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Archive for February, 2015

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Pretend you’re on an ocean liner that has embarked from New York City and is sailing to England.   You and several thousand other passengers enjoy your days at sea, free to choose from dozens of activities—games, shopping, shows, sports, crafts, and more. You can eat anytime you like, sleep whenever you feel drowsy, make friends among the other passengers, or remain solitary. In other words, you make many choices during the voyage, but all the while the ship is headed towards its predetermined destination.

A.W. Tozer gave us this illustration in his classic, The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Brothers, 1961), to help us understand God’s sovereignty: 1) Our all-powerful God has total authority in the universe, just as the shipping authorities exercise sovereignty over the course of a ship. 2) We have been given much freedom, within the confines of God’s sovereignty, to move about and make choices.

Now some folks take issue with God’s control. They want to direct the course of their life-ships.  I, for one, find great comfort in the numerous, reassuring scriptures about God’s sovereignty.

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For example, everything in heaven and earth belongs to Him. He is the glorious head over all, the ruler of all things (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). That includes us–those who know Jesus and belong to the family of God. As our Heavenly Father, he provides for our needs, guides us through decisions, bestows many blessings, and more. What encouraging truth! The Almighty God of the universe is in charge of our lives, as we submit to him. We don’t have to navigate alone.

The key, however, is submission. God is a gentleman and will not force himself upon us. He has chosen to limit his sovereignty, to allow man free choice.

Another reassuring truth: God is totally competent. We’ve all known inept leaders who could not fulfill their responsibilities. But our Ruler is supremely capable.  Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17).  As we focus on his complete sufficiency, our worries shrink in significance.

In addition, no plan of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2).   What God says, happens.

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His sovereign plan is efficient and goal-oriented. He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his perfect plan (Ephesians 1:11).

God’s sovereignty is also employed with infinite wisdom (Job 12:13).  No foolish decisions come from God’s throne!

And contrary to appearances, he does maintain over-arching rule on mankind (Jeremiah 32:27). That would include the barbaric Babylonians of Jeremiah’s day, who destroyed Jerusalem, murdered the nobles of Judah, and took thousands of Jewish captives to Babylon.  God’s over-arching rule also applies to the wicked forces creating havoc in our day.

Good people are often hurt in the process, and it breaks our hearts.   Every century has had its martyrs for the faith. And our questions of why God allows bad things to happen to good people don’t always get answered. We’re not privy to everything God knows or to all the reasons behind his decisions (Romans 11:33-36).

What we do know is this: Evil never wins in the end. Every evil empire of history that rose in prominence and power eventually fell in ruin. Our sovereign God knows what he is doing. He will have the last word.

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So when the squeaky wheels of worry, doubt, or fear begin to spin in your head, and you wonder, Is God in control?, apply the oil of gladness in who God is—our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, and yes, in-control God!

Take joy in the knowledge that “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?

And rest in the affirmation that “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36, emphasis added).

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Sovereign Lord of the universe, we bow in worshipful wonder of your magnificence. Your greatness shatters all boundaries! We stand in awe of your vast power and infinite wisdom, always at work in the world.

“And when I cannot understand” [your plan or your ways], “help me just to stand” (Selwyn Hughes).

(Art & photo credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org; http://www.verseoftheday.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.spiritualinpsiration.tumblr.com.)

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Steve came into the kitchen carrying a lovely rose, its dewy petals just beginning to open.  Delicate baby’s breath surrounded the bloom; emerald-green tissue and a red satin bow created a fitting frame.

He passed the rose to me with love in his eyes and a sweet smile on his face.

I took the rose and threw it on the floor.

What?! you say. How could you do such a thing?

The truth is, I didn’t. I made that up. Not the part about Steve bringing me roses. He has surprised me with flowers numerous times over the years. I made up the part about taking a rose from him and throwing it on the floor.

That would be terribly rude, wouldn’t it. But the scenario described above does provide an allegory for the way we sometimes accept verbal gifts–occasions when we’ve treated kind words as trash:

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“Who, me? Oh, no. Not really. So-and-So is much better at __________ than I am.”

“You liked what I said? You must not have been listening very carefully!”

“I can’t believe you actually liked it. I thought it was terrible.”

Compliments are like roses, offered in an effort to bring a smile, provide good cheer, express appreciation and encouragement. When we discount them, it’s as if we’re throwing these verbal gifts on the floor. The compliment-giver feels put down, awkward, and lacking in good taste.

You may be thinking: Wait a minute.  As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be humble? Accepting compliments seems so prideful.

