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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Psalm 37:3,4: Trust, obey and pray

Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Increasingly, as the years have gone by, I’ve realised there’s no use fretting over things I can’t change or control; I need to get on with doing those things I know I am called to do. Here are three of them, and they belong together in the life of discipleship. We are called live lives of trust, obedience and prayer. (By the way, “…enjoy safe pasture” can read “tend faithfulness”: in other words, cultivate being faithful to God and His way like a shepherd tends his flock).

This is a scary world where violent, greedy, selfish people elbow others out of the way, govern callously and cruelly, and regularly appear to get away with it. But, as Walter Wink observed, ‘History belongs to the intercessors.’ Against many appearances to the contrary, it is the people who know how to pray who shape history. They tend to be hidden, anonymous, out of the way. They may often be be poor and unimpressive, marginalised and weak, but the power to change the world lies with them. They are the ones who “Keep company with GOD” (‘The Message’). Is there any better way to live?

Psalm 37:1,2: The transience of life

Do not fret because of those who are evil

    or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither,

    like green plants they will soon die away.

Last Sunday, I preached my final sermon, as a pastor, in the church I have served for nearly 32 years. Now here is a confession: during these long years I have fretted about many things. Even though I know we shouldn’t do it, it’s hard not to at times. But this I do know: none of it changed anything. It is totally unproductive (other than it may make the fretful person ill).

This psalm opens with the words: “Do not fret” (see also 7,8). In particular, it’s concern is with the ungodly who seem to prosper in this world and get away with the bad stuff they do. Much of the news is made by ‘those who are evil” and “those who do wrong”, and too much exposure to it could cause fretfulness – especially at the moment!

‘The Message’ translates:

Don’t bother your head with braggarts

    or wish you could succeed like the wicked.

In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings

    and wilt like cut flowers in the sun.

The thing is, these petty dictators (and their ilk) have got a limited life-span (as have we all). They won’t be around forever. Vladimir Putin will die and face God. Would you really want to be in his shoes?

For some reason, Robert Mugabe also came to mind as I read this. I remember him coming to power years ago. For a long time he brutally ruled the roost in Zimbabwe, causing mayhem, oppressing the people, treading them down. One article accused him of reducing the population of Zimbabwe by millions in just a few years. But eventually, in the frailty of old age and illness, he passed away.

Psalm 37 encourages us to take the long view, and recognise that although evil people may have their little ‘hour on the stage’, the curtain will surely fall.

Psalm 36:1: A final thought

A message from God: The transgression of the wicked resides in their hearts.

In the first devotional I wrote on Psalm 36:1, I made the point that preaching must travel through the ‘heart’ of the preacher if it is to move other hearts. That surely is a true point. If your message doesn’t stir your soul, how can you expect it to move anyone else’s?

However, in the course of studying this psalm, I have come to see that verse 1 can be alternatively rendered as above. I read somewhere that the psalmist may be referring to the pleadings, the arguments of sin within his own heart. We will readily understand this. We all know how sin argues its own case within us, and if we give it the time of day, we will, if we’re not careful, allow it to win the argument. This is the paradox Paul wrote about in Romans 7: 21-23:

“It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.” (‘The Message’).

What is the solution for this internal dichotomy? It is the inner tug-of-war we all feel from day to day. What is the answer? Paul goes on to write that the answer is a Who rather than a What. It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself:

“He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are my Lord. Help me to turn a deaf ear to the siren call of sin, and listen only to you.

P.S. Thank you again for reading these notes. It’s been a little over ten years since I started to write them, and I’m grateful for the encouragement I’ve received. From next week, I will no longer post these notes on ‘the King’s church’ facebook page, but they will go onto my ‘A date with Jesus’ facebook site.

See also the blog site:

Psalm 36 vv 10-12: The prayer of faith

Continue your love to those who know you,

    your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 May the foot of the proud not come against me,

    nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

12 See how the evildoers lie fallen—

    thrown down, not able to rise!

