1 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
2 Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
3 Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
4 What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
I love this Christmas Hymn, though it creates a picture that is likely very false. Historically, we have no reason to believe that Jesus’ birth occurred on the 25th of December, or even in the winter at all. And even if it was December, it is very unlikely that the Middle-Eastern countryside was experiencing frosty moaning winds or icy waters on the night of Christ’s birth. In addition to Mary, the Bible tells us of others who came to worship that night– the shepherds in the nearby hills. The wise men likely came days, weeks, or even months later to bring their gifts. And Joseph would certainly have been there, as well.
The song is still lovely, and the last verse is the key. Christ poured out all that He was; taking on the form of a helpless baby, He lived among those who rejected and mocked Him. He served those whom He had created, healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, providing for their eternal redemption. He died, betrayed and despised by His own chosen people, and dismissed by the rulers and authorities of the day. He never owned a home, built monuments, carved his name in stone, or wrote books to preserve his legacy. He had no dynasty or even children to carry on his name; at the time of his death, all his friends and followers had abandoned him– all but one disciple and his mother. Yet his birth (the actual date of which has been obscured by history) is synonymous with generous gifting, rejoicing, singing, worship, and renewed hope. So what could any of us possibly give that could even begin to match what His life, death, and resurrection gave us?
He asks for only one thing– everything we have: all the failures, mistakes, good intentions, bad choices, selfish desires, and hurts of the past–and in return, He gives us everything beyond our wildest imaginations: eternity with Him; all the riches of His Glory; all His holiness and majesty imputed to us; peace with Him; rest and restoration in Him; and His Spirit to guide and sustain us!
The bleakness of midwinter may not have been the physical setting of Christ’s birth, but it represents the spiritual setting of our lives without Him. In that sense, Christ comes in the bleak midwinter of our rebellion, our despair, and our isolation, and offers to give us everlasting light, hope, peace, and joy!
That’s worth celebrating every day throughout eternity!
My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine! Now hear me while I pray, Take all my guilt away, Oh, let me from this day Be wholly Thine! May Thy rich grace impart Strength to my fainting heart, My zeal inspire! As Thou hast died for me, Oh, may my love to Thee Pure, warm, and changeless be, A living fire! While life’s dark maze I tread, And griefs around me spread, Be Thou my guide; Bid darkness turn to day, Wipe sorrow’s tears away, Nor let me ever stray From Thee aside. When ends life’s transient dream, When death’s cold, sullen stream Shall o’er me roll; Blest Savior, then in love, Fear and distrust remove; Oh, bear me safe above, A ransomed soul!
Hymn lyrics by Ray Palmer 1830
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)
When was the last time you spent a little time sky-gazing? Looking up at the stars? Or even looking up at ceiling tiles or roof lines?
It turns out that the very act of looking up is good for your body, mind, and soul. Looking down, on the other hand, can, over time, lead to neck and back problems, and contribute to depression. (for more info, use a search engine to look up “health benefits of looking up” or click here: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck )
The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as we run the “race marked out for us”. This is more than just watching the road ahead or looking up at the sky. We look up at Jesus because:
He is the Author and Finisher (the pioneer and perfecter) of our Faith. Faith must be anchored…we will believe in something, or we’ll fall for anything, someone has said, and if we don’t make a choice to fix our eyes on Jesus, we will end up looking around or down for something else.
He is our guide. Like a highway sign keeping us on the right road and keeping us from taking a wrong turn, we look to Him to stay on track.
He is our example. In looking up to him, we are also learning how to live and endure and overcome.
He is our advocate and encouragement! How much better will we run when we look up to see Him cheering us on!
He is our goal. We run to Him, so we look up to see how close we are to running into His loving arms.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
“How can you believe in a God who lets bad things happen?”
We live in perilous times; dangerous times. Right now, fires are sweeping through the western United States. Earlier this year, the world was shaken by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and typhoons–all natural disasters–as well as gang violence, mass shootings, and political unrest. Often, it seems as if God is absent or powerless–sitting on the sidelines and letting bad things happen. Those of us who claim faith in an omnipotent, loving, and gracious God are mocked and challenged. How can we believe in the face of such evil and injustice? How can we offer the empty comfort of prayers and assurances?
