Swords From Their Lips (pt. 6)

Have you ever found something in a surprising place? I remember one day while I was getting ready to go to work I couldn’t find my wallet! I looked everywhere for it. I checked the usual spots like my coat pockets, my pants pockets from the day before, the cracks in our couch, inside and outside the car, or if it had fallen behind the table I usually place it on but it was nowhere to be found. By this time I was getting quite annoyed because it was making me late for work. I then decided to check the unusual places like the refrigerator, the freezer, and finally the microwave and surprise, surprise there it was! It turns out my daughter who only recently discovered how to open, close and even turn on the microwave decided to put it in there and zap it. Why I will never know but I am glad that I did find it and only ended up being marginally late for work. We have come a long ways since we started our study “Swords From Their Lips” and with this post we will bring it to a close by considering a surprising place to find a sharp double-edged sword – in Jesus mouth! Thankfully, unlike my experience with my wallet and never being able to know why my daughter decided to do this we can know why Jesus is said to have a sharp double-edged sword in his mouth.

Who is Jesus?

“Who do people say I am?” That is the question Jesus asked his disciples one day as they were en route to Caesarea Philippi. In some respects it is a bit unusual because ordinarily it was disciples who posed questions to their rabbis rather than the reverse. But Jesus is no ordinary rabbi. It is also a bit unusual because usually people ask what others do, not who they are. However in asking the question this way it is more profound and brings to the forefront what the disciples have been wondering in their heart themselves since the stilling of the storm, “’Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).

The disciples’ initial answer echoes popular opinion about Jesus, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’” (Mark 8:28). Jesus has an illustrious standing in the popular mind because to liken Jesus to John, Elijah, or a prophet was to rank him among the stellar figures in Israel’s long history. Popular opinion of Jesus today would answer in a similar fashion saying things like, “He is the greatest teacher who ever lived” or “He is the greatest moral example who ever lived” or “He is the greatest prophet who ever lived” or even “He is the greatest political revolutionary who ever lived.” Some things never change! However, while this may seem like a compliment of great honor it is ultimately to deny Jesus uniqueness and authority as the very Son of God.

Jesus then asks a second, more intense question, “’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am.’?” (Mark 8:29). With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them either to believe or deny His teachings. Jesus’ question is an invitation to take personally and seriously the necessity to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer for ourselves. Jesus question is also an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe we need to see him differently or that our perception of him is inadequate or that our Jesus is not the real Jesus. In other words, Jesus question is an invitation to come and start rediscovering the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus and ruthlessly abandon the Jesus we thought was real.

A great place to discover the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus is the book of Revelation. As Revelation 1:1 says, it is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (WARNING: Technical note – read at your own risk – yes for those of you so inclined to think about the finer issues of the Greek language I am aware of the massive amount of ink spilt over whether Jesus is the source of the revelation [subjective genitive] or the object being described by the revelation [objective genitive] to which I say yes, he is the source and object of revelation [plenary genitive]).

Just in the first chapter of Revelation alone Jesus is revealed as:

  1. The faithful witness (v. 5)
  2. The firstborn from the dead (v. 5)
  3. The ruler of the kings of the earth (v. 5)
  4. Him who loves us (v. 6)
  5. Him who has freed us from our sins by his blood (v. 6)
  6. Him who has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (v. 6)
  7. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever (v. 6)
  8. The First and the Last (v. 17)
  9. The Living One (v. 18)
  10. He who holds the keys of death and Hades (v. 18)

Jesus is Judge

Is the Jesus you thought was real holding up to how the Bible actually reveals him or have you already had to smash some false idols of Jesus? But that is not all! In verses 12-16 the real Jesus is revealed through a series of eight successive images to be the exalted sovereign Judge:

  1. “Dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet” (v. 13)
  2. “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow” (v. 14)
  3. “His eyes were like blazing fire” (v. 14)
  4. “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (v. 15)
  5. “His voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (v. 15)
  6. “In his right hand he seven stars” (v. 16)
  7. “Out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16)
  8. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (v. 16)

You see! It is primarily as Judge that Jesus Christ appears in Revelation. He judges the churches (chs. 2—3), the whole earth (chs. 4—16), Babylonianism (chs. 17—18), world rulers at Armageddon (19:19-21), and Satan (20:1-3, 10). He also judges the earth during the Millennium (20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (20:7-9), and all the unsaved dead (20:11-15). The first 20 chapters of the book deal with judgment and the last two with the new creation.

