Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)
Most of us have been to the emotional depths. We’ve been desperate about a situation—relational, economic, physical, spiritual—and we’ve cried out to God with every ounce of energy we have. At such times, we hardly think we’re honoring Him; we may even think we’re a bother to His busy schedule, with all the taking care of the world that He does. Maybe next time we’re at such a low point, we’ll be encouraged to remember that when we pray this way, we’re worshiping.
Desperate prayers are, in fact, one of the clearest ways for us to honor God. Saying “Lord, I need You,” acknowledges His importance to us. He is essential, after all, and the desperate soul is not afraid to say so.
There’s a repeated dynamic in the Bible: God’s people have a great need, they come to Him with it in faith, He provides by meeting that need, and they presumably (though not always) give Him thanks and sing songs of praise. The Word gives us songs of deliverance, of victory, of gratitude, and more. Why? Because needy people sought Him, He answered, and they praised Him. He was glorified in the dynamic of human need. No wonder He lets us go to those low places so often.
The dynamic is distorted, of course, when (1) we don’t take our needs to Him; (2) we don’t believe He’ll answer us; or (3) we don’t give Him glory after His gracious response. Perhaps that’s why we so often miss it; we misunderstand the whole point.
But God has chosen to create a planet of needy people as a stage for His great supply. In our depths, His heights are more visible. In our depravity, His righteousness shines brighter. In our poverty, His riches are so much more appreciated than they ever would have been otherwise.
Do you see your deep, desperate needs as occasions to worship Him? They are. Even the very act of crying out to Him is to His glory. It recognizes who He is: the essential God.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)
Whenever times get tough, we crave deliverance. We cry out to God and ask Him to get us out of whatever situation we’re in. It’s human nature; we’re not conditioned to enjoy pain.
God knows that. That’s why He promises deliverance. We want Him to get us out of trouble, and this psalm promises that He will. That seems simple, except for one nagging question—a huge one: Despite our cries for deliverance, and despite the promise that it will come, we still seem awfully stuck. All our troubles seem to persist, even in the face of desperate prayer. Why?
God desires a deeper deliverance than we crave. Or, to turn it around, we look for the shallow way out and ask Him to give it to us. Sometimes He may, but that’s not usually His first response. First and foremost, He wants to deliver us from the internal captivity we face—the emotional anguish, the sense of dread, the worries about our future, the idols that we clutch. Giving us the shallow way out would leave all of those things intact. We know God better than to think He’s obsessed with our circumstances without giving attention to our hearts. The heart is where He delivers first. The circumstances almost always follow afterward.
Have you noticed the attributes of the person God delivers? In this psalm, He delivers the righteous—not the perfectly sinless (though the Savior who has come to live in us certainly fulfills that requirement), but the one whose heart is constantly, repeatedly leaning in God’s direction. Those who gravitate toward sin have to be broken from that attraction.
And that’s the second attribute of the one God delivers: brokenness. Being “crushed in spirit,” as verse 18 mentions, sounds painful, but it’s the only way to freedom. God is close to the brokenhearted, the crushed—those who are utterly undone. Our weakness is an occasion for His strength. And His strength always delivers us more deeply than we could have imagined.
May 31 – June 6
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? (1 Chronicles 17:16)
David has gotten some good news and some bad news. The news came from God Himself, so David understands its finality. The bad news is that a dream of his has been denied; he will not be the one to build a house for God. The good news is that God will build David’s house, establishing his throne forever.
For most of us, the good news would far outshine the bad. It probably did so for David, too. But his prayer seems to have just a touch of bittersweet flavor, a disappointment that though God has richly blessed His servant with lavish promises, He has not promised that a temple will be built during David’s reign. So David has bowed in reverence, humbled at the plan of God.
David’s opening line (v. 16) would be a good one for us to use whenever God has denied us our plans. Yes, we will be disappointed sometimes when our will for serving God does not match His plans for us. The disappointment could be overwhelming if not for one thing: God has given us promises as lavish as the ones given to David. We have been grafted into that very same eternal Kingdom that has come through David’s line. David’s house has been established forever through the Messiah, and so has ours. We’re in the same house—the Kingdom of the One who has redeemed us. We can say with David: “Who am I…that you have brought me this far?”
