Tag Archives: psalms

Re-Evaluate Your Heart: My Journey through Psalms 101

My absolute biggest pet peeve ever is feeling like I have been lied to.

It pushes my buttons so deep, I need spelunking equipment to retrieve them after my emotions blow a canyon into everything around me.

It’s a character flaw. I know. It means I have less grace than I should because let’s be honest, we all lie. Sometimes.

That moment when you only tell part of the story. You have your reasons but little did you know, the other person already knows the rest of the story. Feels like a lie.

The time you asked a question, but they think you don’t really want the truth because they think you know the truth already.  The other person misrepresents the truth or even fibs. Feels like a lie.

I could go on like this forever. I hate it. And I pride myself on the tenants in Psalm 101. As the message says:

My theme song is God’s love and justice, and I’m singing it right to you, God .

But here’s the problem with pride. Sometimes, the theme song is less about God and more about what you are trying to prove to the world.

I’m finding my way down the road of right living, but how long before you show up? I’m doing the very best I can, and I’m doing it at home, where it counts.

There are a lot of ‘I’s in that verse. I can relate, but sometimes we let the ‘I’s have the reign and we stop letting  God determine what is right. And true. And just.

And by we, I mean I.

Because I have moments when I am too righteous to see people’s hearts. As the psalmist says

 I refuse to take a second look at corrupting people and degrading things.

Which is good, but not when it is guided by own pride and selfish pride. That’s when letting justice be your theme song can take a really nasty left turn and it becomes less about justice and more about proving yourself right. All. The. Time.

There is a lot to be said for letting “No one who practices deceit…dwell in my house”, but there is also a lot to be said for “walking in my house with blameless heart”. You see, they go hand in hand.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t have a blameless heart if I am constantly looking for the blame or deceit in others. Not only is it exhausting, it’s not justice.

So my theme song will stay love and justice, but each day I must re-evaluate my motives. Am I singing love and justice for Jesus or for myself?

The answer to that question, my friends, will make all the difference in how I live my life and how others see Jesus.

Singing Makes you HAPPY. Sing More. (My Journey through Psalms 95-99)

Sometimes, I come home and all I want to do is sing at the top of my lungs in the shower.

Sometimes, I put on my PJs and socks–and do a Risky Business move down the hallway…once, or maybe twice (ya’ll that’s the BEST part about my awesome new floors…you think I’m kidding. Just ask my dog. I’m not).

Sometimes, when I’m in the car, I roll down the windows and JAM out to whatever song is on the radio.

Sometimes, I turn on one of my favorite musicals (*cough, cough* Newsies *cough, cough*) just so I can sing as loud as I can.

I love to sing. Off key, loudly. It ain’t pretty, or cute, but it just makes me feel…GOOD.

Now, I’m a nerd, so let me tell you what I know about singing.

  1. When you sing, endorphins are released. This also happens when you exercise, but let’s face it. I’d much rather sing then run on a treadmill.
  2. When you sing, you have to breathe in a different way than when you speak. More oxygen in your blood=better circulation. Better circulation=better moods. Breathing techniques are important in meditation and exercise as well, so this only makes sense.
  3. When you sing, you forget about things you thought you needed to worry about. It’s hard to worry too much when you are singing Backstreet Boys as you slide down the hallway in a pair of Batman socks (purely hypothetical…I assure you… :-)).

But even more than these three things about singing here, I know that singing can have a deeply spiritual component. This is why it is such a common motif in Psalms. Songs are poetry. And poetry, according to Dr. Curt Thompson in Anatomy of the Soul, is a powerful tool. He states:

It has several distinct features:

  • By activiating our sense of rhythm, poetry accesses our right-mod operations and systems.
  • Reading [or singing] poetry has the effect of catching us off guard. Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose …don’t apply. This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode procesisng, but to left-mode as well, given its use of language. This makes it a powerful integratvive tool.

Psalm 95-98 all utilize the idea of ‘singing’ to the Lord, about the Lord, for the Lord, as ways to show gratitude, understanding, acceptance, love. Here are a few examples:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud oto the Rock of our slavation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95: 1-2)

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. SIng to the Lod, raise his name; roclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his golry among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all the peoples (Psalm 96: 1-2). 

Zion hears and rejoices [sings] and the villages of Judah are glad ecause of your juddgments, O Lord (Psalm 97:8).

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; […] Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing (Psalm 98: 1; 4-5). 

And these are only a few of the Psalms–this motif is seen from beginning to end because singing is a part of being human. But beyond just singing is exalting. When we exalt the Lord, we lift him up and acknowledge that he alone is mighty and just. When we sing, we more easily exalt him. We belt out a tune and shout out our praise and worship him without regard for what others think about us. Singing lets us do what we are created to do.