But if we are honest we will have to say that many of us don’t like this Jesus. We only like a Jesus that manifests grace, compassion, and mercy. We’re much like children going through a buffet line. We pick and choose what to include and exclude. Most children select desserts and other appetizing foods and bypass vegetables, salads, and fruits. We too can be guilty of picking and choosing what attributes of Jesus we find appetizing and neglecting the rest. The moment we do so, however, we are no longer worshiping the Jesus of the Bible but our own made up image of him and so while you may fervently say, “I love Jesus” the Jesus you love is not the real Jesus but your own self-made creation! Yikes! If you have no room in your heart for Jesus as Judge than you need to ask God to change your heart that you might know him as he really is and not how you think he really is.

What Came Out Of His Mouth?

I could go on and on about that issue for a while but this post is already turning out longer than I want it to be and I haven’t even talked about the phrase that is pertinent to this post – “out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16). What is that all about? Why does Jesus have a sword coming out of his mouth? Let me point out a few things:

First, the image is drawn from Isaiah 11:4 which says that the Messiah (the root of Jesse, the Branch on whom the Spirit of the LORD will rest) will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (see also Isaiah 49:2).” In light of that correlation it is not difficult to understand the significance of a sword from his mouth! In fact, take a moment to read Revelation 19:11-21, especially verses 15-16, 21!

Second, the sword in view is not the Romans “short sword” but a large, broad Thracian sword used often in cavalry charges like a scythe. Again, consider Romans 19:11-21 where Christ is seated on a horse!

Third, consider the words of John 12:48, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” God’s Word will judge his enemies!

It is very plain then that the sword protruding from Jesus mouth is symbolic of his judicial power which will be in accordance with his Word. It symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of the Lord’s judgment and Word. His Word is both creative (Gen. 1) and destructive (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19).

Whom will Jesus judge by the Word/Sword from his mouth?

  1. He will judge the lawless one. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”
  2. He will judge the wicked. See Isaiah 11:4 and John 12:48 above.
  3. He will judge his church. Jesus has some strong words for the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:16 – “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Why such strong words of judgment? It seems the church at Pergamum was promoting some serious doctrinal errors which fell far short of the living Word of God. So much for the creed “Don’t give me doctrine, I just want to follow Jesus.” Besides the fact that such a creed IS a doctrine, Jesus himself warns of impending judgment if the Christians at Pergamum don’t repent of false doctrine! Doctrine matters! Theology matters!

So we end how we began – “Who do you say I am?” Do you believe in the Jesus whose mouth is a sword? Do you believe in Jesus as Judge? Do you need to “repent” like the Christians at Pergamum of a false Jesus? Do you know the real Jesus?

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 5)

In the Washington Post there was recently a brief article about revising an 1877 Virginia Law that according to Sen. Adam Ebbin is “not only unnecessary but bizarre” and “obviously an outdated vestige from a very different time.” The article also mentions that “probably no one has been prosecuted under the law for decades.” I point this out not to make any comment concerning the old Virginia Law but just to demonstrate how very different human law is from God’s Word which is never “outdated” or “unnecessary.” The Bible is not a dead letter which is never enforced. Quite the contrary, as Hebrews 4:12 says, the “Word of God is living and active” meaning it is alive and powerful and always accomplishes its purpose.

