How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song?

At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. Nebuchadnezzar took [Jehoiachin the king of Judah] prisoner in the eighth year of his reign… and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.” 2 Kings 24:10,12-15

By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ 

How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!” Psalm 137:1-6

How hard is it to sing when all seems lost? When a marriage is stressed to breaking and appears beyond repair, when rebellion or bitterness has wedged vitriol into a relationship, when disease wracks the body or mind of a loved one? Judah’s Babylonian captors, after wrenching them from everything they valued in the world- comforts of home, place of worship, treasures, identity through work, and pride, mockingly demanded a song, and the psalmist replied by pen with a beautiful dirge.

Our music may not always be light and melodious, but the Lord, with His undying love and mercies, and His very presence, still gives us songs in the darkness of our circumstances. We can sing with longing and lament, but always with hope, because He is good, and His ways are perfect and sure. He is our refuge and stronghold in every captivity of loneliness, fear, and heart-rending consequence of sin. He is our hope and trust. (Psalm 18:28,30; 33:11; 71:5; Joel 3:16-17; Colossians 1:27)

Where am I languishing in complaint? Are there circumstances that trigger despondency, criticism, whining, self-pity, that can instead prompt a song to the Lord, Who wondrously reigns over all? Might He be training me to look to Him in every shadow, every heartache, every impossibility, and trust Him? He is worthy of my confidence and music and praise all the time, not just when my life goes as I would prescribe. As we turn our eyes from self to Jesus, He Who authors our faith composes for us songs and loosens our lips to sing. (Hebrews 12:2)

God my Maker, You are my strength, and song, and salvation. Fill my mouth with Your song in sad night as well as glad day. May I ever sing unto Thee, for Your praise. (Job 35:10; Psalm 77:6; 118:14-15)

When the Word Strikes a Heart

“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes… ‘Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you,’ declares the Lord.” “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” “Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 2 Kings 22:11,19; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:10-13

The living word of God, unlike any other book, has power to convict, give sight, bring low, transform, assure. Godly King Josiah was struck to his depths with the words of the Book, repented for himself and his people, then set out to lead reform. The word gives us the standard of which we fall short, but also the way to soul rest by offering us Jesus and His finished work on the cross. The word that exposes the horrors of the human heart also reveals the loveliness and mercy of God’s toward us.

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It is our wont to strive to conform to God’s patterns and keep His rules, but we struggle in frustration and defeat at the impossible. Yet, as God rested from His very good creation, and Jesus rested after winning our redemption on the cross– “It is finished!”– we are graciously offered this rest from working for our own salvation. In setting aside our self-driven efforts and receiving His saving work on our behalf, we are given a new work to do for our Lord, not to be accepted by Him. (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-10)

“O Lord, Thou didst strike my heart with Thy word, and I loved Thee.” St. Augustine

When the word truly strikes our hearts, its rays pierce us with the bright vastness of God’s glories, and our love for Him blooms in a myriad of facets in the way we live. We think, converse, process media, work, behave toward others, differently. Living for Him, we are at rest with joy and peace, founded unshakeably on the Rock. (Matthew 7:24-25; 1 Corinthians 10:4)

Where have we made God’s word a priority in our schedules, our opinion-forming, our decision-making? Do we regularly study it, consult it, feed on it, apply it, measure by it, depend on its promises? How are we moved, convicted, guided, changed by it? How has it trained my striving?

Lord, may I humbly ingest Your word. Soften any hardness of my heart into eager receptivity. Give me wisdom to understand, discern, and know Your ways, and change me so that I walk by them, step by step, and ever love You more. (Hosea 14:9; Psalm 95:7-8)

The Test of Success

Hezekiah had very great riches and honor… He provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. [He] closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. [He] prospered in all his works.” “Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to [him], and said,..‘What have [these men] seen in your house?’ And Hezekiah answered, ‘They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.’ Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left.‘” 2 Chronicles 32:27,29-30; 2 Kings 20:12-17

“And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him.., God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart.” 2 Chronicles 32:25-26,31

Faced with the prospect of losing everything due to impending death from illness, king Hezekiah wept before the Lord, Who in mercy healed him to extend his life. But something from this divine favor tainted his humble heart. Pride sprouted and came to flower, and its intoxicating scent caused Hezekiah to stagger and fail God’s test of devotion. By God’s grace, the king eventually repented before life’s end, but not without shame, loss of reputation and standing, and prophetic doom for Judah.