It can be very difficult to face such challenges– there are no easy answers and “mic-drop” moments for us in this world. But that doesn’t mean that there are no answers or that our faith is “blind” or without merit.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who followed God in extraordinary circumstances, often in the face of great evil and with little logical expectation of God’s blessing or help. Abraham traded a wealthy, safe, and honorable life in his native land to live as a stranger and a nomad among foreigners. Even after God seemed to fulfill the promise of a son, he tested Abraham’s faith, asking him to sacrifice his only son Read the complete story here... Many people see this story as a horrific example of injustice and cruelty– and if Abraham had been required to go through with the sacrifice, it might seem even more unjust and cruel. However, there are two points to consider:
God clearly planned to rescue Isaac–there was a ram in the thicket all ready and waiting. Abraham may not have known God’s purpose in asking such a thing, but he had faith that “God will provide for himself the lamb…” God may have been “testing” Abraham, but he already knew the outcome. The “test” was not for God–perhaps not even for Abraham–the test was for Isaac and all who would follow and experience the blessings that came through this amazing act of faith.
The story of Abraham, like so many others, is given to illustrate difficult truths– sometimes about God’s character, or OUR character, or the nature and consequences of Sin. These stories also often form patterns of allegory, foreshadowing, or illustrations of key principles and events. Abraham was told to sacrifice his only and very beloved son– a horrible prospect for any father. But God provided a substitute sacrifice– a lamb– allowing Isaac to live and become the father of many nations. God’s plan for the salvation of the world was built on the same pattern. God sent his only and very beloved “son” to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all mankind– a horrible prospect for a loving Heavenly Father. And this time, the son willingly gave His life to become the fulfillment of the promise acted out in Abraham’s story.
And, of course, there are hundreds of other stories– throughout the Bible, and throughout history– that demonstrate the blessings that come through radical and even tiny acts of faith in God.
Hebrews, chapter 11 lists several examples. And a key verse in the chapter points out:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 KJV)
These great examples of faith died without seeing the end results..but the end results are there for US to see! Faith in humanity– faith in Science– faith in ourselves– these are doomed to end in disappointment. Not because we don’t believe enough; not because these things are “bad”– but because faith needs an unshakeable, immovable, solid, and eternal foundation. Our faith in Christ is not a blind faith, an empty faith, or a desperate faith– it is a Faith that is firmly rooted in history, in observable facts, and in revealed truth. And even in the fiercest storms, the worst of disasters, and the overwhelming flood of hatred and evil in the world, our faith stands firm and sure– not because it is our faith, but because it is built on Him who is before and above all things–yesterday, today, and forevermore.
All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, brings out the fearsome, garish, gory, scary, and macabre in many people. Movies, costumes, and stories concentrate on death, mystery, nightmares, ghosts, and terror.
I am not a fan of horror in any of its forms. I don’t like to be scared, startled, tricked, haunted, or frightened. I don’t like seeing others being terrorized, tortured, or hurt.
So it is with great interest and some surprise to find that the Bible tells us to fear. Of course, it also tells us NOT to fear– several times, in fact. We are told that we need not fear the future (Matthew 6:34), struggles, battles, or long journeys (Joshua 1:9), shame or disgrace (Isaiah 54:4), terror, evil, and the “shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), actual death, angels or demons (Romans 8:38), or anyone at all (Psalm 27:1; Psalm 188:6). But there is one fear the Bible does nothing to dispel.
There is a Holy terror that comes from the recognition that God is Holy– and we are NOT. There is a very real, very terrible chasm separating us from an eternally sinless and perfect God. There is nothing we can do on this side of the chasm to close the gap– no way to escape the eternal. hopeless and horrific state of being separated from all that is good, and noble, and peaceful, and joyous. In life, we get glimpses of glory–flashes of amazing grace at work in the world around us. Even though we live in a fallen world, we do not live in a place rejected or abandoned by God.
This should cause us to have a healthy “fear” of God– a soul-deep awe of His “Other-ness”, His Authority, and His Pre-eminence. And it should give us a terror of remaining in separation from Him– especially as He offers the very restoration and renewal we can never achieve for ourselves. And He offers it as a free gift to ANYONE who will receive it!
Far from trying to “scare someone into Heaven,” sermons and admonitions about Hellfire and eternal damnation are meant as very real warnings with real and eternal consequences. No horror on earth can compare with an existence devoid of all joy, peace, love, light, help, and hope–and filled with the knowledge of “all that might have been.” Zombies, vampires, ghouls, and monsters can terrorize in the movies for an hour or two, or in books for a week or more, but what makes people willing to entertain such horrors is the latent hope that we will close the book cover, exit the theater, and wake up from the nightmares presented there. The idea that Good will eventually triumph; that order, peace, and justice can be restored; that love conquers all, and “something” will survive, re-emerge, and carry on into the future. All of these hopes are possible because God exists and is eternal. When we reject God’s authority; His sovereign direction and His call to salvation, we reject all that comes with it. While we live on His earth, we will still see the glimpses of glory– we can pretend that it is enough for now, or choose to settle for false “hope” of emptiness in death. But we cannot escape the search for meaning and purpose that drives us to build and plan for a future we have never seen; nor can we know the peace that comes from looking forward and seeing more than darkness, doubt, and destruction.