Hebrews 4:12 also tells us that the Word of God is “sharper than any double-edged sword.” This is quite different from what we have considered in our previous posts. There we learned of the flesh-ripping swords in our mouths (click here), what God thinks of how we use these daggers (click here), and how David taught us to use them in prayer and praise to God (Click here and here). But Hebrews 4:12 adds a whole other dimension, namely, that God’s Word cuts us (and no I am not talking about paper cuts…though those do sting quite a bit also). It is incisively penetrating and as such divides “soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” As a double-edged sword pierces through body parts, so the Word of God pierces through to the innermost recesses of our being – the very thoughts and attitudes of the heart – and judges it. Nothing evades the scope of this Word. What one may hold as most secret is made subject to the Scriptures scrutiny and judgment. Notice also Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Why is this so? Because the Word of God has cutting power and exposes everything about us to God’s sight. By it we are uncovered and laid bare and in the end we must all give account of ourselves to God and unless we have entered into God’s rest by faith in Jesus Christ we are in danger of hell-fire and judgment.

There is a wonderful example of the penetrating power of the Word found in Acts. It is the day of Pentecost and Peter has just concluded his Spirit filled message with the words, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:37 then tells us that “when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?” The answer was and still is, “Repent” (Acts 2:38). We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything. We must not think the word of God is not enforced. It is foolish to ignore it for those who do will come under its judgment.

There is a wonderful example of the penetrating power of the Word found in the ministry of the evangelist George Whitfield. Mr. Thorpe was a bitter opponent of everything holy. He and a group of his friends—all of them young, rebellious thugs—conspired together to mock and oppose George Whitefield’s evangelistic ministry while Whitefield was preaching in Bristol, England.

George Whitefield had severely crossed eyes, if you have ever seen a realistic likeness of him. And these guys used to refer to him as “Dr. Squintum.” They called their little gang “The Hell-Fire Club,” and they disrupted meetings, mocked Whitefield on the streets and in public places, and generally tried to make his ministry a reproach in their community. Whitefield’s preaching had already made a deep and lasting impact in Bristol, and these young ruffians hated him for it. So this guy Thorpe got one of Whitefield’s published sermons and took it to the local pub, where the “Hell-Fire Club” was gathered to drink together while they make a burlesque of Whitefield.

Thorpe was apparently pretty good at doing impressions, and he had all Whitefield’s mannerisms and gestures down pat. So he stood in the center of this pub and crossed his eyes and began to deliver a derisive rendition of Whitefield’s sermon. But in the middle of the sermon, his eyes fell on the passage “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” The Word of God pierced his heart, and he suddenly stopped and sat down, trembling and broken-hearted. Right then and there, he confessed the truth of the gospel and gave his heart to Christ. His aim was to taunt and ridicule, but he accidentally converted himself! Or rather, the power of the Word of God penetrated his soul and cut him to the heart. He became a preacher himself and quite an effective evangelist, because he knew so well the power of the Word of God to penetrate hardened hearts.

The Word of God is no dull, plastic butter knife or antiquated blade but “sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

A few implications:

1. The Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, so let the Word of God do its cutting work! This applies not just to those to whom you are speaking but also to yourself! We must come to it for power to kill sin in our own lives and to search our own consciences to see if our very own thoughts and motives are pure. When is the last time you felt the sting of God’s Word in your heart? When is the last time you wielded it to wage warfare against the sins of your heart? When is the last time you felt the Scriptures expose your self-righteousness, selfishness and phoniness? Read it and let it search you and pierce you and divide you and judge all of your thoughts, attitudes and acts. Your very soul depends on it!

2. It is not the cleverness of your words that will convict and persuade others but the cleaving of God’s Word. So speak the truth in love (the Bible though described with various metaphors is never described as a club for clubbing), and speak the piercing truth of God’s Word! Our counsel must be Word-saturated so that the Spirit’s tool will be readily available for Him to convict those in sin and bring them to repentance. Should it not follow then that we should thirst after and memorize God’s Word so it dwells in us richly and our tongues can be swords in a good and holy sense?

