Can you handle the “hebel”? (part 2)

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
    says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.’

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

Last week, we saw that life and everything in this world is not necessarily meaningless, but it is fleeting. The idea behind “hebel” is like smoke, breath or a bubble that soon disappears.

“Hebel” is also translated in the Bible as “idol”. And of course, there is a connection between the idea of transience and an idol. So in Isaiah 57:13, for example, idols are blown away by a breath, but God is a firm refuge.

“When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.”

What Ecclesiastes is going to teach us is that the very definition of an idol is something temporal that we attempt to grasp hold of as something eternal; a false god we worship instead of the true God. So what is meaningless is to search for pleasures, riches or fame, work or wisdom as something we can grab hold of and find satisfaction in forever. That is putting those things in the place of God, who alone has all wisdom and who alone gives all good gifts, and who alone is eternal.

When we know better who God is, and our place before Him, then our frustrating and fruitless quests for meaning and understanding and even our identity, are stilled.

These two ideas, fleetingness and idolatry, conveyed by the word “hebel”, provide us with much food for thought. It is not meaningless to seek something stable and lasting in a world that is transient and fleeting. What is meaningless however, is to look to anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ to provide this for us. He alone is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Reflection: Where do we tend to look, other than Christ, for stability and permanence and meaning? Why is Christ worthy of our worship?

Assurance & Justification

Why do Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation? In the last post I explored the Bible’s teaching about salvation generally. In this post I want us to go a little further and think about how that salvation works. At the heart of the Gospel, at the heart of salvation, is the doctrine of justification.

What is Justification?

Justification is one of the most important terms used by the New Testament in order to describe our salvation. It is a legal term, drawing its meaning from the pronouncement of a verdict in a court of law. In God’s economy, to be justified is to be declared “not guilty” of sin and therefore to be free from any fear of condemnation of judgement.

In the New Testament a person is justified by God when he or she turns to Christ in faith and repentance. Jesus’ death and resurrection effectively cleanse the Christian of all their wrong-doing and cover the Christian with Christ’s right-doing so that they are “justified” in the sight of God.

We are not justified by anything that we have done, but rather by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

Therefore justification means that Christians can walk through this life in the full assurance that when they face final judgement at the end of time, they already know what the verdict will be. It is as if they have never sinned and always obeyed. They are justified.

This glorious reality is given to us as a gift, free and undeserved.

Justification and Assurance.

The connection between the doctrine of justification and assurance should be fairly obvious by now. If you have turned to Christ in repentance and faith then you are justified and should have no fear of being condemned by God.

So why do we fear?

At one level we fear because our faith is weak. It is one thing to clap for the man taking the wheel-barrow across the tightrope, it is another thing entirely to get into the wheel-barrow. It is important to remember that the strength of our faith may affect our subjective experience of salvation in this life (happiness) but it never affects the objective reality of our salvation. Christ is our Saviour, not faith. It is the presence of faith, not the strength of it that matters.

The one who sits in the wheelbarrow on the tightrope, with eyes closed and fists clenched may not be having fun, but he is still in the wheelbarrow. He is safe in the hands of the one who holds him, whether he knows it fully or not. One day, he will see that there is nothing to fear. For now, he just needs to sit tight.

 

 

 

Read the Bible like Isaac Watts.

In 1709 Isaac Watts wrote a hymn that has had a profound impact on my walk with Christ, and more particularly, on my understanding of the Bible. The words are as follows…

“Laden with guilt and full of fears, I fly to thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears, but in Thy written word.
The volumes of my Father’s grace does all my grief assuage,
Here I behold my Saviour’s face almost in every page."

The Bible is About Christ

The view of the Bible in this verse is priceless; not merely a book to settle doctrinal disputes, not merely a book to teach morality and wisdom for living, not merely a book that provides authoritative answers to the biggest questions of our existence, but a book that reveals Christ to me. In the Old testament and in the New, the Bible is God’s word to us about Christ. This was Jesus’ own view of Scriptures in Luke 24: 25-27:

He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

This has a massive impact on the way I read and teach the Bible. The purpose of every “quiet time,” every Bible study and every sermon is not simply practical but deeply personal. If the purpose of the Bible is to reveal Christ, the purpose of reading the Bible is to know Christ.

The Gospel Transformation Bible

The trouble is, it is not always easy to behold our Saviour’s face in every page, especially if that page is an obscure passage of Leviticus. The good news is that there are some excellent resources out there to help us. I would like to mention one in particular that I am very excited about.

