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[With this article I begin a new series of short, daily meditations on selected Psalms.] In most instances I like to leave myself a little theological wiggle room, a loophole, if you will, a measure of flexibility that affords me the opportunity of qualifying some statement that I've made. In fact, it's often the failure to provide nuance and clarification to our declarations that gets us in trouble or boxes us in to a position that on more mature reflection clearly cal...Read More

r While in England in February of 2007, I had the privilege of speaking yet again at the Life in the Spirit conference. During one of his messages, fellow-speaker Dave Smith made passing reference to my book, Pleasures Evermore, and articulated in a most refreshing and poignant way its principal theme. "When it comes to living a successful Christian life," said Dave, "and resisting the power of temptation, simply saying ‘No! No! No!' won't suffice. We must learn t...Read More

Dr Absalom was David's third son. His second son, Chileab, is never mentioned after reference to his birth and the assumption is that he died early on. David's first-born son was Amnon. The story of how Amnon died is a sordid one. Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar, and Absalom, Tamar's brother, swore revenge. It took two years but finally Absalom arranged for Amnon to be killed. Fearing punishment, Absalom went into exile for three years. When he finally returned to J...Read More

The message trumpeted by the world, the flesh, and the devil is relatively simple. It's often packaged in different shapes and sounds, but the underlying theme is monotonously the same. Like a reverberating echo in an empty cave, the refrain is incessant, unending, and unchanging: "There is more joy in illicit sex than in Jesus. There is more joy in goodies and gold than in Jesus. There is more joy in power, pride, and a drug-induced high than in Jesus. There is more joy...Read More

Dr Listen to Solomon's words in Proverbs 15:8 - "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him" (or,"is His delight" [NAS]). Although God is spirit, if he had a face he would display one of two looks when people pray. This text suggests that God frowns in disgust when the wicked hypocritically try to manipulate him with their sacrifices. But he has a beaming, glowing smile of indescribable delight whenever...Read More

Dr It's difficult to live in a world of corruption, abuse, and mindless cruelty and not experience a recurring spiritual nausea. When one witnesses senseless injustice and the prosperity of those responsible for it, nausea turns to indignation and righteous rage. I know a little of what the psalmist meant when he cried out, "How long, O Lord, how long?" Sometimes the question, "How long?" doesn't spring from a speculative curiosity that says, "I want to know when," but...Read More

Dr Depression is an ugly word, and difficult to define. We've all faced it, some worse than others. Even if we don't understand it, we know what it feels like. The confidence that God is behind you has vanished. The courage to face anything life might throw in your path has given way to the horrifying suspicion that God has forgotten who and where you are. Where is he now when you need him most? Where is he when your life is enveloped in darkness and you can't find the...Read More

Dr The psalms come to us in a variety of spiritual colors. Some are glorious, green, glad-hearted hymns of praise. Others are filled with bright blue, unrelenting gratitude. There are psalms of confidence, of remembrance, wisdom psalms, kingship psalms, and even the crimson of imprecatory psalms that call for God's judgment against the wicked. But nothing can compare with the dismal grey of the psalms of lament. These psalms are "the polar opposite of the hymn on the e...Read More

Dr Psalm 15 is short (only five verses) and to the point: "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put...Read More

Dr Rock stars rarely age well. The Rolling Stones are a case in point. Often called The Strolling Bones, and not without cause (!), this once energetic and controversial sixties group was actually invited to perform during the Super Bowl halftime show only a few years ago. Of all their many hits, the one that lingers most in my memory is the grammatically torturous, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"! As I type it, Microsoft Word faithfully reminds me of its error with that...Read More

Dr Look up and listen, for "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). What a way to begin the psalm that C. S. Lewis called "the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world" (Reflections on the Psalms, 63). The grand sweep of Psalm 19 is nothing short of stunning. It begins with the skies above (vv. 1-6), then moves to the Scriptures below (vv. 7-11), and finally to the prayerful meditation...Read More

Dr I have written in a variety of places (both books and articles) on Psalm 19, so I trust you'll indulge me yet one more time as I reflect on this magnificent portrayal of the beauty and power of God's Word. The following observations are adapted from my book Pleasures Evermore (Chapter Nine). In Psalm 19:7-11 we find six declarations that tell us what the Bible is and does: six nouns, six adjectives, six verbs. The focus is on the identity (the nouns), the quality (t...Read More

