Psalms: Lessons In Prayer

How To Enjoy Richer, Deeper And Fuller Conversations With God
by Eric Elder

Thirty inspiring devotionals based on the oldest prayer book in the world.

This is our current series! You can read along each week as we’ll be publishing a new message nearly every Sunday in 2017 here on The Ranch. You can read all of the messages we’ve posted so far below!

 

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CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD
Introduction to Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I love talking to God. It’s often the highlight of my day.

For some, like my friend Dan Mountney, waking up and talking with God brings focus to everything else that happens in his day. “It centers me,” Dan says.

For some, like Adrian Rogers, talking to God brings clarity to what God wants him to do. When asked by a reporter if God had spoken to Adrian like the reporter had just spoken to him, Adrian replied, “Oh, no! It was much louder than that.”

For some, like Billy Graham, talking with God is like talking with a best friend. “How do you know God exists?” Billy was once asked. “Because I spoke with Him this morning,” he replied.

What about you? How would you rate your conversations with God? As much as I love talking with God, I still feel in many ways that I am just scratching the surface of what my conversations with Him could be like.

Five years ago, my wife Lana and I were talking about prayer. Lana said, “I’d like to learn more about prayer.”

I was stunned. Lana’s prayer life was already deep and rich and full. She prayed continually, in private and out loud, for me, for our family, for our friends, for missionaries, for entire countries. She prayed for breakthroughs and healings and restorations. She prayed for forgiveness and for a greater love for others. Yet with all she had learned about prayer over the years, she still wanted more.

For me, that was Lesson #1 in going deeper in my own prayer life, to simply know that there’s always more.

At that same time, I was wanting to take a closer look at the book of Psalms. What was it about this book that made it one of the most beloved books in the Bible? What secrets did it hold that made publishers often publish it by itself, or pair it as the one Old Testament book to go along with the entire New Testament? Why do people seem to quote so often from the Psalms, as Jesus did, more than any other book in the Bible?

By combining my curiosity about the Psalms with Lana’s desire to learn more about prayer, we took a deeper dive together into this book to see what we could discover in its depths. We learned that the book of Psalms is really a book of prayers; in fact, it’s the oldest prayer book in the world. The word “psalm” means “song” in Hebrew, the language in which the psalms were originally written. And since they are all songs to God, they are often considered prayers as much as anything else–conversations with Him that came from deep in the author’s heart.

We learned that over half of those “conversations with God” were voiced by King David, as specifically noted in the text, with many of the others alluding to his authorship based on the situations described in the psalms. I was personally looking forward to learning all I could from this man whom God described as “a man after My own heart” (see Acts 13:22).

What I wasn’t expecting was that the next year of our lives would take such an unexpected twist: soon after we began this deeper dive into the book of Psalms and the topic of prayer, Lana was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later, we were told it was terminal. And nine months after that, Lana was gone, having passed from this life to the next.

It crushed me, and it crushed a part of my heart at the same time. If I had known this would happen when we first decided we wanted to have a deeper, richer and fuller prayer life, I’m not sure we would have done it.

But I was reminded of this thought again when a friend was telling me how he had recently made a decision to go deeper in his relationship with God. He began by waking up ten minutes earlier each day to read his Bible and pray. The following week, he woke up ten minutes earlier still. And the week after that, he woke up ten minutes earlier still, continuing this pattern until he was now waking up an hour or more earlier than usual so he could have as much time with God as possible.

He then told me about several things that had gotten increasingly harder in his life during this time: his work situation, family’s heath and his finances.

It reminded me of the difficulties Lana and I had faced soon after we made our decision to go deeper with God. I was tempted to say something to this effect when my friend said something that stopped me:

“I am so glad I decided to do this with God,” he said, “because if I hadn’t, I don’t know how I could have gotten through this time in any other way.” 

My friend was right. He was absolutely right. If Lana and I had not committed ourselves to a deeper walk with God, I don’t know how we could have gotten through what we had to go through, either. And how much better it is to be on the path of going deeper with God before life throws its worst at you, rather than waiting till it hits you full on? The time I’ve spent grounding myself in God, and in my relationship with Him, is the one thing above all else that has helped me through some of the most difficult challenges in my life.

So here it is, five years since Lana and I decided to take that deeper dive into the topic of prayer as seen through the lens of the Psalms, and now I’d like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ll also tell you about some of the miraculous answers to prayer I’ve seen and some of the amazing conversations with God I’ve had, many of which are no less miraculous or amazing to me than those I read about in the book of Psalms. The same God who walked with David through his highs and lows is the same God who has walked with me through mine–and who will walk with you through yours.

I pray God will speak to you in a special way during your time with Him, both while we’re doing this study together, and on your own for the rest of your days. I can think of nothing more incredible than to be able to talk personally with the God who created you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you like no one else on earth ever could.

I’m looking forward to our time together. I hope you are, too. I’ll share the details of how we’ll work through the book of Psalms in the P.S. below. But first, will you pray with me?

Dear Jesus, I am so thankful that we can come to you each and every day, all day, at any time during the day, and have a conversation with You. You are so loving and gracious, so kind and helpful, so wise and so knowledgable about all things, including me. Help me as I go through this day. Walk me through every situation I face. Help me to learn all that You want me to learn as we walk through this study of the book of Psalms. In Your name we pray, Amen.

P.S. Here’s my plan for going through the book of Psalms:

There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, each containing its own particular thought or theme. For this study, I’m going to share some thoughts with you from 30 of those 150 psalms. If you’d like to read all 150 on your own, I’d suggest reading one psalm a day for five days, starting with Psalms 1-5 this week. I’ll be highlighting one of those five psalms every week in my weekly Sunday message. By reading just five psalms a week, you’ll have two extra days per week to take a break or catch up on your reading as we go along. I also plan on taking a break for a week or two every six or seven weeks, which will give you a break and still more time to catch up if you need it. If you follow along with this plan as we go through the study, you’ll have read through the entire book of Psalms by the end of it. For those who like charts and check marks, I’ve typed up my weekly plan for this series, which you can view or print to put in your Bible. Here’s the link to the 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

Thanks for reading along with me! Enjoy!

Eric Elder

 

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MORNING PRAYERS – PSALM 5
Lesson 1 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

As I was reading through the book of Psalms, I was looking for secrets to having a more effective prayer life. I didn’t get very far into the book when I found one:

“In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

There’s something about morning prayers that make them hopeful. After a night of rest, it’s time to start a new day, a fresh day.

I’ve often prayed in the morning, waking up, taking out my Bible and a journal and a pen, then sitting quietly before God. But what I noticed differently in this Psalm is that the author, David, came to God with a spirit of expectancy.

David didn’t just come to God with a list of requests. He came with hope in his heart, expectant that God would answer. David knew the goodness of God. He knew that God was with Him. He knew that God was for him, just like He is for each one of us.

Our prayers have a purpose–not just because they quiet our hearts or help to organize our thoughts. Our prayers have a purpose because they involve another Person. They involve Someone who knows what you’re facing and who has the wisdom and ability to do something about them.

God really does know what you’re going through. He really does care. And that’s why you can come to God with the pieces of your life and ask God to help you put them together.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s words in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend” (Psalm 5:3, The Message).

