How to Squeeze out of Psalm 37 all of its sweet flavor and spiritual nourishment.
“The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable and perfect.”― Jim Elliot
One of the most valuable Bible tools I have discovered in my 76 years upon this planet, is the deliberate saturating of my mind with one text over an extended period of time. I would have to say it literally changed my life as a follower of Jesus and a servant to his people. For the last fifteen years I have followed this pattern. I would find one passage that “spoke” personally and powerfully to me concerning where I was or where I wanted to go. I would then read, memorize, meditate, journal and pray over the text. Then, I would pound on it; dig into it; stretch it; and seek to wring every drop of sweet spiritual nectar I could collect from the passage. This sweet discipline has become a soul-satisfying, faith-building; Jesus-revealing habit.
First, I find a special place that will become “my sacred place of meeting.” It will be early in the morning before the cares of the world rob me of the priority of devotion before my God. Second, there are few things I need: my special Bible (The NIV I gave to my Mom many years ago. It has a few of her comments written in it, which I cherish.) Then, I need a journal to record what I am hearing in the text, and use it to also record my dialogue with Jesus. Third, prayers are the environment of which I soak up the truth of God’s Word. I ask that He will “open my eyes so that I might see wonderful things in His law.” (Ps. 119:18) There may be specific needs I bring to the text which are expressed in prayer. More often then not, I receive surprise gifts of insight I never saw before, that beautifully meet the need of the moment.
Now, let me take you with me on my journey into this awesome Psalm 37. First, a quick reading of the chapter reveals that the thrust of the passage says that a natural look at our world seems to show that the bad guys seem to be winning and the good guys not so much. But, what we need to know is that our God is sovereignly working his plan in spite of what it might look like at the moment. The promise of reward is a divine thread that is woven through the Bible to the very last page. Isn’t that the essence of faith? “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) God is a rewarder. He always give far more than we deserve and even expect to get. So, when our circumstances seem to deny that, faith says, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)
And so the psalmist begins with this simple encouragement: “Don’t fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do evil.” (1) At times it may bother us when evil men seem to prosper. We may even, in our weaker moments, wish we had the pleasures and treasures they possess. But, we are missing something that is vitally important. There is a frightening time limit for evil doers. “For like grass they will soon wither, like a green plant they will soon die away.” (2) The recent headlines shout the truth of this fact. A billionaire, not satisfied with the riches and power he had accumulated, makes the trafficking of young ladies for his personal lust the focus of his life. For years, it appears he is getting away with his gross sins. Then, suddenly, literally, in a matter of days, he withers and dies away.
One of the key principles of Scripture is that it is never enough to stop doing something. When we only stop, when the pressure hits again, we will just return to the old sinful habits. We are commanded to not only stop doing sin, but replace it with doing righteousness. (Ephesians 4:22-32) That is where the psalmist goes next. Stop fretting and envying about others and start focusing upon the One you can trust. So, rather than being bothered about things you have nothing to do with, do what you can and should do. “Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (3) Missionary, martyr and one of my heroes, Jim Eliot, might say it like this: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
If the Lord is your God, trust him. He has you just where he wants you. Don’t worry about tomorrow or things that are out of your sphere of responsibility. As children of God we can always do good, no matter what is happening outside us. Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.(3) (Settle down, enjoy his gifts, the life he has given us, the promise of his sweet presence. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1 My psalm for personal growth and enjoyment this month.) We can rest when we dwell in his shelter.
Then the psalmist points us to the most important of all principles. “Delight yourself in the Lord.”(4) Here is the secret to joy both now and into eternity. Jesus Christ is the most beautiful, attractive and soul-satisfying Person in the universe. That is why the psalmist would pen: “As the dear pants after the springs of water so my soul pants for you.” (Ps. 42:1.) “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…” (Psalm 27:4) “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face. Your face, oh Lord, will I seek. Do not hide your face from me.” (Psalm 27:8-9) And, “Oh God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
And, when we smarten up and do that, here is what happens. “He will give you the desires of your heart.”(4) When we see his beauty, when we seek him with all of our hearts, we find what we have always wanted. Jesus Christ. We were made to see and savor and share the glory of Jesus. Nothing in this world, not all the money, nor all the power, nor all the sensual desires the world can offer, compares to the One who says us to us, “Come to me.” Jim Eliot captured something of what the psalmist was saying: “Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!”
Seeing the beauty of His character, His love, power, wisdom, grace and faithfulness, we can freely, “Commit our way to Him.”(5) He is for us. (Romans 8:31) So, he will instruct us and teach us in the way we should go. He will counsel us with his eyes upon us. (Psalm 32:8) No power in this world or any other can stop him from rewarding us with joyful and meaningful service, to the glory of his name.
Next, he promises us something that every servant who has ever struggled with apparent failure, or biting criticism, or unfair slander, should welcome with joy. “Trust him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine as the dawn and the justice of your cause as the noon day sun.”(6) One day in the future, he will publicly show the world, all of the doubters, all of the envious, all of the critics, all of the slanderers- that your cause was righteous, was just, and had God’s approval from the moment he called you. And, you will discover in greater depth that you can always trust him with your life, your dreams and your future.
In our next newsletter we will pick up where we left off in this awesome psalm. But, in the meantime, I would challenge you to take up this life-changing, delight-giving discipline. Choose your own psalm. Pick up your own Bible. Find your own sacred place. Commit to one month of pounding, squeezing and draining every ounce of sweetness you can from God’s Word. Ask the Lord to give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you might know him better. (Ephesians 1:17-18) I have no way of knowing how God will respond to this act of faith and trust. But, I have a Biblical clue: “The mouth of the righteous utter wisdom and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart and his feet will not slip.” (Psalm 37:30-31)
Let me know what happens. God will speak. A new and glorious day will dawn. I know. I have found it so.