BE UPRIGHT IN HEART

“The upright in heart will glory in him”.

Ps 64:10 NIV

We may not always be aware of it but there is a connection between being an honest, upright person and the activity of glorifying God. It is true that occasionally we meet up with someone who worships and praises God but is underhanded, deceitful and full of evil. But it is rare. The two activities do not fit in together. They contradict each other. At the same time, it is rare that someone who is upright in heart does not glorify God. Even so, in an increasingly godless age there are good people who are honest and sincere who do not want anything to do with formal religion and would never dream of joining with the worshipping community.

The worship of the Christian church focusses on the Bible and is grounded in it. It draws its inspiration from the Bible which constantly emphasise’s good character and godly living. And many of the problems which the Apostle Paul addresses in his letters have to do with weaknesses in Christian disciples and his deep concern to get them all to be “upright in heart”. There is no excuse for worshipping Christians not to be upright in character. To not be upright is a failure in discipleship, a betrayal of Christ, and a bad witness to Christianity all round. To live “in Christ”, which is a favourite expression of Paul to describe Christian discipleship, is to be transparently honest, utterly reliable, and good in every respect. You are much more likely to exhibit this kind of conduct if you regularly worship and glorify Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. So worship and keep on worshipping. It is a strong and worthwhile way of life.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, I will continue to glorify you with sincerity and love.

WHAT THE RIGHTEOUS DO

“The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him”.

Ps 64:10 NIV

Much as we all wish that the world was a nice place to live in and that nothing could ever go wrong it just doesn’t work like that. The Book of Psalms is a hymn book for music in the temple in Jerusalem – but it is chock-a-block with despair about the presence of evil and the drastic lengths to which evil people will go to achieve their desired ends. And it is in this world, contaminated as it is, that good people have to live and somehow retain their integrity.

They can do this because they know that they can trust God and that he is implacably opposed to all forms of evil. Not only do the people who trust God cope with the alien presence of evil – they rejoice because God is also present. And he is powerful and he is powerfully opposed to the evil that is at the root of so much trouble and suffering. By rejoicing the people of God focus, not on the evil, but on God, the alternative presence in the world. They thereby maintain the belief that eventually God will overcome all the evil, however pernicious and troublesome it may be.

And when the evil becomes overwhelming, as it does sometimes, the people of God take refuge in him. By doing this they manage to get some respite from the pressure that the evil exerts on them. They also find a way to avoid some of the temptations that accompany the evil. Take refuge in Jesus – he is your surest and safest way to live in the midst of a world haunted by evil.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to live as you would have me do in this evil world.

GOD IS ON THE RIGHT SIDE

“The God of the Arrow shoots! They double up in pain, fall flat on their faces in full view of the grinning crowd. Everyone sees it. God’s work is the talk of the town”.

Ps 64:7, 8, 9 EHP

One of the unique features of the Bible is its persistent emphasis that God favours goodness and righteousness. He is an ethical God. It is possible at times to get the impression that he is so favourable towards the Israelites that he might turn a blind eye to their moral failures. But that is not so. Their moral failures are a big problem to God precisely because he is so uncompromisingly ethical. He wants goodness. He approves of goodness and deplores evil wherever it comes from.

The psalmist tries to stay on the side of righteousness and truth but the constant enmity of evil people towards him becomes a fixation that tends to warp his thinking. But in the end he comes round to this deep conviction, that God is on the side of right – and God loves him so he will deal with the evildoers who make themselves his enemies. People in the Old Testament had no difficulty thinking of the spiritual warfare that God waged with evil people.

Some Christian disciples have such a wishy-washy idea of God that they cannot bring themselves to think of God opposing anything. But John’s Gospel constantly emphasises the conflict between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, God and evil. Do not minimise this aspect of truth and Christian belief. Be aware of evil in the world and the wrongness of it. It is alive and causing trouble today every bit as in the psalmist’s day two and a half or three thousand years ago.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to recognise evil in your world today.

THE RIGHT AND THE WRONG SORT

“Protect me from the plots of the wicked, from evil mobs. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like arrows”.

Ps 64:2, 3 GNB

Some time ago a man phoned a long-time friend to inform him that his wife had just died. The sixty -years-long friend said during a long conversation, “You know the quality of her life grew on you as the years passed by. When you met again it always seemed as if there had been no interval. The warmth and friendship was constant. You feel now that she has gone that your life has been enriched by having known her”. There are some people who, because of their rich humanity and deep faith enrich you – quite unconsciously. Most Christian believers know other disciples who could be described in this way.

