Psalms, Worship and Prayer (July 6)

July 6

Psalms, Worship and Prayer

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 145:8-13 | 1 Chronicles 2:18-4:4 | Acts 24:1-27 | Proverbs 18:16-18

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, LORD; your faithful people extol you (Psalm 145:8-10 NIV).

One of the reasons I love to read the Psalms before I pray, is that they prime the pump of worship. They help us to focus on the goodness and greatness of God. As we are awestruck by his glory, we are ready to praise and worship. With wide-eyed wonder we are then ready to pray. Worship and praise affects my praying in every way—it provides right perspective, it prompts faith, it helps us focus and refocus our requests. As we worship, we realize the joy of his presence and we are changed.

Other Psalms prompt us to lament—to pour out our hearts to God with brutal honesty. To bring our questions, our concerns, our fears, our doubts—we just lay it all out on the table. The Psalms teach us to be honest and open in our praying. This too is important to our praying.

What do we learn about our God in this short passage? He is gracious and compassionate. He is slow to anger and rich in love. He is good to all—having compassion on all he has made. Later, we read of the glorious splendor of his kingdom. We are reminded that he is faithful and trustworthy. Each of these truths should give us reason to pause and meditate.

The Psalms have long served the people of God as a prayer book. I encourage you to read them slowly, meditate on the truths you find. Now your heart and mind is engaged and you are ready to pray.

Lord, we praise you because you are gracious and compassionate. We exalt you because you are slow to anger and rich in love. We thank you for you goodness to all and for having compassion on all you have made. We continue to place our trust in you for you are faithful and trustworthy. Amen.

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Meditating on Your Works (July 5)

July 5

Meditating on Your Works

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 145:1-7 | 1 Chronicles 1:1-2:17 | Acts 23:11-35 | Proverbs 18:14-15

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Psalm 145:1-7

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works I will meditate” (Psalm 145:5 ESV).

It is easy in the busyness of our lives to neglect meditation. It is easy to rush through our devotional times with the Lord; to rush through our prayers. When we do, we neglect the discipline that is most likely to bring a sense of the presence of God to our daily lives: meditation.

When we slow down our reading and praying and take time to meditate and listen, we become more aware of His presence and more sensitive to His voice. Our whole perspective on the day changes as we remember the greatness of the God who loves us and cares for us. As we walk through the day aware of his goodness, we recognize his good works all around us.

Our negative attitudes and thought patterns begin to melt away with the sense of his glorious presence. The trials of life seem more bearable knowing he is with me. Even the most difficult circumstances and people cannot steal our joy when his presence is near, for “in his presence is fullness of joy.”

OK. Now go back and read Psalm 145 again. This time take it slow, chew on each phrase, and allow enough time to sense his presence and hear his voice. Take the time to meditate on these truths:

“Great is the Lord–his greatness is unsearchable”

“The glorious splendor of Your Majesty”

“I will meditate on your wondrous works, your mighty acts, your awesome deeds”

“The fame of Your abundant goodness and righteousness.”

Great are you Lord—your greatness is unsearchable. I worship you in the glorious splendor of Your Majesty. I will mediate on your wondrous works, your mighty acts, and your awesome deeds. I long to magnify the fame of Your abundant goodness and righteousness today and in the days to come. Amen.

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New Songs (July 4)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 4

New Songs

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 144:9-15 | 2 Kings 23:31-25:30 | Acts 22:17-23:10 | Proverbs 18:13

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 144:9-15

I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you (Psalm 144:9 NIV).

What is your favorite hymn or worship song? Is it a new song or an old song? Why is it special to you?

I have often asked questions like this to people. It is good to hear the stories behind the songs that have taken on special meaning to people. One of the things I have found is that every favorite song is attached to a memory or experience. Sometimes it is the memory of an experience that was instrumental in your spiritual journey. Sometimes it reminds you of people who have been influential in your life of faith. Sometimes it triggers thoughts about ways that you’ve experienced God in worship or prayer.

It is good to cherish those memories and experiences and the songs that go with them. Yet it also points us to the reason why we also need “new songs.” We can’t rely only on past experiences. We need dynamic, fresh experiences with God in our walk of faith; new experiences that will be tied to new songs. If our faith is to grow, there must be new experiences; there must be new songs.

There is nothing wrong with old songs—I grew up with hymns and continue to find great spiritual nourishment through them. Yet, like the psalmist, we should look for the ongoing work of God in our lives that will produce new songs. As we grow in faith, may new songs also spring up in our heart. So take up your instrument and sing. Old songs; new songs; sing them both with passion and joy. We serve a great God and he is worthy of our praise!

Heavenly Father, thank you for music, creativity, and variety.  Thank you for old songs that bring back good memories and new songs that celebrate the fresh things you are doing in my life. May my heart be filled with praise at all times. Amen.

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With All His Heart, Soul and Strength (July 3)

July 3

With All His Heart, Soul and Strength

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 144:1-8 | 2 Kings 22:3-23:30 | Acts 21:37-22:16 | Proverbs 18:11-12

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 23

“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses”  (2 Kings 23:25 NIV).

