplanned, I looked in the mirror and saw my father looking back at me.  On another day, I caught myself saying something to my boys that I know I’ve heard come out of my mother’s mouth.  I often quote one of my Aunt’s favorite sayings, even though no one outside of my family knows where I learned it from.  And I am certain there are plenty of other things I do and say that were directly influenced by my family and upbringing.

In Psalm 61, there is an attention-grabbing phrase which David wrote to clearly express the kind of shelter and protection he was looking for as he turned to God:

Psalm 61:4
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Now compare that verse, with the first verse of Psalm 57:

Psalm 57:1
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

In fact, several other psalms written by David use a similar metaphor to illustrate the close, intimate protection David sought as he physically ran from enemies and spiritually ran toward God.

But where did David learn the idea that God would protect him in a similar manner as an adult bird would protect their offspring? 

From his great-grandparents.

A woman called Naomi was destitute.  She had no husband, no children, no income – just her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was a foreigner.  They had recently returned to Israel, in the hopes of finding food and shelter.  Ruth did what she could to provide for the two of them, gathering the leftover grain from fields as the Law allowed the poor to do.  The owner of the field was named Boaz.  When he found out what Ruth was doing and whom she was doing it for, he had this to say to her:

Ruth 2:12
May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.

Later on, when Ruth is petitioning Boaz for help, she said

Ruth 3:9
Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.

Another way to translate the verse would be “Spread the wing of your cloak over me.” 

At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth are married.  They later give birth to David’s grandfather.

Even if the phrase was culturally common for Boaz and Ruth…the concept of being protected under the wing of God was so instilled in their descendants that David repeatedly used that idea when he was in trouble and reaching for God.

We are so focused on today’s agenda, making sure ends meet, and keeping on top of the moment – and those things need to be done.  However, we often do these things without recognizing the long-term influence we have on our families.  Every day, we communicate ideas and instill patterns in our children that will echo for generations, much further down the line than we likely think about.

If you could have one idea, one aspect of your relationship with God burned into your great-grandson’s mind…what would it be?

Then let’s make sure we’re saying that to our children.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

To stay eternity-focused, you must be free from this

Last time, we read the author of Hebrews’ warning about the significant consequence to sexual impurity in a believer’s life.  Unfortunately, that is not the only trap we must be aware of…there is something else that loudly clamors for our attention:

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have


If the author stopped right there, we could nod our heads in agreement and talk about all the times we won and lost in our struggle with the priority of money.  The consumerism of our modern culture puts an especially tough spin on this topic.  We are constantly barraged with the mantras “You need this in your life.” and “You deserve to have that.”  Advertisers strategically manipulate our emotions to convince us that whatever someone else has, or whatever new thing comes along, we should have it in our hands.

However, the author of Hebrews didn’t stop with just these two statements.  Instead, he did as he has throughout the entire letter – he referred us back to the Old Testament, providing a map to the solution of our not-so-modern problem:

Hebrews 13:5-6
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said,

“I will never leave you or abandon you.”

Therefore, we may boldly say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”


Although his readers would have understood these Old Testament references, we need to step back and grab some context so we can fully understand his lesson:

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 31:6, where Moses is giving God’s marching orders to the Israelites as they get ready to take over the Promised Land.  They didn’t need to worry about having “enough” possessions as they went to the Promised Land, because they had God and He would take care of them.  This reassurance, I will never leave you or abandon you, is given to those Israelites who are going to enter “God’s rest”.  These are the ones that are going to partner with God to establish the future country of Israel.

The second quote comes from Psalm 118:6 and maintains the same idea.  Just like with the Deuteronomy reference, the author points to the psalm to show that we can confidently trust the Lord to come to our aid.  As the original recipients of Hebrews were Jewish Christians, they would have recognized the context of the first quote, and they would have known that Psalm 118 deals entirely with God coming to rescue and protect His own people when the entire world is against them.

However, when we love money, we are distracted from the reality of God providing.  We don’t trust Him with our future.  Our security becomes dictated by the size of the bank account and reserves.  Don’t get me wrong, saving money is extremely important, and God even tells us many times in Scripture that saving money for future use is a wise activity.  But it matters where we are getting our security from. 

