psalm xxvii – seek My face

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.

Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

- ps xxvii (nkjv)

Whose face do you seek? Perhaps it is the face of a partner; that they would look at you with warmth and love. Perhaps it is the face of a colleague; that they would look at you with admiration and respect. Or the face of a pastor; that he would have confidence that you are a worthy addition to your church. Perhaps it is a parent; that they would look at you without worry and with pride. Or maybe the face of your child; that they would see you as their nurturing benefactor. Whose face do you want to see lit up by your presence? Or are there none. Have you numbed yourself to others so much that nothing gets in or out; that the faces around are blurred and ignored to save yourself the pain of their judgement?  

The face of Christ is different to the faces of other men and women. It is a face that only offers and doesn’t demand. It is a face scarred by thorns, a perpetual reminder of the love He has for you. This face demands nothing but gives all. It is the face of the One who saves, not the one who needs you to provide anything. This gift of Christ is a hard one to swallow, given how most of our relationships are a constant back-and-forth of expectations and judgement. Christ is an oasis Whose face emits nothing but love, so God forbid you treat Him as your judge and executioner.

But the world full of expectation and judgement in which we live is not to be avoided. We don’t win by what has been called “spiritual bypass”: resorting to the constant practice of spiritual disciplines to avoid the real world around you. This was not Jesus’ practice. No, he was active outwardly while being secure inwardly. The anonymous author of the Theologica Germanica speaks of the “inner” and “outer” person in this way: inwardly, we are set with Christ in the heavenly places and completely secure in His unmerited love. Outwardly, we are active in love towards other people. But this is not obligation, just as it was not obligation for Christ to love. It is the flowing of that inward life out and towards other people, not to seek their approval but to transmit to them the experience of being completely accepted by Christ. It was this infinite wellspring of His identity which Christ drew on the cross to bear the shame and violence and we now share from that fountain as we are united to Him.

Seek only the face of Christ for no other determines your value but His.
Then go out and serve those faces for whom Christ died with the same selfless, joyful, unburdened love.

<— psalm xxvi psalm xxviii —>

psalm xxvi – prayer of (in?)sincerity

Vindicate me, O Lord,
For I have walked in my integrity.
I have also trusted in the Lord;
I shall not slip.
Examine me, O Lord, and prove me;
Try my mind and my heart.
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.
I have not sat with idolatrous mortals,
Nor will I go in with hypocrites.
I have hated the assembly of evildoers,
And will not sit with the wicked.

I will wash my hands in innocence;
So I will go about Your altar, O Lord,
That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving,
And tell of all Your wondrous works.
Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house,
And the place where Your glory dwells.
Do not gather my soul with sinners,
Nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
In whose hands is a sinister scheme,
And whose right hand is full of bribes.

But as for me, I will walk in my integrity;
Redeem me and be merciful to me.
My foot stands in an even place;
In the congregations I will bless the Lord.

- ps xxvi (nkjv) 

If I heard someone pray this prayer, I’d think them a hypocrite. It would smack of the Pharisee in Luke, boldly proclaiming his righteousness: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (lk 18:11). But it’s right here in the Psalms, so how do we understand it?

Well, it is the prayer of the Messiah. It is the prayer of the Christ who truly can pray it. It is the prayer of Jesus who right now goes about the heavenly altar (heb 9:11) in innocence. He is the vindicated one who has redeemed mankind in one fell swoop and that includes you. He approaches the Father and says to Him, “See here the offering I have made for this man and this woman! See how I have included them into Myself. I am your Son, and now so too are these sinners. They are My brothers and Your children.”

What’s more amazing is that you, this brother or sister of Christ, are by all accounts in yourself: a hypocrite, an idolatrous mortal, the wicked, the evildoer. The Son of God by no means was forced to become one of us; to come along and dwell among us. We are the wicked the Righteous should well avoid. Yet, instead of destroying the wicked (us) or fleeing the wicked, He chose a third way: He would make us righteous. The Son would clothe Himself in our humanity, redeem it from its wickedness, purify it, sanctify it and pass all those benefits along to us by the blood of the cross (col 1:20). You are seated with Him in heaven (eph 2:6), a son like the Son at the royal banquet of Christ. Vindicated, as the innocent Man who is the subject of this Psalm.

