In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

 

God’s concept of safety is rather strange or even strangely odd. As a parent, I have often taken action when my children seemed to be heading toward something dangerous. We parents try to anticipate our kids actions and pull their hands back from the hot or the sharp objects, and we hold those same hands when we head out of buildings into the areas where cars or other dangers are present. We warn them about the perils of life and give them instruction about safe navigation through those places and situations as we hope and pray for that safe return at the end of the journey. There is no question in my mind that God functions and operates as a parent to us all; yet, His concept and approach to this activity is different from mine in some very important ways.

 

The Lord is far more concerned with the security of the soul of His children than He is with our flesh remaining intact, unbruised, and our bodies staying unshaken. He cares most deeply about the sorts of harm that our minds takes in and the ways that our hearts are bruised by exposure to the sinful distractions of this world. I am not trying to say that God doesn’t enter into protecting our bodies or that He is not concerned about taking us through our days whole and safely complete, but I do believe that this outcome is not first in His order of priorities. I am also not suggesting that the spiritual health of our children is not of paramount importance to most parents, but we still tend to engage more of the time in their physical protection and in our training of them in how to stay whole and physically safe.

 

Thus, David sings out his praise to the Lord for the way that He alone brings about the true safety that our souls, hearts, and bodies need in order to fully rest. The Lord grants to us a dwelling place within the security of His presence so that we can lie down and get the sleep that we so desperately need. This is a form of slumber that can take place even when we are surrounded by the forces that God’s enemies have called up against Him and us. The rest that God grants to us is a gift that flows out of His presence as we turn toward His face in thanksgiving and prayerful meditation on His Word and in submission to the words of life that He speaks into our racing hearts and that He pours over our aching muscles. We can place our trust in the Lord as He tucks us into the security of His loving care and sings His words of truth to sooth our hearts and calm our minds into a state of peaceful slumber.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s,

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Some people really like heights, but most of us would prefer to be much closer to the ground. Those few are always the first to agree to climb up the tree, to walk near the cliff’s edge, or to place the topper on a Christmas tree while standing on a shaky old stool. From my point of view, it is good to have these folks around, for they can have any of these tasks or adventures and serve as my representative in doing them. So, I think that the point of this verse is related to the idea that high places are not the most natural location for people to walk about. It also points to the fact that those challenging locations provide some of life’s most spectacular vistas as they take us out of the haze and the clutter of the world and grant to us a perspective that is close to that from which God evaluates and processes that same world.

 

The clear air and the all-encompassing outlook make that difficult climb worth the effort, and the way that we are required to trust in the Lord for showing us the path to the top and for guarding our steps from slipping or falling is in itself an important aspect of the journey upward. The climb up God’s mountain is something that we all should undertake on a regular basis. At least it seems to me that most of my life is spent in dwelling in a valley of one sort or another. These are not bad places, and they are not indicative of living outside of God’s will. Instead, this is where almost all of us are placed by Christ, for these lowlands are where most people reside and where the Lord wants us to live out His love, truth, and deliver His message of hope and redemption. This is where we are placed in order to contend with the forces of this world for the souls of many.

 

Yet, in order to more clearly see God and also to be able to more fully testify to who He is and to what He is calling people, it is important to make the pilgrimage that the prophet describes. That high place may not always be elevated in altitude, however, for it can be found in the presence of the Lord regardless of where we are located. What matters is that we take ourselves out of the clutter and the noise of the day and turn all of our attention onto listening to God, to speaking out what is on the heart to Him, and to allowing the Spirit time and mental and emotional space to guide us into truth, understanding, and wisdom. Even doing this requires faith in a God who desires to be close to each of His people, and it demands that we trust Him to enter in with us when we devote ourselves to growing closer to the Lord. As I have seen it, these high places of the Lord are always worth the risk and the effort that it took to get to them.

For you have delivered my soul from death,

my eyes from tears

my feet from stumbling

I will walk before the LORD

In the land of the living.

Psalm 116: 8, 9

 

It seems obvious that things have not been going very well for the writer of this psalm. There are frightening and frightful events and circumstances in the way of enjoying life to the fullest, and this follower of God is recognizing the importance of faith in God in staying true to His calling for the way that life is to be lived out. This song of thanksgiving and praise is also dedicated to remembering the many ways that the Lord has provided for the writer and the trust that is being placed in God for the continuation of life in its truest and most complete form. There is something else that struck me about these words, and that is the nature of the pace of the journey along God’s path. The writer speaks of walking before the Lord rather than other possibilities such as running, riding, or just traveling.

