Psalm 150

Formation’s Triumph

I need Sundays. I need spiritual gymnasium time. I need subjects that get me out of the way, that remove me from the center of a make-believe world where I reign as king. I need God-saturated Psalms that un-self me. From the first step of the Jesus-following life, I need a concentrated focus on King Jesus. Psalm 150 points out the perfect path. It reminds me of this formational truth, this transformational focus–the Christian life is about Him, not about me. Psalm 150 is formation’s triumph. Here is today’s prayer and the final amen of the Psalter.

1 Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

Four questions can be laid over Psalm 150. First question: Who is the subject of praise? Look at the way this Psalmist answers that question: “Him”—9 times; “His”—4 times; “God”—1 time; and “LORD”—three times. Again, as with all the Psalms housed from 146 to 150 that celebrate the triumph of God returning Israel from Babylonian captivity, this last one starts and closes with “Praise the LORD” (150:1 and 6)! He alone is worthy of praise.

Second question: Where is praise of God to be given? The answer offered is “in his sanctuary” and “in his mighty heavens” (150:1)! Hebrew parallelism is in play here. The same thought is being conveyed in both locations. The writer is not thinking of the Jerusalem temple as the sanctuary, but of God’s heavenly grand residence. Sanctuary and heavens are pictures of the same Divine palace. From the viewpoint of the Psalmist, the reply of where praise is to be given is that of the throne room of God. Praise is to go directly to His presence.

Third question: Why is praise of God to be given? Two answers, with similar implications, are offered. God is be given praise for “his mighty deeds” and for “his excellent greatness” (150:2)! God’s force, power and strength should prompt our praise. God’s eminence, majesty and importance should ignite our praise.

Fourth question: How is praise of God to be given? “With trumpet sound,” “with lute and harp,” “with tambourine and dance,” “with strings and pipe,” “with sounding cymbals,” and “with loud clashing cymbals” (150:3-5)! What instrument of praise is the sound of your soul? Your own voice, mouth, hands, eyes, and feet are your trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe and cymbals. Play it loudly. Play it passionately. Just play it all to His glorious praise. Thirteen times in this last Psalm the author of this prayer inserts the word “praise.” It is the word for raving about God, for boasting of God, for commending celebration of God, for exalting God, and cheering God as the One who makes our formation His greatest triumph. Praise realigns us. It resets our spiritual global positioning system. The Christian life is most assuredly about Him and most certainly not about us. This life is not about our favorite movie star. It is not about our favorite athlete. It is not about our chosen political party’s leader. This life is about the Triune God.

Charles Spurgeon’s reflection on Psalm 150 is needed in our self-absorbed culture. He wrote: “To give the least particle of his honor to another is shameful treason; to refuse to render it to him is heartless robbery” (Treasury of David, 7:463, 2011). I, like you, must guard myself against becoming a traitor of praise and a robber of adoration. Praise and adoration belong to our Lord and Savior alone. The Psalms repeatedly remind me of what John says of the Lamb in Revelation: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure…I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price…He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 19:6-8; 22:16-17 and 22:20)!

Who, where, why, and how are all answered in Him! Praise the LORD! Keep praying until that great day comes. Remember the words of Ambrose regarding the Psalms: “In it there is a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for ever kind of exercise…” The grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be upon us.

Psalm 139

Formational Pursuit

Our pursuit of God is only possible because of His pursuit of us. My Jesus-following life has been profoundly shaped by the insightful words of the late A.W. Tozer (1897-1963). In his devotional classic, The Pursuit of God, he wrote:

“Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which, briefly stated, means that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man…We pursue God because, and only because, he has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit…The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him…To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love” (1982, pg. 11-12 and 15).

Psalm 139 is devoted to this formational pursuit. Here is that extraordinary prayer.

To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David.

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

How do we know that our pursuit of God is only possible because of His pursuit of us? David unveils four of life’s deepest realities. First, God knows us intimately (139:1-6). David prays: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (139:1-2). Six times throughout this Psalm David inserts the powerful word “know” (139: 1,2,4,14 and 23 twice). He also includes the noun “knowledge” (139:6). The point is clear, God knows you and me at the deepest level. “Yada” is the Hebrew word. It describes a level of understanding that leaves every part of our life disclosed and brought into the light of Him who loves us. Nothing is hidden. We have a theological term for that kind of understanding. We say of God, He is omniscient. We mean He alone is “all-knowing.” God pursues us wholeheartedly even when He knows all the mess of our soul.

