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The “All” Psalm

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Psalm 34 is one of those psalms that Christians quote verses from all the time without knowing exactly which psalm they’re quoting.   In that sense, it’s we might call it “the anonymous psalm.”  But it’s also the “all” psalm, and you’ll see why shortly.

This is really a psalm of deliverance; deliverance from all kinds of things, including fear, danger, trouble, and affliction.  The historical context behind Psalm 34 is interesting and can be found in 1 Samuel 21:10 – 15, where David pretended to be crazy before King Achish of Gath.  Achish may also have been named Abimelech.

That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath.  But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ” ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”  David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.  So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.  Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?  Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”  (I Samuel 21:10 – 15  TNIV)

Bless God all the time

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  (Psalm 34:1  KJV)

The psalm begins on a positive note, and one that hymns and gospel songs have echoed.  Matthew Henry makes a succinct observation on verse 1:

If we hope to spend eternity praising God, it is fit that we should spend much of our time here in this work.

He’s right, of course.  If you’re a Christian yet find it difficult spending a few moments in praise of God, then you’re in big trouble!  You’ll never make it in Heaven!  But does this mean engaging in the singing of worship choruses all day long?  Does it mean blessing God even when you don’t feel like it?  Or praising Him when your car breaks down or your microwave oven ignites and catches on fire?

Let’s look at what David is saying we should do.

First, he says we should “bless” the Lord.  The word “bless,” barak, essentially means “to kneel before.”  But the idea is not so much posture but attitude.  We are to acknowledge God.  We are to thank God.  We are to praise God.  Now, depending on your circumstances, it would be just plain foolish to thank God for your house burning to the ground.  Or for the flat tire.  But you should always acknowledge Him; take time to remember that He is always with you, even in those bad situations.  Always acknowledge His presence.  Always acknowledge His abilities to help you and meet whatever need it is you have.

And you should never stop praising God.  There are all kinds of reasons for praising God, and if you can’t think of any at the moment, then you are truly the most miserable of creatures and probably beyond help!  This verse helps a lot, and if you can keep in the front of your mind, you’ll always be praising Him:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  (James 1:17  KJV)

When you take a look at your life; at all the good things in it and realize they all came from God, why wouldn’t you praise Him?

But what if you have a truly miserable existence?  If you honestly can’t praise God for what He’s done for you, then you can certainly praise Him for who He is!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3 – 6  KJV)

There is never a time when you can’t bless the Lord!

God delivers from all fears

I sought the Lord , and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.  (Psalm 34:4  KJV)

The first three verses of this psalm can be considered a kind of general introduction. At this verse, though, David gets personal.  This is his personal testimony about something God did for him.  Despite his faults and failings, David was never shy about telling others what his God did for him!

Have you ever stopped to think about all the things people are afraid of?  But did you know that fear is the opposite of faith?  It’s a sin, and there is no virtue in fearing anything.  Now, it’s good to respect certain things, like the ocean or fire or grizzly bears.  You’ll live longer.  But fear has NO place in the Christian’s life.  Purkiser was absolutely right when he wrote:

Fear and an attitude of faith in the goodness of God are contradictory moods.  “The fear of the Lord” destroys all unnatural fears and anxieties.  

I believe that to be true.  A healthy fear of God should cancel out any other fears you may  have.  If you, like so many people today, struggle with fear, then do what David did:  seek the Lord!  When you do that, verse 5 comes to pass in your life:

They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.  (Psalm 34:5  KJV)

When you take the time seek God – to look to Him – your very countenance will change.  You won’t look fearful or anxious.  You’ll be encouraged and you won’t be let down or disappointed.

And ye shall seek me, and find me , when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13  KJV)

Struggling with fear?  Anxious about something?  Let God deliver you from those things once and for all!  Moffatt translates verse 4 like this, and it’s how you will look when you look to God:

Look to him, and you shall beam with joy.

That’s what Christ-likeness is all about.  When we adopt His character and allow His perfect personality to overtake ours, we will shine with His presence and “beam with joy” regardless of what’s going on in the moment of our lives.