Derek Kidner, in his ‘Tyndale’ commentary on Psalms 1-72, sees this as an example of a prayer of faith. The psalmist prays that God’s people, who have come to enjoy His love, will continue to do so (10). He also prays for protection (11), and in his final statement (12) he already sees the prayer answered and the wicked decisively dealt with.

Here is the Kidner quote. I found it wonderfully encouraging:

‘The psalmist finds himself stationed on the disputed ground between human wickedness (1-4) and divine grace (5-9); so he turns to urgent prayer. Twice he has praised the steadfast love of God (5,7); now let it reach out to the place of need (10!)…The last verse shows the victory already claimed; it speaks as though the scene were present and clearly visible…This is the faith defined in Hebrews 11:1 (Phillips) as ‘putting our full confidence in the things we hope for…being certain of things we cannot see’.

So the early eloquence was genuine. The evil which David portrayed in the first stanza he was ready to fight; the grace which he praised in the second he was ready to invoke; and, once invoked, to accept as given and as settling the matter.’

Psalm 36:5-12: Abundance

God’s love is meteoric,

    his loyalty astronomic,

His purpose titanic,

    his verdicts oceanic.

Yet in his largeness

    nothing gets lost;

Not a man, not a mouse,

    slips through the cracks.

7-9 How exquisite your love, O God!

    How eager we are to run under your wings,

To eat our fill at the banquet you spread

    as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water.

You’re a fountain of cascading light,

    and you open our eyes to light.

10-12 Keep on loving your friends;

    do your work in welcoming hearts.

Don’t let the bullies kick me around,

    the moral midgets slap me down.

Send the upstarts sprawling

    flat on their faces in the mud. (The Message).

I’d like to encourage you to re-read these verses in the translation you normally use, then read it once more in Peterson’s paraphrase above. I believe these songs/poem-prayers, are to be felt, not merely analysed. So let the gigantic waves of God’s generous love sweep over you. Feel exhilaratingly washed in the ocean of His undeserved favour; eat your fill at His banqueting table (and consider the words of Jesus in John 10:10).

In the ‘NIV’ verse 8 reads: “They feast on the abundance of your house;

    you give them drink from your river of delights.”

I understand that the word for “delights” is closely related to the word for ‘Eden.’ So this may take us back in thought to Genesis 2:10 where “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.” It maybe also causes us to think about Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Revelation 22:1,2. Also, the words of Jesus in John 4: 13, 14 and 7:37-39.

The bottom line is this: eternal destinies, and current lifestyles are at stake; and it is better to swim in the deeps of God’s lavish love, than to drown in the polluted river of self-love.

We each have a choice to make.

PRAYER: Lord God, you have poured immeasurable spiritual wealth upon me.Help me not to live (needlessly) as a pauper.

Psalm 36:5-7: ‘Priceless’

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,

    your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,

    your justice like the great deep.

    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

‘In this psalm, there is a choice to be made which determines the sort of life we experience now and the destiny that awaits: the choice is how to react to the revelation of God. To reject it is to be condemned to listen to our own hearts and to a life without values; to embrace it is to enjoy life, light, provision and protection.’ (Alec Motyer: ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.508).

Ultimately, there are only two types of people in this world:  those who are marked by the self-love of sin, and those for whom the love of God has become their greatest reality. This is a love the psalmist describes as “priceless” and “unfailing.” Motyer says, reflecting on verse 5, that it is ‘something far bigger and higher than anything on earth.’

What hope can there be for sinners (1-4) – something we all are by nature?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

I heard that on a wall, in a mental institution, somewhere behind the ‘iron curtain’, a (no doubt) sane person, imprisoned there for having the ‘wrong’ beliefs, had written:

‘Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made;

We’re every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.’

Psalm 36:1-4: Slippery slope

I have a message from God in my heart

    concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:

There is no fear of God

    before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves

    too much to detect or hate their sin.

3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;

    they fail to act wisely or do good.

4 Even on their beds they plot evil;

    they commit themselves to a sinful course

    and do not reject what is wrong.

