Christianity 201

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

December 12, 2018

Writing Out The Psalms in Your Own Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.  – Psalm 42:1 NIV

Today we’re returning to Aaron Smith, whose writing we featured here several years ago. His website is also the name of his new book, Cultural Savage. The publisher blurb describes it as “a collection of essays about mental illness and Christianity and where the two intersect. Sometimes they crash into each other, and other times they coexist peacefully. When the two collide, it manifests as the Church characterizing mental illness as a spiritual problem.

Have you ever written out a passage of scripture in your own words? It can be a tremendously helpful exercise, particularly as you question your own choices of interpretation and ask yourself, ‘Is that what the text actually says?’

In this exercise, Aaron also mentions Jesus, who the Psalmist did not know by name, though in the Messianic Psalms we have no doubt He was known prophetically.

Retelling Psalm 42

Something in me pants for you oh Jesus.
Somehow, just like a beast of the forest craving and clawing for water in the heat of drought, my innards thirst for you
the living God.

 So, someone, please tell me: when can I see this face of Jesus that I long for? Instead, I feast on tears, and sorrow fills my chest
as the refrain ” You have no God ” rings in my ears.

But I remember, even as my bone’s ache. 
I was with the congregation. Leading the music
bringing out songs of thankfulness for blessings 
and pure happiness at singing to you.

 So why, O heart, are you fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
Can I hope in Jesus? Can I again praise him?
Is Jesus my help? Is Jesus my God?

This restlessness brings remembrance though.
Remembrance for all the places you’ve led me, where we have walked.
Depth echo’s depth.
The echoes of wave after wave have swept me into the undertow.
See, love that can’t fail drips from Jesus’ hand
and songs carrying hope put me to sleep.

 Still, I say to this God, this foundation, this one stable thing in my life:
Why? Why? Why have you forgotten about me? Where are you?
Here I am weeping as I walk because all I see are injustices.
The rich getting richer, oppressing those under their feet.
And when I say God will overturn these tables, they laugh.
“Where’s your God? “

Oh, heart, why so fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
I will hope in Jesus, and I will again praise his justice.
He is the help of we the oppressed.
He is our God.
The living God.

 

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

February 16, 2015

The Death of the Saints: Responding to Present Day Persecution

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CNN called the last 7 days "Religion's Week from Hell." Click the image to read the story.

CNN called the last 7 days “Religion’s Week from Hell.” Click the image to read the story.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV

Most of you realize that I don’t do topical articles here. Rather, I try to keep each post somewhat timeless so that people can go back and reuse the resources here at any time.

Sometimes however, events just overwhelm us. I can’t imagine that I would have simply kept writing and posting Bible studies after September 11th, 2001; and with videos circulating of Middle East Christians being beheaded it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed.

Our purpose here at Christianity 201 is to help people build their doctrinal foundation and link to similar online sites to find more of the same. But as a “201 Christian” who is moving beyond the basics, we have to realize that there are times we need to simply stop the Bible study, forget the Sunday order-of-service, and cry out to God. Rather, we need to use these occasions to express our anguish and pain at seeing brothers and sisters so brutally cut down.

Modern Christian MartyrsOn an Instagram posting of the picture at right — a graphic image of a type unusual for this site — Ann Voskamp quoted two important scriptures.

…whatever the world news may say about the Brave, Martyred 21 Christians who were beheaded by ISIS, Lord, we know Your Word speaks the Truth: “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb.11:38)

However any evil thinks it’s winning & overcoming,

Your Truth declares that they are the Overcomers, that they overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev.12:11)

And wherever Your people are tonight, God,

We will remember every one of their names because they did not forget You or forsake claiming Your name,

We will pray for their families because they are our literal family,

And we will pray that our faith in You
is worth laying down our life for You,

We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but costly Christianity,

We will pray that their sacrificed lives will stir us to live sacrificial lives

And we will weep prayers for the persecuted Church because we are bound to them through Your Heart & in Your heart they are UNBOUND, UNDEFEATABLE, UNDAUNTED, & UNFORGETTABLE.