A personal example: as our family finances have changed over the years, my wife and I sometimes catch ourselves worrying about how much is in the savings account.  We save for a while, make a big purchase, and then have to catch our breath when we look at the “little” remainder left.  However, one of us is always quick to remind the other that God has always provided, even when the savings was much, much smaller than the “little” we are currently fretting over. 

We all need regular reminders that our security in this life is not in the size of our bank account, but in the One who has entrusted us with the money in our account.

Perhaps we should refer back to Psalm 118 on a regular basis.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Free to breathe

Remember the moment when your last head cold cleared up and, suddenly, you could breathe again?  It almost caught you by surprise, didn’t it?  And the very next thing you wanted to do was tell everyone “I can finally breathe free!”

After demonstrating Jesus’ superiority over the earthly priesthood and the earthly tabernacle, the author of Hebrews presents his ultimate theological point – that Jesus is superior to the Mosaic Law.  Since Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law, His followers are now free to interact directly with God.  To prove his point, you’ll see the author’s reliance on Old Testament scripture…

Hebrews 10:1-10
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Therefore, as He was coming into the world, He said:
               You did not desire sacrifice and offering,
               but you prepared a body for Me.

               You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.

               Then I said, “See –
               it is written about Me
               in the scroll –
               I have come to do Your will, O God.”
(Psalm 40:6-8)

After He says above, “You did not desire or delight in sacrifices and offerings, whole burnt offerings and sin offerings” (which are offered according to the law), He then says, “See, I have come to do Your will.”  He takes away the first to establish the second.  By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

The author of Hebrews then provides evidence that Jesus – the Greater Messenger – has not only fulfilled the duties of the high priest, but in doing so, He has also fulfilled the requirements of the entire Law:

Hebrews 10:11-18
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.  But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.  He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool.  For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.  For after He says:
               This is the covenant I will make with them
               after those days,
the Lord says,
               I will put My laws on their hearts
               and write them on their minds,
(Jeremiah 31:33)
and:
               I will never again remember
               their sins and their lawless acts.
(Jeremiah 31:34)

Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

The burden of following the Mosaic Law is no longer needed since the sin has been permanently removed.  We are free to breathe and partner with God(!) – and from this point on, the author examines what that freedom-based partnership looks like in the life of a believer who seriously takes up God’s offer to pursue maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Flashback Favorite - Not Knowing

While I take time away, I decided to not leave you entirely.  I've decided to repost something I've learned, written about, and keep coming back to.  A Flashback Favorite, if you will.  This is one of the lessons that have stuck with me.

Not Knowing
originally posted on May 1, 2015

David is in trouble.

King Saul is hunting David, and Saul fully intends to kill him when he is found.

The game of cat and mouse between the two of them lasted four grueling years.  On several occasions, the King was very close to capturing David and his men.  We’ve been going through a psalm that David wrote in response to one of those times.

Up to this point in the psalm, David has cried out to God for grace and refuge.  But this time, Saul was pressing in close.  David could even recognize that there were various traps laid out for him:

Psalm 57:6
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was downcast.
They dug a pit ahead of me…

When David says I was downcast, the literal translation is my life bends low.  We’re not told at what point during the four years of running that this psalm was written…but you can almost hear the weariness in David’s voice.  He didn’t know that it would end after four years, so I’m certain that after two, or three, or more years of being on the run…David would have had times when he was feeling very low to ground.

It’s the not knowing that makes the trials so hard.

If David knew that he had to just survive for four years, then he could find a way to rely on himself to make it.  Given his military expertise, David certainly could have drawn up a four year plan to keep himself alive. 

But that’s the problem – knowing how long we need to survive a tough situation puts the focus directly on ourselves. 

God doesn’t tell us the future, or even let us in on how long our current trial will last, because He wants us to trust Him with the future.  Jesus said something similar to His disciples:

John 16:33
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus didn’t give His disciples a timeline for how long they would experience suffering.  Instead, He gave them Himself.

When we feel our lives bending low to the ground, don’t ask how much longer – just ask Jesus to come in closer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Understanding why God knows the number of hairs on our heads

God knows the number of hairs on your head.  So, He knows what best for you.