 

Walking brings about a number of interesting aspects in the journey. The speed of travel is necessarily slower than when we are running and is much more so than when we are riding in a vehicle. Steps are a part of our own bodies and we measure their progress internally; so, travel become personal process. This step by step approach to moving about places us in close contact with the world around us, and it allows for interaction with all that is found along the way. It doesn’t require an extraordinary amount of focus on our parts to do the activity; thus, it allows for contemplation and meditation as it also affords the mind and the heart an opportunity to listen and to hear what God is saying to us about life and about the people and the places that are around us.

 

With our busy schedules and the heavy demands that are often placed upon our time, most of us don’t consider walking as a primary or even as a desired form of travel. Yet, it seems that our experience of God’s presence in our lives and in our world might be enhanced if we were to take the opportunity to utilize a more meditative approach to the way that go about the day. Walking is one way to do this, and there are others, too. The real point is that in our results driven and pace of life oriented world, we need to plan to slow down and to open our wyes to see the Lord’s presence and to hear His words of truth, encouragement, direction, and love. This more deliberate means of engaging with the journey of life also opens us up to engagement with the world around us, and this is what Christ has called each of us to do. So, regardless of weather or the pressures of schedule, today is a good day for a walk through life in the presence of the Lord.

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

Psalm 77: 11

 

Asaph was looking back to a time when things were clearer and when trouble didn’t present the same degree of challenge as it was in his contemporary world. But his point wasn’t one of nostalgic retreat or imaginative yearning for those better days. He had a very practical and useful point in mind as he thought about the engagement of the people of his nation with God and about the way that God was their strength and their guide for living. Now there were at least two true things to take away from that backward look, the first is that God was unwaiveringly faithful and ever present; the second is that the people were not fully committed to following and to serving God.

 

We seem to live in the times of Asaph, and the history that we have to look back over is now far longer and even richer than the one that he could view. In challenging times it is good to follow the example of this ancient poet and take the time to consider and to meditate upon the nature and the character of God while searching His Word and our own stories for examples of the Lord’s presence, grace, and love. For me these words are powerful and provocative. They lead me to realize how little of my day is truly spent in reflection and prayer, and they cause me to rethink the priorities of my life as lived out in the rhythms of practicing the faith that I claim.

 

Even in my distracted and too busy to be present state, the Lord is with me and surrounds me with reminders and expressions of His faithful love and His righteous truth. As I do turn my eyes toward God’s Word and seek His face in those pages and consider how He has been my strength and my provision throughout the days of my life, my heart is broken by the realization of my wandering ways. However, God is gracious and He is not taken by surprise by anything that people say or do. As I open my heart to Him and listen to His voice as He responds to my concerns and desires, the Lord speaks wise words of encouragement, direction, and purpose for me to take in and to follow. These times of contemplation of the ways that God has written my story are enlightening and empowering as He prepares me to take on the next steps in my journey of faith.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Habakkuk is frustrated with the world where he lives. He is also impatient with God for allowing things to continue as they are. Justice is rare, mercy scarce, and peace is nonexistent. It seems as if godlessness is ruling the day, and Habakkuk is angry with God because He is allowing the world to go in this direction. So, the prophet engages in a dialogue with God. He pours out his frustrations and concerns before the Lord, and he listens to what God has to say in return. As the issues are great and it takes Habakkuk time to grasp it all, this process continues for some time. This interchange with God involves cycles of pouring out the heart and listening for a response; then doing it all again until God’s view of the world and His calling for His people becomes clear.

 

There is something for us to learn in all of this. This world is just as troubled and concerning as the one in which the prophet lived. Human wisdom seems to rule the day, and its selfish intentions are prevalent in our culture. Even the presence of pagan powers that bring fear of conquest to our gates is a part of the daily discourse of our world. God’s desire to engage with His people in honest dialogue is not any different today than it was in these ancient times. We can pour out our frustrations and concerns before God, and He will listen and respond. Difficult times are not ones in which we should remain silent, but the first place that followers of Christ need to go with our issues and concerns is to the Lord in prayer and with listening to His response as our intended outcome.

 

The reality and the reliability of God’s responses to His people have been proven throughout the long history of this world. The Lord does listen, and in His own time, He speaks wisdom and truth to us. He also provides us with the courage and strength that we need to continue along the journey of faith that He has called us to embark upon. Although the Lord does not promise that there will be some form of miraculous improvement in our world before Christ returns, He does grant His people the gift of His presence as we navigate the troubled waters of this world. The Lord lifts our spirits out of the dark shadows of life’s deep valleys, and He gives us the truth of His Word and the guidance of His Spirit so that we can confidently travel a path that is made bright by the glory of Christ.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest.”