Dr If you've never given much thought to Psalm 22, there's no better place to begin than with the following comment of Charles Spurgeon: "For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this Psalm, there is none like it. It is the photograph of our Lord's saddest hours, the record of his dying words, the lachrymatory of his last tears, the memorial of his expiring joys. David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but,...Read More

Dr Perhaps the most pervasive theme in all of Scripture is God's passion for God. No, that's not a misprint. Many would have preferred that I say, "God's passion for you," but if God isn't first and foremost committed to himself and the pursuit and praise of his own glory, his love for you wouldn't amount to much at all. But let me return to this notion of God's commitment to God. On what biblical grounds do I dare make what appears, at first glance, to be an outrageou...Read More

Dr Aside from John 3:16, Psalm 23 may well be the most famous and oft-quoted passage in all of Holy Scripture. I've seen it printed on greeting cards, embossed on plaques, written on T-shirts, sewn into quilts, and even parts of it have appeared on bumper stickers of cars! I attribute this to its remarkable and powerfully reassuring portrait of God as both the good shepherd who cares for and protects his sheep and the gracious host who provides for their every need. Go...Read More

I’ve always been intrigued by Psalm 27:4, if for no other reason than that it is the last thing one would expect from David, at least when looked at from a purely human perspective. Given his circumstances, this single-minded, undistracted commitment to gaze on God’s beauty seems out of place.   I can’t believe I just wrote that! It shows how little I know of God’s beauty that I should think, if only even for a moment, that anything could j...Read More

He should have known better. He never should have stayed at home alone while his army was fighting in the field. He never should have lingered late at night on his rooftop. He never should have set his eyes on that beautiful lady. He never should have inquired about who she was, nor should he have sent for her, nor should he have slept with her. He should have known better. But King David sinned and Bathsheba conceived.   He should have known better. He never shou...Read More

Friends fail us. Stocks plummet. Health is unreliable. A promise is broken. Need I say more? The fact is, there is nothing, no one, anywhere in which/whom we can place our unqualified trust and be assured it/they will not let us down.   So what’s a person to do? If no one is infallibly worthy of our unquestioning trust, where do we turn? To whom do we ultimately look? In what do we put our hope?   For anyone who reads the Psalms, the answer is obvious...Read More

What does it mean to seek after God? How does one pursue the Almighty? Let’s explore Psalm 34 and take note of how David did it. There are six things I want you to consider as essential in pursuing God.   First, celebrate God (vv. 1-3)! Observe the passion and intensity of David’s worship.   “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad...Read More

How is one supposed to respond to verses in the Psalms like these?   “Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you” (Psalm 5:10).   “Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me! Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the ange...Read More

I love the Psalms. No book in all of Scripture has ministered to me as powerfully as this collection of inspired prayers and praise. Any suggestion that they are less than the inspired Word of God is deeply troubling to me. So how are we to make sense of these imprecatory outbursts in which the psalmist pleads for God’s wrath and destruction of the wicked?   Let me make several suggestions that might help.   (1) We should remember that in Deut. 27-28 ...Read More

Let me conclude our study of these unsettling psalms with a few words of practical application taken from my book, The Singing God (pp. 169-75).   Although it may sound contradictory, we are to “love” those whom we “hate”. We love our enemies by doing good to them (Luke 6:27). We love them by providing food when they are hungry and water when they thirst (Romans 12:20). We love our enemies by blessing them when they persecute and oppress us...Read More

I am an unashamed, passionate advocate of Christian Hedonism. I’m sure there are some who think that’s akin to saying that I enjoy eating fried ice or drawing round squares. After all, aren’t Christianity and Hedonism mutually exclusive? This isn’t the place to explain why they aren’t. I’ve done that elsewhere at some length (see my books, Pleasures Evermore and One Thing, and of course, John Piper’s classic defense in his book, ...Read More

What is one to do when all you’ve had for breakfast is tears, followed by a late night snack of sorrow? The answer of the psalmist sounds as strange as the question: Preach to your soul! Take yourself in hand, look yourself in the eyes, and preach this message: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5,11; 43:5).   If the sentiment of Psal...Read More

Ein feste burg ist unser Gott! Say what? Well, that’s how Martin Luther would have written it in his famous hymn:   “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.”   There can be no doubt but that Luther’s sturdy, unshakeable, unflappable confidence in God as his refuge, his strength, his mighty, impenetrable fortress is what ultimately accounted for what he was able to accom...Read More

