Psalms of Thanks: Praise for Deliverance

Focus Passage: Psalm 118

We are called to rejoice in what God has and will continue to do in our lives. Psalm 118 is the last song of the Hallel section of the psalms and was probably the last psalm that Jesus sang as He left the upper room and went to Gethsemane to pray. He was hours from the cross and yet He could rejoice. Where are you? Are you like Jesus with a great burden that you must face? Are you one who has just come through a tough time and are rejoicing that God has or will bring you through the tough times? This psalm reminds me that it is the Lord who helps us navigate the ups and downs of life. God helps us so that we reach the end with joy. The simple truth is that those who trust in the Lord will have happier endings.

Always give thanks to the Lord v. 1 It is a time of celebration. This psalm probably was written during the time of Nehemiah when the walls of Jerusalem had finally been built. The walls of Jerusalem are up and the city has safety for the first time in decades. People of Israel give thanks to your Lord. When I was a child, this was our table prayer after every meal. The prayer is more than just thanks. It is a statement of confidence that the Lord loves us and will not forget us. We are to give thanks even when times are tough. Like the Jews, we know that the Lord has a plan. We know that the Lord takes care of those who trust in him and believe in him.

Trust the Lord in every crisis v.8 In their trials they cried to the Lord and he answered them by setting them free from the bondage that they faced first in Egypt and now at the hands of those who oppressed them. They had learned how it was better to trust in God than to trust in men or even in themselves. Just because you get through one problem doesn’t mean that life will be problem-free. We can not control the future. We are surrounded by people and circumstances that bring us pain and harm. All of these things are bigger than we are. You can’t protect yourself. Rejoice, trust in the Lord and seek Him as your guardian. Satan may try to cause us pain, but the Lord will bring us through that pain.

Glorify the Lord after every victory v.21 Open the gates to the temple that we may come and worship you. The people of God as one voice raised their voices so that the whole world would know of the greatness of their Lord. Here is another call in the psalms to praise the Lord. Come and worship him with other Christians and recount what the Lord has done. Let others know how the Lord cares for his people so that they may rejoice with you. Thanks will not be silent; it will proclaim God’s deeds so all may see our God. We know the true source of our blessing is the Lord. God is the one we trusted in during our distress. God has brought us to this place.

God gives us a reason to rejoice v.24 Most people don’t enjoy feeling glum. It is no fun for most of us to spend hours worrying about problems or about recounting them to others. We want to dance and sing and tell people about the good things that are happening to us. Such joy comes when we think of the end instead of the middle. It is no fun to work hard to fix a sink or study for a test. Yet that is easier if we envision the project complete or a good grade in a tough class. It is not where we are, but where we finish that matters. As Christians, we have even greater joy for we can think of God and the future that He brings. Keep your eyes on the end and especially on what the Lord is doing so you can rejoice. Rejoice, those who trust in the Lord and follow Him will have many happier endings.



Psalms of Thanks: The Power Of Prayer

Focus: Psalm 116

 Parents like it when you phone home. I can sense the change in their voice when my parents figure out that I am on the other side of the line. The questioning hello, as if to say, “who are you?” turns to joy when they say, “How are you doing Mark?” My parents often even thank me for taking the time to call. Yet, they are not the only ones that benefit from my calls. I benefit, too. It is nice to hear a loving voice on the other end of the line. It is nice to share my life and get their advice. I find that my prayers do the same thing. I wonder if God feels the same way as my parents do when I call. My guess is that He does. Now that my children are grown, I love to talk to them on the phone. There is power in our relationships with our family and with God. We need those connections for many reasons. We need to pray because it is powerful and can change our lives. It is in prayer that I see so much of the character of God.