God will save you from all your troubles

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him , and saved him out of all his troubles.  (Psalm 34:6  KJV)

The “poor man” here is David; this verse is autobiographical.  King or pauper.  Rich or poor.  Trouble makes all men the same!  All the resources in the world can’t chase away fear or create lasting satisfaction.  Spiritual poverty afflicts most everybody, even some Christians.  It’s sad that so many believers allow themselves to think that they are spiritual paupers; that they actually lack the things they need.  Does any Christian seriously think that God would ever withhold anything from him, if he needs it?

For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.  (Psalm 84:11  KJV)

If you believe that, and you should since it’s in the Bible, then start living like it!  If you truly believe that God gives you what you need, then you’ll walk fearlessly and courageously.  Years ago, we used to sin a chorus that went like this:

This smile on my face wasn’t always there the struggles use to get me down,

Hassles and problems from every direction use to make me wear a frown.

In the midst of the storms I found a deep contentment to help me face this night and day 

You see the world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away!

That’s how we should be living our lives!  The attitude we all need to adopt.  It’s Biblical!  You should be living in obedience to the Word.  You’ll be happier, and the people around you will be happier.

The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.  (Psalm 34:17  KJV)

I love this verse; it’s so matter-of-fact.  There’s no ambiguity or question.  When a child of God calls out to God, God hears.  Period.  Do you know what a singular privilege that is?  To know without any doubt that God hears your prayers?  There’s no begging involved.  Or convincing.

But there is something else here; an inconvenient truth tucked away in these verses.  The assumption is we will have troubles.  Apparently many.  God, for reasons that seem good to Him, allows them to come into our lives, but the promise is that when we ask Him, He will deliver us from them.  Of course, that deliverance may or may not be immediate.  We always have to trust that whatever is going on is not going to harm us and that in some way we will actually benefit from the trouble.  Sounds crazy, but it’s a profound truth Joseph well understood:

As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  (Genesis 50:20, 21a  TLB)

And of course, Jesus made it clear that trouble would be the lot of Christians:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33  KJV)

And that’s really the secret, isn’t it?  To be of good cheer when it doesn’t make sense to be.

God delivers you from all evil

Many evils confront the [consistently] righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  (Psalm 34:19  AMP)

Like it not, if you are among the “consistently righteous,” then you have a following.  But it’s probably not the kind of following you want!  If you’re a Christian and trying to live the good life – the righteous life – you might as well be walking around with a target painted on your back.  The demons have you in their sights and they want to take you down.  That’s evil.  That’s what David is talking about here.  God will deliver you from that kind of evil.  You have nothing to fear from this world or the world beyond for God takes care of His own.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.  (1 John 4:3, 4  KJV)

Again, that’s a statement of fact:  You  have overcome the “spirits” that are not of God.  It’s an accomplished fact.  There is not doubt.

And when you feel overwhelmed, you call out to God and He will deliver you.  Period.

God preserves even your body

Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.  He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone; not even a finger gets broken.  (Psalm 34:19, 20  MSG)

Some Bible scholars believe these verses allude to Jesus and the fact that He died without any broken bones.  That’s probably forcing an interpretation onto this psalm that isn’t warranted.  The power of these verses is that they applied to David, though the specific incident isn’t known, yet they also apply to all believers.  God loves and saves His people from a myriad of trouble.  In fact, God cares so much that He won’t even let a finger get broken!   It’s a statement of the caring concern that God has for His people.

Now, you may wonder:  “If God cared that much, why not keep all trouble from ever getting close to me in the first place?”  That’s a good question.  But I keep going back to Joseph.  All the awful things that happened to him were for a very specific reason.  Of course, at the time he didn’t know that there was a reason.  But he never gave up on God; he never lost faith.  And we shouldn’t either.  God’s ways and purposes are seldom clear.  They become clear in hindsight, but not always.  That’s why we need faith.  That’s why we need to stay in the Word.  It gives meaning and perspective to what we may be going through.  And as one commentator noted:

I’d rather have a thousand afflictions and be delivered out of them all, than half a dozen and get stuck in the midst of them!

