Week of Jan. 12

Praying for More Joy

Read: Genesis 27-28; Psalm 4; Luke 11

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
Psalm 4:1, ESV

Introduction

The evangelist Billy Sunday once said, “If you have no joy, there is a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” If you are like me, you have lost an important item on occasion and searched frantically to find it. Many believers are in a frantic search for an emotion that they do not need, happiness, when all along God has equipped them with the vehicle and virtue that is essential to a flourishing life—prayer and joy! Jack Hyles once said, “Happiness is untested delight. Joy is delight tested.” Hmm. Let’s discover today how to pray with joyful hearts even when we are tested by life's challenges.

A Biblical Lens

This psalm has been termed a “Davidic evening hymn” and it corresponds to Psalm 5 which was a Davidic morning hymn (EBC; cf. KD). The psalm itself is a lament by David who finds himself suffering persecution by his enemies. He denounces them (vv. 2-3), issues a warning to them (vv. 4-5), and then states his confidence in God (vv. 6-8). [Handbook]. We also may view the psalm in two parts: supplication with God’s response (vv. 1-3), and a statement of trust in God (vv. 6-8). Overall, the psalm provides us with an excellent example of how to approach our heavenly Father in prayer, so let’s learn from the psalmist!
Closer inspection of the psalm provides us with two core prayers that David offers to the Lord (v. 1 & vv. 6-7). I think immediately, “Wait a minute! This king had been given a divine promise that his kingdom would be eternal, and he is going through this stress in his life?” Strangely enough, this situation comforts me because I see that even the king, upon whose head the oil of God’s anointing had been poured, faced difficulties.

So, to whom did David turn when troubles surfaced? The God of righteousness (v. 1). Sometimes innocent people suffer, so the psalmist reminds us to whom we may turn confidently when these difficulties arise. The word “righteous” indicates how God relates to his people; as a father would to his children. He promises us that he will provide his presence and victory over our difficult circumstances (cf. Psalm 25:4-5; Isaiah 45:13; Matthew 7:9-11). The psalmist teaches us to call on God for his mercies whether our suffering is physical or psychological (Psalm 25:17; 31:9-10; 66:11-12). There is more.

In my best Winston Churchill voice, I say, “Never give up!” David says essentially the same in verse 6a. Expectations had gone unfulfilled with regard to covenant blessings (EBC). Sometimes we simply scratch our heads at our plights and wonder where on earth God might be! David prayed for those in distress, and he also cried out to God to make the covenant blessings evident. One of my favorite Old Testament blessings is Numbers 6:24-26; one to which David alludes in verse 6b. Do you see what I see?

David expresses great trust in God’s fidelity by using the word of God as his prayer of supplication. He prays with a whole heart, not lip service, that God would pour out his blessings upon the people. His difficulties, perhaps during the Absalom coup attempt, had fostered doubt in their minds. David responds by praying to the Father and discovers joy in the process (v. 7a). God-given joy is worth more than any material blessing that we may experience.

A Moral Pathway

We have affectionately described our interim home, a rental property, as “1220.” That is the street address and a metaphor for all the things that can go wrong with such properties! (I’m smiling). "We’ve been 1220’d,” seems fitting to say when some unfavorable and untimely things happen. Older homes, for example, are ready-made for little daily surprises like clogged sewer lines that occur and back up at the most inopportune times, rodents that gnaw through telephone and internet connections (twice within two weeks!), and regular power outages that plunge occupants into darkness! (Nine and counting within 1 year). Arrrgh! (Yet, Psalm 4:4). (Believe it, or not, I am chuckling).

OK, so bad guys may not be harassing us, but natural calamities (evil) are also a recurring reminder of the flawed world in which we all live. They are often quite timely trials and, if we are not careful, we may permit them to eclipse God’s goodness (cf. James 1:2; “Consider it all joy”). Uh oh! Do not fall victim to your own sinful desires by seeking false, human solutions to God-sized problems. David’s personal and national trials exacerbated joyful prayer. God’s binding covenant was the fuel that fed the joy! His prayerful petitions and intercessions were instantaneous because the pilot light of joy always burned within his soul (1 Peter 5:6-7).

For Your Journaling

1. Write down your difficulties today. Go ahead. God already knows your heart, so share it openly with him. Then, dare to depend on God even when the blessings may seem to be absent.

2. Now, the second journal thought will require some deep reflection. What do you want more? God? Or, God’s blessings? Some of the most meaningful days in my spiritual walk have been traveled here at “1220” because God has been present in peace and joy, despite the calamities (Galatians 5:22-23). How about you?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock