Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8

Read Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 24.

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we see passage after passage that condemns the people for their sins and warns of coming judgment. The language that describes their disobedience seems so all-encompassing that we might conclude that there were no faithful people in Israel except for the prophets themselves.

Today’s passage in Jeremiah 24 shows that this is not true. Although most of God’s people were disobedient to his covenant, the basket of figs shows that there were some who loved God and lived obediently to him. The fact that Jeremiah described the good figs as “very good” in verse 3 shows that there were some strong believers scattered among the idol worshippers and other unfaithful people of Judah.

But, due to the unfaithfulness of the majority, even these “good figs” were carried away into exile, experiencing the curse of the covenant for the disobedience of the whole kingdom. That seems terribly unjust, but God did not abandon these faithful believers altogether. Instead, today’s reading offers hope for these believers. God promised in verse 6, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” So his promises would be kept in his time.

However, in the meantime, God promised to reward these faithful ones with the thing they really needed anyway: a deeper discipleship with him. Verse 7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Just as even the faithful among God’s people experienced the effects of God’s judgment due to the sins and unbelief of others, so we will have pain and setbacks in our own lives, even if we faithfully follow the Lord. God’s promise to us is not a pain-free life or peaceful, material abundance. God’s promise to us is himself; and that will be more than enough if our hope is truly in him.

Deuteronomy 20, Jeremiah 12, Proverbs 15:1-17

Read Deuteronomy 20, Jeremiah 12, and Proverbs 15:1-17.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:3.

According to one security expert, over 70% of shoplifters do not plan to steal something when they walk into a store. They choose to steal, instead, when they see an opportunity to conceal an item without being seen and leave with it undetected. Secrecy creates a feeling of security which exposes people to the temptation to steal.

The creation of security cameras has helped reduce the amount of theft in retail stores. Cameras that record everything, of course, can help identify a thief after he has stolen. But cameras that are visible to customers and signs that warn of the existence of cameras are more effective in reducing theft altogether than they are in bringing thieves to justice. Awareness that someone may be watching reduces temptation to steal because it increases one’s chance of being caught.

Long before any kind of camera was invented, God warned his people that he is watching us at all times. As we read today in Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” According to this verse, God sees every act of disobedience ever committed by anyone whether that person is seen by another human being or not. God observes everything you do and knows everything you’ve ever done even if you are certain your sin will not be detected and that you will not get caught.

Someday we each have to answer to God for our lives on this earth. The Bible warns repeatedly of a day in the future when everyone will give account to God for our lives on this earth. Given that God sees everything and forgets or misinterprets nothing, the day of our judgment should be a fearful thing to us. But this is why Christ came! He took the judgment of God for our sins on himself so that we might escape God’s wrath on the day of judgment. If you are in Christ, you can be confident that God will declare you “not guilty” on the day of judgment because of the perfect atonement of Christ.

But what about this life? If you sin and no other human being sees it, won’t you get away with it–at least until the final day of judgment arrives? You might; however notice Proverbs 15:10 which we also read today: “Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die.” God has a way of exposing sin even when we think it is undetected and can be covered up. This exposure is designed to discipline us, to provide us with correction. In other words, God is less interested in punishing us when we sin and more interested in preventing us from straying too far from his will if we are in Christ.

Sin usually takes us further than we want to go. It has a deeply deceptive power that draws us in by offering us pleasure and trapping us before we realize how far we’ve strayed and try to escape. One aspect of God’s love for his children, then, is not to allow us to stray as far as we would go or could go but, in his loving providence, bringing discipline into our lives to return us to the path of obedience. You may get away with sin by concealing it in the sense that no human being holds you accountable, but God has his ways of correcting our disobedience and nothing escapes his notice.

There is another aspect of God’s watchfulness in Proverbs 15:3 that we should note. The verse says that the Lord is “keeping watch on… the good.” Your service to the Lord, your obedience to his commands is not wasted if nobody sees it. God sees it and he promises to reward every good that is done in his name. This is the positive aspect of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing nature.

Let the truth of God’s watchful eyes be in your mind and heart always. Let his attention to your steps help you to choose not to sin when you feel like you can keep your sin hidden. Let his careful observation comfort you that the things you do that are good for his name will be rewarded in eternity, even if they are unseen in this life.

Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, 1 Corinthians 15

Read Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, and 1 Corinthians 15.

This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 15.

As this letter to the Corinthians continued, Paul continued addressing issues he knew of in the church. Here in chapter 15, he addressed the resurrection of Jesus which was denied by some of the believers in Corinth (v. 12). Paul began by reminding the Corinthians that they were saved by the gospel he brought to them (vv. 1-2) and that gospel was the death (v. 3), burial (v. 4a), and resurrection of Christ (v. 4b) along with the eyewitness proof of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 5-7). After a brief digression about his apostleship (vv. 8-11), Paul began taking apart the false doctrine that there is no resurrection (vv. 12-49).

If there is no resurrection, than Christ wasn’t raised from the dead and the entire gospel message is a fraud (vv. 12-19). But Christ did rise from the dead and his resurrection is a promissory note of a future hope for us (vv. 20-49). Finally, in verses 50-58, Paul spelled out the future hope we have in Christ because of his resurrection. Death is not a permanent state (v. 51); instead, everyone who died in Christ will be raised again with a glorified body (vv. 52-57). This is our hope. Death is a fearful thing for people but in Christ we are promised deliverance from death through the final resurrection. Christ’s resurrection foreshadows (“the firstfruits,” vv. 20-23) our resurrection.

What good is it to us today to believe in the resurrection? The answer is that it gives us motivation to stand firm in Christ and to invest in his work. Verse 58 says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The promise of the resurrection is both the promise of eternal life with God and the prospect of future rewards in his kingdom.

Do you ever wonder if it is worth it to follow Christ? Do you ever consider quitting your area of ministry because you feel the results are not there? Most of us have felt that from time to time but this passage urges us to hold fast and keep serving because eternity will be worth it. So don’t quit! Keep following Christ and living for him and you will be glad you did when you reach the final resurrection.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Matthew 19

Read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Matthew 19. This devotional is about Matthew 19.

Compared to doing whatever you want to do and whatever the culture around you allows you to do, following Jesus is hard!

If you want to follow Jesus you:

  • shouldn’t get divorced unless your spouse is unfaithful (vv. 1-10).
  • would be better off staying single, but that requires something unusual that isn’t for most people (vv. 11-12).
  • need to be childlike in your faith, something that is really difficult to do (vv. 13-15).
  • must follow Jesus absolutely, even if he commands you to give everything you have away (vv. 16-24).
  • have to rely on God because what Jesus requires is impossible apart from his grace (vv. 25-26).

Quite a discouraging list, yes?

But notice the rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). He promised the Twelve a share of his rule (v. 28e) and that everyone who lost something or someone following him would receive “a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (v. 29).

The kind of submission to Christ described in this chapter may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life.

But human life in this age is over quickly while eternity lasts forever.

Jesus promised more than fair compensation to those who follow him in this life. According to verse 29 you will get eternal life and far more, far better stuff in eternity when you actually have the spiritual capacity to enjoy created things without worshipping them.

Following Jesus in this way might make you feel like a loser in this life but expectations for this life are upside down. As verse 30 put it, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

So, so what Jesus says; it will be more than worth it!

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 24, Zechariah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar:

  • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)
  • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

As for king Joash, who unjustly killed Zechariah, he did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this story when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions, as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

1 Chronicles 28, Micah 5

Read 1 Chronicles 28 and Micah 5.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 28:9: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”

Solomon left behind a kingdom that was incredibly wealthy, a city with impressive architecture, a government that was well-organized and well-run, and a library of wisdom literature that he personally authored. These are impressive accomplishments for anyone. If you consider the time in which Solomon lived, they are even more impressive.

That’s how Solomon’s public life ended but this chapter tells us how his public life began. David, his father, had already publicly enthroned Solomon as his successor; in this chapter, David publicly charged Solomon to build the Lord a temple (vv. 2–6).

But David wasn’t content to see that Solomon constructed a great edifice; he wanted his son also to walk with God. Embedded in the charge of this chapter was a charge from David to Solomon to walk with God (vv. 8-9). Part of that charge to walk with God was to do so “with a willing mind” (v. 9b). The word translated “mind” here is a word that describes someone’s “spirit,” his inner person. David’s command to Solomon, then, is not just to do the Lord’s work but to put his heart and soul into it.

