psalm 34

Day  1

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me:
    let us exalt his name together.

Friends, seems I got the sermons muddled so this psalm was the sermon 2 Sundays ago, and last week’s daily feast was for last Sunday’s sermon. Sorry about that! Will get back to normal next week. In the meantime, …..

This is an acrostic psalm with each verse starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, except that one Hebrew letter is omitted and there is an extra letter at the last verse (we don’t know why). That tells us that this a carefully crafted psalm, not just thrown together with the first words that come to David’s mind. Each word is carefully placed. 

Verse one gives an example parallelism, a common feature of Hebrew poetry in which the same thing is said in a different way for emphasis. He will praise God at all times. David wrote this psalm at a particularly difficult time in his life that you can read about in 1 Samuel 21. He calls himself “this poor man” in verse 6, the singular form of the word he uses in verse 2, so here is one afflicted man encouraging other afflicted men and women to join him in glorifying God. Praise God at all times, in the good and the bad, in the easy in and the painful, in times of encouragement and desolation. 

 

This is one aspect of the life of a believer that cannot be exercised alone. As we join together in worshipping God we are encouraging each other even though we may not realise it. The writer of Hebrews had this in mind when he writes in chapter 10, 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We may feel that we don’t really contribute too much to the congregation in a service, but even our very presence alone can be an encouragement to others, let alone our singing, our prayers, our attention to the word of God together and our support of each other before and after the actual service. 

Some research conducted back in 1998 (old data now but indicative) found that 45% of regular church attenders didn’t think real Christians needed to go to church. That is a very disappointing finding. We need each other. 

Notice how David encourages the afflicted to rejoice. Is that being unrealistic or unfeeling? 

Well David is not just saying “Come on, cheer up.”, and leaving it there. He gives us reasons why we can praise God, no matter what our circumstances, and he gives support. How much easier it is to rejoice when we are in good, caring company!

Why not make it your aim whenever you meet at church or growth group to encourage others to praise? Of course, the best way to do that is by example.

PRAYER

Father of all comfort, empower and encourage me by your Spirit to be a person who is an encouragement to all I meet. Amen 

 

 

 

Day  2

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

There are some mighty claims in this passage. “7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him.”  What picture does that conjure up in your mind’s eye? I know that martial illustrations and songs are frowned upon in some circles (so one denomination has cut such “War-type” songs them out of their song list), but we are in war and the evil one wants to defeat us and he will use things like oppression, suffering, opposition, illness, temptation etc to effectively kill us off as followers of Jesus. Here David says that the Angel of the LORD has set up his defences around us. I’m reminded of the incident with Elisha when the armies of Aram were attacking the city of Dotham where King Joram of Israel was hiding out. Elisha’s servant was petrified when he saw the army of Aram, but Elisha says, “don’t worry, those who are with us are more than those who are against us.” Then he prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes. “Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” [2 Kings 6:17]. The angel of the LORD had encamped around the people of God. They were unseen but they were there. The incident is interesting because the armies of God didn’t actually fight, but rather God sent blindness into the soldiers of Aram and they took the wrong turn. The angel of the LORD fights in very unusual and unexpected ways, and we often don’t recognise his actions on our behalf.  

David says the LORD saved him from all his troubles. [v 6] It’s always a great encouragement to hear how God has been active in the lives of others. It enlivens our hope, even when things are not so good for us. We need to encourage each other to tell the stories of how God has been faithful. It’s one of the reasons reading Christian biographies can be so inspiring. If God has been active in our life, even in a small way, share it. Make it a habit. One of my good friends always asks me, “What has God been teaching you” and I always thought he was doing it to encourage me, and he was but I now know that when I was able to tell him what God was doing with me it also encouraged him. That is why we need each other. 

“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” [2 Corinthians 1:3-5]

PRAYER

Father, help me to use my dark times and your deliverance as the means of encouraging others. Amen

 

 

 

Day  3

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
    for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

David is so convinced of God’s goodness that he is willing to challenge people to put God to the test. “Taste and see that the LORD is good.”David is not promoting a consumer mentality here because he follows it up with a call for people to “fear the LORD”. 

