One reason it is so easy to fall into complaining is the obvious fact that sometimes arrogant and self-absorbed people thrive. Self-centered people often find themselves rewarded for their actions and attitude.
How can this be? It isn’t right!
King David counsels:
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (Psalms 37:1–3)
David and his pastures! Doesn’t he see that evildoers thrive and God’s people suffer?
Doesn’t God see?!
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
The counsel we get from David is not a direct answer to our question. He does not directly address our pain or frustration. His answer is intentionally indirect. Indirect and psychologically astute.
Trust and enjoy God.
Trust is a decision to be confident in God, followed by a thousand little decisions to cooperate with God despite our circumstances. It is a refocusing from our negative circumstances to the positive that God brings about. We intentionally remember the good that God does and is.
It is a way of paying attention to what we can control (our focus, our thoughts), and letting go of what we cannot control (evildoers, and the consequences of their actions).
We trust God because he is good. We trust God because that is something we can do — we can change our focus. It is a kind of spiritual discipline to notice and change what we think about.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Why is gratitude to difficult to maintain?
A frequent refrain in the Psalms is:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever. (Psalms 107:1)
The Apostle Paul commands:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
Many of us have worked on or are working on developing a habit of gratitude, and it’s surprisingly hard work! Whether it’s the practice of “3 Good Things” each night before bed or replacing complaint with grateful speech, gratitude takes focus and practice.
But then again what good thing doesn’t take focus and practice? We expect to put out effort in learning to play an instrument, becoming good at a sport, or learning to drive, don’t we? We set aside time and concentrate during the activity because it’s something we think is important and are willing to learn about. We are willing to work past the awkward stage.
Maybe we allow ourselves to be put off by the awkward stage of replacing complaint with gratitude.
Feeling awkward today? The LORD is your shepherd. What do you lack?
God, please turn my attention to what is good and right and true. Give me words of thanks and praise today. Amen.
We have been talking about what amounts to a paradigm shift. Reading Psalm 23 closely like this shows us the kind of life God offers us now.
We tend to slip back into thinking that the Christian faith is about cleaning up our act, minding our tongue, or choosing to be loyal to the right side. While all of those are part of the process, none of them are the core of following Christ. The paradigm shift Psalm 23 invites us to make is to instead see God himself as the ongoing source of our life and refreshment.
Green pastures. Quiet waters. Right paths. No fear. Comfort. A banquet. Enemies at bay.
None of the above are things we do or make. All are the result of walking with God, all are things we can receive from God as we are open to him.
Yesterday’s question: How can we experience the life God promises?
Do you remember the thought experiment from a few days ago? “What next?” Turning our thoughts to Jesus as often as we can is one way to be open to what God offers. That openness allows the free flow of “quiet waters” to the deepest parts of us.
Over the next few days we will look at what kinds of things we can do to make ourselves open to what God wants to do in us. He wants to pour life into us so he can pour his love through us.
It’s a small shift that brings major benefits.
Lord, make us open to you today and always.
Have you ever been out to eat and run out of what’s in your glass before you finish what’s on your plate?
Here’s what you find yourself doing: You pick up your glass, look down the mouth of it to the bottom, hoping that you’ll find something there you missed. No, it’s empty. Or maybe there's just ice, nothing to drink. So you shake the glass a little hoping that will shake loose a few drops. Really nothing. You look around for the server, wondering if you can get a refill. She’s nowhere. (If you can get a refill, will you have to pay for it?)
That never happens at the LORD’s table:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalms 23:5)
Overflows! The LORD is lavish in the sustenance he provides. Abundant food, overflowing drink.
So if we’re thirsty — finding ourselves at a loss facing a problem, finding ourselves at odds with a loved one, or having trouble finding our way and don’t know why — if we’re thirsty and our cup is empty it is likely not because God is holding out on us.
How can we experience the life God promises? How can we know frequent refreshment from him for our days?
Let’s talk more about that tomorrow….
As we continue to luxuriate through Psalm 23, let’s pause at the “table”.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
The “you” of course is the same LORD who is David’s shepherd. The LORD prepares a banquet table and invites David to be the honored guest. The table is set, fit for king and queen, overflowing with food to delight the senses. The table is beautiful and bountiful not because David is impressive, but because the LORD is.
The great host provides the grand banquet table. And we are invited to feast! What poor manners it would be if we were to fail to show up. The host is providing not just refreshment but his company!
In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable of a man who plans a great banquet, inviting many. When the time comes and the banquet is ready, those who at first agreed make excuses saying they cannot come. Business, family life, and ordinary transactions get in the way.
The offer for a place at the table remains open for a time, both in that parable and in our days: God offers the pleasures and refreshment of his presence. But how hard it is to just sit!
What is it you’re off to do today?
The table is set. What would it take to get you to sit with our Host?
If our health and peace depend on following Jesus as a sheep follows a shepherd — and they do — how often should we look up to see where he is?
Once a week? (You mean every week?!)
Once a day? (Some days are pretty long!)
More often than that?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1–2)
Do you suppose Paul intended us to set our hearts and minds on Christ once in our life — as if that would be enough? My heart needs to be re-set pretty frequently. More than daily.
Sheep look to the shepherd whenever the shepherd moves, and so should we. Wouldn’t it be good to raise our heads from the green pasture or quiet waters every now and then just to see if we’ve gotten too comfortable and missed his call to move us along? And to make sure we are staying close to him when the valley shadows darken?
Frank Laubach was a missionary in the Philippines who had a love for God and for people. His joy was to turn his heart and mind to God as often as he could think of it. Laubach advised:
All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: “What next?” In these chinks of time, ask Him: “Lord, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What is on Thy mind for me to do now?” When we ask Christ, “What next?” we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/it-happened-today/2/26/
Try it! The Wednesday night group that is studying the Soul Keeping book by John Ortberg is trying it this week. I think you’ll find it easier to understand what God intends to do through you as you practice this. And you may experience his presence in the process, which is a gift in itself.
What next, Lord?
David in Psalm 23 continues:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
I’m reading Tim Keller’s book, Preaching. In it he touches on some of the difficulties in reaching people in our culture. One of the difficulties is the resistance among some to the thought there is real evil. Keller writes:
You can quote Andrew Delbanco, a secular scholar at Columbia University, whose book The Death of Satan argues that “a gulf has opened up in our culture between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it.” He argues that many secular people understandably attribute all human cruelty to psychological deprivation or social conditioning and, in so doing, trivialize the terrible wrongs people are capable of. — Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
We cannot afford to trivialize evil. It hunts the vulnerable. It wants to rise within us.
In this psalm David is not afraid of evil even though evil is real. He is not afraid because the LORD is with him. This of course assumes that David is following this Shepherd, not fighting him nor trying to deceive him. Safety in the presence of evil comes from following the Shepherd, not from dabbling in duplicity.
So today remember Jesus’ words:
Peace be with you. (Luke 24:36)
Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)
It’s a new week! A bright, sunny, soon-to-be-warm Monday. Will this week bring trouble or peace?
We don’t know. But we do know this:
The LORD is our shepherd, we lack nothing.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
And though trouble may come, we can say this:
Even though we walk through the darkest valley,
we will fear no evil, for you are with us….
Same God, same guidance, same care. All week.
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
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