This is the Day the Lord Made

An outdoor breakfast in the middle of an Iowa summer is one of the best ways to start the day. The fogginess of sleep lifts as two blue jays perching on the deck railing chirp and bob their bodies up and down, as if dancing to their own song. Sunlight shimmers in the trees as the wind waves with leaves of green. The flowers, blooming so bright, easily capture and hold the attention span of anyone not yet buzzing with caffeine.

Sometimes, if I sit very still and quiet, an additional morning companion joins me. A chubby squirrel, eager for a belly full of peanuts, scales the side of my house and squeezes underneath the deck railing. Warily glancing at me, he pursues his breakfast quest. Stretching and reaching, even turning himself upside down at times, he retrieves peanut after peanut from the feeder. We study each other between our morning mouthfuls. Does he pray and ponder the day ahead as I do? Unlikely. But, seeing him up to his whiskers in peanuts while holding his furry paws in a prayerful pose, I like imagining that he does.

This new day’s beauty brings the familiar words of Psalm 118:24 to mind: “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” I consider these words, and I wonder what else the Bible has to say about mornings. How does Scripture invite us to start the day?

Begin with Gratitude

This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

Truly, there are some days when we do not feel like rejoicing. Life gets crazy, our moods fluctuate, and problems overwhelm us. In reading through the Psalms of the Bible, it is clear the writers understood how hard life is. They are not simply proponents of putting on a “happy face”. They openly tell God about their trouble, and then proclaim reasons to rejoice in spite of suffering. This Scripture reminds us we have been given this day TO LIVE. Through our trust and hope in God’s goodness, we can find joy in the blessings we do have. Beginning the day with thankfulness helps us appreciate everything God provides.

Accept Forgiveness

 

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

Some days it is hard to get started because we feel so weighed down by past mistakes. God’s unconditional love for us, however, never ends. Each day is a new beginning — a fresh start with forgiveness. If we offer up our sadness, struggles, and sin to him, he promises to restore us. He hurts when we hurt. Using all of our experiences, he faithfully teaches us and crafts our pain into something good. Remembering God forgives our past mistakes allows us to pursue each day looking for new opportunities to love him and others.

Pursue Direction

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8 New International Version (NIV)
In the morning, when our minds have fewer distractions, we gain deeper insights than at busier times during the day. Reading Scripture and praying in the morning helps us grasp new meaning in his promises and find fresh guidance for our journeys. Like other relationships, our connection with God grows stronger as we devote more time and energy to it. Starting the day with God develops a strong relationship, which ultimately makes us more attentive to his direction throughout the day.

Make Requests

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3 NLT

Laying our requests out before God, first thing in the morning, helps us release our own inclination to worry and control situations. Trusting God to do what is best allows our minds to work on the things we can do something about. Wisdom is learning to discern what we cannot control, letting go, and watching expectantly for God’s good in our requests.

Demonstrate Worship

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Jesus modeled reverence or deep respect for God through morning prayer. For him, prayer was more than just a time to let God know his feelings and make requests. It was also a time to worship and strengthen a trusting relationship. So even in the midst of chaos, Jesus prioritized time for praising and listening to God. His devotion to prayer showed the relationship with his Father came before anything else. A regular practice of morning worship demonstrates an all encompassing love for God — a love poured out of the heart, soul, and mind.

 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how just a handful of Scriptures can lay a solid foundation for the day? The Bible seems to work best that way for me. We can always get something out of it, even if we don’t read it cover to cover. We can pick something we are curious about, like morning, and look it up.

In a way, exploring the Bible for new discoveries is similar to the mornings I spend on my deck. I see a lot of the same things. Many characters make return visits. But, if I am alert and aware, I also notice something different than the morning before. It could be the ants marching in line to the hummingbird feeder, a different birdsong in the woods, or just the fact that my windows need a good cleaning. Whatever it is, it makes me smile as I realize this practice of searching for something new brings me joy. No matter how chaotic the world becomes, this day is ours TO LIVE. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Press on in faith my friends!


Answered Prayer

By Jamie Trunnel

When I am lost
And I don’t understand,
I ask God

To take my hand.

I say to him
Tell me what to do,
To make things better

And to pull me through.

God says take a moment.
Enjoy my grace.
Everything has a season.

