Thursday, January 5, 2017

Don't Just Count Your Blessings, RE-Count Them!

Psalm 9, Verse 1 says:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

It's so easy, isn't it, to get caught up in the struggles of life?
The disappointments.
The dashed hopes.
The shattered dreams.
Or just the little frustrations and irritations that come day to day. I think frustrations are like the little foxes the Bible talks about - little foxes that sneak into the vineyard to steal the grapes. These little irritations are like little foxes that try to steal our joy.

You know, things like the negative work atmosphere, or the family drama, health issues, or bad customer service...But what does David say here? David says 'I will RE-COUNT all of God's wonderful deeds' - His blessings.

Demetrius and I went for a little drive up the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge this fall, in the midst of a LITERAL storm - lightning streaking across the sky, booming thunder, and a torrential downpour. We were driving in this weather, on a twisty two-lane road on the edge of a cliff towering hundreds of feet above the roaring Columbia River, it was more than a little frightening and we even pulled to the side of the road once or twice when the rain was falling so hard the windshield wipers couldn't keep up!

Truly, we were driving just fine at a sensible speed, but the people who I assume live in that area and are more familiar with all the twists and turns in the road, were riding our tail like horseflies. That, on top of the unfamiliar terrain and the rushing river and the torrential rain, was too stressful so we pulled over to let them PASS!

It can be really tempting in circumstances like that to venture into this little area called Road Rage, but we were so engrossed in a conversation in which we were talking about how God has perfectly placed every little stepping stone in our path over the last 10 years or so, we were not bothered by the rain or the other drivers in the least. We were recalling how, for a lot of years we were really focused on the ground, going "What's our next step?" like we were walking in the dark, and couldn't see what was ahead. But we had fun talking through - RECOUNTING - how in the perfect timing, God has always provided the next step for us. And each little stepping stone that He placed and illuminated in our darkened path was a blessing. It was a step forward. It was a promise that He would direct our path, and not let us stumble even though we felt like we were walking in the dark. It was one more question answered. And it's hard to focus on the negative when your mind is thinking back and re-counting the positives.

I think David's habit of not just counting, but re-counting again and again God's blessings in his life helped him to not get so bent out of shape by the little frustrations. Bringing to mind God's amazing work helps us to maintain an attitude of gratitude. And doing so with a friend or loved one who knows what you've been through, or has gone through it with you, helps to grow both of your faith, and strengthens your relationship with each other. Try it! Have coffee or a phone call with someone this week who has seen you through both ups and downs, and let the focus of the conversation be to recount the BLESSINGS. See if remembering His gifts in your life doesn't give you strength and encouragement to keep going!

So that as David does in Verse 1, we can give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart. And then we, along with David, can say as he says in Verse 2:

I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your Name, Oh Most High!

Monday, January 2, 2017

For the Grieving

Psalm 6 is a psalm of David, and as such, it, as many of David's psalms, traverses an array of emotions. I was struck especially when I reached verse 6:

I am weary with my moaning, 
Every night I flood my bed with tears, 
I drench my couch with weeping. 

Listen to the language David uses - he's not just 'sad' - he is FLOODING his bed with TEARS, his couch is DRENCHED with weeping. He's been so miserable for so long he has reached the point of emotional exhaustion. How many of us have been in David's shoes here? We've been through times that were so difficult, so painful that all we could do was lay down and cry ourselves to sleep. And in those times when we were so desperate for an answer, a solution, a way many of us have cried out to God, asking....WHY? WHEN? HOW? .... and how many times, in that moment when we cried out to God, did we not get an answer?

Have you been there? I've been there. We don't always get an answer right when we want it, do we? But I have found, in that moment, is when I have the unique gift of an opportunity to grow my faith. Because in that moment when I am not getting an answer from God, I can start to listen to the lies of the enemy. He whispers to us 'God doesn't care.' 'You're not worth His time.' 'You're not worth His love.' But these are LIES. And David knows it! He shows us how to respond to those lies from the enemy that would try to steal our joy and kill our hope. Listen to how David addresses the enemy in verse 8:

Depart from me all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 
The Lord has heard my plea, The Lord accepts my prayer.

He accepts your prayer. He hears your weeping. Have you ever experienced that type of misery that reveals to you your loneliness? When you're crying in your car or your office or your room, and suddenly a little part of your heart wishes that someone knew? Wishes that someone would walk in and see your pain and want to comfort you? Friend, you are not alone. You are not unknown. And your tears are collected, one by one, and stored by your Creator because you are that precious to Him. Why does He allow pain, then? Good question. And I think the answer is different for everyone, in every situation. But I believe one part of the answer always remains the same: because He hopes your pain will cause you to reach out to Him for hope and healing. He may not answer your prayer in that moment, but He does hear and He does accept! He loves and He cares, and that is a God worth putting our faith in. Worth trusting even when we don't have all the answers. Let's turn a deaf ear to the lies of the enemy and put our hope in Jesus.

Pray for Your Enemies...Not Like That Though!

Psalm 5 is a fairly classic Psalm of David in structure and theme. He starts out praying to the LORD, groaning and crying to God:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God,  for to you do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. 
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 
You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. 

Then in verse 7 David takes this posture of humility before God and says:

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. 
I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. 
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; 
make your way straight before me. 

Then from this same humble and contrite spirit (do you hear my sarcasm?) David begins to pray for his enemies:

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; 
their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. 
Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; 
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. 

Well then! You sorta get a picture of David standing there with his hands on his hips, frowning toward heaven as he complains to God of how his enemies are such beasts. Seriously, David? I combat this attitude in my 8-year-old daily, when his brother breaks his Lego creation *again*. Seriously, David?

Now, we do know that Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. But something tells me that David's type of prayer here is NOT a great example for us in that! Ha! But what I love about David's psalms is that he's really good at laying out his frustration before God, and then stepping back, and raising his eyes to heaven, and giving the results of his trials to God, and choosing to praise Him in all things. Listen how he ends this Psalm:

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, 
and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. 
For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield. 

Let us ever rejoice, sing for joy, and exult in the Name above all names. Even when our friend, co-worker or sibling is being a brat. Amen!