Not if you view positive remarks as declarations of God’s glory, as it’s reflected through you. Not when you consider that denying sincere, truthful compliments detracts from God’s glory.

So how can Christians accept compliments with grace? Here are several possibilities:

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  1. Simply say “thank you” and give the glory–the credit–to God. He is the one who gave you the ability to accomplish the task for which you are being praised. Pass the compliment on to God.
  1. Consider the compliment as encouragement. God is at work in you and he’s using you to minister to others. Thank the person for their kind words, and praise God for the opportunity to be used for his purpose, in ways that bless others.
  1. God often uses his people as agents for his encouragement. It’s possible those kind words are coming straight from God’s heart to yours. Take joy in the blessing.
  1. A gracious “thank-you-so-much-for-your-kind-words” will prompt the compliment-giver to continue offering encouragement to others.   Wise King Solomon compared inspiring/supportive words to gold (Proverbs 25:11). That’s how valuable they are.

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  1. If others were involved in your achievement, be sure to give them credit. Sharing the glory will increase the pleasure of the compliment.
  1. Later, when the kind words come to mind again, whisper a prayer.  For example:

“Heavenly Father, thank you for blessing my effort and touching that woman’s heart. What an honor to be used by you to minister to her.”

Turn compliments into praise and they won’t turn into pride.

 

(Photo & art credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.handmaidcraftday.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wimempowerment.org.)

 

 

 

 

 

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The drummer begins a snappy, energizing beat.

The guitarists add moving chords.

The keyboard player joins with a compelling melody and attention-grabbing harmony.

Then the leader of the band enthusiastically proclaims, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Please stand and join me as we praise and worship our awesome God!”

It’s a familiar scene for those who attend a contemporary or blended worship service.

Have you ever wondered why we are invited to praise and worship? Aren’t the two words just synonyms for each other?

That’s what I thought for a long time.   Then a worship leader explained that the upbeat praise songs we sing first are designed to help us focus on God instead of the many mind-distractions vying for attention.

After a time of praise, he said, we are more receptive to the quieter, more reverent songs of worship. He likened our musical journey to the movement of Bible time worshipers, from the outer courts of the temple to the inner court.

Since then, I’ve learned more insights into the difference between praise and worship. For example:

Praise is an expression of approval and admiration, exalting God for who he is. We praise him for his wonderful attributes, like love, wisdom, power, and holiness. He is certainly worthy of every word of praise we can offer (Psalm 18:3).

But we can also praise people for their attributes. Even the family dog earns praise for being a good boy or girl! Praise is relatively easy to give. It costs us nothing except a little thoughtfulness and a little time.

A close relative of praise is thanksgiving. Just as we praise God for who he is, we express gratitude for what he does.

Worship, on the other hand, is exclusive. God is the only One worthy of our worship (Luke 4:8).

The word, worship, comes to us from Old English: weorth (worth) and scipe (ship). When we express our awe, love, and respect to God, we are proclaiming his worth to us.

True worship also includes humility, honesty, and surrender (John 4:24; Psalm 119:7):

  • Humility as we recognize God’s supremacy,
  • Honesty as we confess our inadequacy and sin,
  • Surrender as we relinquish our wills to his all-wise control.

Worship also draws us closer to God (Psalm 145:18), which is not just for Sunday mornings. Worship (as well as praise and thanksgiving) is designed by God to permeate our every day lives.

It’s as if praise, worship, and thanksgiving are tributaries, streaming together to form one great river. Three becoming one. Not like a braid, with three plaits woven side-by-side but still separate entities. No–a blending together into a whole, the parts no longer distinguishable.

Praise from a worshipful heart—one that is characterized by humility, honesty, and surrender—is the most sincere.

Thanksgiving that celebrates God’s goodness in his actions and praises God’s greatness of character, is the most complete.

Worship that includes sincere praise and complete gratitude is the most beautiful.

 

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Every day, Lord, you manifest your greatness to me. May I be quick to offer you praise, thanksgiving, and worship, because you are worthy of no less. And thank you for the gift of worship, for the overwhelming privilege of basking in your glorious and holy Light.

 

(Photo credit:  www.blog.nextlevelworship.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Have you ever heard statements like these?

  • “Oh, yes.  God wants me to be happy. He’s promised to give me the desires of my heart.”
  • “If you have enough faith, anything you ask of God can be yours.”
  • “God will take care of me. I don’t need to budget or plan ahead.”
  • “I can’t help it if I’m moody; that’s the way God made me. He understands.”

