An Invitation into the Future



“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

There was a time just before our marriage when Val and I had to live in separate towns. It was just the way things worked out and was only a couple of months, but it was a difficult period. The consequence was, however, that we wrote letters, hundreds of letters, back and forth on a daily basis. And we discovered, as Jane Austen put it, “that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.”

Our separation was, paradoxically, a lovely time. A recent passage by Caroline Kepnes described our feelings perfectly:

“I will never again underestimate the power of anticipation. There is no better boost in the present than an invitation into the future.”

This is what is happening in today’s verse. It’s an anticipation of joy to come, an invitation into the future. If you’ve ever really enjoyed being with someone who made you laugh or think more deeply, then you probably still look forward to spending time with them.  The Psalmist wrote that there is “joy in God’s presence.”

Not that we’ve completely arrived, of course. We are still journeying on a path.  “You make known to me the path of life.” The Father has shown the way forward and Jesus said quite straightforwardly, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6) But we have that “sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself” that God “will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

There is something more to say, however. The “presence of God,” in Israel’s understanding, was located in the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the Temple, where a chosen priest could enter just once a year. But when Jesus died on the cross, Matthew tells that the thick curtain of the Holy of Holies was “rent in twain from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51).

So where is the presence of God now?

Jesus was clear about this. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”  “I am with you always.” Paul told the young church: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The presence of God is on and in His people.

And the “invitation into the future” goes out right now. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The verse is often used as an initial invitation to come to Christ. Of course, that’s appropriate.

But God’s desire to “come in and eat” with us is also a spectacular offer of ongoing friendship and intimacy that changes everything forever. Ah Lord, “you fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Come Lord Jesus!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Delight and Desire


bird wire.jpg

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4).

The phrase “Delight yourself” sounds rather self-indulgent, but this verse gives it its proper context. It’s “in the Lord”! Here is the very place where we can truly be delighted, and where we can fully explore the wonder of our own lives! It simply means that to dream wonderful dreams, we must know the wonderful love of God the dream-giver.

John expresses it so well:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! For that is what we are!”(1 John 3:1). There’s a ringing realisation that goes on here, in that last phrase. That is who you are! Loved! Liked! Appreciated! If we don’t believe God has our best interests at heart, we won’t dream big dreams.

It’s difficult to read that verse of John’s without imagining a huge smile on his face, like the smile of a toddler being given an unexpected ice cream. With a chocolate flake.

The joy, the sheer delight in the powerful presence of a God who loves me unconditionally!

Yes, that’s the place to dream. Someone said: “I believe God wants us to dream, and to dream big, because He’s a big God who wants to do big things and He wants to do them through us.”  And a more familiar quote of Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

So the two parts of the verse belong together. That is to say: God wants to grant you the desires of your heart; but He also wants to shape the desires of your heart.

And the shaping comes before the granting.

 It would be a foolish father indeed, who simply gave in to every whim of children who don’t know what they need, or even what they should really desire. It’s called “spoiling”.

And, of course, spoilt children grow into spoilt adults, ill-equipped to face life problems. And when a spoiled child becomes an adult he will still act in the same way he used to act as a child but in a form that is more acceptable by society.

For example….

A shy child who has been over-indulged and only used to playing alone becomes overly dependent on his own comfort zone when he becomes an adult.

A child who has learnt to cry until getting what he wants will cry for help too as an adult, by complaining, blame-shifting etc. Tantrums are not restricted to toddlers!

And in relationships too, when the spoiled child who becomes an adult discovers that the world isn’t responding to his demands, he may manoeuvre his partner into being a caregiver.

Spoiled children become helpless adults who are not flexible by any means and who expect the world to adjust to suit them instead of trying to adjust their way to suit the world.

And this was Paul’s reaction to the Christians at Corinth. They were spoilt and immature: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ.   I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.   You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly?” (1 Cor 3:1-3)

There’s a real danger when our theology becomes “man centred” rather than “God centred”: it places receiving before giving, and it perverts the Gospel and the mission of the church, creating an immature church that can’t stand up to trials. It folds in on itself.

