Interrupt Your Anxious Thoughts

David taught us how to pray after we’ve been stabbed in the back. Aren’t you glad that you can pray this prayer just once and everything is all better?! 

Oh, wait. It doesn’t really work that way, does it? At least it hasn’t for me. After I’ve been hurt, it takes quite a while to get to a place of healing. We have cliches for this sort of thing—phrases like “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” 

We begin to react to the past instead of reflecting and responding in the present.  

It’s interesting that those who compiled the Psalter placed Psalm 55 where they did. There is no introduction that gives us a background or setting, but David still seems to be looking for those “Ziphites” that betrayed him to King Saul. 

Here’s an important physiological and psychological truth: Our brains cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. Our physical bodies react the same way in response to any threat. 

It’s interesting to note that both Selahs in Psalm 55 are in the middle of a sentence, almost as if David is interrupting his own thoughts. Which, I believe, is exactly what he’s doing. 

As this psalm opens David is still praying, but he’s praying about his internal threats: 

  • my thoughts trouble me 
  • I am distraught 
  • I notice the conversations and the stares of potential enemies  
  • my heart is in anguish 
  • I feel like terrors of death, fear and trembling, and horror are closing in on me! 

This leads to David’s fight/flight response (really, it’s his flight response): “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert.

David has been listening to himself, and he finally at least attempts to put a halt to these distressing thoughts with his first Selah— which means “pause, and calmly think of that.” 

Most of our natural reactions are driven by fear. But fear—by its very nature—is limiting. Fear keeps us tunnel-visioned on the perceived threat. Fear closes us off to accepting any new information. Fear limits our creative responses. Fear perpetuates more fear. 

So David tries a second time to Selah. He is attempting to interrupt his negative thoughts—to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself. To move from a self-preserving reaction to a God-glorifying response requires a Selah pause to reflect. Reflecting on things like:

  • Where will these thoughts ultimately take me? 
  • How has God responded before? 
  • What does God’s Word say? 
  • Could I imagine Jesus responding the way I’m responding? 
  • What changes can I make? 

I love David’s closing conclusion: “But as for me, I TRUST IN YOU.” He’s saying, “I’m not going to listen to those negative fears anymore. It’s time to put my trust in God.”  

David had to do this “evening, morning, and noon”—again and again and again! Until finally he could say, “I will cast all my cares on the Lord and He will sustain me; He will never let me fall” (Psalm 55:22). 

This is what Jesus promises us, “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access them all by clicking here. 

Selah

The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. 

Selah can mean…

  • a pause from the noise to reflect;
  • a preparation for an exciting accent; or 
  • a reflective time of consideration

Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Summertime is typically a time for us to pause from our regular routine. Perhaps it’s a vacation, time with friends and family, driving around with the windows down and the music blasting, or just a quiet walk through woods or along a beach. In any case, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually doing Selah in these break-from-the-routine activities. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue our summertime look at each of the Psalms that ask us to Selah. I think you will find that this Sunday summertime pause will be both refreshing and encouraging. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

Since this is a continuation of our summer series, you can check out the Selahs we discussed in 2018 by clicking here, and the messages from the summer of 2019 are here.

The messages for this summer are:

Saturday In The Psalms—A Sabbath Psalm

A psalm. A song for the Sabbath day (preface to Psalm 92).

The Sabbath is—

  • a day of reflection
  • a day of rejoicing
  • a day of reconnecting
  • a day of meditating on past blessings
  • a day of strengthening for the upcoming week
  • a day of acknowledging the Creator
  • a day of appreciating creation
  • a day of assessing the investment of my God-given talents
  • a holy day—different from all other days

So … “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night” (vv. 1, 2).

Sabbath is not just a noun, but a verb—sabbathing—something that can be done every day, but something which also takes on special significance for the one day each week that we set aside as our holy day or worship and reflection. 

The Creator’s works and wisdom should be pondered and praised as we sabbath (vv. 4-6), something “a fool” doesn’t take time to do.

As we sabbath, we should confess to God—and then turn over to Him—those things which have overly preoccupied our minds (vv. 7-9).

We should recommit that the place of growth and blessing is in God’s presence (v. 13) as we endeavor to keep our hearts there. And then we can be energized and joy-filled as we contemplate His blessing which never diminishes nor grows old (vv. 14, 15).

Truly sabbathing is a good thing!

Do you have a Sabbath day? Do you find time to regularly sabbath in God’s presence? 

Laughing At Christ?

