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Psalm 18:32 on My Mind

NewOMM“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.”Psalm 18:32

I’m going to do something a little bit different with On My Mind Mondays over the next few weeks. I came across a passage in my quiet time this morning that I would like to memorize. Five verses–five weeks. Could I memorize it faster? Probably. But this passage touched my heart. I want to spend some time with it.

This week I’ll be focusing on Psalm 18:32, above. If you’d like to look ahead at the whole passage, click here to visit BibleGateway.com where you can see all five verses right now.

What is it that I love about this passage? Throughout its words, David gives God credit for everything! God makes him able. God gives him strength. God prepares his path. God trains him for all he must face. God protects and sustains him. God stoops down to make him great!

And God does all of this for each of us, too! Meditating on these verses is like wrapping oneself up in a warm, comforting, and secure blanket entirely of God!

Interesting. That reminds me of St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer, the title of which comes from Ephesians 6:14, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” Yet, the essence of the prayer can be seen in Psalm 18 as well. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here are the words to St. Patrick’s prayer:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ on the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Do you feel it?! A warm, comforting, and secure blanket of God. He arms us with strength and keeps our way secure. He is with us always. He is everything!

Father, we thank You for being everything we need, for surrounding us with Your love, for providing necessary strength and security. As we meditate on David’s words and consider St. Patrick’s prayer, please help us to savor Your presence with us always. We love and need You, Lord! Amen.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! No pinching today–instead show grace and God’s love in honor of Jesus’ name. I think St. Patrick would have liked that better! Me, too.

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When You Struggle to Find the Right Words

I don’t know how it is for you, but of all the elements of prayer, I struggle most with worship and praise. It’s not that I don’t feel worship and praise or believe that God deserves all worship and praise. All glory and honor and praise are His! I just sometimes struggle to find the words.

DSC01019eThat seems like kind of a strange comment for a writer to make.

Yet our almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God Who created the whole universe, Who exists in a realm we can only imagine for now, seems so far beyond any words I might be able to arrange as a loving offering to Him.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to live up to my personal perception of what such an awesome God should expect. He gracefully accepts whatever I have to offer when I choose to offer Him my best.

Yet sometimes I still feel stumped. Prayer requests—I’ve got those. Confession—God’s Spirit lets me know what we need to discuss. Intercession—I’m aware of the needs of my friends and family, world, church, and community. Thanksgiving—This one is often mistaken for praise because it’s just so easy to slide from telling God how amazing He is into thanking Him for all He’s done. Thanksgiving is simply counting blessings and giving God due credit for each.

These elements of prayer (requests, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving) are essentially a matter of presenting the facts of each to God, anticipating His response when we have asked for one. Praise and worship, however, requires contemplation, creativity, even a touch of poetry. Praise and worship is a gift! God deserves to hear us express our deep love.

I wonder if David or Solomon or Asaph or any of the other psalmists ever struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read some of their first psalm attempts? I wonder if they tried and tossed out some lines from first drafts, playing with the words until they sounded just right. I suspect they probably did!

We may not be able to read those first drafts, but God has given us a collection of their completed projects in the book of Psalms. When we struggle for words of our own, we can read these, pray along with them, and let them prompt words from us. Here’s an example, using the first four verses of Psalm 8 (The words in brackets are mine.):

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
[People all over the world can see your glory, Lord, just by looking up into the sky!]

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
[Your name alone is so powerful that even the most vulnerable find strength and courage when they praise You.]

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
[I can’t even begin to imagine how big You are, Lord! You’ve held planets in Your hands.]

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
[And yet You do care! You see each person You’ve created. You even know us intimately.]

DSC01029eWhen we pray this way, we’re agreeing with the psalmist’s words about God, offering extra praises as we think of them. We clarify the psalmist’s thoughts with our own words, cementing the understanding of our amazing God in our minds.

Since psalms are actually hymns or songs, we can also turn to the words in our hymnals for praise and worship words to agree with and expound upon, using the same technique:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” 
Blessed Assurance
[Jesus, Your Presence in my life gives me a taste of Heaven. I’m looking forward to living there with You someday!]