Every emotion, a place.

Remove the blinders,
And break the locks.
Hurt can heal

When light is not blocked.

Look for me.
I am everywhere.
The world I created

Answers your prayer.

References:

There are more Scriptures that reference mornings and how to start our days. They can all be found using the concordance (a list of alphabetical important words) in the back of your Bible.

Related Posts:

Getting to Know God Better

We only know — what we know — when we know.

A split-second explosion came from the direction of our garage. After checking and finding nothing peculiar, my son and I shrugged it off as odd.

Later that evening, my husband and I find glass across the garage floor. We examine windows and vehicle mirrors for cracks, but see nothing broken. Suddenly recalling earlier events, I mention the noise. Puzzled, we look around and then up. There, high above, we see the remaining jagged edges of the garage door opener’s light bulb.

At our house — maybe yours too — despite an extensive collection of light bulbs, we never seem to have the right replacement. So, while shopping online for a bulb to match the broken one, my husband discovers light bulbs specifically made for garage door openers. These bulbs resist shattering due to constant vibrations, and they interfere less with radio frequencies from opener devices. Huh. This is good to know.

After nearly twenty-seven years of marriage in six different homes, one expects to know this information, yet we are genuinely surprised. We only know — what we know — when we know. Right?! Now garage door opener light bulbs belong in our collection.

I keep thinking about the ordinary bulb, and how we did not know any better. It seemed to work fine. Why would we change it? Improvements are usually sought when things stop operating properly or when someone shares learning from their own experience with us. 

Faith seems to operate in a similar way, doesn’t it? It seems good enough, until it’s not. Illness, addiction, grief, divorce, financial problems…crises force us to examine our faith. We are comfortable with what we believe, when we pray, and how we worship until life shatters in some way. Sometimes we may look for sources of the “noise” and attempt to fix things without God. Or, maybe we avoid and dismiss the issue. But, our problems, they tend to boomerang, don’t they? Breakage begs to be noticed; it keeps showing up under our feet.

While picking up the pieces of brokenness, we question the comfort and complacency of a status quo faith. Maybe we need to know more? Investigating leads to new discoveries like light bulbs…and deeper faith. Surprised, we realize, in spite of our years and experience, there is a lot we do not know. A lot we wish we had known sooner.

Our God is not surprised by our lack of knowledge, shortcomings, or regrets. He loves us right where we are, and right as we are. He wants to be known by us. When we know we need to know God better, he rejoices. 

A new drive to learn and deepen our knowledge about faith can overwhelm us. Where do we begin? How do we learn more?

Learn about Jesus

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV

Jesus is the center of Christianity, yet many Christians avoid talking about him. Maybe Jesus makes people uncomfortable because the Trinity concept (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) can be difficult to understand. Or, perhaps the world’s different views about the purpose of Jesus’ life here (Savior or Prophet) make belief difficult. When we lack a comfortable level of knowledge about something, we tend to avoid it.

The Bible, however, tells us we cannot sidestep Jesus and still get to heaven. The only way to God is through Jesus. The first step in getting to know God better is understanding who Jesus is and what his sacrifice means.

Study Scripture

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Many say the Bible is God’s love letter to us. As such, its contents reveal his power, promises, and will. The Word is alive and active in that it changes us as our faith grows. The Bible is not a book to be read once, understood and finished. Scripture meanings deepen and offer different interpretations throughout our life journey.

The Scripture above likens God’s Word to a sword. Cutting through our spiritual life, the Word lays out before us our own light and darkness. It guides and reassures as needed. Studying the Bible requires more than reading its stories, and understanding its characters and lessons. Scriptures help us make daily decisions and walk God’s path for our life.

Pray

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

Prayer is a conversation we have with God. Telling him our hopes, dreams, concerns, and fears brings him closer and welcomes his wisdom into our lives.

Prayer provides space for confession and redirection. It provides more confidence and peace. As we spend time in prayer, we begin seeing more and more of the ways God is working on our behalf. Prayer builds trust in God’s character, anticipation for his blessings, and thankfulness.

Be led by the Holy Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Being led by the Holy Spirit requires embracing the concept of surrender. Recognizing there are circumstances out of our control, we seek God’s help and direction. God works inside of us through the Holy Spirit, producing results or “fruit” in our lives. For example, the Holy Spirit provides patience in difficult situations, peace in trouble, motivation for God’s work, and prayers when we can’t find words.