Any person who holds such beliefs can point to a verse or two in scripture, proving their points.

The problem is, the Bible was not written in brief, stand-alone statements. Bible truths are based on the context of the whole. Historical and literary understanding are also important.

Another problem? We wish for God to conduct himself in a certain way.  We even find scriptures that seem to back up our desires. But the truth is, we must know God as he is.

If we don’t, we’re living in confusion.

“The sooner we accept God as he is, and do not imagine him as we would like him to be, the sooner we will move from the path of confusion to confidence” (Selwyn Hughes, 1928-2006, Welsh pastor and author).

However, so much of God is beyond our understanding.

 

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“Just as [we’ll] never understand

the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman,

so [we’ll] never understand

the mystery at work in all that God does.”

Ecclesiastes 11:5, The Message.

Our finite brains cannot fully comprehend our infinite God. But that shouldn’t stop us from learning and experiencing all we can.

Learning comes from the Bible. In its pages we find a glorious treasure trove of wisdom, encouragement, and guidance.

Experience comes through exercising our faith.

“If we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience” (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, twelfth century monk).

It is impossible to fully explain this life of faith, just as you can’t fully explain what it’s like falling in love, getting married, or becoming a parent. Words fail to describe such beautiful and strong emotions.

We had to trust those who told us:

  • “You’ll know you’re in love when it happens to you.”
  • “Your wedding day will be the best day of your life to that point.”
  • “Perhaps the only ‘high’ better than falling in love or getting married is holding your newborn baby in your arms for the first time.”

 

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Similarly, we have to trust what God tells us through his spokesmen in the Bible. For example:

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect,

and all his ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

upright and just is he.”

Deuteronomy 32:4

You might want to read that third line again. Our God is faithful—reliable, loyal, and completely trustworthy. HE. DOES. NO. WRONG.  Now that’s Someone in whom we can place our confidence!

Here is another example of scripture-truth about him:

 

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 “Righteousness and justice

are the foundation of [God’s] throne;

love and faithfulness go before [him].”

Psalm 89:14

Those four characteristics—right-doing, justice, love, and faithfulness—are the bedrock of who our God is. Everything he does flows from those attributes, including difficult circumstances and painful events that make no sense to us.

“Our inability to discern why bad things sometimes happen to us does not disprove God’s benevolence; it merely exposes our ignorance” (Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, p. 46).

Someday we will understand why such events occur. For now we must trust.

But our trust is not blind. We can be confident in our God because:

“True faith rests in the character of God” (A.W. Tozer).

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.whatmykidsread.com; http://www.photobucket.com; http://www.huffingtonpost.com, http://www.pinterest.com.)

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

Isabella, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, was born a slave in New York state about 1797. No one knows the exact date, because birth records weren’t kept for “property.”

Did her parents know the name means, “consecrated to God?” Even if they chose the name for its meaning, those parents could not have dreamed of the future awaiting their Baby Belle.

Her early years were difficult.  Belle was sold five times, several times to cruel masters.

At age eighteen or so, Belle fell in love with Robert, a young slave from a nearby farm. The couple had a daughter. But Belle’s master, John Dumont, forbade her to see Robert again. According to the law, all children of the union would belong to Robert’s master, not Dumont.

Two years later, Dumont forced Belle to marry an older slave. They had three children: Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia.

In 1826, Belle escaped the Dumont farm with Baby Sophia. In a vision, God showed her a particular home to go to. That home belonged to a Quaker family, the Wageners, who took in the young woman and her baby. They even paid Belle’s price to Dumont and made her a free woman. Belle became a housekeeper, then a maid.

Shortly after her escape from slavery, Belle learned that her five-year old son, Peter, had been illegally sold in Alabama. She took the matter to court and won her case. Peter was returned to New York. That was the first time a black woman challenged a white man in a U.S. court. It was also the first time of many that Belle’s resolve and courage were put on display.

Several years later Belle was falsely accused of poisoning her former employer. In 1835 she took that case to court and won again.

Someone must have encouraged Belle to tell her story of being a slave and becoming a free woman. But she had never learned to read or write, so a friend wrote as Belle dictated. A Northern Slave was published in 1850.

In her book, Belle explained that several years after she was freed, God revealed himself to her, “with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over, that he pervaded the universe, and that there was no place where God was not.”

The book sold many copies and Belle became well-known. She was asked to speak at a women’s rights convention in Massachusetts. Before long, Belle was traveling with abolitionist, George Thompson, speaking against slavery and for human rights.