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. (Psalm 99:9)

So turn up your radio, put on your socks, and rock out.

Spiritual Struggles : My journey through Psalms (94)

I have, like many people, struggled with anxiety and depression for a good part of my life. It is where the enemy targets me—especially in moments where I am basking in the glory of God’s light. This time of year, November-January, is always the hardest. The days are dark and long. The stress is high. Each day is a battle, a spiritual one.

A few nights ago, around ‘fall back’ time, I had a dream. To the average person, this dream seems mundane at best…stupid at worst, but here it is:

My good friends got together. They did not invite me, I just happened to stumble upon them at a park where they were gathering. They greeted me with smiles and told me the plan. Of course, I was invited, they were glad I was there. But I knew I was an afterthought. 

I walked away. 

A couple of them followed, but wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t return. Instead, I watched the gathering like an omniscient ghost. Every good friend I have ever had, met, or spent time with was there.  Illogically they were together and having a great time without me, even though most of them didn’t know one another. 

Later, I flooded the bathroom–I’m not really sure how that fit into the dreamscape, but I woke up startled and confused, breathing in the anxiety of my dream.

My friends. My Family. The people I do life with. I know they love me. Intellectually I have no problem accepting this. Yesterday I had an amazing time hanging out with some of the people who have been with me since elementary school–clearly not a place of anxiety This dream was stupid, yes, but it also is very telling about my fears. 

But then…

I had dinner with a friend of mine and I said something pretty stupid. My extemporaneous delivery in conversation sometimes is terrible, and my comment was meant as a joke, but based on her reaction I realized it was not life-giving, it damaged hope. I felt bad. I’ve obsessed over it for a few days now, even though I know she immediately either forgot or forgave my insensitivity, I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that one wrong move and all my relationships might just crumble.

 

I fear many things, but rejection is pretty high on the list. Even when I’m with people I love and who I know love me, a part of my mind is always battling against the whisper that I am unwanted–that I don’t fit in and I should stop trying to.

I fear being an afterthought. Forgotten. And worst of all, being isolated in my own head because I allow these fears to become realities.

Because the fact is, sometimes I do allow it.

Psalm 94, of course, spoke to me after a night of restless dreams. Verses 18-19 read:

When I said my foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, Supported me. When Anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy.

The fact is simple. We all have a choice–to lean on God or let the world support us. The world will always let us down. No matter how much our friends and family care–they are only human and they make mistakes. We simply can’t count on them to sustain our life force the way that God alone can.

Don’t get me wrong. Friends and family are important! Jesus had 12 BFFs that he did life with, but even Jesus asserted that we must leave them and trust only in God.

Only then will we find consolation for our weary, fearful souls.

I found this graphic to be simple, but effective. It helps me, so I’m sharing it in case your spiritual battles are equally mind-blowing.

I can’t control every subconscious fear, but I can put God in control, and listen only to his voice. When he is my foothold, then the fears can never control me.

Lift (My journey through Psalms: 93)

Last weekend we had our second annual “Chosen” girls night at GraceLife. We gathered the middle and high school girls together and pampered them with worship and wisdom. I had the great honor of speaking to these beautiful girls who received me with such grace it was easy to forget to be nervous and let God move. The next morning as we were processing together over eggs and bacon, we discussed Lisa Bevere’s advice I shared that as women we should

LIFT

ENCOURAGE

CORRECT

SPUR

The girls asked good questions and one stumped me in my post-sleepover haze. What is the difference between lifting and encouraging? My words escaped me. I did my best and the other leaders picked up my shattered explanations and we moved forward in our discussion. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when, in my morning devotions Sunday, I read in Psalms that word ‘lift’ again.

3 times to be precise.

Psalm 93 verse 3 says: The seas have lifted up first their voice, then their waves. A quick dictionary turn yielded the definition of this word, lift: to move to a higher position.

Now, this psalm is using seas as a representation, a symbol of the chaos in pagan religions that surround the psalmist’s words–juxtaposed with the firmness of the earth in verse 1 and God’s statues in verse 5, I begin to understand the beauty of this word–LIFT.

Lift out of chaos.

Lift into the heavens

Lift onto the firm ground.

Moving from the lower position to the higher position requires strength.

Encouragement does not require strength. When you encourage someone you are giving hope or confidence, telling them they are on the right path. It requires faith and kindness. Maybe even empathy.

But lifting requires backbone..and humility. It requires a willingness to move beneath someone and lend them your strength till they are higher than you.

I lift my niece.

I lift my students.

I lift my friends.

