Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
At VBS, I told kids to watch for three sheep named “Shirley, Gladys and Marci” would be following them around the paths of righteousness. They didn’t buy it.
But corny Dad jokes aside, what I THINK this means is not just that you’re so loved that God will continue to bless you all life long- I’d like to think it means that if you’re really following in God’s ways, then you’ll leave a goodness and mercy in your wake. As opposed to what Marian Raven wood suspected of Indiana Jones in the ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,’ “You still leaving a trail of human wreckage, or have you retired?”
If we’re authentic disciples of Jesus, surely Spiritual fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness will be strewn along our trail, right?
Now, about that house:
John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
What a beautiful promise right? I had a professor who told us that there’d be snapshots of our students someday on the walls and mantles of our apartments in Heaven.
But that doesn’t have to be all. Why wait? Don’t worry- I don’t want you to leap off a cliff and die so you can go to Heaven now. What I’d like you to think about is that perhaps “house” doesn’t mean some far off castle in the clouds for eternity. “House” also refers to household. Remember in yesterday’s devo when I pointed out that we are God’s adopted children?
Think of the Kingdom like a house at Hogwarts, Griffindor, Huffinpuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Shepherdflock. When we live in the fraternity or sorority house, we share their identity.
Of course, the other way to think of it is how when you’re a teenager and your parents yell at you that “as long as you’re living in MY house, you’ll live under MY rules.” When we pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we’re asking God to help us live His way, under His Lordship.
Dwelling in God’s house doesn’t have to mean something we don’t do till we’re dead. It means being under His mentoring, loving influence, guidance and under His watchful protection.
It means getting to be part of something bigger than yourself. Being built INTO His house, into the Body of Christ.
Help me to be merciful, just as You have shown me mercy.
Let me be part of your household.
Use me to build something lasting,
with Your Son Jesus as my foundation.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
I don’t have a doctorate in theology or Biblical languages. I’ve tried searching for commentaries and Bible studies on this verse but I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what God or David were talking about with this preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
So you can take this with a grain of salt if you want to, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bring up an unexpected food group. The fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The crazy thing about this feast is that it’s not just for us, it’s for others too. In fact, we would do well to share this fruit with our enemies.
This might not have been what the Apostle Paul meant when in Romans 12:20 when he said “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Although, in the ancient Middle East, people would put coals (or at least ashes) on their heads to show that they were sorry for their sins and wanted to repent. Surely, if we offer others (even our enemies) love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, & gentleness- these fruit may just work to soften or turn their hearts.
Anointing my head with oil and overflowing cups are obviously easier. In that ancient Mid-East, anointing your head with oil, like washing your feel, was a service you offered as a form of hospitality. Ah, but all over the Old Testament God is anointing priests and kings and altars and things. That’s because anointing is a ceremonial way of sanctifying things, making them holy, setting them aside for a purpose.
In other words, God wants to adopt you into His family AND commission you as His ambassador. That’s right. We’re on a mission from God.
As for that cup runningeth over stuff? Think about it. The whole optimist/pessimist thing about the cup being half-full or half-empty? Moot issue when it’s OVERFLOWING! Obviously we have MORE than we need. And, like the table full of fruit- if our cup’s runningeth over, we really ought to share, right?
You work in mysterious ways.
Like loving your enemies and praying for those that persecute you.
Like choosing a wretch like me!
What am I that you care for me?
Use me as an instrument of your peace,
Let me make a difference for you that that’s bigger than I am.
In Jesus name,
Even though I walk through the darkest valley (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.
Here are two things about this verse which were brought to my attention this Summer at the National (LCMS) Youth Gathering in New Orleans (#nyg2016):
- You are WITH me
Believe me, hard times happen to us all. Half the time I swear that the hardest things that happen to me are my own fault. Stuff happens (substitute the word “stuff” in that cliche with whatever colorful noun you’d prefer, you’d be correct.)
While worry and a lack of gratitude to God may be sins, let’s face it- sometimes our circumstances are out of our control. Angst is a combination of anger or frustration and anxiety about things beyond our influence. Sometimes it’s the valley.
What’s worse, our own frail flesh and nature (not just deliberately sinful choices) may make things seem darker than they are. Sometimes it’s the shadows.
Anxiety and depression are legitimate mental health issues. Sure, they’re often cognitive (we think our way into them) but that doesn’t make it simple to just snap out of it. And often they’re much more than cognitive, they’re hormonal, chemical or neurological. We may need professional help or medication or both. Take them seriously. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek medical, pastoral, or psychological help. Lutheran Family Services of Iowa offers counseling services. http://www.darkmyroad.org is a book by Lutheran Pastor’s struggle with clinical depression.
The thing is, no matter how sad or how frightened we are- we don’t have to dig in or remain paralyzed. Because 1. God didn’t lead us to the valley of shadows to abandon us and 2. He’s with us, even in the worst of times.
I’m constantly beating myself up over my lack of faith. Surely if I believed stronger, I’d have peace and joy. Other times I’m wresting with God, struggling to trust Him. If He really loved me, he wouldn’t let this happen..
But there are several things God’s done to give me a push to keep me going.
- Sometimes He reveals to me that there are many, many others who have it much worse than me.
- Sometimes He reminds me of all the previous valleys, often worse that the latest one, which He already brought me through unscathed.
- Very often He brings people across my path whom He wants to use me to encourage, support, listen to, mentor, or pray for. When I’m focusing my empathy or compassion on someone else, I’m too busy to wallow in my own problems.
Several times this Summer God’s reminded me of 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
One of those times was at that Youth Gathering when a former college classmate shared his story of how God used his valleys to shape and form him so that God could use him to minister to others. Listen to http://www.trustguyministries.com, you will never see 1 Peter 5:7 the same way again.
Micah Parker, “the TrusT Guy” is one of the people who taught me that God brings us THROUGH the valleys, not just to them. As or more importantly, God is always there WITH us, even if we can’t see it because things are so dark.
Sometimes I just don’t know why the darkness doesn’t seem to lift and the valley hast to be so hard, so deep and so far. But at least I know that I’m not alone. For one thing, I’m by no means the only person who’s ever suffered. For another thing, Jesus knows what it means to suffer. He suffered even death on a cross. On top of that, He’s with you here and now, right in the middle of every valley, every shadow, including death itself.
Remember the Christmas carol, Oh come o come Emanuel? Emanuel means “God with us.”
So whatever you do, don’t stop moving. Jesus is moving with you.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
To me, this verse is about being a disciple. A disciple is one who follows. Not a believer, not a tribe-member, not a fan or supporter. A follower.
Not for my sake. Not for our sake. For who’s sake? For HIS name’s sake. “Hallowed be THY name.”
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
This Summer both at the LCMS National Youth Gathering (#nyg2016) in New Orleans and at our congregations’ Vacation Bible School, I ran across the 23rd Psalm an awful lot. I’d never managed to commit it to memory until this Summer. For millennia, Jewish and Christian believers have recited it in times of crisis to find solace and comfort. The American pilots held prisoner in the infamous Hanoi Hilton POW camp during the Vietnam War tapped it out in Morris Code to encourage one another.
Because so, so many of us seem to be plagued with angst and anxiety lately (myself included) I thought I’d write a series of brief devotions on each verse in the psalm. I hope that they will be an encouragement to whoever happens to read them. Peace, friends.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Hard, hard HARD to live and believe. This is one of those verses where I find myself praying Mark 9:24 “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
But part of this is trusting in Psalm 37:4 Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
If we seek first His kingdom, He will take care of us. If we desire for money and power or prominence or comfort, we’ll never be satisfied.