Psalms of Ascent Devotions — Part 2

June 6, 2020 at 8:11 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer, Worship | Leave a comment
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I wrote these devotions for my congregation while we were under the Covid19 Stay-at-Home orders and pondering beginning public worship again.  Part 1 can be found here

May 29:  Psalm 126 celebrates the Lord’s restoration of his people’s fortunes.  “Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.”  We are praying that God will restore our fellowship, something that we’ve realized in recent weeks is a great fortune, and when he does we will rejoice.  Maybe our being apart will help us realize both the need and the joy of fellowship together.

May 30:  Psalm 127 tells us that a house built without the Lord is a house built in vain.  As we ponder the idea of coming together again for corporate worship, something that now seems like a reality, let’s all seek God’s wisdom and direction.  It would be all too easy to jump in with our human efforts.  Clearly we want God to build our congregation, not wasted human effort.

May 31:  Psalm 128 is a prayer and blessing for prosperity.  Since we don’t know the long-term effects of shutting down huge portions of our economy, we can’t predict what’s ahead financially.  Rather than addressing the politics of it all, maybe we should pray for the prosperity of our community and congregation.  “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”

June 1:  Psalm 129 is a curse on those who have afflicted God’s people, those who have plowed  deep furrows on our backs.  Though I believe most government officials have made an honest effort to protect our health, I’m sure there are some who will view this pandemic as an experiment in their ability to shut down the church.  Pray that God would cut their cords and that their plans would wither like dry grass.

June 2:  Psalm 130 sings of God’s great forgiveness.  He hears our pleas for mercy; with him there is steadfast love; with him there is plentiful redemption.  Because of that, we wait for the Lord.  We wait (more than a night watchman waits for the morning!) and in his word we hope.  Whether you’ve been able to begin public worship or not, wait for the Lord’s timing; hope in his word; rejoice in his forgiveness.

June 3:  Psalm 131 is one of my favorites of these 15 psalms.  It gives a simple picture of resting in the Lord:  “I do not occupy myself with things too great for me, . . .  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.”  Take a moment today to put aside the news of sickness, unrest or politics and calm your soul in the presence of the Prince of Peace.

June 4:  Psalm 132 is a reminder that David had a passion to build a place of worship and that David’s descendants would reign forever.  As we come back together may we have the same heart as this author, who upon remembering David’s commitment, says of the Lord, “Let us go to his dwelling; let us worship at his footstool!”  And let’s worship knowing that the one who is King forever has come.

June 5:  Psalm 133 celebrates the unity of God’s people.  “How good and pleasant it is when brothers to dwell together in unity!”  As we come together for public worship again, let’s praise God with one voice and celebrate the unity we have in Christ.  Let’s ask God to give us greater unity as we face a world of uncertainty and unrest.  Let’s ask God for a unity among believers that spans nationality, race, social status, and political party.

June 6:  Psalm 134 brings us to the end of our ascent.  Thanks for going on this journey with me.  We have arrived at our destination.  Many churches are meeting for public worship tomorrow.  So this call to worship is appropriate. “Come bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, . . .  Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord.”  Whenever you are ready to begin public worship, whether tomorrow or in the future, may the God who made heaven and earth bless you.

Psalms of Ascent Devotions — Part 1

June 4, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer, Worship | Leave a comment
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I wrote these devotions for my congregation while we were under the Covid19 Stay-at-Home orders and pondering beginning public worship again.  Part 2 can be found here

The “Psalms of Ascent” are 15 short poems found in chapters 120-134 of the book of Psalms.  Some scholars believe these psalms were read or sung when pilgrims came to Jerusalem and ascended to the temple, which had 15 steps up.  One psalm for each step would prepare the pilgrims for the worship experience there.  Cathy and I just started praying through them this week.

In hopes that we may begin some form of public worship again on June 7, I want to share a short devotional or prayer from each of these psalms for the 15 days leading up to June 7.  We will begin Saturday, May 23 and finish on Saturday, June 6.

I promise they will be short.  I hope you enjoy; I hope you are blessed; I hope God prepares your heart for corporate worship again (whenever that may be).

May 23:  Psalm 120 is the cry of those who feel far from God because they have not worshiped for some time.  That is certainly true of most of us.  Let’s pray that God delivers us “from the lying lips and deceitful tongues” of those who would profit from a pandemic.  Let’s pray that we may soon be back to corporate worship again.  “Woe to me . . . Too long have I wondered in foreign places, among those who hate peace!”