Prayer teaches me that God is compassionate v.5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The first thing that we need to know is that God cares. The psalmist knew that the Lord loved him. He knew that he didn’t have to force God to listen or force God into some kind of relationship with him. God had already made him part of His family. God had called the Jews his people. We live in a world where a lot of people have never felt the love of family. They don’t know what it is to have someone who cares. Prayer is a time to be with someone who really cares. Prayer is time to be with someone who wants to be with you even more than you will ever want or need Him. God is love and He wants to be part of your life every day.

 Prayer teaches me that God is generous v.8 For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, He loves us so much that he will surprise us. The psalmist asked for a little help in a hard situation and found a God who gave him more than he expected. Here is a God who held him up like a mother holds a child. Here is a God who walked beside him to protect him from his enemies. In prayer, we are often surprised by how much God will do for us. When we ask for help from a friend or a family member, we often are afraid to ask for too much. We know that people have limits and can only do so much. Our God has no limits. God hears our cry in prayer and gives us everything that we need. He doesn’t do things halfway. He is a God who wants us to succeed in life. He wants us to thrive and so He generously supplies the needs when we ask Him.

Prayer teaches me that God is loving v.15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. I am one of four children of my parents and I know that every one of us is precious to them. We are precious in life and we would be a precious loss if any of us were to die in a car accident or from cancer. God is the same with his children. How he grieves when we make bad choices or when we don’t come to him for help. How he rejoices when he sees us succeed or when he gets to help us with a problem that we have been wrestling with for a long time. Helping us is not a bother. It is a joy. We think that we have to barter for his help. We think that there are problems that we have that are too small to bother him with. Those thoughts don’t know God and they don’t recognize our value to him. Repeat after me, “I am precious to God. I am someone that God wants to help and wants to succeed.” We never have to beg.

 What if we don’t pray? V.2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The psalmist makes a pledge to call on the Lord as long as he lives. He prayed and God answered. Yet, what if we don’t pray? The answer is simple. We cut ability for God to work in our lives. The bible says “Ask and it shall be given you”. It never promises I will read your mind and give you what I know you are thinking. Help from God is based on relationships. It is based on prayer. Most Christians don’t pray often. They sometimes haven’t learned what the psalmist says about the character of God. Sometimes, it is that we get just too busy and don’t take the time to pray. In the process, they make life tougher and busier because they are doing it all without God’s help. When we don’t pray, we don’t build a relationship with God and we hurt ourselves. Pick up the “prayer phone”. God is just waiting for you to call so He can help you and show you His love.

Psalms of Thanks: Thanks to an Unseen God

Focus Passage: Psalm 92

 Have you ever seen electricity? Have you ever seen gravity? Have you even ever seen love? My guess is that none of us have ever really seen any of them. We have seen the effects of those things on our lives. We plug in the appliance at home and motors start working. We don’t float off into space if we are not holding on to something. Most people believe in all of those invisible things because we have seen their effects. Yet, we struggle to believe in an unseen God. The ancient Jews had no pictures of their God like the Palestinians had of Baal or the Egyptians did of the many gods in their universe. We picture Jesus, but we struggle to picture God with His great power and might. We find it hard to communicate to others what God is like. Perhaps, we are trying to show Him in the wrong way. Like gravity or love, we need to show them the effects of having God in our lives. Show the effect of God and people will know how powerful He really is.

Talk about what God is doing in your life v. 4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. The psalmist begins with his voice speaking about all the good things that the Lord has done for him. Worship is the natural outflow of the heart that appreciates what the Lord has done for them and loves him for it. Why is it that we are so good about praying for help from God but so poor at telling others when God has helped us? Let people hear about God’s healing when you were sick or the job that God gave you when you prayed. Silent thanks to God is not enough. Tell others so that they can see God working in our life. Only then will people know what God can do and how He can work in their lives.

