Can Music Be Good for Your Body, Soul, and Spirit? Psalm 33

What does music do?

  • It can reduce stress by reducing the production of cortisol and increasing the release of stress-reducing neurotransmitters. It can also reduce stress by reducing a patient’s sense of isolation and helping them reconnect with positive places within themselves. 
  • It can help healthy circulation by reducing blood pressure and stabilizing the heart rate. 
  • It can strengthen the immune system by triggering the production of gamma globulin A and killer cells. 
  • It can help improve mood by increasing the production of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. 
  • It can help patients manage pain better than medication alone. 

(Source: Listen4Life Foundation website)

Called to Make Music and Praise

Clearly, music is good medicine for our bodies. In Psalm 33, verse 1, David talks about how “praise befits the upright.” It seems that our creator designed us to be at our best when engaged in music and song.  In the first three verses of Psalm 33, David directs believers to sing, shout, give thanks, compose new songs, and play instruments.  

1 Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psalm 33:1-3 ESV

Since each verse begins with the command form of these verbs, we can assume these activities are required. All believers are called to the ministry of making music to praise God: those who have talent and those who do not.

4 For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
(Psalm 33: 4-9 ESV)

Every day I can look around me and see God’s faithful work. In His grace and mercy, He created a beautiful world that continues to amaze me. Seeing a sunset, a sunrise, or my beautiful granddaughter’s smile fills my heart with praise for Him.

 The Lord spoke into existence all we see around us. We learn new things about Him by observing the complexity of His creation. Scientists continue to discover new creatures, new systems, and new ways they live.

God demonstrates His power by gathering the water of the sea, controlling the waves, and knowing the depth of the oceans. Watching waves roll onto the shore captures my imagination as I can see the powerful rhythm the Lord alone controls, and I might even catch a glimpse of all that lives below those waves. Each drop of water is teeming with aquatic life.

God’s creation inspires us to praise Him.

The Counsel of the Lord

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned, he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
(Psalm 33:10-15 ESV)

When the counsel of the nations is compared with the counsel of the Lord, every human’s limited perspective is revealed. God’s wisdom rolls out over generations because it is based on His eternal perspective. He can see everything in the past, the present, and the future. He knows every heart and all about things done and left undone.

16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.
18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
(Psalm 33:16-22 ESV)

What cannot save us?

Kings and governments of this world may have mighty armies and terrible weapons, but their might cannot bring the ultimate victory. Even when they appear to win the war and defeat God’s people, they will not gain eternal victory.

What can save us?

God’s steadfast love, His deliverance, and His provision of gladness and hope.

Sometimes God calls us into a season of “soul waiting.” Times when we don’t see anything changing in the physical world, and we are desperate for spiritual change and growth. These are likely times when the breakthrough may only come through praise—quite the opposite of how I might want to respond to waiting. Try praising the Lord by singing, shouting, giving thanks, composing new songs, and playing instruments. A praise break or season might be just what is needed to shift my limited perspective and remind my soul of the truth of who the Lord is.

A Prayer for Times of Soul Waiting  

Lord, thank You that behold, Your eye is on us. Give us the ability to fear and revere You and continue to hold onto the steadfast hope found only in You. Thank you that You are our help and shield. Strengthen our waiting souls with resilience. Anoint us with the oil of gladness. Inspire us to praise You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How about you? What kind of music tends your soul?

Lent and Lament – Psalm 31b

One essential soul-tending tool might be to practice lament.

In the six weeks or so leading up to Easter, Christians worldwide participate in Lent. It’s a season for believers to take inventory of their spiritual lives. Perhaps a spring cleaning with some lament thrown in for good measure. Some choose to give something up as a way to remember Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Others take on specific disciplines like spending more time in prayer, reading through certain portions of scripture, or attending special church services designed to mark the season.

Taking time to lament our personal and corporate sins can be a central part of Lent. Some people even pray about what they have done and what they have left undone.

In the second half of Psalm 31, the psalmist takes an inventory of sorts. Take a few minutes today to participate in personal lament by reading each verse and considering these things.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand: rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!
(Psalm 31:14-16 ESV)

Words said aloud

What we say matters.

What we speak aloud seeps into our bones and shapes our thinking.  

The Psalmist begins with a declaration, “I say, ‘You are my God.’”
He follows this with a cry for the Lord to “Make your face shine on your servant…”. This refers back to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.  

As human beings, we were all made to crave being in our Heavenly Father’s presence and having His approval. It is in our original design. Many of us will spend a lifetime trying to please God in our strength. Sadly, we will fail and fail again without accepting Jesus as the only way to our Father.