Sin is a slippery, down-hill slope, and it starts, in some form, with the rejection of God (1b – as in Romans 1:18-32). Although Alec Motyer has an interesting observation to make:

‘The issue is not whether God exists but whether he matters; not his reality but his relevance. It is the position of many people all the time; it is the position of believers some of the time – not as a stated creed but in practice’ (‘New Bible Commentary’, p.508).

It is sadly true that, even as ‘believers’, we can be ‘practical atheists.’

A few years ago, my wife, Jilly, tried to engage a couple of friends in a conversation about spiritual matters. They didn’t fall out with her, but their attitude was, in essence, ‘Why would I want to go to church?’ The issue wasn’t whether or not God existed; they just felt no need for Him. As far as they were concerned, life was good and they had all they could need.

At its core, sin is about self-love (2): the rejection of the true God and the enthronement of self in His rightful place. When thinking about the word ‘sin’, I often think of it as ‘’sIn’: it is when ‘I’ am in the middle of my life calling the shots. It is when my theme song has become ‘I did it my way.’ This self-love blinds us so that we cannot see ourselves as we really are, and cannot hate what we are, or have become (or are becoming). For sin does tend to be a slippery down-hill slide, and can lead a person to a place where verse 4 is their reality. It is possible to see a Putin type figure in this verse, but it is has become true for many unknown people also.

What hope is there for sinners? As we will see, it is to be found in the love of God.

Psalm 36:1: The exceeding sinfulness of sin

I have a message from God in my heart

    concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:

There is no fear of God

    before their eyes.

You may have heard the story about the person who went home from church one Sunday, and was asked by a family member, ‘What was the sermon about?’

‘Sin’, came the reply!

‘And what did the preacher say about it?’

‘He was against it!’

Well understandably, but it won’t necessarily earn you any popularity points for saying so.

In an article in ‘the Spectator’ this last week, Gareth Roberts asked, ‘Who is Sandi Toksvig to lecture Justin Welby about sin?’He was referring to the critical, open letter she recently sent to the Archbishop. Roberts says that he is an atheist and a homosexual, but he found what she said ‘insufferable.’ The truth is the Judaeo-Christian tradition believes that certain things are sinful, and whether we agree or not, like it or not, there’s no point denying it is so.

In the Bible’s understanding, sin is both falling short of a standard and deliberately crossing a boundary. In both senses we are all sinners, and we need to understand what we are and that we are in need of the Saviour, Jesus.

Recently, we heard a young man tell his conversion story in one of our church services. He said he heard a preacher speak about the holiness of God, and it caused him to realise the great gulf that existed between God and himself. It broke his heart and brought him to repentance, and made him cry out to the Lord for salvation.

Bu without that overwhelming experience of conviction of sin, the ‘dedicated sinner’ carries on down his/her utterly.ruinous route

Psalm 36:1: A word from the Lord

I have a message from God in my heart

    concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:

There is no fear of God

    before their eyes.

If preaching is to move the heart it must come from the heart. It is out of the ‘overflow’ of the heart that the mouth speaks. If the preacher is not stirred by the message, how can he (or she) expect anyone else to be? In a very real sense, his heart must be in his mouth.

Authentic preaching requires:

  • A messenger;
  • A “message from God”;
  • A “heart” prepared to speak “from God” (2 Peter 1:21);
  • Bravery to pass the message on – especially when you have something tough to say that people may not want to hear (indeed, something which might get you ‘stoned’ in one way or another).

Preaching is not just stringing a few thoughts, jokes and anecdotes together and sharing them on a Sunday. It is the overflowing of a bubbling, boiling pot that has sat on the stove long enough to get very hot. It has had a lot of heat under it in the form of prayerful study.Although this message may pass through a human heart (and lips), hearers know it came “from God”.

‘The word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart, but it cannot be in the heart without first being in the mind.’ R.C.Sproul.

Let us pray today for clarity and courage (and passion!) for all who are called to preach God’s Word.

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