But the Psalm teaches us that God does grant the desires of our hearts; but only when they have been shaped by a real relationship with Jesus Christ.


So what does that look like?  The first few verses of Psalm 37 give us some important descriptors: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong.” Don’t waste your mental energy – don’t fritter it away!- on non-essentials. Let’s just deal with your own relationship right now! We do so love to sort out the world, don’t we?

And so what do we do? Well, it’s not rocket science: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Live by faith and walk in kindness. How hard can it be? There’s a lovely line in Peter Pan that comes to mind: “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” That is to say: there’s a real magic in sheer goodness. It changes the world.

The verbs are very important here. It’s like a litany of the simple, godly life. Don’t fuss or argue. Don’t fret or fear. Trust. Do good. Dwell. Be at peace. These are the terms of the relationship to which you are called. It is not onerous or stressful. It is meant to do you good. And live “givingly”, as Jesus said (in Matthew 6): When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”

And then something wonderful happens: you begin to “Take delight in the Lord.” Here’s how Jesus put it: “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

And “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

And one more passage from Matthew 6 which blends in so well:

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. “

This is your Father you are dealing with! He knows what you need.

And slowly, steadily, surely, a new You is being born. It’s a You that looks to Father and trusts that He knows best. It’s a You that looks out on the world and does good, quietly, without any fuss. It’s a You that looks inwards, acknowledging fear and failure but not majoring on it any more.

And God says: “So what do you want?” And you say, “I want what you want. I just want to be here, as simply and as honestly as I can manage.”

And He says. “Sorted.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

More Joy in One Ordinary Day (Psalm 4)


“I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.”
(Psalm 4:6-8)

To say “I have enough” is a real blessing, but perhaps it’s an ordinary thing.  But to have “God’s more-than-enough” is extra-ordinary! This verse claims that God gives me everything I need and then much more besides. The Bible tells me I’m “more than a conqueror” and that God gives me “far more than I can ask or imagine.” These are statements about the abundance of God’s giving.

And the cross is how God gives. This is the way that “God’s more- than- enough” is given to me. Jesus paid it all and announced the account settled: “It is finished.” He did everything necessary to deal with sin and sorrow and sickness in my life. He rose from the dead, is seated in heaven and raises me up to sit with him. He gives me more than anything I might think I deserve.

In this context, God’s more-than-enough makes shopping sprees sound like the tiniest of tiny passing treats.

And even these tiny treats have their payback (Have I overspent? Should I have bought both?) But God’s more-than-enough has no payback at all, only rest and satisfaction:

“At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,

For you, God, have put my life back together.”

And that’s why I can still sing that old song with gusto: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because I know- I KNOW- He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

It’s a wonderful expression of confidence, but the whole context of Psalm 4 shows that it was a confidence maintained against terrible odds. Here’s the whole psalm:

“Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

   How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

 Tremble and do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.

  Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
  Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”

So here’s the thing: how can I live in the experience of that confidence when so many things seem to go pear-shaped? What’s the secret of that “more joy in one ordinary day”?

The first clue is in v3: “Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself.” This isn’t a matter of pride, but of humble awareness. Anyone who has come to Christ has experienced that feeling of chosen-ness.

You have been set apart.

The writer speaks to those of his companions who have been influenced by people caught in fantasy and idolatry. But it’s different for you.

It is not because we are particularly special, outstandingly gifted men or women. No, it is because …., well, because God has set us apart! He did this because He loved us, but why He should love someone like me is frankly, beyond me.

But He did.

And that sense of choice is an inspiring encouragement when the day grows dark. It enables me to sing that lovely line: “Let me be singing when the evening comes.” And since He chose to love me, He cannot but choose to hear me. So, “The Lord will hear when I call to him” (v3). This is the second clue.

I can take this for granted. Someone asked the question: “Who could wake up a king at 3am for a glass of water? The answer is: only his son.