What can you say aloud to build you up and encourage your spiritual growth?

  • Sing Christian hymns or songs  
  • Read the Bible aloud for a few minutes every day
  • Pray aloud in the car or on a walk using the promises of scripture
17 O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame;
    let them go silently to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
20 In the cover of your presence you hide them, from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
(Psalm 31:17-20 ESV)

Words heard

What we listen to matters.

The Psalmist begs the Lord to mute lying lips. He requests that the wicked go silently to Sheol. What we listen to affects us more than we realize. Other peoples’ words have the power to weigh us down and teach us things that are not true. We live in a noisy world and can become surrounded by deceptive soundtracks.

Taking time to seek out silence each day can counter the inevitable feelings of overwhelm.

What can you listen to build yourself up spiritually?

  • Refrain from listening to the radio or a podcast during your drive time, and enjoy the silence.
  • Reduce the number of news programs you watch or listen to. Practice extreme discernment on your news sources. Do the anchor people seem angry or prideful?
  • Commit to listening to God’s word daily, even for a few minutes. Please read it to yourself aloud or listen to any of the podcasts or services that read scripture daily. In less than 20 minutes daily, I have listened to the entire Bible in one year.
21 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. 
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
(Psalm 31:21-24 ESV)

Things that were done and left undone

Have you asked for help lately?

Asking for help requires a certain level of humility and vulnerability. Too often, I am more ready to problem-solve than cry out to God for help.

He hears us and is so ready to send us aid.

In verse 23, the psalmist calls out the “one who acts in pride.” She might be someone who relies on her strength, leans on her courage, and requires her own schedule to be kept.

The Lord calls us to be found waiting for Him. Waiting for Him to answer us, aid us, and make provision. Do I sometimes miss His ideal solution because I have tried to run ahead and make my own way?

The Lord calls us to “take courage” as we wait on Him because He is willing to give it to all of us.


Lord, thank you that you hear my cries for help and always answer. Please help me to wait on your way and your timing. Please help me to complete the assignments you have given to me. Please open my eyes to things I may lose sight of that are essential to you.  May I glorify you with the words I say? May I honor you with what I listen to? Please give me wisdom and discernment in all of these areas. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Ashes, Anguish, and a Pathway to Healing – Psalm 31:1-13

Lent begins this year on Wednesday, February 22nd. On that day, churches worldwide will host Ash Wednesday services. Ministers will mark the foreheads of the faithful and say,

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 
Genesis 3:19 ESV

During the forty days of Lent, believers can set aside time to lament their own mortality. In the Bible, the use of ashes signals mourning and loss. Ashes on our skin make inner suffering visible. Christians are reminded that we sin and die because humanity rebelled against God. We must continue to acknowledge this truth.

In Psalm 31, David laments his own suffering as he is relentlessly pursued by King Saul. Examining the first half of this psalm reveals a great deal about prayers of desperation and lament.

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
(Psalm 31:1-2 ESV)

God’s rescue comes about because of His character. What a relief!

God’s refuge is a solid rock of certainty, not an everchanging unreliable aspirational goal. The rescue may not be what I expected, but it always comes in God’s perfect timing.

3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me;
4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
(Psalm 31:3-4 ESV)

God’s presence is the refuge. How often do I seek His presence and spend time there?

Suffering and Surrender

Verse 5 might sound familiar. Jesus intentionally echoes David’s words from this psalm as he is about to die on the cross. Jesus would have had many of the psalms memorized, and the crowd would have to. By using this key phrase, He models surrender.

During Lent, many believers spend time considering the suffering of Jesus on the cross. The gravity of our sin required a sacrifice of extreme and prolonged anguish.

Idol Check

6 I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,
8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
Psalm 31:6-8 ESV

Before I coast by verse six, I may need to conduct an idol check. I don’t typically feel like bowing down to a large golden cow. So, considering that weirdly specific Biblical allusion, I suppose I’m idol free, or am I?

While I do trust in the Lord, would an inventory of my spent time and treasure reveal some idol influences?

Where do I spend my time?

How do I spend my money?

How do I invest the talents the Lord has blessed me with?

Set aside time to spend alone with the Lord, seeking His wisdom on these questions. Consider asking a trusted friend or family member how she sees these areas in your life.

We live in a society that worships the idol of youth and beauty. People make important life decisions based on public opinion, pleasing the crowd, or external appearances. God looks on our hearts. We all can become obsessed with seeking a life of ease and comfort.  We feel outraged if we believe our rights have been put into question. These goals contradict the transformational call to follow Jesus and carry our cross. We are called to give up our own way, rights, entitlements, and priorities for the sake of the Gospel.