If you don’t own a hymnal of your own, you can Google the words to your favorite hymns and pray from your computer. Better yet, ask your pastor if there happen to be any retired hymnals hanging around in forgotten places at your church. As a pastor’s wife I know first-hand that most churches have some hiding somewhere where they aren’t doing anybody any good. Now that many churches have switched from traditional hymnals to overhead projectors there are even more! Your pastor may let you borrow one or have one to keep. (If your pastor lets you keep it, put a little extra in Sunday’s offering plate.)

[Dear churches that have no-longer-in-use hymnals lying around collecting dust in storage closets, please consider clearing out the clutter by giving them away to members of your congregation for personal worship and praise.]

I have one last praise and worship idea to share with you. This also comes from the Psalms. David wrote many of his psalms while sitting outside watching sheep. We may not have any sheep to watch, but perhaps we have children or pets we take outside from time to time. Or maybe we just like walking or running or sitting in the park and watching or flower hunting. If so, noticing the created world around us will fill our minds with words of worship and praise. If bowing your head and closing your eyes leaves you sitting in the dark with nothing to say, open your eyes and make note of all the wondrous sights around you that reveal the greatness of our amazing God.

Next thing you know, you’ll be writing psalms of your own. And God will be delighted to receive your worship and praise.

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What We Can Control

Ice“I [Jesus] tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” –John 21:18

Sometimes life takes us where we don’t want to go. We don’t always have the choices we would like. Sometimes we just have to muck our way through the mud or creep along the cliffs.

When this happens, though, we do get to choose how we will react. No one can take that option away from us. Circumstances may be beyond our control, but our responses to them never are.

This reminds me of Paul and Silas. In Acts 16:16-34, they were wrongfully beaten and imprisoned. They had no say in what happened to them, but they did get to choose their reaction. Were they bitter and angry, loudly declaring, “This is not fair!”? No. Wounded and chained, they chose to sing and pray. And when a miraculous earthquake set them free, they chose to stay. As a result, the jailer and his family (and probably some of their fellow prisoners) were saved.

Lord, when life takes us where we don’t want to go, help us to respond in a way that honors You. Please use the circumstances of our lives to bring glory to Your name, to draw more of Your children home to You. For this we thank You, Lord! Amen.

This post is linked to Essential Fridays, Faith Filled Friday and Spiritual Sundays.

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John 21:25 on My Mind

NewOMM“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” –John 21:25

We sang a hymn in church yesterday morning called The Love of God. The imagery in this hymn is incredible! I especially appreciate the third verse:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,

And ev’ry man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

Can you picture it?

We can see the idea in action today—not with parchment or ink, but right here on-line. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve found so many other Christian blogs written by people who just love to proclaim the works of God. Add Google+, Twitter, and Facebook to the mix, and you’ll find a steady stream of praises 24/7. This is true!

I’m not recommending that you spend all your time on-line. Quite the contrary, in fact. I just think it’s amazing that so many people are taking the time during the day to drop everything for just a moment, post a good word about our great God, then go back to their routine, so that, all together, the praises just keep flowing.

John wrote what he could, his messages contained in five of the Bible’s books. In today’s verse, he implies that he couldn’t write everything he wanted to—wouldn’t have been able to if he tried. Yet he wrote what he felt was most essential in order to introduce us to the Jesus he knew—his Savior, his friend—so Jesus could be ours, too.

Since then, evidently, God continues to compel His people to tell others all about all the things He has done, things He continues to do—because He loves us so and longs to draw all who will come into His eternal kingdom.

This week, I invite you to memorize John 21:25 with me. As you do, watch for opportunities to proclaim the good things God is doing in your life. Let’s not only attempt to drain the ocean and cover the sky, fill books and take over cyberspace, but also to fill the hearts and minds of the people God brings into our lives—Then they can joyfully help us continue the work on this on-going task for the glory of God’s name.

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Remembering God Once We’ve Found Home

Finding Home“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” –Judges 17:6

I started reading the book of Judges this week. Though it’s one of the historical books of the Bible, it kind of stands alone, covering a period of Israel’s history that’s otherwise mostly ignored—a between time of sorts. Genesis 12 through the book of Joshua tell of God establishing His people: of the Patriarchs they came from, of their rescue from Egypt, of their wandering in the desert for 40 years, of their finally entering and taking the Promised Land. The next big thing after that is the establishment and fall of their monarchy with David, of course, being their most famous king, the man after God’s own heart whose ancestral line led to our King Jesus.

