The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,

   and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25: 14

Friendship is a very special thing. It is also rather rare, for most people do not know all that many really close friends during the course of their lives. If there are a few people that can be reflected upon from the past and counted upon in the present to always be there when life’s events come along, then that person has been fortunate. A friend is someone who is in this journey of living without reservation or restriction. That is why most of the people that we would call friends would be more suitably defined as close acquaintances than they are truly deep friends. Friends know as no one else can, and they are people that can be counted upon to tell us the truth without considering the cost, and we can know that they will still love us even when we are not so lovely, ourselves.

The idea that God could be considered as a friend may strike some of you as difficult to imagine, for I admit that It is hard for me to get my hands around that concept. Yet, David was able to do this very thing. He describes a relationship wherein God knows David well and in which the Lord shows Himself to David, too. The fear that is referenced here is a form of respect and reverence that means that when God speaks, David listens. Where the Lord has set out standards for living and gives guidance for the way that people should love and care for each other, David seeks to go about his day in a manner that reflects God’s desired rules of life. As David walked through his days in this close friendship relationship with God, the Lord demonstrated and explained the truth of the extraordinary depth and breadth of His promised commitment to love, care for, and protect the souls of His people. People like David, himself. 

This same form of friendship with God can be ours as well. Following the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength also places each of us in a place where God’s deeper nature is revealed and wherein the Lord guides us into living out the details of His will. This journey of faith is not necessarily an easy one. If we look closely at David’s story, that becomes very clear, for he had many challenging and difficult times in his long friendship with the Lord. Still, God was faithful and true to His promises to David. There were times when David was lonely or living in a form of exile, but he was never alone as God was always present by his side and was tangibly so in the way that He prepared the way for David to travel forward. We, too, can know God in this manner of friend. As we talk over life and its joys, burdens, and challenges with God, this prayer becomes the language of intimates. Reading God’s Word brings the Lord’s words of living truth to bear upon all that life throws at us, and living out each day as a person that is dedicated to following the leading of the Spirit, brings that intimate friendship with God into the present reality where we each dwell. 

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51: 17

There ae many things that we can give to God. Among them are our money, time, skills and talents, and our lives in service to God’s kingdom. These are all useful, and they are appreciated by the people who are supported through the receipt of them. Yet, despite the value and even the essential nature of all of these gifts to the work of the ministry of Christ, there is one gift, a singular sacrifice, that God values above and beyond all others, and this is the surrender of our hearts to Him. In fact, if we have not truly given our heart to God, all of the rest of our sacrifices and gifts are of a far lesser value to the kingdom than when these signs of commitment are placed before God because of the focus and orientation of the heart.

When David wrote about a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, he was not necessarily talking about a person who has been crushed and all but destroyed by the various forces of life that can come against us. David is referencing to the way that we all must face the reality of our innately deceitful hearts and our naturally stubborn spirits. These are the aspects of the way that most people are born into this world that Christ works to transform so that we can fully embrace our calling as His follower. These areas of pride and of self-orientation are aspects of our original selves that require the refining touch and the reshaping work that Christ gives to each of us so that we are prepared to offer our lives as this wholly acceptable form of sacrifice.

It is this gift of ourselves in total that delights the Lord. He finds each of us, with the resources that we possess and the skills and talents that we have available to use, to be a delightful offering to Him. He is not concerned about the size of the gift or about the quality and the nature of the work that is done for His kingdom. God cares about the depth of our commitment to Him, and He desires for us to be fully engaged in our relationship with Him. Christ takes the brokenness of spirit that we bring to Him, and He lifts us up and sets us on our feet with a clarity of purpose that shows to us the Lord’s path for today. Even when our past has been one that has many wrong turns and missteps in it, Christ pours out grace upon our heads, and He sends us into the world to serve God’s will in ways that are valuable and useful for the sake of the kingdom of God.  

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

   my fortress, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 62: 5, 6

David knew what opposition and trouble looked like. He faced plenty of it during his days. Some of it was the result of his own poor decisions and some was caused by his overtly sinful behaviors. Much of it was born out of the jealous or otherwise evil intent of others. That is the way that life in this world tends to go for many people. We face into things that put us on trial, that cause us trouble, and that challenge our ability to continue on, and we are the cause of some of these situations, and we are the victims of others. Yet, through all of these times of challenge and trial, David’s words of hope and encouragement remain true and valid. Today’s shelter and tomorrow’s hope are found in the Lord and in Him alone.

We may plan and scheme regarding the ways that we will take control of life and get things going in the right direction, but I have found that I frequently don’t even begin to understand the compass heading for that positive travel. The view from my swirling eyes is obscured by a cloud of doubt and my mind is addled by the vertigo that stress and pain have caused to settle into its processing center. In these times I have a real need for the perspective of another, and I also benefit from wisdom that possesses perspective that is greater than any that I can summon up in my current state of being. These are times when the Lord, His Word, and the fellowship of His body are of vital importance to me just as they were to David thousands of years ago.

Yet, knowing this ancient and on-going truth is not quite enough, for it is very hard to wait on the Lord’s answers when the pressures of life are building up to the point of crushing body, mind, and spirit. Still, God asks us to wait on Him. These challenging times are ones in which our trust in God’s provision is tested. These are moments in life when we are dwelling in the balance point between taking actions that might be rash, hasty, or foolish and continuing to pray and wait on God’s wisdom and provision. These are usually times when it is wise to pray earnestly and to listen for the Lord’s answer in submission to His grace, love, and mercy with endurance that might need to exceed anything that we have experienced previously. In these days of prayer and silent listening we can also devote ourselves to study and meditation upon God’s Word with its message of hope, provision, and the care of the eternal shepherd, and finally, we should seek out the supportive prayer and the mature wisdom of others who dwell within the fellowship of faith in Christ. Trials and troubles will come, but like David, we can say,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.”

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51: 7

David knew something about sin, and he was acutely aware of the harm that his wandering heart caused to his relationship with God and to his ability to remain close to people, too. So, I think that these words are both a lament and a strong request. David is sorrowful for the sin in his life, and he desires to have the Lord perform His cleansing work upon his body and in his heart. The rough surfaced leaves of the hyssop plant were used to ceremonially cleanse people who had become defiled by dead bodies and by contact with lepers. A bird was sacrificed and the hyssop branch was dipped in its blood so that the blood could be sprinkled on the person who was unclean but repentant for the totality of his sin. The priest would then pronounce the penitent clean, and thus, it was acceptable for him to participate in temple worship or in other forms of sacred rights and ritual. In other words, the person who had repented of his sin and undergone the cleansing ritual was then acceptable to be in the presence of God.

All people are born into a similar condition and many of us find ourselves in a like place in life as did David. We are sinners from birth. We do not get to choose whether we will be perfectly obedient to God or whether we will rebel against His love, righteousness, and call to holiness. People follow the path of our parents just as they adhered to the one that had been established by the many generations that came before them. When the Apostle Paul declared that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” he truly meant to be all-inclusive. None of us get to escape this reality, and no one has an answer to our separation from God other than God’s own answer, which is found in Jesus Christ alone and that is made available to all of us by and through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and God’s resurrection of Him from among the dead. That is it! There is nothing else and no other way to be made righteous and holy in God’s eyes. So, there is no alternative to Jesus if we wish to dwell in the presence of God.

Jesus, through His cross, has eliminated the need for dead birds and rough branches. He has also taken over the position and the authority that had previously been granted to human priests, for Christ alone has God’s endorsement to pronounce people cleansed of sin and so, rightly fit to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. The work that those priests did was temporary at best, but the work that Christ does lasts for all of eternity. The blood that was shed in sacrifice upon Christ’s cross penetrates much deeper than the surface so that the soul of anyone who turns to Christ is not just touched by a few of its purifying drops but it is washed clean and made pure and acceptable to a Holy God. The bright snow of a winter’s day covers over and obscures the dirt and the decay that is a part of life in our world. So too does Christ cover our brokenness and sin with His cleansing blood; however, the snow melts and its effect dissipates with time, but Christ’s pure whiteness lasts for all of eternity. 

For who is God, but the LORD?

   And ho is a rock, except our God—

the God who equipped me with strength

   and made my way blameless.

Psalm 18: 31, 32

David may have been able to claim to be blameless, but I certainly can not. There are so many misdeeds and mis adventures woven into the tapestry of my life that the story it tells is ragged and rough to the point of near ruin. From what I know about David’s life, he was by no means saintly in his conduct of life, either. The point is that we humans are a troubled and a troublesome bunch of creatures. We give God fits by the ways that we ignore His will, set aside His way of conducting life, and act in direct opposition to His Word. Still, the Lord is engaged with us, and He is involved in our lives, even in the broken and chaotic aspects of them. Even David, living so many years before Jesus, was aware of God’s desire to save us from the totality of death that separation from God brings about, for none of the claims that King David makes here are true if not for the work of the Lord in his life and upon the nature of his journey through it.

For us, Christ has continued this divine work of eternity, and He has taken it to the place where God’s plan of redemption and restoration is completely developed and is set fully into motion. We are blameless before the Father when we are in Christ, for it is His blood that was shed as the requisite sacrifice for the forgiveness of all of our sinfulness. Jesus gave all that was required by God in order to set people free from the penalty of death that we so fully deserve, and all that He gave is more than sufficient to set us in right and holy standing before God. This is how our ways have been made blameless. In knowing Christ, we are known by God to be His people, and His people are granted the gift of life now and throughout all of time to come. The reality of this gift should be life changing for us as we are removed from the rule and the authority of this world and its death-bound culture of deception, lies, and the destruction of all that is good, pure, and just.

