Lifting the Soul

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me,.. for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love... Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net… Forgive all my sins. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” Psalm 25:1,4-9,11-12,14-15,18,20-21

This psalm of David, a lifting of his soul to his Covenant LORD, is an intricate blend of seeking God’s mercy and guidance, His forgiveness and preservation. Even addressing His God is possible because of His mercy; gratitude for the mercy awakens further need, and multiplies trust in God’s goodness. David’s confidence is bound up in his high view of God, his utter dependence on His cleansing and guarding of the very soul he lifts. David’s ‘waiting’ on the LORD is an active turning of his soul’s deep needs to the One Who can meet them. (Psalm 103:7-8)

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When we lift our souls in prayer, in claimed dependence on our Covenant-Keeper, we always come on the basis of His mercy to us, and it is good to renew that confession of known sin, and belief, as people of flesh. As His beloved friends, we also ask for instruction, guidance for our daily paths, decisions, opportunities, needs. The two are ever-intertwined, our need for mercy, our need for help, and it is our gracious, bountiful God’s delight and nature to dole out both. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Do I strut to the God of the universe with only my list of wants, perhaps needs, and make demands? Or do I humbly kneel, with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness for the torn curtain, the way of access He has made for me, His fresh mercies, His Spirit’s conviction of sin and removal of guilt? Do I come to the altar aware of my flesh’s proclivity to strange affections, pleading for cleansing so I can listen and understand His ways? And with right balance, am I then bold to get up and stand in His mercy, and desperately, confidently seek His counsel, provision, protection for the day ahead? (Lamentations 3:22-23; Mark 15:38; John 16:8-11)

Father, You have made the mysterious way to Your throne open to me, and I gratefully come. Please keep me ever dependent of Your powerful mercies, even as I lift my soul and wait for Your truth and direction.

Minding the Mind

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Romans 8:1-2,5-7,9; 12:2; Colossians 3:1-3

Fixing our minds above, on the things of the Spirit, is not only a command, but a joyful reality when we understand and accept what Jesus has done for us. In the flesh, we tend to hold onto our old selves and all the crud that once dominated our thinking, our inner self that drove our outer self to do what it did. We think we can never break free– at least we don’t deserve to. In the flesh, we nurse old wounds, replay old hurtful conversations, are plagued with old choices, and condemn ourselves for confessed sins. But when we mind the mind rightly, we reckon ourselves freed from condemnation, free from death, free from the tyranny of our old self.

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To set the mind on things above is to recognize the victory of Jesus over sin, now seated at God’s right hand, and claim it as mine. It is to live under no condemnation, at all. It is to dwell on His love that loosened my chains, and set me free to forgive others and myself and experience the resulting joy of life and peace. It is to be so infused with the Lord in my mind that my thoughts about the world and my place in it are renewed. When I live according to the Spirit, He directs my understanding of His good, pleasing and perfect will, and the impulses of mine.

Are there areas of my life– recesses of my heart, bitternesses nursed, habits too-long-ingrained– that exist outside being ‘hidden with Christ’? Is my gaze upward, mostly, but with cherished side-glances at old guilt, or resentment, or a stubborn right to myself?

Lord, You have set me free and dwell in me. Cause me to mind my mind, believing and acting on and driven by what is gloriously true.

The Sovereign Conductor

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king…’ Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, ‘Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.’ And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there… When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant, ‘Come, let us go back…’ But he said to him, ‘There is a man of God in this city, who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. Let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go…’ As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, ‘Is the seer here?’ They answered, ‘He is; just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place…’ As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them…

“Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: ‘Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel…’ When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, ‘Here is the man of whom I spoke to you!..’ Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD.'” 1 Samuel 8:22; 9:3-6,11-12,14-17; 10:1

Lost donkeys? Unable to be located in several regions? A servant who knows a prophet in this particular city, the fifth they’d reached in their search? Women drawing water at just that place and moment? Samuel arriving for a scheduled sacrifice that very day? God’s preparing Samuel the prior day with specific instructions? There are no coincidences or surprises with the LORD. Like a conductor, our God knows the whole piece of music, ordains how all the parts fit together, the timing and nuances, crescendos and largos and melodies, and in grand perfection orchestrates every performer and instrument and voice to make His symphony.

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With our limited sight and provincial living, we can get narrowed into considering and fretting over small incidences, making big concerns out of mere pieces of a much larger life that God is designing for us. Am I letting inconsequential annoyances, setbacks, difficulties, obstacles eat away at my expectation for (and submitting to) God’s greater purposes? Or does the concern of how it all works prevent me from joyful delight in a single intrument’s lovely strain, of the significance and meaning of the facets of His character God reveals every day, as part of His big plan? Will I raise my eyes from the petty to seek and worship and trust the Master Conductor, Who over all things wondrously reigns? (Psalm 22:28)

LORD, keep me trusting Your sovereign baton, attuned to Your marvelous music, adoring Your masterful ways.

 

Morning Storms

Even though I walk through 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.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Psalm 23:4; 1 Peter 5:6-11

Night extended into this morning as a thick curtain of storm cloud held back dawn’s light. Electricity flashed to give quick peaks into the view, thunder growled low and shaky, and then came the rain, ushering in a new day.