Second, God longs for us passionately (139:7-12). David describes God has everywhere. He says: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (139:8)! God is so great that He fills heaven and earth. Still, in all that size, His abiding presence nudges against us, longing for our company. Again, we have a theological term for what we are talking about here. We say of God, He is omnipresent. We mean that there is no place in the universe that He does not inhabit. God pursues us with such intentionality that He is ever ahead of us.

Third, God surrounds us lovingly (139:13-18). David, in beautiful language, recognizes the loving tenderness of God when he testifies: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance” (139:13 and 15-16). In the very same way as noted previously, we have a theological term for God’s abiding love. We say of God, He is omni-benevolent. We mean that God’s love saturates every dimension of our relationship with Him, even before our birth.

Fourth, God searches us deeply (139:19-24). If it is even possible, David returns to where he began this prayer. He hungers for God to search and know him even more. David invites God to peel back the hardest layers of his heart, to uncover the deepest thoughts of his mind. If we dare, when we say something like that, we mean what David means that God alone is all-knowing, all-wise, and all-seeing.

Psalm 139 leaves me breathless. In Jesus Christ, this formational pursuit reached its zenith. Paul described this knowing, longing, loving and searching in this way. “But when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons…And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. Formerly…you did not know God…But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:4-6 and 8-9). Pursued. Pursue. Pray. Practice. Go to the spiritual gymnasium today.

Psalm 110

Formation’s King and Priest

Jesus alone is formation’s king and priest. Before we pray Psalm 110, consider many of the New Testament passages that are linked to this prayer. I know for some of us this is a strange way to begin this prayer. Now and then, though, looking from the New Testament back to the Old Testament can help us pray better. These passages give profound perspective to Psalm 110.

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,’ “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?’” ‘If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word…” (Matthew 22:41-44 and parallels in Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44).

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:32-36).

“And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Hebrews 1:13)?

“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you;’ as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5-6).

“But this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever.’ This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:21-22).

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1).

“But when Christ had offered for all times a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:13).

Those passages are only a few of the New Testament passages that fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 110. Here is the magnificent prayer for today.

A Psalm Of David.

1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!

3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,

the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

Psalm 110 all points to Jesus as King and Priest. David, in this Psalm, prophesied of the coming Messiah. The entire prayer celebrates the exaltation of Christ. Richard Belcher describes this Psalm with pinpoint accuracy. He writes: “Christ now reigns from that place of honor until all his enemies are under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25)…His priestly work on the cross was to win the victory over sin, death, and the devil and his continuing intercession as our priest helps us fight this spiritual battle” (The Messiah and the Psalms, 2006, pg. 148-149).

King and Priest. Only Jesus is both. He alone perfectly rules as King of kings and He alone perfectly intercedes as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. All of this is anticipated beautifully in Psalm 110. It is so easy to get sidetracked in praying Psalm 110. Meaningful questions abound. How much did David understand of his own prayer? How much did he know about Melchizedek? Did David get to see his son, Solomon, drink from the spring at Gihon that he alludes to in 110:7 (1 Kings 1:38)? Did David in his wildest dreams anticipate that the cross would be required for kings and chiefs to be shattered, for nations to be judged, and for enemies to be made a footstool? How much of the future did David see?

I cannot answer those questions. I can only place my trust in the One David anticipated. COVID-19, job loss, inflation, political gridlock, social unrest, heartache, death, and all the uncertainties that surround our future must be placed at the feet of Jesus, our King and Priest. He alone is worthy of our trust. The spiritual gymnasium awaits.

Psalm 107

Formation’s Gratitude

I never want to be far from thankfulness. I first realized this when our children were pre-school age. Sue, my wife, would plan a family night where we ate candlelight dinner together. These dinners became dress-up occasions. Typically, at some point in the meal, our oldest, Lindsey, would want to give thanks to God again for the mashed potatoes and gravy, or the green bean casserole, or the chicken. Over and over she would say, “Thank you, Jesus.” That is the heart of Psalm 107. It is our prayer today.


1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9 For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.
39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad,
and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

Psalm 107 reminds us that life is hard. Four real life experiences identified in this prayer tell us so. All four are introduced with the word “some.” First, some wandered…(107:4). Sometimes, like people who have strayed off course, we feel like pilgrims. Innocent in our pilgrimage, yet lost (107:4-9). Like the people described in this Psalm, we cry out: “Lead me” (107:6) and God delivers. What can we say except “thank-you” (107:8-9)?