Those words are so hopeful–so helpful. When I read these words I began doing this in my mind’s eye, with my own prayers. I began laying out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, with expectancy in my heart, then watching throughout the day for God’s fire to descend–just like it had descended in times past when people offered their sacrifices to God’s on an altar.

And I began seeing answers, that very day!

After having just written in my journal about what I should do for the day, I got a text from a neighbor at 7:05 a.m. offering to bring over lunch. Then I received word that an anniversary party was cancelled, which I had been wondering if I should attend or not. Then, after taking a morning walk with my wife and praying with her about a situation our daughter was facing, our daughter texted to say how God had just worked it all out! It was as if God were underscoring the words of David for me about laying out the pieces of his life on God’s altar, then waiting in expectation.

It’s good to pray at night or at the end of a project, as that allows us time to reflect on what God has done and to give thanks for what’s been accomplished. But in order to be most effective, it’s also important to offer our prayers up to God on the front end, inviting Him to speak and to work and to be involved in whatever we’re facing.

Martin Luther famously said:

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

God wants to be a co-laborer with you.  He has things He wants to accomplish in and through you. And when you talk about those things with Him up front, He can help you sort them out and let you know what He can do and what you can do. In that way, you can bring it to pass together.

Not every answer comes right away, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have expectancy in our heart. The past few weeks, my kids and I have been praying every morning for some royalty checks to be deposited in my account for some music I’ve written and produced.  While I normally receive these checks monthly, and they help to pay for the ministry that we do, the checks were delayed because of a new arrangement between the music companies involved. Every morning we’ve been praying, and every day we’ve been hopeful for an answer. At the same time, I’ve been working with the music companies, sending emails and making phone calls and having online chats, trying to help move the process along. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m trusting God with those things I can’t do. So every day we pray for the people involved in this process–the computer programmers, the accountants, and the decision-makers–asking God to give them wisdom as they work out the details.

Then just on Friday night, for the first time in months, I started seeing those deposits coming into my account. One, two, three, four of them! As the night went on, there were more: five, six, seven, eight! The deposits kept coming as the system started working again! I praised God, together with my kids, knowing that relief was on the way!

Come to God in the morning. Sit down with Him and go over your day. Ask Him what He wants you to do. Ask Him to do what you know you can’t do. Then be on the lookout for His answers. They may not come that day, but they might! And they may not come the next day, or the next month, as I had hoped while waiting for my missing royalties.

But even if you don’t see an answer right away, don’t think that God isn’t working on your behalf. Remember what God told Daniel, through an angel that God sent to him twenty-one days after Daniel had begun praying:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

God hears your prayers the moment you utter them. So why not utter them the first thing in the morning? Invite God into your day. Let Him order your steps. Lay out the pieces of your life on God’s altar, then wait in expectation.

Will you pray with me? Then after the prayer, I’d like to share a short thought with you in the P.S. about today’s reading of Psalm 5 that I shared in the link at the beginning of this message.

Jesus, thank You for loving me the way You do. Thank You for caring for me. Thank You for creating me with a purpose in mind, with good works that You want me to do. Help me, Lord, to accomplish those works today. Help me to know that You’ll be with me, working right alongside me, doing what only You can do, while I do whatever I can do. Help me to see the answers to my prayers, whether today, tomorrow, or down the road. Help me to trust You and look to You with a spirit of expectation, knowing that You are good, that You are kind, that You are loving, and that You are ultimately for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. When I first contemplated writing this series of messages on prayer, I asked my wife, Lana, if she would be willing to read and record each of the thirty messages I was going to use in this series. Lana had a beautiful reading voice, and she had recorded other Scripture CDs in the past, which I paired with some beautiful music in the background. I had sometimes even invited her onstage with me when I preached, so she could read the passage about which I was preaching, as her voice was so calming and beautiful.

Soon after we planned out the series, Lana was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were shocked, but we were committed to prayer and to this series, no matter what. Lana went ahead and recorded all thirty passages, plus a few more, knowing that no matter what happened to her, God’s Word, once sent out, would never return without accomplishing that for which God sent it. It’s been almost five years now since Lana recorded these passages for this series. And while her life passed just a few months after she recorded these psalms, like a radiant flower that blooms one day then fades the next, she knew that God’s Word would never fade away. As it says in Isaiah:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8, NIV).

Here’s the link again to Lana’s reading of today’s psalm, paired with music by Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) played by our son, Bo. I pray as you listen that God will fill your heart with a spirit of expectancy that He will answer your prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link again to our reading plan for this series if you’d like to read read through the whole book of Psalms with us this year: 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

 

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MAGNIFYING PRAYERS – PSALM 8
Lesson 2 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

I set up a telescope one night to look at the moon and the stars. My kids couldn’t believe what they were seeing: how detailed and three-dimensional the moon looked, hanging there in space; how many stars there were–hundreds, thousands, millions–all glittering in the night sky.

They could hardly believe that each star was like our own sun–some bigger, some smaller, spread all throughout space! Each flicker of light that looked like it was no bigger than the head of a pin was, in fact, full of power, warmth, and wonder like our own sun–and there were a shining multitude of them everywhere we looked!

All this revelation, all this insight, all this awe came from simply holding a type of magnifying glass up to what we normally see on a regular basis nearly every day.

As I was reading through the psalms and looking for secrets of effective prayer, these words from Psalm 8 stood out to me:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:1a, 3-4, NIV).

Something happens inside us when we hold up a magnifying glass to the world around us. It opens us up to seeing the incredible work that God has created in a new way. And that fresh perspective can help us to see our own problems in a new way as well.

King David, who wrote these words from Psalm 8 nearly 3,000 years ago, was struck with the same awe and wonder as my kids on the night I set up a telescope for them. As he considered the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which God had set in place, he burst out in praise! “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

And that made David look at his own life in a new way, saying, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?”

Yet David realized that God was mindful of him. God did care for him. In fact, the same God who took such care to create the world that David saw created him with the same care–and not only created him with care, but considered him worthy to take care of the incredible creation around him!

God, it seems, has a magnifying glass of His own. When He looks at us, He looks with such detail that He can count the number of hairs on our head (see Luke 12:7). He cares for us so much that He has created us in His own image, and given us the task of caring for the rest of His whole creation.

If you wonder if God cares for you, just take out a magnifying glass today, literally, and look at one or two things in God’s creation. You’ll get a new perspective on your own life almost immediately.

This is what happened to William Wilberforce, a member of parliament who played a major role in ending the slave trade in England in the early 1800’s. He came to faith one day, not by looking up into the sky, but by looking down into the majesty of his garden. What he saw there so fascinated him that he plopped down on the wet grass to take a closer look. What he saw was the marvel of a spider’s web.

The movie Amazing Grace captures this faith-defining moment in the life of Wilberforce like this, as his butler finds him in the garden and wonders aloud what he’s found:

“It’s God,” said Wilberforce. “I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.”

“You found God, sir?” the butler asks.

“I think He found me,” Wilberforce responds. “You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.” 

Wilberforce found God by looking closely at a spider’s web, or, as he puts it in the movie, “I think He found me.”