James 1:22 says Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. (GNT)

The Message Bible records this as:

22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

Part of our doing is communicating with God, expressing our sadness, crying out to him for help, interceding on behalf of the persecuted church. Yes, it is possible that God sees their sacrifice differently than we do, but we have only these eyes and ears, and what we see breaks us.

We need to tell God that.

AMP Rom 8:26   So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

Message Rom 8:26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

If the news about such modern day martyrdom has touched you — and I do not know how it cannot — I leave some space here that, rather than absorbing teaching and learning today, we would just express our pain to our Father in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 18, 2014

Loricas: Genuine Prayers or Magical Chants?

Just when you think you know everything — no, I’m not being serious — you discover words and phrases that have been heretofore foreign to your Christian experience, and then face the task of deciding whether you are comfortable with incorporating them into your personal theology or Christian worldview.

This week I encountered a blogger who we have featured here before using the term lorica. A quick trip to Wikipedia offered this:

In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is a prayer recited for protection. The Latin word lorica originally meant “armor” or “breastplate.” Both meanings come together in the practice of placing verbal inscriptions on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, who might recite them before going into battle.

Notable loricas include Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride, which in its English translation provides the text for the hymn Be Thou My Vision, the Lorica of Laidcenn and the Lorica of Saint Patrick, which begins

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Okay. So far so good. After all the Bible offers many “prayers for protection” many of which are Psalms:

Ps. 17:1 Lord, hear a just cause;
pay attention to my cry;
listen to my prayer—
from lips free of deceit. (HCSB)

Ps. 64:1 Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity (KJV)

Ps. 140:1 Save me, Lord, from evildoers;
    keep me safe from violent people.
They are always plotting evil,
    always stirring up quarrels  (NIV)

Ps. 54:1 Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!
    Defend me with your might.
Listen to my prayer, O God.
    Pay attention to my plea.
For strangers are attacking me;
    violent people are trying to kill me.
    They care nothing for God. (NLT)

So these texts might fit the definition of a lorica.

However, what concerned me greatly was that the Wikipedia entry was disambiguated (in other words distinguished from other uses of the word) this way: “Lorica (incantation).”

That’s scary. Dictionary.com defines an incantation as:

1. the chanting or uttering of words purporting to have magical power.
2. the formula employed; a spell or charm.
3. magical ceremonies.
4. magic; sorcery.
5. repetitious wordiness used to conceal a lack of content; obfuscation: Her prose too often resorts to incantation.

Even before I saw the last definition, I was reminded of this verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches:

Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

The problem here is that those who practice these repeated prayers believe the source of help lies in the repetition of the words themselves, not in a trust in the one to whom before the request is laid.

Many things might come to mind here, and perhaps the most obvious would be the Roman Catholic teaching that when praying the Rosary, or when carrying out penance for a confessed sin, one needs to repeat the “Our Father” several times and the “Hail Mary” many times. Over and over again.

On one of the Catholic cable channels, there are half-hour blocks consisting entirely of nuns and priests leading people in a constant repetition of the prayer to Mary. (That it is a prayer to Mary is a subject that will have to wait for another day.) Honestly, it’s neither great theology or great television.

But we do this as Evangelicals and Protestants as well; investing ourselves in the believe that our help is found in the prayer, when our help is found in God.  (I’m not talking here about the times when you are interceding in the middle of a serious or urgent situation; in those times, our focus is on little else, and so we feel we must apply ourselves to pleading with God.)

So what do we do with the idea of loricas? I think it’s a rather gray area. We don’t need believe in the prayer itself, or give special significance to special prayer forms, we simply need to bring our concerns before our Heavenly Father.

I John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.  (NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 16, 2014

Trusting God While Running For Your Life

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack. (Ps. 56:1)

Trusting God 3

We’re always looking for ways we can promote the work of new authors, and today we’re introducing you to Scott James whose first book is coming out in October from Broadman and Holman. Scott is a doctor and attends the church where David Platt teaches; we discovered this at David’s blog where you’re encouraged to read it at source; just click the title below. You may also want to have your Bible open in a separate browser to Psalm 56.