May 24:  Psalm 121 begins with the famous line, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord.”  A quick reading will reveal that the keyword is “keep.”  The Lord is your keeper, the Lord will keep your life, etc.  During this time of exile, while we don’t have others present to encourage us, my prayer is that God will keep your life; that you will know his presence; and that you will see his help.

May 25:  Psalm 122 also begins with a famous line, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!'”  We are all looking forward to the time we can again come together in a place of worship, and we will be glad when we hear that invite.  When we come together, let’s do so in thanksgiving (v3).  In the meantime, let’s pray for peace and unity (6-9) as the leaders make difficult decisions about restarting public worship services.

May 26:  Psalm 123, like 121, begins with lifting the eyes.  This time they are lifted to the one who is “enthroned in the heavens.”  Our eyes look to the Lord our God until he has mercy on us.  Cry out for mercy during this pandemic.  Pray that God will protect from disease and fear; but mostly pray that he will redeem your life.  Maybe you’ve never cried to him before.  Cry out now, knowing he hears, because he rules the universe.

May 27:  Psalm 124 says the Lord has been on our side.  Had that not been true, the flood would have swept us away, and the torrent would have gone over us.  If you are reading this, then you are not one of the millions of victims predicted to die from Covid19.  Thank God that was a huge overestimate, and thank God for your protection.

May 28:  Psalm 125 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forever more.”  Again today, thank God for surrounding you with his protection and his grace. Tell him you trust in him, and ask him for a deeper trust, especially at this time when encouragement from other believers is hard to find.

May 29:  Psalm 126 celebrates the Lord’s restoration of his people’s fortunes.  “Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.”  We are praying that God will restore our fellowship, something that we’ve realized in recent weeks is a great fortune, and when he does we will rejoice.  Maybe our being apart will help us realize both the need and the joy of fellowship together.

Slow Down and Enjoy Life!

June 14, 2017 at 9:46 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Prayer | 1 Comment

I’ve often said that as Americans we are way too busy.  It only seems to get worse as time goes on.  Each time saving device we add to our collection only serves to make us busier, as we try to accomplish more and more.  I read the following today, and thought it was worth the time to share.  It’s  from an interview with Jennie Allen, author of Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard

I think most of us are running on this treadmill that we don’t even realize is happening, we don’t even realize it’s turned on.

We’re just running every day.  I think we notice it most when we’re still, but the problem is even when we’re still, we have a phone pinging us or even just distracting us and causing us to check out rather than self-diagnose or self analyze what’s happening.

.  .  .  even when I was alone with God or just alone, I was performing and executing things that I needed to get done.  So because my job is largely talking about God and teaching and writing, whenever I was alone with God I was getting the next thing ready that I was going to deliver rather than actually just enjoying his presence.

So I think what’s happened is everything has become a performance or something to achieve rather than something to enjoy.  .  .  .  I feel like as Americans and as young people today that we’re all trying to prove ourselves and we’re exhausted and we’re actually not enjoying the best parts of life.

The entire article can be read here.

Slow down!  Take some time to enjoy God and family.  It’s healthy physically, mentally and spiritually!

Prayer Is Not a Monologue

April 17, 2017 at 11:12 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer | Leave a comment
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When The Circle Maker book by Mark Batterson was popular, I thought, from descriptions I saw, that it came from the “Name It and Claim It” camp.  But when a service I have that sends out reviews of books, included it recently, I found out that my assumption was completely wrong.

I have often passed on thoughts about praying the Bible.  As many of you know, that discipline has transformed my prayer life completely.  So I had to show you this quote.

What I’m about to share has the power to revolutionize the way you pray and the way you read the Bible.  We often view prayer and Scripture reading as two distinct spiritual disciplines without much overlap, but what if they were meant to be hyperlinked?  What if reading became a form of praying and praying became a form of reading?

One of the primary reasons we don’t pray through is because we run out of things to say.  Our lack of persistence is really a lack of conversation pieces.  Like an awkward conversation, we don’t know what to say.  Or like a conversation on its last leg, we run out of things to talk about.  That’s when our prayers turn into a bunch of overused and misapplied clichés.  So instead of praying hard about a big dream, we’re left with small talk.  Our prayers are meaningless as a conversation about the weather.