And that’s precisely who we are, in Christ.

He hears us! And I can say to my companions, “I want you to know this privilege which I have, The Lord will hear me when I call to him.”

And that’s the third clue to the writer’s confidence: the outward acknowledgement of what’s going on inside.

So often when we are in trouble we moan, “You can’t expect me to bear witness to my faith when I’m feeling like this!” But the Psalmist has enough confidence to round on his accusers and take them on!

It’s not a sniping counter-attack but an analysis of their situation.

“Tremble and do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.”

First, make sure you don’t sin, whatever you do. Second, make sure you are searching your hearts. Are there no times when you are serious about your lives? Third, make sure you have a sacrifice to cover your sins.

It’s basic ABC stuff: there is no way you can come into this confident joy unless you are seeking God and turning from sin; unless you are serious and thoughtful about it; unless there is a sacrifice that covers your sins. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.”

So “Trust in the Lord” who loved us and died for us. Trust in the Lord who was raised from the dead for us. Put all your trust for entering heaven on the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

The cross is the only way home.

And “home” means rest, despite any appearance to the contrary. And the Psalmist looked around and saw the light of the Lord’s face shining on his life. He woke up singing “The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.” He knew he was a blessed man. And he looked within himself and acknowledged God’s loving provision: “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v7).

And he looked to his Lord too, at the end of the day, in untroubled confidence that God had it in hand: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (v8).

“I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Sky is Everywhere- it begins at your feet…”


“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

I am very taken by the phrase “The skies… pour forth speech.” What do they say? “They reveal knowledge.” What kind of knowledge?  Paul offered an answer: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:24)

What invisible qualities? His “eternal power…” His “divine nature.” Here’s the conclusion:

God can be “understood from what has been made.

Can that conclusion be substantiated? Ptolemy (writing perhaps a century after Paul) would have said yes. “Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Ptolemy heard the speech that the heavens “poured forth” and was stirred not only to understand our human littleness in contrast to the bigness of space, but also to realize that this cosmic reality is not all there is. “My feet no longer touch the earth.” Ptolemy went on to evoke a sense of spiritual reality. That is to say, simply, a study of the heavens evokes not only knowledge but worship.

Peterson suggests this in a rather whimsical paraphrase of Psalm 19: “God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.” Do you see the rush of metaphors? It’s a rock concert (on tour)….it’s a gallery (on exhibit)…. it’s a class, a lecture, and your head, your heart, your senses are all being gloriously assailed by the daily, nightly declaration of the glory of God.

Jandy Nelson’s book The Sky is Everywhere testifies to the revelation shared by Paul, Ptolemy and Peterson: “The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet.”

For so long I lived on the edge of an invisible world. Open my eyes, Lord, to the glory of both physical and spiritual reality.

You are the sky, everything else is just weather.

Open my eyes! If one of the New Testament writers had tried to describe a phrase like that, the word he would have used for it is the Greek word ‘apocalypse’. We’re used to hearing that word in the titles of films like Apocalypse Now, and we forget what it means in the original. The word ‘apocalypse’ is usually translated as ‘revelation,’ meaning something that was hidden from us before has now been revealed.

God, you see, is not a being we can discover with our five senses. Therefore, the normal scientific techniques won’t work when we’re trying to get to know God. In fact, we could never discover anything about God at all, unless God had made a prior decision to reveal himself to us. The Psalm shows us two ways in which God is revealed to us, and then ends by giving us a hint about how we ought to respond to God’s revelation.

So in this Psalm, (verses 1-6), we are first taught about revelation through the things God has made.

Stories about experiencing the presence of God through nature are as old as humankind and almost as universal. Just this morning, I heard someone singing: ”I see your face in every sunrise.”  Perhaps the singer, like the Psalmist was captivated by the experience of sunrise. The sun seemed to leap into the sky so enthusiastically – it reminded him of a wrestler jumping into the ring, or a bridegroom emerging from his wedding chamber with a new spring in his footsteps! His imagination leaps into action, doesn’t it?