 Show God’s love to the world v. 2 to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night. Love is a special gift and unique to the Christian faith. Many religions speak of a code that their god expects them to live by. Only Christians and the Jews before them ever spoke of their God loving them. Most Christians have felt God’s love when all their other friends seem to have abandoned them. Most of us can share story after story from scripture where the Lord showed His love to the people He called His own. Christians should be showing the love of God by the way that they interact with the community and each other. Why do we let the world around us think of God as only this just God who punishes evil? Why don’t we share the love that we feel and the love that God has shown to millions of others? People need to know that our God is different and that we live in love, not fear.

 Live a life that works v. 12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; The Jews often prospered when they followed the Lord and the nations around them noticed. They began to see the blessings of following the Lord instead of Baal or Ashtoreth. The lives of the people proved the greatness of God by showing that God took care of his people and that God could handle anything. God wants us to live with His values and character and train our children to live moral and Godly lives. Such lives will prosper and the world will notice. They will see that your children are different. They will see your kind and loving nature and wonder what makes you different. When something works in the world, people will notice and ask you what gives you an advantage. You can tell them about how your God is what makes you different and makes you thrive.

 They may not be able to see God, but they can see Him through us v. 15 "The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him." Our world needs God as much now as it ever has before. Most of us find it hard to witness our faith and tell people about our God. Often they do not believe in him anyway. Yet, people normally will listen to us as we tell them about our good fortune. Let them see your God through the life help, the love and the values that He has given you. Be vocal about why you are different and how God gives you an advantage in life. Be willing to mentor others as they “try out” what it means to be a child of God. They may not be able to see an unseen God, but they should be able to hear and see the effects that God is making in your life. It will be in your telling that people will come to know and want the unseen God in their lives, too.



Psalms of Thanks: Praise for a Miracle

Focus Passage: Psalm 48

Do you need a miracle? We find ourselves with less money than we had last year as salaries don’t keep up with the cost of living and with taxes. We find ourselves with one more ache or pain and feel five years older. We worry about the future and see so much that we can not control. Many think this psalm is set in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 37) when Jerusalem was surrounded by 185 Assyrian troops mocking God and wanting complete surrender. Hezekiah went into the temple to pray asking God for a miracle. That evening, the angel of the Lord went out and destroyed the Assyrian army and saved the city. Here are some lessons that Hezekiah and the Jewish people learned that day.

A. Safety is found in our God v.3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. The city of Jerusalem was set on a hill 2500 feet above sea level with deep valleys on all sides. It was so strong that the mighty Assyrian army could not attack it. It could only try to starve the people out. Yet it was not the city walls that provided the real strength. The turning point in the battle was when Hezekiah turned to the Lord for help by praying on his knees in the temple. He prayed and the power of the Lord was unleashed. The Lord made himself known to his people and to the world. He would not be mocked. Our strength will be determined by our willingness to get down on our knees and pray to the Lord.

B. Praise God draws others to God v.10 Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. God does miracles to save his people and to show his power. People from all over Judea came to Jerusalem to see the work of the Lord. They marveled at the sea of tents left behind. They came starving from the outskirts of the city to be given food to eat. God answers the prayers of His people for the same reasons. He loves us, sure. But think of the revival that would happen if the church got on its knees so that the heavens opened with their power. Some would scoff, but many who have lost faith in God would see him in a new light.

C. Don’t be foolish and forget the Lord v.12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, The mistake of the Assyrians was to count the towers and walls of the city and figure that Jerusalem could be easily beaten. What the Assyrians missed was the truth about the God who dwelt with His people. The people had forgotten God and that was why they had been surrounded. The psalmist tells them to go and see how weak their defenses were so that they will not forget the Lord again, but will depend on him. When people underestimate or forget God, trouble comes. The wise will depend on God. He alone is our hope and our strength.

The greatest danger is not from the enemies to the state or the problems that we face personally. The greatest danger is when we forget God and try to overcome our problems by ourselves. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament had good times and bad. Every one of the good times could be traced to a time where leaders and people worshiped and depended on God. The bad times with wars and famine and poverty were times where God had been forgotten. This psalm is a reminder that we have much to praise the Lord for and that He does work in the lives of his people. Disaster occurs when the people of God forget him in their time of need.