Verse seven reminds me that God sees me and knows my distress and brokenness. In the midst of suffering, knowing that someone sees and knows can help me hang on. A certain isolation weighs so heavily on my heart when I feel like no one understands. Often no human can completely comprehend another person’s journey, but the Lord always can.

Our Bodies Keep the Score

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
Psalm 31:9-10 ESV

Our bodies bear the brunt of trauma and abuse. Years of verbal abuse may result in migraine headaches or other maladies. Sin takes a toll on our physical bodies. (For so much more on this topic, check out this book: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD)

Neighbor’s Betrayal

11 Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror on every side!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
Psalm 31:11-13 ESV

When someone in our lives becomes our enemy and seeks to harm us, we expect that person to be a threat. In normal and healthy ways, we draw boundaries and allow that person to experience the consequences of her actions. However, a neighbor’s or friend’s betrayal, inaction, or lack of empathy cuts much more deeply. Social isolation becomes a secondary trauma for those who have been victims of abuse.

Why does this happen?

Recently I heard Rachel Denhollander talk about our call as Christians to bear witness to someone else’s abuse and respond with active compassion. Denhollander warns that this requires so much of us. It is costly and painful. Sadly, the cost is far too great for some, who choose to pull away when others need them most.

How do you respond to those who suffer around you? Do you try to minimize a friend’s experience, or are you willing to be present and sit and hold space for someone to process through a time of grief?

To be able to hold space for others in seasons of suffering, we must seek to be healed ourselves by processing our own trauma and suffering.

Psalm 31 provides a set of prayers for those who suffer. It can provide a way to begin to metabolize grief. In an effort to bring his own brokenness before God, David boldly showed his whole heart to God. Not just the pure and acceptable parts, but he reveals the darkness and the desolation. This is our own path to healing.

Prayers of Desperation

David’s prayers all through the Psalms reveal a willingness to be honest and vulnerable which builds true intimacy in His relationship with God. These steps allow Him to draw near to God on his worst day. When he finds himself trapped, overwhelmed, and hopeless, he hands it to the Lord fully and completely. His prayers are raw without edits or apologies, and ours should be too. He refuses to dress it up as anything other than pure desperation. His heart is failing, and there is no way out in his own strength.

Hope in the Cross

If you can attend an Ash Wednesday service and receive ashes marked in the shape of the cross on your forehead, I encourage you to cling to the hope revealed there.

That cross carries within it an entire story and the foundation of human hope. It is the story of loss and gain, of the incarnation of the truly good one, his glorious life, and triumphant defeat of death. The ashes are not just a reminder of our great failure; but they remind us of God’s victory over sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.

Esau McCaulley
Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal

How will you navigate the season of Lent this year? What does God have for you in this journey? Lent 2023 begins on Wednesday, February 22nd.

Got Grit? Psalm 30

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Angela Duckworth

Marathoner or Sprinter

One thing to be sure of is that I know very little about running. I am neither a marathoner nor a sprinter. While many members of my family enjoy running, I do not. Running is something that I have consistently avoided since I was a child. However, because I have shared life with more than one runner, I know about the consistency and determination it takes to succeed at running a marathon. Daily running schedules despite lousy weather, special shoes, and even diets designed to maximize stamina. Ultimately, preparing to run a marathon requires a runner not to quit.

Popular church culture teaches believers all about joy and abundance. Life as a believer can be portrayed as an endless array of positive affirmations and exercises in counting blessings. An expectation is set for a blessed and abundant life of ease for all who claim Christ.

But what happens when it doesn’t go that way? Please note that I used the word when not if.

Grit Required

Sooner or later, everyone who follows Jesus will experience disappointment. Eventually, many slam into the concrete wall of devastating loss and betrayal. What about the faithful wife whom her spouse betrays? The congregation who learns about their pastor’s secret life with waves of damaging revelation? The adult child who grows up with abuse inside his or her Christian family? What about the stage 4 cancer diagnosis that is not healed this side of Heaven?

In the Psalms, believers navigate times of disappointment, depression, and fear. Grit is required and starts with praise.

Choosing grit requires that I start with praising God.

In Psalm 30, King David begins with a huge praise report about how the Lord saved his life.

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3 O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
(Psalm 30:1-5 ESV)

Setbacks and Sadness

David begins with praise but rapidly moves to the reality of setbacks and sadness. David failed God many times, and his failures hurt his family members.

Choosing grit gives me room to acknowledge sadness and setbacks.

