pray

My sons enjoy video games, especially Mario games. The story for most of the Mario games revolves around a bad guy taking something or destroying something. The goal of the game is to beat levels, defeat the boss, and ultimately win the game. In video games, we can play until the good guys win. But in real life, what do we do when the bad guys win?

The question that forms the title of this post derives from my devotional reading this week. Throughout Scripture many have wrestled with the tension of the apparent/real success of the wicked. In today’s chaotic world (pandemics, politics, and personal opinions), it is easy for us to lose heart and become frustrated.

It is good for us to remember that we are not alone in these frustrations. The Bible offers us some really good advice on this topic.

Take a moment to read David’s thoughts regarding this topic from the Psalms.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

David, Psalm 37:1-7

It is all too easy for us to “fret” because of the wicked and forget about the eternal and important. David’s psalm reminds us to focus on what matters, not what doesn’t.

Here’s an analogy. The other day I was talking with one of my sons about frightful thinking. Something he had read was causing him fearful thoughts and making it difficult for him to go to sleep. One option when thinking bad thoughts is to tell ourselves not to think bad thoughts or even to pray about the bad thoughts. The problem with this approach is that we are telling ourselves not to think bad thoughts or praying about thinking bad thoughts. Essentially, we are thinking about the bad thoughts by telling ourselves not to think them. Instead of this option, I encouraged my son to think about something else. I suggested that he quote a Scripture verse, meditate on something good, and pray about something completely different. The key, in this analogy, is to replace our sinful thoughts with good thoughts.

With regard to Psalm 37, we need to replace our frets and frustrations regarding the apparent success of the wicked with thoughts and actions that reflect trust in Lord.

Here are some good thoughts from the text that we should dwell on:

Remember that life is not temporal but eternal. Everyone will answer to God. It may appear that some in our world are getting by with their sin. They are not, and God is the only Holy Judge. Having an eternal perspective is spiritually healthy.

Trust in the Lord by doing what’s good. It is not our place to fret or fix everyone else. The best thing we can do most days is focus on what we know is right. We trust God by doing what we know to be good and right. Doing something good for someone else is a great way to refocus energy away from fears and worries.

Delight in the Lord through worship and prayer. Psalm 37:4 is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses. But if we are not careful, we will misread it. If we think God will grant us our wish list when we worship him, we are misguided. The point of the verse is that when we truly delight in the Lord, we will recognize that he is all we need.

Commit your day and your way to the Lord. Each day offers opportunities for worry, worship, fear or faith. Committing your way to the Lord is an act of trust where we obey God with what we know to do (the clear imperatives in Scripture). We also commit our way to the Lord when we pray and seek his direction for the uncertain areas of our lives.

Wait on God to be God. Too often I get myself in trouble trying to fix what is not my responsibility. Part of what gets us in trouble when the wicked are successful is acting out of frustration and trying to control what is outside our responsibility. Sometimes we just need to wait and be patient.

God knew that I needed to reread Psalm 37 this week. These thoughts have helped me today, and I hope they will help you as well.

This Monday (2/1/2021) begins a four part series of blogposts about being anchored in relationship with God. I recently finished reading through the book of Acts. In Acts 27, Paul and his companions were shipwrecked. During one particular night of a storm they faced, they let down the anchors because they knew they were near shore.

And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come.

Acts 27:29

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life that I’ve prayed for daylight. There have been times that I’ve prayed just to make it through the storm. There have been times that I’ve prayed to get by to the next day.

It is instructive that the sailors let the anchors out when they wanted to slow the drift of the ship in the storm. That’s what an anchor is for. In some cases an anchor keeps a ship in place in a body of water. In other cases (like the one above) an anchor isn’t strong enough to keep a ship in place, but it is strong enough to slow the ship down in a storm.

As I considered this story God reminded me that in the storms and trials of life, I needed to be anchored. I need to be anchored in my relationship to God.

