The Perfect Summer to Study Psalm 37

“Fret not because of evildoers.”

As I’ve studied Psalm 37 with my sisters in Christ this summer, I’ve quoted the above verse often. Opportunity upon opportunity for anger and worry rolls my way, but the truth always wins out.  

This is a summer where one headline can make your heart heavy for hours. Friends of mine are facing a clear and present danger as they seek to escape from evildoers. We’re surrounded with those who are prompt to call good evil and evil good. From Olympic platforms to the offices in D.C., the wicked are spreading themselves out like luxuriant trees in their native soil.

This earthly soil is the wicked’s turf . . . for now.

Can I draw your attention to Psalm 37 for the encouragement carrying me today? There’s nothing better than a soul-watering reminder from the One in charge. God won’t leave His throne for one moment of break or flee the scene when “the wicked have drawn their sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct” (Ps. 37:14).

The wrongdoers are quite busy prospering. They’ve plotted and eagerly carry out violent schemes. Teeth gnashing, they gather in envy-worthy abundance, borrowing without paying back, spying, and certainly seeking to kill.

Their future?

Though they appear to have the strength of a Redwood, their roots are like a dandelion. They’re making themselves at home in the earth’s soil, reaching their roots in all directions, but the LORD laughs at them.

He sees the day coming when they’ll be no more. Cursed. Cut off. Broken bows. Perishing. They’ll vanish like the smoke from wildfires finally snuffed out. They’ll wither like autumn grass, fade like the herbs, shrivel like a neglected garden. The Lord loves justice and giving us visuals for it.

Not only will God one day destroy wickedness, but He is protecting the righteous with unending promises. He is One who gives the desires of our heart and honors our trust in Him. As sure as the noonday, right judgment will be seen.  Our King sustains us. He knows our days, each of them. Establishes our steps and delights in our way when we keep His. He holds our hand so we won’t be hurled headlong. He’ll never forsake His godly, but preserves and exults us a gift of inheritance. He is our saving refuge.

Psalm 37 also addresses the righteous in this war-torn world.  We are described in this way:

“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart…”

We’re not to be busy taking up revenge, but dwelling in the ground we’ve been given. Our role is to boldly utter wisdom and speak justice amidst the chaos. This won’t be easy, but He sustains us.

Instead of fretting, we cultivate faithfulness. May we be faithful in prayer, in cleaning the kitchen, in worshiping God through the ordinary, in sharing our faith with unbelievers. The passage calls us to do good, delight in the Lord, and commit our way to Him as we keep His way. Cease from anger – vengeance is the Lord’s.

Our friends close enough to hear the gnashing of the wicked’s teeth hold these same promises. We can rest that He won’t forsake His righteous saints who are in danger, nor their children. Our descendants do not need to beg for bread. They will have nothing to be ashamed of in this time of evil. We are inheritors, holding the hand of a Kingly Helper and Helping King, who won’t allow our steps to slip.

Can we forsake wrath against those who desperately need the righteous robes we wear? Can we wait patiently as God unfolds His Sovereign plan, responding graciously to others? Can we trust and wait when we wish we were the ones prospering? Can we wait in meekness for the Lord to bestow our grace-purchased inheritance? Will we speak the words of wisdom and justice we have from hiding God’s law in our hearts? In God’s strength, yes.

As we picture the blameless man, the upright and the afflicted in the line of the enemy’s fire, may we stand boldly for them and uphold them with faithful prayer.

And let’s not forget:

The wicked seem to have the center stage. But God’s eyes are on His people, delighting in our way, and we delight in Him. One day soon we’ll look for the evildoers, and they’ll be no more. We won’t find them in all our searching.

The evildoer and the righteous couldn’t have a more perfect diamond-cut contrast in Psalm 37.

So fret not. Wait patiently and rest in the Lord, because we know that the little of the righteous is much better than the wicked’s temporal abundance. Today we carry on with God’s law in our hearts, deliverance in our futures, and strength in time of trouble.

Shake Not a Mountain

You don’t want to be this person.

A clear depiction of the ungodly lies in Psalm 36. If you could see inside his heart, you’d find transgression speaking to it. He’s so wound up in deceit, when others discover the secret webs of his wrongdoing, it brings him flattery. He’s flattered even further by the fact that his actions are hated (vv 1-2). Appalling!