So you may pray this Psalm with a happy heart. If it feels disingenuous, I’m glad. That means you know to say such things of yourself in yourself would be a falseness like that of the Pharisee. But you may say them of yourself in Christ, for He has made you these things. When you see Him face to face (1 jn 3:2), you will see that clearly. For now, we look at our status before God with the eyes of faith (heb 11:10), knowing that Christ has vindicated us and made us part of the new creation.

<— psalm xxv psalm xxvii —>

psalm xxv – wait

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.

Show me Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions;
According to Your mercy remember me,
For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O Lord,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Who is the man that fears the Lord?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.
He himself shall dwell in prosperity,
And his descendants shall inherit the earth.
The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,
And He will show them His covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me,
For I am desolate and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses!
Look on my affliction and my pain,
And forgive all my sins.
Consider my enemies, for they are many;
And they hate me with cruel hatred.
Keep my soul, and deliver me;
Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.

Redeem Israel, O God,
Out of all their troubles!

Waiting is something we do when we need someone else to fulfil our need. We wait at the bus stop for our way into town and we wait for our food to arrive at a restaurant. The experience of waiting expectantly to receive what we have been promised is quite mundane and commonplace most days of our lives. However, spiritual waiting is… difficult.

Because it’s of a different nature than those other kinds of waiting. If your bus is late, it is frustrating. You may even need to arrange another form of transport if it’s very important you arrive on time for a meeting. If your food is late, you may complain or perhaps leave the restaurant and go elsewhere. For spiritual matters, there is no Uber and there is no McDonalds next door. There is only one Source of fulfilment, and He is not beholden to your schedule. Yet we take refuge in false sources whenever we fail to wait. 

Failing to wait is to indulge in what we think we need to be happy instead of waiting for God to provide that. It is retail ‘therapy’, porn, absenteeism, whatever your anaesthetic of choice may be. It is to go to another source in place of the Source. This is usually not conscious, but it is sin. It is a hatred of waiting on God, and seeking fulfilment outside of Him. This is, of course, a lying fulfilment. It is the serpent’s forked tongue tantalising your eyes and ears with the empty calories of worldliness.  What if you didn’t take those things? What if you just sat and remained unfulfilled? Then you would be waiting on God. Christ, on his road to the cross, had the whisper in his ear of the devil saying, “You need not travel into this valley of the shadow of death. Wait not for God, take action and dominate!” Yet he didn’t. He waited where none of us would.

This is spirituality at its core. It is to keep your eyes on the Source and ignore the sources that vie for your love. It is to trust that what you need is what God provides at this very moment, and that is all. This is not to be emotionless. Christ was in agony as He waited on the Father, obediently walking to His death. And Christ has waited in your place. He is your perfect Saviour who knows temptation intimately. Cling to His finished work for you, and that this very moment you are seated with Him in the heavenly places (eph 2:6), your future secure. Wait on the Source. The end is near.

How does it feel to know that it is only at God’s dispensation that you receive what you need? How do you narcotise this scary fact? With what worldly treats do you find ways to indulge in earthly sources and not the true Source? I encourage you to a consciousness of this as you live your life (particularly when you hit a stressful time) and to wait on God.

<— psalm xxiv psalm xxvi —>

psalm xxiv – ascent

Who can ascend Golgotha? Who can climb the crag to the Place of the Skull, where Christ ascended. Bruised, He climbed willingly to His place of humiliation. How ecstatic was the evil one as he sent his legions to assail his constant Rival?

But yet Christ climbed and was stricken, enduring all for our sake. The King of Glory Himself, in the least glorious position. See the Incarnate God ascend to the cross, the place where His own creation points and ridicules Him. Yet He kept in Himself favour towards us all.

And from the cross, Christ shouts out into the decrepit, steel-gated hearts of His image bearers: “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Never did He break from His mission, and never did our barbs restrain His affection. For the soldier who pierced His hands and feet, He felt immense love. For the baying crowd, mercy. What else is there to be said about this God of ours, that we can’t see in Christ’s ascent to the cross? The King of Glory has come in!

All He has done, He has done for you and in your place. Now is the hard part. Now you are to ascend with Him, to whatever cross is prepared for you in this life. You will be tested as He was. But you have failed and will fail. You will turn to your accusers and curse them. You will drop your cross and dart backwards that you might hope to be lost in the crowd. You will curse God for putting you through this. Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, indeed?