And ‘the heavens are telling the glory of God.’ Apparently, the word ‘glory’ is a tough one to translate into central Arctic Inuktitut. The word that’s often used in the prayer book is kaumanek, which means something very close to our English word ‘shining.’ That works, because, after all, when you experience ‘shining’ you know that a source of light is present.

And when we experience creation we know that the Creator is present and real.

If you look out over the mountains, or the huge canopy of sky, or the wide blue blanket of ocean as believers, you draw a sense of the power and majesty of the Creator who could make all this. Creation tells us that the Creator is present; it is a sign of God’s glory.

But what does creation tell us about God?

In Philip Yancey’s book I Was Just Wondering, something of an answer is offered by way of a bunch of new questions:

‘Why are there so many kinds of animals? Couldn’t the world get along with, say, 300,000 species of beetles instead of 500,000? What good are they?

‘Why is it that the most beautiful animals on earth are hidden away from all humans except those wearing elaborate scuba equipment? Who are they beautiful for?

‘Why is almost all religious art realistic, whereas much of God’s creation – zebra, swallowtail butterfly, crystalline structure – excels at abstract art?’

So Psalm 19 shows us God revealing himself to us through creation. This is often how people first get a sense of the existence of God as well; many of us had our first experiences of God through the natural world.

But this is not quite enough. It doesn’t give us God’s wisdom for daily living. It doesn’t tell us how we ought to live our lives to reflect the glory of God in the world.  So the Psalmist changes tack, from pondering what is made to revelation through what God has spoken.

If we really want to get to know someone, sooner or later we have to talk! A person’s words reveal their thoughts in one of the most intimate ways we know.

The Hebrew Bible emphasised God’s speaking voice and the development of this relationship through ‘the Law and the Prophets’. In these texts, God shows not only what he is like but also what he wants us to be like. The word ‘Torah’ itself means something like ‘instruction,’ such as a father might offer to his son. We see this in Psalm 19: God’s ‘law’ and ‘decrees’ (v.7), his ‘precepts’ and ‘commandments’ (v.8), and his ‘ordinances’ (v.9).

The law offers them ‘wisdom,’ (v 7) or rather, an idea of how to live in any given situation. It grants ‘enlightenment,’ (v8); that is, knowledge that they couldn’t gain in any other way. It brings  joy. It warns them of potentials dangers. All in all, it’s like one of those signs reading: “For best results, follow Manufacturer’s instructions.”

For us Christians, of course, this revelation doesn’t stop in the Old Testament scriptures. John calls Jesus ‘the word of God’. He embodies God’s speech for us; his life is a concrete embodiment of the Torah, the Law. His teaching brings out the deeper meaning of the Old Testament commandments, and he sums them up for us in his two great commandments to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. As we faithfully follow Jesus, we are living out the deepest meaning of God’s Old Testament law.

So we have these two sources of revelation, the works of God and the words of God, creation and scripture. And we need them both. We need to look for God in creation to get a sense of God’s grandeur, God’s ‘bigness’ if you like, and the sheer fun that God takes in artistry for its own sake. But we also need the scriptures for clarity about God’s inner thoughts and God’s will for us as human beings.

We don’t go to Scripture to satisfy our curiosity about everything. We go to seek God’s wisdom for our daily life. Let me close by pointing you again to the prayer in verse 14:

‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer’. I suggest that whenever we go to God’s revelation, either in his works or his words, we go with that prayer.

And revelation starts the very moment that you open your eyes! The sky is everywhere. It starts at your feet….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Invincible Summer (Psalm 46)



“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (Psalm 46:10)

The Latin version of this verse (I’m reliably informed) translates literally as “Relax and take a holiday!” There’s so much going on all the time. It’s good, as they say, to “get away from it all.” The Message takes it even further here: “Step out of the traffic!” Unless you do this, that is to say, you’re liable to be overwhelmed by the sheer flow of “stuff” heading your way! There is traffic flowing through your eyes, your heart, your mind, and every sense is alive and alert to a million impressions. It can be exhausting to sort it all out. So, frankly, it can be dangerous not to “be still ” and find a place “above politics, above everything.”