The solution?  Pray through the Bible.

Prayer was never meant to be a monologue; it was meant to be a dialogue.  Think of Scripture as God’s part of the script; prayer is our part.  Scripture is God’s way of initiating a conversation; prayer is our response.  The paradigm shift happens when you realize that the Bible wasn’t meant to be read through; the Bible was meant to be prayed through.  And if you pray through it, you’ll never run out of things to talk about.

From Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

Spurgeon on the Preacher’s Prayer

June 14, 2016 at 9:07 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

Some words, from Charles Spurgeon, I need reminded of often.  I frequently feel the need for “much more grace than common men.”  I’m sure others in ministry feel the same way.

If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept “Pray without ceasing,” surely it is the Christian minister. He has peculiar temptations, special trials, singular difficulties, and remarkable duties; he therefore needs much more grace than common men, and as he knows this, he is led constantly to cry to the strong for strength, and say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God.

Both of these came from Charles Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students.  I found them on the Focus on the Family website Thriving Pastor.  If interested, you can read the entire lengthy but excellent article here.

Quiet Time

December 15, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

We used to call devotions or time alone with God “quiet time,” and rightly so.  I’ve been thinking about quiet recently.  I am trying to memorize Zephaniah 3:17, a great blessing that includes the words “he will quiet you by his love,” so I got to thinking about how often God reminds us of quiet.  I came up with the following without using any search tools, so I am sure there are more we could find if we looked.  If you have other favorites, put them in the comments.

Psalm 46:10  “Be still and know that I am God

Psalm 131  “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.”

Habakkuk 2:20  “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him.”

Isaiah 30:15-15  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”

Luke 10:38-42  Martha was “anxious and troubled about many things,” but Mary chose the better part, which was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2  “Guard your steps when you go near to the house of God; go near to listen . . .  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

The message is pretty clear.  Turn off the all the sounds and get some quiet time with God in the near future.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Learn to Pray the Bible

August 12, 2015 at 9:19 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer | Leave a comment
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In recent years, I have used my devotions to pray from the Bible, or I should say, to let the Bible guide my prayers; and, as our congregation knows, I have tried to make all my public praying utilize prayers and passages straight from the Bible.  Not only do I believe this is a better way to pray according to God’s will, but I believe it will help others learn to pray as well.

If you want to learn more about praying the scriptures, here is a link that has an article from Don Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible.  Dr. Whitney is a professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  There is also on that page a way to sign up for five video lessons on how to pray the Psalms.  I haven’t read the book yet, but the video lessons are short and insightful.  I think you will find them helpful.

Here is the article.    Here is the book.    Here is the video lesson sign up.

Cell Phones and Fast Horses

April 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

I wrote this story over ten years ago and ran across it while looking for another old file in my archives.  The lesson is just as timely today as it was then.

Cathy and I attended a Pastor’s Getaway at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.  We were refreshed, albeit suffering from input overload, the feeling one friend of mine called “getting a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  We were then to have a few days vacation before returning home.  Earlier that day, I had been thinking about what one lesson God wanted me to take from the conference, or at least what one lesson, of numerous ones written down, he would have me ponder while on vacation..

Driving north to Denver, we were to have Sunday dinner with some seminary friends.  It was heavy traffic — the kind where driving the speed limit is almost impossible, because there are only two lanes — the right lane traveling below the posted speed and the left lane moving significantly faster.  A person in the right lane, who wanted to pass the vehicle in front, had a hard time moving left to do so.

There was a slow-moving, big truck in front of me.  When I finally managed to get into the left lane to pass, I noticed there was another slow truck about a quarter mile ahead.  I didn’t want to get trapped between them, so I increased my speed and stayed in the left lane.

That’s when I first saw him in my rearview mirror; he jumped into the right lane to pass the cars behind me.  I just knew he intended on passing me and cutting me off before I caught up with the truck on the right.  Instead, he cut off the car behind me and rode my bumper, until I passed the second truck and moved over, then he sped passed me on my left.  As he passed, I noticed one of his hands on the steering wheel, the other pressed a cell phone to his ear, and he seemed to be reading something on the passenger seat.  Immediately I thought, “Now, there’s an accident waiting to happen.”