10ofThose.com has just released a cracking offer on a great publication called the Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV). The tagline is “Christ in all of Scripture. Grace for all of life.” so it precisely the resource we need if we struggle to see how the Old Testament points to Christ. It is currently available for a discount of up to 87% off! In a recent post, I spoke about the usefulness of Study Bibles in interpreting the Bible correctly. So if you are interested in getting one, this would be a great place to start.

In the following links you can have a look at a sample, see the offer, or go directly to the 10ofThose store.

This is an excellent resource at an unbeatable price so I would strongly encourage you to get in on the action, especially if you don’t already own a Study Bible or if the idea of seeing Christ in all of the Scriptures is new to you.

A big thanks to 10ofThose.com for providing a free copy of the Gospel Transformation Bible to Christward Pursuit. You guys rock!

Can you be a churchless Christian?

No.

Let me explain.

Normally when you hear this question, the answer goes something like this:

“Yes you can be a Christian and not go to church because being a Christian is not about religion but about having a relationship with Jesus. You don’t have to earn your relationship with Jesus, he gives it to you as a free gift. So technically you can b​e a Christian but you really should go to church.”

This explanation is usually followed up by an illustration of how lumps of coal, when plucked from the fire, grow cool or how sticks, when bundles together, are stronger.

These sentiments, although a bit cliché, are nevertheless true. However, they can also distort our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?

First of all, the phrase “relationship with Jesus” is misleading because everyone has a relationship with Jesus. Not all relationships are healthy or positive. Some people may have a relationship with Jesus Christ as their enemy but they still have a relationship with him, and even a personal one.

The question we need to ask isn’t so much whether or not we have a relationship with Jesus but what kind of relationship with Him is unique to the Christian?”

The briefest summary I can think of is that a Christian is someone who relates to Jesus Christ as their King, Saviour, and Treasure.

If Jesus is our King, who commands us and leads us, then that would show itself in our lives through and attitude of obedience. If we truly understand that Jesus has saved us from our sins then gratitude and repentance will be present. If we have come to see that knowing Christ renders all else rubbish in comparison then we will long to walk closely with him and grow in our knowledge of him.

Putting aside for a moment the handful of exceptional circumstances where joining a church is simply not possible (such as being stranded alone on a desert island), let us look at what makes it so difficult to reconcile “churchless Christianity” with the Bible.

It begins with the way we think of our churches.

WHAT IS A LOCAL CHURCH?

A local church is not simply the collective noun for a group of Christians: A swarm of bees, a school of fish, a church of Christians…

If two or three Christians go play golf together they are not a church.

Rather, a church is the gathering together of Christians in Jesus’ name in order to worship God and encourage one another through the ministry of the Word.

There is more to say on this about elders, discipline and the sacraments, but for now, I merely want to point out that by “church” the Bible does not mean a trip to the local coffee shop, cinema or football game with another Christian.

So how does this definition of church affect our claim to follow Jesus?

OBEDIENCE TO OUR KING

Can we really claim to have sworn obedience to our King and yet disobey his clear instruction that we should not give up meeting together?

All of us fail in our obedience and trust in his grace to forgive us. That is a very different to constantly and deliberately ignoring his explicit commands without repentance.

This is not to mention the many implicit problems churchlessness creates for our claims of obedience. The commands to love one another, submit to the elders, participate in the Lord’s Supper together are all placed in jeopardy by our simple refusal to commit to a local church family.

TRUST IN OUR SAVIOUR

Likewise, can we really claim to have put our trust in Jesus to save us if we do not love to join together with the church?

Jesus not only reconciled us to God but to one another as well. To be saved is to be brought into the Body of Christ by the blood of Christ. Ignoring the local Body of believers, and yet claiming to believe that Jesus saved you, makes little sense when one considers that the church is what we have been saved for.

LOVE FOR OUR TREASURE

Jesus told his disciples that whenever two or more gathered in his name (local church), he would be with them. Jesus is especially present with his people when they are gathered together, just as he is present among the lampstands in Revelation.

If I claim to love Jesus why on earth would I not want to be where he is? If I love Jesus then my place is with his people who gather in his name. If I have no interest in being in His presence with His people…well, it doesn’t sound right does it.

Save me from my enemies?

Psalm 3 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all round.
Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

David was going through a rough time. His own son sought to depose him from the throne and even murder him. That cannot be easy.  Understandably, even admirably, he cries out to God for salvation from his enemies.

But how many Christians, in the West at least, would say that they have “enemies”? Should Christians even have enemies?

Given that this comes up in the Psalms pretty often I thought should probably think it through otherwise I’m going to have these questions assaulting me every morning.

So here are a few enemies that every Christian will encounter in their sojourn through this life.

