Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
Reading: Colossians 4:2-18
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 NIV
The word “devote” is full of meaning. To devote something is to “set it apart” or dedicate it to a particular purpose. And what am I to set apart and dedicate? Myself. To prayer.
Just as people or things in old testament times were “consecrated” or set apart for holy purposes, I am to consecrate or set apart myself for this holy pursuit: That I might continually converse with and pursue God.
I like the way the NKJV translates the verse. It says I am to “Continue earnestly in prayer…” The Greek word being translated as “Devote yourself” and “Continue earnestly in” is “proskatereo”:
Proskatereo: To be earnest towards, i.e. (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent, or (to a person) to adhere closely to (as one who serves):–attend (give self) continually (upon), continue (in, with), wait on (continually).
Even as I read this definition, I feel a hunger rising within me to reach out to God in prayer. The word “continually” implies that even in the normal activities of my day, my thoughts can be turned towards God.
But more than that, there is a hunger to spend dedicated time with God – to find a place of solitude and soak in his presence; to escape awhile the distractions of the day and enjoy walking and talking with my God.
This call to pray, and to dedicate myself anew to prayer, is one I can't ignore. God is calling, saying, “Come closer. Reach out to me. Drink in my words and search the depths of my love. Delight in me, and I will satisfy the desires of your heart.”
Lord God, I dedicate myself anew to seeking you in prayer. I am hungry. I want to come closer, and to know you more deeply. I want time with you to be at the centre of my life, not at the periphery. Please draw me closer, and let me commune with you here on earth as Jesus did, that I might enjoy your presence with me forever.
See also one of my favourite SOAPs, Sneaking Off With God.
Reading: Isaiah 50
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. Isaiah 50:4-5 NIV
How beautifully this scripture describes the Holy Spirit at work, in and through Jesus. Speaking though Isaiah, Jesus reveals his attentiveness to the voice of his Father, and how the precious words he heard became, in his own mouth, such a blessing to others.
These were no ordinary words. They carried the power to save, to sustain the weary and bring hope to the broken hearted.
Not one word that the Father spoke to Jesus fell by the wayside. Rather, they were welcomed and acted upon, for this was his life and ministry – to do his Father's will.
Here too is my life's calling, to hear the voice of the Spirit, and to obey it. Just as Jesus was filled with Spirit, so too God has graciously imparted his Spirit to me, and to all who would receive him.
This entire week I have the privilege of 'escaping' to the beautiful Maniototo Basin in the South Island of New Zealand for the express purpose of learning to hear the voice of God and move in the gifts of the Spirit. With the guidance of Rodney Francis, Len Butner, and John Fergusson, I am discovering that, more than I ever knew, God is speaking to me.
I have often struggled with those gentle promptings. Is that God speaking to me or is it just my own thoughts? So this week, I have put it to the test. I have been asking God to speak to me, to give me specific words for the people around me – words that would encourage and minister to them. Most of these folks I have only met this week.
Trusting God for those first thoughts and impressions that come, and sharing them with those people in a spirit of love (and with some trepidation), I have discovered to my delight that the words really are from God. He has given me things I could never have known about those people and enabled me to speak healing and encouragement to them, often in very specific ways.
I feel so encouraged! The Sovereign Lord really is giving me “a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” He is “waking my ear to listen like one being instructed.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit and is, I believe, a ministry for all believers.
For so long I have prayed that God would open my ears, and it seems that perhaps, they were open all along. And so, with Jesus I declare that I will not be rebellious or turn away. Nor will I be constrained by fear. Instead, I will seek his voice, listen and obey.
Thank you so much Father for your Spirit, and the gifts he brings. Thank you for your voice. Please help me as I endeavour every day to listen for your promptings, to put aside fear, and to bless others by sharing your precious words with them.
Reading: Numbers 7 – 9
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. Numbers 9:22-23 (NIV)
When God led his people Israel into the desert, he gave them no itinerary. There was no route guide, and no time frame. He simply said, “Follow me.” They were “the People of the Presence”.
Every moment of every day, God's visible presence could be seen by every one of them, from the oldest to the youngest. He was in the cloud that hovered over the Tent of Meeting. By night, the cloud was still visible and looked like fire.