Perspective is the key to our disappointments. No matter what prayer God leaves unanswered, He has promised us an eternity with Him. And it will be more than just an existence; it will be an eternity of unimaginable quality. The riches of our God have been poured out on us in Jesus! An awareness of that wealth is where all prayers should begin. Every disappointment will pale in comparison to what He has already blessed us with.
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3)
Sometimes it seems like we suffer while the rest of the world parties. You probably know the feeling: Advertisements offer us the high life, peers put on a good show of confidence and success, and bookstores try to sell us everything we need to know to be healthy, emotionally balanced, and satisfied in all areas of life. Meanwhile, life for us has lost its luster. We see the corruption of fallen humanity, we have witnessed broken relationships, and we are faced with illness and death. The crushing weight of life reminds us that “Eat, drink, and be merry” is a completely empty philosophy. It offers us nothing in the end.
Navigating the heavy issues of relationships, debts, burdens, and human mortality without the comfort of God is the source of nearly every human neurosis. How do people get by without Him? The truth is that they don’t. They can ignore Him for a time, and they can pretend that they are satisfied and happy. But their pursuit of pleasure, ideology, or some other empty agenda will catch up to them with a nagging reminder: We live in a fallen world, we will suffer pain, and we will die. No amount of partying can change that.
This weighty reminder is the reason that so many have rejected the Christian faith. They want nothing to do with negatives: no sin, no corruption, no death. Health and happiness in all things is the golden calf they seek, never knowing the true health and happiness that a relationship with Jesus can bring.
The psalmist is right. Though his soul is downcast, though he suffers mockery and feeds on his own tears, he knows where to turn—“a prayer to the God of my life” (v. 8).
Never seek comfort in pleasure or possessions. Let people comfort you only if they offer the comfort of God. In your lowest points in life, realize the emptiness of those who are living the high life. Put your hope in God.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)
Life with God is rough on us. It’s a tremendous blessing and a light burden, but it can also be a violent overhaul. A life reoriented from self to God, from human impulse to Holy Spirit, and from sin to holiness implies a traumatic event. The change we experience is radical and relentless. We will forever be glad for it, but it might hurt for a while.
The writer of Psalm 42 is experiencing pain—“mortal agony,” he declares in verse 10. His soul is downcast. God has allowed him to be in a difficult place. His response is correct: He thirsts for God and trusts Him as his Rock. Still, he must look forward to the future with hope, because the present is excruciating.
You’ve probably been in a similar state of mind. Pain is part of the human experience. It’s also part of the life of worship. Being a living sacrifice means that we live through the painful part of devotion. We give up treasures to the One we love in gratitude for the blessings of His love. It’s worth it, but it hurts sometimes. Especially when He puts us in a hard place.
Perhaps the hardships are simply to develop our strength of character. Or perhaps God is rearranging our lives so we’re really living for Him. It’s hard to sacrifice dreams and goals for His greater plans, but if we belong to Him, it’s inevitable. He always puts our hearts in their proper place.
If you have entered into a relationship with God—if the Breath of Life is alive in you—then He will painfully touch you at your deepest levels of desire. That’s a given, an integral part of the discipleship process. It isn’t that your desires and attachments are wrong; they simply may not hold the proper place in your affections. But reordering your priorities to match God’s is what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about. Like a violent waterfall, God sometimes hurts. Like rushing water, He also purifies. If His work hurts, let it. Your hope is in Him.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137:1)
The captive Jews could not sing. Their city—their lives—lay in ruins at the hands of the Babylonians. Now they were slaves in a foreign land. All those promises from God about establishing Jerusalem forever seemed tragically obsolete, forfeited by their own disobedience. Did God live in Babylon? They weren’t sure. He seemed so far away. And there was no song left for them to sing.
Psalm 137 is a lament by someone whose life had been struck by catastrophe. All seemed lost; hopelessness and despair had set in. There is anger in this psalm, along with disappointment and frustration. And bitterness—perhaps the most brutal emotion a human being can have. Bitterness obsesses about what could have been and despairs that it now isn’t even possible. It eats away at all sense of hope and leaves us feeling awfully hollow.
Emotions are one of humanity’s most powerful attributes. They can incite a crowd, sway a nation, distort our values, affect our decisions, inspire great works of art, and move us to serve God and others. They can have both positive and negative implications—even simultaneously. And the Bible is an emotional book. There is joyful dancing before the Lord, loud lament over broken lives, and everything in between. There is no hint in God’s revelation that He desires sterile, calculated religion. We were created as beings of passion.
Are you emotional before God? He put this bitter psalm and others into His Word, and its raw nerves are unashamedly bared in His presence. Clearly, it is okay with Him for us to dance, to lament, to weep, to laugh, to be excited, to be moody—to express whatever our hearts are feeling. Does He want us to be ruled by such moods? Of course not. But if we have them, He wants us to be honest about them—just as the writer of Psalm 137 was.
Take whatever emotions you have into the presence of God. It doesn’t matter how raw they are. Sincerity honors His grace. There’s healing in our honesty before Him.
June 28 – July 4
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. (Acts 8:33)
The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53, and the prophecy was confusing to him. Who was this sheep led to the slaughter? Who would undergo such treatment without opening his mouth? Who could possibly have his life taken in such degrading fashion and still be so highly honored in the prophetic Word? The Ethiopian had ears to hear; now he needed someone with a mouth to speak.
God sent Philip, who explained the Good News about Jesus. We may have a hard time understanding what it was like to hear such strange truths for the first time. Some flesh-and-blood Person was cruelly executed because that was what we deserved. That’s hard to swallow unless the Holy Spirit has done some groundwork in the hearer’s heart. And He had; the Ethiopian embraced the Good News right away.
It’s so sad, this Good News. A righteous Savior was deprived of justice so that a wicked world might be spared from it. The Judge could have rightfully vindicated Jesus with glorious blessing while condemning us with well-deserved wrath. But this God switched justice around on His own Son. Jesus absorbed the shock of wrath so that the world wouldn’t have to. All in all, justice was done; wrath was poured out on mankind. But the ones who deserved it were forgiven while the only One who didn’t—the only One ever—felt it all.
We won’t ever get to the bottom of that mystery. It’s too deep. We understand what we need to know about it, but God hasn’t told us everything that went on behind the scenes in that transaction. All we know is that if we accept it, we are blessed by it. We have to accept it at face value like a child would accept an extravagant gift—without ever really understanding its cost.
But that shouldn’t stop us from meditating on the mysterious sacrifice of the Lamb who didn’t open His mouth. It’s amazing. What a Savior!
For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. (Malachi 3:2)
Silver and gold do not come out of the earth in complete purity. In fact, sometimes precious metals are hardly recognizable in the mines; they look just like the earthy minerals around them. But an experienced eye can spot them amid the dirt, and a careful miner can extract them. That, however, is only the beginning of the process.
In order for a precious metal to be purified, its corruption must be burned out of it. It has to be extracted from its ore by melting, which separates the impurities from the valuable elements. It’s a rough process, and if the metal had feelings, it would scream in pain. But the finished product is magnificent—a rare treasure of beauty. People pay extravagantly for such treasures.
God presents Himself through the prophets as the Refiner. He can take any precious metal, no matter how corrupt and indistinguishable from its environment, and extract what is precious and beautiful. It’s a traumatic process but extremely worthwhile. The result is something that shines with the glory God intended it to have.
No one really wants the Refiner to do His work in his or her life, but those who welcome Him anyway are very wise. The refining process is never comfortable, but there is absolutely no way to experience the glory of God without it. We usually don’t see past the choice between comfort and the crucible, but it’s really a choice between mediocrity and beauty, or between boredom and fulfillment. If we really knew what God was doing in the refining, we would choose it every time.