 

Living in the Kingdom, Now: Motives

motivation

Matthew 6

Matthew 5 deals with the righteousness Christians ought to possess and chapter 6 deals with how Christians ought to practice that righteousness.  It all boils down to motive, and verse 1 establishes this:

“Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, for then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”  (TLB)

The key here is the phrase “to be admired.”  It’s not that Christians are to hide their good deeds because, in fact, the exact opposite is what Jesus taught in 5:15, 16—

“Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.”  (TLB)

What Jesus is dealing with here is the motive behind doing those good deeds.  In performing good deeds that are “out in the open,” our motive ought to be the glorification of God, not ourselves.

1.  God’s rewards, Matthew 6:1—8; 16—18

Righteous acts, verses 1—4

A common teaching in Jesus’ day was that alms-giving itself earned points with God.  From the apocryphal book of Tobit comes this teaching:

Do the good, and evil shall not find you. Better is prayer with truth, and alms with righteousness than riches with unrighteousness; it is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms-giving doth deliver from death, and it purges away all sin.  They that do alms shall be fed with life…  (Tobit 12:8, 9)

But Jesus didn’t teach that.  He simply assumed His followers would give and be generous.  But in giving, they were not to give like the Pharisees, who made giving offerings a big deal and announced their giving with great fanfare.

But when you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly—don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.  And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.   (Matthew 6:3, 4  TLB)

This advice from Jesus needs to read correctly.  He is exaggerating to get the point across.  He already established that good deeds should be done for others to see so that God would be glorified.  The sense of these two verses is that a Christian should never seek the praise of others in their generous acts; they should be generous and give regardless of who sees or doesn’t see.  The point:  God sees and He will reward your generous giving accordingly.

Prayer, verses 5—8

Ostentatious praying—not public praying—is something to be avoided.  Pharisees loved to shout out their prayers in public to get noticed.  The importance of private prayer is what Jesus is stressing here.  It doesn’t matter where or when or even how a Christian prays, only that he does so with a sincere heart.

Jesus is certainly not prohibiting praying in public; pastors and worship leaders do this every Sunday.   It’s the motive; why are you praying?  Are you praying in public as an act of worship and leadership?  Or are you praying in public to get noticed?  Are you praying in private so that you can bear your heart before God and touch His?  Or are you praying in private to get something out of Him?  It’s your motive that counts.  Prayer in important; it’s much too important to waste time on merely using dusty, old prayers others have prayed.

Don’t recite the same prayer over and over as the heathen do, who think prayers are answered only by repeating them again and again. Remember, your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!   (Matthew 6:7, 8  TLB)

Pray and understand that you are praying to a Person who knows you  better than anybody else and He knows precisely what you need.

Fasting, verses 16—18

Fasting can be a wonderful spiritual exercise for Christians to engage in, but only if it is done properly.  The Pharisees fasted incorrectly—they made a big deal about it and made sure other people knew what they were doing.  Jesus, though, taught that if a Christian is going to fast, he should do so in way that draws no attention to himself.  Pink makes this sharp observation on the topic of fasting:

When the heart and mind are deeply exercised upon a serious subject, especially one of a solemn or sorrowful kind, there is a disinclination for the partaking of food, and the abstinence therefrom is a natural expression of our unworthiness, of our sense of the comparative worthlessness of earthly things, and of our desire to fix our attention on things above.

In other words, when a Christian fasts, he should do so in a serious, concentrated manner.  If he’s not going to eat, he should pray.  Not eating has no merit at all! 

The Pharisees were doing the right things in the wrong ways because their motives were skewed, and because their motives were completely wrong, they forfeited any eternal reward.  Jesus assured Christians that if they did what the Pharisees did, but it correctly with the right motives, God would reward them accordingly.

2.  No  materialism, Matthew 6:19—24

Treasures in heaven, verses 19—21

If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too.  (Matthew 6:21  TLB)

Jesus never teaches that money is bad or evil or that it can never be used to further God’s Kingdom.  In fact, the opposite is true.  But what Jesus is getting at simply this:  Christians should not be obsessed with accumulating things on earth that deteriorate and waste away with the passing of time.  Is there anything wrong with worldly wealth?  Not at all!  But your motivation in the accumulation of wealth is what’s at issue here.  If you are hoping your “stuff” will make you happy or somehow provide you with security, then your motives are wrong.  Instead, you should be investing in the Kingdom; you shouldn’t keep all your wealth to yourself but be willing to let some of it go for the sake of service to God.  When this is your attitude about your wealth—that you are willing to give some of it up—it comes back to you. 