In 1851, Belle gave a speech at another women’s conference, this time in Ohio. She spoke convincingly (and extemporaneously) about women being every bit as capable as a man:

“I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?”

And, no doubt with a twinkle in her eye, she added:

“As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart — why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble.”

She concluded by asking: “And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part?”

It’s not surprising that some were displeased with Belle’s speeches. One time she was told that the building where she was to preach would be burned down if she dared to speak. “Then I will speak to the ashes,” she replied.

Belle was also physically assaulted. One brutal attack caused permanent injury, and she had to walk with a cane for the rest of her life.

In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an article about Belle for the Atlantic Monthly:

“I do not recollect ever to have been conversant with anyone who had more of that silent and subtle power which we call personal presence…She seemed perfectly self-possessed and at her ease. An audience was what she wanted—it mattered not whether high or low, learned or ignorant. She had things to say, and was ready to say them at all times, and to anyone.”

Imagine. A slave woman who never had the opportunity to go to school, never learned to read or write. Yet the power of her spoken word helped bring the end of slavery and pave the way for women to be granted the right to vote.

Belle proved:

“There is no difficulty that cannot be defeated.

There is no victory that cannot be achieved,

if you believe in the power of God!”

— Anonymous

Of course, by the time she achieved notoriety, Belle was known by another name.

You see, Belle had asked God for a new name several decades before the Civil War. Again, it was the result of a vision. She said God chose her new first name based on the fact she would travel. Then Belle asked God for a second name, “’cause everybody has two names.” And the Lord granted her request. Her second name proclaimed what Belle always declared from her podium.

Perhaps you remember Sojourner Truth.

 

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(Photo from http://www.wikipedia.org.)

 

Sources:  www.biography.com; http://www.sojournertruth.org; http://www.; http://www.blackpast.org; http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org; http://www.christianitytoday.com.)

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Abby has prayed for years that her estranged son would come home.

Stacie has faced the loss of one job and a stressful transition to another–with a broken leg.

Jack has worked hard to qualify for a prized promotion, but the boss’s unpleasant nephew was awarded the position instead.

Tricia can’t seem to shake a gray cloud of despondency, ever since her fiancé broke off their engagement.

Kate goes through the motions at church and even continues with her quiet time. But God seems to have distanced himself. She hasn’t sensed his presence for weeks.

These circumstances and more can cause a downward spiral in our spirits, as debilitating emotions take over–emotions like frustration, anger, hurt, worry, and depression. If we feed these emotions with negative thoughts, our faith in God begins to falter.

The devil’s lies begin to sound like truth:

  • So much time has passed; God is never going to answer your prayer.
  • Bad things keep happening; God has obviously abandoned you.
  • God doesn’t care about your life. Otherwise, why would he allow you to fail?
  • They say God offers love, hope, peace, and joy. Right. None of it is coming your way.
  • It looks like God has forsaken you and to make matters worse, you don’t even know why.

Is it possible to fight against such feelings and fortify our faith? Oh, yes!

Our fight begins with truth—straight from God’s Word. We have to choose fact over feelings—just like a pilot does, as he flies through miles of thick clouds. In order to stay on course, he can’t trust what he feels is proper speed, direction, and altitude; he has to rely on the facts presented by his instruments.

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So what scriptural truths might help us maintain our spiritual equilibrium? There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of passages that address our various needs with pinpoint perfection.

Other scriptures provide broad-sweeping truth that covers almost any situation. One example:

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.  The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:13-14).

If we read the Bible with the intent of finding applicable truth for our circumstance, we will not be disappointed.

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(“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.  And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled”–Romans 15:4, NLT.)

 Now the question is: Are we going to take God at his word and then act upon it?

Hebrews 11 gives us a line-up of faith-stars who did just that–based their actions on faith, not feelings.

By faith Noah built at ark (v. 7).   He did not allow feelings of inadequacy to stop him.

By faith Abraham left home with no notion of where he was going (v. 8). He did not allow fear of the unknown to deter him from following God’s direction.

By faith, the parents of Baby Moses hid him from Pharaoh. They did not allow fear of punishment to stop them. “They were not afraid of the king’s edict” (v. 23).

By faith the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven times, even though it didn’t make sense (v. 30).

Bottom line: Faith is the exercise of our minds, based on the stable truth of God’s Word, in spite of what we might feel. Emotions are just the unreliable, fluctuating condition of our minds (J. Clarke, http://www.writtentreasures.org).