Let that attitude shape your response to the difficulties in your life. You don’t have to accept what the enemy tries to dish out, but you would be wise to let your trials do their deep work in your character and your spiritual growth. God has a purpose for the things we go through, and it’s always good. The Refiner is extracting your beauty.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:3)
Imagine a person with absolutely no impure motives—no selfishness, no manipulation, no unworthy desire. Imagine that person having never functioned from any driving force other than love—an intense desire to seek the best for everyone. Imagine this person having the patience to wait for eons, the mercy to cover all mistakes, and the generosity to pour out kindness after kindness. Now imagine a person like that finding someone to relate to intimately.
That would be a hard task, wouldn’t it? A person like that is one of a kind, and there are no true counterparts for one-of-a-kind people. Yet that’s a picture of the God who made humanity in His image for the purpose of intimacy. We were designed to be pure, loving, generous, kind, and enduringly patient. We were formed to be like Him so that we could relate to Him emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically as creative beings. The only problem is that God’s pure image became corrupted in human rebellion. His counterparts became decidedly unlike Him.
That’s why God is in the business of extracting silver and gold from common ore. The Refiner has a greater purpose than the purity of the metal. He means for it to fit His taste and match the glory of His heart. The master metallurgist is creating something dazzling for Himself.
Maybe you never thought of yourself as “dazzling.” Maybe that’s because you, like all of us, are still in the refining process, where impurities still mingle with the treasure being extracted. But just because the unappealing process is highly visible doesn’t mean that the end result shouldn’t be beautiful. Keep your eyes on it and trust the Refiner. He knows exactly what it takes to make you shine.
Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. (Malachi 3:1)
Most of us don’t understand our own desires. We all want fulfillment, and we think we know how to get it, but we don’t. Nearly everything we expect to be fulfilling is a temporary fix. It may scratch some itches, move us deeply, or even satisfy our longings temporarily, but ultimately it all falls short. Deep down, we want to be fulfilled completely and forever. We’ve never come up with a solution for that.
God has. Malachi prophesied that the messenger of the covenant, the Messiah, was actually the desire of our hearts. He is the Lord we were seeking, the One we delight in. And, Malachi says, He will come.
Impure hearts like ours don’t necessarily find that comforting. We want our desires to be fulfilled, and to a person, we all seem to think that God doesn’t quite understand our desires. Our assumption is that He has a great plan for us—as He defines “great”—but that it will be harder or more noble or less satisfying than we want it to be. Somehow we got the message that God’s plan is best, but not fulfilling—or fun.
We’re wrong. We didn’t get that message from God or His Word. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like a lie once told by a serpent in a garden. “There are better things than what God has offered you,” the lie says. But according to God and the prophets He inspired, we have a destiny that will thrill us from our head to our toes.
When we understand that, we become willing participants in the process. We understand what the refinery produces, so we submit ourselves to the Refiner Himself. We take humanity’s biggest hang-up—the desires of the fallen heart—and let them be purified into something that matches the heart of the Father. And we embrace the most fulfilling promise ever given: the One whom we seek will come.
July 26 – August 1
Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:2)
We might think that the coming of our true desire, God’s promises in Jesus, is a peaceful event, but it’s not. It’s very traumatic. There are two reasons for that: first, the world isn’t ready for a righteous Refiner to do His work; and second, frankly, neither is the church.
We often fail to realize that the accomplishment of our true desires requires the incineration of our false ones. That’s a painful process, not just because our impurities suffer intense heat, but also because our true selves do too. The smelting puts everything under the flame, that which is impure is burned away, and that which is pure is melted. But everything experiences the flame.
You’ve probably noticed that, probably even resisted it. We want our desires to come, but we want them to come painlessly. In a fallen world, that’s not the way of God’s Kingdom. The Refiner comes to save, and part of the saving is purging. When Paul writes about the judgment seat of Christ, when everything is burned and only what is good will remain, we can see the principle at work in our lives even today. The crucible of life is a judgment of sorts; every decision comes at a critical point of contact between metal and dross.