Second, some sat in darkness…(107:10). Sometimes, like people who have intentionally veered off the right path, we find ourselves guilty of bad judgment. We feel like prisoners (107:10). Like Samson stuck in a cell, we wonder if we will ever escape. We cry out: “Free me” (107:13) and God opens the cell door and out we come (107:13-16). What can we say, except “thank you” (107:15)?

Third, some were fools…(107:17). Sometimes, like people who have been endowed with great blessing we squander what God has given us. We feel like prodigals (107:17-18). We are like Moses’ sister, Miriam, too big for our britches, arrogantly thinking we know best, only to discover that God has a different view (Numbers 12:10-15). Then we cry out: “Restore me” (107:19) and God delivers us from our distress and destruction (107:19-20). What can we say, except “thank you” (107:21-22)?

Fourth, some went down to the sea in ships…(107:23). Sometimes, like people who chase the unknown, we find ourselves innocently placed in a very frightening experience. We feel like pioneers on the sea. A hurricane has blown our way and we are in peril (107:23-27). Like Paul on his ocean journey to Rome, we are adrift and at our wits’ end (Acts 27:13-44). Our ship is torn apart. Then we cry out: “Calm me” (107:28) and God hushes the storm and we safely swim to shore (107:29-30). What can we say, except “thank you” (107:31)?

The rest of Psalm 107 is all about God’s sovereignty (107:33-42). God saves His people through great reversals time and time again. The biggest reversal, of course, is the cross of Jesus Christ. Notice with me how this prayer ends with a call to not forget all these experiences and the faithful presence of God (107:43). The Psalmist prays: “Whoever is wise, let him attend…” Attend means to watch, guard, and keep these experiences in our heart. He prays further: “Let them consider…” Consider means to discern and distinguish what happens in life. In other words, we are never to get too far from weighing the steadfast love of God. We are to remain grateful for food, clothes, shelter, friends, pain, storms, work, church, rescue and the Jesus-following life. At the heart of the Christ-following life is a thankful heart. Spiritual gymnasiums should be full of gratitude. Thank you, Jesus!

Psalm 51

Formation’s Clean Heart

My wife and I had the carpet replaced in our home. It was sorely needed. We had talked about it eight-plus years ago when we first moved into the house, but we convinced ourselves the old floor covering would do. The carpet was worn-out from day one. Dirty, even though we shampooed, steam-cleaned, vacuumed, and covered up certain spots, we knew the truth. Most of us know how easy we can live with certain things and not give them a second thought. Closets in disarray. Garages full of “treasures” that we no longer find valuable. Dresser drawers stuffed with clothes we never wear. Carpet that stares at us, even mocks us with taunts like, “You will never replace me. You can’t get rid of me. I am too much work. I am too expensive. I am here to stay.” We procrastinate. We surrender. We justify. We convince ourselves that these things are no big deal. Then something happens. We have a moment of clarity. We see the truth. We acknowledge the need to change. We admit the dirt. What is true of houses is true of souls. It is why I return to Psalm 51 over and over. Here is David’s famous prayer after committing adultery with Bathsheba. It is the prayer that I so desperately need. What about you?

To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David, When Nathan The Prophet
Went To Him, After He Had Gone In To Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love:
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offering and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Spiritual dirt—sin—is a reality. David uses all the filth-vocabulary he can muster in describing his own condition: transgressions, iniquity, sin, and evil, repeating them as part of his confession (51:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, and 13). The back story is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. David admits he intentionally crossed God’s covenant boundary by committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering her husband Uriah, and then seeking to cover-up the entire mess (transgressions). He owns his broken and depraved condition, even when he unintentionally drifted from God (iniquities). He confesses how he repeatedly missed the mark, both intentionally and unintentionally (sins). He does not hide the bent of his own inner world (evil). Who among us does not see himself or herself reflected in the life and words of David? We feel dirty. We are dirty. God sends a Nathan at just the right time to compassionately confront us (2 Samuel 12:7). Like David we say to God, “Wash me” (51:2 and 7). “Cleanse me” (51:3). “Purge me” (51:7). “Blot out my iniquities” (51:9). “Create in me a clean heart” (51:10).

Three times David comes back to the core of the problem. He addresses his own heart’s condition (51:6, 10, and 17). Heart is mission control center. It is that inner image and metaphor the Bible uses to define our true self. It is why, over the years, I have gravitated toward articulate statements about my own heart. E.M. Bounds, in his classic work Power Through Prayer, said this: “He will use his intellect best, who cultivates his heart most.” Robert Saucy, in his remarkable book, Minding the Heart, rightly observes: “The care of our heart is to be the supreme task of our life” (pg. 46). Solomon, who wisely understood the heart’s importance, said: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart matters. Keeping it clean matters.