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Some days begin this way– dark, dreaded, grumbly, untenable. Our cares and responsibilities, the realities of another rejection, an ill beloved life-partner, a wayward child, loneliness or an empty womb or uncertain future, realization that I no longer have (on this earth) a parent or close friend, may weigh heavy like these wet clouds. Yet the Lord is still nigh, ever present and bearing supernatural light even in the storm. He is our sun, the bridegroom striding from His chamber, leading in glory and joyful purpose, redeeming every wind that buffets, every storm that drenches with fear or despair. Beginning the day with Him washes us with hope and lifts the veil of darkness to give expectation for good in and from all things. (Psalm 19:4-6; Romans 8:28)

When I am overcome by the noise and pressure from storms– raucous and crushing from without, or taunting and pestering from within– do I, in my fear, or exhaustion, or dismay, remember the light? Will I by faith cling to the hope that the sun still rises and brilliantly shines behind the clouds, the earth still spins on its axis, and God reigns? The valley of the shadow must be walked, there is no escaping; yet it does not go on forever. And my Sovereign walks beside me all the way.

“O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!”  ~Robert Grant (1833)

Lord on high, in the morning when I rise, may I rise with You, fixing my gaze on the One Who rules above and below.

The Dead Life

How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life… We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him… For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:2-4,6-8,10-14

It may seem strange to describe life as something dead, and death as life, but when we live biblically, this makes sense. The concept is a spiritual one that bears itself out in our flesh. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” While we live and breathe here on earth, when we know Jesus Christ and have been redeemed by His blood, our old self has been crucified with His on the cross, and our ‘new creation’ life is a transformed life in Christ, inspired and lived out by faith. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20)

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What does this look like, how does this play out in the day to day? We’ve died? We are to consider ourselves dead to sin, not let it reign? These phrases are charged with electricity that jolts our wills to action. No longer slaves? Freed from sin to offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness? May the power flow full throttle! If it is indeed true– an irrefutable fact– that sin no longer has dominion over me, then I, under grace, can walk in this newness of life! The old self diminishes its influential sway as I practice living the new. I can bear the fruit of God’s spirit in my relationships, my pondering, work, ministry, challenges, confusion, and pain. By faith I can know and live out love, joy, peace, and patience. I can exhibit kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Hallelujah! (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:5-23)

Father, thank You for making me a new creation in Christ. Every day, may I live with all my being as though this is true, to Your great glory.

Access by Faith

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us… We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-5,11

Paul is a master at explaining big words and concepts, and here he opens wide the beautiful, narrow gate of justification to invite believers into the lush garden of delights Jesus has prepared for us. [Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Once justified, a bounty of faith, grace, and hope of God’s glory are ours. (Romans 4:24-25)

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As we enter this life defined by His grace, our eyes are opened to more and more of God’s gifts to us, many realized as we suffer. Endurance is developed for the long and difficult road of unmet longing, injustice, hurt, unanswered questions, hard relationships. Character is honed by intimate time with the Almighty, by constant washing as we rub and tumble in life’s battles. Hope in eternity and ultimate healing grows brighter on our horizon, urging us to keep putting one step in front of the other. And God’s immeasurable love deepens and grows in and through us as His Spirit transforms us from glory to glory, making us more like Jesus. Surely, we must rejoice in this ready access to His banquet table! (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What evidence is there in my attitudes, my demeanor, my conversations, that I have walked through His access and identify with and am living by faith in my Savior? Can others recognize by my peace, hope, the love of God that flows through my heart, that I have been with Jesus? When I speak, do I give out words of life and spiritual wisdom? How has my character changed and become more like His over the months and years? Do I fret and fluster, dodge and race, or stand firmly, contentedly, joyfully, in the grace of God? (John 6:68; Acts 4:13; 5:20)

“My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
  I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
    And that He died for me.”  ~ Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

God of grace, God of glory, I am overwhelmed at the access into Your eternal presence Jesus made for me, and I thank You for the gift of faith to enter. May I ever rejoice in and take advantage of all You make available as You conform me to Your image, to the praise of Your glory. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Exclamation Point Pleas

Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” Psalm 143:1,7-12

“In almost all situations that do not involve immediate physical danger or great surprise, you should think twice before using an exclamation mark. If you have thought twice and the exclamation mark is still there, think about it three times, or however many times it takes until you delete it.”  ~Howard Mittelmark, How Not to Write a Novel

With the exclamation mark’s overuse and bad publicity these days, it piques my delight to see so many in this one psalm. David’s prayer is indeed exclamatory to the God he knows and trusts. His pleas are emphatic, urgent, passionate, and desperate. His admissions of faith, praise, dependence, and God’s ownership are sincere, bold, and heart-felt. I imagine a ruddy man-king on his knees, heavy with burden, hearty with breath, hands wrenched in fists, then open and reaching, wrestling with his Sovereign, pouring out his cries to the point of crescendo, then resolving in perfect peace, hushed  and confident in what God’s steadfast love would accomplish, fully submitted, surrendered. Amen.

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Do I pray with such fervor? Have I grown lazy or complacent with comfy posture, repetition, recitation of lists, wandering eyes? When I go to prayer, do I tuck away and kneel and agonize and go deep to be heard by my Father in secret, or do I talk-walk along, eyes opened, distracted by many things? If He is the accessible Almighty Who reigns over all, is He not worthy of my attention, vulnerability, and reliance? (Matthew 6:5-13)

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

“Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

“Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.”  ~ Joseph Scriven (1819-1886)

LORD, keep me earnestly praying, for you are my God!