You, oddly enough. You can. Not because you’re particularly patient or gifted. Not because of anything about you, actually. Christ didn’t pick you up for your great character and love for others, I can tell you that with certainty.

You are Christ’s new creation (2 cor 5:17). He has made you holy (1 cor 6:11) already. He has already designated He will never forsake you. You will ascend the Golgotha to your own cross, because, however hard that may be, Christ has gone before you and done it already. And every time you drop your cross to run away or swing around and curse your oppressors, the resurrected Lord appears at the top of Golgotha and says, “I know.”

And the strangest part about this is that Jesus’ words will do something to you. You’ll do something completely unreasonable. You’ll voluntarily pick that cross back up. And you will ascend Golgotha through blood and shame because there is no alternative for you. Christ is too lovely to run away from and too precious to abandon. You will ascend the hill by God’s drawing. You will ascend the hill more and more as the humility of Christ shapes you into Himself. A lifelong ascent of Golgotha.

It is only daunting when you think that you are to ascend it by your own strength. It is only a joy when your eyes are so fixated on the Lord at the top of the hill, that you completely forget yourself as part of the equation and ascribe every step to the work of Christ. In this you fulfill every moral stipulation in this Psalm, and you ascend the hill of the Lord. 

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face. Selah

Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah

psalm xxiv (nkjv)

<— psalm xxiii psalm xxv —>

psalm xxiii – growing in dependence

In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually.
(john kleinig, grace upon grace, 34)

The perennial problem for the Christian is thinking subconsciously to oneself: “How can I become a more independent sheep today?” This is only natural. That’s how your job works. You ask questions until you’re good enough at your job that you don’t have to burden others with your questions. Competence and independence are linked. When you learnt to ride a bike, you succeeded when your mum or dad let go.

Your relationship with God is exactly the opposite. As with the brilliant quote that I began with from John Kleinig, we are to grow in dependence on God. We are to rely less on our ability and more on Him. That means that ‘spiritual success’ looks very different than regular success.

Spiritual success is to earnestly say to yourself “I cannot do this.” It is an emptying. It looks the opposite of regular success. It is the man sitting in an empty apartment crying out to God after his wife cheats on him. It is the mother who prays to love her son who has betrayed her. It is the pastor deathly afraid of public speaking walking up to the pulpit on Sunday morning. It is faith without sight. I hate to even use the word ‘success’ because there is no correlation with worldly gain. It is to recognise what you truly are: unfit for task. A sheep that can’t be independent.

And this Psalm teaches us the joy of dependence. The joy of being a sheep is that you don’t have to get caught up in your own sheepliness. A sheep is in no way prepared to strike out on its own to find good land to settle in. It can’t fight off predators. It certainly can’t pass through the valley of the shadow of death. It would be a stupid sheep to try.

The sheep need only to say “I am a sheep, and You are the Shepherd”. That is spiritual ‘success’. Dependence. Stop trying to be an independent sheep and trot behind the Shepherd. How? The same way a sheep hears a regular shepherd. Hear him speak. Hear the Father speak His Son to you in the power of the Spirit, and God will teach you dependence.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

psalm xxiii (nkjv)

<— psalm xxii psalm xxiv —>

psalm xxii – the second safe state

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

A seemingly blasphemous prayer. How dare David accuse God of forsaking him? How dare I pray this Psalm to the God who sustains each individual cell of my physical body? The God who upholds my existence? And how dare Christ pray this Psalm on the cross (matt 27:46)? He’s meant to be Word of God enfleshed! Of anyone, He should know better!

A perfectly reasonable train of thought this is, I guess. But we miss one thing. That implanted in this sentence is the key to its validity. My.

This is no anonymous god who Christ, David, you and I cry out to. We are not shouting our frustration and weakness at the wind; at the hidden God. He is my God. He is known. He is revealed. In that tiny, two-letter word is the key to the entirety of this Psalm and the entirety of the Scriptures.

Pagan deities did not speak and continue to not speak. The anonymous god of “there’s someone out there watching over me” is no God at all. And when someone screams out “WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” to an unknown god, there is no faith at all. There is only anger. But with the beautiful little word my we have the entire gamut of God’s revelation of Himself. The garden of Genesis, the deliverance of Exodus, the promises of Deuteronomy.