Years ago, Louis Armstrong recorded a song, called “What a Wonderful World.” Video and lyrics here. It’s a pleasant song, pointing out all the wonderful things to see and hear in the world around us…people sharing greetings, day and night, rainbows, children…but it is also a wistful song. Armstrong sings it as an observer, more than a participant. He sees all the wonder of the world around him, and he sees hope for the future. The flowers and rainbows are there for all to see; but the greetings are not for him; the children are not his and will surpass him in knowledge and opportunity.
I could name a dozen other songs or poems with similarly ambivalent messages; songs about smiling, hiding one’s tears, hoping for tomorrow and happy days returning. Such songs acknowledge that our world is filled with wonder, beauty, and joy; they also acknowledge that sprinkled amid the wonder there is heartache and disappointment.
It is tempting in times of hardship to focus on the negative and miss the wonder that still exists around us. It can also be tempting to resent the joy others experience as they soak in the wonder that seems to taunt us.
Some people ask, “How can you believe in God when you see all the pain and suffering and evil in the world?” And others answer, almost flippantly, “How can you doubt God when you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world?” To someone who is in pain, this is the kind of answer that rubs salt in open wounds. It’s not that the answer lacks logic or merit, but it is devoid of compassion.
The truth is, that even in the midst of extreme suffering, we DO live in a wonderful world. The sun still shines, there are still rainbows, and happy children, and, most of all, HOPE.
The Bible speaks of hope as one of the “remaining” virtues– Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love). We hear this, and study it, and recite it, but do we really appreciate it for the wonder it is? Hope may fade in the midst of chaos, but it is not easily suppressed or smothered. Hope gives us strength when we are struggling; it gives us a reason to look up from the ashes and see the sun. Hope gives us the motivation to work and build after a disaster; to risk new adventures; to plan for a future.
Our world needs hope–we need encouragement to reach out; to build and rebuild our communities; to look forward with vision, and set goals to reach that vision. And we need hope to turn our eyes to the source of that hope– for we do not hope in vain!
Even in our fallen world, God is wooing us with wonder, beauty, joy, and HOPE. What we will find in the redeemed world is beyond our wildest imagination
16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.
Romans 3:10-11Modern English Version (MEV)
10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.
Anyone can pray. God hears our prayers. God answers prayer. But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally. That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust. It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires. He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.
James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.” But this is putting the cart before the horse. The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal). The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit. If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.
It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much. Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others. Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?
If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:
Who am I praying for today? What am I praying for myself? For others? For the Glory of God? Am I praying fervently? Diligently? Righteously? In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?
Next, consider what it means to be “effective.” Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely? God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect. God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering. He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.
Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation. Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word? Are you harboring a grudge against someone? Do you need to make things right with someone? With God?
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine. What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I have heard many sermons using this passage, and the sermons always focus on our (active) end of the directive–Ask! Seek! Knock! But what does this passage say about God?
God is omnipresent, and He has revealed Himself in creation, and through the lives of His people. But God is also reserved– He does not give us all the answers; He doesn’t spoil us by catering to our every wish; He keeps certain things behind closed doors.
“Knock, and the door will opened to you.” There is no mention of a key or key card, a pass code, or any need for ID– just knock. God will open the door. I imagine thousands of (figurative) doors in my life– opportunities, blessings, challenges, relationships– each beckoning. But the doors cannot be opened from the outside. I can strain and push, yell and shake my fist at the closed door in front of me, kick at it, even try to break it down. But if I knock, the door will be opened.
This doesn’t mean that I have no choices or free will as I go along. I can find hallways, roadways, even freeways on which to travel. And there are opportunities along those paths and roads that are not waiting behind a door. But just like the questions we need to ask, and the quests for which we seek, the closed doors cause us to make a choice– will we knock or walk on? Will we try to open the door in our own power, or knock and let God open the door from His side?
Ask, seek, knock– God desires that we take steps toward Him. He will not walk away, or reject those who sincerely desire His presence. He will not give us “bad” gifts– though He allows us to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”, He will not leave us there with no comfort or hope. He will not “lock us out” of His goodness or His Grace. In fact, HE stands at the door and knocks– waiting for US to open the door, as well.