But how do you do it?

It starts with a decision to change your pace. Alexandra Potter put it well in The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather:

“And so, taking the long way home through the market I slow my pace down. It doesn’t come naturally. My legs are programmed to trot briskly and my arms to pump up and down like pistons, but I force myself to stroll past the stalls and pavement cafes. To enjoy just being somewhere, rather than rushing from somewhere, to somewhere. Inhaling deep lungfuls of air, instead of my usual shallow breaths. I take a moment to just stop and look around me. And smile to myself. For the first time in a long time, I can, quite literally, smell the coffee.”

But notice that “it doesn’t come naturally.”  I have to make the decision “to enjoy just being somewhere, rather than rushing from somewhere, to somewhere.” And when you stop, and look about, then something remarkable happens: the traffic stops. Not for nothing is the time you spend with God in prayer often called a “quiet time.” That is to say, it takes both time and quiet to grow roots to your soul and to think things over. It takes time to develop any relationship that is worthwhile.

That’s what the Psalmist is referring to here. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.” First the decision to step back, then the invitation to ponder deeply. It creates something amazing, which Albert Camus referred to (in a wonderful phrase) as “an invincible summer.” Here’s the bit:

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

I love that idea. An invincible summer simply cannot be defeated. And “Be still and know that I am God” is really the climax of the whole psalm. It’s a psalm that seeks to fill our brains and fill our souls with what is most important of all. This psalm seeks to redirect our gaze from the kaleidoscope of all that would distract and divert us and bid us fuss and fret – towards God, the “invincible summer” of calm happiness. Here’s the whole context of the Psalmist’s claim:

“God is our refuge and strength,

 a very present help in trouble.

 Therefore we will not fear,

though the earth should change, 

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

 though its waters roar and foam, 

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; 

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; 

see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; 

he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!

 I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us; 

the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 Throughout the rollercoaster of history, God has been “a help in times of trouble.”  That’s the claim of the psalm. No matter what may come, the people of God can say, “We will not fear.” There’s a marvellous prospect that trust opens up. Faith makes one unafraid. There may always be room for concern and a need for caution, but for those who experience that “invincible summer,” trust prevails.

The question remains, however: In what part of your life does that message need to be heard right now?

Whilst the Psalmist acknowledges the existence of dangers and uncertainties, he also maintains the “refuge and strength” of the God who is with us. Life can be tough. We live in an unstable world –  physically and metaphorically we know all about mudslides and tornados. We know the mountains shake. Waters roar and foam. All this is painfully evident in every newspaper we read.

But the psalm says, “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” The same God who has been from the beginning, the same God who has nurtured and held and loved God’s people through all things continues to work and save even now.

And so we arrive at the core of the Psalm’s message.: “Be still and know that I am God.” One version translates it as “stop your fighting,” or “stop your striving.”

Did you hear that? What must you stop doing?

I guess it means: Stop your fighting and striving to have everything under control. Stop fighting with yourself, stop fighting with others, stop fighting with God, stop fighting with forgiveness or whatever else is haunting you.

When we can trust in God, everything opens us in new ways. God is in control. God is with us. God is our refuge and strength.

But there is even more here. In Hebrew, when two imperatives are linked together like this – “Be Still AND Know” – this is called “coordinate imperatives” – the emphasis is always on the second one. So when these two imperatives come together like this, the emphasis intends to be on the knowing. We can “be still,” because we “know” that God is in control. When our hearts and our lives “know” the real truth – God is the ruler of all things – we can indeed “let go.”

We stop the fighting, stop the fretting, and then it becomes clear – life is held by God. God is our refuge and strength. The summer is invincible.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

God is a safe place to be

safe hold.jpg

“My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:7)

There’s a lovely moment in Maya Angelou’s All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She writes “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” If you know anything about her life at all, then you will understand both the title and the sentiment.