But more than that. The promise of Christ. His birth. His life. His promise. His death. His resurrection. He who died on the cross is my God.

And because my God is known, I know that there is nowhere I can take my trouble but to Him. In the word my is the knowledge that God is for you. He is not against you, because with me and with Christ you can say He is my God.

God has given Himself to us in Christ. So much so that Christ identifies purely with our pain that He knew the extreme disconnect that this world can bring from God. As true God, He endured the weight of our sin. As true Man, He did it in such a way that we can be assured He took no easy way out. So Christ cried out David’s words that had been prepared for Him to say in the Psalms 22, as one of us. There on the cross is my God. Christ calls out in faith, because He calls to the God He knows.

And this is why I call this Psalm the second safe state. The pure joy in humility of Psalm 21 was the first. This is the second. It may seem unsafe to be so dissatisfied with God. To be so angry and accusatory. But hidden in the words my God is a confession of faith. Regardless of the externals of life, you inwardly cling to God when you call Him yours. There is no safer place to be, than distressed and putting yourself in the hands of my God. It doesn’t feel safe. Neither did the cross feel safe. Yet the cross was where love was revealed to its extreme in the self-donation of God in Christ. Take your struggle to God, do not sanitise your words. You don’t sanitise so you can come to your God. You come to God to be sanitised. Unload all you have to Him, just do it with the constant refrain of “my God” and you can’t go wrong. There is nothing you feel that He has not felt and your lack of trust in Him was nailed to the cross with Him 2000 years ago.

Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to thy cross, I cling
– rock of ages

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far from my deliverance
and from my words of groaning?
My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
by night, yet I have no rest.
But you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in you;
they trusted, and you rescued them.
They cried to you and were set free;
they trusted in you and were not disgraced.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by people.
Everyone who sees me mocks me;
they sneer and shake their heads:
“He relies on the Lord;
let him save him;
let the Lord rescue him,
since he takes pleasure in him.”

It was you who brought me out of the womb,
making me secure at my mother’s breast.
I was given over to you at birth;
you have been my God from my mother’s womb.

Don’t be far from me, because distress is near and there’s no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong ones of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me—
lions, mauling and roaring.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.
My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.
They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

But you, Lord, don’t be far away.
My strength, come quickly to help me.
Rescue my life from the sword,
my only life from the power of these dogs.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the horns of wild oxen.
You answered me!
I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters;
I will praise you in the assembly.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
All you descendants of Israel, revere him!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the torment of the oppressed.
He did not hide his face from him
but listened when he cried to him for help.

I will give praise in the great assembly
because of you;
I will fulfill my vows
before those who fear you.
The humble will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations
will bow down before you,
for kingship belongs to the Lord;
he rules the nations.
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust
will kneel before him—
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
Their descendants will serve him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and declare his righteousness;
to a people yet to be born
they will declare what he has done.

psalm xxii (csb)

<— psalm xxi psalm xxiii —>

psalm xxi – the first safe state

It is hard to read this Psalm, knowing that next we read Psalm 22, which Christ quoted on the cross in His despair (matt 27:46). What a contrast these Psalms are! We go from jubilation and triumph to death on a cross. Let us not forget that, while Jesus was the Man of Sorrows (isa 53:3) who prayed Psalm 22 on the cross, He was also the Man of Joy, bringing the love of the Father to all. He could sing this Psalm as well as the next. Both are Godly states: deep joy and deep sorrow, because they are united by a common theme. They take us out of ourselves and to the provision of God.

Psalm 21-22 are a two-parter for us, to explore what Christ knows: humanity in its victory and loss. Abundance and desolation. Here in this Psalm we have the extreme joy of the Psalmist. In times of joy, we tend to forget the source of our joy. We set our minds on the created gifts of God instead of the Creator Himself.

David nor Christ made that mistake. Their reaction to triumph was not to look inward and be filled with self-satisfaction. No, they looked outward and upward to the Father in praise and thanksgiving.

This is the first “safe state” for a Christian. One where all the joy of victory and hope is returned to the Father in humble thanksgiving, knowing Him to be the Source of all goodness we ever experience. This is the only way to enjoy things as a Christian, to see behind Created things the God who provides. From that vantage point springs a joy that is innocent and pure.