Now, ultimately it matters far more that God has a hold on us than it matters that we have a hold on God. God is the One keeping us (1 Peter 1:4-5), God is the One saving us (Eph. 2:8-9), God is the One giving us rest (Matt. 11:28-30, and God is the One caring for us (1 Peter 5:7).

But with that said, we are responsible for seeking God, for trusting God, and for depending on God. We cannot expect to experience God’s strength, peace, and hope if we neglect the spiritual disciplines that God has provided for us to know him.

In these four blogposts I’m going to reflect on one spiritual anchor each week that keeps us in right fellowship with the Father. Today’s post reminds us to be anchored in God’s Word.

There is nothing more important for your spiritual life than spending time in God’s Word. God’s Word is vitally important as an anchor for our souls.

We need the anchor of God’s Word because when we read God’s Word, we are privileged to experience God’s own thoughts.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-10

With his Word, God spoke creation into existence. With his Word, God spoke life into man. With his Word, God became flesh (Jesus is the Logos, Word of God).

When we read, hear, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word we are thinking God’s thoughts. That very act serves as an anchor for our souls to the One True God who alone is Lord and King. It is God speaking to us that leads us to worship and know him.

God must speak to us before we have any liberty to speak to him. He must disclose to us who he is before we can offer him what we are in acceptable worship. The worship of God is always a response to the Word of God. Scripture wonderfully directs and enriches our worship.

John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 174.
We need the anchor of God’s thoughts because his Word is guaranteed to last.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:8

Peter quotes this passage in his first epistle. Peter was reflecting on believers who are facing trials to grow and be strengthened in the Word of God.

There are many things in this world to distract us, disrupt us, or defeat us. But remember this. All those trials, difficulties, challenges, and circumstances have a shelf life. One day they will not be. For that matter, one day your job will not be, your cell phone will not be, the internet will not be, etc.

But the Word of the Lord will last forever.

When we read, hear, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word we are thinking thoughts that will stand forever. Being anchored in the Word of God is being anchored to something that is guaranteed to be around for eternity.

According to research, there is nothing better for your spiritual maturity than God’s Word.

Our study of churchgoers included the measurement of more than sixty factors characteristic of biblical spiritual development… Our statistician applied sophisticated procedures to our data to produce a rank-ordered list of correlations. The number one factor, or characteristic, most correlated to the highest maturity scores is the practice of “reading the Bible.” I almost had to laugh when I saw this. Sometimes we complicate things. The simple discipline of reading the Bible has a major impact on Christians.

Brad Waggoner, The Shape of Faith to Come, 68.

So if you want to find an anchor for your soul that will stabilize you anytime (but especially in trying times), read the Word of God.

Here are some recommendations for being anchored in the Word of God:

  • Read the Bible daily. If you aren’t reading the Bible regularly, start today. Read a chapter a day. Or pick a Bible reading plan. I use the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan on my ESV Bible app.
  • Study the Bible regularly. Take some time at least once a week to dive deeper into God’s Word. Maybe take the passage of Scripture your pastor preached and read it over again. Think on it. Look up the passage in a commentary, and study the Bible.
  • Memorize the Bible consistently. We have challenged our church to memorize at least one verse of Scripture each month. For January 2021, our verse is Psalm 90:12. For February 2021, our verse is 1 Peter 2:24. You can see both verses below. I challenge you right now. Memorize them.
  • Pray the Bible intentionally. One of the most spiritually helpful books I’ve read is Don Whitney’s Praying the Bible. I would commend it to you. But you don’t have to read it to pray the Bible. As you read Scripture, use the stories, commands, convictions, insights, and lessons that you read to guide how you pray for those on your prayer list. We’ll spend more time on the subject of prayer in a couple of weeks.

Here are two verses I challenge you to memorize. If you do, you will be glad you did because you are memorizing words and truths that will never, ever, not even in a million years, go away.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 

1 Peter 2:24

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash