I sought the Lord, and He answered me. He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:4-5)
God is Love
Isaiah speaks about Jesus Christ’s love for His people in hundreds of ways. It says He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those who have young. The Lord strengthens, helps, and upholds us with His righteous right hand. He teaches us what is best for us and directs us in the way we should go. He will never forget us and has engraved us on the palms of His hands. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so Christ our Lord rejoices over us.1 And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! No wonder Scripture says that God’s love is too wonderful to be measured, it surpasses knowledge, and it is too great to understand fully.2
Here are the two more stanzas from the hymn with comments. Psalm 34 calls us to taste and see that the Lord is good because we are blessed as we take refuge in Him repeatedly. Coming back to God is meant to be an everyday thing for Jesus’ followers.
Hymn: We need not seek for cloistered cell, Our neighbor and our words farewell.
Nor strive to find ourselves too high For sinful man beneath the sky.
Comment: This stanza reminds me of John 17. Christ was praying to His Heavenly Father on the night before His crucifixion. He prayed for Himself as He prepared to sacrifice Himself for our sins and He prayed for His first century followers. He also prayed for all believers who would come to trust and obey the Lord through the apostles’ message. He was praying for us who follow Him now!
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” Jesus prayed for Peter to be delivered from Satan’s attacks and that Peter’s faith not fail. Christ prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”3 This doctrine is super-practical, beloved. Jesus has prayed for us and He keeps on praying. And there is no chance that His prayers will not be answered. The Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and guard us from the world, the flesh, and the devil.4
In John 17, Jesus said: “Father, my prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”5
First century Christians may have wished for Christ to take them home with Him right away to Heaven. That would spare them from the hatred, pressure, and danger of living here in a world that is hostile to the one true and living God. Nowadays we too may wish to be spared from troubles. But the Lord makes us His co-laborers and He still has work for each of us to do for Him before He takes us home. We should not expect freedom from struggle, but God’s strength to do it. Not freedom from temptation, but the Spirit’s power to overcome it. We do not yet receive freedom from suffering, but we can receive joy now in the Father’s love alongside our pain. With God’s help, we can make the world a better place by our presence, honoring Christ in our places of service. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, pointing others to Jesus.6
Scripture says: You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other….Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone….In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.7
We must not be insulated or isolated or from the world, but take risks in serving Christ. That’s part of living by faith in Him. Taking wise risks may impact others for Jesus. He has promised: I will arise and will place them in the safety for which they long.8 We can depend on our loving Lord!
Hymn: The trivial round, the common task, Will furnish all we ought to ask.
Room to deny ourselves, a road To bring us daily nearer God.
Comment: Song of Songs says that little foxes can sneak in and eat grapes in vineyards.9 And little worries and fears can pile up and rob our joy in Jesus. Dr. Karl A. Menninger (1893-1990) was an American psychiatrist. He was once asked what action he would recommend if a person felt an emotional breakdown coming on. Menninger advised, “Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, and find someone in need and do something for them.”
God says in Proverbs: “Do not withhold good from those who need your help, when it is in your power to act….A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed….Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.”10 Our little deeds of love and mercy to other people can point them to Christ, the Savior of the world. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can bless the people He puts in our path and He will reward us. Most of us do many things each day that seem unimportant, insignificant, inconsequential, and minor. But these are the exact things the Lord assigns us:
- to show our love for Him and our neighbors,
- to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him,
- to fear God and keep His commandments, and
- to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.11
Keble’s hymn reminds me of Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) in Paris, who was assigned menial tasks in the monastery’s kitchen. It was a noisy place, with multiple people giving him orders. Yet God gave him great peace in the midst of his tasks, because he learned to look up to Christ and ask for help. One of Lawrence’s prayers said, “O Lord of pots and pans and things, I am not assigned great things, so make me a better Christian as I prepare meals and wash up the plates. Forgive me all my worrying and keep me from grumbling. You give food to every creature because your love endures forever. Please accept the service that I do. I do it unto You.”12 He realized that whether he was bustling around in the kitchen or on his knees praying, he should and could keep up communion with Jesus. Lord, make us like that!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us hearts like Christ, readier to serve than be served. Give us His love and compassion for the underdogs and the unloved, for those who are overlooked and over-stressed. Make us more and more like Him who first loved us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Notes (various translations): 1 Isaiah 40:11, 41:14,14, 48:17, 49:15-16, 62:5. 2 Eph 3:19. 3 Luke 23:34. 4 2 Thes 3:3. 5 John 17:15-18. 6 These thoughts helped by Charles Ellicott (1819-1905). 7 Mark 9:50; Col 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15. 8 Psalm 12:5. 9 Song of Songs 6:15. 10 Proverbs 3:27, 11:25, 19:17. 11 Mark 12:28-34; Micah 6:8; Ecc 12:13-15; Matt 6:33. 12 Adapted from The Practice of the Presence of God.