The wicked wellspring of the heart will bring forth both deceitful thoughts and words. This man has ceased to be wise and ceased to do good. When he lies down at night to rest, he uses this time to plot. He sets himself on a path that is “not good.” He doesn’t despise evil like God does. The fear of God is absent (vv. 3-4).

Such an ugly painting.

The psalmist whiplashes from this lose-your-appetite kind of wickedness to a dazzling description of the Lord.

He writes of God’s lovingkindess reaching to the heavens and His faithfulness reaching to the swaths of watercolored skies.

“Your righteousness is like the mountains of God.

Your judgments are like a great deep.”

(Psalm 36:6)

When the sinful man meets the mountains of God, an acute contrast appears. Close your eyes and picture the biggest mountain you can imagine. For me, I see the Teton mountain range, doubling in size when it mirrors in the clarity of Jenny Lake. How grand is God’s righteousness if earth’s mountains express it! They are immovable, enduring, strong, never to be shaken, planted, and rooted to be established across time.

Grand Teton National Park, PC Shane Cotee

“Firm and unmoved, lofty and sublime. As winds and hurricanes shake not an Alp, so the righteousness of God is never in any degree affected by circumstances; he is always just. Who can bribe the Judge of all the earth, or who can, by threatening, compel him to pervert judgment? Not even to save his elect would the Lord suffer his righteousness to be set aside. No awe inspired by mountain scenery can equal that which fills the soul when it beholds the Son of God slain as a victim to vindicate the justice of the Inflexible Lawgiver. Right across the path of every unholy man who dreams of heaven stand the towering Andes of divine righteousness, which no unregenerate sinner can ever climb.”

Charles Spurgeon

The wicked man has much to fear if His righteousness is like mountains, and His judgments are like the great deep. Who can search out the great deeps? Even to this day we do not know the depths of the ocean and are continually making big discoveries. So it is with the judgments of God. They are deep, unsearchable, uncharted; they are too great for us to comprehend.

He alone is the One who preserves man and beast — so obvious. His lovingkindness is precious, and His children take shadow in His wings. The wicked one takes a sick satisfaction in the discoveries of what is a shame to even speak about.

But the children of God drink their fill of abundance in His house. They drink the river of His delights. He owns the fountain of life, far superior to the path of death chosen by the one who doesn’t rightly fear God (vv 7-9).

The psalmist ends with a prayer:

“In Your light we see. O continue Your lovingkindess to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart.”

We might look at the first verses of the chapter and thank God we have not done anything to make scandalous headlines. Gratefully, we’re not to the point of enjoying and bragging about evil.

But we must keep our eyes on the mountain of God and ask like the psalmist:

“Let not the foot of pride come upon me.”

Our eyes behold the grandeur of God, and note the foolishness of the foot of pride, so subtly deceptive. In verse three, we know the wicked man ceased to be wise and ceased to do good. He used to be good and wise. Any of us could take subtle steps of pride.

Let not the foot of pride come upon me!

Instead, remember the judgments of the great deep and the faithfulness reaching to the sky. Meditate on Christ’s work of rescuing us from the judgments our own wickedness deserves. “Pride wilts in the atmosphere of the gospel.” (Milton Vincent)

What are mere men and women compared to the mountains of God?! What is man that He is mindful of us? Like the immovable Alps, His holiness is sure. Christ’s death and resurrection is the only way we can be spared from pride and know the abundance of His house and drink the river of His delights.

Thoughts from Psalm 36

One Weary Accord

A certain carol lyric sang in my heart one day as I drove to work underneath a magical pink sunrise. Still several weeks before Thanksgiving, I wasn’t trying to meditate on Christmas, but I felt I had stumbled on something deeply meaningful for the coming season. Something to be shared.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

It turns out I wasn’t unique to claim this theme.

I bumped into these words in a number of Christmas missionary letters I’ve edited this year. The same phrase is fastened on my boss’s cubicle wall. Perhaps you’ve seen them too, in a friend’s Instagram post or felt new meaning when hearing this song on the radio.

There’s a reason we’re lingering on the theme of rejoicing a little extra this year.

