In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91

Last week we talked about claiming promises from God. But we didn’t talk about the verses that got me started on that study. Psalm 91 is packed full of promises that are clearly meant to include the reader. There isn’t even a writer credited, so there’s no clear historical context, and the psalm is addressed to all who make the Lord their God. There’s nothing to distract from the fact that this psalm was written for everyone who’s in a relationship with God, including you as a Christian today.In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Claiming Relationship With God

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2, WEB)

The psalm begins with a promise to those who remain, inhabit, and abide (H3427, yashab) in the hiding place or shelter (H5643 sether) of the Most High God. They will “stay permanently” (Strong’s H3885 lun) in the shadowing protection (H6738 tsel) of El Shaddai.

Because of that promise, we get the only “I” statement from this psalm’s writer. They claim the Lord as “my God” and say they will have confidence in Him (H982 baach). And they demonstrate that trust by making Him their refuge, shelter (H4268 machaseh) and defensive stronghold (H4684 matsud). That’s something we can do as well.

Stripping Fear of Power

This psalm contains truly incredible promises of protection in the midst of trials. We’d probably prefer it if God’s protection meant we didn’t have to go through trials. But to be delivered “from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence,” there must be someone trying to trap you or a pestilence threatening your life (Ps. 91:3, WEB). And if “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,” then you must be in a location where people are perishing right and left (Ps. 91:7, KJV). Continue reading

Claiming God’s Promises

Not every single word in the Bible applies directly to each person reading it. It’s all inspired by God and we can learn from it, of course, but not everything applies to everyone directly. For example, some cleanliness laws in the Old Testament were gender specific and some prophecies were delivered to a specific person or group (like the dream warning Nebuchadnezzar he would become like an animal for 7 years).

But we can take this observation too far. We might make the mistake of thinking that because warnings to follow God alone were delivered to ancient Israel they don’t apply to us today. Yet the New Testament confirms we still need to make a choice between darkness and light (Deut. 30:15-20; 1 John 1:5-2:6). This type of thinking can also block us from accepting encouraging promises as well.

Have you ever read one of God’s promises and thought, “That sounds wonderful, but it can’t really apply to me?” I’m sure many of us have. For me personally, I struggle with believing God will answer my prayers the way He promises too (mostly I feel like my prayers for other people aren’t effective). But does that mean God’s promise to hear when we call doesn’t apply to me? Of course not. And I’ve even seen some examples of His direct responses to my prayers. My doubts and anxieties don’t cancel His promises. But they can block me from recognizing or accepting His work with, in, and for me.Claiming God's Promises | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God’s Presence In You

The Holy Spirit is one thing God promises to new believers. Jesus told His disciples the Father would give them the Holy Spirit after He left and we see that promise fulfilled quite spectacularly in Acts 2. As the narrative continues, a pattern emerges where believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they covenant with God at baptism. And it’s made clear that this promise isn’t just for the people of that time. Continue reading

Asking The Father To Work In And Complete Us

Prayers are how we talk to God and, if we’re listening, one way He talks with us. The Bible contains several example prayers that can give us a guide, including many we don’t often think of. I’ve noticed that Paul tells people he’s writing epistles to that he’s praying for them, but before last week’s post I hadn’t thought much about using those as model prayers. In that post, we talked about the first prayer Paul records for the Ephesians. In this post, we’ll talk about the second.click to read article, "Asking The Father To Work In And Complete Us" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

To give some context, Paul has been talking about his role in preaching “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and ministering to the Gentiles. These riches include the fact that the Father now offers salvation to all men. Because of His work through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can boldly access God’s wisdom and revealed mysteries. With that discussion in place, Paul writes,

 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:14-15, KJV)

Last week, in examining Paul’s earlier prayer in Ephesians, we looked at the work God is doing in us through Christ and the monumental importance of Jesus’ role. But in focusing on Jesus, we must never forget where it all starts. The Father directs Christ’s work, leads the family of which He made Jesus the Head (Eph. 1:22), and is directly involved with the work being done. Asking the Father to work in believers is the focus of this prayer. Continue reading

Opening Eyes and Deepening Conversions In Jesus Christ

If you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “What should I pray about?” and “How should I pray for others?” We know we’re supposed to pray as Christians and we’re given model prayers, but our prayer’s exact contents are left up to us. That makes sense — prayer is a conversation with God, not a recitation. But that also means we have to keep studying our Bibles to keep a good dialogue going between us and our Creator, as well as to gain deeper insights into how we ought to pray.

