Psalm 54: Prayer for Defense Against Enemies

Even though no one is pursuing me as Saul was pursuing David when he wrote this psalm, I can still make the same pleas and declarations.
Verse 1: “Save me, O God, by Your name.”

It is only in God’s name that I have salvation. It’s only through God that I am free of the influence of Satan and the consequences of succumbing to his temptations – which come from my willful nature (James 1:12-15).

Verse 2: “Hear my prayer, O God.”

Question: This thought just occurred to me: It’s been said that one of the blessings of being in Christ is that we have direct access to God in prayer, whereas in the Old Testament, they had to go through a priest. David apparently had direct access. Was he an exception to the rule?

Personal application: This is a good plea to make in every prayer, that God will hear my voice. (Maybe we shouldn’t take that for granted!)

Repeating that plea will remind me of the kind of person I need to be if I dare to approach the throne of the Creator, the God of the universe – not in fear, but with respect for His holiness. It also reminds me of what a great privilege it is for me – an ordinary person in an ordinary town among ordinary people – to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Verse 4: “Behold, God is my helper: The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.”

How easy that is to forget. How often I need to be reminded of that! Because I work at home, I have innumerable choices during the day. No small or school-age children dictate my schedule. Almost everything I do is either a choice of the moment or the consequence of a commitment I’ve made.

Yet how many times do I call on God’s help — especially when it’s a matter of setting spiritual priorities? David reminds me that God will help. He will sustain my soul.

Verse 6: “Willingly I will sacrifice to you.”

David doesn’t specify the size of the sacrifice. It could be something as simple as writing a check; it could be sacrificing my physical life in His cause.

Once I’ve made that commitment, once I’ve grown to that point of meaning that statement, it won’t matter. Because then I’ll also be able to repeat Paul’s declaration, “It is not I who live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Verse 6: “I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good.”

I notice in verse 4, the word “Lord” is not in small caps. As my Lord – my master – he sustains my soul. When I thank Him, I address Him as YHWH.

Contrary to those in the world who either deny or resent God, I believe His name is good. It’s not to be associated with the evil that happens in the world, for suffering is ultimately Satan’s doing and the work of those who follow him.

God protects us from the enemy. He defends us, He sustains us, and He helps us. He is faithful to His children (verse 5), and He has delivered us from distress (verse 7).

God’s Unseen Power – In Us

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Our Helplessness vs. God’s Strength

To describe power is like describing the wind: We can’t see it; we can see only the results of it.

You know the power of a train locomotive because you’ve watched it pull dozens of cars filled with heavy black coal. You’re awed by a lion’s massive head and muscular frame because you’ve witnessed its relentless power in pursuing its prey.

You’re also aware how helpless we all are against the power of torrential rains, earthquakes, and hurricanes – even the sun, which is millions of miles away.

While we remain helpless, God not only commands these forces, He created them. David writes in Psalm 50:1 that “the mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Isaiah describes God (51:15) as “the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the LORD of hosts is his name.”

Daniel ascribes to God wisdom and power. “He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him” (2:20-22).

The Power of Sin

Just as we are helpless against the powers of the earth, so are we helpless against the powers of sin and death, the ultimate consequence of sin (Romans 5:12). In Romans 5:14, Paul writes: “Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.”

But the power of God is greater than the power of sin. Whenever Jesus confronted Satan’s demons, Jesus won every time (Mark 1:34-34; 5:1-20; 7:24-30). He overcame Satan’s ultimate weapon – death – in His resurrection from the dead. In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he declared that It was impossible for Christ to be held in the power of death (Acts 2:24).

The Power in Us

Through the grace of God, we have access to the unseen power that stills a storm (Mark 4:39) and overcomes death (Romans 5:21). When because of our faith in the power of God over sin and death we are buried in baptism, we also are raised to live a life free from the fear of death (Colossians 2:12).

We have no power over the elements of this earth. We have no power over the destructiveness of sin. But God does.

Each time we feel helpless against an earthquake or a tornado or the withering of crops from drought and heat – let us remember that though we may not be able to overcome those forces, if we’re in Christ, sin and death have no power over us. In that we can have complete confidence.

God Plays Favorites

In all of God’s creation, which being has been made in His image? Which of His creatures stares in awe at a sunset, laughs at his own jokes, cries while reading a sad story, or suffers from a guilty conscience? To what creature has He given an eternal soul?

When God’s Son came to earth, did He choose to appear as some magnificent animal or other-world super power? No, He came as a small baby placed in a feed trough. He chose to be a human, one of us.

In Psalm 8, David praises God’s majesty, considers the majesty of his heavens, and wonders at the place of honor He has given man.

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.” Psalm 8:4-8

Even before creation, God knew that, having received the gift of free will, we would sin and thereby sever our relationship with Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). He devised a plan to bring us back to Him: He sent part of the Godhead to live without sin among us, becoming a suitable sin offering for us. In the eloquent words of the apostle Paul:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8

We are God’s favorite creation. Yet within our number, as Peter preached, “God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Acts 10:34-35 [Emphasis mine.]

And again,

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-15

God wants us all to appreciate and to glorify Him, to accept the honor of being His favorite. In turn, He wants us to place Him before all others. He seeks to be our favorite. (Matthew 22:37)

What God Doesn’t Want – or Need

While you may resent paying taxes, you may also commit another 10 to 15 percent of your income to the church. You answer with generosity when you’re presented with a genuine need. While others sleep in on Sunday morning, you dedicate that time to Him — and not just for the worship hour – but for Bible class, too!