Enemy 1: The World

The “world” is the word used by the Bible to describe humanity in its rebellion against God. It is the current of human culture moving away from God toward all kinds of evil. It is hard to swim against the current all the time. Sometimes we may experience this in general ways. For example, we may struggle against temptation to indulge in pornography or to believe that science is more trustworthy than God’s Word. Sometimes the enemy of the world takes a more personal form: a work colleague who openly ridicules your faith; a friend who begins to hate you because you cannot condone their actions; an extremist who threatens you and your family because you are a Christian; a senseless act of crime that leaves you reeling in shock.

Enemy 2: Your Sinful Nature

The ever-present enemy for Christians is the enemy within. Our own sinful nature is what makes the world tempting to us in the first place. But it doesn’t leave us alone when we come home from work or switch off the computer. It is an incessant urging within us to disobey God and act selfishly.

Enemy 3: The Devil

Satan and demons are still a reality in our world. I know it seems silly to believe in that these days but if we begin to buy into that then we are in real trouble. The devil is real and so is the threat he presents to health of Christians. True, he will not triumph in the end. True, he is under God’s authority even now. But he is still a prowling lion ready to devour.

Enemy 4: Other Christians

What struck me about this Psalm is that the enemy in David’s mind was not worldliness, or Satan or even his own sin. Rather His enemy was his son Absalom, who was his own family and even his own faith. To use the contemporary equivalent, Absalom went to church with David.

The influence of the world, the sinful nature and the devil on Christians means that from time to time we will be opposed in our lives and faith by other believers. It may be because they are not truly born again. It may be that they are true Christians behaving sinfully. Most of the time, these are the enemies that hurt us most.

And yes, it means that you and I are not immune to the possibility of being the enemy either.

Cry Out to God for Salvation

If you’re a little overwhelmed at the prospect of all of these foes then hopefully you will also see how wonderfully relevant this prayer is to all of us. The only one who can save us from these enemies is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s sustaining power and protection alone can give us peace in the face of those who oppose us and seek to harm us. This is especially true for believers living on this side of the cross because we have seen God’s triumph over his enemies through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Salvation, from beginning to end, belongs to the Lord. Cry out to Him.

When we shake our fists at God

Psalm 2 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

2 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

What fascinates me about those who claim to be atheists is how much anger they have toward God. Most recently, this has been demonstrated by British celebrity Stephen Fry here, but perhaps more famously by Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchins. It fascinates me because anger toward God is not the emotion that I expect from someone who says that there is no God. I can understand apathy, or even ridicule, but not anger. I think this Psalm provides an explanation as to why it is that there are so many angry atheists in the world: the real motivator behind claims of disbelief is not science or intellect or morality but rebellion. The real reason for unbelief and disobedience is treason against the Creator.

This applies as much to the Christian as to the atheist. What grieves me most is that despite my conviction that Jesus is the rightful King of all creation, there still exists a part of me that would see His throne toppled and my own established in its place. This desire triumphs every time I choose to disobey his Word. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

We need to recognise the rightful rule of the Creator over our lives. To do this we need to give allegiance to the King he has appointed: Jesus Christ. God has established the rule of His Son and no amount of fist-shaking can do anything about that. Yet to all who do fear Him, who do submit to Him he is also a refuge. The same King who lovingly rules over us, also forgives us our treasonous acts and offers us grace and mercy.

O God, help me to see the futility and arrogance of my rebellion against you. Help me surrender all to the service of King Jesus. Help me to know that my treason is forgiven in His name.

Psalm 17: I Shall See Your Face (part 2)

Psalm 17

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
    you who save by your right hand
    those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
    from my mortal enemies who surround me.

10 They close up their callous hearts,
    and their mouths speak with arrogance.
11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
    with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion hungry for prey,
    like a fierce lion crouching in cover.

Deliver me from the evil one

In the first part of this post we saw that David calls out to God for vindication. It is clear from these verses that the crisis he is facing is not simply to do with reputation. The threat is all but overwhelming. David is surrounded by callous and wicked men who are hungry for his destruction. His life is in danger and so he cries out to God to rescue him.

There are many Christians who face similar trials today because they follow Jesus. In the West, Christians may not experience persecution in the same way but we still have an enemy who is intent on our harm. I’ve reflected more on Christians and their enemies here.

Jesus taught us to ask God to “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one”. We can and should pray for ultimate deliverance in the form of forgiveness and eternal life but also for “little deliverances” from sin and/or circumstances so as to life a life worthy of the gospel.

