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

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.

A Prayer for My Daughter as She Heads to College

August 15, 2014 at 10:23 am | Posted in Personal Testimony, Prayer | 2 Comments

This is a prayer for my daughter Amber as she will be moving to college in just a few days.  It is inspired by Psalm 144:1-2, 12 and Psalm 118:28-30

Dear Lord,

I bless you for you are my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.  To whatever you call me, for that you will prepare me, and you will carry me through it.

So I pray for my daughter Amber, as she heads off to college that you would be her Rock; that she would find her strength, not in family or friends who are no longer near, but in you alone.  Prepare her hands for the war to which you’ve called her, her fingers for the battle.  Be her steadfast love and fortress; her stronghold and deliverer; her shield where she can find refuge.  If school work seems overwhelming, be her refuge; if homesickness tries to depress her, display your steadfast love; if the enemy tries to attack, be her fortress; if a different climate seems stifling, refresh her soul; if she feels weak, be her stronghold.  As she faces a new level of music, a band far better than any she’s been in, may her fingers be ready to play and her heart in tune with you, the source of all music.

May she be like a corner pillar cut for the palace.  As a corner pillar, give her incredible inward strength to face anything that comes her way; allow her to be a stronghold for other freshman girls; for others in the band; for those on her dorm wing; for any others who may be struggling.  As a pillar cut for the palace, may she show incredible beauty.  May those who see her, see your beauty in her; may she be a winsome person that draws others to you; may she demonstrate your beauty in purity and integrity; may she be like Jesus in all she is and does.

Lord you are the one who lights our darkness.  For Amber, light her lamp, be a light in her darkness.  When the darkness of being away from all that is familiar tries to overwhelm her, be her light; may your word be the lamp to her feet and the light for her path.  By you, she can run against a troop; by you she can scale any wall.  Whatever challenges come her way, she can handle them in you, for she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.

Your way is perfect; your word proves true; you are a shield for all who take refuge in you.

Amen

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.

An Election Day Prayer, by Aspah

November 6, 2012 at 8:17 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Asaph, the worship leader in Israel during the reign of King David, wrote these words, but they are so appropriate for us today.

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!  For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.  They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones.  .  .  .

O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.  As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!  Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD.  Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth. (Psalm 83:1-3, 13-18)

Today, my home country will choose a leader between two men, neither of whom, by biblical standards, is a godly man.  Yet they are so far apart in philosophy and values, that I see this as the most critical election of my lifetime.  Both of these men oppose the Gospel of Jesus, in one way or another.  But whoever gets elected today, God is still in control.  And, like Asaph, we can pray the prayer above.  Ultimately, whatever happens to this temporal and worldly kingdom, God’s kingdom will prevail.  Those who oppose him will someday be put to shame and dismayed forever.  Our prayer for our ruler, whoever it may be, is that he would seek the name of the Lord and know the true God alone as the Most High over all the earth.

Spiritual Prayers?

April 27, 2011 at 8:37 am | Posted in Prayer, Questions for Pastor Glenn | Leave a comment

Dear Pastor Glenn,

I heard a radio preacher recently say that all Paul’s prayers were spiritual prayers and that ours should be also.  Is this true?  And if so, how can we make our prayers spiritual prayers?

Thanks for you help,

Dear ________

Are Paul’s prayers always for spiritual things?  I appreciate the question, because it relates to how we pray for others.  I make no claim to be a prayer expert in my understanding and certainly not in practice.  I wish I could more often pray the kind of prayers Paul prayed for his churches.  But I will attempt to give my biblical understanding of this issue.  I see two areas to address.  First, what is “spiritual” as compared to “unspiritual” or “secular?”  And second, what was the content of  Paul’s prayers in the New Testament?

What is “spiritual?”  I don’t know what the radio speaker meant by this, since I didn’t hear him.  However, there are some issues that we tend to think of as more spiritual than others, but this is a flaw in our thinking,  It was Paul who said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men.”  And “Whether you eat of drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” (Col 3:23; 1 Cor. 13:31)  It seems from comments like these that Paul sees no difference between the secular and the spiritual.  To him everything was “spiritual.”  Tentmaking was as “spiritual” to Paul as preaching.  Each could be done wholeheartedly with excellence to God’s glory, and each could be done selfishly and sloppily.  To make a separation  would also separate between professions and make people who are professionals at “spiritual” matters (like preachers and missionaries) somehow better than those who have any other kind of job.  But the truth is that each of us must do with excellence whatever God calls us to do, and that is “spiritual” activity.  I would add that even preaching or mission work is not “spiritual” activity when done haphazardly, or with false motives or hidden agendas.  I know from experience that all three of those are common problems – sometimes I don’t even know my own motives and agendas in ministry!

A famous Christian classic was written hundreds of years ago by one we know only as Brother Lawrence (with the help of a friend) called The Practice of the Presence of God.  It illustrates this point better than anything I could say or do.  Brother Lawrence was a monk assigned to the kitchen cleaning crew, but he saw it as a way to glorify God and wrote about it in his book.  His friend says of him, “The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was simply to do his ordinary work.  He did this obediently out of a pure love of God.  He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other.”  And “He was content doing even the smallest chore if he could do it for the love of God.”  In other words, Brother Lawrence would say whatever God would have you do, that is spiritual activity.  That seems to exemplify Paul’s attitude about life.

In light of your question, I would only add this comment:  Whatever God would  have you pray, that is a “spiritual” prayer.  Paul’s prayers would testify to this, which brings up the second issue.

Paul prayed for things like “that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” and “that you may know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (all from Ephesians 1:17-19)  These certainly sound like very spiritual things, and they appear to be the majority of his recorded prayers.  But he also prayed “that a way may be opened for me to come to you” (Rom 1:10), “that you may be able to discern what is best,” (Phil 1:10) “that you may have great endurance, “ (Col 1:11) and “that we may see you again.” (1 Thess 3:10)  This second list sounds more like practical than spiritual matters.

The seeming spiritual  nature of Paul’s prayers comes, I believe, from the fact that so many of them are recorded in his letters to churches rather than individuals.  The only prayers Paul can express for everybody in a church are those “spiritual” issues he desires for everybody because space and knowledge do not allow for personal, everyday kind of requests.

In addition to that, we have some commands from Paul that indicate the broad nature of his prayer requests, including these:  “Pray for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.” (1 Tim 2:2)  “The widow who is left all alone continues to pray and ask God for help.” (1 Tim 5:5)  “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, so that I may come to you with joy.” (Rom 15:31 – this one sounds about as practical and “unspiritual” as it gets!)  And finally, “in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests by made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)  By everything, I take him to mean even those things some would consider “unspiritual.”

The things Paul prayed for his churches are things we can pray for anyone, but there are many more issues we can take to God as well.  When you are led to pray for someone on a more specific matter, even if it seems less spiritual, go ahead and pray those things.  I think God is delighted in our prayers, even when we ask him for the mundane.  Maybe he’s especially delighted when we ask for the mundane, because it is a recognition of his providence over everyday matters.

In Jesus, Pastor Glenn

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