Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Better than life...

This past Monday, I had a great time with the Lord in my personal quiet time. I was reading Psalm 61:1-3 and the Lord showed me 3 lessons in that little text that were of great encouragement to me and I pray they will be for you as well. The context of Ps.63 is given in the title of the Psalm: “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah”. One needs to look to 1st Samuel 22 to learn that David was the number one guy on King Saul’s wanted terrorist list. Of course David was not a terrorist but insecure Saul knew David had been anointed King of Israel and was determined to kill him. The Bible tells us Saul was infuriated that the priests in a village out in the wilderness had helped David so Saul sent troops to that village and murdered those priests! So David is hiding in the wilderness in fear of his life and writes the words to this marvelous Psalm.
In verse one David affirms his love, devotion and thirst for God in the wilderness he found himself in. The first lesson from this is that David was occupied with God, not his circumstances. I know many of you are in hard circumstances, maybe because of health, maybe because you’ve been furloughed from the government shutdown. Maybe you’re in a wilderness time of depression or emotional distress. Maybe some important relationships in your life are a wilderness that is a “dry and thirsty land where there is no water (Ps.63:1).” Whatever your wilderness, we can see from David’s example from being hunted down like a dog by the most powerful man on earth at that moment; that we need to occupy ourselves like David did with God and not our circumstances.

Lesson 2 comes from verse. 2: “So I have looked for you in the sanctuary, to see your power and glory.” David was nowhere near the sanctuary/tabernacle in the capital where Saul ruled. He couldn’t go there because he’d be killed immediately and we’ve already been told David is in the desert. The lesson we learn is that just like David, in the midst of a wilderness of whatever size, shape or proportion we find ourselves in, we can find sanctuary with Almighty God and we can choose to look for God’s power and glory on display. When our back is to the wall like David’s was and everything has spiraled out of control and there is nothing we can do, that is prime time God time! That old Christian saying God doesn’t give us more than we can handle is false! God constantly gives us more than we can handle so we must depend on Him and Him alone and not on our resources or ingenuity. In your wilderness, find sanctuary in your Heavenly Father’s arms (Ps.91:1-2), and then watch for God’s power and glory to be displayed.

Lesson 3 comes of course from verse 3: “Because your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you.” Really David? God’s loving-kindness is better to you than your very life that King Saul is bent on snuffing out like a cheap candle? I keyed in on that word “loving-kindness” and began to study it. It is the Hebrew word “Chesed” and it is translated in various English words including “steadfast love”, “faithfulness”, “favor”, “loyalty”, “mercy”, “kindness and even “merciful kindness.” In the Old Testament, that word shows up in these forms some 245 times!

For example, this was the terminology the Lord used in giving Moses the 10 Commandments in Ex. 20:4-6 explaining why we cannot worship idols as He is a jealous God “but showing mercy (chesed) to thousands, to those who love Me and keep my commandments.”

It was the preferred term used to describe God’s “steadfast love” or covenant love for Israel as in Jeremiah 31:3 where God said He loved them “with an everlasting love and with loving-kindness (chesed) He drew them out”. It was on the basis of God’s loving-kindness, the Prophets appealed to God’s people to repent as in Joel 2:13 “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness (chesed); and He relents from doing harm.”

Finally, I found it was this word David used to close Psalm 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy (chesed) shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

By the time I finished my quiet time, there were tears streaming down my cheeks as sat in my living room in the wee hours Monday morning in the warm glow of my Heavenly Father’s “chesed” – His steadfast love or loving-kindness for an old sinner named Ralph Green. The lesson is simple – God’s loving-kindness, His chesed is in fact better than life so like David in vs. 3 “my lips shall praise you.”

When we try to fill in the blank where the word “life” is there in verse three with anything other than God and His loving kindness, it does not work. “Your loving-kindness is better than ___ – my wife, my kids, my job, my resources, my toys, my passions and pleasures – none of those things we tend to build our lives upon work and provide for us what God does with His presence and essence of character. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, let us remember and be encouraged like David; “Your loving-kindness is better than life!”  Three lessons of encouragement, from my little corner of the wilderness to yours…