This psalm has a special message for several groups of people.   First, Psalm 51 is for those who have never come to grips with the horror of human sin and the magnitude of divine grace. Often grace becomes meaningless, and certainly less than "amazing", because we lose sight of the depths of our depravity. David helps us on both counts by describing in graphic detail the reality of his sin and the breath-taking glory of forgiving grace.   Second, this psal...Read More

Countless Christians feel spiritually paralyzed by the lingering stain of sin. Neither therapy nor religious formulas, not good intentions or good deeds, can erase the vivid memory of their transgression(s) or bring cleansing to the defiling sense of guilt. The oppressive weight of their failure(s) is virtually suffocating.   Thank God for Psalm 51! It is a refreshing and heart-warming reminder of the hope of forgiveness. But it’s even more than that. David ...Read More

Dr On more than one occasion I've been asked: "Sam, why do you lift your hands when you worship?" My answer is two-fold. First, I raise my hands when I pray and praise because I have explicit biblical precedent for doing so. I don't know if I've found all biblical instances of it, but consider this smattering of texts.  "So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands" (Psalm 63:4). "To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me,...Read More

Dr Some Christians would like us to believe that their faith in God is invulnerable to challenges from without. They act and talk as if their faith has never suffered a crisis of any sort, never been stretched or strained almost to the point of breaking. My opinion of such folk is that they are either pathetically naïve, dangerously dishonest, or perfect. You simply can't live long in this world and not experience crises in spiritual confidence every once in a whi...Read More

"O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly Some people are terrified of appearing needy. Obsessed with their public image and how they are perceived, they put on a false front of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Not David! That's one of the things I admire most in the author of so many of these psalms. He is utterly unashamed to acknowledge before others his weakness and dependency on God. Typical is this cry of desperation in Psalm 63:1. "O God, you are ...Read More

avid's confidence is also seen in Psalm 86, where he appeals t My book on prayer, Reaching God's Ear (Tyndale House, 1988), has been out of print for over a decade. When the few who purchased a copy took a look at the cover, they immediately asked me: "Is that you in the picture?" No, but I have to admit, the man sitting in the chair did bear a striking resemblance to what I looked like in 1988. Those of you who've seen the cover also know that there is a young boy sta...Read More

r I was greatly tempted to quietly skip over Psalm 88. But then I realized that there are many reading these meditations who can identify with the palpable sadness of Heman, its author, and wonder if anybody else has ever experienced the depths of despondency it expresses. This has been called the darkest, most depressing, and saddest of all psalms. Unlike the other psalms of lament, this one does not conclude with praise or a declaration of joy or hope for renewed con...Read More

An anonymous psalmist affirms for himself and us all that "he w Not too far from the house in which I was raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma, there was an area called Broadway Woods. It would hardly classify as a forest, but to a nine-year-old boy it seemed as big and vast as the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa. I loved playing in Broadway Woods. My friends and I would build little hideouts and secret meeting places there, using whatever material we could scrounge up. We'd...Read More

r I don't know about you, but I'm weary of the worship wars that have wreaked havoc in so many churches. It's sad to look back over the past twenty-five years or so at the damage and division that have resulted from this internecine conflict. Should we use traditional hymns or contemporary songs? Which do you prefer, a robed choir or praise team? Baldwin piano or acoustical guitar? Liberty or liturgy? Standing or sitting? Formal or free? Long or short? Hands raised or a...Read More

Dr I can't see as well as I used to, especially without my glasses. There are times when I don't hear everything going on around me. And I must admit that I have a finicky sense of taste. But I'm proud to say that I have a marvelous sense of smell. And believe it or not, so too does God! Of course, I'm speaking anthropomorphically when I say that God has a perfect sense of smell. And few things smell as good to him as gratitude. In the book of Leviticus God gave speci...Read More

Dr Were ever more beautiful words penned than these? "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:10-12). Consider for a moment how we "deal" with others. We keep fresh in our minds their injustices toward us. We nurture the...Read More

Dr One of the greatest obstacles to experiencing intimacy with God is our knowledge of God's knowledge of us. That may sound strange, so I suggest you read it again. Let me explain by asking a question. Why do you hesitate to draw near to God? Why do you and I strive to keep God at arm's length, especially after we've sinned? There are, to be sure, many reasons and thus a variety of ways of answering the question. But let me suggest one that I have found to be most pre...Read More

Dr When was the last time you gave a second thought (much less a first) to a donkey slaking its thirst in a muddy stream? I doubt if you've spent much time pondering the fir trees that provide a home for the stork, or the rocks that serve as a refuge for the badger. Many Christians picture God as distant and uninvolved in the routine, trivial, uneventful affairs of life. This especially holds true when it comes to the phenomena of nature. Surely the God of heaven and e...Read More

