Psalm 23 is one of those psalms that keeps showing me truths every time I read it. After reading it again, I see this vital lesson opening before me:
I dare not separate walking in green pastures, sitting near still waters, enjoying times of restoration and receiving goodness and mercy every day from walking in valleys.
Mountaintop perspective is not found in this psalm. It is walking with him through the valleys that these blessings are found. He is unceasingly ahead and with me; therefore, no valley causes me to fear. He leads me to my valley walks where I find comforting and healing. From the valley, I look up and see grandeur; things look bigger from the valley. The vision of my Shepherd-Lord is most intimately sharper in valleys. I am small, he is grand!
Into the valley
Blessing, renewing, living
I am His alone
Lord, you lead me in righteous ways – you lead me into valleys. I am so cared for by you. I love that truth that I need never fear. Keep me from trying to escape the valleys. Help me accept the abundance you offer.
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Ps 9:1–2)
Some studies say that we make around 35,000 decisions each day. Perhaps the four most important choices I need to make are listed in the first two verses of Psalm 9. The focus of each choice is the Lord:
Give thanks…to the Lord
Remember…his wonderful deeds
I will be glad…exulting in him
I will sing praise…to his name
If I focus on these four, perhaps the other 34,996 choices I make today might be made differently.
Lord, you make decisions as well. I thank you that you decided to adopt me as your child. You have decided to always be near. You are making decisions for me that I cannot fathom at this time. And, I acknowledge that all your decisions are right for me. No fear.
The universe…the best man can do to understand it is to see it like this:
The Universe is all of time and space and its contents. The Universe includes planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, the smallest subatomic particles, and all matter and energy. The observable universe is about 28 billion parsecs (91 billion light-years) in diameter at the present time. The size of the whole Universe is not known and may be either finite or infinite.
This is what we are left with when we toss away the infinite, personal God who created and sustains his creation. Man can only skirt around the question, “Where does personality come from?” He knows that personal does not come from impersonal. He is left with a quandry.
Psalm 8 reminds me that my God is that infinite, personal God who exists. He lives outside the limits of his creation, yet reaches me and knows me! He has made it possible for me to know him! Therefore, he is always bigger than my need and not bounded by anything as he provides for me.
Lord, you alone are inspiring and awesome in all you are and in all you do. Today, our world has turned its back on you and is trying to solve its problems without you. If I am not careful, I can follow the same path and live as if you are not here or somehow believe you are unable. Forgive me for those thoughts. I am your child – you are my God! Come!
The heart is fragile and can easily become disordered by many things. The prayer set my heart in order is what I see in Psalm 6. David longs for deliverance; what he is going through keeps him awake at night. Into this situation, God orders his heart so he can say,
The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. (Ps 6:9)
The Lord puts to rest the question how long? (v. 3). Perhaps the situtation changed, perhaps it did not. But his heart changed, reordered. Perhaps that is the greatest work of God in any situation.
Lord, set my heart in order.
Continuing the thought of starting my day with the evening (resting) and followed by the morning (working), which is the Jewish pattern, I see this marvelous verse in Psalm 5:
In the morning, when working begins, I pray, prepare a sacrifice (worship) and then, throughout the day, watch.
Prepare: the Hebrew word can have an abstract meaning of putting things in order. One of the first things I can do, as an act of worship, is entrust the details of the day to my Lord. He responds by setting my heart in order for the day.
Watch: the word means look attentively. I don’t want to miss a thing God is doing with my hours.
Lord, set my heart in order and keep me attentive to what you are doing with this day.
O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing! He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence. (Ps 103:1–5)
Too often, my attention has been drawn to what my Lord does for me. Verse 2 encourages me to not forget a single blessing. However, this time, my heart is drawn to the repetitive He. He alone does these things for me because it is his nature.
He forgives because he is the forgiver. He heals because he is the healer. He redeems because he is the redeemer. He crowns because he is royalty himself. He wraps me around with goodness because he is good. He renews because he is the renewer.
In short, I am longing more for him than even what he does for me. I dare not forget his unceasing blessings because they turn my eyes upon the one who blesses.
Lord, all good things come from you alone. Thank you. But, even more than that, thank you for revealing your heart through those things. Forgive me for complaining or ever believing you hold out on me.
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you, including Mount Mizar. Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me. Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer. Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God, “Why did you let me down? Why am I walking around in tears, harassed by enemies?” They’re out for the kill, these tormentors with their obscenities, taunting day after day, “Where is this God of yours?” Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. (Ps 42:5–11)
Self-examination quickly gets to the heart of an issue. No sugar coating. Just honesty. This is why I love these verses. The writer questions himself and points his heart to great truths. God puts a smile on my face, He’s my God. God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night!
These truths confront all my fears and answer my questions. The writer feels down, crushed, let down, unprotected and abandoned. As real as these things feel, they are not true. And, left unattended, they can fester into an infection. So, what can I do when afraid or down? Simply said, I will fix my eyes upon my Lord. Focus on him.
Lord, I trust and surrender to you. Like the writer of this psalm, take my anxiety away. Point me to the truth about you. May all my worries be fashioned into prayers.
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.
I will be filled with joy because of you.
I will sing praises to your name, O Most High. Psalm 9:1-2
Four I will statements. Two are solely between my Lord and me. One is outward expression to others. And, one combines the vertical and horizontal. Each rests upon my determined decision.
- I will praise the Lord, with all my heart. I will not give him sloppy thanks with a divided one.
- I will be filled with joy. I will not look to others to provide the joy that only he can give.
- I will tell others about his marvelous work. I will not hold it back.
- I will sing praises to his name. I will not reserve my praise at any time, regardless.
These are decisions I must make and can make today. There is never a day he is not worthy of my praise; and, today is a great day to share him with the world.
Lord, I tend to be very reserved with you and certainly with the world. Help me look to you for my joy and share this with others.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Worry is never helpful. In fact, if I read these verses carefully, it is prohibited. Don’t is the first word of the first sentence. Instead is the first word of the second. Let is the first word of the third. Don’t – instead – let. When I accept this instruction, and I relinquish my worries to the Lord, he settles me down. A sense of his wholeness (worry always fractures) and a reminder of his promise to bring everything together for good (worry always challenges this) settles everything. If that is not enough, I am reminded of what is in the center of my life. If my Lord is, no controlling worry.
Lord, you are the only One who can settle my heart, putting it in order again. Please do that. And, when things come to me that could cause me to worry, help me take them to you. You are the only One who can properly handle them.
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6
Jesus is inviting me to come to him, in a quiet, secluded place. It is there that honest relationship is formed. My hurried pace fights this intimacy. In the quiet place with my Lord, I can simply be. No show. No pretense. No role-play.
That is what I want so, I must discipline myself toward it. Turn off. Disconnect. Stop. Only then will my Lord reveal himself. He will not do that if I don’t care enough to slow the pace. He will never speed up his pace to walk with me; I must get in step with his.
Lord, you know my hurried heart. Demands, distractions, involvements all fight for my attention. And, I let them do so, even encourage them at times. Help me be still through silence and cultivate serenity through times of solitude.