I’ve been in church as long as I can remember, and I’ve heard something like that statement more times than I can count.  The preacher means it as encouragement, implying that since God knows such crazy, insignificant details about us, then obviously He must know how to handle all the big stuff that’s going on in our lives.

It’s based on a verse from Matthew 10 (or Luke 12); and if the preacher really wants to drive the point home, he’ll include what Jesus said in the immediate verse before and after:

Matthew 10:29-31
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And that’s very true.  God does know everything about us, and of course He knows what’s best for us.  But the whole idea of me-being-more-important-than-insignificant-birds-because-God-knows-how-much-hair-I-have has never inspired me to not be afraid.  So I have just shrugged off the metaphor as something useful or motivating for first-century people and not given it much thought, no matter how many times I hear a preacher bring it up.

As I hang out more in the Psalms, one thing I’m learning is that Jesus quoted them – often.  He knew them very well, and the Jewish people did, too.  However, Jesus would also reference the psalms or present familiar passages in new ways.  Two of David’s psalms specifically mentions the hairs of my head:

Psalm 40:12
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs on my head,
and my courage leaves me.

Psalm 69:4
Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me, are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay.

David uses the number of hairs on his head to descriptively exaggerate how overwhelmed he was by his troubles, sins, and enemies.  In both psalms, David is seeking strength and rescue from God.  But how does this relate to Jesus talking about the value of sparrows?  When we pull back into the larger context we find Jesus saying this to His disciples:

Matthew 10:16-18, 21-22
Look, I’m sending you out, like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.  Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.  You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name.

Jesus foretelling of persecution, betrayal, and death for Christ-followers?  That’s some pretty heavy stuff.  But Jesus offers this encouragement:

Matthew 10:26, 28-31
Therefore don’t be afraid of them…Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus wanted to make sure His disciples understood that just as God has authority when the insignificant sparrows die, so He also has authority over when His disciples would die.  Knowing that their lives were in God’s hands – and not in the hands of their enemies – would give them the strength to carry on with the Gospel and God’s Love.  Even if they are outnumbered and feeling overwhelmed.

When trouble comes, and it feels overwhelming, we wrestle with fear.  It’s easy to become afraid in those moments when we are despised, cussed out, shunned, passed over, shouted down, and, in some parts of the world, physically tortured for being a Christ-follower.  When it seems like we Christians have more people against us than there are hairs on our heads and our very lives are on the line, God knows where we are and what’s going on. 

We’re never abandoned. 
God is still in charge.  
So be brave.  
Don’t be afraid.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When we fall

In 2004, I moved my family to a new state, 1500 miles away from what we knew as home.  The job I was going to was one that I had done before, so I was completely confident that I could hit the ground running.  I was excited to use my skillset in a new environment and among new people.  Of course, before they turned me loose, I had a training program to complete.  What I thought was going to be no big deal ended up having a few bumps in the road.

Maybe it was the time off between jobs, maybe it was nervousness…but I found myself making little mistakes that either made it more difficult to complete the task at hand or it meant that the testing was invalid and had to be repeated.  Internally, I was getting really frustrated with myself.  Externally, I would make weak attempts at joking as I would blame the mistakes on me trying to “knock the rust off”.  But the mistakes kept happening at a pace that made me uncomfortable, and I knew people were watching.

I began to wonder if there was some “unofficial limit” as to how many mistakes I could make before they would just give up on me.  I was being brought in to not only perform testing and provide expertise, but I was also going to be leading my own team.  “How can a supposed leader make this many mistakes?” I worried.  We were new in town, without any family nearby.  What would happen to us if I continued to muck things up and my worst fear was realized?

After one particularly frustrating mistake, looked at my trainer and asked how many more of these was I allowed before they kicked me out.  She just laughed as she walked away and said, “Don’t worry, Ken.  We’re not going to throw you overboard.  We’ve invested too much money in you to do that.” 

Now to her, I’m sure it was just a minor comment.  Too me, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted.  And then I realized…she was right.  This company had paid for our move and given us three months of short-term housing – they had invested a lot in me and expected to get a return.  They were willing to put up with a few do-overs, especially in training, as I learned the ropes and re-focused my skills.  Because of their patience, I was able to succeed in a variety of roles for the company, even ones that I couldn’t have foreseen at that initial time.

