Search This Blog

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Psalm 141: Helps in Prayer in Difficult Times

Psalm 141
1 I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.
5 Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.
6 Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
7 They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”
8 But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
9 Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.

V. 1-2 The psalmist seems to be in trouble and wants God’s help now. Yet, he wants his prayer to be like incense, which as you can imagine slowly drifts upward. The incense and evening sacrifice were things done in obedience, they were commands.  Why would the psalmist want his prayer to be like them? He wants his prayer to be in line with what God desires and he wants his prayers to be acceptable to God.

V. 3-7 Remember the context of verses 1-2, the psalmist’s desire that his prayer be acceptable. A “guard over my mouth” would be for what purpose? Again, he does not want to say anything that would hinder his prayer.   The psalmist knows that there are many temptations to do and speak evil, so the guard at his mouth would be someone who is righteous, that knows God’s law and stops him from saying or doing anything wrong. So, rather than join in the deeds and speech of those who are evil, he prays for their judgement. The wicked even come to the point where they recognize that they have been defeated.

V. 8-10 Rather than rejoicing in the defeat of those who do evil, the psalmist keeps his focus on God, calling Him the  “Sovereign Lord” or the One who is absolutely over all. He then returns to his plea for help from the wicked, that they would be trapped by their own evil, but that he would be safe.

There are several important things we need to remember when we pray while we are in difficult situations that we can learn from Psalm 141:

1. We call on God first.  God is not the resource that we go to when all else have failed. He is who we go to first.

2. We must be careful how we pray and careful about what we say. Words thrown out without thought can hurt other people, and can show a lack of faith and trust in God. [Remember the father to Jesus, “If you can help my son...”]

3. We need to welcome and seek the counsel of those wise in the faith. We need to be accountable to grow properly. Think about a grapevine, it is most useful when it grows following the strands of wire, rather than just run anywhere along the ground. Be accountable to someone and following spiritual disciples of prayer, Bible study, and learning to be obedient to God’s commands help keep us along the designs of God’s will for our lives.

4. It is easy to get side-tracked by those who focus on evil or that do not follow God’s laws.

5. We need to keep our focus on God, realizing that He is God, He is in control, He loves us, He has a plan, and that we can trust Him.

6. As we call on God, seek wise counsel, focus on the fact the God is in control and that we can trust Him, we can be assured that God will hear and answer our prayers for our good and His glory.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Going Back to "Square One"

Life and ministry is full of joys and indescribable rewards, but it can be full of setbacks, confusion, and debilitating frustrations as well. On a recent trip to Cuba I had the joy of sitting in on a class, the professor of which had been a previous student in some classes I had taught. Her genuine interest in the students, command of the material and natural giftedness in teaching was more a testimony of her personal commitment to Christ and being His disciple than anything that I could have done. Yet, I was humbled and grateful to God for the privilege of being a small part in a life so given to the service of Christ. She serves in a remote village with her doctor husband who also serves as the local pastor. They have three beautiful children, the youngest of which has Downs Syndrome. Most of us probably wouldn’t last a week going through what so many go through around the world in similar situations, but in the eleven years and 20 visits I have know this young godly woman I have never heard a complaint. In fact, some of the most joyful and funny times I have had in my life have been shared with the group of Christian musicians in Cuba with which God has given me the privilege of working.

Even so, they have days as we all do, where there may be two steps forward, and then three steps back. Other days, three forward and two back. Progress is slow and perseverance is so key to being able to make it through one more day. Walking with this group of friends from the island, even for just a short time, understanding the challenges and almost insurmountable difficulties can get very discouraging. Ministry here can be very disheartening as well, for just about the time you finally get one thing where it is working, three other things “fall apart” and it is not uncommon to want to just walk away in discouragement. In these times, something that has been of great help to me has been learning how to go back to “Square One” when the challenges do come.

What is going back to  “Square One?”  It is no miracle cure, for the situation and circumstance may or may not change. But, what does begin to change is our attitude in the midst of the difficulty.  Here is a brief explanation: When I find myself in the crisis, rather than react without thought, I try to mentally go over these 5 truths:

1.  God is in control. This did not catch Him by surprise and He is well able to use even the greatest tragedy for His ultimate glory and our good. Remember Matt. 28:19: “All power and authority are given to me in heaven and on earth....”

2. God loves me. Romans 8:38-89 declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I may not understand the love of God, but I cannot deny it, or stop it. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3. God has a plan. Like the backside of a tapestry where the threads seem all out of place and the shape is not clear, only God can see the other side and that what He is designing is a thing of real beauty.  Remember Is. 55:8-9: ‘“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

4. I can trust God and His Word. Because I know He is in control, that He loves me, that He has a plan, I can place my faith and confidence in His hands. His Word is truth, and since it reflects His nature and character, we can rely and believe what He says is true.  Remember Hebrews 4:12  “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Ps. 119:9, 11 “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

5. I must choose to act in obedience, giving thanks “in” the situation. In 1Thes. 5:18, Paul reminds us “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice that he says, “in” not “for.”  It is an act of the will. It is a choice, not a feeling. From this choice we respond in obedience to what God desires.

I know that this seems to be an over simplification, and I am certainly not trying to minimize the difficulty that someone may be going through at the moment. I am just sharing some things that have helped me greatly.  Going back to  “Square One” is different way of thinking about life and just a way of reminding myself of biblical truths. Remember what Paul says in Rom 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  In “renewing our mind” we learn a new pattern of thinking that does not conform to the patterns of the world, but one in which is pleasing to God. “Square One” can aid in that process.

                                                  Square One
                                          1. God is in control.  
                                          2. God loves me.
                                          3. God has a plan.
                                          4. I can trust God and His Word.
                                          5. I must choose to act in obedience,
                                              giving thanks “in” the situation.