I learned something new about spider’s webs just last week. My son told me that he learned in his biology book that a spider’s web is sticky only on certain strands of the silk it weaves, but that other strands aren’t sticky at all, so that it doesn’t get stuck when scurrying around on its own web. God somehow endowed the spider with the ability to spin different types of silk depending on the need.

I must have missed that fact when I took biology, but it was a little tidbit which enlarged my awe and wonder of God once again. How God instilled in a spider the wisdom and ability to know how to spin a web at all, or which silk to spin for which purpose, made me consider not only how clever the spider is, but how clever the God who created the spider is! And if God did this for a spider, imagine what He’s done for me, whom God says He has created as the pinnacle of all He has created on the earth, made in the very image of God Himself!

That thought makes me want to burst out in praise to God as well: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” And it makes me look at the situations I’m facing in a new way as well.

What loomed large and overwhelming to me at the beginning of my prayers suddenly seems puny in comparison to what God could do in each of those situations.  Heal a cut?  Mend a relationship? Breathe new life into something in my life that has died?

What seemed improbable just moments earlier suddenly seems no problem for the God who placed every star in the sky and knows each one by name (see Psalm 147:4)!

The God who holds creation together can certainly hold my life together as well. By magnifying God and His creation, I can see how small–how manageable–my own problems are in comparison. Whatever I face, God knows how to handle it.

If you’re facing problems today that are overwhelming you, take out a magnifying glass. Literally. Take a look at one or two things around you today–your fingerprint, a flower, or even a spider’s web. Or take out a telescope and look at the nighttime sky. Or just take a look around you at any ordinary object, but look closely to see the colors, the shapes, the details that you may have overlooked before.

Then marvel and wonder at the God who created all that makes up everything you see. Marvel and wonder that the same God who created each of these things created you with the same care–and has believed in you and trusted in you enough to put you in charge of the care of His incredible creation.

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for your magnificent creation. Thank You for including me in your plans when You created the world. Thank You for Your promise to finish the work You’ve begun in me. Help me to sort out the things I’m facing. Bring order to my world. Bring peace to my heart. Bring wisdom to my mind. I ask all this in Your name, Amen. 

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

P.P.S. And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read with us through all of the Psalms this year. There’s plenty of time to catch up. Just pick up and keep reading along! 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

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RAW PRAYERS – PSALM 13
Lesson 3 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with music by Tchaikovsky played by Makari Elder

One of the beauties of reading through the psalms is that it touches on so many emotions that you don’t have to read very far into it to find something that will match what you’re going through. And when you find that something, you can pour out your heart to God in prayer, often using the same words that you’re reading on the pages in front of you.

Within just a few psalms, we’ve already seen David’s emotions range from eager expectation to awe-filled wonder to today’s psalm, in which he pours out some raw prayers full of pain and sorrow. Psalm 13 starts with these words:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13, 5-6a, NIV).

This is a man in pain, a man in anguish, a man who’s wondering if God is even listening any more. In The Message translation of the Bible, David’s words are paraphrased like this:

“Long enough, God–You’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of Your head long enough” (Psalm 13:, 5-6a, MSG)

Those are some raw words. They’re guttural. And they express the real sorrow in his heart..

Maybe you’ve felt this way before. Maybe you feel this way right now. If so, let me encourage you to say some raw words of your own to God. The pain you’re feeling is real, and it’s really okay to express to God how you’re really feeling. God can take it, and there are times when you just need to say it like David did.

I was speaking to a group of people a few weeks ago who were going through various tragedies in their lives. They had lost husbands or wives, sons or daughters, friends or family members. They were dealing with divorce. They were trying to find their way out of addictions. They were experiencing pain at its worst, and I was asked to speak to them about worshipping God in the hard times. (You can listen to the message here.)

I don’t usually say certain words. They’re not part of my normal vocabulary. But during my talk, in an unscripted moment, I covered the microphone and said out loud what I knew many in the room were feeling. I said, “In some of these dark times, you just say, ‘God, this really sucks.'” Nods of agreement began throughout the room.

When the night was over, one of the leaders of the group told me that my talk had really touched the people. And the one thing they said that impacted them the most was the moment when I covered the microphone and said what I said. In that moment, they said, they knew that I knew exactly what they were going through, and that opened them up to hear the rest of what I had to say.

Sometimes we need to get really honest with God, too–to say exactly what’s on our hearts–even if it’s not “pretty,” or “religious,” or what we think we’re “supposed” to say. Sometimes we just need to just let it all out–lay it all out–before God, who sees our pain and knows what’s on our hearts already anyway.

Sometimes we read the psalms, or sing them in songs, and they begin to sound so holy, so poetic, so “nice,” that we can miss just how raw they really are. Eugene Petersen, who translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew into English for The Message translation, said this in his introduction to the Psalms:

“In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Grammatically, they are accurate. The scholarship undergirding the translation is superb and devout. But as prayers they are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.”

I can only imagine the types of words David and the 400 men with him used while they were hiding out in the caves of the dessert while the king and his army were hunting them down to kill them. The men with David were described as “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented…” (1 Samuel 22:2a, NIV). I can guess that at least a few of their conversations were far from genteel.

And I can believe that at least a few of David’s conversations with God sounded just as earthy and rough. I can hear it in the English translation, but only if I really think about what he was really going through and how shocking it is that he really said some of the things he said to God. It’s not like David suddenly switched into his “religious” voice when talking to God. He just said it like it was. He told God what He was feeling, in a way that he really felt it.

But then somewhere along the way, while pouring out his pain to God, David begins to praise Him instead. He begins to sing to God that not matter what he’s going through, he still trusts in God’s unfailing love. No matter what happens, he still praises God for having been so good to him. The psalm ends with these words:

“But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV).

How can a man go from pouring out his pain to pouring out his praise in the matter of a few sentences? We see the same thing happen in the book of Job, where Job, who has just lost nearly everything that was dear to him in a single day, tears his robes and falls to the ground. Yet he didn’t just fall to the ground and lie there. The Bible says “he fell to the ground in worship,” saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21, NIV).

Somehow, Job was able to pour out his pain and pour out his praise, nearly simultaneously. Somehow, like David, Job knew he could still trust in God’s His unfailing love–no matter what.

If you’re in pain today–in anguish–or if  things look so bleak you’re not sure how you’ll be able to stand it, let me encourage you to try doing what David did, what Job did, and what I at times have had to do: pour out your pain to God, in words that are real and raw, then pour out your praise to Him as well, trusting in God’s unfailing love for yourself.

You might feel like God is being slow to show up, taking His dear sweet time to answer your prayers. You might wonder if He’s even listening at all, because you feel like the only thing you can see is the back of His head. But the truth is, God is listening. He does care. And He is answering your prayers, even if you can’t see those answers yet, or even for a long time.

Pour out your pain. Keep trusting in His unfailing love. And you might just find yourself like David, pouring out your praise as well, saying, “for He has been good to me.”