Reading through the book of Second Kings can get tiring. Again and again we see Kings who fail to live up to the calling of their position. Again and again we see people more than willing to follow the compromising example of their leaders. Some of the kings were worse than others, but all told it was a sorry lot. But there are a few bright spots, and Josiah is one of the brightest.

Josiah called for a return to Torah—a return to the covenant God had made with his people. He had the unique distinction of being a ruler who turned to the LORD “with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength.”

After years of evil Kings who refused to lead the people away from the idolatry and compromise back to the covenant God had made with his people, finally Josiah arose and called the people back to himself. While his reforms would not prove sufficient to hold back the judgment of God that has already been declared—Josiah stands tall as a light in the darkness: A man who loved God with all his heart and soul and with all his strength.

God is looking for leaders like Josiah, those who will turn to him—who will worship and serve him with all the heart and soul and all the strength they have. Will he find such a person in you?

Dear Heavenly Father, help me to follow you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength. Give me a heart to love and worship you with such commitment. Amen.

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A Strong Tower (July 2)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 2

A Strong Tower

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 143:7-12 | 2 Kings 20:2-22:2 | Acts 21:17-36 | Proverbs 18:9-10

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Proverbs 18:10

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower;  the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10 ESV).

God reveals himself through his names. We sometimes choose names because we like they way they sound. But biblical names are given to say something about the person and their character. 

This is especially true of God as he reveals himself through his names. God reveals his names so that we might better understand who he is. Each of them is a reflection of his character. As we call on his names, we are reminded of who he is and we are encouraged. Like a strong tower that protects the city, He reminds us through his names that we are safe in the hands of our loving heavenly Father. He is: 

“The LORD our Healer”

“The LORD our Peace”

“The LORD our Righteousness”

“The LORD our Provider”

He is:

“Our Rock, Our Fortress, Our Deliverer, Our Ever Present Help in times of Trouble.”

He is Almighty God–the one for whom nothing is too difficult.

And we’re only getting warmed up–there are hundreds more.  Search the Scriptures and run to the name of the LORD! Remembering who he is brings comfort–His name is a strong tower; a place of refuge.  Run to His Name and find safety!

Lord God, thank you for revealing your character in your names. We praise you, O Rock, Our Fortress, our Deliverer, Our Ever Present Help in times of trouble. We run to your name as a strong tower—a place of refuge and safety. Be with us today today. Amen.

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Open Your Eyes, Lord (July 1)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 1

Open Your Eyes, Lord

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 143:1-6 | 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 | Acts 21:1-16 | Proverbs 18:8

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 19

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God (2 Kings 19:14-16 NIV).

Hezekiah was one of the rare good Kings of Judah that followed the LORD. The Lord blessed and prospered his reign. Yet, this does not mean that his reign was completely free from trouble. Following the LORD in no way means a trouble free life. 

The problem that Hezekiah faced was the impending attack of the king of Assyria. Assyria had already attacked and defeated the Northern Kingdom, now they were on the door of Jerusalem and threatening attack.

Hezekiah was confident that the LORD would deliver the people of Judah from the hands of Assyria. The Assyrian king sent a commander to try to get the people of Judah to doubt the LORD and to live in fear of the impending attack of Assyria. The commander began to taunt the LORD God much to the dismay of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah soon after receives a message from the commander of the Assyrian army with further threats and taunts. How would Hezekiah handle this trial of his faith? He spreads out the message before the LORD and he cried out to God in prayer.

The Prophet Isaiah sends God’s answer to King Hezekiah and reassures him that God has heard his prayer. The threats of Assyria were empty threats. They had no reason to fear.

How do you handle a trial of your faith? How do you handle the taunts of the enemy? Hezekiah sets a great example. Lay out the problem before the LORD and cry out to him in prayer. He hears and he will answer.

Father, I don’t know what to do. I need your wisdom and strength. I lay out my problems before you and cry out for your to answer. Please guide me, empower me, help me. Amen.

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Reckless Abandon (June 30)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

June 30

Reckless Abandon

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 142:1-7 | 2 Kings 17:1-18:12 | Acts 20:1-38 | Proverbs 18:6-7

Today’s Scripture Focus: Acts 20

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:22-24  NIV).

Paul may be uncertain about his future, but he is clear about his calling and purpose in life. He senses that the Holy Spirit is preparing him for prison and hardships in the days to come. Would this deter him from his task? Not at all! It seems to only intensify his passion for his God given calling to preaching the gospel.

Paul is not concerned about the hardships—he has had his share of them. He is not concerned about more prison time—something that he is also quite familiar with. In fact, he is not afraid to die. He considers his life to be of no value in comparison to his determination to finish the task he has been given: “to testify to the good news of God’s grace” (24).

Still haunted by his confrontation by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul wants to finish the task he has given: to preach the gospel to those who haven’t heard. His life-changing encounter forever altered the course of his life and ministry. He refused to give up on the task now.

