Every time I’m in trouble I call on you, confident that you’ll answer

Sometimes you just need a Psalm…. This version is The Message, a really stunning paraphrase. You can also read it in the New Living Translation, but this version really struck a chord with me today.

Got any bullies after you today? And, no, they don’t have to be people. Sometimes the worst bullies in our lives are intangible. Anxiety and fear. Depression and despair. Anger and frustration. And insecurity. Just because a bully can’t physically touch you doesn’t make it less harmful. And just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean God can’t help you overcome it.

Psalm 86

person-young-woman-girl-7306Bend an ear, God; answer me.
I’m one miserable wretch!
Keep me safe—haven’t I lived a good life?
Help your servant—I’m depending on you!
You’re my God; have mercy on me.
I count on you from morning to night.
Give your servant a happy life;
I put myself in your hands!
You’re well-known as good and forgiving,
bighearted to all who ask for help.
Pay attention, God, to my prayer;
bend down and listen to my cry for help.
Every time I’m in trouble I call on you,
confident that you’ll answer.

There’s no one quite like you among the gods, O Lord,
and nothing to compare with your works.
All the nations you made are on their way,
ready to give honor to you, O Lord,
Ready to put your beauty on display,
parading your greatness,
And the great things you do—
God, you’re the one, there’s no one but you!

Train me, God, to walk straight;
then I’ll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I’ve never kept secret what you’re up to.
You’ve always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!
God, these bullies have reared their heads!
A gang of thugs is after me—
and they don’t care a thing about you.
But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.
So look me in the eye and show kindness,
give your servant the strength to go on,
save your dear, dear child!
Make a show of how much you love me
so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed,
As you, God, gently and powerfully
put me back on my feet.

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Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Life’s too short to waste wandering the grocery store

There’s a popular stereotype that men hate asking for directions. Sitcoms have played with the concept for years, and in many instances it’s true. I don’t really know any guys who will voluntarily ask for directions. But it’s not just limited to men. I hate asking for directions. I’d much rather find my own way.

As I was posting about how poor my sense of direction is yesterday, I got to chuckling about my own proclivities to wander around until I find landmarks that look familiar. Would it be easier to ask someone which way I should go? Absolutely. But do I do it? Absolutely not! I won’t even ask for directions in a grocery store. I’d rather find it myself, even if that requires that I spend a lot more time and effort.

Maybe that’s pride. I don’t know. And maybe spending too much time looking for peanut butter isn’t a big deal, but if you get into the habit of refusing to ask for directions in the small things, it won’t be long before you refuse to ask for directions in bigger things.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach, Texas

Today’s verse is Psalm 25:12.

Who are those who fear the Lord?
    He will show them the path they should choose.

I hate asking for directions for anything. Does anyone else feel that way? I don’t know if that’s a pride thing or not, but that’s me. I want people to know that I’m not high maintenance, that I can figure things out on my own without bothering them. So I’d rather not ask for directions, especially if it’s something I can think through logically.

However, there are some things in life that nobody can figure out. Sometimes things happen to us that don’t make sense without asking for God’s help. We get hurt. People we love get hurt or sick. We lose our jobs. We face all sorts of trials and tests and challenges, and if we refuse to ask for God’s direction at times like that, there’s a good chance we’ll take a wrong turn.

It’s not that we’d be hopelessly lost. No one is hopelessly lost when it comes to God. But we may end up making a lot more trouble for ourselves if we insist on going our own way. And it’s not that we don’t want God in our lives. We just want to make our own decisions, we want to go our own way, we want to do things ourselves. And on one hand, I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. But think about the toddlers who insist on dressing themselves before they know how. They end up with clothes on backwards and shoes on wrong. Not dangerous but kind of silly. But how often are independent-minded toddlers satisfied with just dressing themselves? They want to do everything, and they want to do it on their own. Sure. Cute. But what would happen if you let that toddler drive the car or walk to the store or work in the kitchen?