These words of Charles Spurgeon are gripping. Especially the questions at the end…

But when we continue in our sin, when we laugh at what God disallows, we do indeed laugh at Jesus hanging on that Cross.

Christ on the Cross“See Him; like a cart pressed down with sheaves He goes through the streets of Jerusalem. Well may you weep, daughters of Jerusalem, though He bids you dry your tears; they hoot Him as He walks along bowed beneath the load of His own Cross which was the emblem of your sin and mine. They have brought Him to Golgotha. They throw Him on his back, they stretch out His hands and His feet. The accursed iron penetrates the tenderest part of His body, where most the nerves do congregate. They lift up the Cross. O bleeding Savior, Thy time of woe has come! They dash it into the socket with rough hands; the nails are tearing through His hands and feet. He hangs in extremity, for God has forsaken Him; His enemies persecute and take Him, for there is none to deliver Him. They mock His nakedness; they point at His agonies. They look and stare upon Him with ribald jests; they insult His griefs, and make puns upon His prayers. He is now indeed a worm and no man, crushed till you can think scarcely that there is divinity within. The fever gets hold upon Him. His tongue is dried up like a potsherd, and He cries, ‘I thirst!’ Vinegar is all they yield Him; the sun refuses to shine, and the thick midnight darkness of that awful mid-day is a fitting emblem of the tenfold midnight of His soul. Out of that thick horror He cries ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ Then, indeed, was He pressed down! O there was never sorrow like unto His sorrow. All human griefs found a reservoir in His heart, and all the punishment of human guilt spent itself upon His body and His soul. O shall sin ever be a trifle to us? Shall I ever laugh at that which made Him groan?” —Charles Spurgeon

Harsh Words

Keep it closedThis is an interesting exchange between God and His people―

God says, “You have said harsh things[*] against Me.” 

“What have we said against You,” the people asked. 

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God…’” (Malachi 3:13-14).

We think we know better than God.

We tell God how we think it should be.

We complain that God is letting some people get away with bad stuff, and He’s not rewarding quickly enough those who are doing good stuff.

We think God doesn’t care if we do things our own way.

We think we can better manage our lives than He can.

We act like we’re in charge.

This is speaking harsh, arrogant, rude, terrible words against God. It’s really saying, “I know better, so I should be God.” This not only removes God’s blessing, but invites His punishment.

Ouch! It’s good to examine our thoughts and words to make sure we aren’t thinking or speaking harsh things against God.

[*] Some other translations say things like “You have spoken arrogantly against Me” and “You have said terrible things about Me” and “You have spoken rude words to Me.”

Night Time Reflection

Isaac WattsBefore drifting off to sleep tonight―or any night for that matter―listening to these wise words might be very beneficial.

Let not soft slumber close your eyes,
Before you’ve collected thrice
The train of action through the day!
Where have my feet chose out their way?
What have I learnt, where’er I’ve been,
From all I’ve heard, from all I’ve seen?
What have I more that’s worth the knowing?
What have I done that’s worth the doing?
What have I sought that I should shun?
What duty have I left undone,
Or into what new follies run?
These self-inquiries are the road
That leads to virtue and to God. ―Isaac Watts

Attitude Check

Attitude checkWhen we realize that nothing can thwart God’s plan, and that you and I are a part of that plan, I think there could be a couple of attitudes that might pop up: (1) Confidence―not in my abilities, but in God’s; or (2) Humility―not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less.

Confidence without humility leads to self-destructive pride, and humility without confidence leads to self-destructive fear. We need confidence with humility, just like Jesus demonstrated in going to the old rugged Cross.

We can see the confidence in Jesus when He claims to be the “I AM” (John 8:54-59). But we can also see the humility of Jesus when He said He would lay His life down (John 10:11, 15:13).

These two attitudes converge powerfully in John 13:1-17 when we read that Jesus knew that God had put all authority under His command (vv. 1, 3), and then He used His confident authority to serve His friends by washing their feet.

Confidence without humility won’t serve because it thinks others must serve them. Humility without confidence won’t serve because it thinks others will take advantage of them. But Jesus was confidently humble (or humbly confident) so He could serve. It’s the only time Jesus said “I have set you an example” (v. 15). Our attitude is to mirror His, and we are to confidently and humbly serve.

A humbly-confident / confidently-humble servant is known by his or her:

  • Heart―E.G.O. (edging God out) or E.G.O. (exalting God only) [*]
  • Head―having his/her thoughts aligned with the Word of God
  • Hands―serving God and others (Matthew 20:25-28)

If you were to honestly reflect on this, where do you rate yourself?