Christians throughout history have suffered greatly from the misapprehension that joy brought about by created things is an evil vice, of preferring the created over the Creator. It was for this reason that monks would take vows of poverty and chastity, denying creation for the sake of the Creator. Instead, we are to boldly take up created things, seeing in them God Himself who provides all. This is the first safe state of the Christian: innocent joy in God’s provision. Joy that claims nothing for its own.

This is the joy of a justified soul.

Lord, the king finds joy in your strength.
How greatly he rejoices in your victory!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not denied the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you place a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your victory;
you confer majesty and splendor on him.
You give him blessings forever;
you cheer him with joy in your presence.
For the king relies on the Lord;
through the faithful love of the Most High
he is not shaken.

Your hand will capture all your enemies;
your right hand will seize those who hate you.
You will make them burn
like a fiery furnace when you appear;
the Lord will engulf them in his wrath,
and fire will devour them.
You will wipe their progeny from the earth
and their offspring from the human race.
Though they intend to harm you
and devise a wicked plan, they will not prevail.
Instead, you will put them to flight
when you ready your bowstrings to shoot at them.

Be exalted, Lord, in your strength;
we will sing and praise your might.

psalm xxi

<— psalm xx psalm xxii —>

psalm xx – for you

The Israelites sang out for God to fulfill His promises to them through David. He was the chosen one, through whom God would make a great (if flawed) king. He did this in an odd way: without the use of cavalry.

Chariots and horses served what we would call conventional wisdom. If you want to win, then surely you pick the greatest weapon. God had done this with David before. Remember his battle against Goliath? Unarmoured, small and equipped only with a sling, David had already learned that the most effective weapon against his foe was the promise of God’s anointing for duty.

We are not David. We in fact have no promise of victory of our own to cling to like David did. Like the rest of the Israelites following him, we stand behind the true Anointed One and trust in what the Father has promised Him. And just like these Israelites, we share in the Anointed One, Christ’s, inheritance. His victory is our victory as we are caught up in His salvation. Isn’t it good that we cling to Christ and what He has done? Isn’t it good that the burden he carried to the cross for you was done away with? When we pray “O Lord, save the king! May he answer us when we call” our King is Christ! He is risen! 

The story is played out. Christ has won the battle and run the race in your place. We cling to His victory, not our own. We cling to His life, not our own. Do you see? You only see Christ as Saviour when you look outside of your own life to the objective work He has done in His death and resurrection for you. 

Wherever you are in life, Christ is the same now and forever. Victorious. Embracing. Forgiving.

for you

Rest not on your own works. Not on your own merits, your own level of repentance, your own level of trust, your own self-established expectations of where you should be right now.

The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent (jn 6:29). No chariots. No horses. Nothing in yourself. No human requirements. The work of Christ done outside of you. Look at Him. He is smiling at you.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!

May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!

May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!

May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire

    and fulfill all your plans!

May we shout for joy over your salvation,

    and in the name of our God set up our banners!

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;

    he will answer him from his holy heaven

    with the saving might of his right hand.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall,

    but we rise and stand upright.

O Lord, save the king!

    May he answer us when we call.

psalm xx

<— psalm xix psalm xxi —>

psalm xix – the sky as devotional literature

What have the first six verses to do with the rest? It almost seems like two different Psalms with two different topics as David shifts from the heavens to God’s law. Well, the heavens declare the glory of God, where else could David’s mind drift but to God’s provision. 

Notice that God’s glory permeates the whole earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The sky voicelessly, in light or dark, proclaims the glory of God. Look outside. If it is day, you see by the all-encroaching sun’s rays. Each celestial movement, or rather, each photon’s movement is dictated by the one God of Creation. The very physical world is revelatory of God. Not just those things that entice our eyes, like sunsets and waterfalls, but every nook and cranny of a tree’s bark or stone’s shape. Everything that the heat of the sun touches.

The darkness quietly reveals something else. As your eyes try to adjust to pitch blackness, searching for any speck of light, where else can your mind be brought but to the fact that you are a creature. Your seeking eyes find no purchase, as God has given you this time to sleep. This night remains a part of our universe for your sake, and God proclaims to you in it “rest, I have set aside this time for you, so you might lie for hours in the way I have designed. God has no use for night or day. He is eternal, beyond time. Both states, day and night, testify to our being the subjects of a loving, glorious God.