Paul’s epistles include several beautiful examples of his prayers for fellow believers. The book of Ephesians has two, both related to further deepening of their faith. A comment in last week’s sermon drew my attention to the second of these prayers, and I noticed the other when re-reading the whole letter. I was going to cover both in one article, but there’s far too much depth to cut the Bible study short. We’ll only talk about one of these prayers today.click to read article, "Opening Eyes and Deepening Conversions In Jesus Christ" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Paul opens this letter blessing “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). He talks about redemption, grace, and God’s will for us, along with our trust in Christ and the assurances we’ve been given of a glorious future. Then he says,

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers (Eph. 1:15-16)

Paul’s not just praying for them. He’s also giving thanks that they’re already walking by faith in the Lord and loving the brethren. They’re practicing important commandments and grounded in fundamental truths. Because of that, he can pray they would experience a deeper conversion. Continue reading

Praise and Worship: How We Pray and Praise

We’ve embarked on a mission to study the subject of praise and worship in the Bible. Last week’s post served as an introduction, explaining why I’m studying this topic and supplying a foundation for what praise means in scripture. We looked at various Hebrew words translated “praise,” and saw that it involves not keeping silent about the splendor and goodness of God. Praise includes verbal acknowledgement of Him, singing His praises, and offering thanksgiving, and involves a certain level of excitement.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comThis tells us that simply having unverbalized thoughts of praise is not enough. Yes, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) — we can’t have genuine praise if our hearts and spirits are not right with God. But when we are worshiping in spirit and in truth, there will be some sort of physical aspect as well. God looks on our hearts, and on what comes out of our mouths as a result of our heart. What we say and how we say it is important.

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. … For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt. 12:34-35, 37)

So, what does this have to do with praise and worship? Well, we can agree that some way of praising God aloud is good and proper, but the form that takes is still up for debate. I want to take the time today to look at examples of people praising and praying in the Bible, and see what we’ve given in terms of description. What details are we given of their physical posture, the music that accompanies their songs of praise, and other examples of coming before God?

Prayerful Postures

In churches today, I’ve seen people come before God in prayer and/or praise standing, sitting, and kneeling. I’ve seen bowed heads, and raised hands. There are many ways people approach God, but they are not all equally well-received in every church group. I’ve been told that it is disrespectful to pray sitting down, that it is showy and inappropriate to raise your hands, and that if you want to kneel do so in the privacy of your own home. Often, there’s a prescribed mode of worship and it makes people nervous when you deviate.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn the Bible, however, I’ve found positive examples of people praying with their faces to the earth as they bow down (Deut. 9:25), while looking toward heaven (Ps. 5:2-3), in a seated posture (2 Sam. 7:18), standing up (Mark 11:25), with their hands lifted (Ps. 141:2), lying in a sick bed (2 Kings 20:2), and while kneeling (Dan. 6:10). Biblical people pray silently and aloud, alone and in groups.

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts.” (1 Kings 8:22-23)

Solomon began his prayer at the temple dedication standing before the altar with his arms lifted toward heaven. As he continued, he prayed that God would hearken unto prayers made toward this temple (which is why my Messianic group still recites the shema while facing Jerusalem, though we know God always hears us whichever way we’re pointing). At some point during this prayer, Solomon went to his knees.

And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the Lord, that he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven. (1 Kings 8:54)

This is an example of a public prayer, and sometimes such prayers are called for. I think most prayers given in public today, though, will be in a smaller setting with other believers. We see examples of this type of prayer in the gospels, when Christ prayed with His disciples present (Luke 9:28-29; 11:1; John 17:1), and in Acts when the disciples pray as a group (Acts 1:24; 4:24-31; 12:12; 20:36).

