My Stronghold in Times of Trouble

I prayed before I opened the Bible today:  “Lord, what do you want me to hear.  What do you want me to share.”

The Bible opened to Psalm 9:

I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will delight and rejoice in you; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High.

When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before you. For you upheld my right and my cause, seated on your throne, judging justly.

You rebuked the nations, you destroyed the wicked; their name you blotted out for all time.

***

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you; you never forsake those who seek you, LORD.

Sing hymns to the LORD enthroned on Zion; proclaim his deeds among the nations!  For the avenger of bloodshed remembers, does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, LORD; see how my foes afflict me!  You alone can raise me from the gates of death. Then I will declare all your praises, sing joyously of your salvation in the gates of daughter Zion.

The nations fall into the pit they dig; in the snare they hide, their own foot is caught.

The LORD is revealed in making judgments: by the deeds they do the wicked are trapped.  To Sheol the wicked will depart, all the nations that forget God.

For the needy will never be forgotten, nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.

Arise, LORD, let no mortal prevail; let the nations be judged in your presence.  Strike them with terror, LORD; show the nations they are only human.

Psalm 9

My God, you are great indeed!  You know what I need to hear.  You know the reminder that I need, that likely many of us need.  The last few months have been hard.  I feel persecuted against.  I feel like my faith is being challenged by the outside world.  I feel like we have lost our way as a nation and as a people of God.

The Lord is our stronghold.  No matter what the sins of the world around us.  No matter the sins within ourselves.  The Lord is our stronghold.

I am frustrated by much of what I see in the world and see in our country.  Frustrated by the hate and division.  Frustrated by what appears to be a lack of common sense.  Frustrated by the fear and the encouragement of fear by many.  Frustrated by the lack of faith.  Frustrated by the lack of acceptance of faith.  Frustrated by the attitude that everyone can make their own rules.  Frustrated by society’s attempts to push God out of our lives and the apparent willingness of many to accept this.

This line written thousands of years ago strikes a chord just as strongly today:

“The nations fall into the pit they dig; in the snare they hide, their own foot is caught.”

In a culture in which we love to cast blame, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We have dug a pit.  We have hidden a snare.  We have made our bed.  Perhaps we need to be struck with terror.  Perhaps we need to see the bottom of the pit we have dug.  Perhaps we need to feel the snare crushing our foot, trapping us from what we think we want to do and where we want to go.

We need this so we will know where our help comes from.  Science has proven to be powerless.  The government has proven to be powerless.  Billionaires have proven to be powerless.

Only God has true power.  Only God can save us.  Instead of fighting over whether the government should do more or whether people should wear masks, we need to turn our attention to the Lord.  “For the needy will never be forgotten, nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.”  God alone can raise us from the gates of death.  God alone can ease our suffering.  And despite what we may argue are desperate times, He never forsakes those who seek Him.  Instead of calls for what politician we need or what political orders we need.  We need calls for prayer.  Calls for the country to seek God.  Calls for the country to know that our stronghold is and always will be in God alone.  We are one nation under God and when we return to that belief we will be stronger together again.

My God,

I do not have the words to praise you with all of the praise that you deserve.  You alone are righteous.  You alone are powerful.  You alone know the true meaning of love.  You alone are my savior and my stronghold.  I fall on my knees before you.  I have helped dig a pit.  I have helped set snares for others, and I have fallen as a result.  I have feared standing up for you in every way that I should.  But I seek you now.  With all my heart, I seek you.  I need you Lord.  My family needs you, my community needs you, my country needs you, this world needs you.  We have allowed ourselves to believe too much in ourselves and all of the marvels that we believe we create, and have forgotten that we are only human.  We are flawed and ultimately powerless.  Everything that we create is temporary.  Only you create the eternal.  Be gracious to us O Lord.  We do not deserve it.  But we pray for it.  We need you and you alone.  We seek you and you alone.  We hope for you and you alone.  Have mercy on us and our nation.  Help us all to seek you with our full hearts.

Seek, Fear, Love

The Bible is filled with reminders that if we seek the Lord He will be found.

The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he destroys.

Psalm 145:18-20

The Lord asks us to seek Him, fear Him and love Him.  The seeking and loving I get – the fearing, I struggle with.