3. We need to have more confidence in the Word of God’s ability to penetrate hard, stubborn hearts. God forgive us for the times we have been ashamed of it and that in many “churches” we have backed away from proclaiming the Word of God to unbelievers and instead replaced it with performances, drama, comedy (ad nauseum). This is sheer folly and a tremendous waste of time. Nothing is more penetrating and powerful than the pure unadulterated Word of God. Are people offended by its preaching? Are people’s consciences pricked? Are sins exposed? Are people made to feel uncomfortable? Praise God! There is hope for them yet to repent in Jesus name and enter into God’s rest!

Any other implications you can think of?

For our sixth and final part in this series we will consider Jesus having a double-edged sword in his mouth (Rev. 1:16)

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 4)

This is our fourth installment of our study on the stewardship of our tongues.

I was reminded of the eternal significance of this study all the more yesterday as I came across this quote from Augustine concerning Satan and Jesus description of him as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44):

See the kind of murder, brothers. The devil is called a murderer, not armed with a sword, not girded with a weapon; he came to humankind, he planted an evil word, and he killed him.”

What a thought! Satan “planted an evil word, and he killed him!” Behold the power of words! With them we kill or give life or as James 3:9ff says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

The inspiration for this study has come from the four times in the Psalms David speaks of being attacked by stabbing words (Psalm 55:20-21; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 64:3). In fact, the title for this series comes directly out of Psalm 59:7, “they spew out swords from their lips.” There is no doubt in my mind that each of us can relate to what David means by using this very graphic word picture for our tongue. We have all felt its sharp edge and we have all done our fair share of flesh-ripping with it. Already we have considered what God thinks of how we use our tongue. Then, in our last study, using David’s personal example we began considering how we should we react when we feel the sting of death in someone’s words, namely, we should pray. Presently, we are looking at David’s example and learning that the second manner with which we should respond is praise to God.

He Praises – Psalm 57

Psalm 57 has been aptly called “A concert in a cave” for as the superscription reads David composed this psalm when he fled from Saul in the cave. How does he pass his time? He sings praises to God:

  • Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (vv. 5, 11)
  • I will sing and make melody!” (v. 8)
  • 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.” (v. 9)

This is nothing short of remarkable!

In his own poetic words he is “in the midst of lions…amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (v. 4) and he is not having a pity party or angrily blaming God or wondering “how can a good God allow this” but rather he is singing! And what is he singing? Is he singing the blues? No, but “thanks” and “praises” and that God would “be exalted” and glorify Himself “over all the earth.”

Is this your experience?

I am going to go out on a limb and say probably not. In fact, I am going to go even further out on a limb and say that I am fairly confident that more than anything instead of praising God you felt sorry for yourself, became angry and maybe even (if only for a moment) questioned the loving-kindness of God the last time someone ripped into you with their flesh cutting words. Yet notice verse 8. Here we see why David is thanking and praising God – “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Did you catch it? Why is David praising God? His “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” Incredible! This is heightened even more when we come to the realization that David is in this predicament because God anointed David to be the next king over Israel in place of Saul. In other words, in obedience to God’s call he is suffering verbal assaults and even risking his own life. But instead of blaming God or questioning God or throwing in the towel because it just isn’t worth it he praises God for his steadfast love and faithfulness.

Who is this man? Has he lost all sanity? Maybe he has been in the cave for too long and the air is getting to him? What do we make of this? How is he able to praise God in such dire circumstances? Psalm 57 indicates several things:

First, David is humble. Though God has appointed him to be king over his chosen people Israel he begins the Psalm with these words, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me” (v. 1). Other translations use the word “grace” instead of “mercy.” Either way it is clear David is requesting that God extend kindness to the unworthy. That is humility! Another indication of his humility is found in the last half of verse one where he writes, “for in you my soul takes refuge.” To cry out for refuge is to imply weakness and vulnerability. What a lesson! Is praise far from your heart? It is because it is full of self! It is because you do not realize how unworthy and weak and vulnerable you really are. It is because you think you deserve better or that somehow God owes you! But God owes you nothing! That is the very nature of grace and mercy! And so a humble heart is very much the first step to a singing heart. As one has aptly put it, it is the doorway to worship.

