Your Church Does Not Need a Superstar

In one sense preachers have always felt pressure.  In the past, the position of church minister was respected in the community, along with other leadership roles in society.  These days the pressure often feels more cynical, with a world ignoring us until they have some dirt to celebrate.

In another sense, there is an increasing pressure on preachers.  In the past people might hear a Billy Graham once every few years, and perhaps they would be exposed to other preachers a little more often.  Today people get to listen to some brilliant communicators, often in edited form, on podcasts throughout the week.  As preachers we can feel the pressure that comes from expectation built by podcast.

To use an analogy, the famous preacher is a bit like a fine chef in a restaurant (assuming the famous preacher is actually a good preacher!)  A periodic meal in a restaurant is a real treat.  However, these days, people effectively have the option of fine dining multiple times each day.  Then Sunday comes and it is back to normal food for a disappointing change.

Remember that children grow into healthy adults based on a continuing supply of reasonably healthy food.  I don’t know many families that offer haut cuisine day in and day out.  In the same way, if you are providing the regular diet for your church, know that the bar is not set impossibly high.

Preach messages that are solidly biblical, as clear as you can manage, as engaging as possible, with relevance underlined for your congregation.  Every now and again you might manage a stunning illustration, or a particularly satisfying turn of phrase.  But for the most part, just decent biblical preaching is the meat and vegetables your church needs to grow healthy and strong.  And if they like to listen to a brilliant podcast?  Great, encourage it.

How Would Jesus Teach Us To Preach?

If Jesus was offering a seminar on preaching, I am sure we would all sign up.  The full course would probably include matters of authoritative preaching (unlike the scribes), crafting compelling images, plotting effective stories, and so on.  But a brief seminar?  Perhaps it would cover two points.

When Jesus was asked about prayer he answered with his two-part variation on the greatest commandment.  Since he did the two-part answer repeatedly, let me speculate about how the “how should we preach?” answer might go…

1. Love God.  The starting point is always fellowship with the Father. We cannot give what we are not first receiving.  Allow him to minister to you, before you minister for him.  Seek the Lord and find him, then share him.  Seek the Lord in His Word, then share the person you meet there.  Diligently study and wrestle with the text, not to gain cold knowledge, but to have your heart melted by the God who reveals himself there.  Before you speak to others, love God yourself in response to his love for you.

2. Love your neighbour (i.e. your Sunday morning listener) Be sure you are praying for the people you will be speaking to and spend time with God concerning their lives and their hearts.  Plan your message prayefully as an act of love driven by deep concern for their lives. Work so that they can understand, stay engaged, follow along, feel the importance and the impact of God’s Word to them from his Word. Preach with the winsomeness and grace of God’s heart flowing out from yours, because God is passionately committed to incarnating his message.

What do you think Jesus would teach in a preaching seminar?

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By the way, I have a little book about the Jesus we preach coming out soon … more information to follow – watch this space.

What to Do With Your Heart?

“The heart of the human problem is the human heart.”  I wrote that a few years ago, and had probably picked up the language from somewhere else along the way.  Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all sorts of evils (Mark 7:21-23).  Earlier, Jeremiah lamented the state of the human heart, calling it deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our hearts control us, for we will do what we love, but we cannot control our hearts.  The desires within our hearts are influential, but we don’t generate those desires. They are responses rather than our responsibility.  And we all know that our desires are often in conflict with each other.

In terms of our salvation, our hard and stony hearts are dead toward God and require the miracle of a Spirit-given new heart for us to start living for God.  The New Covenant is a wonderful blessing, for in it God not only forgives our sins, but also gives us a new heart and puts His Spirit within us so that we can live in responsive fellowship with Him.

So now, as we live for God, what are we to do with our hearts?  After all, we have these new hearts given by God, but still we feel the raging battle of desire versus desire within ourselves – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the new heart are definitely at odds with each other.  Two little instructions that can really help us:

1. Guard your heart.  At your core you are a responder, and so what gets into you will shape you.  If you spend hours each week feasting on the poison of pornography, then that will shape the desires inside you.  If you binge watch violent television, or open up your heart toward the values of this world, then you will be influenced.  None of us are as neutral or objective as we like to think we are.

The wisest man who ever lived (apart from Christ), was Solomon.  He had God-given wisdom and wrote thousands of proverbs.  But in Proverbs 4:23 he writes, “Above all else…” That should get our attention.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  All of life flows from your heart, so guard it.

