Devotions In Psalms

Two Ways

Psalm 1.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (v. 6).

Lord, this wisdom introduction to the Psalter has profoundly influenced my life across many years. It is one of the first passages of Scripture I memorized, and I have repeated it to myself hundreds of times.

Two pathways are noted--"the way of the righteous, the way of the wicked." Jesus called them the "narrow" and the "broad" ways (Matt. 7:13-14). The broad way is traveled by "many," the narrow by "few." Each person chooses his or her own way, but all else--character, behavior, destiny--follow naturally upon that choice. Over 60 years ago I made my choice, a "blessed" man, indeed.

Two pilgrims pursue these two pathways--the righteous and the wicked. The righteous avoid the counsel, lifestyle, and gatherings of the wicked. He delights in the guidance of Your word, and prospers like a well-watered evergreen. The wicked is weightless, the chaff that is separated from wheat and blown away.

Two prospects are before the two pilgrims--the Lord protects the righteous, bringing him to "life." The wicked comes at last to "destruction" (Matt.7:13-14). Lord, I still choose to be Your "blessed" man.

"Kiss the Son"

Psalm 2.
Kiss the Son… (v. 12)

Lord, without a scrap of solid historical evidence, scholars have affirmed a coronation ritual in ancient Israel, to which this psalm belonged. They may be right, but this psalm really fits but one king, and His name is Jesus.
He is Your "Anointed One," Your only Son, the Messiah. To Him belongs the promise of ruling all nations. He is "Lord of lords" and "King of kings." He is the "refuge" for sinners fleeing their present guilt and Your coming wrath. I have taken refuge in Him and experience the beatitude of which the Psalmist spoke. The kiss of submission began the life of my soul.

At His baptism You spoke from heaven to affirm His sonship. He was anointed by the Spirit's descent upon Him, empowering Him for the mission and ministry that provided salvation for all who trust in him. The rulers raged against Him, plotted His death, and thought Calvary ended His disturbing career. You laughed, the earth quaked, the Resurrection occurred! He is the conqueror of sin and death, and He will be acknowledged by all as Lord.

To "kiss the Son" is to live eternally. To oppose Him is to invite disaster. He is every person's refuge or destruction. Hail, King Jesus!

"Arise, O Lord!"

Psalm 3.
Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God (v. 7).

Lord, this may indeed have been the prayer of David as he fled in dismay from a rebellious son who desired his throne. It certainly fits that ancient context.

I find it appropriate to my daily life! Since the day I "kissed" the Son, I have been engaged in spiritual warfare against His foes. They have become "my foes," numerous and murderous. They mock my faith, denying that You will care for me.

But You are my shield! You lift my head, displacing fear and despair with courage and hope. I can sleep in peace and awake in hope because You sustain me. I face Your enemies, and I share Your victories.

My morning prayer is, "Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!" To face the battle alone is to invite destruction. Deliverance comes from You, and You are faithful to bring it.

When foes "rise up" I can still "lie down and sleep," for You will arise to insure my victory. Because this is so, the number and might of the enemies are inconsequential. Your "blessing" outnumbers and overpowers all the forces of evil that oppose, malign, and attack. I cry and You answer --that's my simple and effective strategy for victory.

A Tailor-made Psalm

Psalm 4.
Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer (v. 1).

The identity of the psalmist and the specific nature of his distress are known only to You, Lord. That the psalm was adopted for congregational use shows how appropriate it is for any or all of Your people. It is tailor-made for my needs.

The psalmist was under attack and tempted to doubt Your help. He remembers, however, that You claim the godly for yourself, and complaint is silenced by confidence. You will hear his prayer. You will show him some "good." Your face, shining in favor upon him, will dispel the shadows cast by fear and doubt. Petition gives way to affirmation. He will not pace the floor and pass the night in unrelieved anxiety. He will "sleep in peace" with You on guard.

He grows bold enough to warn his foes against further sins, and challenges them to repent and trust in You.