Psalms of Thanks: Grace for the overwhelmed

Focus: Psalm 40

If nothing else, the Bible is real. It is filled with struggling people who are overwhelmed by grief and problems. Job has boils all over his body. Nehemiah cries over Jerusalem in shambles. No holy platitudes here, just real people. The psalms more than any other place are filled with such raw emotion. I look around me and I see a lot of struggling people. They all say that they are doing fine, but their eyes say different. David and others pour out their hearts and wear their problems on their sleeves. Here David feels like he is in a slimy pit. The solution for all of them is to turn to God. Perhaps that is why they are so loved by Christians. There are days that I am one of them. I feel powerless to change things and uncertain what to do. God is our answer and help in difficult times.

It is not easy to wait for God’s grace when you are in pain. V.1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. You cry about it with God and nothing happens right away. In your head, you know that God is the only answer, but your heart is breaking from the pain as you wait. You know God will not let you down, but you have trouble waiting for the guy to fix the washer. Success or failure in trouble and in life will depend on whether we can wait for the Lord or whether we try to solve the problem ourselves. God’s solutions always work and lift us out of our troubles. Our solutions often cause us greater pain and suffering. Here are three things to do when life is overwhelming

A. Think back on what God has done v.2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. When fears start to overwhelm you, look back on all that the Lord has done for you. David speaks of what the Lord did for him in his trial. First, God turned to him and heard his cry. God paid attention. With the entire world to rule, God saw David’s need and focused on him. Even before help comes, God is acting and watching. At the right time, he lifts us out of the pit and puts us on solid ground. We think that no one cares, but God is there all the time and God will act at the right time.

B. Seek God not his favor v.6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. David knew that you can’t buy God. Old Testament Jews thought that they had to do these things to get God’s attention. We get caught in the same trap. So often trouble comes and we want to bargain with God. God help me with this problem and I will come to church faithfully for the next year. David knew that that the real answer was to build a relationship with God so that you know what his promises are. To let him truly work in your life, you have to give him your life.

C. Follow God with an open heart v. 7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. David finally knew that when he was in trouble, he needed to follow the Lord. When the Lord called him to go in one direction, he needed to follow the Lord and not second guess what the Lord was doing. As we travel, we often follow a GPS to go places that we have never been. If you want to get to your destination, you need to follow the GPS. God sets a direction in the scripture for all of us to follow. He alone knows where we are to be. The key to success is to make trusting God a habit in our life. Each trial and God’s solution will teach us to trust him a little more.




Psalms of Thanks: Joy of Forgiveness

Focus: Psalm 32

Grace offered freely, but taken sparingly hurts us. David and Saul show us the power of God’s grace. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Saul had his problems. Yes, he had a pride. He offered a sacrifice when Samuel came too late. He was not perfect, but he never seems to sin as badly as David. Yet, David is honored and Saul is rejected by God. Why is that? I think that the difference can be found in what they did with God’s forgiveness. David repented and asked forgiveness when he was shown his sin. Saul would deny it and tended to brush off his sin as not being so bad. When grace was offered freely, David took it just as freely all his life. Sadly, many Christians are more like Saul than David. They try to manage guilt and not repent of it. David shows us why repentance is the best solution.

A. The folly of impenitence v.3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. David begins by telling of a time when did a grievous sin and tried to ignore it. This may be his sin of adultery with Bathsheba or another terrible sin. Yet God always knows and God does not permit His children to sin successfully. David began to feel the hand of the Lord on him and it caused him to get physically ill. It can happen to us as well. You see God chastens his children. He doesn’t want his children to just live with their sin. He wants them to change. God allows the pain because he loves us too much to watch us be destroyed.

