God can deal with our enemy—Psalm 31

David often talks about God being a place to hide from enemies—as in this Psalm (vv. 1-4).

The reason David has enemies is that God has given Israel a land to enjoy, look after and protect. Surrounding peoples don’t like this and harass them. And David is commander in chief.

In this contest, David knows he is weak. He’s still effectively the boy walking out to confront a Goliath. He’s become a brave and resourceful leader, but when his enemies are also God’s enemies, he needs a safe space—God, as his refuge.

In simple terms, David trusts God to act. He expects Israel’s covenant Lord to reveal his righteousness and faithfulness by protecting him (v. 1, 5).

The world doesn’t need to see our human strength. Seeking power is the world’s problem. Rather, it needs to see us strong in the Lord.

The church that Jesus now builds—unlike Israel—is not a nation state with territory to defend. But we are Christ’s kingdom. That is, we have a ruler, a law, a message to announce, and an expectation that this kingdom will finally be visibly established.

This puts us in conflict with the world and its ruler. Satan doesn’t like competition. And the world doesn’t accept that it must answer to its Creator.

If we’re Christians, we’re involved. The battle is on, and it’s nasty. Many times, we need a hiding place. We need to go to God with our distress (vv.6-8).

Deep down, we all fear being shamed. It’s a potent weapon in our present world. And when this happens, simply trying to be strong won’t get us anywhere.

This is especially so because we have sins of our own that complicate every situation (vv. 9-10). We know we don’t deserve to be looked after. What we need is redemption—from our sins and from Satan’s accusations.

So, we need to tell the Lord what evils our enemies are perpetrating, and the distress this is giving us (vv. 9-13).

But then, we need to affirm who our God is, and what he has promised to do for us (vv. 14-18). This is vital. People without God are without hope (Eph. 2:2:12). But our days are all in God’s hands, and our flourishing, and our reputation. We can ask for help.

David shows us the hope we are right to have (vv. 19-22). God is good. And his goodness is a storehouse full of good things. Any alarm we may have is invalid!

So, we have much with which to encourage one another—to love God, and to be strong (vv. 23-24)!

Jesus quotes this Psalm as he dies (v. 5; in Luke 23:46). There is nothing of the world’s violence and Satan’s malice that he is spared. But he entrusts his whole being (spirit) to the Father. And God hears his prayer by raising him from the dead (1 Tim. 3:16).

If you like, he validates this experience of trust when faced with hostility. And because he has died for our sins, our hope can be as sure as his (Heb. 12:3).

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t quote the line ‘you have redeemed me’. This can simply mean ‘saved me’, but redeeming is done by paying a price. No-one needs to pay anything to save Jesus (the meaning of redeem). He is paying the price himself—to redeem us. That’s our hiding place.

So, let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, trusting in your Son has exposed us to the hatred of this world and to the malice of its prince. We feel the heat and the injustice of this. We feel the temptation to fight fire with fire.

Save us from these false battles. Hide us in your Son from the accusations of Satan and the culture he controls. Save us from fearing the loss of our reputation or safety. Open up ways of living joyfully and confidently and usefully in this present world.

Put a song in our mouths, like the song David sings. You are a God we can trust. Jesus is our hiding place, our Saviour and Lord. Father, you have wonderfully showed your love to us.

Deal with our enemies. They don’t know what they are doing. They need to know Jesus as Saviour. But do not let the battle leave us embattled. Rather, gentle our hearts with love for you, and strengthen them with the certainty that you act. In Jesus name. Amen.

Being in awe of God—Psalm 29

Most of this psalm describes the awesome noise and effects of violent weather events. These storms gather over the Lebanese mountains with a ferocity that can demolish the massive oak trees that grow there. The tempests travel south over Israel and then crash over the Kadesh wilderness south of Israel. They can create a flood, startle a pregnant deer into birthing, or strip a forest bare.

David knows the awesome power of these storms—their thunder, lightning and floods. He’s been exposed to their raw power. And in these experiences, he knows he’s hearing God speak.

Worship does not come naturally to us sinners. We can be full of ourselves and not aware that everything around us is made by God. Everything belongs to him. He’s still in charge of everything. And we need his protection and blessing if we want to live truly.

Sometimes, it takes the unmanageability of our environment or circumstances to realise that we are not in charge. The great one in our world is God. And he speaks.

Other psalms encourage us to call on God to be saved from storms like this, but here, we are being encouraged to hear God speaking in the events we can’t control.