Lord, I have lived this psalm again and again. What a splendid prayer it makes for Monday nights! I have known the distress of false accusation and I have wrestled with debilitating doubt. But when I remembered Your mercies and raised my prayers, I also reveled in the "good" specified by the psalmist--joy, peace, and safety. You are "my righteous God." I am Your grateful child.

Great Mercy, My Only Hope

Psalm 5.
But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house (v. 7).

Lord, this psalm exalts You as a sin-hating God. With You "the wicked cannot dwell," before You "the arrogant cannot stand." Deceivers and destroyers "the Lord abhors."

Does that not sound the death knell of all persons? Have not all sinned? Are not all doomed? Lord, can I be saved?

Only by Your "great mercy." Whom Your holiness and justice would doom, Your mercy can save. Not at the expense of Your holiness and justice, however. I am not saved because You change, but because You change me. Your goodness leads to repentance, and repentance leads to new life. You do not take pleasure in evil, but You delight in forgiveness. I, who deserve only to perish, "come into your house" and commune with You in joy!

"Morning by morning" You hear the prayers of this pardoned rebel. You saturate with gladness this meritless soul who took refuge in You. Songs of joy have replaced my wails of despair.

I remain, however, a beleaguered, tempted man. There are "enemies" who seek my downfall, who strive to separate me from You. So I pray, "Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness." Take my hand, Lord, and get me home!

 The Turning Point

Psalm 6.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer
(v. 9).

Lord, I remember a night, in a California motel, when this psalm became my prayer. I was in such pain that "groaning" supplanted articulate petitions much of the night. My bones were "in agony" and my soul was "in anguish." I alternately despaired of living and yearned to live-to complete my work, to get home to Doris. The pain was unendurable, the night endless. It seemed to me that all the forces of evil, human and demonic, that had opposed my preaching ministry were gloating over my indescribable misery.

But like the psalmist, I reached a turning point, a point where I could cease from praying, "Turn, O Lord, and deliver me," and say, "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy." Then I could say to the mockers, "Away from me" --and they turned back "in sudden disgrace."

Healing did not come at once. It awaited a painful journey home and a surgeon's God-given skill. But at the point where You turned to me in mercy, and my enemies turned back in defeat, I knew that healing was going to come. Lord, when a person is too sick to do anything but pray, and that poorly, he may be just a step away from the turning point. "How long" becomes "He will."

The Refuge of Innocents

Psalm 7.
O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure (v. 9).

Lord, this psalm is obviously the prayer of some person falsely accused and heavily damaged as a consequence. I have been that person, Lord. To suffer the consequences of guilt can hurt terribly. But it can also hurt terribly to endure the consequences of false accusation and delayed vindication. There are always some who believe the liar and unwittingly abet the persecutor.

When innocence can only be affirmed but not proved, the righteous can "take refuge in you," knowing that You search the minds and hearts of accused and accuser, and sometime, somehow, You will vindicate him against his "pursuers."

Against "the rage" of the wicked stands "your anger." In holy wrath You will "arise" and "decree justice." Sooner or later, "he who digs a hole...falls into the pit he has made." As some of my friends say, "What goes around comes around."

Until then, one can only make You his "refuge" and "shield." You are "God most high," greater than all false accusers, and there I let the matter rest. In confidence "I will give thanks...and will sing praise" to Your name.

Finding Myself

Psalm 8.
…what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (v. 4).

Lord, I can never find my identity and security by gazing into the sky. By the immensity of space and the brevity of life I am dwarfed and humbled. If I feel that I am nothing, I may live for nothing, disavowing purpose and becoming useless.

I know who I am and why I am from attending to revelation. In Your" name"--Your revealed identity and purpose--I can learn of my own identity and value and reason for existence. You are the Creator and the heavens and earth are "the works of Your hands." They dwarf me, but You exalt me. In my relationship to You, I adjust my relationship to them. You made humans in Your own image, to share the majesty of Your dominion over creatures not human. I am Your child, Your agent, Your steward.

Knowing Your name, the lips of children offering praise speak with greater wisdom than do Your foes!

