Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, Psalms 66-68

Today read Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, and Psalms 66-68.

This devotional is about Psalm 66.

Psalm 66 opens in verses 1-7 by calling us to worship God based on what he has done. “All the earth” (v. 1) is commanded to do this worship, so every created person and thing is meant.

The content of our worship is focused on what God has done. As verse 3 put it: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’”

But what are those “deeds”? Some of them are described in the verses that follow. Namely,

  • God’s miraculous works in the past for his people (v. 6)
  • His present sovereign administration over the nations of humanity (v. 7).

But then the focus turns in verses 8-12 to reminding us of the Lord’s discipline. While we don’t usually think of God’s discipline as gracious, it is gracious because God uses discipline to refine us morally in holiness and purge out sins from our lives (v. 10).

In verses 13-15 the Psalmist stated his resolve to keep the vows he has made to worship the Lord in his temple. These vows were made when the Lord’s discipline was on him for, according to verse 14b they were made “… when I was in trouble.”

The Psalmist then testified to the grace of God in verses 16-20. Having promised his worship and obedience to God when he was under discipline, the Psalmist calls for all who “fear God” (v. 16a) to listen to the Psalmist’s story of how the Lord heard his prayer and rescued him when he repented (vv. 17-18).

Have you recently or currently experienced the painful consequences of sin in your life? Has it ever occurred to you that this may be God’s loving discipline, preventing you from wasting your life in disobedience and calling you to turn to him in repentance?

When we come before the Lord, turning from our sins and bringing him the worship he desires and deserves, we will find joy again in our worship (v. 20). Follow the example of the Psalmist and turn to God in repentance so that you can experience the joy of praising him.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

According to the superscription, David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. Saul, the king that he attempted to serve faithfully, was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and living in caves like an animal.

In the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, however, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11.

In verses 1-4 David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the refuge of the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll bet he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it karaoke-style with your favorite recording or a-cappella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard. Or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing.

However you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face.

If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too. God created you with the capacity to make music both to glorify him and to encourage yourself so use this gift of singing to pray and praise the Lord for his glory and your good.

Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, Acts 16

Read Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, and Acts 16.

This devotional is about Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each stop on his journey with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there, too. In the city of Philippi, after Lydia became a believer, she gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). But, then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, her spiritual pimps wanted revenge. So, they pressed charges against Paul and Silas, accusing them of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “…stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)… “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy. But instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34), then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.

Exodus 21, Job 39, Psalms 30-32

Read Exodus 21, Job 39, and Psalms 30-32.

This devotional is about Psalm 30.

David planned a magnificent temple for the Lord and even left Psalm 30, which we read today, behind for its dedication. In this Psalm, David reviewed for us in broad strokes his experience of walking with God.

  • As a warrior, David was delivered from death by God’s help (vv. 1-3).
  • Although David felt the sting of God’s displeasure when he sinned (v. 5a, c), God remained faithful in giving the favor that He had promised David (v. 5b, d). For this, David encouraged his people to sing God’s praises (v. 4).
  • God secured David and his kingdom from many attacks (vv. 6-7a) and was merciful to David when he called on the Lord for help (vv. 7b-10).
  • God took away David’s sorrow and replaced it with joy (v. 11) so that David would sing to Him in heartfelt praise.

I hope your heart is rejoicing today as we gather to worship the Lord. If your heart is heavy–whether from trials or discipline or just the turmoil of living in a fallen world, may the Lord encourage your heart. Take comfort: “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). That morning may not break until we reach eternity, but it is coming. Trust the Lord’s plan; cry out to him for help, give him your sorrows and look to him for joy.

Exodus 9, Job 27, Hebrews 13

Read Exodus 9, Job 27, and Hebrews 13.

This devotional is about Hebrews 13.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others….” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have–a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16

Read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small.

But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks.

But Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would dwell, and eventually where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40).

They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40).

The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). Their actions show what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people.

When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done.

Music can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for our worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day.

Why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work today? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

That pretty much always works for me.

2 Chronicles 32, Zechariah 14

Read 2 Chronicles 32 and Zechariah 14.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal. That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control. In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten. God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him.

The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year this year, I am happy for you and wish you even better things next year. But remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

2 Chronicles 31, Zechariah 13:2-9

Read 2 Chronicles 31 and Zechariah 13:2-9,

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 31.