Second, he is confident. In verse 2 he writes, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Did you hear that? Why is David able to worship God in the cave? Because he has deep, unshakeable confidence in God’s purposes for him. God has promised him the throne and God will bring it to pass. How different this is from our usual approach. We make our plans and expect God to bless them and if he doesn’t we get angry. How backward we get it and no wonder we can’t worship him! We are too self-confident! Yet how our hearts are freed to worship when we rest in the certainty of God’s good purposes for us and are immutably convinced that God, by faith in Jesus, is for us and nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can thwart him.

Third, he is intentional. In verse 7 he writes, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!” And why shouldn’t he be? God’s purposes for him were unalterable and so was his determination to praise God. Nothing was going to stop him from praising God and so sluggish his soul may feel he preaches to himself, “Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!”

In light of these three things, is this not the way all our souls should be engaged? Under a deep sense of humility and of God’s greatness we intentionally praise God whether we be holed up in a cave or the victim of unfair verbal assaults and what is more, the soul that has humbled itself under God’s glory is not content to sing privately. Such a worshipful heart desires to draw others in and so David writes, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (v. 9). In other words, if God is great, we go public with our worship. We want all to know, even those who stab us with their words. Our praise has international implications.

One last note. As I mentioned above. David is being persecuted because of his obedience to God’s call in his life. The rest of Scripture confirms that as Christians we should expect nothing less. If they persecuted Jesus, so us (John 15:18-21). Note also the words of 1 Peter 4:12-17, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Note it well! If you stand up for Christ and his truth as revealed in Scripture you will suffer. If you live in obedience to God’s call you may very well find yourself in a “cave” surrounded by “the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4). But do not fear or get angry or blame God or throw a pity party, rather, having a humble heart in awe of the greatness of God steel your heart to have a concert in the cave to the glory of God for his steadfast love and faithfulness in counting you worthy to suffer for his name’s sake and make it loud enough that the whole world hears.

I leave you with this thought from one of our church fathers, Rufinus of Aquileia:

But for these wounds that people inflict on one another with the tongue we can hardly find a physician; so I have turned to Jesus, the heavenly physician, and he has brought out for me from the medicine chest of the gospel an antidote of sovereign power; he has assuaged the violence of my grief with the assurance of the righteous judgment that I shall have at his hands. The potion that our Lord dispensed to me was nothing else than these words, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). 

I am planning two more posts in this series:

  1. Swords from our lips is not always bad.
  2. Jesus tongue is described as a sword in Revelation 1

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 3)

As the title says this is the third installment of our study of the stewardship of the tongue. First, we considered just how cutting our flesh-ripping tongue can be by considering ever so briefly Psalm 55:20-21, Psalm 57:4, Psalm 59:7, and Psalm 64:3. Second, by taking a close look at Psalm 59 we considered what God thinks about how we use this “sword” which unfortunately we are much to quick to unsheathe.Today, by looking at David’s personal example in Psalm 55 we will ponder one way how we should react when we have been pierced by someone’s reckless dagger.

He Prays – Psalm 55:22

Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” This is near the end of the psalm and is intended to be its primary lesson. The “care” or “burden” of David in this lament psalm is the hypocrisy and deceit of one whom he counted as his friend. Note in particular how David describes his friend’s treachery in verse 21, “His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” A perfect example of this in the Bible is King Herod who upon sending the wise men to Bethlehem said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). Did Herod really want to go and worship King Jesus? Absolutely not for just a few verses later we are told when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16). King Herod had honeyed words but war in his heart! Of course Jesus himself was no stranger to such treacherous talk. In Matthew 22 the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in his words saying, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” Talk about “speech smooth as butter” and words “more soothing than oil!” As a Christian, wouldn’t you like similar things said about you? I know as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word I would be very happy to hear such things said about my ministry! But Jesus knew their evil intent and was not tricked. And of course I cannot fail to mention Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss saying, “Greetings, Rabbi!” Truer words than Proverbs 27:6 were never spoken, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted (a subject I plan to tackle in this series), but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

So how do you react when someone who you thought was your friend spreads lies about you? How do you react when you are the victim of unfair criticism, gossip, judgments or slander? How do you react when someone says something very hurtful about you? Do you get angry? Are you tempted to return the favor and speak badly of that person? What is your immediate reaction?