"How majestic is your name!" It alone gives meaning to my name and delivers me from the oppression both of nature and sin.

Wholehearted Praise

Psalm 9.
I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders (v. 1).

Lord, I cannot give, nor would You receive, half-hearted praise.
Your triumphs over evil inspire wholehearted praise. You have rebuked, destroyed, and erased from memory the nations who defied You in the past. You will inflict a terrible judgment upon those who oppose You now. "Endless ruin" will overtake "all the nations that forget God."

Your mercy for the needy inspires wholehearted praise. You are "a refuge for the oppressed," and You never forsake "those who seek you." You hear "the cry of the afflicted" and avenge the blood of the martyred. Because You "govern the peoples with justice," the wicked will fall into their own traps, but the "needy" who look to You will be saved.

"Those who know your name will trust in you." Your name is "Lord," "Most High." Your name is Ruler and Savior and Judge. The names You bear and the wonders You perform are my ground of confidence. The nations "are but men" and cannot triumph. Your kingdom is "forever."

I know Your name. I trust in You. You lifted me from the gates of death. I will praise You and proclaim You with all my heart.

Help of the Helpless

Psalm 10.
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless (v., 12).

You are, Lord, the help of the helpless, the champion of "the weak" who are hunted down by "the wicked."

The psalmist describes the wicked who are arrogant in attitude and atheists in practice. Convinced that You do not exist or do not care, they "revile" Your name, discard Your laws, and ambush Your people like lions springing from cover upon hapless prey. Boasting of their evil, they deny that You see them or will judge them.

Worst of all, You seem to "stand far off," aloof and indifferent. You seem to "hide yourself in times of trouble," creating for the oppressed a crisis of faith.

What can "the victim" do? He "commits himself to you," convinced that You do see and will judge. You are "King forever," and Your reputation as One who hears, heartens, and helps the afflicted will be sustained. So he prays, "Arise.... Lift up your hand"!

I am acquainted with the mood of this psalmist. News of wars and crimes wring "Why" and "How long" from my heart. But You come through! Evil cannot ultimately triumph.

Take Refuge

Psalm 11.
In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: "Flee like a bird to your mountain…"? (v. 1).

Lord, there is a time when flight is both wise and right. Did not Jesus say, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another"?

There is also a time when one must stand, whatever the perils, whatever the price, refusing to flee even to save one's life. Thus Jesus did not resist arrest or dodge the cross. One can only take refuge in You and endure the consequences.

Sooner or later the wicked who "shoot from the shadows" will be exposed in the sunlight of Your justice. No one is getting by with anything. You are present and active in our lives--in Your temple and on Your throne. You test the righteous and wicked, purifying the former and punishing the latter by the fire and wind of Your righteous judgment.

"Upright men" will see Your face. You will come to them, stand with them, and triumph for them. "Foundations" are being destroyed, but the righteous will be preserved. Your throne is unshaken and that is my security.

Teach me when to flee, when to stand. I don't want to be guided by my fears or man's advice, but by Your Spirit.

Lying Men, Truthful God

Psalm 12.
And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times (v. 6).

Lord, a fellow has bottomed out emotionally who concludes, "Everyone lies..." When he declares that "the godly" and "the faithful" have completely vanished, he is suffering battle fatigue in a spiritual sense.

When "every boastful tongue" is employed to flatter and deceive, it could seem to a weary victim that all men are false. One can be lied to or lied about until distrust and pessimism are instinctive reactions.

Against lying lips the psalmist opposes Your promise to "arise" in defense of "the weak" and "the needy" who are oppressed by arrogant deceivers. He knows Your words can be relied upon. They are flawless, giving them a strength that can knock the "strut" out of those who reverse moral values and honor "what is vile."

Lord, today nearly everyone is distrusted. Lies have so prevailed in government, in business, in religion, and in courts that one frequently hears the lament, "Whom can you trust?" The answer is, "The Lord." You word is truth now and forever. Your promises counteract the lies of men. I will live by Your word.

Lament, Prayer, Trust

Psalm 13.
Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God (v. 3).