Show me the wonders of your great love

David pleads for rescue on the basis of God’s love. We shouldn’t miss how powerful the plea is. Derek Kidner explains it so well in his commentary:

The first two lines, in English, translate just four highly-charged Hebrew words. Wondrously show calls to mind the word for God’s miraculous interventions (see on 9:1) and for his rebuke to Sarah in Genesis 18:14: ‘Is anything too hard (lit. wonderful) for the Lord?’ Steadfast love, or ‘true love’ (neb), is that faithfulness to a covenant, to which marital devotion gives some analogy.”

David knows who God is and what God has done in the past. He has heard about the plagues that forced Pharoah’s arm, the passover, pillars of fire and cloud, crossing the Red Sea, defeat of the Egyptian army, provision of manna and much more besides. We have the same demonstrations of God’s love and faithfulness and more…so much more.

For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:17)

It boggles the mind the think about Jesus as the fulfilment of this psalm. He is both the King who was rescued from death and the King who would rescue his people from death. All of this is possible through God’s display of miraculous covenant love in raising him from the dead. How David would have rejoiced to see Jesus! His life, death and resurrection are the greatest demonstration of miraculous power and love that we could ever wish for.

It is this wondrous love that gives us confidence to pray for God’s intervention and continued faithfulness to his promises today.

I shall see your face and be satisfied

13 Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;

    with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
14 By your hand save me from such people, Lord,
    from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
    may their children gorge themselves on it,
    and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

15 As for me, I shall be vindicated and shall see your face;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

Initially I read v15 as a poetic way of saying that David will see God’s saving intervention in his current circumstance. When I read it again I changed my mind. I think David is expressing a far more literal expectation that whatever happens in this life, he will see God’s face in the life to come and then he will be vindicated and be satisfied.

The reason I think this is because of the way the wicked are described in v14. They are those “whose reward is in this life”. In v15 David contrasts the aims of the wicked with his own. The wicked hope for nothing beyond this life. The reward of the righteous is to see God’s face.

Many Christians have cried out again and again for deliverance from their enemies. Some have experienced that deliverance and others have not. David knew this full well. He knew that God had not guaranteed his safety and so even though he asks for God’s intervention, he knows that it may not be His will. God has not promised that we will not suffer. However, we know that whatever happens, however God answers our prayers, we will see his face…and be satisfied.

Psalm 17: I Shall See Your Face (part 1)

Psalm 17 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

A prayer of David.

God is the one who vindicates his people

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
    listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer –
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
    may your eyes see what is right.

Essentially this is a prayer of King David for vindication from his enemies.

David is suffering unjustly at the hands of wicked men and is pleading with God to rescue him and clear his name of suspicion. A long time ago another Christian accused me of something that I didn’t do. I knew I was innocent but I had no way of proving it… It was a frustrating and difficult time. At some point during that period I gave up trying to defend myself and I remember God teaching me to turn to him for vindication. The main thing is that God knows the truth and so I can entrust my reputation to him. It is wonderfully liberating to entrust our concerns to God.

God will do what is right

Though you probe my heart,
    though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
    my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
    through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
    my feet have not stumbled.

David knows that God will do what is right and will not side with injustice or deceit. So it is important to David to consider whether in fact he is innocent in this situation or if some of the trouble he is experiencing has been brought about by his own actions. Passages like this have often been troublesome to me. I have never really felt comfortable repeating the words “my steps have held to your paths” as a prayer to God. God would simply laugh. He knows that I slip up all the time. The elders of our church meet weekly for prayer. We always start by reading a psalm and when we discussed this issue we came to the following conclusions:

  • David is not claiming sinless perfection in general – we know this because in his other psalms he regularly admits to guilt and pleads for forgiveness. There are even occasions where David claims to be guilty and to have kept God’s ways in the same psalm.
  • Therefore what David is claiming is that he is not guilty of the accusations against him in this particular circumstance.
  • “My steps have held to your paths” means that David is still following God’s ways. The direction of his life is toward obedience. He has not given up on his faith or on the Bible.
  • In this sense, Christians should be able to say that they are holding to the paths of God with absolute sincerity. God’s paths includes confession, repentance, faith and obedience.
  • We should also remember that David is a type of Christ and that we should first and foremost see the psalm as a foreshadowing of Jesus. David is a picture of Jesus, who is the innocent King who suffers at the hands of evil men. Jesus is the King who trusts God and is vindicated through his resurrection from the dead.
  • Therefore, we can apply the psalm as people of faith but we should not forget that we only have a right to do so because we are in Christ. In him we can count ourselves innocent in the eyes of God. In him we have the privilege of pleading to God for vindication. If God vindicated his innocent King, he will vindicate the innocent people of the King.