Pulling up carpet and replacing it is one thing, pulling out the heart and replacing it is another. What do we do about our inner house? The Gospel makes it abundantly clear that in Christ we have the interior world’s best and only Cleaning Agent. He specializes in diagnosing the condition of our heart (51:1-6). He, as the world’s premier heart surgeon, can replace a diseased heart (51:7-12). He, because of His great compassion and steadfast love, can give us the perfect prognosis for ongoing formational care (51:13-19). In Jesus, all of us who come to Him with our dirty and soiled life, admit the truth about ourselves, and place our trust in His work, not ours, can be clean. That condition of clean is permanent for all Christ-followers. Even when dirt returns, He promises we remain His. We confess not to earn His favor, that has been secured at the cross, but to admit our ongoing need for Him and Him alone.

I remarked to my wife the other day how big of an impact the new carpet has made in our house. I feel blessed and rich. Things are brighter and lighter. The house smells differently. I suppose that smell is the smell of clean. Who doesn’t want some of that? Bring your soul’s carpet, a broken and contrite heart (51:17) and let Jesus do what He does best. He waits in the gymnasium.

Psalm 46

Formation’s Off-button for the World’s Propaganda

“Help.” It is a four-letter word that even the most hardened and leathery person will one day speak. Back in chapter 44, while reflecting on Psalm 44, I mentioned the legitimate place of “help” in our praying. All of us, just like that famous person, Alexander, in the children’s book, have head-on collisions with “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.” All the self-help nonsense, all the medicines, all the advertisement promises cannot give us the kind of help we want. What we want is God-saturated help.

Even if we get everything right—the right job, the right education, the right physical body, the right marriage, the right house in the right neighborhood, the right financial plan — all of that and more—we would still not have that right-kind-of-help only found in a relationship with Jesus. Listen to this prayer closely. It is no make-believe Pollyanna prayer.

To The Choirmaster. Of The Sons Of Korah.
According To Alamoth. A Song.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

10 “Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

“Help” is our first great prayer, right next-door to “thanks.” Of all the prayers we pray in a life-time, one of the most prayed is “help.” “God help me.” “Lord Jesus help me.” “Holy Spirit do what only You can do. Help me.” We do not know the historical context of Psalm 46, but some good Bible students believe that this prayer is linked to 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37, when the wicked King Sennacherib, the Darth Vader of his day, surrounded Jerusalem and good King Hezekiah, with 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, choking-off the life of Judah. A Divine rescue was needed. Help of the sizable kind was required. So, God makes three giant-sized-help-promises in Psalm 46.

First, God is our Present-Help. Verse 1 tells us that there is “a very present help in trouble”—literally and a little awkward sounding: “a help He has been found exceedingly…” Verse 5 tells us that there is help in Jerusalem, the Psalmist declares—“God is in the midst of her…” “God will help…” Verse 7 tells us that there is a God who is present. “The LORD of hosts is with us…” Verse 11 repeats that line — “The LORD of hosts is with us…” The Hebrew phrase is “Yahweh Sabaot”—which means the Commander of all the Heavenly Armies is in charge and more than able to help. This is not the only place the various contributors of our Psalter remind us of God’s help (18:6, 30:2, 31:22, 44:26, 70:5, 121:1-2, 146:5, etc. ). Two hundred and twenty-six times the Bible speaks of help, helped, helper, helpers, helpful, helping, helpless, and helps. Only God is the ever-present help. I do not know how you define help, but the biblical kind means we stop whatever we are doing, and we look squarely to God.

Second, God is not only our present help, but he is also our Strong Help.

All the metaphors in Psalm 46 point to this second help promise. God alone is the just-right refuge, the needed strength, the perfect fortress. Listen again: Verse 2—when “the earth gives way”—that means when catastrophic circumstances occur…God is a Strong Help. Verse 6—when “kingdoms totter”—that means when everything is falling apart…God speaks and makes things right again. In verses 8 and 9—when “desolations” occur, when “wars cease”—that means God alone has the muscle to break the bow, to shatter the spear, to burn the chariot.

Verses 7 and 8 repeat that God alone is our fortress—a powerful image of assurance.