As Jesus lifted me. Lifted us.

We don’t stay lower after we lift someone, but it requires a certain amount of denial of self to lift someone into a higher position.

The seas lift their voice to praise God to a higher position–out of the chaos.

And we do the same.

We lend our strength to lift others out of the chaos and into the presence of God.

Deliverance: My journey through Psalms (91)

There is something truly poetic about the language used in Psalms. After reading this particular one, I was a little…salty. Verse 10 assures us that if we call on the Lord, who is our refuge, “then no harm will befall us and no disaster will near your tent”. But literally speaking, that is simply not entirely true. Disasters happen to everyone. Even the most devout God-lovers experience harm and destruction from time to time. So what on earth is going on in this Psalm? It’s the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?

I have my phone set up to give me AP release updates. I like the Associated Press because these updates are usually one-liners. I get the gist of what is going on in the world and then can click on them individually if I want to know more. In the past week, I’ve gotten updates about several hurricanes and the various destruction caused by each one, an earthquake, a school shooting, a terrorist attack, and a massive deadly fire. That’s a lot of disaster for one week, and I am certain that there are devout believers in these areas. So I’m left to wonder and question the validity of such a claim.

Being an English teacher, I am well-educated in the figurative. So because this is written in verse, I did a little digging. I’m amazed at how similar reading poetry is to the science of archaeology. First, you dig. Then you dig some more. And just when you think you will have to go dig somewhere else you uncover a sliver of something. What is it? A pottery shard? You’re not sure, so you just keep digging.

I looked up the word “fortress” first because it was one of the first words that indicated some kind of conflict. Fortress is a great word, with strictly military origins a military stronghold, especially a strongly fortified town fit for a garrison. I love the diction in this definition. First, you have the idea of military, which means a battle or war is likely, but having anticipated this you are prepared. Then, we’re strongly fortified, which means we are prepared for an attack. If God is our fortress, then that means our towns are fit for garrisons–or housing for troops ready to defend against an attack.

In other words, we are going to be attacked.

We are going to experience a disaster and, sometimes, loss.

This is war, after all.

Awesome. So why does it say that no harm will befall us?

Maybe this is cliche, but again, it’s poetry, so I’m not sure this is entirely literal. Sure, sometimes God does deliver us from the attack. He football punts our enemy right out of our world and we are left without damage. This week alone, I know several people who really should have experienced disaster–flooding, loss of property, maybe even loss of life–because of decisions they made, others made, and natural disasters, which, let’s face it, no one can truly avoid. But they called upon the Lord and were literally delivered.

But I also know people who weren’t–at least not literally delivered. Having lost a husband, a woman experiences disaster and grief to a degree that I can only imagine.

So did God abandon her? What happened to her fortress? Was it destroyed by the enemy? Did her garrison abandon her when she needed it the most? And was it her fault? Could her faith have been stronger?

Questions fire more and more intense the more painful the disaster.

But God did not abandon her, or her husband. She did nothing to ‘deserve’ this fate because the fact is we live in a sin-stained, fallen world. Because of this, we all deserve destruction and disaster. It’s the price we pay for sin. And living in a fallen world.

Wow, that’s depressing. Why would God do that to us?

Well, He didn’t. As with most consequences, we bring it upon ourselves.

No, I’m not blaming the woman for the death of her husband, but humanity for the sins accumulated over the past millennia.

Which brings me back to the verse at hand. If this disaster is inevitable, why isn’t deliverance granted every time we call on his name.

The fact: it is.

Deliverance doesn’t always look the way we think it should. But even in the midst of tragedy, God is delivering us–either from the trial or straight into His arms, where we exit the fallen world and enter the eternal. And if we call on Him, this is really the best deliverance we could ever experience.

Beth Moore said it best, and I’m paraphrasing from her Daniel study here, but she essentially said that God will deliver us one of three ways: From the fire, Through the fire, or Out of the fire Into His arms.

I love prepositions. These four give me such hope:

From the fire: we don’t experience whatever trial it is we are praying to be delivered from. This is only one way he will deliver us, but it’s often the way our brains think must happen to be ‘delivered’; if I’m not healed outright, then God must have abandoned me, right? Not quite…

Through the fire: we sometimes experience disaster and trials, but we are refined when this happens and if we call on Jesus, we’re better on the other side. Stronger. More beautiful.

Out of the fire and Into his arms: as mortals, we will die. Somehow, someway, someday. But those who call upon Jesus…well this is really what true deliverance is. The best deliverance. Rest. Hope. Peace. Finally.

So the psalmist is right: “he will call upon me and I will answer Him…and show Him my salvation” (15a; 16a). One way, or another, God is always there.