June 8th, 2021

A Particular God

1 Chronicles 13:12 “David was afraid of God that day and asked, ‘How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?’” (NIV).

Observation: Through twenty years of Saul’s reign, the ark had resided in Kiriath Jearim while Saul turned his back on the God of Israel. In one of his first major acts as king, David joined with the nation’s military leaders and the whole nation of Israel to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. In a spirit of tremendous celebration they began moving the ark on a new cart, but when Uzzah righted the tilting cart, the Lord struck Uzzah dead. As a result, David was angry because of God’s wrath against Uzzah (v. 11) and afraid of God, not knowing how he could hope to successfully bring the ark to Jerusalem.

Application: The real problem here was that although David had a correct understanding of God’s will in the matter, he failed to consult God as to method. His intentions were good, but his actions were not according to God’s precepts. The ark’s place was indeed in Jerusalem, but the proscribed method of transport was on the shoulders of Levites on poles through rings fastened to the ark itself.

God certainly could have prevented the cart’s tipping, but that would have brought it to Jerusalem by means of men’s devising, rather than in the fashion God had clearly commanded through Moses. David’s second try, done God’s way, was wildly successful (1Chron. 15:15).

Do God’s strictures seem overly particular? If so, we would do well to know Him better. Psalm 7:11 describes Him as a righteous judge, “a God who expresses His wrath every day.” Taken alone that would be disheartening indeed, but it immediately follows this: “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart” (v. 10).

He is indeed particular, but His heart is fiercely protective of those who will once and for all yield to Him. Once David chose to fulfill God’s purposes in God’s way, His blessings covered the whole undertaking. My choice is exactly as David’s was, to follow God with no instance of compromise. In full obedience, David ultimately succeeded in admitting the presence of God into his life. The Lord is equally delighted to dwell within me, but also just as jealous that His access be only on His terms.

Prayer: Lord, I am reminded what a huge part of Your passion for me is that I would learn to come to You on Your terms alone. Teach me to serve you in gladness and in trembling.

June 7th, 2021

Heavenly Global Positioning System

2 Samuel 5:24 “As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army” (NIV).

Observation: Word of David’s anointing as king had reached the Philistines, who came against him in full force. In response, David sought God’s direction, which could hardly have come in greater detail. Astonishingly, God gave David both strategy and timing. “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army” (2 Sam. 5:23–24).

Application: One temptation in reading such an exchange is to grow intensely jealous of David’s ability to hear God’s voice. David’s prayer had not simply been words tossed into the night sky with an expectation to war if the dice came up “seven” or not to war if it was “snake eyes”.

No, this was instead the answered prayer of a man who had so practiced a passionate pursuit of God that he knew he should expect detailed instruction. The story grows even more amazing when we consider God’s signal for David to move out: the sound of the heavenly host in the tops of the balsam trees, marching to war. Which is more mind-bending, that God’s angelic army makes the sound of marching as it moves into battle, or that David should expect to hear and take his cues from it?

My heart longs to hear God’s voice thus. He has been faithful to guide. He does answer prayer. I am familiar with doors opened easily and doors that resist my every attempt to pass through. I have known His comforting presence in life’s night seasons, and have exulted in His presence on mountaintops. But David’s experience is something far more profound, more like an in-dash global positioning system. “Turn left now. In three blocks, just past the blooming lilac, slow for an elderly woman who will be crossing the street.”

That’s how David heard God. How much of life’s “stuff” must I put away to hear Him like that? I begin to suspect Him to be less like the distant dour monarch who rarely speaks, and more like the three-year old in a car seat who chatters constantly.

Prayer: O Lord, my heart longs to hear Your voice above all else. Show me how to cut through life’s clamor, that I might hear as David heard. Forgive me, Lord, for settling for mere shadows of Your presence.

June 6th, 2021

Herod’s Haunting

Matthew 14:1–2 “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist, he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him’ ” (NIV).

Observation: Jesus had been teaching extensively and performing amazing miracles throughout the region, and word of His activities had reached Herod. Herod’s conclusion was wrong, of course, but the verses following give insight into his reasoning. Herod had been in an illicit relationship with Herodias, wife of Herod’s brother, and John the Baptist had confronted them about it. Although Mark 6:20 tells us that Herod liked to listen to John’s teachings, he ultimately made a foolish promise to Herodias’s daughter in front of a house full of guests. When she had consulted with her mother and demanded John’s beheading, Herod meekly complied.