Someone may say– “I turned away from the door, walked down my own path, and now I’m trapped behind a wall of doubt and guilt and bad choices. There are no doors left for me”. Jesus stands ready to change all that. There are no walls or dungeons He cannot enter– He will make a door, if that’s what it takes– just ask! You may have to climb over some of the debris, but He will pull you up and over any obstacle you can imagine.
Someone else may say, “I have prayed and prayed, and God hasn’t opened the door for me…” I don’t have an “easy” answer for you, and I don’t want to give a canned response– God isn’t a “one size fits all” God– His ways are good, but they are not always comprehensible. I can only give an example from my own life. I prayed for years that God would “open the door” for me to be married and have children. I met several wonderful men, some godly, others just really nice guys who don’t follow Jesus. I could have fallen into, or schemed my way into a marriage or sexual relationship with one of them– I could have tried to get pregnant for years before I found out I was barren. I might have made a marriage work, might have adopted children, might have…But I kept knocking on THE door– the one that God set before my heart and soul– the door that called me to enter and be close to Him– to do it His way or not at all. For over 25 years I knocked– sometimes faintly and with fear that the door would stay closed– sometimes with a sort of desperation. And one day, the door opened– God’s door, God’s way. I have no doubts or regrets about knocking at that door, or waiting for it to be opened from God’s side. I had imagined what was on the other side of that door–what I have received is perfectly sufficient, even as it is totally different from what I imagined. I never had children of my own– but as I waited for God’s timing, He led me to work with hundreds of children who blessed my life beyond description. And in waiting, He led me to opportunities I would never have had if the door had opened in MY timing. All I can say is this– God led me to desire something worthy and good and to His Glory. I believed it was marriage and family–but even if I were still unmarried today, I would not stop praying; not stop knocking; not stop trusting in God’s goodness and His wisdom for my life.
Another may say, “I knocked on a door, and God opened it, but it only brought me pain and misery.” Once again, I don’t have a quick or easy answer for you, and there is no answer that will magically take away pain and misery. I don’t want to invalidate or deny your experience, and I don’t want to claim that I know why God has allowed you to go through such an experience. I would only challenge you to be like Jacob, who wrestled with God and would not let go until he got a blessing. I don’t know why God withholds some answers and allows pain that seems needless and senseless. And even though I know of many instances where God has brought resolution and healing out of tragedy, I also know that it doesn’t erase all the tears and questions. My own experience brought years of depression, bitterness, and isolation even as it brought incredible growth and opportunity– I still have memories that bring tears and painful thoughts–but I know that healing is possible, and I still believe that God is “good”– I believe that God is with us even in our pain and sorrow. I believe that Jesus suffered greatly, not only on the cross, but throughout His earthly life– He faced rejection, betrayal, frustration, misunderstanding, hatred, bigotry, injustice, loneliness, homelessness, poverty, hunger, and more. Pain is intense, but it is not eternal. Evil is real and it is miserable, but it is not victorious.
Keep knocking. Your door may seem like the ultimate barrier, but God wants to open it for you.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Both the scripture text and the children’s song above are often used in the context of watching pornography or violent images, and their negative effects. It is true that if we fill our sight with negative and sinful images, we will be impacted negatively. We become desensitized to violence and evil; we become addicted to images that shock or excite us.
But I think there is more going on in this text, and I think it has a bearing on our prayer life. What we choose to see also involves what we choose NOT to see. We talk a lot about what we shouldn’t be watching or seeing, but there are some things– even unpleasant things– that we MUST see if we are to be the light of the world. Not only must we see such things, we must shine a light on them and cause others to see them. Injustice, corruption, dishonesty– we must be careful to see them for what they are.
We live in a world of optical illusions, and it can be very difficult to see clearly. But that is what we are called to do. If our eyes are good/healthy, we will let in the light of truth, so that shadows and illusions will become stand out. If our eyes are bad/unhealthy, the shadows and illusions will trick us. We will see only what can be seen in a glance, and miss the bigger picture.
John the Baptist had excellent “vision.” As he was out in the hot sun glinting off the Jordan, he looked up to see hundreds of people waiting to be baptized. But his eyes were searching the horizon, seeing all the others, but seeking one face. And when he saw it, he drew everyone’s attention to it– “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Our eyes, like those of John, should be looking with purpose and hope.
Throughout the Bible, God looks at people with love and compassion. Several times in the gospels, Jesus looks upon or takes note of people (some of whom are seeking him, and others who know nothing of him) and has compassion on them. Our eyes, like those of our Father, should be looking in love. Love sees things as they really are– it sees sin, pain, disease, betrayal, war, hatred, greed. But love sees beyond to people who need salvation, healing, restoration, peace, compassion, and hope.