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for giving us David’s example of how to pray raw prayers, guttural prayers, prayers that truly express what’s on our hearts. Thank You for letting us see how David and Job and others have been able to not only fall down when they’re in pain, but to still worship You as they fall. Help us to talk to You like they did, and help us to trust in You the way they trusted in You. Thank You for being so worthy of our trust and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link to the audio message I mentioned earlier:
Worshipping God in the Hard Times

And here’s the link, once again, to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with Tchaikovsky’s “The Sick Doll,” played by Makari Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read through all of the Psalms with us this year:
2017 Reading Plan For Psalms

 

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PLEASING PRAYERS – PSALM 19
Lesson 4 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with music by Edward MacDowell played by Josiah Elder

In my previous message, I talked about the value of saying “raw prayers,” prayers that pour out to God exactly what’s on your heart, without regard for whether it sounds pretty, or religious, or even kind. God can take it–and He already knows what’s in your heart anyway. Sometimes you just have to say it.

But in today’s message, I want to talk about the value of saying “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are also honest, but which are intentional about being pleasing to God. As a parent, I’m glad when my kids feel the freedom to come to me and express their raw emotions that they’re feeling on their hearts, without holding back for fear of what I might think. While it might sting sometimes, and their perceptions may not always be right, it helps to know what they’re honestly thinking so we can work through their thoughts together. But I’m also glad when they intentionally take time to say things which they truly believe, and which they know will please me .

Such is the case in David’s prayer today, which he ends with these words:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

This entire Psalm is filled with “pleasing words,” words which David carefully and intentionally poured out to the God who gave him life.

He starts by talking about how glorious God is, and how His creation declares His glory to the ends of the earth:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4a)

I can see how those words would be pleasing to the God, the Creator, the One who created the earth and everything in it. Then he continues by speaking poetically about how magnificently the sun crosses the sky:

“In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:4b-6).

Then he launches into a carefully worded anaphora, a grammatical technique of emphasizing an idea by repeating that same idea in different ways. The Psalms are some of the first writings in the world to use this technique which has been subsequently used by writers like Shakespeare and speechmakers like Churchill:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
(Psalm 19:7-9).

When I read this Psalm this week, I thought, “Imagine the care and thoughtfulness David must have put into crafting his words of praise to God in this way. He took a topic that was dear to him and dear to God’s heart, and then through repeating phrases, was able to express to God what he was feeling deep inside.”

I wondered what it would do for my prayer life if I could be as careful and thoughtful in my prayers to God as David was in this Psalm. It seemed like so much work, though, so I just continued writing in my journal as I normally do. But what came out of my pen next surprised me! It was a fully formed anaphora of my own!

“A desire for alcohol is not only for alcohol, but for relief from pain.
A desire for a person is not only for that person, but for relief from loneliness.
A desire for food is not only for food, but for relief from hunger….”

My poem went on for several more lines, describing the various things that people crave to bring relief from real pains. I was surprised at how easily the thoughts flowed from my mind to the paper in front of me. At the end of my thoughts, and my conversation with God, I wrote:

“Thank You for my mind and the ability You’ve given me to think. It’s remarkable. Thank You.”

And as I wrote those words, along with my thanks and praise to God for something I saw that He had created–my mind—I felt a touch of what David must have felt when he wrote his words, giving thanks and praise to God for something he saw that God had created–the heavens and His Word. Any father would be pleased to hear his children think and speak about those things in the world around him which the Father had a hand in creating. It shows honor and respect and true thankfulness.

There’s a time and place for “raw prayers,” prayers that just pour out whatever’s on our hearts to God, however they might sound. But there’s also a time and place for “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are carefully crafted to express other truths on our hearts that also bring pleasure and praise to the God who gave us life.

These aren’t words to butter up God to get what we want, but to honestly acknowledge Him for who He is, realizing how good and right and wise and perfect He is in all of His ways, and in all that He’s created–including us.

We can trust Him and trust His Word, even when He says things we don’t want to hear. We can trust Him that He really does know best.

What words could you speak today that would be pleasing to God? What insights has He given you into His ways or His Word or His creation that could bring out your praise for Him that is truly in your heart?

Why not take some time to voice those thoughts to Him, to write them out with a pen and paper, or type them out on a keyboard or keypad, or voice them out in a song or a poem?

Let the words within you flow out from your heart as a stream of praise to Him, as David’s words did when he said:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for letting us see that David not only poured out his pain, but also his praise, in ways that brought pleasure and glory to You. Help us to do the same, being honest and real with our problems and pains, but also with our praise and adoration. Help us to think carefully and intentionally about ways we can bring glory to You, both in our hearts and in our words that flow out of them. Let them be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of the Psalms. There’s plenty of time to catch up–even if you haven’t already started reading!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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COMFORTING PRAYERS – PSALM 23
Lesson 5 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

There are many ways to look at today’s psalm, Psalm 23, which is perhaps the most famous psalm in the book of Psalms, and perhaps the most famous passage in the whole Bible.  Today, I’m looking at what we can learn from Psalm 23 about praying more effectively.

While prayer often involves asking for God’s help or wisdom, struggling to know what to do or how things will work out in a situation, the beauty of this prayer is that it simply invites God into your life to let Him comfort you–to put your whole faith and trust in Him; to let Him take full control of your life and your situations; to allow Him to lead you beside still waters, to lie down in green grass, and to restore your soul; to trust Him that no matter what comes your way, He’ll be with you.

Listen to the words David wrote:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:1-4, NIV).

David was a shepherd, and he knew that good shepherds watch out for their sheep. When David was a shepherd, he had attacked and killed a lion one day and a bear another, all to protect his precious sheep. He knew the care that shepherds take of their sheep. So when he faced troubles of his own, it’s not surprising that he talked to God in terms that he understood well: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Sometimes we just need to let God’s comfort pour over us–to slow down long enough to let Him speak His soothing words to our hearts.

One way I’ve found to do this–to slow down and let God speak deeply to my heart–is to take time and savor not just every thought in a portion of Scripture, but every word.

Take the first sentence of Psalm 23, for instance. It has only five words: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But if you’ll focus on each and every word, you’ll see how God can use a simple sentence to speak volumes to your heart.

Think about the first word: THE. THE Lord is my Shepherd. Not “a” Lord or “some” Lord or “any” Lord, but THE Lord, THE One and Only God, THE Lord of all creation, THE Author and Perfecter of your life. THAT’S your Shepherd. THAT’S the One you’re talking to. THAT’S your Lord. “THE Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Think about the second word: LORD. The LORD is my Shepherd. What’s a lord? A lord is a master, a ruler, a caller of the shots. And if God is your lord, that means that you’re not! He’s got this. And He’s not just ANY lord, He’s THE Lord, THE Ruler over all, THE One Who’s got the whole world in His hands, including you.  He’s totally trustworthy, because He’s THE LORD.

Then think about the third word: IS. The Lord IS my Shepherd. It’s not “The Lord WAS my Shepherd, years ago, when I needed Him to save me, or when He showed up that one time in a special way.” It’s not “The Lord WILL BE my Shepherd, some day in the future when I get my act together or clean things up a bit.” But it’s “The Lord IS my Shepherd, right now, today in the midst of everything I’m going through.” The Lord IS your Shepherd, if He really is. And if He’s not, then there’s no reason to wait even one more minute–you can make Him your Lord today, right now! Then you’ll be you’ll be able to say, like David did, “The Lord IS my Shepherd! I shall not want!”