The psalmist was overwhelmed by the other sort of people. The world has plenty of them. They specialise in “rubbing you up the wrong way”. The only thing about them that you can rely on is the certainty that they are up to mischief somewhere. They do not know how to serve selflessly. Everything they get into is exploited for their own immature self-interest. You wish you didn’t have to associate with them and you feel the poorer for having known them. The people of whom the psalmist spoke so scathingly were this kind of people. They did not enhance his faith. They tested it to the utmost.

Christian disciples need to cultivate the maturity and strength that rubs off on other disciples and makes them better people. Be a person of prayer, of love, of caring, an example to others and a guide to younger and less experienced disciples of Jesus. Give yourself.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, enable me to be a person of wisdom, love and strength.

WHAT TO BE AFRAID OF

“I am afraid of my enemies – save my life!”

Ps 64:1 GNB

The latest big scare, calculated to bring all manner of problems, is plastic pollution. Huge volumes of plastic waste are being released into the planet’s oceans every day. Eventually they break down into tiny pieces that get swallowed by the world’s fish. Then humans catch the fish and eat these poisonous traces of plastic. You have been warned!

The psalmist was very much aware that his life was threatened by his enemies. He seemed to live in mortal danger of these people for much of the time and was frequently expressing his fears. Of course he was a significant political figure and then as now the principle applied, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. And so time and time again he called on God to shield and protect him from the danger they posed.

You may not be pursued in a physical sense as the psalmist was, but make no mistake, you have threats and dangers to cope with just as he did. Plastic pollution is only one. Hackers who attack your computer and through that raid your bank account are very busy. They mean only ill – and are very clever and cunning. Thieves who break into your property are as active now as they have ever been. So are those who would hijack your car. You do well to use whatever protection you can to defend yourself. Be afraid of people pleading poverty, and maniacs on the road, people throwing bricks off bridges and people posing as council officials or workmen. Life is as hazardous now as it was in the days of the Old Testament.

Call on the Lord to protect and shield you, as did the psalmist .

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, I have enemies. Please shield and protect me.

TROUBLE!

“I am in trouble, God – listen to my prayer! I am afraid of my enemies – save my life!”

Ps 64:1 GNB

In the book of Job it says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7 NIV) It only needs a cursory reading of the Book of Psalms to discover that at least one of the writers seemed to run into trouble amazingly often. At least he recognized that this aspect of his life was tailor-made for God to intervene and show his constant love, his power and his protective guidance.

The great thing in the Book of Psalms for Christian believers to grasp is that the psalmist knew the power of prayer and resorted to God through his prayer-life all the time.

Do not be unduly fazed if you too turn out to be a living proof of the truth stated in the Book of Job. You are not alone in encountering trouble on a regular basis – many people do. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister said that in politics you expend an awful lot of time and effort trying to solve one problem but as soon as you have found a solution another problem comes along straight away. Many people find the same seems to happen on a personal level. Life becomes one long sequence of coping with problems and trouble.

If this factor resonates with you, do what the psalmist did. Turn to God in prayer. Do not hesitate to do so. And do not stop after just one visit. Let your troubles become the foundation of your prayer life. Let them force you to Jesus to find and experience his love, his power and his hope.

FOR REFLECTION
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged: Take it to the Lord in prayer. J.M. Scriven

GLORY IN GOD

“All who swear by God will glory in him”.

Ps 63:11 NIV

People glory in many things. Many wealthy people glory in their money. Parents whose children excel in some field of endeavour – academic achievement, sport, music – will glory in their offspring. Sportsmen who become champions will glory in their victories. People who become leaders in business, politics or professional eminence will glory in the prominence they achieve. And some glory in their cars or other possessions. When the ancient Romans conquered another country in battle they held a victory parade in Rome showing the prize slaves they had captured. They gloried in their military success. It is all normal and natural.

The ancient Israelites gloried in their God. And what a God they had to glory in! By calling Abraham to go into Israel and found a nation he brought his special people into being. When they had been slaves in Egypt for four hundred years and God led them out through Moses’ commanding leadership, they gloried in this God – now all the other nations, instead of despising them, would respect them.