Application: Unresolved guilt holds the power to blind us completely to God’s truths. Here, guilt rises from John’s grave like a ghostly apparition and points its bony finger at Herod. As it does so, it utterly incapacitates Herod’s understanding of the current move of God all around him.

Herod had indeed sinned by beheading John. There is precious little about Herod’s life to commend him, except this one glimmer of hope: as John had taught of spiritual things during his imprisonment, Herod had been strangely drawn. The door of hope was slammed tight, though, in one evening of drunken bravado and pride when Herodias had manipulated Herod to John’s destruction.

Now, with the region abuzz with Christ’s exploits, all the guilt-ridden Herod could imagine was that John had been resurrected.

The power of unresolved guilt is overwhelming, making a person blind and deaf to even the most astonishing works of God. Unresolved guilt and shame will skew understanding and cause right reasoning to cry “uncle.” In the hands of an enemy bent upon my destruction, guilt is a weapon awesome enough to utterly thwart the work God wants to do in my heart.

What I must recognize is this: guilt has no power, no authority, except that which I willingly grant. Like other aspects of sin now cancelled, guilt, too, can be eradicated in a moment’s work. Genuine repentance washes away the most stubborn of stains, of which guilt is a leading ingredient. I wonder how differently Herod’s story would have ended if he had laid his guilt at the foot of the Cross. Then this: is Herod without Christ any more to be pitied than I?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, none are beyond Your reach except by individual choice. Thank You for persistently drawing me to Your Cross and to the empty tomb. I am in awe of You.

June 5th, 2021

The Problem with Self-Promotion

2 Samuel 1:8 “He [Saul] asked me, ‘Who are you?’ ‘An Amalekite,’ I answered” (NIV).

Observation: David had just returned from a victorious fight against Amalekites who had overrun his city of refuge and kidnapped the loved ones of David and his men. Three days later, an Amalekite youth came to David with word that Saul and Jonathan were dead, and that the youth had helped Saul die. First Samuel 31 tells us that Saul had taken his own life, so it is likely that this Amalekite messenger fabricated his involvement in Saul’s death, thinking he would win David’s favor.

Application: Think of it! It had been Saul’s disobedience in failing to destroy all Amalekites that finally led to God’s rejection of him as king over Israel (see 1 Samuel 15). In fact, it was from God’s commentary on the situation that we are told He values obedience over sacrifice. Doing exactly as God instructs is always better than our self-promotion as we seek to make ourselves look good. How ironic, then, that it was an Amalekite that reported Saul’s death to David.

This young Amalekite stood not a chance of surviving his encounter with David; not only was he a remnant of an enemy of Israel whom Saul was to have utterly destroyed, but he was also one of the tribe whom David had defeated a mere three days earlier. David commanded the youth’s execution based upon his testimony (probably false) of having killed Saul (2 Samuel 1:16).

What might the lad have been thinking? Perhaps he regretted his heart motive in reporting Saul’s death at all; there is every reason to think his report to David exaggerated his role in Saul’s death. Sadly, I catch glimpses of my own heart in this young Amalekite’s motives. There have been times when flesh has led to exaltation of my role in a thing being done, times when my eyes were so far removed from the Lord that I was content with “atta-boys” from those around me, rather than seeking to please Him.

God’s requirement is that I find peace and fulfillment in Him alone. When I act as the Amalekite lad, it is always because I have chosen to seek fulfillment from a lesser source, from one whose approval is vanity and whose commitment to my best is fleeting. Psalm 118:15 says, “Shouts of joy resound in the tents of the righteous” (NIV). Anything less is the mere tinkling of fragile glass easily broken and leads to destruction as surely as did the Amalekite’s self-promotion.

Prayer: Father, cause me to seek fulness of joy in You, to be satisfied only in Your gaze. Nothing else satisfies.

June 4th, 2021

Taking the Bait

1 Samuel 31:10 “They put his armor in the temple of the Astoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan” (NIV).

Observation: We see here the fruit of flesh at work. The Philistine army had conquered Israel and killed three of Saul’s sons. Saul himself had committed suicide ahead of their fearsome advance. First Samuel 31:8 tells us that when Saul’s body was discovered it was stripped and beheaded, and then his armor was sent to one Philistine temple while his headless body was fastened to the wall of the city of Beth Shan. First Chronicles 10:10 further reveals that Saul’s head was hung in another of their temples.

Application: What unmitigated barbarism! Have these people no refinement at all, no sense of propriety? Were they completely dispossessed of grace even in great victory? To strip and behead the corpse of a vanquished enemy was bad enough; to then display him in their temples and on a city wall is simply beyond the pale. What gradually overtakes us is the thought that we would never behave thus.

Think about the spiritual condition of the Philistines. These were a people who lived by physical and military strength, the natural result of which was to display trophies of their conquests for all to see, including their places of worship. Though these trophies would ultimately rot and could never provide lasting contentment, we can imagine a certain self-satisfaction as they viewed the relics of their success.

I must ask myself: has my own redemption been thorough enough to never behave similarly? What of my accomplishments have been nailed to a wall as an object of inner or outward worship? What are the positions attained, goals achieved, and things acquired that produce self-satisfaction when I review these life-fruits? In celebrating these trophies, am I all that different from the Philistines?

Christians are called to be a heart people. We ask God to tenderize our hearts so as to distinguish us from those whose rewards can be nailed to a wall. Our one true reward was nailed to a tree over two thousand years ago. It is in attaining His life that I ought to rejoice. My trophy must be to hear His “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Jesus was tempted to aspire to more, to pursue goals other than the Father’s, but He never took the bait. To the end, His purpose was as mine must be, to do only what He sees the Father doing (see John 5:19). Any other pursuit is unworthy of His sacrifice.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for my Philistine-like pursuit of worldly trophies. Cause me to be a man of one purpose, to be satisfied in gazing upon none but You.

June 3rd, 2021

Precipice of Premature Action

1 Samuel 28:17 “The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David.”

Observation: The reign of Saul would tomorrow come to an end. In taking refuge from Saul by living among Philistines, David was in turn obligated to war against Saul along with his Philistine protectors. Under pressure from his generals, though, the Philistine king told David to return home; David would not be part of the conquering army after all. It seems God wanted both David and Saul to understand that it would be God Himself who would tear the kingdom from Saul. 1 Samuel 28:18 emphasizes the point, “As you [Saul] did not obey the Lord … so the Lord has done this to you today.”

Application: David would indeed become king; of this Saul was now certain. Saul also knew that within twenty-four hours he and his sons would be dead, and that it would be God’s doing, not David’s. God would use the Philistine army to carry out His purposes.

David had made a number of mistakes leading to this moment, and there would be others in the future. At times He had been filled with faith, fresh from gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. He had been sensitive to error in even symbolically striking against Saul in the cave when he dared to cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. Now, though, David was willing to be part of a Philistine expedition against Saul, the purpose of which was to kill the Israelite king. God’s intervention, by causing the Philistine generals to doubt David’s commitment to their cause, kept David from personal responsibility for Saul’s destruction.

Notice how strong is the human tendency to take matters into our own hands. Knowing God’s plan is never the same thing as knowing His timing or His methods. When David found himself at the point of taking action to bring about what he understood to be God’s plan for his life, God intervened to stay David’s hand. The ultimate result would be God’s purposes accomplished God’s way, and in God’s timing.

I am reminded again how little I know my own heart. I may think I do, but there is always a tendency toward self-exaltation, a determination to “make happen” that which is God’s alone to do. Pulled back repeatedly from the precipice of premature action, the results, once they occur, can then be ascribed only to God. He likes that. In His sovereignty, He will brook no shared glory.

Prayer: Lord, I repent of the tendency to get out ahead of You. Forgive me, Lord, for letting my soulish understanding thwart Your best for my life, and for those around me. Cause my heart to become satisfied in the knowledge that You will accomplish Your purposes in Your own way, and in Your own timing. I love You, Lord.