All of this leads to God’s Strong Help. Sometimes well-intentioned people, even people like me, come alongside wanting to help, only making matters a bit worse, and all of that is understandable…But the writer of Psalm 46 holds to the abiding conviction, the deep promise
that God’s help matches and checkmates any kind of trouble. Troubled earth—checkmate, troubled life—checkmate, troubled city—checkmate, troubled church—checkmate, even trouble-makers are ninety-pound weaklings next to the might and power of God’s Strong Help. Checkmate!

Third, God is our Trustworthy Help. Some people read Psalm 46 and scratch their head wondering why a river is mentioned in 46:4. Jerusalem does not have a river running through it. The point is a simple one, but powerful one. God Himself is like a refreshing and life-giving river. He is the river. In ancient times, especially if Psalm 46 is framed around the Assyrian army attacking, the great fear was that water supply would be cut-off by enemies. God promises that he is a trustworthy help on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. The Psalmist adds for good measure four key verbs all attached to God’s help. In verse 8, he says, “Come, behold the works of the Lord.” He means see Him, perceive Him, look at Him, center on Him. In verse 11—and this is key—he says be still before God—he means literally hang limp, stop whatever you are doing, let go of all your attempts to fix things, calm down, get quiet, relinquish control. In verse 11 he also says know God. He means for anyone needing trustworthy help, put your heart and mind toward having a first-hand experience with God. Know Him deeply and intimately and go on knowing Him deeply and intimately.

What Psalm 46 is leaning strongly into is what the New Testament writers call a living hope. Hope and Help are Gospel twins. Those of us who are Christ-followers have a living hope. Those of us who are Christ-followers have a lasting help. “Help me” is the perfect prayer to our Perfect God. What does all this help-talk have to do with what I am calling “Formation’s Off-Button for the World’s Propaganda?”

Psalm 46, this very prayer, is a reminder to all of us that we can turn-off the world’s propaganda machine by simply applying verse 10: “Be still.” Get quiet. Stop what we are doing. Let go of our constant attempt to fix things. Relinquish control. Turn our hearts heavenward. Be at peace in God’s presence. This is formation’s off-button. It comes in the form of God’s exclusive help. His help alone is present, strong, and trustworthy. Enough of the do-it-yourself nonsense. After all, everything is His, including the spiritual gymnasium.

Psalm 23

Formational Metaphors for God

What is God like? What comes into your mind when you think about Him? Two of my favorite answers to these questions, outside of the Scriptures, come from the pen of J.I. Packer and A.W. Tozer. These two eloquent Christ-followers are often referenced by people like me when pondering what God is like and what it means to know Him. Packer put it this way:

“What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God” (Packer, Knowing God, pg. 29). In like manner, Tozer said it this way: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 1).

I find myself these days spending a great deal of time contemplating what God is like and what it truly means to know Him. I suppose that is why Psalm 23 captures my heart. I have read it, prayed it, preached on it, and wrestled with it at funerals. I have carried it to the hospital. I have quoted it while traveling on the road and while lying in my bed. Without further delay, here it is.

A Psalm Of David

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4 Even 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.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

What kind of God do you know? What is He like? I have often reminded myself and taught others that our answers to those questions are essential to our ongoing spiritual formation. Some people because of poor Biblical teaching, or a personal misinterpretation of the Bible, or some terrible crisis or gut-wrenching circumstance, have concluded that God is a dysfunctional parent, distant, indifferent, one to be feared, a gigantic eye-ball in the sky seeking to find out who has been naughty or nice. The metaphors we attach to God make all the difference. I find Psalm 23 to be one of the best places to consider what God is truly like.

Of course, the most famous metaphor from this Psalm attached to God is that of shepherd. “The LORD is my shepherd,” David declared. Shepherds cared about grazing routes. They never got more than three to four miles away from a good water source. They were ever preoccupied with a safe and protected night camp site from predator and pest. They were constantly concerned with good pasture. To no one’s surprise that reads Scripture, Jesus declares that He is the Good Shepherd (John 10). Notice with me how this Psalm expands and deepens the implications of God as Shepherd. There are at least three portraits of God as shepherd of the soul worthy of rumination.

First, Psalm 23:1-3 tells us that God is a shepherd that provides. He is the world’s best cook. Green pastures, still waters, and places to be restored and refreshed are His specialty. Where He guides, He provides. The first three verses tell us that those who are shepherded by God have no complaint. My mom’s mom, my Grandma Beaty, had the extraordinary capacity to prepare a meal that simply refreshed the whole person. Her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, dressing, fruit salad, homemade rolls, deviled eggs, sweet tea, and assorted desserts replenished and renewed. That is the picture of God here in this Psalm. Do you know Him like that?