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Why is it that we can start so right, and get tripped up by successes and things that our affections warp and sour and get so misaligned? What lures our love to ourselves and the world’s trappings more than for God the Giver? What makes us slide from strong and sightless faith in our Maker to security in the accumulation of the seen? At what point do we transfer our identity from child of the Father to king of our domain, lord of our accomplishments, Master of our role and expertise?

The Giver of prosperity is also the Savior from its destructive tentacles. If we keep Jesus at the fore, disciplining our minds to remember the cross in the midst of temporal success, we nurture a godly perspective and keep our allegiances in proper order.  (Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Hebrews 2:14-15)

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.” ~Translated by Mary Byrne (1880-1931)

Lord of and over all, captivate me, and fix my treasure, devotion, and glory in You.

 

Light Dawns in Darkness

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: ‘O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.’ Then Isaiah sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard… And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this. I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.” 2 Kings 19:14-20, 30-32,34; Psalm 112:4

Ruthless Sennacherib, king of Assyria, destroyer of many nations, had his greedy eyes set on Judah, and his leaders provoked with vicious threats and mocking. Hezekiah knew where to turn, for he knew the One Who held all history, kings and kingdoms, in His hands. In the dark of this intimidation, unclear of next steps and not knowing what would result from an attack, he sought his King, and received His light. (Psalm 95:3-4)

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We often see life situations unclearly, as though through dim light, or a hazy screen, and we want clarity and reassurance. In our human frailty we can be unnerved by the darkness before dawn, the uncertainty of menacing circumstances, possible peril to our safety or plans or loved ones. But like Hezekiah, we can present our cares, our fears and specific needs, before the LORD, and watch for His light, knowing He will incline His ear and act on our behalf. We may not be sure of every outcome, or how He will accomplish His plans, but we can trust He will. His sun will slowly and surely rise.

What unsettles me today? What criticism, threat, chicanery, unknown, even potential external event, has left me confused or quaking in spirit? Will I fret in the mire, or spread open my hands before the Lord and allow His light to flood the recesses of my worries and dissolve them in His peace?

Father, keep me looking to You, and waiting for Your light, in every care and threat. May I ever trust Your victory to break through, for Your renown.

 

Before the Ages Began

“[The Lord] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 2 Timothy 1:9; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:10

The fact that we are eternal beings is lost on many today. Our culture presses in on the present with every nuance of pleasure, immediacy, urgency. We are told in varied messages that we must relish the here and now. We are forced into frenetic pace and pushed to the limits of experience, and we hear over and over that “this is all there is- milk life for all it’s worth, live every day as your last.”

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But the Bible teaches differently, and opens up the ‘so much more’ of life as God created it. If God has known us since before the world began, and created us in grace with holy purpose, and for His praise, grasping this adds dimension to our existence that is other-worldly and eternal, and should bring new inspiration and zeal to our every day. I cannot help but look differently on the days appointed me, the hours given, if I realize I bear God’s image and He intends I be fully conformed to it.

If God began a good work in me since before I was born, my life is never static, but on a beautiful continuum of sanctification that will one day be complete. As His forever child, living for the ages means my mundane cries for meaning and significance, and I desire to order my days and activities aright and with wisdom. My plans and work become vital with expectancy, driven by holy purpose, and an ongoing expression of gratitude. My senses are quickened to deeper insight, my vision to higher sights, my love more urgent. (Psalm 90:12,14-17; Philippians 1:6)

Where have I been duped into thinking what I do does not matter? In what areas do I make decisions, or engage in conversations, that are frivolous and lack purpose? How can I be more eternally intentional in my relationships and my endeavors?