Note that David calls God, the LORD—the one bonded to ancient Israel in a covenant. He doesn’t need a lifetime of sunny days to know that God is good. He looks at circumstances through the lens of what God has already done for his people, and what he has promised to do in the future.

The same is true for us. We know that God is good because he gave us his Son, and forgiveness, and eternal life. We certainly don’t need to see difficulties as punishment for sin. That’s over!

But we can tremble when that natural world seems to be breaking apart.

Nothing can quieten the din of storms, or prevent the damage they leave in their wake. We may be terrified. We can only wait until they are over. Our self-importance shrinks.

But now, look at the beginning and end of this psalm.

David begins, not by offering his own praise but by asking angels to worship the Lord. (Sons of God are angels in 89:6; angels are also asked to worship in 103:20; 148:2). Worship of God is core business. Every creature needs to be involved.

These angels are not affected by our weather, but they see what happens here. They are appointed as servants to our needs. They will listen if we ask them to worship with us. There are dressed in holiness. They see God face to face. Perhaps they can do justice to the praise due to God. As one of our hymns says, ‘Angels helps us to adore him. You behold him face to face.’

And then, David ends with a prayer. May the Lord give his people strength, and bless them with peace. Without these gifts, we languish, and the world perishes. But then, if God reigns over the flood—of whatever kind—he is able to send strength for our tasks, and peace in our trials.

Our God does reign. His Son has been raised from the dead, and been given authority over everything in heaven and on earth. We can be assured we are heard when we cry to him, and that he will give us strength and peace.

There’s usually one big flood in mind when the Bible mentions a flood—the one in Noah’s day. Certainly, God reigned over that flood. And everyone who belongs to Christ is protected when God sends judgement. That’s what Isaiah tells us (Isa. 54:9). We’re not merely exposed to the elements. We’re in God’s ‘ark’.

So, let’s pray.

Holy Father we languish and are starved when we think only of what we can see and control. You have made us to be in awe of you, to know you, to love you. To cry out, ‘Glory!’

Lord, you are worshipped by multitudes of angels. Expand our affections to ‘see’ what they see, to tremble where they tremble and to give our undivided attention to your glory.

Thank-you for humbling us—exposing us to the raw power of your creation and weaning us from preoccupation with how great we are. Help us be attentive to you and your works. Expand our affections. Deepen our humility before you.

Father, we know that everything you do is so we may know your strength—to be strong in the knowledge of your power. And that we may know your peace—because our hearts are fixed on you. Lord, fulfill this purpose in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

God’s surprising authority

This second Psalm, like the first one, is about people being made happy by God. The first one began with ‘Blessed is…’, This second one ends in the same way.

Together, they are introducing us to two themes that intertwine throughout the Psalter—a life that pleases God, and the gracious reign of God that makes it possible.

So, we come to the second Psalm.

I can’t think of a prayer more needed than the one this Psalm inspires. It confronts the world’s opposition to God and announces the sovereignty of Jesus Christ whom God has appointed to be in charge.

Why do the nations rage so badly and so constantly? This anger is not just between nations but with God. It’s this argument that leads to our problems with each other. And it is a fury without basis—it’s empty or vain. There is a mountain of evidence that God is good and that we can trust him.

We’ve had this problem from our beginnings. Cain kills his brother because of his witness to God’s goodness. He needs to remove the evidence. Years later, the human race does the same to the Son of God.

That’s how old the problem is. And it hasn’t gone away.

But God always goes right on with his plan. He raises up a nation, and appoints (anoints) a king to lead them. Here, in Psalm 2, the King is David.

David understands that his job is not just being strong but about Israel being a witness to the nations. It’s not about power but about God being good. This is why he’s confident about killing Goliath with a sling shot, not because he can aim well but because this godless man has taunted Israel’s God (1 Sam. 17:36).

David’s successors are also called to lead Israel in being God’s witness to the world. They do not do this well, but they are signs of the King whom God will appoint—no less than his eternal Son.

This Psalm was probably used for the coronation of Israel’s kings, but it predicts the coming of Jesus, born to be ‘King of the Jews’ (Matt. 2:2).

That’s why the early church quotes this Psalm—or, if your like, prays this Psalm—when they encounter the rage of their religious leaders (Acts 4:25-26).

And here is why we need this Psalm to help us pray. When the world hates God, they threaten us. It’s then that we need to know that Christ’s authority is not in question. The arguments against him are not only invalid but lifeless. They can’t succeed.