B. The relief of forgiveness v.5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him with his sins. David stopped hiding the sin and immediately confessed it. God in that moment forgave David. There was no penance or probation. The guilt was taken away and the burden of sin was canceled. This is the joy that is offered to every Christian because of the cross of Jesus. Sin is taken away and we are given a chance to renew our lives and live with joy again.

C. The recovery as we hide in God v.7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. He will also help us recover. When David sinned with Bathsheba, it let loose a string of consequences in his family. A son raped a daughter. A son killed his brother. Sin often has terrible consequences. Yet, David was able to keep coming back to the Lord in all his troubles asking the Lord to help him with the consequences that came from the sins of his life. Our God loves us and wants to rebuild our lives. When we fall into sin, only God can rebuild our life and set things right again.

With repentance, sooner is always better than later. David waited months from the time he committed adultery with Bathsheba to the time when he confessed his sin. The longer a sin continues, the more that it creates a barrier between us and God. We have all known people who back away from the Lord. First, bible study or prayer lessens. Then worship becomes harder and they start to back away. We always feel like there is plenty of time to repent or to “get right with God”, yet for many that is not really true. When they finally are drowning in the consequences of sin, things have gotten so bad that it will be much harder to confess and put a life that is that far gone back to joy. Christians are going to sin. Sometimes that sin is small and sometimes it is a whopper. Yet the life of David shows that God wants to forgive sin and to deal with its consequences. He loves us and wants us to have the joy of forgiveness.





Psalms of thanks: Thanks for healing

Focus passage: Psalm 30

Are unspoken thanks really any thanks at all? Each year my mother told me to write thank-you notes to the people who had given me gifts. Back then it seemed like a waste. Now, when people don’t send thank-you letters to me, I wonder if they even got my gift. Yet, thankfulness is a way to celebrate before others the blessings that we have. It is a way to tell those people how important they are. It can also be a chance to pause and think about our blessings. The background for this text appears to be forgiveness and restoration for David after a great sin. Many think that this psalm was penned after David had foolishly numbered his people when God had told him specifically not to do so. On the spot where the new temple would be built, David saw the face of the angel of God and did not die. He saw the mercy of God for himself and his people as a reason to give thanks.

Recovery v. 2 O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. David had destroyed the relationship that he had with God. Like Moses in the desert, he had claimed that the great things God had done were his own. He feared that he would be punished as Moses was or even be banished from the sight of this almighty God. Yet, there on the mountain top, he bowed before the angel of God who had a sword in his hand and was forgiven. He confessed his sin and offered his life for that sin. God then restored David. God’s love is greater than his anger.

Remembrance v.4 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. David celebrates publically what God has done. He builds an altar on the spot and offers burnt offerings to God. The Lord answers David by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice like God would later do for Elijah on Mount Carmel. In this psalm of dedication, David calls upon the people to celebrate with him. God’s love is greater than his anger. God will forgive the penitent person who bows before him. For David, this is a time of mercy after a time of suffering and pain.

Refocus v.6 When I felt secure, I said, "I will never be shaken." There is another blessing in thanks. It helps us to focus on God and to learn from him. David had caused this great calamity with his pride. He had felt that he was so great that he could never be shaken. No army dared come against the mighty David. The punishment of God and the mercy of God had reminded David of who really was the great one. In so many ways, David was still just a shepherd boy. It was the almighty God who had made the nation great. Times of thanks should also be times of learning.

Response The response for mercy is praise. David speaks of what the gracious hand of God has done. Even God’s punishment of David was an expression of his great love for David and for the people. When he was forgiven, he could not help but dance and celebrate. David in this psalm pledges to praise the Lord forever. David will spend the rest of his life preparing for the temple that will be built on this spot. He will live a life of thanks devoting his fortune and his time so that there will be a place for everyone to give glory to God and to meet him on this holy mountain as David did on that special day. Lives change when we focus on thanking God for the wonderful gifts that He has brought into our lives. Thanks can be a time of celebration and learning. It is a time to see how truly merciful our God is for us all.