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. 2:8)

Prayer is also a very private thing, when not part of public praise and worship. It can be silent, as was Hanah’s prayer (1 Sam. 1:13), or aloud like Christ’s prayer in the garden (Matt. 26:39; Heb 5:7), but the focus is always on talking with God, not on being seen.  God hears all sorts of prayers and doesn’t have a set mode for how we should physically approach Him. What He cares about is the inner state of our hearts (which we’ll talk about in a moment).

Modes of Praise

Most of the musical forms of praise aren’t talked about in the Bible until David became king. There were songs of praise to the Lord, like Moses and Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-21), but music, singing, and dancing as praise isn’t really mentioned as part of regular worship practices until David set up the tabernacle. This “man after God’s own heart” appointed 4,000 priests to praise the Lord with music (1 Chr. 23:5). They used instruments like the harp, psaltery, trumpets, cymbals, and tambourines (Ps. 33:2; 149:3; 2 Chr. 5:13)

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Ps. 150:3-6)

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comPraise we see in the Bible is loud and enthusiastic (2 Chr. 30:21; Ezra 3:11; Jer. 31:7), full of gladness, joy, and song (2 Chr. 29:30; Ps. 28:7), but can sometimes be described with more subdued words like “harmonious” and “solemn” as well.

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, on an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound. (Ps. 92:1-3)

Many of God’s holy days are described as “solemn assemblies.” The Hebrew words — and there are several — don’t necessarily mean what we think of as “solemn,” though. They refer to  appointed times, meetings, and assemblies of great importance. One of the words (H2287) actually means “to march in a sacred procession, to observe a festival; by implication to be giddy” (Strong’s Dictionary, see Deut. 16:13-15)

Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob.(Ps. 81:1-4)

Doesn’t sound so very “solemn” to me, but we can “sing praises with gladness” to a wide variety of music styles. We shouldn’t get bored with more meditative songs, and we shouldn’t disprove of loud, joyful songs either. Both have a place in worship, and both can be used to honor God.

State of Your Heart

Most of what we’ve looked at so far discusses what prayers and praise should look like from the outside. The point I’ve been trying to make by doing this is that the outward expression of worship and communication with God can be quite varied, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ignore people because they chose to pray aloud instead of silently, or standing instead of kneeling, or with hands raised instead of lowered (or vice versa on all these). That’s not what He’s concerned about, and it’s not what should worry us either.

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The difference between these two men wasn’t that one prayed looking up and one prayed with head bowed. It was the attitude that showed in how they prayed which concerned Jesus. One prayed “with himself” about how much better his way of serving God was than that of other people. The other man made his prayer about God’s love and mercy which makes a relationship with Him possible. One was proud of himself, the other was humble before his God.

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matt. 6:5-6)

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comThis doesn’t forbid all public prayer, but rather praying as a pretense just to be seen (Matt. 23:14). There are times to pray around other people, but most conversation with God doesn’t need an audience.

Praise, on the other hand, is often more effective with other people around. As we talked about last week, praise involves declaring the wonder of God and offering thanks for what He has done. This can be done in private, but when the Bible talks about “showing forth” or “telling of” God’s marvelous works, it implies sharing your praise of God with others. This is why it irritates me so much to be told that enthusiastic music, hand lifting, and praise dancing doesn’t belong in a church service and can be done privately at home if you feel you must. Praise isn’t something we should shut up in an out-of-the-way place.

I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. (Ps. 111:1)

The motivation for our praise is just as important as the motivation for our prayers. If we’re praising just to be seen (which is what people who raise their hands are often accused of in more subdued congregations), then our praise is empty. Praise should start in the heart, then overflow to the outer world.

I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore. (Ps. 86:12)

I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. (Ps. 119:7)

Since God is the only one who can discern the thoughts and intents of a heart, we are left with very little room for criticizing how other people praise and worship. We can’t see into their hearts, and it is not our place to judge whether or not their expressions of worship are genuine. Unless the way they are praising is indecent and causing confusion in the church (1 Cor. 14:33, 40), we shouldn’t judge other worshipers or dictate and micro-manage our worship practices.

Keep On Asking

If you read through Luke 11 in The Holy Bible in Its Original Order, there’s an interesting footnote on verse nine. In this verse, Jesus says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The footnote I mentioned reads, “The force of the Greek means: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.” So there’s more to this verse than first meets the eye, particularly when taken in the context of the preceding verses.

Ask, Seek, Knock

And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

This doesn’t seem like a very good attitude, does it? The man in the house can’t be bothered to climb out of his nice warm bed for friendship’s sake, but eventually this guy outside became too annoying not to help him. What are we supposed to learn from this in the context of praying to God (which was the subject of verses 1-4 as well)?

Before we try to answer that question, let’s look at a very similar parable a few chapters later in Luke.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5)

Once again, this isn’t a commendable attitude — the judge is plainly described as unjust and unrighteous — the very opposite of a God-fearing man. Yet what does Jesus say?

Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8)

It always puzzled me why God was compared to an unrighteous judge. But it’s not really a comparison at all, is it? It’s a contrast, meant to reassure us. Even unjust and lazy people respond to persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. How much more will our righteous God who “neither faints nor is weary” (Is. 40:28) listen to our petitions!

Why Do We Need Persistence?

These two parables don’t just tell us that God will most assuredly respond when we ask Him something. They also teach us how to ask. In both accounts, the petitioner refuses to give up. They have to “ask, and keep on asking” for help, to “knock, and keep on knocking” before they get an answer.

Anyone who’s ever asked God for something knows that the answer doesn’t always come immediately. We shouldn’t just give up praying about or seeking something after one request. Persistence, with the assurance of knowing we’ll eventually get an answer, does three main things I can think of:

  • teaches patience through delayed gratification
  • demonstrates our faith and hope
  • keeps us in communication with God

Why are these so important? Well, Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we “have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (KJV). And James 1:4 counsels, “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” People who don’t have staying-power don’t make it into God’s kingdom.

As for faith and hope, they are two of the three things Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13 would “abide” (the Greek word, meno, means to stand, continue, and endure). Hope is so important that Romans 8:24 says we are saved in hope, or “by hope” if you’re reading the King James. And hope is again linked to faith in Hebrews 11:1, which defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We could look at several passages that point to the importance of searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11), studying God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15), and praying (1 Thes. 5:17). We have to keep in touch with God by praying and studying His communication to us — the Bible — in order to stay on track. And, unfortunately, if we didn’t have things we felt like we needed Him to supply, we probably wouldn’t spend as much time with Him.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Never Give Up

I do want to touch on something Luke 11:9-10 is not telling us. It doesn’t say that if we pester God enough, He’ll give us whatever we want just to keep us from bothering Him. I doubt He likes nagging much more than my Dad does (as evidenced by how well the Israelites’ constant complaining was received).

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

These verses tell us that God is listening, and that He will answer. He wants us to have enough faith in Him to keep asking, seeking, and knocking until we get an answer. Sometimes it’s not the answer we wanted, but it’s always going to be the answer we needed.

Take Paul for example. He tells us that to keep him from becoming prideful, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Obviously he didn’t want that — who would? — so he brought the problem to God.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 cor. 12:8-9)

Paul asked for his trial to be removed, and instead he received a personal promise of support from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s persistent asking was rewarded by an incredible response, though not the one he initially wanted. He thought he wanted something taken away, but instead he received the power of Christ inside him. Sounds like a good answer to me, and Paul said he would gladly endure trials if the result was Christ’s power dwelling in him.

There are also other promises we can look to when we need our persistence and our hope built up.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Ps. 84:11-12)

This verse promises that God will give us good things if we follow Him, even if they aren’t something we’re asking for. This is the sort of promise fulfilled for Paul. There are also other promises that are equally encouraging, where God says He does indeed give His people the specific requests they ask of Him.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (Ps. 37:4-5)

God doesn’t just ignore us. He knows our needs, and our desired as well. And He wants to give them to us, so long as they are good things that will actually be helpful instead of hurting us in the long-run. We just need to keep asking, and never give up on the One who will never give up on us.

 

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