“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped.” (Numbers 9:17-18)
And so it was that for forty years, whenever the Israelites set up camp, they did so in the knowledge that they could be leaving again in the morning. Or, they could be stopping for a year. They just didn't know.
There was no opportunity to put down roots in a physical location or become dependent on the land's resources. Instead, God was both their home and their provider.
God is also my home and my provider. And the Holy Spirit is my fire and my cloud. My citizenship now is in heaven (see Phil 3:20), and even as I write, Jesus is preparing a place for me there (see John 14:2). In the meantime, he has urged me not to worry about my needs. They will all be met as I seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness. (See Matt 6:25-34)
Just as Israel looked to God every day to see how he would lead them, I too need to be constantly looking to God, ready and willing to follow his every prompting.
So easily I put roots down into those things that would seem secure. And how hard that makes it to move when God himself is on the move. If however, my roots are in God, I need never uproot again. I will be free to move whenever and wherever his Spirit would lead me.
In ballroom dancing (when done well), the woman follows the gentle promptings of her partner so closely that the two move across the dance floor as one. There is no hesitation and no dispute. It works because each partner understands their role, one to lead, and the other to follow. And the result? Harmony and beauty.
This is my desire Lord, that without hesitation or dispute, I might follow the promptings of your Spirit, that your purpose would be my purpose, and your desire mine. Help me to look to you for all I need, and to seek you and your kingdom above all else.
“…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NIV)
Reading: Acts 16
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV)
A good thing is not necessarily the right thing to do. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, yet the Holy Spirit kept Paul from preaching the Word in the province of Asia, then later blocked his entry into Bithynia to do the same thing. Finally Paul has a vision from God which clarifies where he is to go to preach the Word. All three options were obeying Jesus, but only one of them was the right one.
Why did God not just show Paul and his friends in the first place where they were to go? Was there something he wanted to teach them on the way? Knowing with certainty what is happening next does bring a feeling of security and of being in control. But what if God takes this certainty away? Then, instead of trusting in our circumstances, all we can do is either worry, or trust in him.
I am sure the latter is what God really wants, and is the reason why he sometimes seems to leave us hanging. He is putting us in that place where all we can do is be patient, trust him for the next step, and rest in his hands knowing that he knows the next part of the road even though we don't.
So long as God is in control, I can relax. Then, rather than waiting for my circumstances to give me certainty, I can find certainty in the knowledge that God is good, and he has everything in hand. When options present themselves, I can pray, asking God for wisdom, and then tentatively step forward, trusting God to close some doors and open others. In the meantime, I need to relax and embrace the freedom of not knowing my next step, but knowing that God does.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example to learn from. Help me to let go, and simply rest in your arms. And when it's time to move, please guide me into things that are not just good, but also within your purpose for me. Holy Spirit, open my ears to clearly hear your voice and help me to keep in step with you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:1-6 (NIV)
To wait: To remain inactive or in a state of repose until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.
When the psalmist talks here about waiting for the Lord, it's clear that no one else will do. No one else can satisfy the cry of his heart. If God doesn't come through for him, he is sunk. There is no plan B. I'm reminded of the lyrics of a Hillsong United song:So I look to you So I look to you No one else will do No one else will do
It's often when I'm at my lowest that I get to truly appreciate how much I need God. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” Because when all I delight myself in ceases to satisfy and the things I lean on give way, it's then I see with clarity my absolute need of God. Even those closest to me can't truly satisfy the deepest desires of my heart, but only the One who holds my very soul in his hands.
And yet, God is not 'the god of instant gratification'. He allows me to become hungry so I will come to his table. He allows me to become needy so I will seek provision from his hand. He even allows me to become desperate so my floundering feet will discover that he really is my Rock and upon him I can stand. Otherwise I might put my faith in what cannot deliver and my hope in what is doomed to fail.
But God can deliver, and in him my hope is secure. And so I can rest in that hope, I can “Be still and know that God is God”, and I can say with the psalmist:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Father, you are good! I can trust you when my circumstances seem bleak and help isn't forthcoming, because you will never fail me. Help me to rest in your love as I wait for you, and never to lose my hope in you.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)