We have the same worries in our relationship with God, don’t we?  Even after we trust Jesus with our eternal destiny, we’re still going to struggle with sin.  That’s just part of life as a redeemed human being.  But we often wonder…What if I screw up too many times?  What if I really blow it in a big way, with one of those “big” sins?  Will God just toss me aside, because that’s what I would deserve.

I love that God is a realist.

We like to sugar-coat our flaws and exaggerate our strengths, but He sees us exactly as we are.  He’s not surprised when we sin.  He knows we’re not going to live out this new life with Him perfectly.  He loves us and trains us like a perfect parent – with patience, support, and guidance.

In the middle of Psalm 37, David recognizes this truth. 

Psalm 37:23-24
A man’s steps are established by the Lord,
and He takes pleasure in his way.
Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed,
because the Lord holds his hand.

An accurate translation of the third line could also read, When he falls, he will not be cast aside.  God knows the path He wants us to walk with Him.  He truly delights in making the journey with us.  And when we fall, He is there to catch us.

Truthfully, He’s invested too much in us to just walk away.  Jesus, the most valuable person in the universe, paid for us to move into God’s family.  The Lord is holding our hand as we walk through this life, learning the ropes and developing our skills.  We are being prepared for life in Eternity Future.  God’s not going to give up on us here.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to live rightly, and the benefits from it

We’ve been taking a closer look at David’s instructive Psalm 37.  He spends most of the psalm pointing out that God will take care of the injustices and evil we find in this fallen world.  However, throughout the psalm, David is also constantly referencing the benefits of those who live rightly before God.

Here are a few examples of the many ways David describes the righteous:

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. (v 11)

The Lord watches over the blameless all their days,
and their inheritance will last forever.
They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;
they will be satisfied in days of hunger. (v 18-19)

I have not seen the righteous abandoned
or his children begging bread. (v 25)

For the Lord loves justice
and will not abandon His faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed. (v 28)

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord,
their refuge in a time of distress.
The Lord helps and delivers them;
He will deliver them from the wicked and will save them
because they take refuge in Him. (v 39-40)

The distinctions between evildoers and the righteous are pretty clear in the psalm, as David contrasts how the wicked and the righteous live their day-to-day lives.  Evildoers will eventually face the Lord’s wrath and punishment; while the righteous have the Lord’s favor.  Although the benefits listed above are impressive (the other benefits listed in the rest of the psalm are also impressive), I find myself wondering exactly how the righteous know to live like they do.

Tucked away in the middle of the psalm, while David is extolling another great benefit of the righteous, we find this:

Psalm 37:30-31
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.
The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter.

Do you see it?  It’s easy to miss when we want to have the awesome benefits of speaking wisdom and what is just.  I’m a big fan of having everything feel stable and steady, so I especially focus the reminder that the Lord won’t let the righteous’ steps falter.  But the key to all these benefits is found in the first part of verse 31:

The instruction of his God is in his heart

We can’t live the right way if we don’t know what the right way actually is.  When life comes at us fast, and detours happen, and we have people watching to see how we respond in the moment – we don’t have the time to stop everything and do an in-depth study of what God has said.  We need our right-living reactions to be as natural as our reflexes, to know them “by heart”.  The only way for God’s instruction about right-living to be in our hearts is for us to purposely and intentionally get them in there.  The benefits that David lists for the righteous are there because they live the way God designed us to live…and they know how to live that way because they have prepared themselves to do so.

What’s God will for our lives?  After we trust Christ as our savior (John 6:29, 11:25-26), God’s will for us is to live rightly – just like He created us to.  How do we know what “living-rightly” looks like?  We take God’s instructions – i.e. the Bible – and purposely put it in front of us, to the point we know it by heart.

So, where to start?  I suggest the book of John, to see how Christ really lived.  After that I would suggest either Philippians or Colossians – both are full of practical, easy-to-understand ways to live a righteous life before the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Responding to injustice

There’s a lot of anger floating around these days.  Seems like everyone is upset about something, whether it is a personal situation or a national event.  Typically, our anger originates from a sense of injustice – we have something wrong happen to us, or we witness a wrong committed against others – and we want the injustice to be corrected. 