Hezekiah restored the temple and the priesthood (chapter 29) led Judah to observe the Passover again after generations of ignoring it (chapter 30), and called his people to return to serving and worshipping the Lord from the heart (also chapter 30). God worked through his leadership and the people responded favorably to the Lord. The word “revival” is used whenever a large number of people turn or return to the Lord. Here in 2 Chronicles 31, we see the results of genuine revival from the heart.

The first result is the removal of idols. Idolatry was a constant struggle within Israel and Judah and even when godly kings ruled, it was still practiced in secret. After God revived the hearts of his people under Hezekiah, they voluntarily destroyed their own idols as a result (v. 1). This demonstrated true repentance–a true turning from sin to serve the Lord alone. That’s what happens in our lives, too, when God works to revive and strengthen our commitment to him.

Another result of revival is giving to the Lord’s work from the heart (vv. 2-19). The Levites and priests had abandoned their ministries, as we saw in chapter 29. This was partially due to their own disobedience and partially due to the lack of funding they were receiving from God’s people. After God worked through Hezekiah to revive the hearts of people, the people gave so generously to the Lord’s work that the priests and Levites had more than enough for themselves (vv. 9-10). How did this happen? People started tithing faithfully (vv. 5-6). When people were faithful in tithing, there was more than enough to provide for God’s work and God’s servants. In fact, there was so much more than what was needed that the priests just starting piling it up (vv. 7-8) and built storerooms to warehouse it all (vv. 11-13). In addition to providing for the priests, were two additional results to this faithful tithing. First, there was heartfelt praise and thanks to the Lord for his provision (v. 8). Second, there was adequate provision for more men to dedicate themselves to serve the Lord (vv. 16-19).

This is what happens when God works in a group of people. People stop loving and start hating and repudiating their idols and they start giving faithfully to God’s work. As God’s work is better funded, his servants are able to do more for him and a virtuous cycle begins.

What is the state of your heart before the Lord? Are you praying for God to revive the hearts of people in our church and our community? Are you tithing and giving generously to the Lord’s work through our church?

1 Chronicles 18, Jonah 2

Read 1 Chronicles 18 and Jonah 2.

This devotional is about Jonah 2.

Jonah seems like such a rare person–a disobedient prophet. Surely all the prophets struggled with disobedience in their everyday lives as all believers do. Jonah’s disobedience, however, was disobedience to be the prophet God commanded him to be. He refused to go where God commanded him to go because he did not want to deliver the message God wanted him to deliver.

What is often misunderstood about Jonah, however, is the reason for the fish that swallowed him. This passage is sometimes taught as if the fish was God’s judgment, God’s dungeon to punish Jonah. The truth is that the fish saved Jonah’s life. Verses 5-6 describe a man who was drowning until “…you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit (v. 6c). And why did God do this? Because Jonah was repentant: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple” (v. 7).

The fish was an unpleasant place to be, I’m sure. It was certainly part of God’s discipline in Jonah’s life. God’s discipline is never “pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb 12:11). Yet those painful, unpleasant times save us from the self-destruction of our sins. When God allows you to drown in your own sin but saves you through his discipline, the proper response is the one Jonah brought: “I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Read 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in his tribal land would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenants with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.

2 Samuel 22, Ezekiel 29

Read 2 Samuel 22 and Ezekiel 29.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 22, which is nearly identical to Psalm 18.

In this Psalm, David praised God for the protection God gave him during his many years as a man of warfare. One of the things he praised God for was described in verse 35: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

Undoubtedly David practiced wielding weapons of warfare. The boring hours and days he spent watching the sheep as a boy gave him plenty of time to practice his aim with a sling, not to mention the amount of harp-playing he did during those same days. After he defeated Goliath, he learned to handle a sword and a bow and arrow with lethal accuracy. All that practice gave him the skills that made people sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Sam 18:7).

Yet in verse 35 he praised God for training him for battle. Unlike the pride of the king of Tyre, whom we read about yesterday in Ezekiel 28, David was humble enough to realize that every skill and ability he had came from God. He cultivated that skill, yes, but God was the one who gave him the time and physical ability to practice and perfect that skill. As he sang God’s praises for protection, he also credited him publicly and worshipfully for the fighting skills he developed which enabled him to be victorious and avoid being killed in battle.

What is the one skill you’re good at–the one that friends of your wish they had and maybe even the one that provides you with a good living? Do you realize that skill is a gift from God and so were the time, the teachers, and the opportunities you’ve had to develop it? Do you take time periodically to thank God for that provision? Do you deflect praise from yourself to the Lord when others praise you for that skill?

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord: Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped off Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy that she had prayed so earnestly for, but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?