And God would know whether or not Solomon directed the building of the temple this way because, as verse 9c says, “…the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.” This was a huge project; would it be done as an act of love for God or just to get it done as quickly as possible so that Solomon could move on to other things? God knows the difference even if nobody else can tell.

Think about your ministry for God–greeting people on Sunday morning, making coffee or serving donuts, preparing your AWANA challenge for Wednesday night’s counsel time, practicing your instrument for worship team, advancing the slides during the worship service, editing the video livestream, or any number of other ministries that you do for the Lord. Are you doing them with a “willing mind/spirit” or just half-heartedly doing what you have to because you were asked or volunteered out of guilt?

God knows when our ministry is wholehearted, halfhearted, or nohearted,. He will reward us accordingly in the last day. In my experience, the key to doing wholehearted ministry is to remember that you’re doing it for God not for recognition or because “somebody’s got to!” Let’s remind ourselves what God has done for us and that it is a privilege to serve him by serving his people. That will give us a willing mind as we going about serving Christ.

2 Kings 10, Hosea 2

Read 2 Kings 10 and Hosea 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 10.

Jehu was enthusiastic and brutal in carrying out justice against the house of Ahab (vv. 16-17). He not only made sure to extinguish Ahab’s family, he also removed the Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had brought to Israel (vv. 18-28). God commended him and rewarded him for doing what God anointed him to do (vv. 30).

Yet God’s blessing on Jehu was less than it could have been. Verse 32a says, “In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel,” and verses 32b-33 tell us in more specific terms how Israel’s turf was reduced. God’s law said that his people’s territory would expand if they were obedient to his word but here, despite Jehu’s obedience, Israel’s land contracted under his leadership. Why?

The answer is that Jehu’s obedience was partial. Yes, he did what God specifically anointed him to do by wiping out Ahab and Baal worship. But verse 29 told us, “However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” Later, verse 31 said, “Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.” So although he removed Baal worship, he did not extinguish all state-sanctioned idolatry from Israel. One form of idolatry was removed but another form was allowed to continue. Although Jehu was blessed with a bit of a dynasty (v. 30), he was not considered a good king nor did the land of the kingdom grow under his leadership. All of this happened because of his incomplete obedience to God’s word.

Are there any areas in your life where your obedience to God is partial? Are you serving the Lord but not consistently walking with him? Or are you walking with him but not witnessing for him? Maybe you’re walking with Christ and serving and even witnessing but you’re not giving to God’s work. Maybe there’s something else entirely.

Have you ever considered that God might bring more blessings into your life if you were more complete in your obedience to his word?

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Read Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing according to Deuteronomy 24:1. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army. They attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But, he never really led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

  1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
  2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
  3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Deuteronomy 22, Isaiah 49

Read Deuteronomy 22 and Isaiah 49.

This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, may have felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Psalm 17

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Psalm 17.

This devotional is about Psalm 17.

We don’t know the circumstances that led David to sing this song of prayer to God. Was it because Saul was pursuing him? We don’t know. What we do know is that David was distressed (vv. 1-2) and that whatever he was concerned about was not caused by his own sins (vv. 3-5).

Tucked away in this song is the phrase, “save me… from those of this world whose reward is in this life” (v. 14b). Why is do people lie? Why do they make promises they don’t intend to keep? Why do they take advantage of others? Why do people commit so many sins against other people?

The answer, often, is fear.

People fear getting passed over for a promotion they want, so they spread gossip about other worthy candidates. People use deception to get you to buy something or overpay for it because they fear the financial problems they’ve created for themselves. In short, people act they way that they do because they don’t fear accountability to God and they believe, on some level, that all that matters is what happens in this life. There is a certain, twisted logic to the idea that if your reward is in this life, then you’d better get all you can, even if you have to do unrighteous things to get it and keep it.

By contrast, David lived as he did because he believed a greater reward was waiting for him after this life. And what was that reward? It wasn’t streets of gold, or a mansion over the hilltop, or a crown of self-righteousness.

God was the reward he wanted: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v. 15).

Since you love the Lord and belong to him, keep this in mind when you are afraid. When you’re afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing, remember that a greater award awaits: seeing God. Then, call on God to protect you and save you in this life (vv. 6-9) until the time comes when you will be with him.