I need to give careful consideration to what I allow myself to see– do I see all the negative, hateful, sinful things going on around me? Do I see such things with a sense of purpose and with compassion? Or do I ignore them and turn my gaze inward, shutting out the hurt and need all around me? Do I see all the shadows and illusions and let my own light grow dim? Or do I see the Light of the World, ready to shine (even through me), with hope and redemption? Will I pray with my eyes closed and shuttered, or wide open?
I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately, and one that has really spoken to me this week has been Psalm 3
Psalm 3English Standard Version (ESV)
Save Me, O My God
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
3 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[a]
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
Psalm 3:2The meaning of the Hebrew word Selah, used frequently in the Psalms, is uncertain. It may be a musical or liturgical direction
Everyone has foes– no matter how hard we try to get along with everyone or do right by everyone. And if those foes are people who should be or used to be close to you, it hurts deeper and more profoundly. King David’s own son tried to take the throne and have him murdered. David, who had slain Goliath, feigned madness to escape from his own father-in-law’s murderous plots, and united a kingdom, still fled in terror from his arrogant and foolish son. Even when God rescued him from this foe, David wept and mourned for his rebellious son– to the point of discouraging the very men who had come to his aid!
But, as David did so well and so often, in the midst of his trouble, he turned first to the Lord who ruled his heart. I love the names he gives God in this Psalm—You (Thou), O Lord are a Shield about me, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head (v. 3– emphasis mine).
David’s God is powerful, majestic, awesome– but He is not distant or unfeeling. Thou (used in the King James and other older English translations) is a term unfamiliar to many modern speakers of English, but it is the familiar form of the second person singular. Many other languages still use this form. It connotes an intimate relationship, such as a family member or beloved friend. David knew his God better than he knew his own son. He loved God whole-heartedly, devotedly, and without reservation.
Lord recognizes God’s position of authority and omnipotence. As close as David was to God, he never lost the awe and wonder of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, and His wisdom. God raised David from shepherd boy to king. David wasn’t perfect in his obedience, but he was quick repent of his failures, and quick to give God the credit for his successes.
A Shield— God fights alongside David, protecting him, not patronizing him or removing him from the struggle. God doesn’t remove us from our battles; but neither does He leave us alone and unprotected, waiting on the sidelines for us to be slaughtered.* Yesterday, I felt clobbered by circumstances. I felt crushed and battered emotionally, and I wanted a couch, far from the noise of battle. But God knows that no one wins a battle from the couch; no one grows stronger, learns to persevere, builds character, or gains compassion from a couch. God didn’t take me out of the battle, but He was (and continues to be) a shield, protecting me from the real arrows of the enemy– despair, rage, isolation, arrogance, self-destruction–I still feel the force of the blows, and sometimes, I get wounded, but I’m still in the fight, and He’s there with me. *(One caveat– God is a shield to those who trust in Him. He does not promise that we won’t be hurt, won’t fail sometimes, or won’t face death because of our faith. However, He promises a comforter and counselor–the Holy Spirit. There are many who lead so-called “charmed” lives– lives untouched by trials or spiritual battles…Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the same thing as being “shielded”– shields are meant for battle– charms are meant to bring luck)
My Glory— I get chills trying to wrap myself around that thought. That God, the almighty, the all-glorious light of a million galaxies worth of stars, would notice me– let alone that He would number the hairs on my head, provide for my needs, heed my call for help, and fight alongside me–would create me in His image, so that I am an exact reflection of even the teeniest part of His Glory…that He invites me to know Him in all His Glory after all my failures, and broken promises, and shortcomings, and bad moods, and thoughtless words and actions, my bad hair days and dandruff days and runny nose days, and other inglorious ugliness that I cannot hide… But the best of all, I think is the last…
The Lifter of My Head–What a picture of God’s compassion! Think of picking up a newborn baby; how carefully we lift up and support that tiny head– how longingly we cup and shield that fragile face. That’s our God! Imagine on the battlefield, a soldier, wounded, parched, having his head lifted gently by a comrade who comes to tend to his wounds and share a drink of water. Or the prodigal son, who cannot meet his father’s eyes, but finds his chin gently tilted to meet undeserved but merciful smile of his loving Dad. God lifts our head so that we can see beyond the battle; beyond the pain; beyond the grief, and gaze at the Glory only He can share.
If you don’t know this God–He is only a prayer away. If you feel distant from God– call out and ask Him to lift up your head. If you are struggling (as I have been lately), let this be a reminder to seek God by all His glorious names— He will reveal Himself to you for who He is as you call out to Him.