‘I will teach you the fear of the Lord . . . turn from evil and do good;’ Psalm 34.11-14
The next step on our journey of how to fear the Lord concerns our actions. It’s about changing the way we live and going in the opposite direction – turning from evil and doing good. The slight issue here is that many of us might wonder whether we really are evil? We probably wouldn’t say that we’re perfect, but is it really appropriate to call us or our actions evil? If we are not directly involved in evil, then what are we meant to turn away from?
The word translated ‘evil’ also means calamity or badness. Certainly, we are not to turn our backs on those who are going through hard times or mishaps, but what we are called to do is to adopt God’s attitude to evil. This means not regarding it as the dominating force around us; refusing to believe that there is not much we can do about it and not giving in to the helplessness that so often accompanies distress.
There is always something we can do to combat evil. We are called to do good, to look for ways to bring good into the situations that weigh people down. To do good is not to wait until an opportunity lands in our laps, but to walk around with open eyes seeking to say something, pray for someone, intercede for them and help them. We are called to be a blessing in as many situations as we can.
‘Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. . . keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.’ Psalm 34.11-13
The first practical aspect of fearing the Lord concerns what we say. There are a number of ways in which we might be challenged in the area of speaking lies, even if we hope that this is something that does not apply to us.
One area is gossip. We may not equate gossiping with lying, but it certainly never tells the whole truth about someone or their situation; it is an incomplete truth passed on about someone else. Gossip never reveals the whole story, but only a detail. Another way in which we are prone to lie is in what we speak about ourselves. All too often we allow ourselves to repeat lies along the lines of: ‘I’m useless’, ‘I can never be used by God’ and ‘I’m unloved’. To use such phrases is to disregard the heart of God for us. If the fear of God is to take him seriously, then to speak the opposite of what he speaks about us is certainly not to value his heart.
The first step we can take in this journey towards fearing God is to honour others by speaking well of them and also to honour ourselves – it’s not a bad place to start!
‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.’ Psalm 34.7
If this is true, then whatever it means to fear the Lord suddenly becomes very attractive. Who wouldn’t want a delivering angel of the Lord encamping around them?
This psalm goes on to talk about what the fear of the Lord is, and we will look at some of its identifying features over the next few days. Putting into practice what we believe in our hearts seems to be at the heart of it, and in particular letting this affect our relationship with others. It’s taking seriously the fact that we bear the presence of God and considering what difference this makes to the way we live.
It might be worth reflecting on your past day. Throughout these 24 hours, you carried with you the very presence of God. Take a moment to think about the positive difference this made to you – it might even be helpful to write down your reflections as doing this can help you to take them more seriously. When you have done this, a more sobering exercise is to recall those instances when you did not act like someone who bears his presence. Now reflect upon the day to come and ‘see’ yourself going into the hours ahead as someone who bears the very presence of God.
‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.’ Psalm 34.6
This lovely psalm contains many wonderful promises, and at this point David made it all very personal – he had discovered from his own experience that they were all true.
This is the Bible’s challenge for us. Instead of reading it simply as God’s promises for the whole world, we would do well to recognise that it’s his promises for us personally. All too often the promises in the Bible seem too good to be true and we wonder if God is serious? Can they really be trusted? There is only one way to find out – to try. This is what David did when he knew he was in trouble; he called out to God and found him to be true.
Of course, God is not just there in our times of need, but it is when we are in need that we can particularly begin to experience his love and presence. As you read the Bible, which promise speaks most to your need today? Dare to take it as God’s invitation to trust him and find more of his goodness and love.
‘Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.’ Psalm 34.5
It’s likely that we all think of ourselves as people who look to the Lord and seek to make him the priority in our lives. Yet if we are honest, we would all admit that although there are times when we are aware of looking to him, there are also times when we are aware that we do not. You can probably look back on great chunks of the day when you had no awareness of God at all. However, it’s quite likely that in the times when you do deliberately focus on his love and what he has done for you, you are more likely to find a certain inner peace and rest from the pressing effects of the situations crowding around you.
The truth is that God is in us all the time, whether or not we are aware of him and whether or not we consciously call out to him. This is so encouraging; we are radiant with God because of his presence within us through his Spirit. He is never far from us and by simply uttering the name of ‘Jesus’ we can regain that consciousness of his nearness to us, for we are not speaking his name to one who is far away and hidden from us but instead to one who is already so close to us.
Rather than feel guilty about the times when you do not look to God, see this as an invitation to keep looking towards him – and it’s as simple as letting Jesus’ name be on your lips.
‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.’ Psalm 32.8
We all want the guidance of God! At times life can be very hard and we are not always sure what we should be doing. Sometimes there are important choices facing us and we don’t know which route to take, or perhaps we simply want to be in a different place – whether it be geographical, emotional or spiritual. We really want God to speak to us.
The trouble is that many people find that the times when they most want God to speak are the times when they hear him least! This verse is so helpful on occasions like this. It’s not just a matter of God speaking to us, but also of his ‘loving eye’ being upon us. We tend to want him to shout loudly to us and tell us what to do, whereas perhaps first we need to be aware of his loving eye – that sense of his presence with us and his love for us. When we find this, we are in a better place to hear his counsel.
It comes down to the way we pray. Too often the first thing we do is to speak about our needs to God. Instead, even before we worship, we should take time to be still and focus on his love for us; being open to it and enjoying it with no other agenda on our part. Once we really sense the reality of his loving eye upon us, we will be in a better place to hear the whisper of his guidance.
‘The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.’ Psalm 29.4
The Bible goes to great lengths to speak about the sheer power of the voice of God; we are told that God spoke and creation came into being. The sobering thought is that we also seem to have great power – the power to resist. Rather than resist and disobey the voice of God revealed in scripture, a worshipper is one who takes what God has spoken, seeks to understand it and lives out the truth of it.
When you are going through hard times – whether it be anxiety, sadness, confusion, sickness or something else – rather than allow yourself to be dragged down by all you are going through, find a promise of God that speaks to the contrary. You may be feeling very alone with your worries, for example, but in the last verse of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promised: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Find a promise from the Bible and give some thought to what God is saying to you through it. Try to learn it so that you can repeat it to yourself and take his word – his living voice – with you into your situation so that it can make a difference. Don’t resist – be a worshipper!