You’re getting how this works. Let’s do two more, and you can think through them with me.

Think about the fourth word: MY. The Lord is MY Shepherd. What does that say about you, that the Lord is your Shepherd? If He’s your Shepherd, that means He’s actually, truly concerned about you! Not just the world in general, or the people around you, but you! When Jesus told the parable about the good shepherd, what did He say about that shepherd’s heart for the one lost sheep–out of the hundred that He had? He said that the shepherd would go after that one sheep because He didn’t want even one of His sheep to be lost. God really cares about you, personally.  He is your Shepherd, just like He is mine. “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Now let’s finish with the last word: SHEPHERD. The Lord is my SHEPHERD. What’s a shepherd’s job? To look after the sheep. That’s their whole job! They take the sheep out to green pastures to get food. They lead them beside still waters to get water. They let them lie down to take a rest. They protect them from wild beasts. And they bring them back home again when the time is right, leading them through the gate when it’s time to sleep. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD, I shall not want.”

We’ve only looked at five simple words in this psalm, but you can see how those simple words can speak volumes when you slowly focus on each one, letting God speak to your heart. And perhaps you can see why David concluded this prayer to God with the words that he did, knowing that the Lord was his Shepherd:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, NIV).

If you ever need comfort from the Lord, take your time, and let Him speak to you. Don’t hurry through it. Come back to Him and His Word again and again, meditating on a few more words, and a few more until the comfort of God pours over your heart.  Let His goodness and love follow you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life.

I think God knew we could all use a bit of comfort now and then. No wonder this is the most famous passage in the Bible!

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for being our Lord and our Shepherd. Thank You for David’s example of coming to You and receiving Your comfort and goodness and love. Help us today as we continue to spend time in Your presence, whatever we do next, to know that Your goodness and love will follow us throughout this day today, and all of our days ahead, if we’ll keep putting our faith and trust in You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of all of the psalms in the Bible if you want to read along this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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REJOICING PRAYERS – PSALM 30
Lesson 6 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with music by Franz Joseph Haydn played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Today’s psalm reminds me that there are seasons for everything. Here in Illinois, summers are hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit many days. Winters are cold, often below 32 F for many days, with snowstorms that block us in our homes for hours.  Spring and fall are beautiful, with budding flowers and blossoming trees in the spring, and changing leaves and crisp, cool nights in the fall.

As George Carlin says (in what is probably the most accurate weather forecast of all time):

 “The weather will continue to change on and off for a long, long time.”

The seasons in our life change, too. And as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I wish they would: like living through the pain of losing my wife to cancer, for instance. Thankfully, God promises that the hard times we go through won’t last forever, that the pain we may be facing now can one day be behind us.

As King David said in Psalm 30:

Sing to the Lord , you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true: “Rejoicing comes in the morning.”

When I first went through the book of psalms five years ago, looking for ways to pray more effectively, my wife was going through her cancer treatments. Things looked bleak, and they turned out even bleaker, as she passed away just nine months after her initial diagnosis. I couldn’t see anything in the future other than blank, gray days of nothingness. There was nothing that I could imagine ahead for me if she were to die.

As I read this psalm back then, I wrote some notes to myself:

“God says that weeping lasts for but a moment, and in light of eternity He’s right, even if it seems longer than a moment here.  Rejoicing comes in the morning. Wailing turns into dancing.”

I couldn’t see far enough ahead at the time to know what was going to happen or to know if that would ever be true for me. But it’s been five years now since I first took those notes, and I can look back now and see how true those words were. God was right. He really did bring back my joy. He eventually turned my wailing into dancing.

But in the midst of that painful season, I didn’t even want to think about rejoicing some day. I didn’t want to think about dancing some day in the future, or any time in the future. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before tragedy hit, before our lives were turned upside down.

At that time, I was asked if I would be willing to film an interview to give people hope who were facing terminal illness. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I frankly didn’t know what I could say. Saying anything was like admitting that the prognosis in our case was, in fact, terminal. But I felt God wanted me to do it, so I did, and the film team called the short interview Eric’s Hope. A few months later, and two weeks before my wife died, a couple more people from the team came to our house to film another interview, this time with our whole family. They called it Lana’s Hope. (You can watch both interviews online by clicking their links).

One of the things I remember distinctly at that time was a conversation with the woman who asked me to do the interviews. She was writing a screenplay for a feature film they were going to be making in Hollywood based on a fictional story of a woman facing terminal cancer. She asked me if I wanted to know what happens at the end of the movie. I said, “No, I really don’t.”

She said, “It’s good. You might want to hear it.”

I said, again, “No, I really don’t.”

I didn’t want to hear that someday everything would get better for the husband in the movie, or that he got married again or something, and that somehow, some way, everything turned out to be okay. I didn’t know how the movie was going to end, but I didn’t want to know, because whatever it was, it couldn’t possibly be better than it was for me and our family before my wife got sick. I couldn’t imagine having to live in this world without her, and I didn’t want to have to think about it.

But you know what? That Hollywood movie came out last fall in theaters, and online just a few weeks ago, so I watched it Friday night. There were still moments that were hard, but you know what? I realized I no longer had that stabbing pain I once had. And the ending was touching, sweet, and hopeful, even if things would never be the same as they were before. (The movie is called New Life, and you can stream it from iTunes or Amazon by clicking on their links, or you can get the disc from a variety of stores.)

My life isn’t the same as it was before our lives took that turn. And it never will be. But I have seen God turn my weeping into rejoicing, my wailing into dancing. Things do change, and sometimes, very thankfully so. As Mark Twain is credited as saying:

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

I sometimes wish things would never change. But that’s as unlikely as wishing the weather would never change.

When praying, keep in mind there are seasons in life, too. Too hot? Just wait. Too cold? Hang on a bit. Weeping?  Rejoicing comes in the morning.  Wailing? God can turn it into dancing.

No, things may not go back to the way they were before. But the truth is that as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I am thankful that they do.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for the changing seasons, and thank You for the changing seasons in our lives. I pray that You would give us hope today in the fact that some things DO change, that things WON’T always be the same as they are now, and that there are times when that is the BEST way for You to work in and through our lives the way that You want to. Help us to keep putting our trust and faith in You, for as much as things here on earth may change, You never do  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. We’ll be taking a break from the Psalms for the next two weeks, then we’ll return to them again after Easter. Now’s a great time to catch up if you’re behind in reading along through the Psalm with us! Here’s the reading plan for the year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Country Minuet” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

 

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SWEET PRAYERS – PSALM 34
Lesson 7 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with music by Christoph Graupner, played by Eric Elder

I love chocolate chip cookies. I especially love them when they’re fresh out of the oven, warm and chewy, with the chocolate melting into strands when you pull them apart.

But I know I wouldn’t like them as much if a few of the ingredients were missing. If there were no butter, they’d just be a clumpy mass of dough. If there were no baking soda, they’d flatten out on the tray. If there were no salt or vanilla or sugar, they’d be almost tasteless. It takes all of the ingredients, mixed together, to make that delicious, mouth-watering moment when they come out of the oven.