What did David do in this instance? Take a moment and read the entire psalm and see for yourself.

No really, do it. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes so if you don’t have your Bible open yet than go get it, open it up and read Psalm 55.

You’re back? I’m sure it didn’t take you long to notice that virtually the entire psalm itself is a prayer to God! In fact, prayer saturates the psalm showing that prayer is the proper response to pressure, stress and trouble. Again, Psalm 55:22 is the main lesson or point of the psalm – cast your burdens on God and he will sustain you! Is someone committed to hurting you with their words? If so, commit yourself to prayer. Why? One could give a whole host of reasons but I will provide just three thoughts (feel free to comment with your own thoughts on why):

First, as David says in the verse itself, “he will sustain you.” Over the holidays my family and I went on vacation and were able to visit both sides of our family. While visiting with my wife’s family we made plans to have a Christmas party with her aunt and uncle. For various reasons (Ok…one big reason…cats…I am extremely allergic to cats) we decided to have the Christmas party at a neutral area – her aunt and uncle’s church basement. When we arrived we had several heavy bags to carry into the church and so did her relatives. Thankfully, the church had an elevator going to the basement. When we stepped onto the elevator we all put our bags down until we reached the destination. In other words, the elevator carried both us and our “burdens.” That is what prayer does for us. Imagine stepping onto the elevator with many heavy packages but instead of putting them down on the floor we held onto them until we arrived at the destination. That would be rather self-defeating wouldn’t it? That is what prayer is for! We need to put our burdens down and let God carry both us and our burdens. Prayer sustains us.

Second,we must be committed to prayer because Psalm 55:22 implies you will need constant help. It says, “he will sustain you.” Prayer is not a magic wand that makes the trouble all go away but it is the anchor that keeps us from being tossed all over the place. Consistency in prayer is also very explicit in Psalm 55:16-17, “But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” Pray constantly!

Third, prayer gives us perspective. It does this in at least four ways: (1) Prayer recognizes that our burden, whatever it is, is not an accident but an appointment from God designed to help us exercise the muscles of our faith. It therefore builds trust for as God has said, “he will never let the righteous fall.” (2) When we are wounded by the cutting words of others we tend to focus on self and begin to pity ourselves and this is where we go very wrong. I don’t say that to marginalize what has happened to you or to imply that the sting of the cutting words isn’t real. I say that to point out that we are quick to be self-centered and prayer teaches us to be God-centered. It reminds us that as Christ hung on the cross he was mocked, slandered, and spit upon but he made no reply. Instead, he entrusted himself to the Father. Prayer takes your eyes off self and puts them where they need to be in times of stress – on Christ. There is a hymn titled, “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” and in one of the stanza’s we sing, “Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulder. Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.” Prayer reminds us how we have offended the eternal Godhead with our sin and yet how God in his rich grace has forgiven us and because of this overwhelming kindness we are released from self-pity, thoughts of anger or vengeance and poised to forgive others. My voice rang out with the mockers on the day of Calvary and yet God through Christ has forgiven me. I can therefore easily and willingly forgive others. (3) Prayer reminds us that there is nothing anyone can say (or do for that matter) that will change our status before God. As Paul so powerfully wrote it in Romans 8:33-34, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that – who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” In light of this, there is no condemnation toward us and we are at peace with God! This is particularly helpful when we think of the truth that no matter what others might be saying about you, Satan is saying far worse. He hates you intensely and slanders you constantly. He is the great accuser but none of them stick because by God’s sovereign grace you are justified and nothing can separate you from his love. (4) Prayer acknowledges that God hears our affliction and will rightly judge all things and frees us from having to justify ourselves (see Psalm 55:19 and Psalm 55:23).

For our future posts we will consider:

  1. A second way David teaches us to respond to reckless words
  2. How “swords from their lips” can be useful not reckless
  3. Jesus is said to have a sword protruding from his lips.