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him. We have all heard this. I certainly want Him to be near.  And yet I don’t seek Him as much as I should.  We should  reach out more.  He should be our first  speed dial.  He should be tagged in all our posts.  Knowing, as we do,  that when we seek Him He is near, why aren’t we constantly and honestly seeking Him?

I have never liked the Bible verses that suggest we must fear the Lord.  I suppose I want the warm, gentle God. The post 80’s Father, where corporal punishment is discouraged – so surely smiting must be out of the question.  I am not sure that God wants us to fear Him, at least I want to believe that He doesn’t. So why is the Bible filled with fear?   I think the fearing is necessary.  I think we need to fear to recognize how much we need God.  Without fear, we think we can do anything. We think we are invincible.  We think we don’t need God. And then where would we be?  God saves us.  He saves us from ourselves.

Ultimately, God is love.  And He wants us to love Him.  This is a hard juxtaposition – fear and love.  God wants us to come to Him in love.  Not out of obligation.  As a parent, we don’t want just the obligatory hug and I love you from our children. We want the warm hug and meaningful expression of love.  We want our kids to want to be with us.  But we will sometimes take what we can get, hoping that as they mature, they will come back. So does God.

I wish I could show Him how much I love Him.  But my love is immature compared to His.

Lord,

Teach me to love. I want to be with you.  I don’t want to fear you, but I fear being without you.  I want to honor and respect you.  You are almighty.  You can destroy or buildup. I am nothing but what you have created. I am nothing without you.  I owe everything to you.  Help me to grow through your love, your grace and your mercy.

Whole Heart

Today I did not randomly open the Bible — instead the Bible verse (actually verses) was thrust upon me on the radio this morning.  I heard an interview with Brandon Heath where he talked about the reason for his song Whole Heart.  He talked about the Bible telling us to seek God with our whole heart, trust God with our whole heart and love God with our whole heart.  He spoke of 3 bible verses.  I was driving so I could not write them down, but these are the ones I found tonight:

Seek God With Your Whole Heart:

Yet when you seek the LORD, your God, from there, you shall indeed find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.  In your distress, when all these things shall have come upon you, you shall finally return to the LORD, your God, and listen to his voice.  Since the LORD, your God, is a merciful God, he will not abandon or destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.

Deuteronomy 4:29-31

When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me—oracle of the LORD—and I will change your lot.

Jeremiah 29: 12-14

Until I heard the radio interview this morning, I never thought about whether I am seeking God with my whole heart.  Instead, I am afraid most times I go about it half heartedly.  If I am not busy with something else, if it’s not too difficult, if it’s Sunday morning or there is a religious event that can do the work for me.  I am not sure I am doing it with my whole heart, with my whole being.

Trust God With Your Whole Heart

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

This is probably my hardest of the three.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  My mind overpowers my heart and tries to rely on its own intelligence.  I find it hard to let go.  I think more often than not I reach for God, but with one hand I still hold on to the edge of the pool.  Trust with all your heart.  I need to make my other hand let go.  I need to trust that God will keep me afloat.  He has never given me any reason to doubt.

Love God With Your Whole Heart

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.  Take to heart these words which I command you today.  Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”  He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28

Love God with all your heart, all your being, all your strength and all your mind.   I love the instructions in Deuteronomy:  Take to heart these words which I command you today.  Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

There is no one more deserving of our love than God — this one shouldn’t be hard, but sometimes I know I still put myself first.  Sometimes I still put false idols, electronics, tv shows, candy crush, football games and even chicken wings first.  I do not want to do that, but as I think about it now, I allow this to happen because I am not approaching God with my whole heart.  Too often I am approaching Him with only my Sunday heart — just 1/7 of my heart.

The Bible tells us:

  1.  Seek God with all of your heart — and you will find Him, He will return you to Him and He will change your lot.
  2. Trust God with all your heart and he will make straight your paths.
  3. Love God with all your heart and you shall live.

Wow!  As it was this morning when I heard these three together, my mind is blown.  My heart is stretching.  The instructions are simple.  Following them is hard, unless we do it with our whole heart, so there isn’t room for distraction.  If we only do it half heartedly — we leave room in our heart and in our being to be led astray.  We need to fill it up with God.

I am up for the challenge.  I am ready to let go of the pool’s edge.  Let go with me!

Lord, help us!