Psalm 69:30–37; Proverbs 21; 2 Corinthians 4:7–18

Psalm 69:30–37: Like every psalm of supplication there is a final turning point where the poet expresses his humility before God as the psalm ends with the assurance that God is a great God and will indeed answer his prayers. This psalm is no exception as the poet recognizes his humble position before God:
But I am lowly and hurting.
Your rescue, O Lord, will protect me.” (30)

Here in these two lines is the essence of the psalmist’s prayer and the essence of what we need to acknowledge before God. We are lowly and we are hurting. Only God can rescue and protect us. But so often, our pride and sense that we can fix things ourselves prevents us from saying this simple phrase. But when we admit our own powerlessness, we can rejoice along with the psalmist:
Let me praise God’s name in song,
and let me extol Him in thanksgiving.” (31)

Our poet realizes he is not the only one who is lowly and hurting. There is an entire community of souls who are hurting. But they have also experienced God’s rescuing power and hurt is transformed to joy:
The lowly have seen and rejoiced,
those who seek God, let their hearts be strong.” (33)

And then an expression of a loving God who is active among his creatures, especially (and as always!) among those who are suffering the most and most in need:
For the Lord listens to the needy,
and His captives He has not despised.” (34)

Full-throated worship that encompasses all creation takes over as the psalm concludes. For this is what naturally follows out of the assurance that God will answer our prayers:
Let heaven and earth extol Him,
the seas and all that stirs within them.” (35)

And as for the psalmist’s particular situation, he concludes knowing that God will (once again!) rescue Israel in a beautiful contrast to the despair that permeated the opening verses of this psalm:
For God will rescue Zion
and rebuild the towns of Judea,
and they will dwell there and possess it.
And the seed of His servants will inherit it,
and those who love His name will dwell there.” (36, 37)

This psalm perfectly mirrors the pattern of our lives. For out of despair and anger (such as the imprecations against his enemies) comes the realization that God does indeed hear us and will indeed act to our ultimate benefit. And from that realization comes true worship. Would that I remember the impact of this psalm in my daily life.

Proverbs 21: As usual, many of these proverbs express deep psychological insight. Of course in our self-centeredness we think our every word and every deed is just and exactly the right thing to do. But too often we delude ourselves:
All deeds are right in the sight of the doer,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.” (2)

Only God knows the true motivations often buried in our subconscious.  The greatest sin is pride and as far as our author is concerned, that automatically places us on the side of the wicked:
Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
    the lamp of the wicked—are sin.” (4)

He returns to this issue later in the chapter:
The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,”
    acts with arrogant pride.” (24)

This is a clear warning to those of us like me who tend to be cynical and sarcastic. God does not abide these qualities.

One of the effects of pride is to ignore the needs of the poor and our author will not countenance that:
If you close your ear to the cry of the poor,
    you will cry out and not be heard.” (13)

For sometimes we too will need to cry out for help—and the ones whom we ignored in their need will assuredly ignore us in our hour of need.

Our author must have been having a serious argument with his wife while writing this chapter because he lays his domestic problems at the feet of the wife—not once, but twice:
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a contentious wife.” (9)

and…
It is better to live in a desert land
    than with a contentious and fretful wife.” (19)

As always, the righteous person controls his speech:
To watch over mouth and tongue
    is to keep out of trouble.” (23)

It is always better to be a good listener than a rash speaker:
A false witness will perish,
    but a good listener will testify successfully.” (28)

As usual I’m struck by the contemporary nature of these statements. They are completely applicable today—another sign that the human psyche and its consequent behavior has not evolved for the better in the last three millennia.

2 Corinthians 4:7–18: That we are clay jars is one of Paul’s greatest metaphors. Clay jays were the disposable packaging of Paul’s time. Worthless scrap. Yet it is in these worthless scraps that “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (7) Which pretty neatly echoes the themes in today’s reading in Proverbs about humility.

Paul goes on to make his point with a personal example that builds in intensity showing how much he has suffered at the hands of these accusatory Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;.” (8,9) But for Paul this is all perfectly OK because these afflictions are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (10) 

None of the trials he is enduring matters to Paul because they have a higher purpose to not only talk about but to actually be the Gospel message to the world: “while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (11,12)  He states directly that he has done “everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (15)

In other words, he is giving everything he has over to communicating and living the love of Jesus Christ in spite of those Corinthians who so greatly doubt his sincerity and his words. The question is, would I speak and act as generously to a group of people who were accusing me of serious wrongdoing? I doubt it.

For Paul, these accusations do not discourage him. Rather, they are ironically a source of strength and renewal for him: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (16)

Paul explains how he can find peace in what must have been bitter disappointment, even agony in what I think is the central theme of his letter—and what needs to be the real theme of my life—in his famous statement: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (17, 18)

If we had such a clear view of the long run objective of living a fully Christian life, then I think we too could endure far more than we think.  Faith is at the heart of not losing heart in a present reality that seems doomed.

 

 

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