We were created in the image of God, which means we reflect some of His attributes.  Our desire for justice is one of them.  Our problem comes in that because we are sinful and fallen, our desire for justice is polluted.  When our selfishness and incomplete perspective is mixed with our hunger for seeing a wrong made right, the outcome is anything but clean.  The root of our motivation may be pure, but the execution of the “fix” often misses the mark.

Ideally, our anger at the situation and our inability to right the wrong would drive us toward God.  Since He is uncorrupted by sin and He has full understanding of all perspectives, He knows exactly how justice should be served.  However, we are all too ready to take God’s place in matters like these.  We much prefer the swift correction we feel our anger favors.  All too often, we allow ourselves to rage against injustice because we want it corrected NOW.

As we study Scripture, we are constantly reminded that what we go through and how we feel are not “new” things to humanity.  The ancient ones wrestled with the same issues that we do.  After observing the effects of those who actively chose to do evil towards others, David gave this instruction:

Psalm 37:8-9
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated – it can only bring harm.
For evildoers will be destroyed,
but those who put their hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

David recognized that an immediate reaction to the anger he felt would not bring about the true justice he desired.  The temptation was to trust himself to rectify the wrong and punish the evildoer.  The rest of the psalm fleshes out the idea that it is God’s responsibility to ensure that wickedness is dealt with.

David was likely thinking of what God told Israel would happen to those who trusted in other gods:

Deuteronomy 32:35-36
“Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay.
In time their foot will slip,
for their day of disaster is near,
and their doom is coming quickly.”

The Lord will indeed vindicate His people
and have compassion on His servants

We shouldn’t ignore injustice; we shouldn’t choose to be inactive.  Instead, our responsibility is to continue to serve the Lord where we are, putting our hope and trust in Him to correct the wrongs in the world around us.  In His timing, not ours.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Will evildoers get away with it?

Other people sure can drive me crazy sometimes.  I am usually able to forgive a one-off type of mistake, but, in all honesty, those who habitually and knowingly do what’s wrong really irritate me.  Why do I find their behavior so agitating?  Maybe it’s their blatant selfishness…maybe it’s their ‘luck’ at avoiding consequences for their actions…maybe it’s the harm their actions can cause to others…perhaps it’s all of those, or even something else.  The bottom line, though, is that I find their repetitive evil behavior both vexing and frustrating.

If you can identify with me, we can take some solace in that this is not a new issue.  No matter how many times the news blames the Millennials or the GenXers, the problem of evil people “getting away with it” has been a human condition for quite some time.

In fact, some 3,000 years ago David was dealing with the same issue.  However, instead of simply lamenting the problem, he had a fix for it.

Psalm 37:1-3
Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and live securely.

David’s answer is to look past the immediate problem with the evildoer.  Instead, he encourages taking the long-view.  The long-view is looking at life from God’s perspective.  Although someone’s selfish actions are bothersome now – and it looks like they’re getting away with it – in the grand scheme of things, their time is very brief.

They may look strong for the moment, but they will wither quickly…and wilt like weak plantlings.  David says that our focus shouldn’t be all wrapped up in what the wicked are doing; instead, we should be focused on what we are doing before the Lord.

Interestingly, verse 3 could also be translated like this:

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

This play on words reinforces David’s long-view perspective.  He’s contrasting the short-term thinking of the evildoer with the long-term approach of those who look to the Lord

It takes time to cultivate something, but it especially takes time to develop faithfulness.  Remember too that at this time in Israel’s history, they were living in the land God had promised to Abraham’s descendants.  They were where God wanted them to be.  No matter what they saw or how they felt about what was going on around them, God knew exactly where they were.  They hadn’t been forgotten – even if other people were acting like God wasn’t paying attention to their actions.

So, whenever we find ourselves getting all twisted up over the state of world or the selfish choices other people make, we need to stop fussing and take the long-view.  Our responsibility isn’t to fix them.  Instead we are to trust in the Lord, do what is good, and live faithfully where God has us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Coming out of the detour

Seven months ago, life took a serious detour…a detour that would change the course of my family’s history from that point forward.