Throughout our lives, the Holy Spirit plays many roles such as conscience, counselor, and protector. The Holy Spirit even teaches us how to share God with others. As we grow closer to God, we naturally follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance more and more.  Jesus referred to Holy Spirit as a helper who guides us through life (John 14:26). Human desires can be selfish and idolizing, but the Spirit’s inclinations are never sinful and always line up with what we learn from Scripture.

Fellowship

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Spending time with others growing in faith sharpens knowledge and broadens experience. Worshipping at church services is important, but our complicated lives are too much for a Sunday sermon to handle alone. Sermons teach us about God; fellowship helps us apply our learning.

Our faith naturally deepens when we exchange experiences and learning with others. Supportive friendships are built which foster unique ideas and opportunities to serve. In Scripture, God calls us to work together and sharpen each other’s knowledge and talent. Using our various gifts to support each other we can find ways to model Jesus’ life and to spread the Good News (John 3:16). Fellowship brings us close to people who nourish our faith through the giving and receiving of God’s love. 

Now, please excuse me. The new light bulbs for our garage door opener have arrived. Discovering the protection this “light” provides, over all our comings and goings, has taught me nothing less will do. When we know — what we need to know — we know. Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for opening my eyes to the things I do not see. When life moves along comfortably, I think the faith I have is all I need. But, you graciously teach me to never stop striving in my quest to know you better. You patiently wait for me to discover the pieces at my feet and unlock new learning. You show me ways we operate stronger together. Help me seek more time to learn about your Son and to study your Word. Remind me to pray throughout my day. May the Holy Spirit’s guidance within me overshadow the inclinations of this world. And, may the people I surround myself with encourage my faith to grow deeper still. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Other Posts About Growing in Faith:

Living Unashamed of Faith

A Fit Faith 

Living Like a Superhero

Making Pie with the Holy Spirit

A Few Recommended Resources:

Lucado, Max. He Chose The Nails / What God Did To Claim Your Heart. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000. Print.

Strobel, Lee. Case for christ. Place of publication not identified: Zondervan, 2016. Print.

The Gospel of Mark, John 18-21

Devotional books such as: Jesus CallingBedside Blessings, Earth Psalms, Draw the Circle, or Closer to God Each Day

Online Bible study groups such as: faithgateway, Proverbs31 Ministries for Women, He Reads Truth for Men 

Got Questions Website

Photos courtesy of Pixabay, except the last.

The Worry Fight

Have you fought a few rounds with worry lately? More often than we would like, many of us find ourselves in the ring trying to knock worry out. We fret about things like beauty, money, success, health, family and …. even worry itself! Gradually, worry becomes a fact of life, part of the human condition, or something we expect to come with responsibility.

We stay in the ring, routinely fighting one worry after another, even though we know our efforts are futile. There’s no winning against worry, and we know this. It doesn’t solve anything, but tossing it around in the ring seems to make us feel productive somehow. Then, circumstances change and our current worry opponent becomes weaker. We’re ready to take off our gloves, but then a fresh worry shows up and relieves the old one. So, we stay in the ring, and we keep swinging.

One day a large, unfamiliar worry shows up in the opposite corner. This fight drags on longer than the rest. The punches surprise us. We can’t stay on our feet. Staggering and out of options, we fall against the ropes.

Where do we go from here? Have you been there? I have. I spent a lot of my life in the ring fighting worry, day in and day out. One opponent after another, I stayed on my feet. But, one day the worry was too big and too unknown. It wore me out. I spent some time hanging on those ropes, searching for a way to end the fight with worry.

I read what God had to say about worry. Did you know the Bible tells us ‘not to fear’ hundreds of times? Some sources say 365 times — interestingly, the same number of days in a year. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear God never intended us to fight with worry at all. How did he intend for us to cope?

Humbly Seek God’s Help

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 New International Version (NIV)

In Christianity, humility means to hold a modest opinion of one’s importance and abilities in relation to God. Humbly seeking God’s help requires us to overcome any barriers like pride, shame, or even ignorance which stand in the way of our relationship with him. Admitting we cannot find answers on our own opens the door for God to help. Our prayers start a relationship with him, thus serving him in one of the best possible ways.