From time to time, my heart will be broken by the brokenness of this world. I will also see my flaws and how I fail those I love. Yet, each time I experience sadness, anger, or bitterness, I can cling to the idea that this shall pass. God promises us new mercies each day. Weeping may stick around for a season, but joy will come again and again.  

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
(Psalm 30:6-7 ESV)


In January, I often find myself making new year’s resolutions to commit to new patterns of behavior or to give up something that needs to go. Like David, I might claim, “I shall never be moved.” Unfortunately, in times of abundance, it is all too easy to over-promise what I believe I can do in my strength.

Also, like David, I become discouraged and dismayed within a very short time. I lose sight of the Lord when I become distracted by my agenda without His input. It can seem that the Lord hid from me, but it is much more likely that I stopped looking for Him or listening for His voice to guide me.

Choosing grit requires me to refocus on the Lord.

8 To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
(Psalm 30:8-10 ESV)

Sometimes when life feels unbearable, I can move to “worst-case scenario thinking.” David may have found himself there. When I become this discouraged, I might even try bargaining with the Lord.

Please rescue me so I can praise You. 

Please do this so that I can do that for You.

While I can cry out to God to help me, trying to persuade Him to act by suggesting He needs me is laughable.


The Lord Almighty does not need me to do anything for Him. He does not respond to me trying to negotiate a deal. Instead, he calls me to surrender my agenda and commit to His. This will be ongoing work for me on this side of eternity. I must ask the Lord to help me to develop true grit to persist in seeking Him daily and, possibly, hourly. I need to surrender to His will.

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(Psalm 30:11-12 ESV)

True grit is true surrender.

A deep and abiding joy comes out of complete surrender. God will provide joy for those who persist in surrendering daily, hourly, or even from one minute to the next. The Christian life requires grit and determination to keep on and finish well.

Prayer for Times of Sadness

Thank You, Lord, for turning my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. May I sing Your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!  In Jesus’ name. Amen

(Psalm 30:11-12 ESV)

What are you looking for? Psalm 121

Whatever you look for, you will see.

Annie F. Downs

What are you looking for this Advent Season?

  • Hope
  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Love

Those are the four themes of Advent, but all too often, I am looking for:

  • Disappointment
  • Conflict
  • Despair
  • Indifference

I don’t think I ever intended to look for these opposites of the Advent themes, but it is all too easy to allow my perfectionism to fixate on disappointment. I somehow missed the mark in getting something done or meeting someone else’s needs. When conflict arises, and it always will this side of Heaven, I am quick to despair. When I feel that all hope is lost, it is easy to pick up an attitude of indifference as a coping tool.  

Wherever I focus my attention, I will find exactly what I am looking for. If I focus on how things don’t seem to be working out the way I had hoped, I would see that in overflow.

Psalm 121 directs me to look up to the hills. Since I live in the flatlands of East Texas, I must look up to the sky instead and seek the Lord.

Take a few minutes today to meditate on the truths contained in Psalm 121 by reading each verse and declaring the truth revealed there.

1I lift my eyes up to the hills. From where does my help come? 
2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

He Sees It All

He sees you at all times and in all situations because He has the ultimate vantage point and a 360-degree perspective.

There is nothing outside of His authority because He made it all.

3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep.
(Psalm 121:3-4 ESV)

He Never Sleeps on the Job

He won’t fall asleep on the job and leave you vulnerable. Ever vigilant, your Heavenly Father won’t lose track of your wandering ways.

5The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. 
6 The sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 
(Psalm 121:5-6 ESV)

He is a Keeper and a Needs Filler

He is keeping up with you and providing what is most needed. He gives shade on a summer day, an umbrella when it rains, or a snack when you are hungry. You are heard and seen by your beloved Father. He may not give you everything you want, but He will provide for your needs.

7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. 
8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forevermore. 
(Psalm 121:7-8 ESV)

He Monitors

The LORD of the universe is keeping track of me. He knows when I go out and when I return home. He does not lose track of me, even when I lose track of Him. He is always only a whispered prayer away.


Lord, help me to look to you in these final days of 2022. Guide me to continue focusing on You and not my mistakes or misfortunes. Thank you that as I focus on You, You reveal more of Yourself to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How Can I Find Peace in the Second Week of Advent? Psalm 85

In December of 1995, my family experienced a Christmas like no other. My youngest daughter, not even a year yet, had a spiral fracture of her femur. The path to healing required a rigid cast that extended down from her chest to her toes. Diaper changes, eating, sleeping, and surviving were incredibly difficult for us. As her mother, I struggled to create a joyful Christmas for our family. We became the default hosts for all the extended family because my daughter couldn’t fit in a car seat and had to stay home.