My company offered voluntary severance packages.  At least this time, anyway.  The previous two layoffs were not voluntary, and we all had the feeling that any future ones wouldn’t be voluntary, either.  The company’s offer this time was quite generous, but the catch (for our family, at least) was that for my line of work, we’d have to move…out of state…to find the next job.  We had built a good life in West Virginia for the last 13 years, fully expecting to raise our family in one town, one church, one house, and with the same group of friends all the way through high school. 

God had blessed us tremendously in West Virginia, but the more we talked about it, prayed about it, and mulled it over…we knew it was time to go.  So, I raised my hand and volunteered.

The hunt for the next job started immediately, even though I would stay on at work through the end of February.  At first, friends and family were happy for us and wished us well.  But as the months drug on, and the few leads I had didn’t pan out…the well-wishes turned to raised eyebrows and mumbled “hang in theres”.  No one deserted us, but their growing concern was thinly-veiled. 

We felt like we were constantly saying goodbye, but never leaving.  It became increasingly more difficult for all of us to tell people, “No news yet.  Don’t know where God will take us.”  It was wearing on me to stay vigilant over the budget and try to get the house ready to sell, while counting down the number of remaining severance checks.  I actually turned down a job offer from a good friend, because we knew it wasn’t where God wanted us next.  A few week later, the day after my next best lead went up in smoke, it happened – we got an offer on the house.

We had a solid offer on our current home and no home to go to.  Zero job prospects at that moment, and we had 10 weeks to get out of the house.  I panicked.  I didn’t sleep that night.  There was a lightning storm raging outside, but it wouldn’t have mattered…the storm inside was twice as intense. 

I don’t specifically remember accusing God of abandoning me, but that’s how I felt.  After hours of pouring my heart out to God…finally emptied out…I gave up, and gave in…

“Whatever job you want, Lord.  Whatever place you want, just show me where.  I don’t care what it is, I just need to know where to take my family next.”

I’m not kidding when I say that I woke up the next morning and found that the exact job I had been looking for…freshly posted and in the state we were most interested in – North Carolina.  I didn’t know anyone at that company.  I had no contacts or strings to pull.  Just a blind internet-submitted application and resume.  They called me three days later, and, within two weeks, I had accepted their generous offer.

To call this a coincidence would be naïve.  This whole detour journey has been a God-thing.  There’s no other way to describe it.  Even my non-Christian friends marvel at how well “everything just lined up so perfectly”.  Not that there weren’t frustrations and difficulties along the way, but this isn’t a normal, natural story.  It’s SUPERnatural, without a doubt.

We’ve closed on our house in West Virginia, and by the time this is posted, we’ll have closed on our new home in North Carolina.  We’ve come out of the unexpected detour for the better in a lot of ways…but best of all, we’ve had our faith grow and mature in ways that will echo through the future of our family.  The next chapter is just beginning…and I can’t wait to see what God wants to write.

As for this blog, I intend to continue with the once-a-week schedule until the dust settles here a little.  I’d love to get back to the twice-a-week format, but we’ll see how God leads.

For right now, though, the back end of Psalm 31 describes just how ridiculously blessed we are.  I get a little choked up each time I read it.

Psalm 31:19-24
How great is Your goodness
that You have stored up for those who fear You,
and accomplished in the sight of everyone
for those who take refuge in You.

You hide them in the protection of Your presence;
You conceal them in a shelter
from the schemes of men,
from quarrelsome tongues.

May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me
in a city under siege.
In my alarm I had said,
“I am cut off from Your sight.”
But You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried to You for help.

Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.
The Lord protects the loyal,
but fully repays the arrogant.
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Why God makes us wait

I am a rather weak creature, much weaker than I care to admit.

When life is “good”, I am content to coast as long as possible.  I expend as little effort as I can, so I don’t rock the boat and change the comfortable circumstances.  However, my inactivity quickly leads to stagnation.  When I’m stagnant, I become sluggish and self-centered.  I neglect my time with God, and I resent my time around others.  I become fully focused on me and the protection of my comfortable circumstances.