June 2nd, 2021

Strange Bedfellows

1 Samuel 27:2 “So David and the six hundred men with him went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath” (NIV).

Observation: Under constant pressure from Saul’s pursuing army, David decided to seek relief by settling among the Philistines. He and his army, together with their families, migrated to Gath where David asked permission to live in one of Gath’s rural communities. As David anticipated, Saul gave up the chase once he learned that further pursuit would require incursion into Philistine territory.

Application: Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. Through the ages we have seen even seemingly good leaders make unrighteous decisions to ally in common effort under the banner of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is what has happened here, as David makes no effort to consult God in the matter, relying instead upon the logic of fallen intellect and the pressure of exhaustion. David, whose reputation had been established by vanquishing the Philistine warrior Goliath, sought refuge among Goliath’s countrymen. He chose the covering of Israel’s enemies in a foreign land over God’s covering in the land of God’s promise. For his part, the Philistine leader recognized a useful alliance when presented with one; hospitality to David now would obligate David in the future to join the Philistine army in the war against Israel (see 1 Sam 28:1).

David’s logic was insightful to a point, as it purchased immediate relief from Saul, but there is always a price to pay for reliance upon strategies of our own devising. This was the same David who earlier was convicted of error when he merely snipped off a piece of Saul’s cloak. Here he proposes an arrangement that would require him to join full battle against Saul whenever a Philistine king demanded it.

It is worth considering: Have I made such alliances in my own life? When weakened by whatever battle now rages, do I conclude that the ends justify the means, or do I believe that the means matter as much to God as do the ends?

If I believe God to be sovereign, if I trust absolutely in His superior ability in every situation, I will be led to the unalterable conclusion that His ends will be accomplished every time. No exception. What leads me to bend where means are concerned is my own pathetic desire for credit as part of God’s resource for accomplishing His ends. Compromise results, every time. No exception.

I must remain content in the knowledge that God will win. Having read the end of the Book, I know His victory is complete, on His terms, without compromise. Each step of my own journey requires an uncompromising commitment to living in utter dependence upon Him.

Prayer: Lord, above all, I want to be counted among those who seek Your face moment by moment, no matter today’s exhaustion and despair.

June 1st, 2021

Knowing His Timing

1 Samuel 24:4 “This is the day the Lord spoke of when He said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands to deal with as you wish’ ” (NIV).

Observation: Saul has gone into a cave, apparently to rest from midday heat, unaware that David and some of his men were themselves hidden within. Seeing Saul at rest and realizing this was a unique opportunity for David to kill Saul, David’s men urged him to take action, justifying it by claiming it’s what God intended by orchestrating these remarkable circumstances.

Application: Perhaps the first thing we ought to note about verse 4 is that David’s men were flat wrong; God had never said He would give Saul into David’s hands for David to do with as he wished. God had indeed on several occasions given David a promise to one day lead the nation; He had also assured David that the kingdom would one day be taken from Saul. While these promises had surely expanded David’s heart with vision, his men were seriously overreaching in their misrepresentation of what God had actually said.

The second and perhaps more important thing to understand about the story is that even knowing God’s general plan for David’s life still left him in the dark as to its timing. Had David acted to take Saul’s life he would have been fulfilling God’s promise in the flesh. Rather than waiting for God’s perfect timing, David’s acceleration of the implementation of God’s plan would surely have turned intended blessing into an agonizing source of regret for the rest of David’s days.

How easy it is to project myself into this story. Sadly, though, I would often best fit the role of David’s men, rather than that of David. In innumerable ways, God has been gracious to reveal wonderful promises to my heart. Just to know that the God who created the vastness of the heavens deigns even to consider me is a daily astonishment; to know He actually intends good for me rather than evil is beyond comprehension.

My shortcoming is this: having some sense of His promises for my life, I assume He must intend them for now. Today. “Seize the moment,” my heart cries! Make it happen. In such presumption I am almost always wrong. David was wise enough to understand that God’s timing is not always revealed as clearly as is God’s plan. He had spent enough time contemplating the beauty and majesty of God to know that if God had ordained some good thing for his life, He was perfectly capable of bringing it about in His perfect timing.