It occurred to me that the cell-phone driver typified so many people in our society, always moving full speed ahead, juggling more responsibilities, tasks and adventures than one can safely manage.  Most of our lives rush on so full of activities that we are accidents just waiting to happen.  We are caught in a busyness trap, and someday it will come crashing down.  One of the breakout sessions from the conference came clearly to mind.  We had discussed Isaiah 30:15-18 and the necessity to slow down in rest and quietness rather than flee on swift horses in so many different directions.  The cell-phone driver is the perfect picture of a man on his fast horses.  I laughed at myself, because I saw my life portrayed in his driving.

I could see we were going to arrive at our destination with plenty of time to spare, so I decided to relax my pace and stay in the right lane.

A few miles later, traffic slowed to a crawl.  I could see the vehicles on the left merging into my lane, and I wondered if the cell-phone driver had an accident.  Sure enough, there was an accident ahead, but as I got closer, I saw it wasn’t the man with the cell phone.  However, I recognized one of the vehicles: a pick-up pulling a four-wheeler on a trailer that had passed me right about the moment I decided to slow down and stay in the right lane.  Had I not been reminded to slow down, I may have been the one in the accident.

God’s protection on our trip and the lessons for driving are obvious, but I hope I can also learn a lesson for life.  God reminds us that our strength is in repentance, rest, quietness and trust.  It is not found in fast driving, cell-phones and busyness; these are the things Isaiah would call “fast horses.”  It’s not from driving in the fast lane that God calls us; it is from living in the fast lane that he invites us to quietness and rest.  I have to ask if I am living life in the fast lane, if I am an accident waiting to happen.  Am I getting the necessary quiet time with the Lord which offers strength in and salvation from the rat race?  I hope memories of the cell-phone driver will remind me to slow down in quietness and rest.

Grocery List Prayer

June 30, 2014 at 9:29 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God, Prayer | Leave a comment
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I have always believed in praying the scriptures, and have tried to learn more about that practice in recent days.  I have been using scripture-based prayer in all of our church prayer sessions since I took over that area of ministry a few months ago.  Daniel Henderson, prayer pastor at Mission Hills Church here in Colorado, has had a positive impact on my thinking in this regard.  Here is a great quote from an article he wrote n the “Prayer First” Newsletter from Converge Worldwide (June 2014).  It talks about “grocery list” prayer, coming to God only with a list of my requests.

Grocery list prayer, while very common, is an approach to God that stems from our persuasion that prayer exists for us to inform Him about our problems, hoping He will order the universe according to our expectations.  These expectations are usually rooted in our desire to avoid suffering or difficulty.  God is reduced to a heavenly vending machine that exists for our temporal satisfaction.

Prayer is so much more than our list.  Praying through the Psalms has been a huge help to me.  Don’t just read the Bible, pray it back to God as you read.  It might just transform your thinking about prayer, about yourself, about life, about God.

If you are interested in a conference on scripture-based prayer, check out the 64 Fellowship website.  Cathy and I are attending the conference in Denver on July 30-31.

In Your Time, But Hurry!

October 19, 2013 at 7:41 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love, Prayer | Leave a comment

Today I read two Psalms, both prayers written by David, that have a fascinating contrast.

In Psalm 69, David feels like he is buried in his troubles.  “The waters have come up to my neck;” he complains, “I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold.” (v1 ESV)  But, as is so often the case in Psalms, he turns to God in the midst of his troubles.  “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.  At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.” (v13)  I love the way he recalls God’s steadfast love and saving faithfulness.  Like David, we often need to remind ourselves of those two attributes of God.  In Psalm 70, once again David prays to God about his troubles.   His enemies seek his life and delight in his hurt.  But, he prays, “You are my help and my deliverer.  O LORD, do no delay!” (v5)

The similarities between these two prayers are instructive, but what caught my attention today is the contrast between them.  In the first, he prays that God would work at an acceptable time, and in the second that God would act now — do not delay!  I can relate.  There are times I say “God, when it seems right to you, will you take care of this situation.”  And there are times when I say, “God, hurry up and deal with this!”  I guess, in that regard, I am not in bad company.  God is sovereign, and he will act in his time.  But it’s alright to pour out our hearts to him, even on those occasions we think his timing is too slow.  However, in doing so, we must never let go of his steadfast love and his saving faithfulness.

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