‘The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.’ Psalm 21.1
These are more than simply encouraging words; King David was expressing something that he knew to be true. As the psalm unfolds, he begins to recount why he knows this to be true, and all the blessings that he has received. It is this that gives him confidence to bring before God his present difficulties. Yet even when he does this, it is not so much in the form of a prayer but in the confident assurance that God will deal with his enemies.
There is much we can learn from David as we wait for the touch of God upon our lives. If you are longing for healing, instead of simply repeating your prayer to God once again, begin by recounting what you know of him. What has he done for you? In what ways has he already touched you? Then let the knowledge of this shape your prayers for whatever troubles you now.
You could, of course, take the attitude that God has already blessed you so who are you to expect more, but this certainly wasn’t David’s attitude and his prayer is written down so that we can learn from it. It is because God has already done so much for you that you can be confident about his help today and in the days to come.
‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.’ Psalm 20.1
Jacob was a man chosen by God – yet if you read the account of his life and his actions he was far from perfect. In fact, since he seemed to make an art out of deception he was certainly not chosen for his uprightness! He was chosen simply because God chose him. If we were invited to select someone to occupy his place in history we would almost certainly have selected someone else, perhaps even his brother who was to show grace and forgiveness when they were reunited after Jacob’s deception had driven them apart.
Similarly, you too are chosen by God – Ephesians 1.4 states this clearly. You can probably think of many reasons why he should not choose you – but he has. You need to be at peace with this because God evidently is! Of course, he wants you to be attentive to your life-style and walk closely with him, but these aren’t things you have to do in order to qualify for his favour. You have his favour already; he chose you before the very foundation of the world – so rejoice in it.
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Genesis 45.5
The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is amazing. This young man was mistreated by his brothers, falsely imprisoned and left languishing in jail, and yet behind it all was the hand of God raising Joseph up for the unique role that he had planned for him. When he eventually met his brothers again, his heart was full of forgiveness because he recognised the hand of God behind it all. In effect what he said to his brothers was this – “Forgive yourselves and each other”.
Perhaps one of the hardest aspects of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. We listen to words of God’s forgiveness being proclaimed in church, but deep down that sense of personal failure can be very strong. In the end it comes down to the way we see ourselves. We may well recognise failure in our lives – but what does God see? The Bible says that he remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 10.17).
So when you next look at yourself in the mirror, have the courage to ask – what does God see? He sees someone forgiven and clean, because whatever it is you have done is something that has been paid for and dealt with by Jesus. The more you can bask in this truth, the more you will be able to forgive yourself.
‘…you stoop down to make me great.’ Psalm 18.35
The very idea of God stooping down to make us great is incredible. It presents us with a picture of him coming to earth in the person of Jesus to be our Saviour. He lowered himself to show us, amongst other things, how precious we are to him.
The ESV translation puts it like this: ‘…your gentleness makes me great.’ This opens up another aspect of the phrase; whoever we are and whatever we have done, we can come to God in the assurance that we will find gentleness with him. It is the knowledge of this gentleness that gives us confidence to come to him, and in doing so we will find his acceptance and love. His gentleness really does make us great.
To trust in the gentleness of God means putting aside some of the less helpful images, such as the stern teacher who is never satisfied or the traffic warden who is always looking for faults. So what is God really like? He is, of course, just like Jesus – who ate with sinners, blessed children and touched the sick. This is the God who bids you ‘come’.
‘In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Psalm 18.6
This verse is very re-assuring – but also might be a little confusing! The reassuring bit is, ‘he heard my voice’. What a comfort to know that every prayer we have ever prayed has been heard; not one went into God’s ‘junk mail’ box and on no occasion was he too busy listening to someone else! He has heard our voice.
However, the confusion that might arise is this: if God has heard our voice, then why does he not do more in response to our prayers? Why is it that so often our prayers seem to go unanswered? It has been said that God answers every prayer: sometimes with ‘yes’, other times with ‘no’, and on occasions with ‘wait’. Perhaps there is a fourth possible answer, which is ‘look around’. Often our prayers open the door for God to act in ways that we had not foreseen or imagined, and sometimes it’s us who are changed by our own prayers.
Prayer is a gift from God. It’s not currency for a divine slot machine where we always get exactly what we want, but it is an invitation for the living God to touch our lives in whatever way he knows is best.
“For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7.2
Could there be any greater incentive to thinking and speaking kindly of other people than this? Our internal attitude to others may well rebound on us. It’s not that God’s love to us changes or that we are punished for what goes on in our minds, but there is another factor at work.
As we release others from our judgments, we experience a new level of freedom ourselves. This works in a very simple way. If we are constantly finding fault – even when we do not express it verbally – then this becomes the filter through which we view life. As this continues, we become accustomed to looking for the less-than-perfect and soon begin to find it all around us, and certainly within ourselves.
If, on the other hand, we don’t spend our time finding fault with others, then we are unlikely to be pre-occupied with our own faults. Instead of looking for the negative, we will find ourselves looking for the good and the positive – and we will find this in ourselves as well as in others.
Whenever you catch yourself judging someone, let it be an alarm bell to alert you to look for something positive in them instead.
‘…so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”’ Acts 9.38
This urgent request was because a wonderful Christian named Tabitha had become sick and died. Distraught at her death, the disciples heard that Peter was nearby so in haste they sent for him. We are not told what was going through Peter’s mind at this point – did he know that he was expected to raise someone from the dead? Did he have any idea of the situation to which he had been summoned?
What we do know is that Peter responded and as soon as he got there we are told that he prayed. It’s a simple detail but it says so much to us. We are often caught off guard, either presented with unexpected circumstances or walking into situations that are humanly beyond our experience, strength or capability. We would like to think that the first thing we would do would be to pray, but all too often our first reaction is to panic or to doubt. We need do neither.
It’s likely that as Peter prayed he caught a vision of what he should do, and this is what he did – and God was glorified. It’s OK to panic as long as panic leads to prayer, but it’s through prayer that wisdom about what to do next will come.