Life does have some very “tasty” moments, but to bring them about, it requires mixing all the right ingredients together. And to be honest, some of those ingredients don’t taste so great on their own. I wouldn’t want to eat a stick of butter. I wouldn’t want to eat a cup of  of flour. I wouldn’t want to eat a spoonful of salt or vanilla, or even a cup of sugar, as sweet as it is, without the other ingredients mixed in.

But sometimes that’s what life gives us; the ingredients come to us one by one, then we get frustrated and wonder what in the world is going on. “This isn’t what I asked for! This isn’t what I prayed about! This isn’t the way things were supposed to go!” The beautiful thing about God is this: He mixes it all together for good. Notice the word “together” in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).

God takes all things and works them together for good. He’s a Master Chef, and that means  God can make something good out of anything that life throws our way, even those things that we might think are initially bitter or totally useless on their own.

In Psalm 34, David experiences one of those mouth-watering moments, when everything is mixed together just right. His cookies have just come out of the oven, and he can’t help himself from bursting into song, at one point singing:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

But what makes this moment so sweet, so mouth-wateringly delicious, are ALL the ingredients that went into it. David sings God’s praises because he realizes that only God could turn everything he had gone through into something good.

The heading of Psalm 34 tells us what had just happened:

“Psalm 34. Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.”

David had been on the run from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Then David found himself in the presence of another king–an enemy–who might have also tried to kill him.

Thinking quickly, David pretended to be insane:

“So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

King Achish [his proper name, also called Abimelek as in Psalm 34, which is his title] said to his servants:

“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:13-15, NIV).

And it worked! Abimelek sent him away. Then David burst into song. Victory never tasted so sweet–which is why he probably sang, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Individually, some of the ingredients that went into David’s song were pretty bitter. Facing death from one enemy only to find himself facing death from another. But God worked it all together for good, giving him a way of escape (and eventually making David the king over all the other kings in that land). David got a taste of the sweetness of God that day–and he savored every bite.

There are times in our lives when things come together just right, even for that moment, and we could burst into song as well. My encouragement to you today is this: go ahead and burst into song! Pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for working all things together for good.

Savor every bite. Sing a song of praise. Pour out your heart to Him in thanksgiving. You may not be totally out of the fire yet, as David still had obstacles in his way until he finally became king himself. But take time out along the way to give praise to God for what He’s brought you through so far, for what He’s already worked out for good in your life.

I had one of those mouth-watering moments myself yesterday, where I had a few minutes before I picked up my kids from an activity. I decided to go to a nearby park, sit on the grass, and write in my journal.

As I sat down, I read through this Psalm again. I began to thank God for all the things that He had worked out recently in my life: I had been driving a car that kept breaking down, but I now had another car that I had found at a reasonable price; I had been working on a new book that has been a challenge for various reasons, but I had now finished 3/4ths of it so far; I had been going through a long winter here in Illinois, but I was now enjoying the spring breeze and the scent of blossoms in the trees; and I had been hungry for just a little something right before I came to the park, and I had found a vending machine a few hundred feet from where I sat which had a small packet of M&M candies in it–Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s at that, a rare treat–and I was savoring them slowly, one or two at a time while I prayed.

That didn’t mean that everything in my life was going the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t still have obstacles ahead that I would have to overcome. But in those moments, I was able to taste and see that the Lord was good–and His goodness just so happened to taste like Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s.

What are you going through today that God might be mixing together for your good? Maybe you’re still having to eat all of the ingredients one at a time, and they don’t taste so good. But maybe there are some parts of your life that have already been mixed together for good, and which could taste sweet if you took time to stop and think about it for a few minutes. It wasn’t so sweet when my car broke down on the freeway for the final time on a cold winter morning, but it made it seemed to make it feel even better yesterday when I was able to roll down my windows once again on a warm spring day. What had been a big deal–and a big pain–just a few months ago, had turned into something extra sweet on an otherwise “ordinary” day yesterday.

If you need help thinking through the things God may have done for you lately, take a closer look at David’s psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 34. Take a look at some of the things God had saved him from that made the victory so sweet when it did come. Maybe you’ll find a few things about which you can burst out into song to God today, too.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. (v. 4)
Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (v. 5)
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles. (v. 6)
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them. (v. 7)
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry… (v. 15)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (v. 18)
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all… (v. 19)

Thank You God, for mixing ALL things together for good.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for mixing ALL things together for good. Thank You for the victories You’ve given us, and for the ingredients we needed to make those victories so sweet. I pray that You would help us to have Your perspective on our lives, not only the sweet times, but the bitter, so that we can enjoy them even more when they all come together.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link again to today’s psalm:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with Christoph Graupner’s “Intrada,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DELIGHTED PRAYERS – PSALM 37
Lesson 8 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with music by Ludwig van Beethoven, played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Psalm 37 contains some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, such as this one in verse 4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What I love about this verse, and about this psalm is that it talks about the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of enjoying His presence, of enjoying your time with Him. A friend of mine says that when he spends time with the Lord, he often comes away with a smile on his face, even if he didn’t enter into his time with the Lord with one. It’s like spending time with a dear friend.

Changing a frown into a smile is just one of the benefits, though. God goes further and promises that if you’ll delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.

I was sharing with someone yesterday about the first time I fasted and prayed for a period of several days. On the second day of my fast, I was praying for a woman I had dated in college, but we were no longer dating. She was trying to make a decision about a job, and I told her I would pray for her during my time of fasting and prayer that week.

On the second day of my fast, as I was praying for her, I suddenly had an image of her, not in the job that she was praying about, but married and living a different life than the one she was currently living. It struck me that God didn’t want her to take that job, but He did have a man in mind for her to marry. I changed my prayers and said, “Yes, Lord, give her a husband.”

Before I had even finished saying that prayer, these words came into my mind as clear as any words I had ever heard from Him before: “Why don’t you marry her?”

I was stunned! That’s not what I was praying about at all! I was just praying for direction for her life–not mine!

I closed my journal and decided I must have been getting delirious from having not eaten. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her and didn’t love dating her. I did. But at the time, I just didn’t feel it was right for us to keep dating. It turned out that during our time apart, we both fell in love with Christ and gave our lives to Him, in separate cities, in separate ways. We were now both fully committed to Him first and foremost, and we were beginning to live new lives for the first time.

Maybe God really was speaking to me. Maybe He really did want me to consider that question: “Why don’t you marry her?” We lived over 1,000 miles apart and over four hours away by plane. It didn’t seem practical. But the question wouldn’t leave me for two weeks. I began to pray more intensely, setting aside the next three months to pray about the question, not telling her anything about it.

By the end of those three months, I could hardly think of anything else but marrying this woman! God had put such a love for her in my heart like I had never felt before.

At the end of the three months, I called her to see how she was doing. She said, “I feel like God wants me to quit my job, so I’m going to quit in the next few months. But I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

I could hardly keep my heart from leaping out of my chest. “I have an idea,” I said. I told her what I felt God had spoken to me when I was praying for her three months earlier, and how much I would love to get back together with her again–for life. Now she was the one who went into shock!