A parent who lets their little child do things like that wouldn’t be called a very good parent. Why? I mean, aren’t you supposed to encourage independence? Aren’t you supposed to let kids explore who they are? Well, I guess. But is it a good idea to let them experience things they aren’t ready for, things they don’t understand? Of course not. A toddler driving a car? That’s a terrible idea! Not only could they get themselves killed but they could hurt other people around them.

Are we so different when we demand to live life our own way in spite of listening to what God has told us?

Refusing to listen to God is pride. Refusing to accept God’s directions, even though they’ve been plain to us, is pride. And pride is always dangerous, no matter what form it takes. If you’re refusing to take God at His Word because you think you know better, you’re just asking for trouble.

So stop fighting Him and start listening. Trust me, it’s not as bas as you think. And it really is a time saver. God wants the best for us. He’s not trying to squash our fun. He just wants to prevent us from making mistakes that will plague us for the rest of our lives. The good thing about asking for directions is that you can get where you need to be faster. You can accomplish more. Isn’t that better? After all, life is really too short to waste time wandering around the grocery store searching for peanut butter when all you have to do is ask for it.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

This about says it

Sometimes life is just hard. Would you agree with that? Things don’t go the way you planned. People disappoint you. Your dreams take longer to come true than you could ever have imagined. That’s just life.

But sometimes life just gets me down, you know? It’s easy to get discouraged. And when I get discouraged, I go to the Psalms.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Instead of one verse today, I’m putting up a whole Psalm. It’s one of my favorites and a mainstay when I am feeling discouraged.

And I don’t need to add to it. Period. It’s everything I feel the need to say this morning.

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help.

2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God.

3 Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly.

4 Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.

5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.

6 Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry.

7 I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me.

8 No pagan god is like you, O Lord. None can do what you do!

9 All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name.

10 For you are great and perform wonderful deeds. You alone are God.

11 Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.

12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever,

13 for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death.[a]

14 O God, insolent people rise up against me; a violent gang is trying to kill me. You mean nothing to them.

15 But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

16 Look down and have mercy on me. Give your strength to your servant; save me, the son of your servant.

17 Send me a sign of your favor. Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me.

View from a family palace throne

The only throne room where boldness won’t get you flayed alive

One of my favorite places in the world is the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Peten, Guatemala. I love history and ancient cultures, and Tikal is a spectacular place to study both of those things, an amazing reminder that no matter how great a civilization may become they are still vulnerable when they have no moral foundation. There are a number of palaces standing in Tikal where ruling class families lived. Palaces are kind of like apartment complexes where the whole family lived.

Every ruling family had a skill or had some form of knowledge that they hoarded, astronomy for example or medical knowledge. Something that the rest of the culture needed to survive but that the family wouldn’t share with anyone else. In the palaces, there is a throne area with a long, wide courtyard in front of it. I took a picture from the throne when I was in Tikal in July 2011.

View from a family palace throne

View from a family palace throne - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

What’s really cool about this is the acoustics. The guy in the red shirt is my friend, Jim Dinsmore, and from where he is standing, he could speak in a quiet voice, and I could hear him clearly. This area was designed so that the person sitting on the throne could hear everything that was whispered in the courtyard.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for people to approach the head of one of these families. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to address anyone like this. But I have an active imagination, and I can feel the fear and trepidation something like this might cause. To be so small and so far away from someone so much bigger and more powerful than me would terrify me. I’m not sure how these situations played out in Tikal, but I know that the Mayans weren’t exactly known for their mercy. So putting one toe out of line probably resulted in a particularly painful death.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

This verse is out of a passage in Hebrews that is talking about Jesus as our High Priest. In the Jewish religion, there was a High Priest who was the intercessor between God and people, who followed a strict set of guidelines and fulfilled all required expectations to be able to approach God on the peoples’ behalf. When Jesus came and died for us, He became our High Priest. He is now the intercessor between God and Mankind. And what the end of Hebrews 4 and the beginning of Hebrews 5 is talking about is our ability to come before God and speak to Him.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus, that means you have full access to God Himself. He isn’t some distant ethereal being floating out in the universe somewhere who doesn’t care about your everyday life. He is a real, living Person who wants to help you and who wants to know you.