Well, in my life, God has been my safe place. God has welcomed me as I am, “Just as I am.” And there has been no critical questioning, like angry parents haranguing a teenager who has missed curfew (“Just who do you think you are?”), just a warm welcome to fireside and laughter.

And this home, this “mighty rock [and] refuge,” is not a place but “an irrevocable condition” (as James Baldwin put it). There is simply no safety at all, outside God.

And so we arrive at Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase. “My help and glory are in God —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God— So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”

Here is the root and heart of all relationship, fruitfulness and peace of mind: God is a safe place to be!

When I was very small, I remember being scared of Doctor Who, which came on at teatime TV on Saturday afternoons. And yet amidst my fear, I desperately wanted to see how it all worked out. So my compromise position was to hide between my father’s legs, one arm around each, and peer out at the enfolding drama. A safe place, in the midst of it all.

So “Trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”

But how do I find my way to that safe place? How do I make my home there?

The point in Psalm 62 is that the writer was utterly desperate. Evil men were threatening his life and scheming how, not only to topple him from power, but also how to kill him. Our difficulty in applying the psalm is that most of us do not really share those desperate straits that led to its writing. These enemies were saying, “He’s like a leaning wall or tottering fence. Just push and he’ll go down!” So at the point of crisis the writer reaches out -desperately – and discovers this bedrock truth:

In life’s most threatening times, you will be at peace if God alone is your salvation and refuge.

The psalm examines alternative options. If we trust in God, we’re secure. If we trust in human resources or in material support, we’re depending on something lighter than breath itself (Psalm 62:9).

The key word is “only”, which translates a handy Hebrew particle. It occurs six times, four in reference to God (Psalm 62:1, 2, 5, 6; also in 4, 9). Each time it begins the sentence for emphasis. Sometimes it can be translated “but,” or, as Calvin suggested “nevertheless,” and it may also translate as “surely” or “certainly.” But the central meaning is “only” or “alone.” Thus by repetition, the point is hammered home that we will enjoy God’s peace in the midst of the worst that life can sling at us when God only—God alone—is our salvation and refuge.

But, as I said,  how do we get there? How do we stay there?

There’s three stages to the journey. The psalm falls into those three stages, the first two ending with “Selah” which some interpret as a musical break for emphasis, or a space for thought.

The first bit (62:1-4) is about being calm under pressure. The second section (62:5-8) is about maintaining that peace. The final section (62:9-12) is about what not to depend on and whom to trust in.

It seems to have been a nasty situation. The unspecified “enemies” were planning how to displace and disempower the narrator. They were using lies and flattery together, buttering him up to his face and tearing him down to others.

Steven Cole compared it to being a leader in a generalised sense: “Hopefully you’ll never have anyone plotting to kill you! But if you’re in any kind of leadership position, whether in the church or in business, you will have times when you’re under attack. You’ll be criticized and slandered. I’ve known pastors that left the ministry because they couldn’t handle the criticism that inevitably goes with the job. But the Bible never promises exemption from such attacks. Rather, it shows us what to do when you’re under attack.”

So what do you do when under such threat? “My soul waits in silence for God only.” It means: Take a moment when you refuse to listen to anything else apart from the promises of God.

Don’t complain, resent or grumble. Don’t overthink, going over and over the circumstances, like dirty washing swirling around in the washing machine. Just stop and wait for God. Humble yourself “under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). Even this present discomfort or threat is God’s business, not yours.

That’s the conclusion that the Psalmist arrives at. I wait for Him, simply because “From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

In the context, of course, “salvation” refers to God’s rescue from a circle of vicious enemies about. But there is another far more vicious enemy that is ultimately behind every (merely) human assault. In John 10, Jesus referred to Satan as a thief that comes to “steal, kill and to destroy.” And even if we’ve never been in the desperate situation where fierce enemies threaten our lives physically, spiritually we know the threat of Satan’s onslaughts on a daily basis.

