Renewal in Failure

A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 54.6-7

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble.

Reflection: Renewal in Failure
By Steven Dilla

“Principles are like prayers,” Maggie Smith’s character Lady Grantham explains on Downton Abbey; “noble, of course, but awkward at a party.” The Dowager Countess is right in many respects, principles are awkward—cumbersome and at times forced—but that’s just at first. After a principle gains steam it’s called character. Actions which initially require deep intentionality grow natural and become the bedrock on which reputation is built.

Likewise, “the words of psalms in worship helps us to ‘grow into’ beliefs and attitudes about God, note C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste in their book Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming The Psalms for Christian Worship. “Therefore, worship is not just expressive, it is formative.”

The feelings the psalmists express are ones we need to ‘own’ for ourselves…the psalms give us forms for our feelings. Thus, the sentiments and feelings the psalmist expresses become normative for us.

Growing character through determination and discipline is not distinctively Christian. In many respects the ability to do so is a reflection of the potential and strength woven into beings created in God’s image.

What is distinctly Christian—the linchpin of the whole growth process—is how a person responds to failure along the way. David’s life is an exemplar, even on the extreme end, of what ought to happen after a lifetime of reputation and character collapses in an instant.

It would have been easier for David’s relationship with God to become transactional—sacrifices made in order to earn God’s benefaction. Instead, after repentance, David rejoices and offers freewill offerings.

The Jewish Publication Society’s Torah Commentary observes, “The freewill offering was one which the worshiper—usually with no prior obligation or commitment—promised to give as an expression of devotion or gratitude.”

David knew he could neither deserve nor earn the forgiveness or favor of God. He lived his life in joyful response to the grace he was so generously given. Perhaps this is why C.S. Lewis reflected, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

The Call to Prayer

Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. —Psalm 71:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 16 (Listen – 6:59)
Psalm 52-54 (Listen – 3:18)


With Eternity in Mind

Eternity will not ask about what worldly goods remain behind you, but about what riches you have gathered in heaven.

―Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Psalm 49.12, 17

Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish…. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.

Reflection: With Eternity in Mind
By Søren Kierkegaard

In eternity you will not be asked how large a fortune you are leaving behind–the survivors ask about that. Nor will you be asked about how many battles you won, about how sagacious you were, how powerful your influence that, after all, becomes your reputation for posterity.

It will ask you about how often you have conquered your own thought, about what control you have exercised over yourself or whether you have been a slave, about how often you have mastered yourself in self-denial or whether you have never done so, about how often you in self-denial have been willing to make a sacrifice for a good cause or whether you were never willing, about how often you in self-denial have forgiven your enemy, whether seven times or sev­enty times seven times.

It will ask about how often you in self-denial endured insults patiently, about what you have suf­fered, not for your own sake or for your own selfish interests’ sake, but what you in self-denial have suffered for God’s sake. Yes, in eternity you will indeed be asked what you left behind.

In every human being there is an inclination either to want to be proud when it comes to works or, when faith and grace are emphasized, to want to be free from works as far as possible. Christianity’s requirement is that your life should express works as strenuously as possible.

Then one thing more is required—that you humble yourself and confess: I am saved nevertheless by grace. Luther wished to take meritoriousness away from works. In typical fashion, we have not only taken meritoriousness away, but also the works.

Have you lived in such a way that truth was in you, that there was something higher for which you actually suffered? Or has your life revolved around profitable returns? The fact that you got along well only makes matters worse.

Becoming nothing in this world is the condition for becoming something in the other world. One has at most seventy years for enjoyment—but an eternity for remembering. And pleasure does not show up at all well in memory.

*Abridged from Søren Kierkegaard’s writings on faith. For more see Provocations.

Prayer: The Greeting

Hosanna, LORD, hosanna!… Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. —Psalm 118.25–26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 12-13 (Listen – 5:53)
Psalm 49 (Listen – 2:10)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 14 (Listen – 6:15) Psalm 50 (Listen – 2:26)
Numbers 15 (Listen – 5:09) Psalm 51 (Listen – 2:19)


The Problem with the Psalms

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? “God loves you” typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures.

―David Powlison

Scripture: Psalm 48.9-10

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple. As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness.

Reflection: The Problem with the Psalms
By Steven Dilla

As a general rule the psalms take more time to access than other sections of scripture, like the pastoral epistles. Take the excerpt above as an example. Each sentence holds a sermon’s worth of theology.

The psalmist opens by saying, “We have thought on your steadfast love.” When was the last time we thought on God’s unrelenting love in community? Or when have we confessed our sins to one another and celebrated God’s grace together—so that in the revelation of our brokenness and God’s faithfulness we discover a vivid and glorious image of God’s love?

It is rare in modern Christianity to hear the psalms used in corporate prayer, worship, or teaching. This could be due in part to modern individualism’s befuddlement with public lament, corporate rejoicing, and communal singing. It may also be due to changes in the written word, as C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste explore in their book Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming The Psalms for Christian Worship:

There are special reasons for neglect of the psalms… The language of poetry doesn’t easily connect in a sound-byte culture. The psalms call for time, not tweets—time to read, ponder, pray, digest. It’s easy to be too busy for the psalms.