This all might have been challenging enough; however, both sets of our parents were bitterly divorced and avoided spending any time together. Usually, my husband and I went on tour with our two daughters and visited each of them in their respective homes, so they could all avoid having an uncomfortable time together. This year, we could not do that for them. Instead, we invited each of them to join us.

Hosting a Christmas Day gathering with extended family lines out various hosting jobs that must be done. Hosting requires food preparation, setting the table, washing dishes, and playing with children while adults finish in the kitchen. My husband and I typically divide and conquer; however, this year, we couldn’t all do it. So as each parent arrived, jobs were assigned, and somehow peace did reign in our home.

Two thousand years ago, a tiny baby in a manger named Jesus changed everything and brought true peace. Twenty-seven years ago, a baby’s injuries brought a fractured family back together. At some point in the middle of that day, I distinctly recall looking across the room and seeing my father playing with my older daughter on the floor. She had a brand-new castle toy, and my father was gently carrying the princess up the stairs, to my three-year-old’s great delight.


That year my expectations of myself and others were radically altered. During one of the most challenging seasons of parenting, the Lord provided for us in some unique and abundant ways.

In the second week of Advent, as we light the second candle on the wreath, peace is the gift to unpack.

Peaceful Past

Psalm 85 opens by recalling the peace the Lord has brought His people in the past.

1LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah
3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
(Psalm 85:1-4 ESV)

The psalmist begs God for restoration.

5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
(Psalm 85:5-6 ESV)

The psalmist laments God’s anger and frustration with His people.


7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.
(Psalm 85:7-9 ESV)

The psalmist expresses a longing to see and know God’s favor again.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.
(Psalm 85:10-13 ESV)

God’s Faithful and Steadfast Love

Finally, the psalmist paints a picture of the spaciousness of God’s faithful and steadfast love. Righteousness and peace can kiss or be in a relationship because of God’s reconciling work through His son Jesus Christ dying for our sins. We are made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. We will be at peace with God because of what He has done for us.

Advent reminds us to look for the gift of peace from the only source that can provide it, God. He alone can bring the gift of a sustainable reconciliation that ushers in peace. In Advent, we remember the peace that came into the world as a tiny baby who grew up and chose to die for us, and we look forward to the Prince of Peace sitting on His throne and ruling forever.


Lord, you provide a way for me to be at peace with you and those I love through your son, Jesus. Help me to open that gift during this second week of Advent. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Holding onto Hope in Advent – Psalm 80

It is dark at my house this morning. The electricity went out at some point during the night, leaving my entire neighborhood shrouded in blackness. I wander about the house, gathering candles, a lighter, and my trusty book light. Without light, my home becomes a frustrating obstacle course featuring various objects ready to bruise my shins and trip me up. I feel desperate for the light to be restored.

God’s people find themselves in a season of darkness and desperation at the beginning of Psalm 80.

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
(Psalm 80:1-3 ESV)

Drawn to Light

Like us, they are drawn to light and know they need a restoration that can only come when God’s face shines upon them again. They are stumbling along in the darkness of sin and disappointment.

Just like them, we all find ourselves in seasons of spiritual darkness from time to time. God knows this about His people and provides certain rhythms and reminders for us on the church calendar.  


The season of Advent provides a time of preparation during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. As the first candle is lit on Advent wreaths around the world, God’s people are reminded of Jesus’ miraculous birth and His promised return. The light glows forth and hope, the theme of the first week of Advent, ignites again in our souls.

The psalmist goes on to acknowledge God’s anger with his disobedient people.

4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 
(Psalm 80:4-7 ESV)


However, God is still a shepherd and gently and firmly guides His sheep through dark times. He alone can restore and reconcile His people.

Sadly, even though today’s believers are reconciled to the Lord through the saving blood of Jesus Christ, we often choose to walk in darkness and go our own way from time to time.

The psalmist describes His people’s repeated cycles of rebellion against the Lord.

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 
9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
(Psalm 80:8-16 ESV)

Hope Found and Lost

God brought the Israelites out of slavery and out of Egypt in a miraculous way. At that point, they flourished and thanked God, but all too soon they rebelled and ended up wandering in the desert in disbelief for forty years. Eventually, they settled in the promised land and flourished again, only to drift away in more cycles of sin and rebellion. Many enemies came against them and destroyed almost everything and everyone.

All hope seemed lost.