That means that while you cannot shut the door on your heart and refuse all influence from the outside, you can be careful what you allow in.  How is your heart?  Are you being poisoned by a sewage pipe of unhelpful input through your phone, through the internet, through what you read or what you watch?  If a sewage pipe was pouring into your home so that every meal was poisoned, you would do something about it.  But how easily we leave the sewage pipe to pour into our lives as we sit in front of a screen and swallow the poison that is there.

2. Incline your heart. In Joshua 24, Joshua urges the people to choose to follow God.  They say they will, but he challenges them that they are not able to do it.  Again, they declare that they will, so he tells them two things in verse 23.  First, get rid of the foreign gods (effectively, guard your hearts from guaranteed damage).  Second, he tells them to incline their hearts to the Lord.

It is interesting that he doesn’t tell them to determine, to follow, or to always obey, or to be perfectly faithful.  Rather, he tells them to lean their hearts in God’s direction.  That is, just as we guard our hearts from dangerous input, so we can lean our hearts toward God in order to live in response to Him.

What might that look like today?  There are probably many ways we can incline our hearts toward God.  First, by giving thanks in every circumstance, we incline our hearts to God.  When things are going well, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we are recipients of God’s grace.  When things seem to be going wrong, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we have a God with a good plan, even if we can’t see it.

Second, by reminding our hearts of truth, we incline our hearts toward God.  Lloyd-Jones wrote that “most of our unhappiness comes from the fact that we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves.”  We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.  Remind your heart that you are a sinner deserving nothing but wrath and judgment from God.  Remind your heart that God’s love was demonstrated for you in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  Remind your heart of who you now are because of the redemptive rescue and transformation by God’s amazing grace.

Third, by speaking to God in prayer, we incline our heart to God.  As we learn to speak to Him in every moment of every day, we are only leaning into the fellowship that He wants to have with us.  As we set apart time to really pour out our hearts to Him, we open ourselves up to all that He has for us.  Just like giving thanks, or speaking God’s Word to ourselves, so in prayer we simply lean our hearts in God’s direction.

There are other ways in which we can incline our hearts to God.  But maybe we should start right there.  Get rid of any foreign gods, or anything you already know is leading you astray from Him.  Guard your heart.  And then incline it.  Lean it toward God.  Look to Him and how He wants to stir righteous desires in your heart.

5 Preaching Paradoxes

John Stott listed five paradoxes in preaching.  This is his list, but the comments are mine:

1. Authentic Christian preaching is both biblical and contemporary – We will tend to incline one way or the other.  Are you strong on biblical studies but not so in touch with the world of your listeners?  Or are you in touch today, but weak on the biblical side of this?  The solution is not a 50:50 formula for study time.  However, it would be wise to prayerfully take stock every so often.

2. Authentic Christian preaching is both authoritative and tentative – What is your dominant tone?  Some have learned to speak everything with unsupportable authority. Others seem hesitant to suggest anything for fear of coming across too strongly.  Listen to a recent sermon and take stock of your tone – there should be both authority and humility.

3. Authentic Christian preaching is both prophetic and pastoral – Preaching should speak into the world of your listeners with declarative and incisive authority, like a prophet of old.  At the same time, these sheep really need the tenderness of a self-sacrificing shepherd.  Perhaps it is worth asking some listeners how they feel when you preach?  Is it helpful confrontation by the truth of God’s Word, or is it the tender care of God’s shepherd heart?  Remember, they need both.

4. Authentic Christian preaching is both gifted and studied -I was always impressed by my teacher’s ability to both preach and teach preaching.  He was clearly gifted, but he also really knew his stuff.  Some good preachers are poor teachers of preaching.  But that double dynamic is at work in preaching too – we need the gifting God has given us (personality, ability, strengths, etc.), and we need to do the work in our study to be able to preach well.  Have you started to lean on your gifting to the detriment of study?

5. Authentic Christian preaching is both thoughtful and passionate – Just thoughtful becomes ponderous and sends you to sleep.  Just passionate can get very loud and annoying when the absence of substance becomes obvious.  Learn what you need to learn, but make sure that study, prayer and life work together in you to generate a passion for what you preach.  They can’t catch the disease unless you are properly contagious.

I am not a fan of balance as a default, but in these five areas, I think Stott’s list is really helpful.

5 Rubbish Reasons to Preach

I was with a group of preachers last week and we had a conversation about good reasons to preach.  Along the way we generated a few not so good reasons to preach … actually, five downright rubbish reasons to preach (for non-England English speakers, “5 Bad Reasons”).  Just in case this is helpful:

1. To keep my job – I understand that both ministry and life are often challenging.  I also understand that we at times will find ourselves preaching without the fire we know we should feel inside.  But when it gets to the stage of simply trying to keep your job, you are long overdue a conversation with some trusted friends.

2. To make them laugh – There are probably a million variations of this.  Essentially the goal is to make people respond to you.  Maybe it is to make them appreciate you.  Maybe it is to show off your intellect rather than your wit.  Whatever the case, if the motivation in your heart is for them to be appreciating you, then your ministry is misfiring.

3. To get the petrol money – Whether it is official honorarium, or a kind gift to cover travel expenses, or even your salary … the chances are that you are not being adequately remunerated for the time spent in study, in ministry experience, and in message preparation.  We are far better off trusting God for our support and serving wholeheartedly, rather than worrying about the gift.  Once we start directly equating our effort for whatever may come back in return, we are probably better off looking at most regular jobs – not just because of the money, but also because of the state of our hearts!

4. To arrive at the end of the service – Sometimes you aren’t thinking about job security, or the response of the people to you, or even the money you might receive, but you are simply longing for the minute hand to reach the appropriate ending point for the sermon.  If you are new to preaching, don’t worry, this feeling won’t last long and you will soon be wondering how your time disappears so quickly.  If you are just going through a really low time, prayerfully make it to the end and sit down with someone safe who can listen and pray with you.

5. To get invited back – This is a weird one in preaching world.  Whether you are a visiting speaker hoping to not offend enough to get another invitation, or whether you are “preaching with a view” and hoping for a pastoral call, the motivation seems off here too.  In every situation we should be trusting God and saying what we believe is appropriate for the text, the listeners and the occasion.  Too many “pulpit dating” sermons and the church won’t be getting a healthy diet, even if they are getting “your best sermons.”

There are plenty of reasons why we should preach, but what would you add to this list of rubbish reasons?

Life Stage Preaching

As a simple principle of parenting, there are two stages.  The first, from 0-10ish, is the time to pour in Bible content.  The second, from 11ish-adult, is the time to help them wrestle with two questions:  Is it true?  And is it personal?

Let me explain that a bit more.  Children tend to be able to absorb content like a sponge.  They are not particularly equipped to discern, but they are brilliantly equipped to remember.  So it is the time to teach Bible stories, to memorise lots and lots of Bible verses, to help ground them in familiarity with the truths of God’s Word.

Pre-teens and teens are in that transitional stage from childhood to adulthood.  They will be facing two questions as time passes.  Is this stuff true?  They will face challenges from school, from peers, from the media.  Fairytales told in childhood won’t hold when sophistication becomes a secular alternative.  Therefore make sure they know we don’t believe fairytales.  The historicity of the Bible, the credibility of our theology, the consistency of our worldview, and the life changing reality of our faith…this all needs to be the stuff of training teens.  But knowledge is not enough, it needs to be personal.  They won’t be able to surf on their parents’ faith through college, let alone adult life.

If this post were about parenting, we could leave it there.  But what does this mean for the preacher?

1. Make sure the ministries of your church are age appropriate.  Don’t babysit children when they could be absorbing truth.  Don’t fairytale teens when they could be wrestling with the truth of that truth and what it means for that truth to take root in their lives.

2. Help parents know how to target their input to the age and stage of their children – no matter how good your kids and youth ministry may be, the parents are the primary influencers (and disciplers, if the children concerned are blessed to be in a Christian family).

3. Consider your preaching.  You may have only adults in the room (by physical age), but I can almost guarantee that you have spiritual newborns, spiritual children, and spiritual adolescents in the congregation.  Does the principal apply exactly?  Not necessarily.  But there will be people craving milk, and others needing to wrestle with some meat.  There will be some who need to know content, and others who need to wrestle with the truth of what you say, and everyone who needs it to be personal in their lives.

Weight of Evidence Preaching: 5 Lessons Learned

Generally my default approach to preaching is to preach a single passage.  Sometimes I will preach a more topical message where each point is the idea of a text and the points together make up the main idea.  But there is a variation that might be called a weight of evidence sermon.

This is where the main idea of the message is repeated multiple times in the Bible.  So while you may use multiple texts, it is not primarily to build the main idea, but rather to reinforce the main idea.  For example, this past Sunday I essentially preached Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

In one part of the message I quoted Genesis 26:24; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9 and Jeremiah 1:8 – all of which say the same thing in a variety of ways.  I anticipated that I would be able to find examples of the main idea that addressed different circumstances in life, but then in my study found that the “fear not” part of the phrase was either overt or in the context of almost every text I found with “I am with you” or similar phrasing.  So since over 90% of the 30+ passages I looked at had that fear context, I focused the message on God being with us, so we should not be afraid.

I touched down briefly in Hebrews 13:5-6, Psalm 23:4 and Matthew 28:20.  He is with us when threatened by people, when facing death, and in our service for Him – all contexts in which we feel fear.

Here are 5 lessons learned on weight of evidence preaching:

1. This should not be the default.  Typically our goal should not be to touch down in as many different verses as possible.  Padding sermons with unnecessary cross-references is very common and often a detriment to healthy preaching.

2. Be very focused. If the message uses multiple texts, then the main point needs to be very clear and obvious.  Otherwise the multiplied verses will confuse and lose listeners. For instance, there were verses in my list where the world noticed God being with his people and it causing them to fear, or verses that spoke of believers loving one another as the context of God’s dwelling with them.  This message could have lost focus and therefore lost its force.  Be selective in what you preach.

3. Keep their finger on one text.  Preaching is not a Bible sword drill where we try to make people find multiple references.  So I encouraged people to open to Isaiah 41:10, but I projected the text of the other verses used.

4. Feel the force of the frequency.  The point of a weight of evidence message is to help listeners feel the force of the frequency.  Time and again God’s word says this, so we should be sure to hear it!

5. Make follow up study possible. People may respond positively, but make sure the list of passages is available to any who want to study it for themselves.  There is the benefit of the main idea punched home in the sermon, but there is also the possibility of people enjoying the Bible study chase for themselves, if they have the references.

I’d be interested to hear any more thoughts on this approach – both the pros and the cons.

New Year, New You

There is something powerful about turning the calendar to a new year.  People everywhere feel like this is the moment to turn over a new leaf and make some changes that are, perhaps, long overdue.  Join the gym, change your diet, break an addiction, form a healthy habit, read your Bible daily, stay on top of your inbox… whatever personal or professional goal it might be, January seems like the ideal time to start.

I do not want to criticize any New Year resolution, and I wish you well as you embark on change in your life.

However, perhaps we would do well to dwell on something else.  Maybe we have lost sight of all that is new for us as Christians.  Maybe some of our resolutions are birthed out of frustration and we might be helped by pondering more deeply all that is new for us in Christ.

We live under the blessings of the New Covenant: God’s great plan that was anticipated and predicted in the Old Testament, but has now been launched by Christ at his death and is the reality in which we exist as Christ’s people.  As Paul puts it in 2 Cor. 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”  (See also Gal. 6:15) A quick read through the epistles reveals many aspects of this New Covenant that are true for us today.  Here are six to think about – three more individual, followed by three more corporate ones:

 1.  New Life

In Romans, Paul equates the resurrection of Christ with the newness of life that is ours to live today (Rom. 6:4).  What does this mean?  He writes that we are released from the law, no longer held captive, but free to serve in “the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6).  What would it look like if I sought to live in this new way of the Spirit, rather than by keeping myself in check via a written code?  Would my life look different?

 2. New and Living Way

In Hebrews, the preacher urges us to move forward into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus, that is, by “the new and living way that he has opened up for us.”  How easily I can get caught up in an exercise fad, or a desired daily habit, while ignoring the wonder of being able to boldly enter into the presence of God in prayer!  If I belong to Christ, then prayer would be the most natural feature of my life in 2020.

 3. New Self

When Paul wrote about the new life we can live, he referred to it as putting on “the new self.”  This new me is no longer hardened and calloused by sin, but instead, through knowing Christ, this new me is a heart, mind, and lifestyle-transforming reality that is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) That New Covenant promise of a God-given new heart is exciting! I know myself and how easily I can focus on my attempts to tweak a small issue in my life, but ignore the wonderful privilege of true holiness that is mine in Christ.

 4. New Covenant Ministry

Jesus declared the inauguration of the New Covenant at the Last Supper, as Paul describes in 1 Cor. 11:25.  He picks up that theme and really develops the wonder of participation in the New Covenant in 2 Cor. 3:6 where we see that we are actually ministers of this New Covenant – no longer ministers of the letter that kills, but now of the Spirit who gives life.  (See also Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24) Whatever the size of my ministry might be, big or small, the real issue is the quality – and I don’t mean just a comparison of my preaching against yours.  I mean the spiritual quality that makes my feeble efforts in ministry quantitatively different from the impressive work of a highly equipped unbeliever.

 5. New Unity

What Christ has accomplished is not just individually transforming.  It goes much broader than me and my spiritual life.  We are brought together, Jew and Gentile, into “one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:15) How easily I take for granted the opportunities to worship with other believers.  Sunday has become a steady part of my weekly routine.  But there is nothing “routine” about unity among a fallen humanity.  What opportunities is God giving me this year to experience this new unity that Christ has made possible on a local and on a global scale?  How can I contribute to the beautiful unity of believers?

 6. New Commandment

It might be good to lose a few pounds, or be a bit more efficient, but I would do especially well to prayerfully pursue the new commandment from Christ in the coming months.  As the light of God’s good news breaks into the darkness of this fallen world, what could be more distinctly Christlike than his followers following his instruction?  How many times every day will I be given opportunity to love others as he has loved me?  (See 1 John 2:7-8; 2 John 5)

So, as we head into this New Year, let us consider all that is new for us in Christ.  Individually we have a new life, with new access to God’s presence and the privilege of godly righteousness that we could never achieve by our own natural inclinations and efforts.  With that we have the privilege of a new Spirit-empowered ministry, united together and loving one another.  If this is the new me that is going into 2020, then the year ahead is already exciting to anticipate.  Any other little tweaks are nice bonuses, but they can’t come close to the wonder of what God has done for me and wants to do in me.

One bonus new…

New Heaven & New Earth – our life is not all wrapped up in the details of 2020.  The truth is that we are waiting for the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.  (See 2 Peter 3:13)

The life we have to live this year is a life with a new heart, a new and special access to God, a new privilege of holiness, a new Spirit-empowered ministry, a new controlling principle, and a new hope.  We live in a world that is fascinated by what is new and exciting, but let’s not allow that artificial and temporary newness to take our focus away from the wonder of all that is new for us in Christ.

The 2010’s on BiblicalPreaching.net

As we come to the end of a decade I am reflecting on ten years of ministry.  What a privilege!  In these last ten years I have been involved in launching, developing, leading, teaching and preaching.  Along the way I have blogged a lot at times, and less at other times.  One of several reasons for blogging less in the second half of this decade was the need to focus on writing several books.

So now as I look back on ten years of BiblicalPreaching.net … the decade began with a link to a radio interview that included me and Dr Erwin Lutzer (who I enjoyed meeting in 2018).  Then the next posts looked at things that have been staples on this site: how to handle the text accurately, how the theology of a text carries into the message, analogies to illustrate what we are doing when we preach, etc.

Anyway, here are some quick highlights:

1. As we ponder preaching we can improve our preaching.  For instance, here’s a reflection on how preaching became a solo sport.

2. The core of preaching is not homiletical technique, but spiritual vitality.  Here is one New Year post about Bible reading, and another about resolutions.

3. This decade included the end of an era, as my teacher and friend Haddon Robinson was promoted to glory.  Here was the post I wrote on hearing of his death.

4. Some posts have been really fun to write and launch into the ether.  I think the most successful series, in terms of feedback and sharing, has been the 10 Pointers series I ran back in 2015/2016.  Here is one on preaching touchy issues, with links to the earlier posts listed at the bottom.

5. Some posts were controversial.  Probably the one that stands out the most was the one I wrote about Bible reading plans – both sides of the debate seemed to jump on that subject!

6. It is encouraging to hear how people have been helped even by the apparently “no response” posts.  For example, I don’t think anyone commented on this post online, but lots of people did in person – it was a theological reflection on how Satan hates the Holy Spirit.

7. I am looking forward to another decade of blogging about preaching, about the life of the preacher, about the Bible we get to preach, and most of all, about the God we get to speak about.

Thanks for your participation in this site!

Seeing Hope From a Cave

As we live the Christian life, or as we seek to help others live the Christian life, we will constantly battle with the overpowering magnitude of the visible realm.  Life comes at us with trials, temptations, struggles, complexities, problems, and more.  And it doesn’t help to simply preach nice thoughts to ourselves or to others.  When life is overwhelming, then what we need is more than information, we need the transformation that can come from being mentored by Scripture.  Let me give an example.

In Psalm 57 we are told that David was on the run from Saul, in the cave.  Perhaps this was the cave of Adullam at the start of 1 Samuel 22, which comes after the loneliest chapter of David’s life.  Or perhaps it is the cave where Saul came close in 1 Samuel 24.  Either way, David has been anointed, has achieved notoriety by defeating Goliath, but is now on the run with an increasingly mad Saul pursuing him to kill him.  I have never been anointed the king of Israel, and I imagine you haven’t either.  Actually, I’ve never had to hide in a cave or had a mad king trying to end my life.  However, this three thousand year old Psalm resonates with me and with many of us.

We do know what it is to have an enemy of our souls who comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.  We do know what it is like to have humans opposing us and making life difficult at work, or at church, or even at home.  We do know what is like to feel discouraged, downhearted and even depressed in the face of various trials.  So we are not where David was, but in a way, we feel like it.

That is the beauty of the Psalms.  Even though our circumstances are so different, often we will find the Psalm writer putting his words right on top of our feelings.  In the case of Psalm 57 we have the actual historical situation that David was in.  More often the Psalms keep their specific historical situation in the shadows, allowing their words and images to resonate directly with our struggles in life.

So whether you are spending some time in the Psalm yourself, or preparing to preach it to others, think about these 11 verses as a mentoring experience.  In effect through God’s Word we get to time travel three thousand years to sit in a cave with Dave and hear him processing his frightening situation.

In the first half of the Psalm he cries out to God in light of his situation:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples me.  Selah.

God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.  (vv1-4)

Then comes a refrain he will repeat later:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (v5)

Let’s notice a few details here, lessons for us from David in distress.

1. In distress he cried out to God. That seems obvious, but how often we don’t cry out!  How easily troubles prompt me to get my head down and press on through the day.  How easily I try to get resourceful and seek to handle the difficulties of life.  Not David, he lifts up his head and cries out to God with specific requests and transparent awareness of his plight.

2. David knew that God’s purpose for his life meant there was hope in this time of trial. Yes, he was anointed to be king, so there was a sense of a guaranteed future.  And I have not been anointed to be a king.  However, if God has a plan and purpose for my life and for yours, which He does, then the current trial will not wipe us out before our time.  We can have confidence for deliverance because until God’s plan for us is complete, then our life here isn’t.  That doesn’t lead to arrogance or over-confidence.  It does lead to prayers like this one in the midst of trials.

3. David knew that God would participate in his situation. Specifically, he declared that great theme of the Old Testament – that God is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness.  God is a God who makes promises and keeps them.  He is a God whose loyal love is toward his people in a loyal way.  Does that sound repetitive?  That’s because it is.  God’s steadfast loyal love is reinforced with the word for his faithfulness.  God’s loyal love is loyal to you and to me!

4. The bottom line of David’s cry for help is faith-filled.  You might naturally expect a “So save me!” or “Bottom line, Lord, defeat my enemy!”  But instead his bottom line is totally different – he wants God to be exalted and his glory to shine forth everywhere!

In the second half of the Psalm, David moves from crying for help to singing in praise:

They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down.  They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves.  Selah

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!

Awake my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds. (vv6-10)

And then the refrain once again:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (v11)

Let me add one more lesson to learn from David here before we leave him in the cave.

5. David changes the order of experience. So often we assume that our problem leads to our prayer, which leads to God’s provision and then we will praise.  But David inverts this order slightly. Yes, our problem can and should lead us to pray.  But then David praises in anticipation of future provision of deliverance.  That is a big difference.  Do we only praise with hindsight?  Do we only worship God when we have seen Him do something special?  Honestly, how is that a life of faith?  David leads the way for us in this.  Our prayer to God is an inclination of our hearts in trust toward Him.  As our hearts look to God, we can know that He is bigger than the biggest trial we face, and therefore we can also praise by faith … before we see any answer to our prayer.

This Psalm, like many others, is filled with this lesson for us.  Our God is bigger than every problem and challenge we face.  So by faith we incline our hearts to God in prayer.  And, by faith we can incline our hearts to God in gratitude, in praise, in song … before we see how He will answer.  That is the life that Dave in the cave invites us into as he mentors us through this Psalm.  And honestly, it is a life I want to live in the coming year.  A life with my heart inclined toward the great God of steadfast love and faithfulness, a life where my prayer points my heart to a God whose character and greatness stir my heart to trust, to gratitude, to praise and to song.  God is to be exalted!  We want his glory to be over all the earth!