With every Christmas card we write, every strand of lights we string, every gift we buy — hope is stirring for those who know Christ. We crave hope and light as we wrap up this historic year, and we’re thrilled to focus on the source.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Just this past weekend we visited KC and were reminded of both error and worth. We rejoiced in my husband’s graduation with his Master of Divinity. We smiled to learn friends were dating each other. We sat shocked over breakfast menus to hear of a fellow seminary grad friend who had gone back home but split paths with God. We listened to loads of (welcome!) advice about diaper brands and sleep schedules for our new baby. But also heard of health struggles of other infants. My husband shared the gospel with someone on the plane next to us on the way home. Due to all the ups and downs of our trip, we fell into bed exhausted but grateful because of all the hope we have in Christ’s appearance in the flesh.

Passages buried in the Old Testament remind us we–in our weariness–have ever so much to rejoice in. And I’m happy to sing what might be cliché in Christmas 2020. Like Israel on that holy night, we can celebrate Immanuel!

Many feel that the New Year ball will drop (or in my Idaho’s case, a potato?!) and hope will land with it. That’s a familiar lie we’ve all faced before. “Things will get better if we can just get through this week, clock out for the weekend, go on vacation, free up my schedule, get over this head cold . . .” We wait and pine for the next thing, perhaps with a thrill of false hope.

The fact is our futures could be as terrifying as Charles Dicken’s ghost of Christmas yet to come. I’m an extremely optimistic person, but I have to admit no guarantees exist for 2021. But even if they did, our spirits can not be lifted simply by a change in circumstances or the passing of a crumby year.

What we need is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. A ruler who reigns in understanding of our weakness. A song of rejoicing in the midst of any oppression.

Behold the One who meets this need:  

“The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.”

Apart from Him we won’t find worth — He is the One our souls greatly anticipate. Our earthly voices may be weary indeed. But they are grateful. Let us join the chorus with one accord and fall on our knees to worship our KING of kings, who will return in a second advent (coming). His power and glory evermore!

Merry Christmas and thank you so much for following my blog this year!

*Song “O Holy Night” Adolphe Adam, Placide Cappeau

Grace Isn’t Going Anywhere

“We’re singing Amazing Grace … again?”

I used to feel we over-sang the lyrics of this hymn and passed over playing it on the piano, the tune too old fashioned for my taste.

Eventually it became a favorite as I grew to understand the heart of the words:

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved

I had no idea my childhood fears would make grace more than just a song title.

One night at Pizza Hut we fellowshiped with another family from church. On a slick chair, chewing a breadstick, I overheard the mom say, “…back when Jay was in a four-wheeler accident, and then later he needed surgery…”

Surgery? For someone the age of eleven like me?! Horrifying!

I began to feel sick and asked if I could go sit in the van. Thus ensued an army of what ifs. What if I would have to face surgery? What if I experienced intense pain? What if someone I knew got cancer?

Food didn’t seem swallow-able for the next week, and I spent a miserable few days in irrational fear of trials that could strike at any untoward moment.

My parents gently quoted Scripture to me about how “worry doesn’t add a cubit to your stature” and reminded me God is in control. These conversations would help, but I would just sink back into anxious thoughts.

Ironically, I even began to grow concerned I would have health problems because I worried so much. The battle raged in my mind to wrestle tomorrow’s problems today. The potential problems.

I cried to my mom one day in her room. “I don’t understand why this is happening. I’m a Christian. I’m asking God to take this away.”

She asked if I truly believed He could take away my fears. This stunned me. She also said:

“God gives the grace we need when we need it (and not before).”

Could I believe He is who He says He is, that He is able to answer the very prayer I was praying?

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom shared a similar problem in her book, The Hiding Place. Along with her mother and sister, Corrie visited a poor family with a basket of bread. The family had lost a baby the night before. Corrie’s first real brush with death threw her into confusion and fear. Later that night Corrie’s father shared encouragement with her:

At last we heard Father’s footsteps winding up the stairs…But that night as he stepped through the door I burst into tears. “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!”

Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

I sniffed a few times, considering this. “Why, just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we’re going to need things too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need–just in time.”