And, realising this, David looks from the created order to something even clearer: God’s revelation in Scripture. And it is truly clearer. Many look to the sky and see some sort of creator behind it, but we know no nameless creator. The Creator does not come to us most meaningfully in the wordless words of the natural order, but through the God-breathed (2 tim 3:16) words of Scripture. The invisible operation of the Spirit through these Words is our greatest gift, and it was only natural that David’s mind tracked from the natural world to his gracious God.

Go ahead and emulate David in the way he uses the day and night as readily-accessible, physical ‘devotional literature’, things that bring his mind to God. Then let that take you to His Word to receive the word of Christ, the purest revelation of God.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.


The law of the Lord is perfect,

    reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

    making wise the simple;

the precepts of the Lord are right,

    rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

    enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,

    enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

    and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

    even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

    and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

    in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?

    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;

    let them not have dominion over me!

Then I shall be blameless,

    and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

    be acceptable in your sight,

    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

psalm xix

<— psalm xviii (b) psalm xx —>

psalm xviii (b) – equipped to be conduits

A mistake we often make is thinking that God equips us in the way our employer equips us. An employer, depending on your role, might provide you a computer or a shovel or an office or a microscope or a gun. With this equipment you are expected to then use it to satisfy your employer’s many demands. How well you use these pieces of equipment will help determine your job security, promotion prospects and relationship with your employer. God manages to equip us while He’s doing all the work. How?

We see it play out in this Psalm. God equips and trains David. Then David goes to work, defeating his enemies. Destroying them. Yet he attributes the victory to God. It was God who subdued the people, while David “ground them to dust.” What honest employee attributes the entirety of their work to the boss (unless they’re trying to suck up)? No one. If not for personal pride, then out of honesty. It wouldn’t or couldn’t be true. It is not possible for two humans to share the intertwined action of God and David that we see in this passage.

So, God’s ‘equipping’ is different somehow. An action can have two ‘actors’, one divine and one human. Somehow. So much so that David can pierce the heart of an enemy with his sword, feel the weight of the steel in his own hands and smell the metallic aroma of blood through his own nostrils. His first hand, visceral experience is turned over as God’s own work. This isn’t just reverence, like saying “I couldn’t have done it if not for God’s help.” It’s realer than that. The actors aren’t differentiated.

This is the mystery of God’s work in the world. All goodness flows from God. The flowers seem to grow by the light of the sun and the water in the soil, but they actually grow by God’s own personal good will and attention to detail through these physical means. Nothing good happens on its own, but only by God’s providential care. When a creature does wrong, she sees herself as her own actor and distorts her good purpose. This is all evil is. Self-will. 

But when a creature acts in accordance with her good purpose defined by Her Creator, as David did here, she becomes a transparent conduit of God’s will. This is what Jesus was, God enfleshed, the man in complete congruence with the Father’s will. He was equipped by God, and did only as the Father desired (jn 8:29). Now, we are not Christ, but we do image Him.

And we are equipped by God in such a way that He has chosen to work through our actions in this profoundly unintelligible way. Two actors, one action. The Source of good and its human conduit. David knew this truth deeply, as you can see from his writing. You are not equipped to do anything, but to be a conduit for God’s goodness. Yet this isn’t passivity and sitting around, but constant work. Just know the work is not yours, nor is the equipment.

This might take some thinking. If you take two things away from this, take this.

  1. God desires you to do His will as revealed and illuminated by the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
  2. Any of God’s will you do was simply His goodness made manifest through you as a physical instrument. You produced none of it and deserve no credit for it, for it was Christ in you (gal 2:20).

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip.
I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
    and did not turn back till they were consumed.
I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise;
    they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me,
    and those who hated me I destroyed.
They cried for help, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as dust before the wind;
    I cast them out like the mire of the streets.

You delivered me from strife with the people;
    you made me the head of the nations;
    people whom I had not known served me.
As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
    foreigners came cringing to me.
Foreigners lost heart
    and came trembling out of their fortresses.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be the God of my salvation—
the God who gave me vengeance
    and subdued peoples under me,
who rescued me from my enemies;
    yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
    you delivered me from the man of violence.

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.

psalm xviii:25-50

<— psalm xviii (a) psalm xix —>