Reading: Psalm 119
You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees (NIV).*
I just got a phone call from a friend that left me rather embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I had promised to call this friend, but I didn’t follow through. I can think of a half dozen excuses I could offer, but none of them hold much water. I can claim that I’m too busy, but I find time for what I consider important. To make matters worse, this forgetting to call is a recurring problem. To put it bluntly, this friendship is in jeopardy because I have repeatedly failed to keep my word.
My relationship with God also suffers when I make promises to the LORD, and then fail to deliver. I have wonderful intentions to pray—to seek God’s face—to read my Bible. But follow through? Not so much. There’s often a big gap between what we promise and what we actually deliver. The shortfall is often enormous. Of course we have our excuses—a flimsy fig leaf to cover our shame.
Today’s reading from Psalm 119 also begins with a promise: You are my portion, LORD; I have promised to obey your words.
If I were to speak those words, in the back of my mind I can hear a voice saying, “Yeah, Yeah. I’ve heard you say that before. When are you going to deliver?”
The brutal truth is I can’t deliver. On my own I cannot obey God’s word. I’ve tried and it’s impossible. I desperately need the Holy Spirit to help me day by day, and moment by moment. St. Paul gives us this reminder: it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).
Response: Father God, help me. I want to obey your word. I want to live out the words of this psalm. I can only succeed by your grace, so give me the will to do your will. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you promised more than you can deliver? Who will help you keep your promises?
* NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, COPYRIGHT ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 BY BIBLICA
give me ears that hear your voice
gently speaking to me.
Give me a heart that is quick to obey.
I want a tender heart that reflects your love
for me and for others.
I pray in Jesus’ name.
Reading: Psalm 95
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest’” (NIV).*
Long before we knew about the medical condition known as hardening of the arteries, there existed another condition called hardening of the heart. Hardening of the heart is not a deadly medical condition; it’s a deadly spiritual condition. Those who suffer from hardening of the heart have a hard time hearing God, and when they do hear God, they tend to stop their ears, or they do their best to pretend that God hasn’t spoken.
Although we can safely say that this condition has existed since the human species stepped out of Eden, the first reported case of hardening of the heart occurred about 3,500 years ago. In the Book of Exodus we read that Pharaoh developed a severe case of hardening of the heart. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said (Exodus 8:15).
Time and again as the ten plagues ravaged Egypt, we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart and he would not let the people of Israel go. In several instances we read that the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But let’s be clear about this condition. Heart hardening only happens with the willing participation of the individual. Don’t go about blaming God for your hard heart. Hearts harden due to our willful disregard of God’s Spirit and His laws.
Neither should we presume that heart hardening only happens with a certain type of person. We are all prone to develop this spiritual malady. Our ancestry or genetic makeup offers no protection. The Egyptian Pharaoh developed a heart, but ultimately the Israelites—the people that the LORD pried free from Pharaoh also developed the same condition. That’s why the psalmist issues this warning: Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.”
The key to avoiding a hard heart is hearing and heeding the voice of God. It’s just that simple.
Response: LORD, give me ears that hear your voice gently speaking to me. Give me a heart that is quick to obey. I want a tender heart that reflects your love for me and for others. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Your Turn: Does a hard heart toward others result in a hard heart toward God? What are your thoughts?
* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
Reading: Psalm 90
We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom (NIV).*
As we draw near to the close of this momentous year, this Psalm offers much for us to consider. The finite nature of our lives here on planet earth should cause us to give serious thought to how we spend the days that we have been allotted. Once we reach the age of forty, roughly half of our life is over. Some claim it’s all downhill from that point forward. Life seems to speed up—to pass by quickly— as we careen toward our demise.
Moses concludes his prayer here in Psalm 90 with these words: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
No one wants to reach the end of their days and then realize that they have wasted their life. In our hearts, we all want to have a meaningful life filled with purpose. Much of that striving for success and our drive for a long list of accomplishments comes from a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Moses certainly had a string of achievements on his resume before the LORD called him home. He was after all the liberator of a nation. He was revered as a great leader and the great law giver. But was that due to Moses’ great ambition?
The Bible paints a different picture of Moses. When God called him into service, Moses resisted. The adopted son of Pharaoh was content to shepherd a few sheep on the backside of the desert. But God had other plans—bigger plans. This is what we are told about Moses. Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).
Perhaps true wisdom begins with humility—with knowing our place in the grand scheme of things. It starts as it did for Moses by hearing God’s call and ultimately being willing to obey, whatever that takes and wherever that takes us.
Response: LORD, teach me to number my days, so I may gain a heart of wisdom. Give me ears to hear what you are saying to me. I want to live a meaningful life filled with purpose coming from you. Amen.