I was talking with a friend just a few days ago about the differences in our view of God. He said, “You Sydney Anglicans talk a lot about sitting under God, while we talk about walking with God.” It seems to me that both those ways of viewing our relationship with God are biblical and both are here in this psalm. Take refuge in God [v 8] and fear him [v 9] at the same time. Of course, the word “fear” is about respect and honour, not terror. Perfect love, after all, casts out fear [1 John 4:18]. We walk with God as we hold him in awe and respect. We see both aspects in the life of Christ as well. He lived in perfect unity with the other members of the Trinity [John 10:30] and yet respectfully deferred to his Father [John 12:49; Luke 22:34]. You really can’t taste without submitting yourself to the LORD. Much of what is thought of as conversion is mere attraction to Jesus rather than commitment to him. 

 

“Those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” Much the same idea is in Ephesians 1 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” [Eph 1:3] David Livingstone, the great missionary to Africa in the 1800’s, spoke to the students at Cambridge University about leaving the benefits of England behind to go to Africa, and he said,

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.” (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 1981, 259)

 

“Those who fear the LORD lack no good thing.”

 

PRAYER

Jehovah Jireh, great provider, make me content in all circumstances and fill my heart with rejoicing in you. Amen

 


Day  4

11 Come, my children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
    and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

We looked yesterday at the fear of the LORD. David now goes on to teach what it means to fear the LORD. It means firstly that our mouths will not speak evil. The Bible has lots to say about this, notably in James 3 where James speaks of the power of the tongue to do great evil and great good and the need for God’s people to speak positively. Keeping a curb on our tongues is the first step. My dad used that old adage often – “better to stay quiet and let everyone think you’re an idiot than to speak and remove all doubt.” However, for God’s people it’s more positive than staying quiet because we are to speak words that build people up. [Eph 4:29] David makes that point in the very next verse where he says we are to do good. In Ephesians Paul also puts the negative and positive of how we speak. “4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” [Eph 5:4] It would be a great goal to use our words to heal and build up and encourage. 

Keep from telling lies. This is a more narrow focus on how we use our words. This really is about integrity. We need to be people who are trusted and speaking falsely completely undermines that. If our words can’t be trusted then there is no basis on which to build relationships. Trust takes years to establish but can be undone in an instant.

“Turn from evil and do good.” Fearing God leads to repentance. You want to please those you honour and respect and emulate them. 

“Seek peace and pursue it.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] This is not calling us to be those who sweep things under the carpet, or run from confrontation, but rather to be those whose aim is be at peace themselves and to help bring it about in the lives of others. Peace is tied to contentment. If you know you are valued by God, if you trust him with your life, if you content with what he has given you, you will have an inner peace. It doesn’t come by accident but by a determination to celebrate your friendship with Jesus and be thankful in all circumstances. 

PRAYER

Prince of Peace, give me a heart to speak words that give life and give me contentment. Amen

 


Day  5

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the broken-hearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
    not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
    the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

There is a difficulty with this psalm and that is it seems to be saying that God will deliver us from all our troubles and from a crushed spirit, but that is not always the case, or at least it doesn’t seem to be. Many believers suffer with no relief. 

A number of years ago a pastor friend had a congregation member who was dying with cancer. My friend went to visit him to pray with him and talk about the funeral arrangements but the family wouldn’t let him visit. The reason? He was too negative. They were convinced that God would answer their prayers for healing because of their faith and my friend, although believing it was entirely possible, also allowed the possibility that God might not heal in this instance. The family did not want his “lack of faith” to get in the way of the healing. My friend, later reflecting on the incident, said “they were treating heaven as second best!”. Psalm 116 says, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.

The Bible says that God uses the vicissitudes of this life for our good [Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12]. Sometimes that doesn’t really comfort when we’re in the middle of distress so we need to be clear about these things before disaster strikes. Deliverance might be the release of death, or it might come with inner peace. Mostly disasters do pass and we come to terms with them, however we must keep in mind that the creation groans as in the pains of childbirth for the second coming [Romans 8:18-25]. We live in a fallen, decaying world. That is what Christ came to rescue us from. That is the light at the end of the tunnel. That is not to say life can’t be good in the here and now, God does deliver, God does love us, there is good around, the world is wonderful, there is much good in people, but as the Psalms keep reminding us, it is the inner attitude of peace and thanksgiving and taking refuge in God that can really help us to rejoice in the Lord always [Phil 4:4]

There is no better way to end this week’s Feast that with the opening words of the Psalm, and to make them our goal in the days and weeks ahead,

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me:
    let us exalt his name together.

PRAYER

Today spend some time giving God thanks for all the blessings you can name.

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