And we also know that if God alone is your salvation from eternal death, if He raised you from death to life and gave you the faith to believe in Jesus Christ, then you also can take refuge in Him from less threatening trials. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-32:  “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

And that’s the basis for the confidence expressed in the second section (in Psalm 62:5-8). Calvin comments, in a rather beautiful passage: “Here it is to be remembered, that our minds can never be expected to reach such perfect composure as shall preclude every inward feeling of disquietude, but are, at the best, as the sea before a light breeze, fluctuating sensibly, though not swollen into billows.” In other words, we have to work at this! We have to fight for peace of mind, reiterating the promises of God every single time you waver.

It’s as if he’s talking himself into being encouraged. “My soul, hope thou…” in the older versions, or even “I tell myself” in newer ones! Martin Lloyd-Jones asked: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

He goes on “And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.

That’s exactly what’s happening here in Psalm 62. He piles up description after description of who God is: “For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be moved. I shall not be moved.”   Then he goes over it again “On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.”

I have to be resolute about this. I have to fix my faith-allegiance to the promises of God and be definite about it. I have to stick to my guns. Why? Simply because I am so irresolute, so faltering, and so apt to listen my own foolish thinking. I find that I say “I trust you, Lord” and then almost immediately begin to plan how to sort the situation out myself! Calvin said that we “display our distrust in him by busying ourselves in all directions to supplement what we consider defective in his aid.”

It’s not that it’s wrong to think things through but it’s wrong to give God a token nod of trust and then set Him aside while really we trust in our schemes and methods. No, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold.” And “I shall not be shaken.”

In the first bit, the narrator looked at his enemies primarily in relation to himself, so that he was acutely aware of the danger that he was in. He was like a leaning wall. In the last section, he looks at them in relation to the powerful, loving God, who is his stronghold. By comparison, these supposedly dangerous people are “lighter than breath.”  Here’s the context: “Men of low degree are only vanity, and men of rank are a lie; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath” (Psalm 62:9).

Derek Kidner said that the point here “is not so much that we have nothing to fear from man as that we have nothing to hope from him.

And neither should you trust in oppression or robbery!  Most of us probably aren’t tempted to use oppression or robbery to get out of our fixes, but we may well be tempted to trust in money as a quick-fit solution. But Only God will do.

Make sure that you hearGod’s answer for how to deal with threatening problems: First, God is powerful; second, He is loving. Therefore, He will justly judge all of our enemies. If anyone opposes God’s power and resists His love, he will know His justice.

Satan always attacks either or both of these truths when we face trials. He tempts you with the thought that if God is all-powerful, He could have prevented these trials. So, He must not love you. This is where by faith we have to join Joseph, who told his brothers who had sold him into slavery (Genesis 50:20), “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good….” By faith, affirm both God’s power and His love.

Fight for God’s peace. Remember His promises. Stand upon them. He alone is our salvation and refuge. God is a safe place to be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Art of Decluttering (Psalm 66)


“If I had harboured sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18)

Do you harbour sin?

It’s a powerful verb. When a big ship comes into harbour, it is not making a fleeting visit. It comes in to rest, to be replenished, refuelled. It is harboured.

Spurgeon said that you can‘t stop the birds of temptation from flying about your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.

We are all prone to moments of weakness, flashes of irritation, failures in love and respect, unguarded words. But what is it to let those things find harbour?

It means to welcome them; to attend to gossip and turn it over in your mind and pass it on. It means to develop resentment and grudges towards those you imagine have wronged you, and lust towards those you find attractive. It means to replenish and refuel your darkest desires.

So how can you do all that and still hope to maintain a warm, talking relationship with your “Sovereign Master”? It’s not that he is punishing you for your naughtiness; it’s that your new conversation with the world has drowned out the possibility of a conversation with him. You can no longer hear him speaking.