Dr According to legend, an Austrian bailiff by the name of Gessler issued an order requiring all citizens of Switzerland to bow to a hat that he had set atop a pole in the main square of the town of Altdorf. When William Tell refused, he was arrested. Gessler knew of Tell's expertise with the crossbow and struck a deal with him. If Tell could shoot an apple off the top of his son's head, Gessler would set him free. As you know, Tell's arrow was perfectly on target. Aft...Read More

When was the last time you thanked God for being able When was the last time you thanked God simply for being able? I can't imagine anything more disheartening and depressing than believing in a God who lacks the power to fulfill his purposes, whose energy wanes in the heat of battle or whose strength diminishes in a moment of crisis. Good intentions notwithstanding, if God can't carry out his plans and can't fulfill his goals and can't keep his promises, I'm not sure I...Read More

Dr Psalm 119 has long been an enigma to many Christians, especially those who testify to boredom and confusion when they read God's Word. The attitude of the psalmist is baffling to them. He speaks repeatedly of a joy and unparalleled delight and a spiritual exhilaration when he reads and meditates on Scripture, affections that are largely foreign to their experience. So here's what I propose. Quickly read this meditation and then slowly read the psalm in its entirety....Read More

"But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared" (Ps If the title to this meditation strikes you as a contradiction in terms, read on. Let me begin by asking a simple question: "What do you fear most?" As for myself, the first things that come to mind, in no particular order, are squash, wasps, and the possibility of no baseball in heaven. Of course, I realize that I can hold my nose when I eat squash and wait for my taste buds to recover. I assume, as well,...Read More

Dr Psalm 139 is all about God, simply and solely. If that doesn't interest you, I doubt that you'll find it of much help in life. That it might not interest you is, of course, tragic. That it ought to interest you goes without saying. But let me say it anyway. Better still, let Charles Spurgeon say it: "There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so de...Read More

Dr Some feel threatened by the sovereignty of God. They regard it as an infringement on their personal autonomy or fear that it will reduce humans to mere automatons, incapable of meaningful and morally significant choices. Others, yours truly included, cannot imagine life apart from the comforting, reassuring, rock-solid confidence that flows from knowing that God governs all things, from the exalted affairs of heaven to the seemingly random rain drops that plummet to...Read More

Dr I had a choice today about what to each for lunch. As I drove west on 135th Street, I was faced with the decision of whether to turn left into the Sonic drive-in or continue straight ahead to Subway for a roast beef sandwich on wheat bread. Nutrition would be better served by the latter, but the allure of a chicken strip dinner with fries and a Diet Coke ultimately prevailed. Did God know which choice I would make prior to the moment that I made it? If I had chosen ...Read More

Just when I think I might have God ever so slightly figured out, he pulls a surprise on me that shatters and confuses and discombobulates what little understanding I have of him.   I’m a theologian by trade, so its my responsibility and calling (and joy) in life to do what I can to connect the dots of divine revelation and hope that the resultant picture at least looks vaguely similar to the God I read about in Scripture. But sadly, that picture all too ofte...Read More

We now return to the cave where King David has sought refuge from Saul’s homicidal rage. It’s hard to envision a more bizarre and ironic scene than this, but having dwelt on it in the previous meditation, we now move to the substance of David’s prayer.   “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit faints within me, you kno...Read More

I suppose there are as many different kinds of prayers spoken prior to eating a meal as there are families who pray. When Melanie and Joanna were young, the greatest problem we faced wasn’t in getting them to pray but in getting them to finish before the food got cold. Neither of them was able to pray for the meal collectively, but insisted on giving thanks for each individual item on the table. They thanked God for the potatoes, the fork, the milk, the salt, the n...Read More

I’ve never witnessed the destruction of my city, place of worship, or been driven from my home by pagan hordes and held captive for seventy years. Neither have you. There are no words to describe the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation of such an experience. So I won’t try. But let’s look on the upside. Try to envision how you would feel upon your release from bondage, together with the opportunity to return home and rebuild your city and chur...Read More

Psalms 148-150 are too lengthy for me to include in the text of this meditation, and too important for any of us to ignore. So I encourage you to open your Bible and read them now. After you are finished, consider these four themes that emerge.   First, worship is a universal privilege. I could have said “obligation”, for worship is a duty we are commanded to fulfill. But I don’t want to give the impression that it is burdensome or oppressive. Ex...Read More