  • Are you confident that God loves you and has a plan for your life, a plan that cannot be thwarted?
  • Are you humble enough to serve others? To give up your own agenda so that God is glorified?
  • Can you honestly say you have the right E.G.O.?
  • Are your thoughts becoming more and more aligned and shaped by God’s Word?

We’ll be continuing our series on The Old Rugged Cross next Sunday, and I would love to have you join us.

[*] My thanks to Kenneth Blanchard for his insightful description of E.G.O. in his book Lead Like Jesus

Life Cartography (book review)

Life CartographyCharles Porter has a timely message for us―actually 40 timely messages―in his book Life Cartography. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you will find the subtitle of his book as intriguing as I did: “Don’t follow your dreams” and 39 other life lessons I’ve learned along the way.

This book is designed as a 40-day journey, especially applicable (in my opinion) for someone just launching out on their own. I believe a high school or college graduate would find Life Cartography especially thoughtful.

Charles has given us a candid glimpse into his life, and the thoughts he has processed after a few years of reflecting on those different life events. These lessons are then presented to us with catchy titles like “Don’t follow your dreams” and “Deal with excess baggage quickly” and “You can’t be anything you want to be.” Each chapter is short, but it will easily give you a day’s worth of thinking material as you apply the principles to your own life.

I’d recommend parents and teachers, and others who work with young adults, to pick up this book to help prepare them in a mentoring role. And then perhaps get another copy to share with someone just starting a new journey in life.

The author provided me with a copy of this book.

Am I Learning?

In the Old Testament, there’s a phrase the repeats at the end of the historical record of almost every king of Israel and Judah —

As for all the other events of his reign, and all he did, are they not written down in the annals of the kings of Israel/Judah?

This phrase is repeated again and again (almost 40 times!). To me, the question mark at the end of this key phrase is really more like this: These stories are all here for your benefit… are you reading them? Are you learning from them?

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana

But maybe we think, “Those things don’t pertain to me.” Or even, “C’mon, that’s as plain as the nose on your face! I don’t need to study that because everyone knows you shouldn’t act that way!” How about this…

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm [if you think you know it all], be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12)

Questions to ponder:

  • Am I reading these examples?
  • Am I learning from them?
  • Am I reviewing my own personal history?
  • Am I learning from that?
  • Am I writing down my experiences (failures and successes) so that others can learn from me?

When was the last time you learned something new from something old?

Anger That Crosses The Line

Last night in our Bible study we looked at some words that David penned when he was angry. He was on the run from his son Absalom, and it seemed like everywhere he turned people were after him, or slandering him, or just doing their best to make him miserable. Yet in two back-to-back Psalms David says, “I lay down every evening and get a great night of rest.”

His sweet sleep comes from a moment of reflection before dozing off. He says:

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah.

  • Did my anger today cross the line into sin?
  • Am I allowing the time for the Holy Spirit to search my heart?
  • When the Holy Spirit points out where my anger crossed the line, do I justify my anger, or am I silent?

How do we know if our anger has not crossed that line and become sin?

Aristotle wrote, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

Being angry is not the issue. David said it (and Paul quoted it in Ephesians 4:26): “Be angry; just don’t sin.” God gets angry, but He does not sin. Jesus, in His public ministry, got angry, but He did not sin. We need to search our hearts to make sure our anger has not crossed the line to sin. We have to be angry in a godly way.

I see at least four ways to become angry without crossing the line into sin:

1.  Selfless Anger = anger at sin, but not angry at the sinner.

Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:5, 6)

2.  Slow Anger = lengthen your fuse a bit.

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19, 20)

Good advice from Thomas Jefferson: “When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.”

3.  Protective Anger = when sinners entice others to join them in their sin. God is sad when people leave Him; He is angry at them when they take others with them.

But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep His statutes. Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered Him with their high places; they aroused His jealousy with their idols. When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely. (Psalm 78:56-59)

4.  Righteous Anger = against those who are keeping others from coming closer to God.

For I endure scorn for Your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult You fall on me. (Psalm 69:7-9)

This verse was recalled by Jesus’ disciples when they saw Him get angry and clear out the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was angry because of the religious clutter that was keeping God’s house from being a house of prayer for all nations.

I think everyone is familiar with the acrostic WWJD = What Would Jesus Do?

I’d like to propose something similar: WGGA = Would God Get Angry?

This is a great question to ask to make sure our anger does not cross that line into sin. Get angry—in a godly way—and do not sin.

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