Take Refuge in Scripture: Psalm 20

For the director of music. A psalm of David

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept all your burnt offerings. Selah.

May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

O LORD, save the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20, NIV

This psalm is a prayer for blessing on the king (“you”), expressed by his people (“we”). Three concepts, three times.

First, God’s answer. “Yahweh, answer the king when he cries to in distress” (v. 1). David, seemingly interrupting the congregation, reminds the king and his subjects that this is no empty request. He can say from his own experience: “now I know Yahweh saves and answers his anointed” (v. 6). And the people reply by asking God to extend his answer to them (v. 9).

Second, God’s name. It is the name of the God of Jacob that will protect the king (v. 1), it is in his name of their God that his people will go out in victory (v.5); it is “in the name of Yahweh our God” that his people trust for deliverance (v. 7): not in the name of Israel, not in the name of the king, but the name of Yahweh their God.

Third, God’s salvation. Yahweh saves (v. 6) – now – it is already happening; he acts, not with the power to destroy, but the saving power of his right hand (v. 6). “Save the king, O Yahweh”, respond the people.

The people’s prayer was answered.

“May he give you the desire of your heart”, they asked. And God “granted him the desire of his heart” (Psalm 21:2). “May Yahweh grant all your requests” they asked. And God did not withhold “the request of his lips”, indeed when he “asked for life, [he] gave it to him”. (Psalm 21:2,4). “We will trust in the name of Yahweh our God”, said the people, and so did their king who “rejoices in [God’s] strength”, not horses and chariots, who “trusts in Yahweh” (Psalm 21:1, 7). “We will shout for joy when you are victorious” they promised. And now, seeing God’s blessing on his king, the people respond again, “Be exalted, O Yahweh, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might”. (Psalm 21:13).

Hear it sung: www.takerefuge.co.uk


Take Refuge in Scripture: Numbers 6

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26, NIV

This was a blessing for each of the Israelites – not just the priests, not just the Nazirites (see the rest of Numbers 6), not even just a national blessing for Israel as a nation. This was a personal blessing (note the singular “thee…. thee…. thee” KJV) for each of the children of Israel.

What did the blessing entail? In three parallel lines it promises the blessing, the favour, the presence of Yahweh:

… bless you
… make his face shine upon you
… turn his face towards you.

Note how the blessing invites us to consider God. Firstly, as a person – someone we see face to face, a real, relational being who turns to us with a smile of approval. Secondly, like the sun in its radiance, shining his light and warmth on his people.

And how is God’s blessing experienced? It is not an abstract bestowal of favour, but a threefold active blessing. He keeps (that is, protects or guards) us: we have nothing to fear. He is gracious: our sins are washed away. And with our greatest burdens removed, he gives us peace: not only security and sanctification, but shalom – complete well-being.

Hear it sung: www.takerefuge.co.uk

Where is our passion?

Any honest believer will have times when their spiritual life seems utterly devoid of passion and enthusiasm for Godly things.

The reasons can be many. For some, it is part of an all-pervading passionless existence where nothing in life, secular or spiritual, righteous or sinful, has any depth of feeling attached to it.

But for most of us, for most of the time, I suspect that it is not that we have no passion, but that the passion we have is misdirected. With what passion can we pursue forbidden pleasures, whether driven by lust, greed, gluttony, pride or some other such work of the flesh! More commonly, with what passion do we listen to the latest social gossip, watch a football match or latest film, plan a holiday… or other completely innocent pursuits.

If we feel we have lost our spiritual passion, is it simply that we have grown to love God’s gifts above God himself?

God’s greatest adversaries are his gifts

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for
heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not
the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we
drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God
describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is
a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The
greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.
And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but
for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an
appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable,
and almost incurable.

John Piper, Hunger for God

Paul’s exuberant language

I have been struck recently by the exuberant language of Paul’s epistles: how much he uses words like ‘full’, ‘all’, ‘every’; how he often intensifies his message with adjectives such as ‘glorious’, ‘mighty’, ‘great’. There is an enthusiasm flowing through so much of what he says.

Random example:

If I were writing Colossians 1:9-11, it would read something like this:

And so, from the day we heard, we have prayed for you, asking that you may have the knowledge of his will in spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to him, bearing fruit in good works and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with power, according to his might, for endurance and patience with joy…

This is what Paul actually says, with the “extra” bits highlighted:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…

Why is that? Because Paul was a bouncy, effusive kind of person? No, because he was used by the Spirit to communicate the effusive exuberance of God. The Father is abounding in goodness and truth, the Son is full of grace and truth. God is not a God of half-measures. He has saved us completely, and can sanctify us completely!