And “If I had harboured sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.”

It seems to me, Father, that you are instructing me as to why my prayers sometimes don’t get answered.  

Hmm. Not sure I want to consider that too deeply, but maybe we should…

In one very short, but powerful, word, the Psalmist has unpacked the cause of unconfessed sin. It’s in that word “harbour” or “regard.” The word means:  “to be near, to think of, or to perceive.” It means allowing an idea mental space. This is no accidental stumbling into a situation. It’s a voluntary arrangement. It means a wilful acceptance of something that’s wrong.

It’s what’s happening when you consider a course of action, and you plan around it, and “cooperate” with it. It’s as if you have allowed a dangerous stranger to take up residence in your attic bedroom. You can never be safe again.

Paul gave this advice in I Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Anything less is an acceptance of sin.

And this means an agreement with a prevailing condition. It’s only a short step from approval of the sin itself. Do you see the trajectory? Allow… accept… approve.

That which we tolerate will eventually dominate.

I’m sure you know the story of the Camel’s nose.

“One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a camel gently thrust his nose under the flap and looked in. “Master,” he said, “let me put my nose in your tent. It’s cold and stormy out here.” “By all means,” said the Arab, “and welcome” as he turned over and went to sleep.

A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had not only put his nose in the tent but his head and neck also. The camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said, “I will take but little more room if I place my forelegs within the tent. It is difficult standing out here.” “Yes, you may put your forelegs within,” said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was small.

Finally, the camel said, “May I not stand wholly inside? I keep the tent open by standing as I do.” “Yes, yes,” said the Arab. “Come wholly inside. Perhaps it will be better for both of us.” So the camel crowded in. The Arab with difficulty in the crowded quarters again went to sleep. When he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself.”

The camel’s nose is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions. If you allow sin to stay, it is because you’ve accepted it, and you’ve agreed with
it. The tragedy is, the longer it stays, the worse it gets!

And notice that word “my.” If unconfessed sin is present, then the fault, the guilt, and the blame lies nowhere else, but within the owner of the “my.” It comes home, to you and I. And we cannot shift the blame and point the finger elsewhere.

D.L. Moody once said, in his tough, no-nonsense fashion, “Many of our prayer meetings are killed by men trying to pray when their lives are not right. A man may stand high in the community, and may be a member in “good standing;” but  the question, how does he stand in the sight of God?”

If there is anything wrong in your life, make it

As Samuel was preparing to anoint the next king of Israel, in I
Samuel 16, he considered Jesse’s son, Eliab, and said, “Surely the
Lord’s anointed is before him
.” Yet, God replied by saying, “..Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as a man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“(I Samuel 16:7)

The fact of the matter is, that if there is some unconfessed sin, that you’ve accepted and agreed with, lying dormant, hidden and unseen, the tragedy is that you are already being weakened. If, and when you fall, it will not be because of the circumstances that happened, but because the secret place of your heart has been eroded.

What’s the consequence?

Simply that God is no longer in relationship with you. What a tragedy! Where there is unconfessed sin, there is a God who is unmoved. That’s not the same as saying that God is unjust, unfair, and unconcerned. Far from it. But where there is sin, there is the contempt of God. Where there is sin, there is condemnation of God. Not for the sinner, but for the sin. As a result, God is Unmoved!

And so your prayer is unheard. “The Lord will not hear me.”
Proverbs 15:29  makes much the same point: ” The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” In Proverbs 28:9: “He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.”

If it feels that your prayer life is stagnant, and stale, then perhaps there is a clutter of rubbish clogging up your closet. What a price to pay, where God is unmoved, and prayer is unheard! It’s like a slow, invisible cancer: the symptoms may not be evident; but the lasting effects are deadly to a Christian’s personal life, public life, and prayer life.

What’s to be done? It’s up to you.

Do you want a powerful, productive, and a purposeful walk with God? Then you must honestly, and openly, clean out the secret closet of your heart.

Psalm 139 is a good place to start: “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment