When All You Have is God

Photo by Greg Willson on Unsplash

Near the end of Book 3 in the Psalms (43-89), several Psalms read like cries for help by writers at the end of their rope.  In Psalm 86:14, for example, David writes: “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”  While the exact circumstance is unclear, David knows there is a wide conspiracy against him, and his only hope is to turn to God.  The Psalm opens with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

Likewise, when we feel desperate and don’t know where to turn, these Psalms remind us that God will never turn us away.  On Psalm 86 John Calvin comments that “the more severely any one is oppressed, and the more destitute he is of the resources of human aid, the more inclined is God graciously to help him. That despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted.”  In other words, because these Psalms are in the Bible, we can be sure that, no matter the mess our own choices or the actions of others have put us in, God in His steadfast love will listen.

Throughout the Psalm, David writes reminders of the character and works of God as a contrast to both his circumstances and his feelings of futility.  Like him we must always remember that our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character, and that our circumstances are never so bad that loving us is beyond His power to achieve.

Our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character

Even for the most desperate, there is always a way out, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” In Psalm 86, David does not just pray for a miraculous deliverance, but in verse 11, David looks for the way of escape: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”  A united heart is one that feels no anxiety because it knows it is seeking God’s will and willing to act on it based on reverence for Him.  God may urge us to merely wait for His deliverance, or prod us to actions we may not expect, but in all cases, He knows the way, because He is the Way. Only He can unite your heart.

Bring your desperate anxiety to Him and let Him show you the way forward.  When all you have is God, He is enough.  When you feel your faith is weak because you can’t see or feel God in your life or the world around you, begin with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” and He will listen.

The Lord is Not Looking For “The Good Face”

One of my favorite books is Moneyball, which is about Billy Beane’s career as General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Beane ran a winning team on a shoestring budget by pioneering the use of precise measurement, data, and analytics, in contrast to sometimes-arbitrary eyewitness reports from talent scouts.  Author Michael Lewis notes that in the late 1990s, “Some of the scouts still believed they could tell by the structure of a young man’s face not only his character but his future in pro ball. They had a phrase they used: ‘the Good Face.’”[1]  Billy Beane himself had “the Good Face” when he was a prospect and yet had a mediocre career as a player; therefore, his own career arc suggested that there might be a better way to find good players.

Reliance on “The Good Face” isn’t just a baseball phenomenon.  Many politicians, celebrities, businesspeople, news personalities, and others succeed by having “The Good Face,” but the Bible warns us not to rely on “The Good Face.”  One such warning is the story of King Saul, who was “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.  From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.”[2]

Samuel, the LORD’s prophet, was impressed by Saul and was led to anoint him Israel’s king.  However, when Samuel called the people together to announce Saul’s rule, something strange happened: “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”[3]  Saul should have responded “Here am I”, but instead shamefully hid.  Being so large, it must have taken some effort to find a place to hide, but he managed it in an attempt to avoid God’s call.  This became a pattern with Saul, because when Israel’s army was challenged by the giant Goliath, “Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”[4]  Saul, while having “The Good Face,” was unwilling to trust God when He called.  He was faithless and a coward.  Perhaps “tall, dark, and handsome” but not useful to God, and not a good leader for God’s people.

When looking for Saul’s successor, Samuel, as God’s talent scout, almost repeated the mistake of picking “The Good Face.”  Samuel was to pick as king one of the sons of Jesse, and he wanted to pick Eliab after he “looked on” him.  “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.[5]  After this warning, David, the youngest son of Jesse, is chosen as the next king.  David also had many admirable qualities, being not only handsome, but also “skillful in playing [the lyre], a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence,” but most importantly, others reported that “the LORD is with him[6] and it was true.  David knew that everything that really mattered about him came from God (see Psalm 139:13-16 for example) and he could only succeed by relying on Him.  If God called, he would come, and if the world challenged God, David would defend Him.  David slew Goliath without hesitation.

Today, the power of Christ living through us is what matters, not having “The Good Face.”  Therefore, be concerned about having “The Good Heart.”  Be not concerned about whether you are photogenic, or handsome, or tall, or well-dressed, or anything else the world may value.  According to the prophet Isaiah, even Jesus didn’t have “The Good Face”: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” – Isaiah 53:2b

When God calls, come, and you will have “The Good Heart.”  When you fail, God, whose heart is perfect, will create in you a new clean heart[7], as David learned time and time again.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:31-33


[1] Lewis, Michael.  Moneyball (2003).  P. 7.
[2] 1 Samuel 9:2
[3] 1 Samuel 10:22
[4] 1 Samuel 17:11
[5] 1 Samuel 16:7
[6] 1 Samuel 16:18
[7] Psalm 51:10

The King of Glory Shall Come In

Tradition suggests that Psalm 24 was used at the start of temple services in ancient Jerusalem, possibly commemorating the Ark of the Covenant moving from Obed-edom’s house to Jerusalem, an event recorded in 2 Samuel 6:10-12:

So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.  And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.  And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.

This was the second attempt to move the ark, the first attempt having ended in disaster, in 1 Samuel 6:6-8:

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.  And David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day.”

God gave detailed instructions for moving the ark in the book of Numbers 4:9-20.  It was supposed to be carried on the shoulders of Levites descended from Kohath.  Instead, they moved the ark as the Philistines did (1 Sam 6).  The judgment of Uzzah reminded Israel that God is not to be taken lightly or for granted.

Today’s post is a flashback to the 1989 song by Christian rock band Petra, “The King of Glory Shall Come In,” which is based on Psalm 24.  When Psalm 24:3, referenced in the song’s verse, says “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?”  David, the author, is asking who is worthy to be in God’s presence.  However, the chorus of the song is my favorite part.  Some believe verses 7 to 10 of Psalm 24 were a call-and-response between the priests and the people, who cried out for God to be among them.  Knowing they are unworthy; they still need and desire His presence among them.  The song imagines what that call-and-response might have been like, but in 80’s praise-rock style!

Call for the King of Glory to come into you today!  By the sacrifice of Jesus you can “stand in his holy place” with “clean hands and a pure heart.”

For just the lyrics, go here, but for the audio of the full song, click below:

Out of Exile into Exile

Many of us cannot wait for the Covid-19 pandemic to be over, so that we can return to normal and get back to doing the things we want to do.  Lessons learned, and let’s move on.  About a week ago, I posted about John the Baptist and what we can learn from his unexpected circumstances.  I also quoted Psalm 90:12 – “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” – on another blog about learning from sickness.  As if on cue, I got Covid soon after.  Much of this week I’ve been too uncomfortable to sleep, but also without enough energy, physically or mentally, to do much of anything.  And it would appear I still have more to learn from the pandemic.

What do I mean?  Let’s take a look at the Old Testament life of David, and what he learned about trying to get back to normal.

King David’s Lost Decade
David had been anointed king at about age 16 but did not become king until about age 30.  Having already been anointed[1], David was forced into exile by the reigning king Saul, who tried to kill David multiple times.[2]  After this, David was kept by force from the throne he knew he would inherit for about 10 years!  When David says “wait for the LORD” he knows what he means from hard experience.  While David’s behavior in this time was not perfect, he provided some lessons for waiting on God’s deliverance from trials.

First, our timing to receive God’s promises is not God’s timing, and we must trust that His is better.  Warren Wiersbe notes that “It’s likely that David’s fugitive years are reflected in Psalms 7, 11–13, 16–17, 22, 25, 31, 34–35, 52–54, 56–59, 63–64, 142–143.”  These 22 Psalms are full of testimony of David’s faith that God would sustain him through all trials, that God was in still in control, and that God would always be proven faithful and true.  If God had anointed David king, He would get him there when He decided it was the right time.  Because David wrote these Psalms during his exile, Wiersbe says “God’s people today can find strength and courage in their own times of testing. Our Lord quoted Psalms 22:1 and 31:5 when on the cross.”[3]

Second, our power comes from God, and we must trust that He knows what it should and shouldn’t be used for.  On at least two occasions, David was given an opportunity to seize the kingdom from Saul by violent means.  To end his exile on his own terms and timing.  1 Samuel 24:1-7 and 1 Samuel 26:1-11 show Saul completely at David’s mercy, seemingly by God’s Providence, but David knew that if he struck and killed “the Lord’s anointed” he was betraying the Providence sustaining David during his years on the run.  Since David was also “the Lord’s anointed”, could he glorify God for preserving his own life, yet apply a different standard to Saul?  Would God bless David’s future kingdom if David trusted his own power, instead of relying on God’s power and timing?

David eventually rose to the throne and mourned the death of Saul, who took his own life on the battlefield rather than be captured by the opposing Philistine army.  David united the tribes of Israel under his rule, headquartered in Jerusalem, and led the way for the Temple to be built by his son Solomon.  While David’s grievous sins, including adultery and murder, had many consequences for himself, his family, and the nation, David always came back to his God and knew where his strength came from.

When forced back into exile by his son Absalom[4], David returned to the lessons of his earlier exile.  David always knew that salvation belongs to the Lord alone, but also seemed aware that salvation was not done yet.  He wrote in Psalm 17:15 – “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  While the idea of a future, eternal life was vague in the Old Testament, David knew someday he would meet God and know Him more fully.  David knew that as long as he was on earth he was still in exile, awaiting the full salvation of the Lord, which would come in His power and in His timing.

The Lost Pandemic Years
The pandemic seems like an exile from normal life – the life we think we should be living and the life we think we can return to living once the pandemic is over.  God has promised heaven, how can this continue?  I will eventually be over Covid, and the pandemic will end.  However, what we call our normal lives are also lives lived in exile, waiting for the salvation of the Lord.  Our normal lives remain interrupted not only by sickness, but also by our sin: our impatience, our frustrated longing for justice, our temptation to take salvation into our own hands, and our inability to love as we would like to be loved.  It would appear I still have more to learn from the pandemic.

When we leave the exile of the pandemic for the exile of our normal lives, let’s keep Driving Toward Morning: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ball the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

What is “the Day”?  It is not the day I get over Covid, or the day when the pandemic is no longer disrupting our everyday lives.  It is the Day where not only is every disease defeated, but also the Day we overcome all of our impatience and division and our longing for things to be set right.  It is the Day all of our desires are perfected, and in Him all of our perfect desires are fulfilled.  The Day we are no longer in exile and see the full salvation of the Lord.


[1] 1 Samuel 16:13
[2] 1 Samuel 19:10-12
[3] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Successful (1 Samuel) (2001).  P. 135.
[4] See related post on Psalm 3, written by David at this time.

King David Didn’t Let Politics Keep Him Up at Night

The U.S. midterm elections are later this year, and some are already considering turning off their social media feeds until its over.  Jesus is not on any ballot for the elections, but this does not mean His people are without hope and comfort.  It also doesn’t mean Christians should ignore it all.  Last fall, I wrote a twopart series partly about not over-reacting to the threats of worldly kingdoms because “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) When recently reading Psalm 3, which is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” I saw that this Psalm may not have come after Psalm 2 by accident and may also comfort us in the face of political bad news.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom is shown as one who broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by the “utopian impulse,” belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Democracy and Tyranny
Jesus isn’t on the ballot this fall, but flawed candidates of many types will be.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.  The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. But a second lesson from the story of Absalom is that a ruler driven by achieving worldly perfection can be the worst kind, even if they seem to have good intentions.

Absalom’s story reminds me of this quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under of robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some points be satiated; but those who torment us for their own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to heaven yet at the same time likely to make a Hell of earth.”[2]

How do we reconcile the two lessons?

Coming This Week
This week, I’m hoping to squeeze in a short series of posts on narratives, history, and (gasp!) politics.  I’m very much figuring this out myself every day and learning how to engage without following my own utopian impulse to cut off Malchus’ ear[3] but I also know that waiting for a perfect answer guarantees failure.  This blog is part of that process for me.  This week’s posts will lead up to the next “History Bits” post I have planned for April 9th and give some background on that series.

Hope you’ll join me and let me know what you think.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.
[2] From “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” C.S. Lewis. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  (1970).  P. 292.
[3] See John 18:10