Making Hebrews come alive

Following on from the post about memorising Scripture, I had to post this video separately. Here, Ryan Ferguson recites Hebrews 9 and 10, a difficult but compelling part of the Bible.

This really demonstrates the value of knowing the Bible well, even to the point of committing it to memory. Most of us tend to have a ‘reading voice’, not necessarily a different accent or tone, but at least something different to the way we speak conversationally. But much of Scripture was spoken first, and there’s something special about hearing it spoken rather than read. The fact that Hebrews works so well as a spoken address is evidence for the suggestion that it was in fact originally a verbal exhortation that was subsequently transcribed and circulated to ecclesias.

Memorising Scripture

I’ve just been reading an interview with Ryan Ferguson, who memorises not just verses, but whole books of Scripture. He talks about why and how he does it, and closes with these words of encouragement:

I often hear people say, “I just can’t memorize.” In some instances that statement may be true, but I have started asking people questions to show them how well they do memorize. I will ask questions like the this, “How many lines from movies can you quote?” or “Tell me every phone number you know” or “Tell me the names of every sports team you know” This list of questions could go on and on. We all can memorize. Much of memorizing depends on where you put your attention. I love mountain biking; I study it; I read about it; I look online at blogs about it. I could tell you a lot about mountain biking other than my experience. I have memorized a lot about the topic I love. Developing our memories takes work, time, and discipline. Don’t be disappointed if it takes you a while to memorize Scripture. God has not set up a Bible quiz to determine if you have all your verses memorized this week. God desires that you love his Word. Psalm 19 uses very specific language, language of desire when referring to God’s Word. Love God’s Word, spend the time with God’s Word to hide it in your heart.

Read the interview and see videos of a couple of his recitations here.

Lessons from Job’s Friends

Since we are reading Job at the moment, I hope to post a few things to consider.

First up:

1) True theological statements can be false.

If you take many of the statements of Job’s friends separately, they sound like good theology. But their application is shallow and insensitive.

Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools. (Proverbs 26:9)

We put a high premium on good theology. But let us be warned: it can be made false by the way it is applied, and can even be destructive in the mouth of fools.

Drink deep at the fountain of God’s truth. And let love stand as a watchman at the gate of your mouth.

2) Suffering and prosperity are not distributed in proportion to the evil or good that a person does.

Job is right: the wicked are spared in the day of calamity (21:30). But the just and blameless man is a laughing stock (12:4).

Therefore let us not judge one another too quickly, or at all. Those who suffer most may be the best. And those who prosper most may be the worst among us.

3) Nevertheless God still reigns over all the affairs of men, from the greatest to the smallest.

It is amazing that the most common means used by people today to solve the mystery of suffering never occurred to Job or to his three friends—namely, the limitation of God’s sovereign control over all things.

Today we limit God at the drop of a hat: He couldn’t have willed that sickness, or that explosion, or the death of that child! So he must not be in control. He is a limited God.

But Job and his friends have this great common ground: God reigns. No solution to the problem of suffering that questions this will ever satisfy the heart of a saint.

4) There is wisdom behind the apparent arbitrariness of the world, but it is hidden from man.

Where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know the way to it,
and it is not found in the land of the living . . .
God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place. (28:12-13, 23)

We see through a glass darkly, even from our New Testament perspective (1 Corinthians 13:12). But faith always affirms that no matter how chaotic and absurd things may seem to our limited view they are in fact the tactics of infinite wisdom.


Listening to music for God’s glory

There’s an interesting post on secular music over at WorshipMatters. Here’s a quote:

In the Bible, music is connected with worship, weddings, funerals, work, play, and war. The basic elements of rhythm, melody, and harmony aren’t inherently evil or sinful. Non-Christians can write beautiful songs that are good for us. Christians can write terrible songs that are bad for us.

So how can something so good become something bad? Two reasons. First, there’s a sinful world outside us. Music, like any gift, can be abused, misused, and used wrongly. Those who make music – artists, record companies, marketers – aren’t primarily interested in caring for our souls or helping us avoid worldliness. They want us to buy their music.

Worship for the worthless

Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This is the ideal. For God surely is more glorified when we delight in His magnificence than when we are so unmoved by it that we scarcely feel anything and only wish we could. Yet He is also glorified by the spark of anticipated gladness that gives rise to the sorrow we feel when our hearts are lukewarm. Even in the miserable guilt we feel over our beastlike insensitivity, the glory of God shines. If God is not gloriously desirable, why would we feel sorrowful for not feasting fully on His beauty?

From “Desiring God” (John Piper)

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