Here’s the reasons.

First, God himself announces that Jesus is his Son. He says this when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist (Luke 3:22). He does it again when Jesus is transfigured before some of his disciples (Luke 9:35). He does it again by raising Jesus from death—right here in our history (Romans 1:4). He is saying to the whole world, ‘You need to hear what my King is saying!’ (Acts 5:30-31).

Second, God has promised the nations to Jesus as an inheritance. Opponents to this purpose will be shattered. All nations—the people of all nations, must hear the witness of Jesus that God is good. They must receive the forgiveness and restoration to sonship that he is offering.

Third, the gentleness of Jesus—God’s King—is like a rising tide, unstoppable. He is all of God’s goodness wrapped into one human body. He is also all of God’s authority. Resisting his witness is fatal.

Everyone should get wise, be warned. Especially those who think they are in charge. Everyone should humble themselves to serve God and to reverence his Son—our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When we hear his voice and receive his grace, we understand the meaning of authority. We are delighted, and tremble—all at the same time. He has our full attention.

So, let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we humble ourselves before you. Our anger against you has not been justified. Our boldness has been childish.

You have watched our strutting, amazingly, with patience. And you have continued to reveal what you mean by ‘running the world’ through raising your Son—whom we killed, and giving him authority to raise up a new humanity.

Father, when we are attacked by those who don’t understand how you rule the world, give us the same patience and grace as your Son has demonstrated. And the same confidence in your authority.

How good to know this world is a family affair—that all the nations are a gift from you to your Son.

Help us see through the bluster of those the world calls great. Help us to see the gracious and powerful authority of your King—our Lord Jesus Christ. And tremble before him, with delight! Amen.

Two ways to live—Psalm 1

The Psalms in our Bible are a collection of songs inspired by God, and then kept and used by godly people in Israel.

We don’t find it easy to walk before God—given the troubles and questions that arise in this world. But these God inspired songs provide ways to navigate this difficult territory.

Jesus himself joined his disciples in singing a psalm before heading out to his death (Mark 14:26). These prayers have been treasured, sung and prayed by the whole church for centuries.

So, here’s some comments on various Psalms to help understand what they say.  And then, I’ll ‘pray the Psalm’, using it to guide how we may pray today.

Here’s Psalm 1. Read it first. Then see how we need its counsels now. (The words in italics are the points of reference to the Psalm.)


We all need to work out what will guide our life. Here, the choice is clear. We either live by what God says or by what the world says. And we are told why one is a happy or blessed choice and why the other way perishes.

God’s word is delightful—not a burden. It’s worth thinking about often. Worth living by.

God’s law isn’t just commandments. It’s God’s guide for our relationship with him as we travel towards the future he is making. Think of how the 10 commandments begins. ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery’ (Exod. 20:1).

If we know God loves the world and has sent his Son to us, and that he has paid for our sins and reconciled us to God, we’ve got good reason to think that living with him in his congregation is a good idea.

And it doesn’t take long to realise that doing what God says rather than following our instincts makes for a better life, and a better community, as well as a better future.

Godly people—that is, people who love what God does and says, grow like healthy nourished trees. They are useful and eager.

On the other hand, ungodly people are not believing in, fearing or following their Creator. But they give counsel about how to live, they provide a way to fulfill this advice, and scoff at anything different. It’s easy to want to fit into this world, but we’re being told that it’s not worth the risk.

God sees these ungodly peopleas chaff that blows away in the wind. They will perish. The world may not think about God, but God is thinking about them. This is his world. It works by his rules. He remains kind to all that he’s made (Matt. 5:45). But he’s still in charge and determines what works, and what happens when he is ignored.

This judgement has already begun. People who leave God out are revolving without a centre, striving without the needed power and with nothing sure to aim for. They don’t have a Father (Eph. 2:12). God has decided that everything must revolve around Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).

How much better to be in a community of the righteous! God knows these people—and in the Bible, this means God is near to them, and helping them. He has chosen them to inherit his future.

So, let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, the world you have made is warm and close and provides many things we need. But when it turns against you, when it invents its own wisdom, creates its own way and emboldens itself with distain, it becomes cold and distant—even threatening.

Father, enliven us to hear your commands, cherish your ways and trust your counsels. Teach us to see Christ as the Lord who brings us to you, and who will unite everything into the future you have planned.

Thank you for the promise of blessing or happiness when we follow your way. Thank you that you know us and that you make all that we do to prosper. Make us like fruitful trees. Amen.