Second, Psalm 23:4 reveals to us that God is a shepherd that perfectly guides. This Psalm openly acknowledges that life can be hard. The shadow of death looms everywhere. Evil is present. An enemy seeks to destroy, kill, and annihilate. Yet God uses His heavenly rod and staff to bring shepherding comfort. The rod was a short stick, even a weapon that could be used for protection or discipline. The staff was a longer stick with a hook on the end that could draw sheep close when needed. The result of this good Shepherd’s presence is that fear evaporates and peace blankets. Jesus ever reminds those of us who listen that He is the resurrection and the life. He promises, “Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). What kind of God do you know?

Third, Psalm 23:5-6 speaks to us of a God that invites and receives. He is a shepherd who is a perfect host. Eastern culture placed a high premium on warm and gracious hospitality. God is the ideal host according to this Psalm. He prepares a table. He cleans off our road dirt with His healing oil. Flies, parasites, and scabs were constantly afflicting sheep. Good shepherds took care of those pesky problems when feeding and restoring time came. God is ever full of goodness and mercy. He holds a place for us, just as our Good Shepherd promised.

The LORD is the beginning and ending of this Psalm (1:1 and 1:6). This ever-present and ever-faithful God did for us what we could not do for ourselves in Christ. We were and are wandering and helpless sheep, capable of inflicting ourselves with enormous heartache. God ever calls and woos us to Himself. His table is ever-ready. Some of us make ourselves so miserable and needy before we realize that life does not have to be a constantly sin-filled and pain-filled sojourn. There is a shepherd who provides, guides, and cares.

When I was in the fifth grade, my family moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania. Because of the many miles between our new home and our relatives back in Central Illinois, we were not able to return for Thanksgiving celebration. There was a wealthy widow in the Waynesburg, Pennsylvania church who opened her home to us. We put on our very best clothes. My parents schooled us on manners and protocol. We sat at that woman’s food-filled table and I recall asking my mother, “Is this heaven?” Though I did not know it, what I was really asking was, “Is this what God is like?”

I tell you without hesitation, Jesus is the best cook. He said, “I am the bread of life…anyone who eats this bread, will live forever” (John 6:51). Jesus is the expert guide. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the perfect host. He said, “…I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). I ask one last time, what kind of God do you know? God is my Shepherd and I am His lamb. All the difference in the world and in the one to come is found in these splendid formational metaphors attached to my Shepherd. It is a good summer day to be in the gymnasium.

Psalm 19

God Speak’s and Formation Happens

The older I get the sweeter God’s voice becomes. Of course, it is profoundly challenging these days to hear Him with all the clamor and clanging for our attention. The digital world experts tell us that during one twenty-four-hour period, around the world, we text 188 billion times. We email 144 billion times. We Google 4.7 billion times. We download something of interest to us 30 million times. We Skype 2 billion minutes. We write 2.1 million blogs. We Tweet 400 million times. I assume these numbers are conservative. There is a lot of noise out there.

People seem more inclined to being distracted, alone and restless these days. In stark contrast stands Psalm 19, inviting us and wooing us to consider and pray this eloquent Psalm of David. Because of this Psalm’s brevity, I offer it below.

To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Right or wrong, C.S. Lewis thought Psalm 19 was the greatest Psalm in the Psalter. In this chapter’s reflection, I am taking an ancient path that others have long taken before me. Like those early church fathers, I hear God speaking through three distinctive voices in this majestic prayer. Eusebius of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and Theodoret of Cyrus, all believed that this Psalm revealed a mature King David reflecting on these three distinctive voices. Let me name them.

First, God speaks through creation (19:1-6). We often refer to this speaking as General Revelation. God discloses, reveals, and unveils His nature through what He has created. This first voice is available to everyone. David says God’s voice “declares,” “proclaims,” “pours out,” “reveals,” and “goes out.” Of course, this specific voice is rather limited. It does not contain the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, Paul, in his own reflection on God’s articulate voice makes this vivid declaration: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Paul even quotes Psalm 19:4 in Romans 10:18, as a reminder that God is a speaking God.

Athanasius (298-373 AD), one of my heroes, a renown African preacher, pastor and theologian, said that all of creation points to God. God, the all-powerful one, in a paradoxical and ironic way, reveals Himself through wordless speech in what He has made. Jesus said it this way, “Look at the birds…Consider the lilies…” (Matthew 6:26 & 28). This articulate speech of God in and through His creation is one of the reasons why I like to walk to the Kickapoo. I see God, hear God in the details of His creation, even though marred by sin.