She liked her new life in her new city. She liked the new friends she was making. She liked the church in which she had gotten involved.  And she liked me, but she wasn’t sure she was ready for getting married just yet. Over the course of the next few months, it began to look more and more doubtful that we would ever get together again. But then I read a verse in the Bible, a verse that gave me hope. It was from another Psalm, but with the same theme as the one I quoted above:

“May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests” (Psalm 20:4-5).

As I read those words, they became “living and active” within me, as the Bible says about itself in Hebrews 4:12. Those words filled me with faith that it was okay to ask God for something I wanted, and that if He did ever see fit to answer my request, I would shout for joy! I would lift up my banner in the name of my God! Although I was afraid it might sound a little childish, I prayed, “God, I know I don’t deserve it, and I know you won’t force someone to do anything against their own free will. But if there was only one gift I could ask from you in my life time, it would be to marry Lana.”

The prospect of marrying her still looked very bleak before I prayed, and my heart was still very heavy, but in that moment, it lifted. I knew I could trust God with the outcome, whatever that may be. And I knew I would indeed rejoice fully if it ever did come to pass.

As both of us prayed and sought the Lord more and more over the next few months while we were apart, God seemed to just keep bringing our hearts together, closer and closer. A year later we were married, on April 29th, 1989–28 years ago yesterday. (Here’s our engagement picture, in a field of Texas bluebonnets.)

As I read through Psalm 37 again this week, I was reminded of how true God’s Word really is.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I had set aside time to fast and pray for the first time in my life, “delighting myself in the Lord,” and one of the results of that prayer was that God spoke to me: He put a desire in my heart that I wasn’t even considering. He literally “gave me the desire of my heart.” He put that desire within me, and then He fulfilled that desire on our wedding day.

I’m not saying that we will always get everything we want. I’m not saying that our lives won’t be filled with hard things and hard times. I lost my precious wife to cancer four and a half years ago. But I am so thankful that I delighted myself in the Lord that day when I was praying and fasting. I am so thankful that I asked Him to give me the desire of my heart. I am so thankful that God gave me the 23 years of marriage that we did have.

And that gives me renewed confidence to keep asking Him to give me the desires of my heart again today–whatever He desires and wants to put on my heart.

This is just one of the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of spending time with Him. Others are listed all throughout this psalm:

– “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (v. 6).
– “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (v. 9).
– “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous” (vv. 16-17).
– “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty” (v. 19).
– “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (vv. 25-26).
– “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace” (v. 37).
– “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (vv. 39-40).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving me the desire of my heart, 28 years ago. Thank You for encouraging me again today to keep delighting myself in You, and to keep asking You to give me new desires of my heart, new answers to prayer for the days ahead. Help me to keep delighting in You in prayer, keep delighting in You throughout my days, keep delighting in you even when I’m having to wait patiently for Your answers. I ask all of this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve been asked to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. The topic for the weekend will be “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” I’m hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. Would you consider making a donation to help me offset the cost for this unplanned expense? The group that has invited me can cover my costs while I’m there, but I’ll need to cover the cost of my travel to get there (about $700). If you would like to help with part (or all!) of this special need, please use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Also, here’s a link one more time to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DEEP PRAYERS – PSALM 42
Lesson 9 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with music by George Frederic Handel, played by Bo Elder

Psalm 42 begins with the words of one of my favorite worship songs when I first became a Christian:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

The reason this was one of my favorite worship songs was because it spoke to the deep places of my heart. As a new Christian, I just wanted more and more of God. Thirty years later, I still do.

When you read Psalm 42, you can feel David’s deep hunger, his deep thirst for God.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (vv. 2-3).

And as you continue reading, you find out that his deep thirst is borne out of the deep pain in his soul:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar” (vv. 4-6).

The beauty of these verses is that it not only describes the problem David is facing, but also the solution he found to his problem: putting his hope in God; praising Him still; and remembering Him from the place where he had taken refuge.

It’s the same solution to the problems we’re facing. I heard from a friend yesterday morning whose week was filled with more than a few problems: a flooded basement, electrical issues, a tax problem, getting sick–all of which led to feelings of stress and loneliness. But like David, my friend found the solution in the simple act of turning to God, of actively hoping in Him and trusting in Him. He took away the feelings of despair. While the circumstances hadn’t entirely changed, my friend’s heart and mind changed–by trusting in Him.

Last year, I was able to visit the area in Israel where David most likely wrote this psalm, for he says in verse 5: “I will remember You from  the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon.” At one point, we stopped along the trail where we were walking, as we had come to a pool of water where it was easy to picture deer coming and quenching their thirst.

We sang, “As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after Thee…” And we called out to God from the depths of our hearts to the depths of His. It was a sweet time of intimacy with our God who has the solutions to all of our problems.

At another point, we saw the raging headwaters of the Jordan River, one of the three tributaries which give birth to that significant river that travels the length of the country. As the water crashed in upon itself, it was easy to see how the waves turned into a metaphor for David’s song, describing both the tumult that was going on in his own heart, as well as the peace he found through prayer:

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:7-8).

I don’t know what problems you might be facing this week. I don’t know what troubles my be besetting your soul. I don’t know what waves and breakers are sweeping over you. But I do know what can help you through them. I do know Who can satisfy that deep thirst in your soul. I do know what can change your heart and your attitude so you can keep pressing forward, as it changed the heart and attitude of David 3,000 years ago, and of my friend yesterday morning. David summarized the problem–and the solution–in the final words of his psalm:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

David spoke to his soul. He asked why it was so downcast and so disturbed. Then he spoke to it again, offering the solution that God is offering you today: Put your hope in God. Sing your praise to Him, your Savior and your God. Bring your deep prayers to the One who knows best how to answer them.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us pour out our hearts to you, from the depths of our hearts to the depths of Yours. Thank You for providing the solutions to our problems, the answers to our prayers. Thank You for giving us Your peace even when the breakers and waves are sweeping over us. We pray that You would bring us that peace again today, right now, throughout the day, and in the days that follow. Help us to keeping putting our hope and trust and faith in You, for You are worthy of it all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received $275 from several of you this week to go towards my $700 travel expense to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. Thank you!  I’ll be speaking on the theme of “Attacks on the Souls of Men,” and am hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. If you’d like to help offset the cost of this trip, or cover the remainder in full ($425), that would greatly help with this unplanned expense. Just use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s Psalm:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with George Frederic Handel’s “Rigaudon,” played by Bo Elder

And if you’d like to read through the entire book of Psalms this year with us, here’s the reading plan we’re using. It’s not too late to catch up!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SELAH PRAYERS – PSALM 46
Lesson 10 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

If your life is chaotic and you need a little peace, listen to God’s advice from Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

This is perhaps one of the most calming verses in the Bible–and it occurs in the middle of a very tumultuous psalm. So much is going on here that by the time you get near the end, those calming words are a welcome respite.

Here are a few of the verses that lead up to those climactic words:

“…we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (vv. 1-3).

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts…”(v. 7).

“Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire” (vv. 8-9).

And then comes the verse everyone is waiting for:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).

It’s almost like a scene from the musical Hamilton, as a whirlwind of chaos swirls around Alexander Hamilton at a critical point in his life. The rest of the actors circle around him, picking up chairs and desks and papers, twirling the objects around him and holding them high. Chaos abounds.  Then…everything stops.