As we grow in faith, we realize that no problem is too big or small for God. Everything that happens to us concerns him because he loves us, no matter what. We were not meant to handle our problems without his help. However, if we don’t ask him for help, he certainly lets us try (free will). God does not occasionally want our worries. He does not only want to hear about certain things. God wants every concern; he wants ALL our anxiety.

Trust God’s Care and Plans for You

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3: 5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

When worries weigh heavy on our hearts we try anything to remedy our situation – even more worrying. Urgent situations may cause us to forget to pray or to delay it. We might doubt God’s ability to help us. Or, we might wonder why God would even want to help us. Prayer can become our last resort. Trusting God with “all your heart” means trusting him FIRST, not last.

God wants us to rely on him. We cannot control or fully understand our circumstances, but God does. He has a plan for our lives, and he wants to help us find our way. Prayer provides the time we need to free our conscience and voice concerns. Do our problems magically vanish? No. But, prayer can relieve worry by rejuvenating us with God’s hope and new direction. Scripture brings us reassurance and helps evaluate decisions. We start noticing how love shows up for us in times of trouble, and we may discover how our experiences can help us love others. Trusting God, in good times and in bad, helps us discover paths away from worry. 

Share the Load

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV

Many of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible use farming metaphors. Farming was a common activity people could relate to. A yoke is a harness worn by oxen to pull a load behind them and complete work. In this Scripture, Jesus asks us to share the yoke with him, so he can help pull our burdens in life. Our troubles may not be removed, but Christ’s strength makes our load lighter and more manageable.

Sharing the yoke allows us to focus on the work we can do and leave the rest up to God. Worry only distracts us from seeing the ways God is helping. Dwelling on the what if’s stall us from walking forward in faith-filled directions. Those directions might include things like asking others for prayers and support, exploring resources, taking care of our health, seeking professional help, or enjoying God in new ways. Focusing on God’s guidance and results, instead of worry, makes us more productive in our circumstances.  

Find Peace and Rest

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT

As God in human flesh, Jesus knew what suffering lay ahead. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, he was overcome with anguish and deep sorrow regarding the agony ahead (Matthew 26:36-39). Yet, because of his faith in God’s sovereignty and good, he left willingly with the Roman soldiers who came for him.

His pure heart had never felt guilt, anxiety, or fear until he chose to become sin for us. By accepting our sin while on the cross, he endured not only physical torture, but infinitely worse, a spiritual separation from God (Matthew 27:46). Because of his sacrifice, his believers will never experience this kind of separation from God; they receive the gift of eternal life.

As believers, we never have to endure anything as horrific as Jesus did. But like Jesus, we must remind ourselves not to fear because we also trust God is in control and working things for good. Faith allows us to face concerns one day at a time and remain assured God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:25-34). 

Before he died, Jesus told his disciples he would send peace to dwell within his followers through the Holy Spirit. Our faith ignites the Holy Spirit to offer peace, so even in the most difficult circumstances we know we will be okay. The world cannot offer us that kind of lasting peace.

Fighting worry requires us to bring all our best moves, fancy footwork, and endurance. We’re good fighters, but eventually worry wears us out. Crawling to the ropes, we try hoisting ourselves up. Beaten, tired, and struggling, our minds run out of options.

But wait…someone is on the other side of the ropes. Offering a hand, he pulls us clear of the ring. Turn around. Look at worry now. He’s dancing around, throwing jabs in the air, and searching for an opponent. He can keep swinging. We are done. As our friend and rescuer says, “It is finished”.

When you run out of options, you run into Jesus. 

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” -Mark 6:50 (NLT) 

Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for your gentle reminders not to worry. You show love and care for me daily through your blessings, people, and opportunities. Keep my eyes open to the ways you work on my behalf so I do not take any of it for granted. Continue teaching me humility so I bring more worries to you in prayer. When I get caught up trying to fix or control circumstances, help me remember to trust your plans and come to you first not last. Help me focus on what I can do instead of worrying about what I cannot. Lead me in finding the plans you have for me. As I feel and see the way faith lightens my load, I pray my peace will also grow. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Related Posts:

Learning to Pray

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Embracing God’s Plan

Trusting God Along the Eagle Trail

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

Notice Me: Our Quest to Matter

Notice me. Two simple words. Like a broken record this phrase plays unspoken in our minds throughout our lives. During our youth, it shakes us at full volume as we search for acceptance from classmates and look for love. In mid-life, it annoyingly chants at us while we work hard to achieve career goals and possibly to raise a likable family. As we progress in years, the “notice me” noise might quiet down along with life’s demands. Or, it could ramp up as we worry about being cared for and our legacy.

Whatever phase of life we are in, it is likely that a “Notice Me” soundtrack is playing in some way. We confront a natural human desire to be noticed by our family, friends, love interests, colleagues, employers, communities, and social media.

Knowing that we matter is important to us. Our culture tells us to get affirmation we must stand out, be glamorous, and accomplish extraordinary things. We can easily get off track and become consumed by quests to be noticed.

Do you find yourself getting caught up in the rat race for attention and acceptance? Do you feel torn about how much to promote your work, family, or volunteer efforts? After all, sometimes being noticed can bring good things, not only for yourself, but for others and for God. How do we figure out where our boundaries are?

Lately, I found myself wrestling with these questions as I worked through a decision in my life. In thinking about what to do, this Scripture verse came to mind:

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

This Scripture is part of Paul the Apostle’s letter to Thessalonian Christians. In this portion of the letter, Paul’s words are written as a guide on how to live a life that honors Christ. He lays out three goals for Christians to pursue:

Live a quiet life…

A quiet life, huh? Most of our lives are brimming with physical, mental, and emotional challenges from ourselves and others.

In Paul’s time, life was also anything but quiet. The Thessalonians faced constant threats of being persecuted for their beliefs and many died young. Their lives were full of worry and sadness.

So, what did Paul mean by a quiet life? Obviously, then and now, most people cannot leave their daily lives behind to inhabit a peaceful tropical island. And, most would not stop pursuing their goals even if it meant things quieted down. Ups and downs and turmoil continue to be part of life. So, when we can’t change our circumstances, we change how we react to them.

We set limits on our involvement in drama and aspire to live peaceably with everyone. Providing ourselves enough time for rest and thought helps us not overreact in situations. Exercise, healthy food, and personal care cultivates an environment for calm virtues and an even-temperament to grow.

Spending time with God hushes the world around us and motivates us to take care of ourselves. In quiet moments God can help us discover how to handle our relationships and what our energies should be applied to. The world around us will not provide a quiet life, but spending time with God helps us create one. 

Mind your own business…

The preoccupation humans have with each others’ lives began long before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nosy neighbors, gossiping acquaintances, preachy know-it-alls, and better-than-you busybodies have always existed. Social platforms are just new tools of the trade.

Not minding our own business starts innocently enough through curious conversations and pre-conceived notions. The subject arises again, maybe while chatting with someone at work or at a coffee house. We just thought others should know. Or, we want to get another opinion. Then perhaps, we do a little more Google investigating and justify it to ourselves.

The process is so subtle, so sly that we may not even notice it happening. But, it does. Our curiosity, our enthusiasm to be in-the-know, and our simple unawareness overtakes us. We slip quickly down the slopes of boasting, gossiping, obsessing, comparing, judging, envying, etc. It’s not a fun fall; we feel it in our gut.

Paul warns the Thessalonians to mind their own business. God crafted us uniquely for specific purposes. He does not compare us. Each of us has the capacity to love God and to love others in different and amazing ways. If we are always preoccupied with everyone else, then we cannot discern what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in us. Rather than focusing time and energy on the lives of others, God asks us to devote ourselves to learning from him and helping his plans unfold in our lives.

And work with your hands…

At the time Paul wrote this letter, some Thessalonians mistakenly believed that Christ’s second coming would be immediate, so many of them became lazy and relied on others to fulfill their needs. Manual labor was also often avoided because the Greek culture deemed it an unworthy cause. So, Paul reminds his audience to put their hands to work for whatever cause God has called them to. Respect from others is not earned by remaining idle.

Paul’s lesson applies to our lives today also. The work we can do for God waits in our careers, our homes, and elsewhere. It might involve the use of our hands literally, meaning we actually build, drive, cook, draw, write, dig, etc. And, it might mean the work of our hands metaphorically, as we brainstorm, crunch numbers, manage teams, make decisions, help people, etc.

Whatever the effort, our mission should be to think about what God wants to do through us. How has he gifted us to love and serve others? While working for him we need to mindfully consider our motivations. Are they self-serving or God-serving? By demonstrating God’s love in action, we will naturally draw others closer to him.  

Do you see a pattern emerging from understanding this Scripture? In helping the Thessalonians learn how to live Christ centered lives, all three of Paul’s goals focus on one thing – stop seeking the world’s attention and start inviting God’s attention.

Spending time with God builds a quiet life. Exploring our own personal instructions from him helps us keep everyone else’s business in perspective. And, displaying God, his love, and his good causes to the world is the quest that matters.

Let’s hit pause on the distracting “Notice Me” soundtrack playing in our heads. Then, let’s crank up the volume on “Notice Him”. It is such a better tune. Press on in faith my friends.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for watching out for me and calling my attention to the slick spots in my life. There are times when life sweeps me away in dangerous currents of things like judgement, worry, and envy. Help me rise above all the forces battling for my attention and see the ways you rescue me. Teach me how to build a quiet life for myself in the time I devote to you. Remind me to direct more energy toward the things you are doing in my life instead of evaluating the lives of others. Guide me as I strive to reveal my love for you every day through the work that I do. May the people I meet notice you instead of me.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen  

Standing Out
by Jamie Trunnel

When is the last time you stood out?
When you felt loved without a doubt?

This world, it is a fickle place.
There’s no rest from its race.

Be better, be smarter, be wiser they say.
Then, we will applaud you at the end of the day.

God says let me help you
Build a quiet life.
Spend time with me,
See how peace conquers strife.

God says avoid busy chatter.
Trust what I can do.
Mind my promises,
Listen for a word or two.

God says your hands are my tools.
Work for my glory.
Others will respect you
And, be drawn to my story.

God says I know the last time you stood out.
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today.
I love you,
There is no doubt.

 

Other related posts:

How to Perform for an Audience of One

Judged instead of Loved

Love on Ordinary Days

Embracing God’s Plan

Good books related to this topic:

Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Print.

Ehman, Karen. Keep It Shut. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Lucado, Max. Great Day Every Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012. Print.

*Note: All photos with the exception of the flowers/fence photo are courtesy of Pixabay.

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Around four years ago, long before I recited a single Bible verse from memory, I pulled into a parallel parking space downtown for an appointment. While lining myself up with the car in front of me, I noticed its personalized license plate read PSALM23.

Being a Scripture newbie, I did not know the words of Psalm 23 off the top of my head. I wondered why this person thought it was significant. What would inspire someone to take the steps necessary to display it on their license plate? I don’t see too many Bible verses on license plates. Do you? My curiosity piqued, and I pledged to look the verse up later.

Upon reading the Psalm’s first line, I instantly recognized its familiar words. I have since learned that it is one of the most popular and reassuring pieces of Scripture found in the Bible. It is often repeated by Christians in hospital rooms, in song lyrics, at funeral homes, and during prayers. These poetic words written by David, soothe and comfort the hearts of those in need:

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
Forever.     (Psalm 23, New King James Version*)

I know these words ring familiar with many of you. Perhaps, some of you know them by heart. I am working on that, but what intrigues me right now is learning the deeper meaning behind them. Let’s take a closer look:

The Lord is my shepherd

The very first line is a powerful statement about who can guide us through life. The author, David, a former shepherd himself, likens his trust in following God to that of the sheep who follow their shepherd. If we spend our lives worshiping lesser gods such as wealth, success, addictions, relationships, or vanity we end up carrying heavy burdens. If we work too hard at controlling life, then we become disappointed when it doesn’t follow our plan. We need God to carry our burdens and to guide us like a shepherd in this world we cannot control.

I shall not want 

All the stuff we buy cannot go with us when we die, and it does not define who we are in God’s eyes. We easily find ourselves getting caught up in acquiring the latest and greatest things. Practicing gratitude is one way we can help ourselves feel more content and worry less about what others think of us. By living a life under God’s care, we know our needs will be met.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters

Did you know that sheep have trouble falling asleep? I find this ironic since many of us count sheep when we cannot sleep. But, it’s true, and David refers to it here. The sheep rely on the shepherd for the right conditions to rest. He prepares their pasture, eases stress in the flock, and wards off predators.

Sheep trust their shepherd to lead and help them. They don’t look too far ahead; their only concern is the next step. Like sheep, our worries make us restless. When God is our shepherd, we trust him to handle worries, direct each step, and lead us to peace and rest.

He restores my soul

From time to time, sheep lose track of their shepherd. They find themselves confused, stranded, hurt, or scared. We can easily relate to the hopelessness of the lost sheep. Tensions escalate within us when we make mistakes or when life gets hard.

When shepherds hear a lost sheep cry out, they come to its aid. Upon seeing the shepherd, the sheep’s fear decreases as it senses a return to safety and security. Although not yet safe, the lost one feels better in the presence of the shepherd. No longer alone in trouble, the sheep knows it can rely on the shepherd. The same is true of us. When we are in a mess and uncertain if more trouble lies ahead, traveling with the One who knows the way gives us hope. God restores the soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake

 What is righteousness? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Can we call ourselves righteous? No, none of us can. Jesus was the only human who did not sin. Yet, he chose to die as a sinner to cover our debt with God. By doing so, those who believe in him are made righteous (free of sin) and given eternal life. Striving for a righteous life leads us to confess, ask forgiveness, and continually turn away from sin. The righteous path teaches humility and love; it helps us find our honorable purpose for God.

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

The shepherd comforts, steers, and adjusts the path his sheep follow using his tools – the rod and the staff. The sheep trust him and look to him first when they need help. Can we say the same about our Shepherd?

Like the shepherd with his sheep, God travels with us through the hardships of life and death. Tools like fellowship, worship, prayer, and his Word can comfort and lead us through dark days. Difficult seasons strengthen our relationship with him. Whatever valley we are in, he has a plan to deliver us from its evil. His love is always for good. David’s words reassure us we are never alone in trouble, grief, or death.

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

Shepherds in David’s day moved their flocks through the valleys and countryside to reach greener grass. Upon arriving at a selected location, the shepherd cleared a suitable pasture or “table” for his sheep. He removed thorny brush and poisonous plants. And, he looked for predators and dangerous snakes that could harm his sheep.

Placing an oil repellent on the heads of the sheep helped the shepherd keep insects and snakes away. Also used during mating season, the oil caused the horns of dueling rams to slide off each other’s bodies thus preventing injuries. If sheep were wounded by a bite, a horn, or pasture thorns, the oil served as a healing balm. Now, that sounds like an “essential oil”, right?!   

As our Shepherd, God prepares a place for us at his table. He invites us into a relationship with him. He does this in the presence of the world’s evil and in spite of sin. He loves us, forgives us, and keeps calling us back when we wander away. Anointing our heads with oil is symbolic of his loving protection and peace. Through prayer and relationship, we see how he soothes wounds, heals hurts, and offers understanding. The cup of our lives runs over with God’s blessings, goodness, and grace.    

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

David ends Psalm 23 with a sure and firm statement of belief in God’s promises. His goodness (loving nature) meets our needs. His mercy forgives our sins. He pursues us with these offerings our entire lives. Our free will allows us to decide whether we pursue him. In his care, God guides, provides, protects, and comforts us our whole life through. Ultimately, he brings us home to live with him forever.     

The meanings found in Psalm 23 offer comfort in knowing that God is always with us and always working for our good. There are happenings in this life that yank hard on our heartstrings. Illnesses, addictions, deaths, financial struggles, relationship issues, and the ongoing terror attacks can make us stumble unexpectedly or leave us lost. When these problems go on indefinitely or happen repeatedly, we question when and if we will recover.

Psalm 23 is a lifeline in those troubling times. Keep it close beside you. Write it on a notecard, memorize it, or save it in your phone. When trouble comes, you will be prepared. Pull out Psalm 23’s reassurances and pray them often. Let David’s words of wisdom encourage your heart to further strengthen your relationship with God. Always keep an eye open for license plates presenting Scripture. You never know what you might learn. Press on in faith my friends.

 

Prayer for the Week:

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
Forever.  (Psalm 23, NKJV)

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Resources:

  • Lucado, Max. Traveling Light. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
  • Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

* Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.