In Christ, we are granted strength with purpose as our feet are given a place to stand upon the solid rock of God’s Word with truth as its main component and love as the glue that holds all of life together. This strength that the God grants to His people is intended to be used in service to the Lord as we seek to care for the world that He has placed us within and the people that He has put us in contact with. As we do these things, we will misstep and even think and act in ways that are unworthy of our calling as God’s people. However, we are now blameless in God’s eyes in Christ; so, we are set free from the need to remain guilty and to be defeated by these times of wandering away from God’s path. Christ accepts our repentance for what we have thought, said, and done that is contrary to His will, and He provides correction and guidance for us to continue on in the journey that He has set out for us. This is where we are called upon by Christ to put to use the various forms of strength that He has given to us. Here, in the conduct of life, we can stand unafraid and confident upon the rock that is God’s Word as Christ’s gift of strength is poured out into the world in the form of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking.   

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people.

Matthew 2: 6

These wise men from the east spoke true wisdom when they were interrogated by Herod. He would have done well to have listened and responded to what they had to say in a manner that embraced both the content of their statement and also the One who would give the world its ultimate expression. David was the shepherd king, and he was a gift that God had given to Israel and to the world many years prior. Samuel describes David and his shepherding of the people and of the nation. But David was far from perfect in this role of care taker and care giver, and his time was in the dim past. Herod was a king who was about as far from the concept of shepherd in his actions as there could possibly have been. Sadly, there have been very few rulers in our world, whether they are called king, prince, emperor, or president, who have done much better. 

Jesus set a very high standard for others who would rule over nations or lead people. His primary objective was not power or control. Instead, He sought to heal the brokenness that disabled people as He cut through the external manifestations of what we perceive as strength or weakness and probed deeply into the hearts of people so that our separation from God became the true focus of His restorative work. Jesus cared for the physical needs of His people as He entered into the eternal needs of their souls. The loyalty that Christ demands is not to an earthly cause; rather, it is formed out of submission to God’s call to live righteously and the sort of loving and just life that springs up out of that well of living water. This is the sort of submission to a higher purpose and to the one true King of the Universe that can make a profound difference in the nature of a leader’s tenure in office and would define those who honestly and sincerely desire to shepherd the people that are within their arena of responsibility.

As we know, shepherds tend to their flocks. They nurture and protect them as they attend to the need for food, water, shelter, and comfort that is all a part of the ongoing life stories of the sheep that have been given to them to watch over. The Lord does all of these things for us as well; yet, He also gives over that responsibility and role to human agents. God appoints people to positions of authority of various types and at differing levels of responsibility, and the Lord then sends His appointees out to rule justly, to care for the flock with real concern for the well-being of all of them, and to do this work in a manner that points people toward God as their true and ultimate shepherd. Sadly, only a few leaders do these things very well. Yet, this should not stop you and I from seeking to be different. As we lead others, we can model Jesus and engage in shepherding those people well. We can know them deeply, pray for them faithfully, and seek to be loving and just in all that we do. We can also set the Lord’s standard and model for leadership as the one that we hold up and demand from the people that we select to rule over us. Jesus is the King who kneels down in the mud with His sheep in order to hold them close and care for their minds, hearts, and souls; we can seek to do the same for the people that we are given to lead, and we can select our leaders based upon this same desired model of leaders who are shepherds.       

Sing to the LORD all the earth!

   Tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

   his marvelous works among all peoples! 

1 Chronicles 16: 23, 24

We seldom use the word marvelous to describe things in our world. Either it has passed out of fashion or there is just not much left for us to marvel at. I tend to think that the later of those reasons is at play here, for the world that we know today is filled with things, with human accomplishments, that were not even dreamed about in the most fertile of our grandparent’s imaginations. It is hard to impress us, and perhaps, we don’t really want to be taken over and knocked off of our feet by all that much, either. We desire to be in control so that we have answers for any and all questions that might be posed to us. This is how many of us today see our world, but this was not what David saw as he looked out upon the nature of his day.

He was viewing myriad reasons to sing, and the song that he composed was one that placed the Lord squarely in the center of all of the goodness that was going on in the world. Now David was not an idealist and didn’t live a protected life. His world was not a calm and peaceful place, either. He resided in times that reflected the fallen nature of this earth. The culture in those days was just as broken, violent, and godless as is ours today. So, David’s reason for singing makes just as much or as little sense today as it did then. He sees the hand of the Lord at work in the world, and that same hand has never stopped being engaged with us and in our lives. God was present then; He is present now, and He will be present for all of the time to come!

God’s presence is not a passive or uninvolved hovering over us. He brings the hope of salvation to our need for redemption. God has granted us His Son, Jesus the Christ, as the answer to our need for a Savior. But the salvation that David was singing about is much greater and extends further than the miracle of eternity, for he experienced the form of saving grace that transforms the lives that we are living today into ones that know righteousness, justice, and deep love. Christ, present with and in His people, provides the lyric to the song of life that is the great marvel of all times. The fact that we can be redeemed from the state of rebellion against God that is our natural one is a wonder, and the lives that we can live as those redeemed ones of God is the most extraordinary expression of God’s glory that it is possible to utter. God’s love, sacrifice, and the salvation that comes out of it all provides the chorus to this life-long song of praise, and its verses are expressed by the love, grace, justice, and mercy that we extend to others in the name of Christ.