Is God Here in Difficult Times?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 143

1

Listen to my prayer, Lord!

Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!

Because of your righteousness, answer me!

2

Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,

because no living thing is righteous before you.

3

The enemy is chasing me,

crushing my life in the dirt,

forcing me to live in the dark

like those who’ve been dead forever.

4

My spirit is weak inside me—

inside, my mind is numb.

5

I remember the days long past;

I meditate on all your deeds;

I contemplate your handiwork.

6

I stretch out my hands to you;

my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you.

O (Observation): The author is in the midst of a most difficult circumstance. They realize their lack of control over the outside circumstances, and life is dry and numb.

Does this mean the author is not faithful? Does this mean the author doubts? Does this mean the author was unfaithful and caused this harm to himself or herself?

A (Application): So often, we think that blessings come in good times when we are faithful, and bad things happen when we are unfaithful. That correlation cannot be more wrong.

Sometimes, faithful folks encounter difficult times and good things happen to us when we are doubting God and others.

The psalmist gives us space to be in the midst of difficult circumstances and still feel like God is still present. Even though things aren’t going our way, we can still trust in God to be with us and walk us through the challenges.

This can look like a friend being with us, or a pot of soup being brought over on a cold day.

Be on the lookout for signs of God showing up where we least expect. Especially in our times of challenge.

P (Prayer): God, we are challenged, but looking for you. Amen.

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Advent Psalm

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S (Scripture): Psalm 139

11

If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;

the light will become night around me,”

12

even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!

Nighttime would shine bright as day,

because darkness is the same as light to you!

O (Observation): The psalmist hopes for the Lord to be the light in the darkness.

This comes to ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus entering humanity.

A (Application): Jesus is the light in our darkness. This is what Advent is about: expectant hope. We pray that Jesus – the Light of the World – come.

How are you showing a posture of hope this year?

P (Prayer): O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

The Written Word

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170

Let my request for grace come before you;

deliver me according to your promise!

171

Let my lips overflow with praise

because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172

Let my tongue declare your word,

because all your commandments are righteous.

173

Let your power help me

because I have chosen your precepts.

174

Lord, I long for your saving help!

Your Instruction is my joy!

175

Let me live again so I can praise you!

Let your rules help me!

176

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

Find your servant

because I haven’t forgotten

your commandments!

O (Observation): The close of this Psalm is found here in the text provided for you today. This Psalm is an acrostic. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins a section. Each section begins with the coordinating letter of the alphabet. This is meant to show wholeness or completeness. The wholeness is how God’s followers are caught up in God’s being. The wholeness shows how the Torah shapes God’s people towards righteousness – that is, to be in good standing before God and neighbor.

God’s guidance is sought in all things. When afraid, angry, sorrowful, repentant, happy…in all things, God’s people remain grateful for God’s guidance and grace.

Even though “I” is used, I read it as a “collective ‘I’.” That is…imagine everyone who has ever read and prayed over this Psalm. Imagine all of God’s people reading it – aloud – together, in multiple languages. God’s people…with one one, heterogenous praise.

How beautiful…

A (Application): Reading this text today has caused me to pause. Quite often, when I think of someone “falling away” from God, I think of myself or others doing “bad things.” What a limited view of sin.

As I read this text today, I am ashamed. For these past few months, so much personal strife has entered my arena. We have not done “bad things” as much as circumstances around us have simply been difficult and challenging.

This Psalm reminds me that not trusting that God will lead me / us in times of strife has been my sin. My despair has been winning, but today’s reading brings me hope once again…and it reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily. (Or almost daily : )

God reaches out to us in friends and family and so many other ways…of this, I have no doubt. Yet…what lies in our power is to pick up the written Word and to trust that it will not return empty.

Pick it up.

Open it in your browser.

Just start reading.

In fact, read it with others. Ask questions. Struggle with how the Scripture applies to your life. (Kind of like what I struggle through every time I write!)

BibleGateway.com. Give them a whirl.

What scriptures to read? Do like I do:

Go to https://www.moravian.org/ and see what texts they suggest for the day!

What is your pain / strife today? In what ways do you feel like you’ve been drifting?

P (Prayer): Lord, continue to speak to me. Amen.

What’s Worth More?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

65

You have treated your servant well,

Lord, according to your promise.

66

Teach me knowledge and good judgment

because I’ve put my trust in your commandments.

67

Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,

but now I do what you say.

68

You are good and you do good.

Teach me your statutes!

69

The arrogant cover me with their lies,

but I guard your precepts with all my heart.

70

Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,

but I rejoice in your Instruction.

71

My suffering was good for me,

because through it I learned your statutes.

72

The Instruction you’ve given to me is better

than thousands of pieces of gold and silver!

