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Hiding in the 23rd Psalm

I drove my truck for two years before discovering that I could roll down the windows with the keyfob. Now when walking up to the truck I roll the windows down even when I don't want them down. It is a great little feature that has always been there, I just didn’t realize it. This week I would like to look at one of the most familiar chapters in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm. Let's focus on one portion of it for some insight that is often overlooked.

The 23rd Psalm starts out with, “The Lord is my shepherd…”. It’s a staple of Christian education and worth some solid prize weight in Sunday School once you memorize it. The prayer is so popular because it contains many promises worded in a concise way. Let's focus on the closing lines: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life” Psalm 23:6 What does it mean that goodness and lovingkindness will follow us?

Goodness is simply interpreted as that, “good things” and “to our benefit”. Lovingkindness is defined as, “faithful goodness”. Lovingkindness is like the enforcer of goodness. Now when we look at the word “follow”, things get interesting.

The original text and usage of the word “follow” here is not like randomly looking at a social social media feed. The meaning of “follow” in this text is more than just my wife and I taking two cars and arriving at the same place. The word “follow” in this sense is more like using the “chrome horn” all the way around the race track. It’s pursing with such intensity that in Hebrew they can use the same word to describe harassment.

If we put it all together the passage is declaring that good things and situations to our benefit are continually upon us. Goodness and lovingkindness is eagerly trying to secure a hold of us. It doesn’t matter if I turn left or right, or speed up or slow down - it is right there. What this means is that even if I make a poor choice or simply mess things up, that God is still pursuing me. Of course He has a plan and a purpose for us and we face consequences for our actions but redemption, restoration, and forgiveness are faithfully extended to us.

This is an incredible promise to grab hold of. If we really grasp this then we’ll realize that we always have a 2nd chance to course correct. We never have to feel shame or disappointment that we “missed God” in our lives. Let’s shake off negativity and embrace His goodness and lovingkindness that is so persistent and near!

Searching and Knowing

I used to sell a lot of houses.  Whenever I met with a seller for the first time and walked through the home I’d say things like, “the windows are old, the carpets are worn, and the cabinets need to be updated.”  The homeowner may be used to the sticky windows, not care about the shag carpet, and think the cabinets are lovely. However, the truth is their house had deferred maintenance and they needed to invest into the house to get the best dollar from the sale.

David said a prayer in Psalm 139 that has really captivated me lately.  The prayer was, “search me, God, and know my heart…”  I question what David’s intent was with that prayer. God already knows everything so he is not going to find anything new in there.  The prayer had less to do about God finding something new, and everything to do with the Lord revealing things to David. 

I think David prayer was inviting the Lord in to say, “Hey, how’s my heart looking?  Are the windows, carpet, and cabinets looking good?”   It was a daring prayer of discovery because David was giving permission for the Lord to speak to David about the areas of his heart that needed investment.  My guess is the investment came in the form of humility, forgiveness, and patience.  I believe the Lord is continually calling us to allow Him to reveal what areas in us need refining, and to redefine what we believe our standard of Christian living should be like.

Second, inviting the Lord to “search me and know my heart” is a prayer to stir up the desires inside us.  We are always at risk of going about our days acting like there is always tomorrow to accomplish those passions.  It’s easy to lose perspective and forget that we once had God given visions for our service to the Lord, the health of our relationships, and even things like wanting to drive though the middle of a tree in the redwood forest (ok, that ones a goal of mine).  Asking the Lord to know our hearts gives Him the ability to speak to us about goals, dreams, and passions that have grown cold or been forgotten. 

It is also interesting that David had made some pretty big mistakes (adultery and murder), yet knew having a heart with junk in it didn’t disqualify him.   The Lord referred to David as “A man after His own heart.”  That’s a pretty solid compliment.  It was Davids willingness to get over the fear of being called out on his issues by the Lord which allowed him to pursue the Lord without hesitation. Only then was David able to be vulnerable enough to know what was on the Lords heart for him.

Let’s embrace this prayer, “search me, God, and know my heart.” It’s a daring prayer that requires us to listen and take action. The benefit is a direct exchange for what’s old and dull for fresh life and newness with the Lord.  It sets us on a path of deeper discovery about the goodness of the Lord and encourages us to walk out the plans and purposes He has for us. 

Bring on the Peace

I love to cook and literally strategize my entire day around what is for dinner. One of the most stressful things can be when I don’t have a plan for dinner. Especially when the only feedback on a meal preference is indifference.  It’s incredible how much turmoil such a small decision can cause.  When analysis overtakes my mind, it’s hard to be in a position of peace. I realize dinner is a simplistic example, but each day we face obstacles in life that have financial, relational, physical and spiritual consequences.  These obstacles try to derail us and tempt us into chaos instead of peace.  The absence of peace in the middle of trials steals our confidence, exposes us to fear, and paralyzes our decision making ability. 

One of the central themes of the prayers we often share together is peace.  Whether we are closing out drivers meetings in prayer or praying pre-race before getting into the car, our prayers tend to center around the topic of peace.  In fact, it’s the theme of my prayer time with the kids at bedtime too.  

Peace is extremely powerful. Peace is defined as freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.  However, some may perceive it as something weak, implying it is the refusal or inability to fight, or stand up for something.  I often perceived peace that way even though my name, Jeff, means “peace maker.” I had always thought that was rather dull.  It’s not super cool like, Andy - which means brave or manly.  Peace has the strength to persevere and overcome all things contrary to our lives.  This is a powerful tool in our spiritual toolbox!

A pastor friend of mine always says, “Peace is not the absence of something, but the presence of someone”.  There is no way to avoid chaos and uncertainties, which is why the definition of “freedom from disturbance” makes peace hard to achieve.   We don’t achieve peace by figuring things out and escaping, but by surrendering to His goodness and love allowing Him to be the solution to what’s contrary in our lives.

Since peace is a necessary component to our daily lives let’s explore how to achieve and maintain it.  First off, recall that peace is a promise from the Lord.  John 14:27 reads, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Peace is a gift from the Lord.  To achieve peace we must posture ourselves in such a way to receive it.   This is a decision not to accept the fear and uncertainties the world so loves to sow into our lives.

Second, in Matthew 11:28 it says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  We are not called to tackle life alone.  Peace is maintained by continually coming to the Lord and turning over our stresses and concerns to Him.  Alone we do not have all the answers.  As we take time to communicate with God in prayer while listening to Him with our mind and hearts he’ll guide us through. 

Let’s renew our commitment to living in His promise of peace. When the unexpected and challenging circumstances invade our lives remind ourselves of His promise and provision for peace in all things. 

Seize the Day

The two things I intentionally procrastinate in my life are clear:  1. Mowing the yard. 2. Dancing.  Growing up with hay fever and a yard that was more sand and stone than actual grass, mowing the yard quickly became one of my least favorite things.  I have no explanation for not dancing other than I feel exceedingly awkward. 

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring how to live with expectation for God to move in our lives and how to recognize it when it happens.  This week I want to look one of the main things that keeps us from being successful in our pursuit of the Lord.  Our goal is not to only position our hearts to be aligned with His when we face adversity or uncertainty, but to live in this nearness as a lifestyle. 

Jesus had great advice for us when He said, “No procrastination. No backwards looks.  You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow.  Seize the day.” (Luke 9:62 Message)

In this verse Jesus lays out the keys to keeping our relationship with Him alive and fresh in any circumstance (thankfully, no mention of mowing or dancing).  First, He encourages us to take action in our faith each moment of each day.  I’ve listened to countless stories from people know God is calling them to take action in their relationship with Him but they are hesitant to act.  It could be the sense of needing to attend church again, or extending and receiving forgiveness.
Following the Lord is a now and present awareness that we move as He moves.

Second, He desires for us to put our faith in Him despite our history.  It’s easy to look back and disqualify ourselves.  In our past we may have developed unhealthy attitudes about situations, or feel unqualified based on education or finances.  Regardless of our past, God is pursuing us and He makes sure that our past is not a detriment to our future. 

Finally, we are to pursue Him with a sense of urgency.  The “seize the day” attitude is not of slow progression.  How effective would a tire changer be if they didn’t use the air gun but used the tire iron from the trunk of their car?  They would technically be obedient, doing their job – but it would be slow and detrimental to goals of the team.  In the same sense we need to act upon what God has placed on our hearts with focus and intent to achieve the results He intended for our lives.

God is always leading us to our next step toward His plans and purposes for our lives.  The sooner we act on what He has called us to today, the sooner we will advance into what He has for us tomorrow.  Let’s respond to His leading without delay, regardless of our internal self talk that may attempt diminish the importance of obedience, and move ahead with intent to what He has for us.

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