Lord, I have felt on some desperate occasions the anxiety and urgency expressed by the four-fold "How long?" with which this brief psalm opens.

The psalmist was near death, to the perverse delight of gloating enemies. The pain in his body was matched by the sorrow in his heart. by The feeling of abandonment intensified his sorrow. You had forgotten him, You had turned Your face from him. In his deep distress he could only pray. "Look at me!" "Speak to me!" "Answer my questions!" This was the last resort of a fast-sinking, helpless soul.

Through prayer, however, trust conquers despair. Your love is unfailing. Deliverance will come. Songs of praise will crowd out the words of lament. Question marks will be straightened into exclamation marks.

Lord, when I focus on Your love instead of my pain and fear, the situation always improves. When You "give light to my eyes," everyone and everything are seen in their true perspective. Then I trust and I am no longer afraid, not even afraid of death. Your love is stronger than all that threatens me.

The Fool, The Ex-fool

Psalm 14.
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God" (v. 1).

I know, Lord, that in the Wisdom literature of the Bible, "fool" refers to a person who lives as though You did not live. He is not intellectually deficient. He may be a brilliant thinker, successful and esteemed in his career field, but he is a fool for excluding You from his thought and life. He may be a Ph.D. fool, but still a fool.

Paul used the description of a fool in this Psalm to support his argument that "all have sinned" and can only be "justified by faith" in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:10-18). That being true, Lord, every non-believer is a fool, every believer an ex-fool. When I think of that I am kept from judging fools and encouraged to pray for them, to witness to them. An ex-fool, wised up by saving grace--that's me.

The fool of Psalm 14 is a peril to himself and to others. To others, for he abuses and exploits them. To himself, for in "devouring" Your people he makes You his enemy, for You are their refuge and vindicator. You will restore and gladden them, and that means judgment upon fools who maltreat them. Lord, help me to keep the "ex" in front of fool! I want You as my friend, not my foe.

Worship Requirements

Psalm 15.
He who does these things will never be shaken (v. 5).

Lord, I recall in my exuberant youth preaching from this psalm on "What it takes to get to heaven." I was soundly reproved by another preacher for "wresting the Scriptures." He told me in chilled and cutting tones that the Psalm dealt with the qualifications for communion with You in worship. It daunted me so I couldn't preach from this passage for years.

Of course, he was right. But, oh, how wrong he was. Worship on earth or in heaven has the same requirements. The ten conditions set forth in this passage describe a right and happy relationship to You and to others. That is the sine quo non of true worship here or hereafter.

Just to read the list is to know that such living is possible only by grace, never by nature. You must forgive and empower before anyone can live a blameless, truthful, unselfish life. But when You do forgive and empower this quality of life results.

Your worshiper may be assaulted but he will not be "shaken" down in defeat. You are the security of those You save. Many forces can oppose them, and even hurt them, but none can destroy them for You are their strength.

Joy and Security

Psalm 16.
Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge (v. 1).

Lord, only a threatened man needs refuge. Here the psalmist is menaced by those who profess to honor You but include "other gods" along with You as objects of worship. He refuses to serve those gods, refuses even to name them.

In You alone he has experienced a good life. Your "Counsel" and "instruction" have been his source of joy, his secret of security. He is undismayed, even by the threat of death, and pursues a "path of life" that brings the "eternal pleasures" of Your abiding presence. He needs nor wants any other god.

"The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." My mother-in-law frequently quoted this verse in testimony services. Wracked with painful arthritis, survivor of auto wrecks and surgeries, broken in health but never in spirit, she would praise You for her pleasant places and "goodly" heritage. In fellowship with You she found joy that transcended pain, hope that outmatched death. This psalm was her strength and stay. Nothing could shake her from You.

Lord, I am treading the same path of life and enjoying the same pleasures because You are at "my right hand." I will have no other gods.

Kept, Hidden, Satisfied

Psalm 17.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (v. 8).