O (Observation): Instruction from the Lord proves useful and challenging for the author of this Psalm. The Psalm points to the ways that God brings community together by helping individuals to realize that they are called to follow God’s Instruction, rather than establishing their own individual ways.

A (Application): Like a really good workout – tearing muscle and allowing it to re-build stronger than it was before – following God’s instructions and ways can prove quite beneficial. The standards God has set forth do indeed guide us and give us hope.

And yet, we must remember the place of these Instructions. Too often we apply these instructions to those who do not believe in God. That is wholly unfair.

I hold myself to the Instructions God has given, but until someone else consents to the same standards, I will not hold others to this standard. Instead, I will allow the Instruction to have a hold on me so that I can (hopefully) trust in God. After all, this Instruction is worth more than the $1.6 billion “MegaMillions lottery” coming up tonight. This Instruction is priceless!

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to follow your Instruction for the sake of others around us. Amen.

Jealous?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 70

1

Hurry, God, to deliver me;

hurry, Lord, to help me!

2

Let those who seek my life be ashamed and humiliated!

Let them fall back and be disgraced—

those people who delight in my downfall!

O (Observation): The psalmist seeks solace from the Lord in the face of those who wish ill thoughts on the psalmist.

Just seeking a little help in the midst of folks whose the author to fail.

A (Application): What is it about seeing someone else fail that gives us joy? Why is it so hard to see someone else succeed?

Assuming what the other person is succeeding in is morally in the center…why hope for failure?

Jealousy? Ego?

If so, it’s time to let it go. God has enough Good News to go around.

P (Prayer): Lord, let my jealousy go. Amen.

God Rules, but not like “that”

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S (Scripture): Psalm 66

1

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!

Sing praises to the glory of God’s name!

Make glorious his praise!

Say to God:

“How awesome are your works!

Because of your great strength,

your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth worships you,

sings praises to you,

sings praises to your name!” Selah

Come and see God’s deeds;

his works for human beings are awesome:

He turned the sea into dry land

so they could cross the river on foot.

Right there we rejoiced in him!

God rules with power forever;

keeps a good eye on the nations.

So don’t let the rebellious exalt themselves.

O (Observation): This kind of psalm is a great way to celebrate God’s handiwork. God has rescued God’s people from slavery and this is most certainly to be celebrated. God’s work for humans is indeed glorious.

A (Application): And yet I can see how these kinds of words can be interpreted in our modern day context about how God MUST be obeyed by all nations and that all nations MUST submit to God. This is a very dangerous attitude, for God’s wisdom is beyond ours!

We think that we can capture God’s will with certainty, and start to apply these Scriptures in our country of America. We can start to assume that God is for “my” country. Did we actually corner the market on “God”?

I think we have a lot to learn, a lot of humility to express, and still need to spend a lot of time in prayer and conversation. If not, we will continue to harm many people in our country of America, and others across the globe.

God does rule, but not as a tyrant that disciplines lack of faith. God does rule, but not with weapons of destruction. God does set us free, not to prove we are the strongest, but so that we might spend our days having compassion on others and be about the work of lifting up others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to know our place and to discern your will. Amen.

In Between

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S (Scripture): Psalm 55

16

But I call out to God,

and the Lord will rescue me.

17

At evening, morning, and midday

I complain and moan

so that God will hear my voice.

18

He saves me, unharmed, from my struggle,

though there are many who are out to get me.

19

God, who is enthroned from ancient days,

will hear and humble them Selah

because they don’t change

and they don’t worship God.

O (Observation): The psalmist is very confident in their faith in God. The psalmist confides in God, trusts in God, believes that God will see him or her through.

A (Application): What is the result of this? The idea that there is a God “out there” somewhere who will know to help this person out? Maybe.

Could the outcome be about an individual needing direction and solace in a time of trouble? Perhaps.

What if struggling through these words and beliefs (“God out there will help me over here”) could be the result of wrestling with reality vs a dream of what could be? Realistically, we don’t know if we will be healed or remain safe from all harm…and yet, we don’t lose all hope, either.

What if these words from today’s Psalm are about us trying to live with the tension of what is and what could be? As long as we don’t throw these words in the face of another, I am okay with these words. If these words from today’s psalmist are used to push someone to a belief in their notion of God…I’m not okay with that.

I use words like today’s psalm with a great deal of humility. I believe God is the source of my help and hope. However, I don’t make others think the same. And in fact, I kind of struggle with the notion that I won’t be harmed. I very well can be harmed even in the midst of my strong faith.

So, what does this all mean? I am okay with the fact that I can fully rely on God’s presence in my life and that I will still feel pain and suffering. My hope is that God will be with me in the good and bad, and abides with me…no matter what.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me steadfast as you abide with me. Amen.