Surely God is grateful when you and I make such sacrifices of our money and time for Him!

Not so fast, writes the poet Asaph. In Psalm 50 he portrays a courtroom to which the Almighty God comes out of the perfectly beautiful Zion in the midst of a devouring fire and a mighty tempest. He summons His covenant people from heaven and earth to a trial where He is both the judge and the witness against His people.

And what does He testify against them? Not that they neglect sacrifices to Him, but that they think that’s all He wants.

His words are pointed and harsh. “I will not accept a bull from your house” because “every wild animal [and] the cattle on a thousand hills” (NRSV) are Mine already. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it are Mine.” You think that because you offer these burnt offerings to Me, you are acceptable to Me. (9-13)

Some of you – and I will call you wicked – are fond of quoting My law, yet you are undisciplined. You don’t hesitate to bend the law when it suits you; you’re not ashamed to openly associate with adulterers. (16-18)

You make Me in your image and suppose that if you’re righteous in your own eyes, you must be righteous in Mine, too. But you are wrong. (21)

I rebuke you for your foolishness. I lay this charge before you: Even as you offer sacrifices, you have forgotten Me. “Mark this, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.” (21-22)

Yet there is still hope – even for those of us who, in our misplaced devotion – have forgotten the object of that devotion.

We can still see the salvation of God, if we remember this: God wants us to honor Him with thanksgiving as our sacrifice. He wants us to recognize our dependence on Him, to call on Him when we’re in trouble. (23, 15)

When we recognize our dependence on Him, we’ll see those perceived “sacrifices” of money and time with a different attitude. For they will not be sacrifices at all, but natural responses born out of gratitude and love.

Never an Orphan

It was only in February this year, shortly after my mother passed away, that I heard the word orphan applied to an adult. Before that, I thought of orphans only in terms of children, destitute without parents to care for them. Even though both of our parents were gone now, my sisters didn’t feel like the term applied to us, either.

Yet there stayed with me the concept that my siblings and I stand – next in line, so to speak – without the parents that had been there from the moment we were born. No one else can take their place. They had always been there, and somehow – even though I knew better – I thought they always would be. Their abiding presence was my only experience. When mother died, I did feel orphaned, or at least abandoned.

Now I have no one around who knew me the way they knew me. My older siblings knew me from when I was a baby – but they were children then, too. They weren’t the ones who watched me grow – they were growing as well!

Are We Orphans?

I realized the other day that there is someone else who was with us when we were born, watched us grow up, knows us better than we know ourselves, has always been available to us, is available to us even now. He has a quality our parents could not have. He will always be there – not just because He wants to be, but because He can be.

We have a Heavenly Father, to whom we can talk any time, night or day – who was, is, and will be with us yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He has promised to be our Father. He has all the qualities of a caring parent, and more.

He provides for us. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

He is always ready to hear from us. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

He is our Eternal Father, always there through the Son. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

He will always welcome us back, even when we fail him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:21-24

He loves us unconditionally. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Because He’s Eternal

He can forgive our sins. “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” Colossians 1:12-14

He can provide us with all spiritual blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3

In the absence of our parents on earth, it’s now up to us to continue to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father through prayer, through acknowledging our total dependence on Him, through faith in His Son, and through studying His written Word to discover how to live a better life here and to bless our children with an eternal legacy.

Rejoice, anyway.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18

The terms are pretty demanding, aren’t they? Always — without ceasing — everything. How could anyone rejoice, pray, and give thanks in every circumstance, every minute of the day?

Yet that seems to be what God through the apostle Paul is requiring of believers. And in context, these exhortations are among other verses that also use absolute terms: “be patient with allalways pursue what is good…test all things…abstain from every form of evil.”

From what we read in Acts 17 about their early history, this young church in Thessalonica was undergoing some heavy persecution because of their faith. Yet Paul praised them at the beginning of his letter for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.”

In light of their situation, we might understand why they were told to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They needed to be reminded that no matter what their circumstances, 1) they could rejoice because they had salvation through Jesus; 2) they had constant access to their heavenly Father through prayer; and 3) they could be thankful even during hardships, knowing that trials produce patience, and patience leads to perfection (James 1:2-5).

What does that mean for Christians today? It means that in all circumstances,  God asks us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It means we replace our complaining with rejoicing. It means we overcome anxiety and despair through prayer. It means that in our prayers we not only ask God to bless and help us, but we remember to thank him for all things physical and spiritual with which we have been so richly blessed.

Alone, but Not Lonely

I will travel from birth to death alone. No one lives inside my brain, occupies the same space or views events exactly like I do. Even if I had an identical twin, she would not always be beside me, nor always share or even understand my thoughts.

As I grew up, I experienced new situations alone: walking “by myself”; entering kindergarten “by myself”; driving for the first time “by myself”; marrying “by myself,” leaving the only family I had known. In a certain sense, I am alone. No other human being can know me or understand me wholly.

But am I lonely? No.

There is One who has been there from before my birth – One who has seen what I’ve seen, been where I’ve been, known all the people I’ve ever known, One who can remember personal experiences I’ve forgotten that have formed my personality and character. He understands me. He loves me. He wants the best for me. He is anxious for me to know, understand and love Him. And He wants me to live with Him for eternity.

The only way it’s possible for me to be with Him is to become like Him – pure and free from sin. He sacrificed part of Himself to make that possible. He gave His only Son.

I would pray the prayer of David, King of Israel:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will hold me fast.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.

from Psalm 139