It’s for these reasons that I believe God allows difficulties and adversaries into my life.  When life gets bumpy or takes a detour, I am jarred out of my stagnation.  I am forced to recognize that I am not the one in charge…and that my best course of action is to pray to the one Who is.

At some level, it’s comforting to me to know that I’m not the only follower of God who struggles with this.  Because of his adversaries, David also recognized his immediate need for God and His guidance.

Psalm 27:11-14
Because of my adversaries,
show me Your way, Lord,
and lead me on a level path.
Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing violence.

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be courageous and let your heart be strong.
Wait for the Lord.

At the beginning of this psalm, David said: 

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

When David referred to the Lord as my salvation, he wasn’t talking about eternal salvation from the penalty of sin.  David has confidence that he will see the Lord’s goodness in this life, that he would be saved from those who wanted to do him harm…but David also recognized that he would have to wait for the Lord’s assistance.

I believe that for the same reasons He allows adversaries and difficulties into our lives, God also allows us to wait for His rescue.  Our struggle to patiently anticipate the Lord’s salvation develops our faith in ways that only waiting can.

When life takes a detour, be courageous and let your heart be strongSalvation is coming, you just have to trust and wait for the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Real intimacy

I really don’t like talking on the phone.  It’s too impersonal.  I don’t get to see the other person’s facial expressions and reactions, which makes communicating more difficult than it should be.  Whether I’m calling for work or personal reasons, I do my best to keep the conversation short and to the point. 

I like instant message, texting, and email even less.  I consider them to be even lower forms of communication.  I recognize that all three can be useful, but will only use them for short, brief transfers of information.  If it takes more than two sentences to type out my question or answer, I’d rather call the person.  At least I can hear their voice and quickly deal with issues and questions. However, if at all possible, I’ll go directly to them.  I’ve never understood the people at work who sit close to each other and communicate everything via IM.  There’s so much lost when we don’t speak face-to-face.

Beyond the efficiency of talking face-to-face, there’s something else happening in the moment that not even Skype or FaceTime can replicate.  There is a connectedness among those involved in the discussion…and together, the individuals dialoging face-to-face nearly create a separate persona as a byproduct of their conversation.  We have all felt this before, both as someone who is connecting with another person, or as someone who walks into a new room and can instantly tell the “mood” without anyone saying anything.

Our most intimate, intense conversations happen face-to-face.  The obvious example is the intimacy between lovers, but we also “get in someone’s face” when expressing our most intense displeasures.  The closer we get our face to another person’s face, the more our focus narrows and the stuff of the outside world is pushed aside.

Drawing on this powerful human-interaction experience, David writes the next stanza of Psalm 27.  Watch for his desire to seek God’s face, but also his concern if he is unable to do so:

Psalm 27:7-10
Lord, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
In Your behalf my heart says, “Seek My face.”
Lord, I will seek your face.
Do not hide Your face from me;
do not turn Your servant away in anger.
You have been my help;
do not leave me or abandon me, God of my salvation
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord cares for me.

Without God’s presence in his life, David would feel left behind and alone, with a huge, empty void inside.  In a word, he would feel abandoned.  David knows that if his own merits were the criteria for meeting with God, he doesn’t deserve to see God face-to-face.  However, the last sentence of this stanza is the key to understanding their relationship:

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.

Even if the people who are most expected to care and love him end up leaving him, David knows that being cared for by the Lord will sustain him.  This knowledge is what drives him to seek out God’s direct presence. 

The same intimate and intense relationship is available to each of us also.  Even if we’ve been abandoned by those closest to us, the Lord still cares for us.  Seek His face.  Seek his presence.  The closer we draw to Him, we’ll see what’s most important as the stuff of the outside world is pushed aside.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

If you could ask God for just one thing

When I was a child, I would sometimes think about what Heaven would be like.  All I really understood was that Heaven was this great place where we would “be with God forever” and everyone would be happy.  Well, to my little mind, the greatest place I would want to spend long lengths of time in would obviously be chock full of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon toys.  I had it all planned…when I got to Heaven, I was going to ask God for the ENTIRE COLLECTION of He-Man action figures and playsets.  Pure bliss, as far as I was concerned, required a large amount of the best toys I could imagine.