The Hiding Place

This moment my mom shared about real grace for real scenarios (not our imagined ones) was when it clicked for me. Back beside my bunkbed, I knelt down and prayed again, “Lord, please take this fear away. I know that You can. I have faith that You will give me grace when I need it.”

When I truly believed I prayed to the God who is able, when I realized He is the One to fear, I didn’t worry about these irrational scenarios of my future.

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved

Nearly all of what I worried about in those days after Pizza Hut never occurred. But things that I didn’t think to worry about DID occur.

But grace my fears relieved, and my Father gives me strength like a train ticket at just the right times. Don’t run out in front of Him.

Yes, I’ll always fight fear. But I remember His grace is sufficient, and it’s not going anywhere since a wretch like me never deserved His favor in the first place. I recall my bunkbed prayer and the peace which comes from deeply knowing and believing He is bigger than the future trials. And worrying now won’t change anything.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Corrie ten Boom

His grace – the unmerited favor of God toward man – cannot be snatched from what lies ahead.

On a recent Sunday my dad preached in the first chapter of I Timothy. Verse 14 reads:

“And the grace of our Lord was more than abundant,

with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.”

Grace super-abounds like the broken sprinklers swamping the flowerbeds this time of year. Grace upon grace overflows like a river in flood stage.

After the sermon we sang the words below, and I noted the unique adjective for grace (indelible), later searching for its definition.

Making marks that can’t be removed.

How grateful I am for that time at Pizza Hut — and many other places of doubt — because God’s been tuning my heart to sing His grace, yes even using an old fashioned, now-beloved hymn by John Newton.

No wonder how sweet the sound of God’s amazing, abounding, permanent grace.

–Augustus Toplady, Bob Kauflin

Let’s Have Some Good News

I need some good news.

Tidings of comfort and joy. Peace on earth and goodwill to men. Joy to the world.

Soon we’ll enjoy the season just around the corner where we’ll spend time and parties singing and soaking in these themes of the Coming of Immanuel, God with us. I’ve never been so tempted to pull out the tree and fill the corners of our house with extra light. I may be secretly singing carols when I drive places alone.

But first . . . I feel I haven’t conjured up enough gratitude out of this autumn. Do you ever grasp at the passing season, hoping to squeeze out the last of the nostalgia before it moves on?

In September I eagerly gathered fall foliage, put together an autumn playlist, and made plans to write things I’m thankful for on 3×5 cards each day. It’s been a beautiful season, with many more reasons to rejoice than to despair.

Determined to feel thankful vibes, I’ve made pumpkin chocolate chip bread and pulled out my book about pilgrims and made new traditions. Sweet nods to the season, but what I most needed was the power that real heart-rooted thanksgiving to God brings.

This week I sat in the waiting room for an appointment. Over an hour crept by as people more sick than me shuffled in and out, but I felt the full soak of the inconvenience of waiting — er dreading — the extra time before my name was finally called.

My wait turned out purposeful. Ashamed of my impatience, I remembered and prayed for my brave brother-in-law and sister-in-law who have practically been living at their hospital with their baby, watching him experience layers of suffering. They’re sustained by the Lord.

Back at home, I wished to complain in my raspy sick voice (that sounds like pathetic whining practically no matter what I say) about the discomforts of pregnancy. Then I remembered how many would love to feel a little baby pressed up against their ribs. Precious, precious gifts.

But comparison and optimism alone aren’t what bring year-long worship that will spill into Advent season. No amount of white pumpkins or orange-hued branches will replace the worship prompted by gazing at Him.

An old, old friend — Philippians chapter four — gave me hope today:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thanks to the grace of the Spirit for spurring me to place my supplications, bathed in thanks, in God’s hands, all with a promise of a powerful, unexplainable peace in Christ. This is the good news.

I hope this peace can settle in our hearts even if our Thanksgiving gathering isn’t everything it always used to be. If it’s robbed of health or laced with heartbreak, our minds and hearts are safe, guarded with peace on earth sent from God.

Do not be anxious and neglect the great peace available to us. Here with us is our Immanuel. The PRINCE of Peace, yes, even far as the curse is found. He receives all the supplications and praise our holiday tables can give Him. And our ordinary tables.

Our hearts will respond in thanks when we simply gaze on Him in truth and holiness. Please, remind me of this good news in the days to come.

Photo by Cole Keister