Prayer: Father, I shudder in self-disappointment when I think of my presumption in believing that I knew Your timing as well as Your promise. Forgive me for moving ahead of what You have clearly revealed. Cause me to wait in contentment upon You.

May 31st, 2021

The Best Hiding Place

1 Samuel 23:16 “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (NIV).

Observation: Earlier in this chapter David led his band of fighting men to victory over the Philistines at Keilah. Even though he was not yet king of Israel, God nonetheless used him to protect the nation. Immediately afterward, as David sought to hide from Saul’s army in Keilah, the Lord supernaturally told David he was in danger there, that the people would turn him over to the army when Saul arrived. So David left and continued living as a fugitive in the desert.

Application: So much for gratitude. David risked his and his men’s lives in battle to protect Keilah, yet they immediately turned against him under threat of the next perceived danger—besiegement from their own king. It seems they feared an Old Testament version of friendly fire. After this, we read of David’s strenuous efforts to hide in desert caves and behind mountains, constantly under threat of discovery.

Psalm 31 tells us that through it all, David understood that his true hiding place was in God. David might be crouching in a cave in the natural, but he had no vulnerability when God was his true refuge and fortress. “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; … deliver me in your righteousness” (v. 1). “Come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge” (v. 2). “You are my rock and my fortress” (v. 3). On and on it goes. David knew danger lurked in physical hiding places, but no such vulnerability attended hiding in God. Then we are drawn to the delightful insight of 1 Samuel 23:16, “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David…and helped him find strength in God.”

What an inviting picture of God serving as my refuge. In God’s sovereignty, Jonathan had no trouble finding David. The son of the man investing massive resources in an unsuccessful search for David knew exactly where to go.

See the goodness of God? When I am most fearful, when it seems the enemy’s pursuit has nearly succeeded, God has always been the best hiding place. Sometimes my renewed strength has come in the form of a Jonathan with skin on, while other times it has been the Holy Spirit Himself, whom Jonathan here depicts. But this one thing I know: hiding in Him is always effective. Taking refuge behind any other rock never works. There, my fears will find me; there my insecurities will have their way with my heart. But when I have sought refuge in Him, He always provides Jonathan, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the picture of Jonathan as the Holy Spirit, able to find and strengthen me no matter the darkness. How I rejoice in Your sweet refuge.

May 30th, 2021

Learning to Fear

Psalm 34:9 “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing” (NIV).

Observation: There are many familiar, comforting lines in Psalm 34, such as, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (v. 1); “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (v. 2); “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (v. 3). In meditating on these and other familiar passages, I was struck by a different theme, but a recurring one: the command to fear the Lord. Verse 7 proclaims, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (v. 11). And then this all-encompassing promise: “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.”

Application: Scripture is replete with the idea that those who would draw near to God must do so in fear. The rewards of knowing Him in such intimacy are unsurpassed; here I am told I will lack nothing if I will but fear Him. What this leads me to understand is that fear rightly comes as I contemplate aspects of God’s personality that are so overwhelming as to stun me into deeper realization of His awesome power or majesty or goodness or forgiveness as in Psalm 130:4: “With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.”

Who is this astounding personage in whom dwells the very nature of forgiveness? Not just the ability to forgive, nor a willingness to forgive, but the very nature of forgiveness itself is contained within the heart and character of God. It is He whom I must fear, He who has power over my very soul, over life itself. In coming to this terrifying realization, fear is a natural, appropriate response.

Moreover, I am commanded in Psalm 34:11 to teach the fear of the Lord to my children and by extension, to one another. I am not in possession of a feel-good gospel. The Christian Gospel insists upon being understood in its fulness not simply that none would perish in the end, but also that I might lack nothing along the way. Nothing! Imagine it! The implication here is not simply that I will end this life satisfied to finally pass into His presence, but to find moment-by-moment that He is enough, He is everything. Paul said even Jesus would be “made subject to [God] who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). In this I find no lukewarmness, but a call to radical submission, a call to embrace the same view of God held by my Lord Jesus.

Prayer: Father, it takes God to know God. Only You are able to so ignite my heart, mind, and emotions that I arrive at a proper fear of You. I pray for Your fiery anointing today, Lord, that in fearing You I would lack nothing.