Psalm 55: 6

 

David’s wishful desire to escape, to fly far away, is a common one. When life is piling on and the situation at hand is sucking all of the energy out of body and soul, almost everyone wants to get away from it all. Unfortunately, reality is relentless and achieving escape would seem to require something like a pair of supernatural wings to accomplish. So, David is a great source for advice on what it means to continue on with productive life in the grim hostility of this world, for he was faced with it on many occasions and he understood the futility of doing so from within his own skill, strength, and intellect.

 

He also knew that escape was not the answer. Certainly a few minutes of quiet and calm are helpful, and rest is restorative for body and mind, but leaving the issues unresolved is seldom more than a brief vacation from those issues that face us. Instead of spinning his wheels in efforts to devise a plan for that escape, David turns to the Lord and pours out his fears, concerns, and desire for God’s response to it all. Then he calms his own voice and listens to what God says to his heart. The Lord does the same things for us that he did for David. God wants to hear the words that we have to say about our condition and regarding our worries and fears. Although He knows all of this before we speak, it is valuable for our hearts and minds to express it all to Him.

 

What follows is the hard part, for as we wait on God for His response, we need to be quiet and still even as the issues of life are swirling and raging around us. At that moment we are entering into deep trust that God will answer, and we are walking in faith that His response is the best one for us. This is the point in it all when it is natural to take back control and attempt to respond to life on our own. Yet, God says that we should wait on Him and trust in His response. The Lord will bring us through each and every situation and circumstance that we encounter. He does speak and take action for the sake His purposes and to accomplish His plans, and we can find true rest as we settle into the center of God’s will.

 

For God alone my soul waits in silence;

from him comes my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62: 1, 2

 

I fear that I am guilty of polluting my environment, but this is not the customary sort of crime against nature and my fellow humans. My misdemeanor is directed at myself and involves an insult to my Lord as well. You see, I have engaged in a substantial and an on-going barrage of words that my mind directs at my heart. These words tend to take over my understanding and serve as the revealed wisdom that I attempt to use to guide my days. Unfortunately they are too often negative or contra productive in their nature and content. They are generally formed out of the poor soil of my fears, doubts, and the desires of my flesh.

 

Thus, God asks me for my silence. He directs me to His Word of truth and desires for me to meditate on that revelation of His wisdom and guidance. This is not always as easy to do as it sounds, for my mind is active and I want to hear my own words above all others. However, the Lord is remarkably patient with me in this matter. He allows the opportunity for me to exhaust my own supply of thought while He waits for me to relent from my process and settle in at His feet in an attitude of submission that is often driven by the exhaustion that comes from my own striving after answers and direction.

 

When I am finally still, silent in God’s Word and before His presence, the Lord’s words of counsel, guidance, and comfort are poured into my thirsty heart and mind by His loving and gracious Spirit. As I am truly present before the Lord so that my words are turned off and His truth feeds my understanding with eternal wisdom, my situation is not always easy or comfortable. God speaks truth, and that rare commodity can be troubling and challenging; however, it is always what I need and it directs me onto Christ’s path of righteousness and into the fullness of His life. In these quiet times of listening to the Lord, David’s images of rock, fortress, and salvation are made tangible to me as Christ directs my heart into the truth of His calling for my life.

 

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5: 8

 

James has just drawn a picture of patience as seen in the way that Palestinian farmers are dependant upon the cycle of the spring and fall rainy seasons for planting and for harvesting their crops. So too, God’s people are called to be patient so that we wait upon the cycles of God’s own plan. There is no easy way out of this life, and we cannot anticipate a quick and painless release from the burdens of relationship with our fellow worldly travelers. We live with absolute certainty of Christ’s return, but we have absolutely no knowledge of when that might come about.

 

Thus, we are to live as if it will happen in the next moment. This means that we are to stay continually submitted to Christ so that His love, grace, mercy, and peace are presented to everyone that we interact with throughout our days. This last hours of the final day attitude also means that we are to spare nothing in our efforts to repair damaged and broken relationships and that we can trust Christ to care for us when we make ourselves vulnerable to others. Another element of a heart that is set or established upon Christ in these days is that it breaks for the lost and is willing to sacrifice all for the sake of gaining their souls.

 

Christ wants for His followers to live in the full and complete hope of His promised return. In order to do this we are to be people who know our Lord well. We grow in this knowledge by means of on-going study of God’s word that is accompanied by meditation and contemplation upon what it is actually saying. Our relationship with God is further developed as we gather with other followers of Christ as His body and share life, worship, and prayer together in community. Additionally, we know God as we go out into our world and demonstrate to its inhabitants the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, this life of meditation on God’s word, prayer, life in Christ’s body, and acting upon the Lord’s calling for my life is the description of a heart that is established on Christ; so, this is what being patient in Him is all about.