Begin to think of your life in these terms, if you don’t already. As you approach major decisions, relationships, directions in career or ministry, and investments of time, talents, and wealth, ask yourself whether your decision will result in molten purity or mineral waste. Examine your motives, your resources, your plan, and your process in every area of your life. The outcomes you envision should have an eternal glow to them.
That may be hard to decipher sometimes, but God will give you insight if you ask Him. The Refiner is very invested in the final product; He wants your life to shine like a brilliant trophy of glory. He is determined to bring you through the crucible.
Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness. (Malachi 3:3)
Everyone has an altar. It can be visible or invisible, holy or profane, elaborate or ordinary, but it’s always there. It can be based on ideologies, dreams, or simple pleasures, but we can always find a foundation. We have to; everyone’s life needs to revolve around something.
Because everyone has an altar, everyone brings offerings. Some people offer their bodies to people and pleasure. Others offer their minds to areas of study. Still others offer their emotions to a trend of the day or a relationship of the month. We can offer finances to gods of materialism and exploitation, time to gods of entertainment and apathy, and talents to gods of fame and fortune. We have no shortage of gifts to bring to our altars, because the world has no shortage of altars. All human beings are drawn to a cause, even if the cause is themselves.
Part of the Refiner’s purpose is to get to the bottom of those causes and burn all of them away except one. That’s why people often come to Christ when they’re in the midst of a crisis or when they’ve lost everything they once thought mattered to them. In a world of false altars, the only way God can establish true praise in His people is to break down His rivals. His Word calls that “refining.” We call it pain.
Yes, it’s painful to live in this crucible. But before you despair, try this exercise: Offer your pain on the true altar. Bring all of your trials, your temptations, and your disappointments to God; place them on the altar and worship. Ask God to use every hard thing in your life to display something of His glory—in your sin, mercy; in your impossibilities, miracles; in your sickness, healing; in your turmoil, peace. Realize that every situation in your life is a platform for God to show something of Himself. In the end, the beauty of the metal will demonstrate the beauty of the Refiner.
He is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15)
We’ve heard it all before: Jesus was just a good teacher, a moral philosopher, a social revolutionary, a martyr—anything but divine. Unfortunately for the skeptics, there’s no evidence of a Jesus who did not claim deity for Himself. And in the culture that was prepared for Him, He was certainly not claiming to be one of many deities. No, He implicitly claimed to be the one true God—Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That’s the stumbling block of the gospel. This suffering servant, this humble man of Galilee, this relatively poor man from a relatively poor family, taught with authority, forgave sins, allowed people to worship Him, claimed unity with the Father, and invoked for Himself the divine name of deity: I am.
Think of that. The invisible God became visible. The mystery of the ages was revealed. For a brief time in this world, the vague and often distorted speculations of ancient Greek philosophers, Persian magicians, and Oriental sages were answered. God showed up in the flesh. And He wasn’t at all what we expected.
But we have come to love Him, haven’t we? Though we haven’t seen Him in the flesh ourselves, we read the testimonies of those who have. And our belief in those testimonies has opened doorways of experience for us in which His Spirit has proven to be alive and powerful. The invisible God has a visible image, and we are drawn to Him. Our worship is an enigma to an unbelieving world, but to us it is life. Jesus is God.
Is Jesus an integral part of your worship? If not, you are missing something. You may be worshiping a vague concept of God—a life force, a cosmic power, a God who works in mysterious ways. And our God is all those things. But He has given us more specifics than that. He has opened the curtain on much of the mystery. His ways have been demonstrated on the very earth we live on. He has had human blood pulsing through His veins. He has shed human tears. And He has died a human death. Worship Him. He was made visible so we can.
All things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
One of the primary sources of depression, we are told, is a sense of meaninglessness. Meaninglessness is the powerful vacuum behind the angst of secular society; it is the tragic result of false theories of our origins; and it is the number one cause of suicide. If life as a whole has no ultimate purpose—if it means nothing—then we as individuals mean nothing. And if we mean nothing, we can hardly bear to go on living. Life without meaning is a tragedy we cannot endure.