With much of this psalm, Lord, I cannot identify today. The psalmist is under attack by enemies with callused hearts and arrogant mouths. They surround him like crouching lions, eager to destroy and devour their prey.
He pleads for Your help--to be vindicated by Your overthrow of his foes. His metaphors are military, therefore violent. His paradigm for deliverance is the Exodus, where the enemies of Israel perished under Your judgment. Only as You "confront" his enemies can You "rescue" him.

He asserts his innocence. You "tested" him and found him loyal and sincere. He shunned "the ways of the violent" and "held to your paths." The secret of his moral victory is "the word of your lips."

Now he expects deliverance as You keep covenant with him. In "your great love" You will hear his prayer and become his "refuge" and rescuer. He will awake and find You present to deliver him.

I am close to death, taking refuge in Christ who awoke from death in resurrection power and glory. In Him I have experienced a personal exodus. In Him I feel dear to You, the apple of Your eye. Your wings are my protection, Your love my defense, Your presence my satisfaction.

God Came Down

Psalm 18.
He parted the heavens and came down (v. 9).

Lord, the immensity of space that dwarfs me is no barrier to Your love. When one calls to You for help, You come from Your temple in heaven to his trouble on earth. You become his "rock" and "refuge," his "shield" and "strength" and "stronghold." In a word, his "salvation."

I know this psalm is the thanksgiving of a king whose army was victorious in battle because You intervened "in the day of...disaster." He had been faithful to Your covenant, which gave him boldness to pray. You "avenged" him and "subdued nations" under him. You girded and trained him for battle, enabled him to pursue and pulverize the enemy.

I'm not a king. My battle is not against flesh and blood enemies. I'm a buck private in a spiritual war. But if I'm obedient to Your commands I can count on Your intervention, Your deliverance, Your victory. All You were to that ancient king You are to this modern commoner. You are my Savior from "the cords of death" and "the torrents of destruction." In Christ, You "parted the heavens and came down." In Him You defeated death and provided life. You turned "my darkness into light"! I say with that ancient king, "Exalted be God my Savior!" Amen.

Sky Preachers

Psalm 19:1-6.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (v. 1).

Day and night, Lord, there is a whole lot of preaching going on! My heart hears it and says a continuous amen. Sun, moon, and stars proclaim Your glory as their Creator. The sun is a circuit-riding preacher, pouring heat upon the earth, declaring from its "rising" to its "setting" that You are great and good. Its "course" finished, night falls. Moon and stars take up the message, displaying knowledge wonderful to my soul.

"They have no speech, there are no words; no sound is heard from them" (margin). Yet their inaudible "voice" reaches "to the ends of the world." The ears of faith hear and respond with praise, not to them but to You for them. The heathen named them gods and gave them worship. The great creation-hymn that opens Scripture, and is reflected here, "desacralized" them by calling them simply "great lights" (Genesis 1). You are their Maker, they praise You, not themselves.

Lord, I praise You for them, for their function, for their message. I rejoice in "their words," but the message is not enough--I need other words. These You supply from other voices.

Greater Voice, Greater Message

Psalm 19:7-14.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul (v. 7).

Powerful preachers, indeed, are the heavenly bodies that illumine the earth. But, Lord, I need a fuller message than nature delivers. I am not just a creature who discerns Your greatness and goodness in the heavens. I am a fallen creature, the prey of my own sins and headed for death. I need to know that You love me, that You have acted to redeem me, that You will guide me through the jungles and deserts of this life and bring me at last to yourself in the "heaven of heavens."

This I cannot learn from nature. This I can only know from Scripture. Your torah, Your instruction, meets a deeper need than the brightest sun. It gives me life, wisdom, joy, light, and the "great reward" of fellowship with You here and hereafter. Your words speak a broader truth and touch a deeper need than the message proclaimed by the sun. Your words tell me that the "Sun of righteousness" has arisen with healing in His wings.

Indeed, Your words are "more precious than gold" and "sweeter than honey." They expose my guilt and drive me to prayer for pardon and guidance. They make me want to please You with my thoughts and words, O Rock and Redeemer! I do praise You for Your words.