Christian believers glory in Jesus, and in particular in his cross and resurrection. We do not swear in the sense of uttering blasphemies, we swear in the sense of making promises of loyalty and obedience. Glory in Jesus by singing mighty hymns of praise to him. Glory in him in your prayer life and in your corporate worship. Glory in Jesus by proclaiming him as Lord and Saviour and by telling others what wonderful things he has done in your life. Glory in him by putting him first in your life and in your priorities. And by serving him in whatever way you are able.

FOR REFLECTION
In the cross of Christ I glory. J. Bowring.

THE KING AND GOD

“The king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him”.

Ps 63:11 NIV

We live today in countries which allow and tolerate the observance of a number of religions. It is considered normal and sensible to allow individuals the right to follow whatever religion they prefer – and to respect the variety of such preferences. Normally the democratic government does not interfere with religious institutions and takes very little notice when religious leaders make statements about matters of state.

It was very different in the days of the Old Testament. It had been the custom to assume that all Israel’s leaders would worship Jehovah-God. Those people who followed any other religion were regarded as being disloyal to God. But there grew up the feeling that they needed a secular king to lead the state and conduct its defence. Without such a political leader there was a vacuum. When they chose a king, he was appointed and anointed by the High Priest because he (the king) was deemed to be God’s servant and his gift to his people.

The normal situation today is for the church and the state to exist in distinction from each other with each respecting the separate spheres of operation of the other. However, the church regards it as its duty to watch the state to ensure that it safeguards the interests of the common people and allows religious freedom. A head of state may practice a respected form of religion or not, but the main religious bodies will expect a political leader to set an example in morality, decency, integrity and honesty. And they will, hopefully, point out to him (or her) where he (she) is going off the rails.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, bless our head of state, and keep him honest and worthy.

THE HAND OF GOD

“I cling to you; your right hand upholds me”.

Ps 63:8 NIV

Most of us, at some time or another, feel vulnerable. Employment uncertainty can rock the ground under our feet and make us feel extremely insecure. Conflict in the family can unsettle us and fill us with worries and anxiety. Financial difficulties can suddenly arise and threaten us with the fear of debt and being sued for non-payment. Political changes can make us feel worried about the future and make us afraid of physical violence.

The psalmist had a deep faith in God and, although the faith of Israel was a very corporate thing, this man also had a deep personal trust in God. He said, “I cling to you”. It sounds as if he was in the habit of turning strongly to God in the varying crises that attended him. He had discovered that, whatever problem rocked him, God still clung on to him and held him. He owed his outward and inward support to God. Sometimes God’s hand guides us. Sometimes it protects us. Sometimes it just holds us when we need security above everything else. God’s hand is very versatile!

Christian believers should get to know God’s hand as well. None of us is exempt from problems. They have a habit of coming up on us unawares and sometimes more than one at a time. Turn to Jesus. See the strength he showed in crises and when faced with problems. Ask him to afford you his protection, security and guidance. Be honest with him about the situation you are faced with. Ask him for strength above all things. Ask him to surround you with friends and guides and for them to be his hands to you.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, hold me and bless me with your strong hand.

THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings”.

Ps 63:7 NIV

We all need help. Of course, there are some cocky souls who regard themselves as self-sufficient. They say, “I don’t need all this God stuff. I can get along quite all right on my own”. But life is a hazardous journey, full of pitfalls, possibilities for mistakes, and disappointments. Sometimes those who are most confident of their own self-sufficiency face the biggest falls, commit the silliest blunders, and make the most foolish mistakes.

But the man who wrote Psalm 63 was humble and wise enough to seek and accept the help of God. And it wasn’t just a one-off leg-up in a crisis. God had helped him so often that he was comfortable with God and found it normal to accept the Lord’s help. Because of this he could sing praises to God “in the shadow of your wings”. This is a phrase used more than once in the Bible. Many who contributed to the writing of the Bible had this wonderful sense of finding protection and shade under the overarching wings of God’s grace and mercy. It may be that the psalmist was referring to the corporate worship of the community in the sanctuary where he felt the sheltering presence of the Lord’s presence that moved him to sing.

Recall the help you have received from the Lord. Sometimes it will have been spiritual help. At other times it will have been help with health matters, or family issues, employment concerns or financial worries. Dwell on the memory of those various crises or problems until you glow with warmth to God. Find some way to express your gratitude to him. Never forget his mercy to you.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, thank you for all you have done for me.