Hebrews 4 says was can approach God’s throne with boldness. The Amplified Version uses the adverbs fearlessly and confidently.

Think about that. And think about this photo from Tikal. If I were in a Mayan’s position, there would be no boldness in me, not in approaching the head of a family on a throne like that. I would be as far away as I possibly could be. Put that in perspective and imagine approaching the throne of the God of the universe. It doesn’t even compare. But Hebrews is saying that we could walk right up to the throne of God and talk to Him.

And we won’t be shunned. We won’t be mistreated. We won’t be punished.

We will receive mercy and grace when we need it most.

Can you wrap your head around that? Because I can’t.

So wherever you are today, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, just remember that as a follower of Christ, you have free, open access to God Himself. You can walk boldly up to His throne and tell Him what’s going on in your life. Yes, He already knows, but He wants to hear it from you, in your own words. And He’ll help you.

If what you’re going through is something you don’t deserve, He’ll help you. If what you’re going through is something you do deserve, He’ll help you. Even if the trouble in your life is of your own making, He’ll help you. There may still be some consequences, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to face them alone.

Be bold. You can. God wants you to.

Nobody knows nothing

Nobody knows nothing. That was some advice that I received at a writer’s workshop in Colorado this past June, from author Bill Myers. (Yes, it’s a double negative. That’s what makes it funny.) He wanted to make sure we all knew that just because he was a published author and we were didn’t make his ideas better than ours. So basically he was telling us to take all his writing advice with a grain of salt.

I’m not sure what it is about people, but we think we have to know everything. And when we don’t know the answer to something, that means we are insufficient in some way. Maybe that’s just me and other people don’t feel that way. But I don’t think so.

And we’re the same way about the Bible, especially if you’ve grown up in church. If you don’t know the answer to some random biblical question, it’s really easy to think you’re lacking something.

Well, honestly, the Bible is a big book. And not just that, but it’s a really involved book. And not just that, it wasn’t originally written in English so many things get lost in translation.

So when you run into something that doesn’t make sense to you, what do you do? Do you give up? Do you just tell yourself that you’re faulty and that you can’t understand it? Or do you tell yourself that the Bible is faulty and can’t be understood?

Neither of those are a very good idea. Because both of them are untrue.

Instead of giving up, just ask for help. And I’m not talking about going to a pastor or a mature believer exactly. You certainly can, and that’s a great idea. But I feel like there’s someone you should ask first.

David figured it out in Psalm 119:18.

18 Open my eyes to see
the wonderful truths in your instructions.

Ask God.

The Bible isn’t difficult to understand, but there are a lot of stories to keep track of. And there is so much inside that you can spend a lifetime and not understand it all. You can spend a lifetime studying Scripture and still get something new out of it every morning.

But you need to start studying Scripture with the understanding that you’re not going to grasp it all by yourself. God needs to be studying right along with you, explaining things to you and helping you make sense of everything that’s in there.

And asking Him for help understanding Scripture isn’t wrong or bad. And it doesn’t displease Him. Actually, from what I know about God, there’s nothing He’d rather do than help you work through something in Scripture that doesn’t make sense.

So the next time you’re reading the Bible and you stumble on to something that confuses you, pray about it. Ask God to help you. Ask Him to reveal another verse to you that will explain what you just read.

That’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible. It will always interpret itself if you let it.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to your pastor or a mature believer. That’s a great idea. But you don’t need them. Ask God for help, and He’ll help you. Compare what you think you understand to the rest of Scripture, and if it aligns you may have your answer.

The Bible isn’t hard to understand, and with God’s help you can do anything. Just don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be ashamed that you don’t know the answer. Because, honestly, nobody knows nothing about nothing.