‘Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me— they have no regard for you. But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’ Psalm 86.14-15
There are two great lessons contained in these sentences. First, just because you might be going
through a hard time, it does not mean that God is against you or has removed his love from you. When the writer of these words was in trouble, he came right back to the love and compassion of God. His attitude was that the love of God was what he should run to, not what had been taken from him.
The second point highlighted in these verses is that God’s love is not something vague and abstract, but rather it has a relevance for each of us in the situations we face. God is not dispassionately looking down on us and all we are going through. His love and compassion are available for us now and his desire is to reach into those very situations that trouble us. He is for real – and he is for you!
‘Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.’ Psalm 86.1
This seems to be a desperate plea from someone in great need, but it also offers encouragement for us when we too are in a time of need.
The first encouragement is that our right to ask for God’s help is not dependent on our own goodness or on what we think we deserve. The only criteria for turning to him seems to be that we are in need. It’s easy to forget this and to mistakenly think that we can somehow earn God’s favour, but the truth is that everything about his dealings with us is based on grace – undeserved love. This is how we came to God in the first place and it is what opens the door for him to act – his free, undeserved and abundant love.
This leads on to our second cause for encouragement. When we are in need we may well feel poor, but really we are rich and have so much, because we have God to call upon. We often look at our lives, compare them with others and become only too aware of what we are lacking. Instead we would do well to begin by looking at the wonder of God and fixing our eyes on all the majesty and power that belongs to him – and then bring our needs to him with confidence.
‘During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.”’ Judges 7.9
On a human level Gideon was probably in a state of panic! God had reduced his army down to three hundred people and we are told that even the camels of the army opposing him were more numerous than the sand on the seashore. Then God told him to get ready for the fight! Gideon was not told how God was going to help him, but he was sent into battle with the assurance that God would be there.
We can take comfort in this next time we feel as though we are in a battle. The Bible repeatedly tells us that God is with us and ready to help, yet we can still feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. As with Gideon, we are not told how God’s help is going to come but we are asked to put our trust in him and to believe that somehow it will come.
When we read the story of Gideon, we have the advantage of being able to read ahead, so we know that Gideon had no need to worry since God was in charge all the time. The good news is that God has also read ahead in your life and is probably wondering what the panic is all about!
‘Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.’ Psalm 84.4
This is an interesting question: who do we regard as being blessed? We talk about some people being blessed with good looks or with good fortune, but the writer of this verse sees it differently. For him the truly blessed person is the one who dwells in the presence of God. He seems to have grasped the simple truth that if we have the presence of God with us, then we are indeed blessed. It is this that sets us apart from others and is what we should be seeking.
Of course, we may feel that we know this already, but nevertheless it is interesting how quickly we can find ourselves being envious of other people who have things that we would like to have. Perhaps the problem is that our hearts and minds disagree about what it means to be really blessed!
Take a moment to reflect on the fact that you really are in God’s presence right now. Father God has made his home with you, Jesus promised that he would always be with you and your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. If all this is true, then whatever else may be happening in your life right now – you are truly blessed!
‘But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.’ Judges 5.31
This is such a wonderful description: we can be like the rising sun to others, bringing light, warmth, comfort and joy.
Perhaps it is the naturalness of this that is most striking. The sun does not have to summon up all its energy to rise and give off its strength – instead it happens as a natural part of being the sun. Similarly, if we relied on our own effort and strength to shine for others we would soon become weary, but if it really does happen naturally then we can keep going because it comes easily to us.
It all begins with us loving the Lord, which in itself is about our desire to serve him and to want to be changed by him. If this is our heart, then as we follow our instincts and are attentive to those around us, we will shine with him today.
Where did you shine yesterday? This is not boasting but is about paying attention to how God has flowed through you. Most of the time, we are unaware of how he uses us from day to day and this can lead to a sense of despondency and worthlessness, but to spend a moment reflecting on the ways we have been used can be such a great encouragement for the day ahead.
‘Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.’ Psalm 82.3
When the psalmist wrote these words he was giving us an insight into God’s heart. The issues mentioned in them concern God and are a priority for him, so as we also care about them we can be certain that we are close to his heart and doing his will.
Perhaps it‘s the command to defend the weak that challenges most of us? The ‘weak’ refers to those who are struggling to cope with their circumstances, and it’s highly likely that we all know of people who fall into this category – maybe even you yourself. To defend such folk means to regard them as important, to value them, their stories and their situations, and to do whatever we can to help them. Doing this is not only about blessing them, but also about us being obedient to God’s command and reflecting him – after all, this is how God treats us.
When you are weak, God is concerned about you and your situation. He does not reprimand you for not being stronger, but instead seeks to draw close to you. You may not be specifically aware of his presence with you, but perhaps you can recognise that he has brought someone else alongside you to help.
This is God’s heart, and if you can apply it to yourself and to others in their weakness, you will bring great pleasure to him.
‘Jesus . . . said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”’ Mark 5.19
If Jesus told you to do this I wonder what you would say? Although you know that God has been good to you, I wonder whether you would find it challenging to say exactly how?
There is a long tradition in Christian spirituality of ‘examining’ ourselves. We often take this to be an invitation to dig around for hidden sins, but an excellent aspect of self-examination is to look for touches of God’s mercy and to spend time recalling both the general and specific things that he has done for us.
God is merciful. He does things for us that we certainly don’t deserve and that he doesn’t have to do – but he does them all the same. Many of these things may well happen without us paying too much regard to them, and we may not even recognise them as touches of his mercy.
Take a few minutes to think about the past day and begin to call to mind touches of God’s mercy – things that have happened which you neither deserved nor ‘earned’ – and give thanks for them.