But life does have meaning. We are told so in the Word. Despite the persistent questions of philosophers—questions like “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?”—we have been given a revelation. The questions were answered centuries ago. We are here because of Jesus. He was the hand of creation, and He is its ultimate goal. It was all done by Him, and it was done for Himself.
If you have ever struggled to find meaning in your life, consider this amazing truth: You were created for Jesus. You weren’t created incidentally as a by-product of the rest of creation. You were specifically designed for Him. You are a bride, handpicked for the Bridegroom; or an adopted son, chosen specifically by his Father. You were intentional.
That’s a comforting thought for a society on the edge of despair. Though we once wandered aimlessly in this world, God had a plan for us. Here in Colossians, the plan is specifically identified. We are made for Him.
That’s a blessed truth with a huge responsibility: Territory in our lives that is not given over to Him amounts to a refusal to worship. If we were made for Him, and we aren’t giving ourselves to Him, we have some adjustments to make. But what a truth! We have been betrothed. There’s no greater security and no greater blessing. And for those of us who are looking for purpose, this is it. There’s no greater meaning.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)
Most Christians walk a fuzzy line between devotion to God and devotion to other things. We believe in our hearts, of course, that we should be wholly committed to God and love Him fully, and we desire to do so. But at war against our undivided love for Him are other distractions—things we might call minor flaws or distracting habits; attitudes we might know are pushing the limits of Christian character but are hard to resist; pleasures we might entertain without wanting to ask God whether or not they are within His parameters. We can live with a little bit of impurity.
But Jesus doesn’t ask for low levels of tolerance for impurities and indiscretions. He implies no tolerance for them. What He specifically asks for is wholehearted, undying, all-out, passionate love for the Creator. According to the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus, God desires everything that is in us. Every corner of our hearts, every ounce of our strength, every impulse of our minds, every breath of our souls. He wants it all. Everything.
The grand deception of the enemy is that this type of passion for God would rob us of pleasures and privileges. Satan wars against that kind of love, and so does our self-centered flesh. We are divided in our hearts, and we are miserable. Paul felt it, too. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). But he didn’t have to tell us. We have experienced it ourselves.
When it finally dawns on us that an all-out passion for God—regardless of whatever petty sacrifices it may involve—is incredibly fulfilling, we’re amazed that we were ever divided in the first place. Missing out by obeying and loving God? That’s ludicrous. Jesus was right. This is the greatest commandment. Be obsessed with it.
August 30 – September 5
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
The greatest pleasure of the Christian life is worship, though we scarcely realize it until we’ve dived in wholeheartedly. We approach it at first as an obligation. We’re fairly self-focused, and it’s hard to turn our hearts toward God. But if we do, in spirit and in truth (i.e., with zealous inspiration and according to who God really is), we find inexpressible delights. Jesus seeks to turn us, like the woman at the well, into worshipers with substance rather than worshipers of ritual. How do we make that change?
Many of us ask God this question: “What is my responsibility toward You?” While not a bad question, there is a better, more heartwarming question: “What can I offer You to show my devotion?”
Do you see the difference? The first question presupposes a requirement we must meet. It almost assumes that there will be a minimum standard, and after having met it, we will cease our God-ward activity and resume our self-ward obsession. The second question presupposes a desire to express love and devotion. It assumes that there can never be enough we can offer Him, but whatever we can find to offer, we will. There is no self-focus in it at all; it is entirely enamored with God.
Jesus would have us not ask which requirements we are to fulfill, but what more of ourselves we can offer Him. When we look for our required obligation, we do not worship in spirit, because the Spirit of God would not inspire us to fulfill quotas of devotion. And we do not worship in truth, because we underestimate God’s worth. He is worth all we are, and more.
Blessed is the worshiper who can truthfully—and with pleasure—say to the Lord: “What can I do for You? You name it, it’s Yours. Whatever I can offer You, please let me.” This is the kind of worshiper the Father seeks.