On the other hand, God doesn’t ask us to ignore our feelings. Job, David, and the prophets honestly expressed frustration, fear, disappointment, and discouragement. But they didn’t allow their emotions to cripple them.

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Also worth noting:  None of these faithful people were perfect, yet God honored their faith.  He doesn’t need perfect people to accomplish his purpose, just willing and faithful ones.

 

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Forgive me, Lord, for allowing feelings to impact my faith, to weaken my trust in you. Together with you, may I fit every thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.  Thank you for listening and offering encouragement as I confess to you my feelings.  You even supply strength, peace, and hope.  And finally, I praise you that you preserve the faithful. I am secure in you.  In fact, you, my all-powerful God, are security itself.      

(2 Corinthians 10:5, MSG; Psalm 10:17; Psalm 29:11; Psalm 31:23.)

Art & Photo credits:  www.hem-of-his-garment-bible-study.org; www. pbase.com; http://www.scentoffaith.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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(“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!  I sing for joy because of what you have done” — Psalm 92:4 NLT.)

God lavishes his gracious kindness upon us in countless ways, doesn’t he?

In appreciation for all he’s done, I have a suggestion. Let’s each write him a personal psalm for Valentine’s Day.  A love gift, on a love-focused holiday, for our loving God.  (You have more than a week to prepare your gift!)

Is that an overly sentimental idea?

Perhaps the timing is, but the matter of creating personal psalms has nothing to do with sentimental poetry.

I can hear some of you already. “Me—compose a psalm? I struggle to put a personal message on a birthday card!”

If that sounds like you, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9)!

God waits with eager anticipation for you to enjoy an intimate Father/child relationship with him (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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 And what parent is not overjoyed when a son or daughter shares his/her innermost thoughts and feelings?

Remember, a psalm is simply a heartfelt prayer or song.  Key word: heartfelt.  Our psalms do not have to rhyme. We don’t have to use fancy literary devices like metaphors, imagery, or parallelism unless we want to.

These psalms are for our Heavenly Father.  He takes great pleasure in the sincere, unpretentious efforts of his children, just as all parents do.  We can even ask for his help to string the words together that will express our hearts.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started—that first thought. An easy solution is to use a biblical psalm as a model.

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To begin, you might choose a favorite verse. Read it slowly, several times. Rewrite it in your own words.  These questions might help to push your thinking further:

  • Is there a phrase or word that stands out?   Explain to God why it is important to you.
  • Do you feel a connection with this particular verse?  Add a personal experience when God’s activity in your life made this verse especially meaningful for you.

Following is one way to create a personal psalm, based on Psalm 3:3a: “You are a shield around me, O Lord.”

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1.  Choose a key word.  “Shield” is an obvious choice.

2.  Use the question-words who, what, where, when, why, and how to jump-start your thought processes.  Not all of them will spark an idea, but several will.  For example:  How is God a shield for me? What is he shielding me from? Why is it important for me to remember that he is my shield?

3.  Prayerfully and thoughtfully answer your questions. Meditate for a moment, then begin to write. One word can become the basis for the first sentence. A word or idea from that sentence can be expanded upon and become another sentence.

Before you know it, a psalm is born!

 

I praise you, oh God, for being like a shield

when disturbing thoughts are hurled my way.

You deflect those poisoned-arrows

with your shield of scriptural truth

and tender compassion.

Help me remember

you are all-powerful and all-wise.

There is no circumstance or emotional battle

that you cannot handle.

Your strong shield protects me

from the assault of Satan and his cohorts—

those negative, discouraging thoughts

that try to attack the peace and joy you’ve given me.

You are my almighty Warrior-God,

unsurpassed in power.

Satan cowers in your presence!

Help me avail myself of your protection

at every onslaught.

 

Once your psalm is complete, it’s time for presentation.  Read your psalm out loud to God. You will sense his presence as he comes to listen! How do I know?

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(“Come near to God and he will come near to you” — James 4:8.)

Keep your journal or notebook handy. Further thoughts may occur to you as you read, or afterward as you reflect. One more question to consider: In what ways has your relationship to God been impacted through this composing process?  You may wish to write about that, too.

I must confess, I’ve written a number of personal psalms. But recent reading on the subject has inspired me to pursue new avenues of this form of worship.

In future psalms I want to increase my reflection time, be more specific, add more detail, and actually read my psalms out loud.  I’m looking forward to expressing the depths of my heart more openly and discovering new depths of my Heavenly Father.

If you already write personal psalms, or should decide to write one, I’d love to hear about your experience!

 

(Art and photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.healthcentral.com; http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com.)

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