17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! 
18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! 
(Psalm 80:17-19 ESV)

Hope Re-ignited

In these final verses, hope is re-ignited. God gives His people eternal life through His son Jesus Christ. All will call upon God’s name, and the ultimate restoration will occur. In Advent, we remember how Jesus came as a baby, lived as a man, and died on the cross to save us. In Advent, we also keep a hopeful watch for Jesus to come back to rule and reign forever.


In the meantime, as we light the first Advent candle, we see the light of hope and pray the repeated verse from Psalm 80, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”

(Psalm 80:3,7 &19 ESV)

Are You Bargaining with God in the Waiting Room? Psalm 26

Hospital waiting rooms are a great equalizer. All who enter join the fellowship of uncertainty. Plans and predictions, once held tightly, slowly tick away with the pace of watched clocks. I have logged many hours in these places over the years. Often arriving flustered and departing relieved, but now I am back again in crisis.

1 Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
(Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)


Once again, in Psalm 26, David cries out to God in desperation. He approaches the throne of God with evidence to prove his worthiness. He arrives ready to bargain. David offers a mix of his good works and his desire to be proven worthy. Nevertheless, he ends up falling back into God’s faithfulness.

Hospital waiting rooms and dire situations in life bring out the bargainer in all of us. We hope to win over the Lord to our case with evidence of our good works and excellent behavior. However, we always come up short as we are tested and evaluated. Like the psalmist, we end up circling back to our desperate need to walk in God’s faithfulness and acknowledge the fullness of His steadfast love.

God’s Steadfast Love

God’s steadfast love for me is: 

Not based on my abilities or gifts.

Not based on what I do or don’t do.

Not based on whether I deserve it.

What can I do in challenging seasons of waiting?

4 I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5 I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord,
7 proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells
(Psalm 26:4-8 ESV)

Whom I choose to wait with matters.

The company I keep influences me. Who can I gather around me in seasons of difficult waiting to hold me up in prayer? Am I willing to reach out vulnerably and ask for support?

Somehow, and it is certainly challenging, I must find ways to spend time with the Lord even when my routines are wholly disrupted and upended. Perhaps the psalmist’s reference to washing hands points to my need for soul hygiene.


Have I taken time to confess my sins and ask the Holy Spirit for an inspection?

Draw Near

Going around the altar likely points to my need to draw near God, even when I can’t go to a Sunday service because of a need to keep vigil at the hospital. How can I set aside time to sit in God’s presence and seek His guidance in places that don’t have altars?

I believe that when we seek Him, He will make new spaces available.

  • A beautiful view out the window reminds me of His creation.
  • The kindness of a nurse reveals His care for me and those I love.
  • Singing hymns and praise songs reminds me of His goodness.
  • God’s word is gloriously portable.

Proclaiming Gratitude

Verse 7 reminds me of the value of proclaiming gratitude.

What can I stop and give thanks for right now? Could I make a list? Who could I share my thanksgivings with?

9 Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes
(Psalm 26:9-10 ESV)

Drawing near to the Lord requires me to separate myself from sinners, bloodthirsty men, evil devices, and hands filled with bribes. My first thought is to reassure myself that I have not been hanging out with the bloodthirsty recently. However, who is God calling me to separate myself from? In a difficult season, I might need to take a few steps back from those who don’t respect my boundaries or try to pile false guilt upon me.

Evil Devices

We cannot compartmentalize our spiritual life, keep company with God one day, and keep company with evil another. The term “evil devices” could remind me to consider what I spend my time focusing on. What will I fill my mind and heart with during a difficult season when I might be far from my faith community? It’s far too easy to allow electronic devices greater access to my mind and heart in hours spent waiting. While I don’t believe cell phones or tablets are evil devices, I know the Evil One would love to capture my attention and draw me away. How can I redeem the time I have? Could I read more scripture on my phone or use a texting app to share thanksgivings with a believing friend?

11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.
(Psalm 26:11-12 ESV)

Walk in Truth

The world pulls and tugs on me daily to move away from seeking the Lord. It can be gentle and almost imperceptible or an all-out tug of war.

Every single day, we can choose to walk in the truth of God’s active redemption. I stand on level ground because of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Walking in redemption based on Christ alone removes the pressure I may feel to get it all right because I can’t.

Finally, verse 12 speaks to our need to declare the truth of the Gospel aloud in the assembly with other believers. We all must be reminded to surrender every day and sometimes every hour if I am candid.

Do you find yourself in a season of waiting rooms? Are you living in the tension of knowing God has something good to come forth from a difficult season but not seeing it just yet?

I believe that we may often find ourselves there on this side of Heaven. However, the Lord is always ready and willing to join us.