Judges, however, covers the time between the establishment of God’s people and the events leading up to demand for a human king. The theme of the book is found in Judges 17:6, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

But here’s the thing: Israel did have a King. The God Who established them as a people and led them to the Promised Land wanted and deserved to be their King. Yet as soon as they arrived at their destination, the people stopped following God. Instead of conquering all the people He told them to conquer and clearing the land of false gods, they cleared just enough to make space for themselves and starting cozying up to their new neighbors, intermarrying with them and worshipping their gods. Instead of being set apart and living in a way that would draw others to the one, true God, they chose to mingle, compromise to fit in, and worship idols. Judges 1 and 2 tell us all about this. Judges 2:20-22 tells us what God did about it:

“Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, ‘Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did.’”

When the Israelites stopped doing their part, God stopped doing His—just as He’d warned them He would. He removed His protection and allowed them to interact with the people who would cause them harm. He let them suffer the consequences of their own decisions. When they eventually remembered Him, He was there, appointing judges to help them out of their predicaments. When they forgot Him again, He watched, but left them, by their choice, to suffer on their own.

The lesson for us is clear: when we’re facing a move or going through one (or struggling with some other trial that makes us feel unsettled in our own land), it’s easier for us to remember to lean on God for guidance, wisdom, and strength. Our need for Him is never more clear!

When the dust settles and the boxes are unpacked, however, we have to work a little harder at remembering Who’s our King—and why. We must, though, because the God Who created us and established our families and homes deserves our worship, our loyalty, and our recognition of His place in our lives.

A few ideas:

1. Keep a journal during “wilderness” times. Record your prayers, God’s answers, and Bible verses that speak to you. Once you’re settled, read over these from time to time and thank God for being there for you.

2. Set aside a specific time of day each day to read God’s Word and pray. Talk with Him about everything! Offer praise and thanksgiving. Present your concerns.

3. Train yourself to practice God’s Presence, talking with Him throughout the day whenever something in your life reminds you He is there. You wouldn’t ignore a friend sitting in your living room. Learn to recognize and acknowledge God’s Presence, too!

Father, thank You for establishing us as Your people through Christ. We love You and are so thankful and awed to know You love us, too. Through good times and bad, help us to remember that You are here and You are King. We serve You alone. Amen.

• What do you do to remind yourself of God’s Presence and help yourself walk more closely to Him each day?

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Recognizing a Call to Worship

Parachute Prayer“Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” –Psalm 89:15-16, NLT

I don’t know what the weather’s like around your house right now, but it’s been kind of a gloomy day around here. I’ve opened all the windows to let the sunshine in, but there isn’t any to be found. Even the dog is sulking. He likes to lay in the sunny spot on the floor. I giggle whenever he has to move to stay in the sunshine as that spot moves over the course of a day.

There’s no sunny spot today.

But there is a gentle breeze. I can see it rustling the leaves of trees and bushes around our house. Sometimes it gets a little more aggressive, causing colorful leaves to dance, then fall. Pleasant to watch—even on a non-sunshiny day.

Reading Psalm 89:15-16 sent my thoughts down this path. I thought of walking in the light of God’s Presence. He’s with us all the time every day. But sometimes we forget.

The Psalmist says those who hear the joyful call to worship are happy, rejoicing all day long in God’s wonderful reputation, exulting in His righteousness. That call to worship is available to everyone! Yet, not everyone hears it. Why? It’s something have to want to hear. It’s something we have to train ourselves to recognize.

Thankfully, the God of All Creation has given something to help us with this. When you see the sunshine crawling across your floor or feel its warmth on your skin, let it remind you that God is there. He’s not in the sunshine, but He created it. Let it be your call to worship Him.

Likewise, when you see the leaves dancing and beginning to fall or feel the crisp, cool Autumn air, let these do the same. Recognize the sunshine and the breeze as gifts from their Creator to You, gifts that can call you to express your thanksgiving and praise.

Father, I want to walk in the light of Your Presence every day—and be aware of it as I do! Thank You for simple reminders that You are everywhere, that You created everything, that I can stop and talk to You anytime, about anything. I love You, Lord! Amen.

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Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.