Your Turn: Are you numbering your days or are they numbering you? Are you following God’s call and purpose for your life?
* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
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Reading: Psalm 40
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened—
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, LORD, as you know.
I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly (NIV).*
The first half of today’s psalm reading is quoted directly in Hebrews 10:5-7. The writer of the Book of Hebrews saw Jesus as the prophetic fulfillment of this passage. Jesus became the necessary sacrifice for the sins of the world. When God came to earth in bodily form as the babe of Bethlehem, He came clothed in humanity. Jesus came with his ears wide open to the voice of his heavenly Father. He came to do His Father’s will. For Jesus the Father’s will meant going to the whipping post and climbing the hill of Golgotha to die in agony on the cross. That was the sacrifice the Father desired.
Has God opened your ears to His voice? Have you loved God until it hurt? It hurt Jesus to do His Father’s will. If we are Jesus’ disciples, should we expect better treatment than our Master? Often what we hear preached is a sugar-coated gospel that asks little of us. Jesus asked his disciples for their lives. He said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
Have you lost your life for the sake of Jesus? Now, that’s a high calling with a steep price attached.
Are your ears open to God’s calling? There are times when I don’t want to hear God’s voice. That’s why I don’t seek Him in prayer. He may tell me something I don’t want to hear. All too often, I am His reluctant servant. I would rather do my will than His will. He must change my desires. My desires must become His desires. Only then can I serve with joy. Jesus’ desire was always to do his Father’s will. From an early age he was about his Father’s business, fulfilling His Father’s plan for His life.
Whose plan are you following?
Response: LORD God, help me to truly hear and obey your voice. I want to be your disciple, Lord Jesus. Thank you for your great sacrifice by which you purchased my redemption. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you heard God’s voice and walked away? He doesn’t give up easily. He remains faithful. He renews His call.
* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
Reading: Psalm 132
The LORD swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.”
For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
“This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor I will satisfy with food.
I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.
“Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown” (NIV).
I am an armchair student of history. I enjoy reading history books, particularly books about war and great epic battles.
In recent years, several books have appeared on the market, which examine alternate scenarios in history. The authors of these books imagine what might have happened if historic events had unfolded differently. For instance what might have happened if Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun had jammed as he attempted to shoot President Kennedy? How would the Kennedy presidency have unfolded? Or what would the world look like today, if cooler heads had prevailed and the great blood bath commonly called World War I had been avoided? These are fascinating questions.
I call these “What if…” books. They imagine history unfolding differently. Today’s reading from Psalm 132 leaves me in a “What if…” frame of mind. The LORD made this promise to King David: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.”
God promised that history would unfold in a certain way. A descendant of David would sit on the throne of Israel in perpetuity. But there was a condition attached to that promise. God’s promise would be fulfilled, if the sons of David kept the covenant and the statutes. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The descendants of David disobeyed and succumbed to idolatry. But what if those sons had obeyed…
How will history be different, if I wholeheartedly obey the LORD?
Response: Father God, I thank you for your son, Jesus. He is the descendant of King David who fulfilled your covenant and now he reigns forever. King Jesus, I am your servant. Reign in my life today. Amen.
Your Turn: Is Jesus your king? How are you serving him?
Reading: Psalm 81
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
“If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways,
how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last forever.
But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (NIV).
In this concluding portion of Psalm 81, the LORD sets out two possible courses of action for the people of Israel. They can refuse to listen to God, persist in their stubborn ways and reap the devastating consequences, or they can submit to the LORD and be rewarded for their obedience.
God is for us; He is on our side. But we must decide to be on His side. He will fight for us—on our behalf—if we make the right decision. Take a look at this promise. “If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!”
But the LORD doesn’t just promise victory over our foes. He promises to richly provide for us and bless us. “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
The benefits of following the LORD are clearly stated and obvious. They are obvious when we examine the word of God, but they are obvious as well from human experience. I know many individuals who have resisted the will of God for their lives and their way has been marked by hardship and tragedy—much of it brought on by the choices they have made. The rebellious soul chooses to walk a rocky road. God sets the lonely in families; he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land (Psalm 68:6).
What choices are you making? Are you choosing God’s ways? Are you listening to Him? We can choose a rocky road in a sun scorched land or we can choose to be fed with honey from the rock. There are rich rewards when we make the right choice.
Response: LORD God, today I choose to follow you. I want to be on your side, rooting for the right team. I trust the promises in your word. You bring me victory, provision and enduring joy. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you struggled in obeying God? How do you turn rebellion into submission to God’s will?