Prayer for the Waiting Room

Father, as I sit in the waiting room, help me to see that your steadfast love is before my eyes,

 and help me to wait for your faithfulness. Please guide me to stay close to you by confessing my sins and keeping short accounts with you. Help me to proclaim thanksgiving aloud and tell all about your wondrous deeds even in dire situations. Please guard my heart and mind against evil devices. Please help me to walk with integrity. Please continue to redeem me and the minutes spent waiting by the power of your graciousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

How Can I Avoid Suffering and Other Lies I Have Chosen to Believe – Psalm 34:15-22

If I am being honest, I love a good checklist. A clear path lined out for me, revealing what was right to do and what to avoid. I want to know deep in my soul that if I get the boxes checked off in proper order and complete all items before the deadline, all will go well and be pleasant. I would also like this to be true for those I love.

However, it is a lie. One I have loved and circled back to my whole life. It is the worst kind of a lie because it is antithetical to the Gospel. It places a good outcome within my reach if I only tried harder and got everything done correctly. When a negative situation arrives, like an unwelcome houseguest, it sends me searching to find out who is to blame. Who didn’t check all those boxes or complete the necessary steps? Was a deadline missed?

Assigning Blame

Assigning blame creates comfortable distance and an element of perceived control. If I forget to pay the electric bill, it makes sense that my electricity will be cut-off. It is no longer random. It is within my control to prevent that negative outcome from happening again.

This is the life that I want. The one where I can exert control over all outcomes and carefully sidestep suffering or affliction for me and those I love. But that kind of life is an illusion.

When suffering and affliction arrive and unpack a suitcase in my guest room intending to stay long term, and eviction is beyond my power, what can I do?  

How can I remain fully present when suffering and affliction keep company with those I love?

In this final section of Psalm 34:15-22, David reminds me to remember what is true about the LORD.

15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
(Psalm 34:15-16 ESV)

The Lord’s Presence

The LORD sees and hears our suffering. He does not turn away or become weary of hearing our cries.

Because the LORD is fully present in suffering situations, He can help me do this too. He is there with my loved one in the hospital, in surgery, in a counseling session, and in all of the places of brokenness and isolation.

I am not required to solve the problem and/or offer endless advice to fill the awkward spaces between me and those I love who are suffering. Being willing to offer the ministry of presence is enough and very likely infinitely more helpful than my own handy solutions.

The LORD also knows about those who choose to do evil, and He is bringing justice. The LORD carries the burden of bringing justice to wrongdoers. In the middle of suffering, I don’t have to assign blame or seek out the wrongdoers. This burden of justice is not mine to carry.  

17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:17-18 ESV)

Verses 17 and 18 remind me that the Lord hears my cries and delivers me out of my troubles. The LORD promises to be near the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit. Grief and suffering will come my way.

What do I deserve?

The prosperity gospel has permeated so much of Christian culture. A sense of entitlement has settled in and become part of daily life. I am encouraged to believe I deserve my best life now, but I don’t.

Suffering in this life is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. I will have my heart broken and my spirit crushed in this troubled world. When I do, the LORD promises to be near to me. He promises His comforting presence, not an escape.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
(Psalm 34:19-21 ESV)

What does deliverance look like?

The righteous will be delivered, but it might look different from what I expect. Perhaps deliverance looks more like a delay in my schedule because God doesn’t want me to miss out on something He has been keeping for me till I am ready. Or deliverance might be the loss of something I loved because the LORD knows what I need and loves me too much to let me keep something that will damage me.

While there will be deliverance for the righteous, there will also be many afflictions. Sometimes that seems more than I can bear because it is. I will continue to need the LORD to carry me through.

22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
(Psalm 34:22 ESV)

The promise of redemption works as a life jacket and gives me hope. I may find myself on the open sea, in a small boat, in the middle of a large storm, yet He renews, redeems, and provides refuge by holding me tight.

A Prayer for a Sufferer

Lord, when a season of suffering and affliction weighs me down, help me to seek you and your refuge first. Help me avoid the trap of assigning blame. Help me to be willing to sit in my own suffering or to sit with those who need me to be willing to show up and keep company with them. Still my tongue from offering advice, when it is merely designed to fill the awkward space. Help me to see the ways you are offering me deliverance, even when it is not what I expect. Thank you that you are near and hear my cries. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Can Fearing the Lord Reduce my Anxiety? Psalm 34b

Some families pass down an inheritance of precious jewelry while others share treasured recipes written on weathered cards. Other families gift each generation with stocks or bonds. Some families even pass the ownership of a family business to the next generation.