Even as I’ve grown and matured in my understanding of God, Heaven, and Eternity Future, my desire to ask God for “just one thing” hasn’t subsided, but the “one thing” I would ask for has changed.  At various stages of my life, it’s been financial assistance, romantic love, new friends, a new job, a healthy baby, my own health, the health of someone else, a reasonably-comfortable life, and many other things. 

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but if I’m feeling very spiritually mature, I tell people that when I get to Heaven, the only thing I plan on asking God for is a blue-ray history lesson narrated by Him.  I just want to know why stuff happened like it did and how He worked through it all.

But when you look closely at my progressing list of “just one thing” requests, not much has changed since I was fully enamored by plastic toys.  Even though I’m asking Him about good things for myself or others, I’m still treating God like a cosmic vending machine.  Even if God actually gave me the toys, the money, and the good health…each “one thing” item is still something that I could lose, something that could be taken away from me.

In the second stanza of Psalm 27, David asks God for “one thing”.  His ask puts his life and God in the proper perspective:

Psalm 27:4-6
I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking Him in His temple.
For He will conceal me in His shelter
in the day of adversity;
He will hide me under the cover of His tent;
He will set me high on a rock.
Then my head will be high
above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in His tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Relationship.  Created Being relating back to his Creator.  That is the most important “one thing” we could ask for, and it will not be taken away from us, not even in the day of adversity.  However, we often let life’s issues and detours distract us from the true aim of our lives – to know God and to be known by Him. 

I think C.S. Lewis summed us up rather well, even if it does sting a little:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s good to pray about all our requests, cares, and concerns, for God has instructed us to do so (Philippians 4:6).  However, the next time you do ask for something, go for the biggest thing you can ask Him for.  Ask God to give you Himself.  Seek a deeper relationship with Him.  Ask for even a glimpse at His glory.  Ask to be closer to Him, even if that means dealing with enemies and adversity.  God’s beauty and splendor exceeds everything we can see on this earth.

Ask for Him.  He will not disappoint.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Does the past predict the future?

Past performance is not indicative of future results. 

We see that phrase all over the place, especially when investing money is involved.  It’s the author’s attempt at a legal disclaimer: “Don’t blame me if you lose all your money by trusting this investment I’m recommending.”  And yet, more often than not, the author is basing his or her assessment of “investment worthiness” on the stock’s historical performance.  Strange contradiction, right?

Isn’t that how we treat God sometimes?  We look back at everything He’s done for us, all the times He’s rescued us…and while we confidently say the right things “I trust God with my future.”, we end up worrying about how events will unfold.  Like the unsteady investor, we’re contradicting ourselves as we attempt to point others toward Jesus.

David begins Psalm 27 with his current outlook, looks back at his past, then extrapolates these out to his future.  Do you find any unsteadiness?

Psalm 27:1-3
The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
Though an army deploy against me,
my heart is not afraid;
though war break out against me,
still I am confident.


David could look back and see that when someone was gunning for his life, God stepped in and took care of it.  We shouldn’t blow this off with the thought of “well, no one’s trying to kill me, so I can’t relate”.  There are many, many ways others will try to take a pound of flesh from us.  Ruined reputations, finances, careers, marriages, community involvement, even volunteer positions could all be targets of those who want to take us down.

Notice, too, that David doesn’t say God prevented all hardship; rather, with the benefit of hindsight, David could see how his foes and enemies stumbled and fell.  Best of all, David recognized that God was the one who handled his foes.  Instead of proclaiming that he survived the ordeal, David gives God the proper credit for his protection.

David’s current confidence and faith in God was rooted in God’s previous workings in David’s life.  So much so that David says he will still trust God even if the future trials are significantly worse.  Previously, individual evildoers threatened him.  Now, David says that even if multitudes come against him – armies or full-scale war – he will remain confident in God’s ability to handle the future.

David is not worried about the future.  He knows that he can find light and rescue and strength in the Lord.  He’s not adding any disclaimers or hedging his bets anywhere else.  Given everything God has done for us in the past, we should also be giving Him our full trust with our futures.

Keep Pressing,
Ken