Is Christianity unfair to those raised in other faiths? (Part 1 – learning to be honest)

The Challenge of the Global Village

The world is becoming a smaller place and more people are being exposed to the various cultures, religions and practices contained within it. This, I would argue, is a good thing. When I moved to London from a fairly sheltered community in South Africa, it was one of the first things that struck me about the city. I was exposed to the cultures of Europeans, Africans, Asians and even Americans. My experience stretched me and I am all the better for it.

Globalisation (as they call it) does also present its challenges. For example, this is a summary of a real question asked by someone engaging with the truth claims of the Bible.

“How can God judge people simply because of what they believe about Jesus? Some people never hear about Jesus and others were raised in religions that taught them not to believe the way you Christians do. None of us were alive then, so how can we be expected to know what really happened anyway.”

Some groups within the church have been reflecting on this question over the last few weeks, I thought it may be helpful to jot down some of those reflections in the hope that it may be of some help to those who have asked, or been asked, similar questions.

Trust God enough to be honest

When I encountered this particular comment I was surprised at just how defensive my reaction was. I immediately wanted to let out the doctrine guard-dogs and watch them tear the objection to pieces. When I dug a little deeper I realised that my defensiveness betrayed a deep sympathy for the seeker. Defensiveness often betrays our vulnerabilities.

The truth is that I have asked myself this question many times. It has disturbed me in the past and continues to lay siege to the stronghold of my beliefs. This too is a good thing. If the Bible cannot withstand a few honest questions then it cannot be God’s Word. However, when we truly engage with these issues and allow the Bible to present its own defence, our confidence in it will not be weakened. That is my experience anyway. No matter what doubts have come against my faith in the Bible, the walls have held. In fact, my faith has been strengthened through earnest wrestling with doubt.

The point I want to make here is that we can and should sympathise with those who are genuinely perplexed by these things. I believe this puts us in a much better position to help them.

Do unto others…

When Jehovah’s Witnesses come round to the house I generally allow a bit of time to converse with them. Most of the time, I wonder why I bother. I feel that particularly when I don’t believe they have actually engaged with any of my questions. So often it feels like vague well-rehearsed answers or changes in subject. It is worth noting this phenomenon is not limited to JW’s. I have had the same experiences with Muslims, Atheists and, in more polemical contexts, other Christians.

In one particular conversation I became so frustrated that I blurted out a simple question; “Do you ever have doubts about what you believe?” Their response was without hesitation, “No, never.” I knew at that moment that I was wasting my time. I cannot take seriously the views of those who claim never to doubt their beliefs. They are not being honest with themselves, so how can I expect them to be honest with me.

Yet, to my shame, I have to admit that I have fallen into this trap as well. I’ve never claimed to be doubt-free but sometimes I act as if I am. We think that sympathising with the questions of non-Christian friends are displays of weakness and that to vocalise our doubts are a betrayal of our God. Ironically when we do this we reinforce the presupposition that Christians are brain-washed and beyond reason. There are times when we should keep our doubts to ourselves but we should never make it seem as if they do not exist.

Speak the truth in love

If we love those of different faiths and want them to know the good news about Jesus then we need to learn to be honest and sympathise. If it frustrates us to deal with rehearsed mechanical answers, why should we expect others to respond differently to our own versions of the same. Trust God enough to let them know that you recognise the validity of their questions before you raise attempt to answer them.

Psalm 9: The Lord Your Stronghold

Psalm 9 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.

Look back: Recount the faithfulness of God in past rescues

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turn back,
    they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
    you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgement.
You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
    you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

David’s confidence in God’s future rescue is rooted in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness in the past. As Christians, we are able to look back on even greater rescues. In particular, we can look to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension as the ultimate triumph of God over the enemies of his people. It more important than ever, when we are going through difficult times in the Christian life, to take the time to meditate on all that God has done in order to give us hope to endure.

Look up: Consider the throne of God in present trials

The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
    their cities you rooted out;
    the very memory of them has perished.
But the Lord sits enthroned for ever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

David not only reflects on the actions of God but also on his character. God is the king and judge of all the earth. This is easy to lose sight of in times of difficulty, but again, it is precisely during these times that we need this the most. God’s grace towards his people and his hatred of evil ensures God’s future judgement and salvation because He does not change. It is the character of God himself that guarantees consistency between his past and future rescues.

Look forward: Trust in the unchanging rule of God 

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.
15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgement;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

We too live between God’s past and future rescues. And so we too can renew our confidence and praise in light of God’s sovereignty and character. Jesus has come, and he will come again. He is our stronghold.