Perhaps the real reason doesn’t have as much to do with fads in technology as it does with the reality of sin in our hearts. The primary reason the psalms have fallen out of preaching, prayer, and singing, Wells and Van Neste conclude, is that, “We are fascinated with ourselves; the psalms are fascinated with God.”

The answer to this problem isn’t self-loathing—which is another form of self-obsession—but to use the psalms as a guidebook for our prayers, songs, and understanding of God. When we think on God’s steadfast love together we rediscover our lives in light of the glorious grace of our Savior.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. —Psalm 86.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 11 (Listen – 5:22)
Psalm 48 (Listen – 1:28)


Experiencing God in the Moment

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past… it’s message becomes meaningless.

― Abraham Joshua Heschel

Scripture: Psalm 46.10

Be still, and know that I am God.

Reflection: Experiencing God in the Moment
By Steven Dilla

Most people spend a significant amount of the day responding. Phones rattle for attention, coworkers await responses, family members want to check in—even our own appetites compete with meaningful thought for mental real estate. And so, when we come across a Scripture asking us to “be still” we find not only our actions, but our posture toward the world confronted.

Materialism has discipled us to find meaning in purchases and experiences—reducing every moment to a transaction to which we can apply a cost/benefit analysis. The more successful we are in life, the more this analysis is instinctual and preemptive. We rule out the idea of stillness before the act is even possible or—worse yet—we look at stillness as another exchange of value, demanding we receive more out of our time than we would have had we invested it in other ways.

Stillness, when speaking of the soul, is the opposite of disquiet. In stillness, appetites are removed as the single catalyst of action, commercialism is rejected as a solution, impatience is calmed, hope is renewed, and focus is restored.

Many of the ways spiritual people avoid stillness are themselves spiritual; the tasks of religion replace the heart of faith. In other words, we do not meet God because we attempt to manage all of the inputs (scripture, disciplines, etc) with the outputs (increased intellectual understanding or moral activity).

To be still and know God is to dive into the texture and richness of life in such a way that our spiritual life becomes one with every other part of life. It is our ability to experience God not only in the moments we structure, but in the world that he has structured. In God in Search of Man Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel remarks:

To the Jewish mind, the understanding of God is not achieved by referring in a Greek way to timeless qualities of a Supreme Being, to ideas of goodness or perfection, but rather by sensing the living acts of His concern, to his dynamic attentiveness to man.

We speak not only of His goodness in general, but of His compassion for the individual man in a particular situation. God’s goodness is not a cosmic force, but a specific act of compassion. We do not know it as it is, but as it happens.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. —Psalm 84.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 10 (Listen – 4:11)
Psalm 46-47 (Listen – 2:05)

The Good of Christ

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 45.1

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;

I address my verses to the king;

my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Reflection: The Good of Christ
By Christopher Fowler (1610–1678)

O the amazing stupidity of the world called Christian, that we can smile, and laugh, and hug ourselves in deceiving comforts upon the brink of hell! There can be nothing comfortable to us, without the God of all comfort; and no comfort can be to us from God, but by the Lord Jesus; and no Jesus to us without faith.

Christianity is a glorious thing. Religion is not a little formality in duties, joined with some morality in life; but it consists in the new creature, or faith working by love. It consists in the exercise of repentance, self-loathing, hatred of sin as such, faith in Jesus: love to him, obedience before him, communion with God by him, peace and comfort from him, and well-grounded hope of eternal life through him.

If we would live in true comfort, we must be true Christians. A man may be a Protestant, yet not a Christian indeed; a man may be blameless and Christ-less, and by consequence Godless. The smell of his garments, the savor of his ointment, the taste of his preciousness, makes a believer think he can never do enough for Jesus.

Remember the parable of the foolish virgins: they were not harlots or profane, but “virgins.” They were not persecutors, blasphemers, or malicious, but “foolish”—supine, careless, negligent: they had lamps in their hands, but no oil in their hearts.

Let us look to ourselves; the oil of faith and comfort go together, the oil of holiness and the oil of gladness; true Christians are anointed with both. Consider, the man that wanted the wedding-robe was not discerned by any at the table; the Lord espied him quickly. Who would have thought such a professor should go to hell? “Bind him hand and foot.” He did pretend to Christ, and it was but a pretense.

I may preach of Christ’s righteousness, active and passive—and the imputation thereof—and yet I may go about to establish mine own [apart from Christ]. If I lift-up Christ to you, I must pull him down in mine own heart. The sum is this: No good without the Supreme Good.

*Abridged from How A Christian May Get Such A Faith That Is Not Only Saving, But Comfortable And Joyful At Present by Christopher Fowler.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth,* your saving health among all nations. —Psalm 67.1–2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 9 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 45 (Listen – 2:17)


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