Hamilton sings, “In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment…” And there is quiet all around as he sings the rest of the song for the next two and a half minutes.

I love the imagery of that scene. Unfortunately for Hamilton, in that quiet moment he looks inward, decides to put his trust in his own strength–and it destroys him.

The writers of Psalm 46, however, look upward, decide to put their trust in God’s strength–and it delivers them.

How can you “be still” with God in a moment like that? How can you experience His presence when life around you is so chaotic? For me, it comes by literally stopping what I’m doing–whether it’s for just a few seconds or just a few hours–but long enough to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

Ever since taking a typing class in high school almost 40 years ago, I’ve always been a fast typist. And I’ve just gotten faster since then as I’ve worked on computers my entire adult life.

But when I spend quiet time with God, I do it “the old fashioned way.” I take out a pen and a journal. I hand write my notes to God. I try to take notes on what I feel He’s impressing on my heart from His Word and from His Spirit.

I try to write slowly–but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I rush, and my letters and words become illegible. But the very act of taking out a pen and a journal to record my thoughts are one way for me to slow down–to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

There’s also a mysterious word that appears in the psalms which helps me, too. It’s mysterious because Bible scholars haven’t found a well-defined translation of it in the ancient world.  But from the context in which it is often used, as best as they can tell, the word means, “stop and listen.” It’s the word, “Selah.” It’s a beautiful word, even without any meaning attached. (It’s so beautiful that one of my friends named their daughter “Selah.”)

The word “selah” occurs 74 times in the psalms (and only 3 other times in the whole Bible, in the book of Habakuk), and it occurs 3 times in today’s psalm, Psalm 46. This psalm is clearly a song, for the Hebrew text at the top of it says, “For the director of music….A song.” The word “selah” then appears 3 times, at the end of verses 3, 7 and 11.

For me, whether it means, “Stop and listen,” or as the Amplified Bible translates it, “Pause, and think of that,” whenever I see it in the Bible, it causes me to take a few extra moments to reflect on the words that precede it.

I say all of this to encourage you in your own prayer time with God to “stop and listen,” to “pause, and think of that.” Or as verse 10 says in this psalm, without having to guess at the original meaning of the words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I’d like to give you a chance to do this right now. I know you’re busy. I know you’re trying to get through the day and get on to whatever you have to do next. But if you’re able, take a few extra moments sometime today and read through Psalm 46.  Each time you see the word “selah,” stop and listen; pause and think of that; be still, and know that He is God.

Psalm 46
For the director of music, Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth (also likely a musical term). A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God. Help us to pause throughout our day and throughout our week–especially when things are so chaotic we can’t think straight. Help us to know what it means to “stop and listen,”  to “pause and think of that,” to experience those “selah” moments, even with all of the mystery that this word conveys. We love You, Lord, and we thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God again today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received all I need to travel to Trinidad and speak at the men’s conference at the end of June on the topic of “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” Thanks to all who have helped and prayed for this event.  I’m hoping to record the messages and post them online after the event.

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you want to listen to it with music (the introductory text and the word “selah” is not spoken aloud in this reading):
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to the reading plan we’re using to go through the whole book of Psalms this year. There’s still plenty of time to read them all!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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CLEANSING PRAYERS – PSALM 51
Lesson 11 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

Sometimes we think our sins are too big for God to forgive.  But Jesus didn’t die for only the sins that we feel are “petty.” He died for all our sins, even those which we feel are the most grievous. A sin that leads to death might seem too hard for God to forgive, but if Jesus didn’t die for those, He wouldn’t have had to die at all.

In Psalm 51, David pours out His heart to God in prayer over what are perhaps the most grievous sins he had ever committed–his adultery with Bathsheba, who was another man’s wife, and the subsequent cover-up and murder of her husband.

The consequences David had to face from his actions were real, as the child born to him and Bathsheba died. But the cleansing that God poured out on him was real, too, as David poured out his confession to God. Listen to David’s heart as he begins his prayer:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge” (Psalm 51:1-4).

David pleads for God’s mercy. He acknowledges the evil of what he’s done. And he acknowledges God’s right to judge him accordingly. Yet he pleads for God’s mercy nonetheless.

One of the reasons I find the Bible to be so trustworthy is that it doesn’t gloss over or try to cover up the sins of some of the most heroic figures contained within it. If I think of some of my own sins that are most grievous to me, and if you think of some of your own sins that are most grievous to you, can you imagine having them recorded in a book for everyone to see? Yet I am so thankful that David’s sins were recorded in the pages of the Bible, giving me hope that the same God who forgave David can also forgive me. If I thought that God could only forgive sins that I thought were petty, or if the Bible only recorded sins that seemed trivial, I might think that I could somehow pay the price for my sins myself, doing a few more good deeds, or giving more generously, or in some other way. But David’s words remind me that this is not what God wants. He wants our hearts, broken and contrite:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (vv. 16-17).

That is exactly what David offers to God. That is exactly what I offered to God on the night that I put my trust in Him for everything in my life. And that is exactly what every one of us can offer to God, whenever we sin, to whatever extent that we sin, even for those sins which we might feel are the most grievous.

As you pray to God, come to Him and ask for forgiveness for even your biggest of sins. Then let Him forgive you, since the price for those sins has already been paid when Jesus died on the cross in your place. To not accept God’s forgiveness–and the joy that is possible from that forgiveness–would be like leaving an Easter basket filled with candy on the counter at the store, a basket for which your father has already paid and which truly belongs to you.

But sometimes we leave our baskets of forgiveness sitting on the counter. We don’t pick them up and truly enjoy the healing that forgiveness can bring because we don’t feel like we deserve it. We don’t! But our Father didn’t buy it for us because we deserved it. He bought it for us because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to die. He knew we would need it one day, so we could once against feel loved and accepted, cleansed and forgiven– otherwise we might melt in a permanent puddle of shame and regret and guilt, never to rise up again.

None of us has a perfect moral scorecard. But God wants us to know that He will gladly forgive us of any and all of our sins if we will simply acknowledge those sins before Him; pour out our broken and contrite hearts to Him; and trust in Him, that He truly has bought our forgiveness at the price of His Son on the cross.

Don’t leave the basket of forgiveness and cleansing and true joy on the counter. That’s not why He bought it for you. He bought it because He loves you. He adores you. And He doesn’t want you to die. By faith, through prayer, God will give to you what He has already purchased for you: forgiveness, cleansing, and true joy.

When David came before God, he acknowledged God’s ability to forgive. David said:

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (vv. 7-9).

Then David called out to God to do a mighty work in his heart; a work that he knew he couldn’t do on his own; a work that only God, the creator of his heart, could do:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (vv. 10-13).

If you need a clean heart today, whether it’s the first time you’ve asked God to do this mighty work in your life or the hundredth time, I’d like to lead you in a prayer of cleansing–a prayer straight from the words King David prayed after committing some of the most grievous sins of his life.

Will you pray with me?

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge… You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise… Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (Psalm 51:1-4, 16-17, 7-13). In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

And here’s the link to follow along with our reading plan to read through all of the psalms this year.
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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MORE TO COME!!!

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