Second, God speaks through Scripture (19:7-11). Bible students call this Special Revelation. From my humble vantage point, this Divine speaking is far clearer than General Revelation. The Word is unlimited. God’s character and our salvation are spoken there and revealed there in such powerful and perfect ways. David tucks six synonyms for Hebrew Scripture into this beautiful Psalm. He speaks of the law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear, and the rules of the LORD. From David’s view, he sees the Word of God as overflowing with just-right instruction, truth-telling, preciseness, authority, holiness and flawless judgment. God’s speech through His Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, righteous, and desirable. Magnificent!

Third, God speaks through His people (19:12-14). I think of this as Personal Revelation. Notice that David inserts very personal pronouns — “I,” “me,” and “my.” David is a praying sinner who has listened over a long period of time to His loving Rock and Redeemer, attentive to God’s voice in creation and Scripture.

David concludes this Psalm by asking for three petitions. He asks God to reveal sin (19:12). He asks God to remove that sin (19:13). He asks God to rescue him from that sin (19:14). I have discovered in my long journey that it is ever-wise to listen to people who listen to God. David is one of those people. God-saturated meditation is David’s application. He concludes his prayer by asking that his soul’s murmuring, his inner life’s attentiveness, his talking to himself about God, that all of it would be pleasing to the One who speaks through creation, Scripture, and people.

Psalm 19 anticipates a fourth voice. That voice is the Christ’s. Hebrews 1:1-2 gives a resounding reminder of God’s ultimate voice found in Jesus. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

Because I believe that God speaks, I also believe that my spiritual formation happens because of His eloquent voice. His voice carries throughout the gymnasium. It is why I often ask myself, as a part of my own soul’s examination, if God only spoke in a whisper, would I hear Him today? There is a lot of noise out there. Do I hear the music of His wonderful melody?

Psalm 8

Formation and A Sane Estimate of Me

Who am I? Eventually, all of us crash into that question. From my humble vantage point, Psalm 8 offers one of the very best answers. For the sake of my ongoing formation and yours, it gives us a sane estimate of who we are. It represents the first “Praise Psalm” included among the 150 songs and prayers in the Psalter. Here it is:

To The Choirmaster:
According to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

1 O LORD our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Obviously, Psalm 8, a David reflection, begins and ends in the same way, a full-throated praise to the Great “I AM,” who is clothed in immense power and majesty. Psalm 8 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16, as He drives the money changers from the Jerusalem Temple. When the chief priests and scribes witness children crying out, “Hosanna,” these leaders were greatly annoyed, prompting Jesus to leverage Psalm 8 and ask a question, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise?’” The silence of the religious leaders concludes the Temple cleansing with a thud.

Psalm 8 is also used in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22, as a reminder of God’s enormous purpose and plan in Christ and how ultimately His enemies — sin, death, and the devil, will be defeated and placed under His feet. His dominion is and forever will be over everyone and everything. Hebrews 2:6-8 includes a larger slice of Psalm 8 as a reminder of the same supremacy of Jesus Christ. By His grace we are partakers and sharers in that mega victory and dominion.

What does all of that have to do with my opening question? Who am I? Psalm 8 gives us two answers. First, I am very small. Any kid who has ever laid on his back and looked up into the night sky knows how tiny they really are. This is David’s view. When he stares-up into the heavens, his heart raises an essential question: “Who am I that you are mindful of me, that you care about me?” The vastness of the universe, even our own solar system, reminds me how minuscule I truly am. I need that kind of humble perspective. That just-right-view helps to slay the demon of pride and self-exultation.

Who am I? Psalm 8 offers us another surprising answer. Second, I am very great. What a paradox! Strange. Odd. Upside-down. David declares, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands…” God, as crazy as it sounds, has given you and me a significant place in His grand purpose and plan. Since Genesis 1:26-31, we have a substantial role in stewarding what God has created, both in the creation mandate and in the great commission. Though “the Fall” has marred all of this, and some of our dominion waits to be restored, His rule and reign is secure. It is in Jesus Christ, rather than in you and me, that the true greatness resides. My identity, as Paul declares in Colossians 3:3, is “hidden in Christ.”

Who am I? That was the very question Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised, the German pastor and professor, about a year before his execution at the hands of the Nazis. It was somewhere around March 1944, while imprisoned in Cell 92 at Tegel Prison, he wrote the following in long-hand:

“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
Compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!”
(Letters and Papers from Prison. 1972, pg. 347-348)

I love those honest and passionate words. They move me in such powerful ways. Bonhoeffer describes my own deep wrestling. Here is the tiny me and the great me arguing inside of me, under the absolute majestic sovereignty of my God and King. Psalm 8 is my answer. Who am I? I am His and so are You. There is the sane estimate I keep.

Psalm 3

Psalm 3: Every Formational Story Includes Help

“Save me.” “Help me.” “Deliver me.” Who hasn’t prayed that kind of prayer? It more than fascinates me that the first genuine prayer of petition in the Psalm collection is Psalm 3. We do not get out of the starting blocks of life’s race very far before we encounter a desperate need for help. The heading of this Psalm is — “A Psalm of David, When He Fled from Absalom His Son.” Absalom stole the throne from his father. The ugly backstory is found in 2 Samuel 15. A genuine palace coup took place. “And the conspiracy grew strong” the storyteller reveals (2 Samuel 15:12).

Most Bible readers know the David story includes this messy chapter. Seventy-three of the Psalms are linked to this one Old Testament character, King David, and much of his story is pot-marked with these messy plots of various kinds. From King Saul wanting to kill David, to being hunted and hounded by fellow Israelites, to self-inflicted problems due to sin with Bathsheba, and the family crisis that follows, this David story requires lots of help. Before we get into the mess, here is David’s prayer.

A Psalm of David, When He Fled From Absalom His Son.

1 O LORD how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.

8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be on your people! Selah.

All throughout this spiritual gymnasium of 150 psalms the David story is filled with the need for help. Obviously it is here, but also in Psalm 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, and 142. These Psalms are packed with cries for Divine help from David. His life was immersed in struggle and trouble. Most of us readily see our own story in Psalm 3 and other Psalms like it. We pray for help. We pray out of deep need. We pray for rescue. Perhaps you notice with me that this Psalm is marked with 3 “Selah” reminders. These “signposts” apparently serve as rest stops, holy pauses, or places of biblical meditation. Psalm 3 is the first Psalm to include “Selah.” Seventy-one reminders follow. The earthy, cranky, and gifted Anne Lamott is blunt. She writes:

“It is all hopeless. Even for a crabby optimist like me, things couldn’t be worse. Everywhere you turn, our lives and marriages and morale and government are falling to pieces. So many friends have broken children. The planet does not seem long for this world. Repent! Oh, wait, never mind. I meant: Help…Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer…So when we cry out Help, or whisper it into our chests, we enter the paradox of not going limp and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk, and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own – or other people’s – higher powers. Help” (Help, Thanks, Wow. pg. 11, 15, 39-40).

“Help” may be our very best prayer on any given day. Four times King David mentions “many” are seeking him ill-will (3:1-2 and 3:5). This “Absalom army of conspirators” wants to do David harm. To say it bluntly, they want him dead. This Psalm is a classic lament prayer: “God, things are an absolute mess and if you don’t help me, there is no help. I am down for the count unless you save me. Help.” I would imagine without much speculation that David realized his own sin had played a major part in this crisis. That night with Bathsheba, that murder of her husband Uriah, and that cover-up that followed, must all be swirling around David’s troubled heart. The last line of the prayer captures his true perspective and the viewpoint that all Christ-followers must take. When David prays, “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” he means, “Help is Yahweh’s!” In God alone, David finds his needed help. So, it is with us.

Help-prayers like this one, paradoxically and miraculously, enable us to un-self ourselves. The whole point of engaging these eleven prayers this summer is to remove the emphasis from our small life and puny agenda and place it squarely on the immensity and majesty of the God who created us, called us, redeemed us, and is now transforming us for His glory and purpose. I do not know of a better spiritual formation word than this one. Help.

I recall that Tulsa, Oklahoma summer night, nearly five decades ago, when I was drunk, entirely incapable of helping myself, laying in my own vomit, unable to lift my head. In that moment, I prayed that prayer so many of us have prayed, “Lord, help. If you get me out of this, I will never do it again.” Most of the time those prayers ring shallow, but not on this occasion. That help-prayer became my first step toward Him, toward entering a life-long apprenticeship with Jesus. I came face to face with my propensity toward alcoholism, toward brokenness, toward rebellion against the One who loved me and gave His life for me. A simple help-prayer was my awakening. Help is that holy four-letter word that counters and defeats all other unholy four-letter words. Help is enough. Help is the way home. Help is a grace-built bridge. Help is a gift. Help is the cross of Jesus Christ. Help is available right now.