Light, verses 22, 23

If your eye is pure, there will be sunshine in your soul.  But if your eye is clouded with evil thoughts and desires, you are in deep spiritual darkness. And oh, how deep that darkness can be!

The point of these verses is simply this:  A true believer must be single in his purpose.  He must strive to make sure his motive or motives are pure.

Masters, verse 24

You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around.   (TLB)

Our God demands complete loyalty.  If you are going to call yourself a Christian; if you are follower of Jesus Christ, then you must be absolutely devoted to Him.  A true believer does not have a divided heart or divided loyalties.  A true believer cannot split his time between longing for God and longing for the things of this world.

The main emphases of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 up to this point are:

·         simplicity

·         sincerity

·         singleness

These form the foundation of discipleship.  Serving the Lord shouldn’t be complicated because it is simple by God’s design.  Everything we do for the Lord  in terms of both our worship and service, should be done with sincerity.  Finally, we should stay focused on the Lord as we serve Him.

3.  Priority, Matthew 6:25—34

Anxious,  verses 25—29

Should a Christian be nervous or anxious about the future?  According to Jesus, NEVER!  Christians whose focus is on the things of this world will always be worrying about them.  Christians who worry about being poor will never have enough money.  Christians who worry about their health will always be sick.  Christians who worry about being lonely will never have enough good friends.  Job discovered this to be true:

For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.  (Job 3:35  NKJV)

Jesus’ advice focuses on our priorities.  Our lives are more than what we do and what we have in the here-and-now.  It is spiritual, too.  And Christians should never neglect the spiritual side.

Faithfulness, verse 30

And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you, O men of little faith?

Jesus wants His followers to understand that the God who looks after nature is more than capable of looking after them, too.  If God  provides for the short-lived grass, He will surely provide for His chidren, who will live forever. 

It’s God’s faithfulness in view here.  God faithfully cares for His creation, and that includes YOU!  Unfortunately, as faithful as God is, we are just as faithless sometimes.  We, like the disciples, allow ourselves to get burdened down with the cares of today, resulting in a lack of faith.  Jesus’ word to us is to just trust God!  Lee Roberson comments:

Faith is made up of belief and trust.  Many people believe God, but they do not trust themselves into His keeping and care; consequently, they are filled with worry and fear.

God knows, verses 31, 32

“So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them…”  (TLB)

Worry and pride and closely related and sometimes inseparable.  Jesus sums up His admonition on not being anxious by giving two reasons for not being that way:  (1)  Don’t worry because the heathen worry.  There is NO merit in worrying.  Some Christians feel guilty if they are not worrying about things!  Talk about wrong-headed thinking.  Unbelievers worry; Christians aren’t supposed to.  In other words, being anxious is sinful behavior.  (2)  Don’t worry because God has His eyes on you.  God knows what you need; don’t sweat it.   Trust that the Lord will provided what you need when you need it.

This, of course, takes practice.  But it’s how Jesus wants us to live.

The Kingdom of God, verses 33, 34

…and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to. “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.”

Don’t let worry take root in your head, Jesus says.  It’s a battle that takes place between your ears, but it is a battle that can be won.  God takes care of all the little things; what makes any of us think He is incapable of taking care of us?  God isn’t the problem, we are.  We MUST learn how to let go of our lives and learn how to place them in God’s hands.  We need to learn how to put God FIRST in our lives.  Worrying about tomorrow is a most selfish way to live.  It’s wrong, and it’s sinful.  Not only that, being anxious is just dumb.  Remember the old saw:

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

If we put God first, He will make sure ALL of our needs—and then some—will be met.  You cannot live tomorrow today.  You cannot act like God.  Stop that destructive behavior, Jesus says, and learn to have faith in God’s grace for each day.


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