Paul’s reckless abandon to serve God in taking the gospel to the Gentiles is a challenge to us all. We are so easily deterred from the task, giving way to distractions, to fears, and to our desires for comfort. We who have encountered the risen Christ, even if our encounters were perhaps less dramatic than the Damascus Road, have a story to share. We whose lives have been shaped by the grace of God have a message to pass on. 

God, give us determined hearts to press on in the call of God for our lives whatever the cost. Strengthen our hearts to follow you with such reckless abandon. Amen.

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Hear Me When I Call (June 29)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson.

June 29

Hear Me When I Call

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 141:1-10 | 2 Kings 15:1-16:20 | Acts 19:13-41 | Proverbs 18:4-5

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 141

I call to you, LORD, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:1-2. NIV).

Whatever we face it is good to know we have a place to turn; wherever we go it is good to know we have someone to hear our concerns. The Psalmist beautifully pours out his heart to God seeking his protection and intervention against unnamed enemies.

While he is concerned about his enemies – evildoers he calls them—his prayer is focused more upon himself and his response to his enemies. There is often little we can do about the enemy, but we can pray for strength to respond well.

He prays for his mouth—that God would guard his words and keep him from saying something he would later regret. What a wise prayer. Our words can often lead us into even more dangerous places; often getting us into even more trouble.

He prays for his heart—his inner being—that he would not be drawn to evil. He knows the powerful draw of sin and evil. He prays for vigilance to stand against it.

He prays for his eyes—that they would be fixed on the LORD. God is his refuge and strength. As he keeps focused on the LORD, he expects to find safety.

He prays for his feet—that they would not get caught in the snares of the enemy. Instead he hopes that his enemies will fall into their own traps.

When we are confronted by opposition, we do well to follow the Psalmist in pouring out our hearts to God. We do well to pray for our response to that opposition—that God will strengthen our mouths, hearts, eyes and feet to follow his ways and not fall into the snares laid for us.

Father, guard my words this day. Keep my heart from evil. Strengthen my feet that they would not get caught in the snares of the enemy. I give myself to you today—every part. Use me for your glory. Amen.

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A Second Chance Squandered (June 28)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

June 28

A Second Chance Squandered

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 140:9-13 | 2 Kings 13:1-14:29 | Acts 18:23-19:12 | Proverbs 18:2-3

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 13:1-14:29

Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel (2 Kings 13:4 NIV).

Jehoahaz’ seventeen year reign as King of Israel started much like the majority of his predecessors: he did evil in the eyes of the LORD. The people willingly followed his evil path and continued on in their idolatry. 

Jehoahaz’ wake up call came in the form of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-hadad his son. Hazael’s army attacked and dominated the Northern Kingdom. It was a season of severe oppression. In desperation, Jehoahaz sought the LORD and his favor. The LORD heard his prayer and provided a deliverer that would enable the nation to escape the clutches of oppression from Aram.

On the one hand, Jehoahaz’ story is a reminder that God delights in giving second chances. On the other hand, Jehoahaz’ story is a reminder that we often squander the chances we are given—we often fail to enter into the fullness of the blessing that could be ours.

Jehoahaz was right to repent and cry out to God, but he failed to follow through—as the text reminds us, “The Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria” (6). Likewise, the people of Israel returned to their homes in freedom, yet quickly drifted back into idolatry. They somehow found the snooze button on God’s alarm to wake them. 

Life is filled with opportunities to follow the LORD and experience his blessing. We are too easily distracted, we too often procrastinate, and miss out on the opportunities he gives. Even when confronted with a second chance and a fresh start, it is easy to drift away from our initial enthusiasm.

Learn the lesson of Jehoahaz: make the best of the opportunities God gives. When you fail, cry out to the God of second chances. Then don’t squander the opportunity that he gives—don’t miss out on the fullness of his blessing!

Heavenly Father, thank you for your patience with us. Thank you for second chances and new opportunities. Help us not to squander them. Help us to enter into the fullness of your blessing. Amen.

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Under Attack (June 27)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson. Now available on Amazon.com.

June 27

Under Attack

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 140:1-8 | 2 Kings 10:32-12:21 | Acts 18:1-22 | Proverb 18:1

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 140

“They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips” (Psalm 140:3 NIV). 

The Psalmist is under attack. Though unconventional, the weapons used against him are not unfamiliar to most of us. He describes his foes this way: “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.” Often times the deadliest weapons aimed against us are the words of others—words aimed to wound and destroy.

As children we used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Those words may be valiant attempts to downplay a verbal attack, but they are untrue. Deep down we all know that words can wound us deeply.

Jesus gave us a pattern for praying that includes releasing forgiveness to those who sin against us (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”). An important part of following this pattern of prayer is found in releasing forgiveness to those who have wounded us through their words. Forgiving those who wound us by their words brings deep freedom and brings rest to our troubled souls.

Have you been wounded by the words of others? Take those words to the cross and leave them there. As you forgive those who have wounded you, you will find rest for your souls.

Father, forgive me when my words are as sharp as a serpent’s tongue; when my words are like poison. Help me to forgive those whose words have wounded and poisoned me. Help me to find the healing and freedom that comes from forgiving those who’ve sinned against me. Amen.

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