Oh God, grant me a broader, deeper perspective, not only of the world around me, but of my life and days. Make me more like Thee. May I fully identify with You, and honorably bear Your name, and bring You glory, every hour I live.

Sure Dawn vs. Morning Dew

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth. What shall I do with you? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” Hosea 6:3,4

Knowing God takes pressing on, and it is an endeavor we can share with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Let us. Let us encourage one another, let us learn together, let us share ways He has revealed Himself specifically and personally. Let us tell each other the great things He has done, how He has delivered, convicted, guided, guarded. Let us know Him, and know Him together.

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Our Lord makes Himself available to be known. Like the dawn, He is present, bright and life-giving, dependable and certain. His grace and glory radiate to affect all we see and understand, to seep into us the heat of divine love and warm affection for what pleases Him. He brings showers of blessing, comfort, wisdom, and living water that refresh like spring rain, that cause delight, give time to pause, soften hearts like seeds to begin to grow. He satisfies those in darkness and those who thirst. This is our knowable God. (John 4:14; 7:38-39; 2 Peter 1:19)

And we? In comparison, we are fickle, we are too easily distracted by our acquaintance with lesser things, our attraction to the glitzy and temporary. Our love for God is shallow,  at one moment promising like a morning cloud but quickly dissipating when breezes of busyness blow, damp like early dew but readily evaporating when the heat of opposition or the tickle of favored affections come along. Because we are who we are, we must press on to know Him!

I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Do I make the effort to come alongside true comrades in pressing on to know God? Or do I prefer to socialize with those who put up with a complacent or superficial spirituality? Can I quote what people say about God more readily than the very word of God Himself? What do I need to do, what time will I invest, to be such a friend who strives with others to grow in our understanding, to climb to higher faith?

“I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.’”  ~Johnson 
Atman, Jr (1856-1926)

Would I lock arms with fellow believers and commit to pressing on to know our Lord better? Whom has He put in my path with whom I will marvel at His dawn and drink deeply of His life?

Father, make my faith and devotion lasting. Help me persevere in pressing on with Your people to know You, and to live for You, all to Your great praise.

 

So Shall I Look

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us.” Psalm 123:1-3

We live so much of our days enthroned, as master of our schedules, manager of our resources, ruler of our hours. It is hard to rise up out of a decorated and cushy place of self-importance and control, but once we do, life with new freedom and power can begin. Acknowledging Who actually reigns is an act of glad surrender because it frees us from the disappointing tyranny of relying on ourselves.

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Lifting the eyes from self and all things here below opens for us wide possibilities of fruitfulness and unshakable security. The similes in this psalm describe a beautiful relationship of dependence and trust we, as servants of the most high God, can know, and they begin with a turning up of the head.

Those under authority of a master look to him for mercy, a gracious means of acceptance and belonging, a safe place where he can come under his protection and care. Our heavenly Master, in mercy and love, welcomes us who are undeserving into our eternal inheritance. A servant would look to his master for identity, because his he is, and he would always be a member of his household. When we are reconciled to God, our Savior places His name on us and gives us a seal of guarantee; we are His, forever. The master provides for every practical need of his servant: shelter, food, clothing, materials, just as our good Master, Jehovah Jireh, the great Provider, amply supplies what we need materially for life, and spiritually for salvation and godliness. A maidservant would seek instruction from her mistress, what to do and how to do it, and our Lord counsels us with His eye upon us, leading us to the work He has designed for us. (Genesis 22:9-14; Psalm 32:8; Isaiah 43:1; Matthew 6:25-33; Ephesians 1:13; 2:4-10; 2 Peter 1:3)

Let us consider this wondrous position, and so look to our Master with resolve and trust. Let us turn from the world’s offerings, and so look to our Lord’s riches. Let us remove ourselves from lowly thinking and doing, and so look to the divine One to learn His ways and live filled with His mercy toward the needy, His love for the unlovable, His tenderness for the hard, His compassion for the downtrodden.

Good Master, I delight to be Your servant. May I ever look to You, and through You see, understand, and love others as You have loved me.