Trusting God in the Mire: Reflections on Psalm 56

By Scott James

“In God we trust” may be a familiar idiom, but what does it look like when the rubber meets the road? Let’s take a look at a biblical example of what it means to trust in God in a practical sense. In Psalm 56, David gives some substance to the nature of trust.

Running for Your Life

Look first at the extraordinary situation from which David pens these words. The introduction of this Psalm says that it was written when the Philistines had seized David in Gath. Here’s the backstory: David is a young man whom God has anointed to become the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1, 12 13); the current king, Saul, is obviously not in favor of this, so Saul turns against David (1 Samuel 18:10ff) and sets out to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1). David is therefore running for his life and unfortunately ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, the Philistines—carrying their slain hero’s sword, no less (1 Samuel 21:9–10). This is clearly not a good situation for David. The people of Gath immediately recognize David and, with a mixture of cowardice and cunning, David feigns madness to escape the deadly situation (vv. 12–15).

David wrote Psalm 56 in the midst of this terrifying situation. In it, David admits that when faced with a dire circumstance his initial reaction was marked by fear and panic. However, more important than his gut reaction, David asserts that steadfast trust in the Lord is the only solution to a troubling scenario like this. Easy to say, but what does that kind of trust actually look like?

In order for us to understand the testing that David’s faith is undergoing, a large portion of Psalm 56 is spent cataloging how his enemies are bent on destroying him: vv. 1, 2, 5, and 6 all detail the unceasing assaults from which David is running. He is trampled, oppressed, attacked, and his cause is injured. He is the subject of evil thoughts and is the target of a strife-inducing manhunt that is ultimately aimed at ending his very life.

Trembling and Believing

In the middle of this catalogue of doom, verse 3 shows us that David is no Stoic—he openly admits fear. But the great thing about this honest confession is that he immediately follows it up with an affirmation of his trust in God. It’s important to see from this that, in some sense, it is possible for fear and faith to occupy the same mind at the same moment.

So that’s what David was up against, but what does his assertion of trust amount to? David tells us three times in vv. 4 and 10 that he puts his trust in God, “whose word I praise.” To trust in God is to rightly value His word. David trusted God by believing that God would actually do what He had promised to do. Specifically for David, the word he was trusting was likely God’s promise to give him the kingdom and make him the head of a royal dynasty (1 Samuel 16). At this point in the story—hiding out from the murderous Saul in desert caves, acting insane to escape the Philistines—this promise seems laughable. Despite present appearances, however, David still believes God’s word, so much so that it causes him to praise God (vv. 4 and 10) even while he is still neck deep in dire circumstances.

With this trust, David confidently speaks out: “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). In v. 9 he states that his “enemies will turn back” because he calls on the Lord as his deliverer. In vv. 12 and 13, David offers up a thank offering, saying to God, “you have delivered my soul from death.” David is so confident of his deliverance that he speaks of it in the past tense. That confidence is not based on guesswork, sketchy prophecy, or bravado; it is appropriate only because God has already told David what He has in store for him. David actually takes God at His word and acts upon it, even when the circumstances don’t seem to match. For David, this meant that he stepped out of the cave while the odds still seemed stacked against him. He continued the fight that eventually culminated in his ascension to the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3). That is trust in God.

Not Just for David

We too are called to trust God in a way that is every bit as real as David’s trust. Just as David heard God’s word through the prophet Samuel, so too we have a sure word, for the Bible is God’s very word to us. It is the vehicle through which He reveals His will and in it He makes countless promises to us. Our trust is firmly founded in this God who speaks.

We trust in God by believing in what He has said and, no less importantly, by believing that He actually intends to fulfill His word. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that our hope is well founded because “He who promised is faithful.” Just like David, our hope is based on God’s faithfulness, not our present circumstances. So let’s step out in faith like David, praising God for who He is and living lives that show we believe He will accomplish all his good purposes, just as He said He would.