Sadly, my family held on to the tradition of passing down a legacy of anxiety for the last few generations. Fears about finances, betrayal, and mental health were regularly stoked in my family of origin. Each child was guided down a well-worn path of anticipating worst-case scenarios. Criticism and judgment loomed largely at any gathering. In recent years, I have pursued Christian counseling to begin to dismantle the habits of anxiety in my own life.

In the second section of Psalm 34, the Lord offers a lesson on the fear of the LORD through His servant David.  

11 Come, O children, listen to me;  I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
(Psalm 34:11 ESV)

What if cultivating the fear and reverence of the Lord is an antidote for anxiety?

In my mind’s eye, I can see the Lord inviting me to draw near to Him and sit down. He wants to gather His people close and give us a gift if we will only slow down long enough to listen to His counsel. My anxiety dissipates when I choose to fear and revere the Lord and not obsess about my worries and concerns.

12 What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully.
14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
(Psalm 34:12-14 ESV)

He begins with rhetorical questions in verse 12.

Do you want to live a long life?  

Do you want to see good?

On any given day, everyone would likely answer yes to both questions. Even tucked into the second question is a nugget of precious guidance. Someone who wishes to live long and prosper, what does he or she see? Good

Do I look for the goodness of the Lord daily?  

What if looking for the goodness of God actually allows me to find it? What if failing to do so causes me more significant anxiety?

The second piece of wisdom is found in verse 13. Can I keep my lips from evil and lies? I might very quickly say, yes, of course. I won’t lie. However, on any given day, do I speak negatively about others who are made in His image? My words reflect my heart’s attitude. The ones I speak to others and the ones I speak over myself.

Recently, I was spending time with someone who regularly and fluently speaks about God’s goodness and His people’s goodness. I mentioned a mutual friend, and her immediate response was to say, “I just love her.” Her declaration immediately pointed the conversation in a positive direction leaving no room for criticism or complaint.

Do I speak of the goodness of the Lord and His people on a daily basis?

Verse 14 challenges me to consider where I am giving my attention. The Lord advises me to turn away from evil and do good.

In a 24-hour news-saturated society, turning away from evil becomes increasingly difficult. Stories of the evil deeds of man compete for our attention. At times, the depravity of man has become a competitive sport. News outlets compete to showcase evil on repeat.  This leaves the impression that crime rates are skyrocketing and the world is overrun with violence. Is that accurate?

Within my lifetime, I have observed a tremendous societal change. Now that news services are running at all hours of the night and day, more stories must be created to fill that air time. With increasing global connectivity, we can access reports about crime all over the world that we didn’t have access to just a few decades ago. Is there actually an increase in evil in the world today? Or are we racing to highlight it at every turn?

News headlines shared on social media are cleverly crafted to draw readers in to click on the story and learn more grisly details. I have fallen into this trap myself.

What would it look like if anytime any of us heard about evil, we chose to do something good? What if anytime I listened to a story of evil, I decided to tell a story about God’s people doing good?

Am I listening to stories of the goodness of the Lord and His work through His people, or am I focused on a showcase of evil?

Do I seek peace daily? In The Message version of verse 14, Eugene Peterson chose to use the phrase, “embracing peace.” Imagine for a moment the image of that. What would it look like to become more intimately familiar with peace? To keep company with it regularly? How could I go and spend time in peaceful places regularly? Could I sit outside for five or fifteen minutes and watch the clouds go by? Remembering the Lord is the one who moves the earth and the sky. Knowing He holds it all together ushers peace into my soul.

Do I pursue peace so I can understand the goodness of the Lord?

Spending time in peaceful places is a proven strategy to reduce anxiety. Being outside can help reset our nervous system exhausted by remaining on high alert for so long. If the weather does not permit spending time in nature, seeking out a sacred space such as a chapel would also provide a brief respite. Even a museum filled with glorious art could be a place where we can embrace peace. Sometimes a peaceful physical location is not possible, so taking a 5-minute break listening to music with your eyes closed could be an excellent opportunity to reset.

Where do you take time daily to embrace peace?

Finally, it seems that anxiety in our society may be at epidemic levels. I hear about it everywhere I go. How about you? How do you handle anxiety in yourself or others? What is the Lord revealing to you in all of this?

A Prayer for an Anxious Heart and Mind

Lord, we long to see and experience your goodness every single day. Please help us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to cultivate reverence and worship you with our lives. Please help us to keep our tongues from speaking evil. Please help us to tell about your goodness and talk about your people in ways that build up and encourage. Please help us to turn away from evil and constantly seek to see and experience your goodness. Lord, show us how to embrace and pursue Your peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.