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Stress, stress, so much stress. Every day seems to bring a new problem that I don’t know the solution for. I know I am not alone. Lamentations 3:1-20 (and for that matter Lamentations 1-2) recounts the stresses, the devastation really, that Jeremiah faced. The people of Israel had been taken captive and Jerusalem had been destroyed. Jeremiah lamented his situation, dwelt on it and was completely depressed and hopeless. When I look at what Jeremiah was facing, and what others around me are facing it helps to put my problems into perspective. But as long as I focus on my problems, I, like Jeremiah, will be downcast.

The people of Israel were being punished for their acts of rebellion. That is not the reason for our trials. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But the Lord still uses these trials to restore us to righteousness when necessary and also to teach us and shape us into the people that he wants us to be. Romans 5:3-5 tells us that we can rejoice in our sufferings, because they will produce endurance, character and hope. Hope is not merely wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God will keep His promises to us just as He kept His covenant with Israel.

In Lamentations 3:21, Jeremiah changes his focus. He looks instead to God and realizes that it is because of God’s mercy that the tribe of Israel was not consumed altogether. And because of God’s mercy the same is true for us. The stressful situations may be endless, but the loving kindness and compassion of the Lord never end either. Every day He has new mercies for us. (Lamentations 3:22-24) Let us, as Jeremiah did, put our hope and trust in Him.

“When the world says you’re not good enough, get a second opinion.” These words were spoken by Nick Vujicic, a man who was born without arms and legs, and who now spends his time travelling around the world speaking to audiences that range from high school students to prisoners. He tells them how much God loves them and how valuable they are in God’s eyes. (Nick’s website is: http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org)

In Psalm 139:17-18, David cannot fathom how much God cares for him. Think about this. The creator of the universe cares for each one of us so much that we could not possibly count the number of thoughts He has about us. You might think that those thoughts were just for David, because after all God chose David to be king, and David was a man after God’s own heart. Perhaps you think that these verses don’t apply to you. They do. So many other verses in the Bible reinforce this point. (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5, I John 4:10, Romans 5:8, II Thessalonians 2:16, Romans 5:5, I John 3:1, Romans 8:38-39)

The psalmist elaborates in Psalm 139:1-16 how well and intricately God knows him. This is how He knows us too. God is aware of everything you do, everywhere you go, every word you say. He is with you each step of the way, and He is there to steady and guide you (verse 10). He knew you before you were born, and He is the one who formed you in your mother’s womb. (Jeremiah 1:5) He knows us this well, better than we know ourselves, and yet He still loves us. Realizing all this prompted David to give thanks to God. (Psalm 139:14) We might not always understand how awesome and amazing God is. We might not be able to get our heads around His power that is so much greater than ours, but even then God is with us every step of the way, and we should remember to thank Him for it.

The question asked in Psalm 119:9 is asked about a young person, but the answer would certainly apply to anyone at any age. The sooner you start the better, but it's never too late.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It is divided into 22 sections, each with eight verses. Each of the sections is represented by a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the verses begins with the letter of that section. Psalm 119:9-16 is the second section and answers the question, “How can a young person maintain a pure life?” The answer is by following God's Word.

God gave us His Word as a gift. In this psalm, as elsewhere in the Bible, God’s word is sometimes also referred to as “law”, “testimonies”, “ways”, “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “judgements” and “ordinances”, but He did not give it to us to make our lives harder. He gave it to us so that things would go well with us, our days may be prolonged and that we may be blessed. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3)

Its mere existence is not enough however; we must have a part in making it useful in our lives. The psalmist sought the Lord with all his heart, prayed for the Lord’s help to keep His commands (Psalm 119:10), stored up His word (Psalm 119:11), praised the Lord (Psalm 119:12), proclaimed (Psalm 119:13), rejoiced in (Psalm 119:14), meditated on (Psalm 119:15) and delighted in (Psalm 119:16) His word. We need to do more than have a Bible sitting on our bookshelf. We need to read it, meditate on it and apply it to our lives.

Some people get a little confused about meditation because its meaning varies according to context. To meditate on the Word of God is to think about it, mull it over, keep it in our minds. It is a very good practice to memorize it. Then you will have it with you whether you have a Bible with you or not. Jesus didn’t have a scroll with Him when He was tempted in the desert, but He answered the devil by quoting scripture. (Luke 4:1-13) No matter what situation you are in, if you have God’s word in your heart, you will have a source of encouragement, hope and guidance. (Psalm 130:5, Psalm 119:11)

Tips for Memorizing Scripture
(This is my paraphrase of tips given by Robert J. Morgan, author of 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know By Heart.)

Choose your verse, decide how long until you want it memorized--a week, three days, whatever--then memorize one word at a time. The first word will be pretty easy. For example, John 3:16, the first word is "For". It won't take you long to memorize that! Then add the second word, the third, etc. Repeat each for however much time you've allowed yourself depending on your goal for completion and keeping in mind that successive words will need more time. The first word might only need a minute. By the time you get to "For this is the way God loved the world", you might need several hours. Keep repeating each section until you have it; then add the next to what you already know. Anyone can memorize anything if they do it one word at a time.

The tenth commandment is that you shall not covet. (Exodus 20:17) In Proverbs 23:17-18, the term used is envy. They mean the same thing. Don’t be jealous of what your neighbour has that you don’t. I’ve been guilty of this lately. I don’t envy any particular neighbour, or desire anything that was gained through inappropriate means as Proverbs 23:17 suggests, but I have certainly desired to have things be different than they are. I and my family have been going through a lot of strife lately, from car accidents that resulted in injury, unceasing pain and the hassle of replacing a vehicle with insufficient funds to family members with brain cancer and kidney transplant rejection and friends who are suffering from cancer or have lost loved ones. Everything just seems to be so hard lately, and I envy those who appear to have things more under control than I do. Of course, that is just my perception and possibly an illusion. I guess we all have our struggles.

The point of these two verses in Proverbs seems to be to trust in the Lord. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” We must trust God to be God and realize that although we don’t see the value in whatever hardship we’re enduring, He does. He knows the plans He has for you, and they are good plans. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I think the key is to control your thoughts. (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 4:8) Instead of focusing on how someone else is better off than you are, focus on what you can be thankful for. Focus on the hope you have for your future, and know that when we get to eternity in heaven there will be no more pain, no more sorrow and no more strife. (Revelation 21:4) We also need to focus on the character and promises of God. We know that He is a good and loving Father (Ephesians 2:4) who desires to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) We know that even though all things are not good, all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) There is hope not only for peace and joy in eternity, but also for things to be better on the other side of this trying time.

I’m a bit of an idealist, so I don’t like it when things go wrong, especially when bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.  It’s one thing to deal with the consequences when you’ve made a mistake, but if you didn’t do anything wrong, it just seems so unfair.  Either way though, it is good to be able to call on God to rescue you.

Do you ever wonder if God really hears you when you pray?  Sometimes we feel like the pain, frustration and struggles will go on forever.  He says that He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), but do you ever want to negotiate with Him?  Tell Him your side of the story?  Give Him your ideas for the plan?  I think that the Psalmist David must have felt that way when he wrote Psalm 13.  In the first two verses he asked “How long?” four times.  He felt ignored, anxious and threatened by his enemy.  We don’t know for sure, but he may have been running for his life at this point.  David didn’t end his psalm the same way he started it though.  He moved from complaint (Psalm 13:1-2) to prayer (Psalm 13:3-4) to praise (Psalm 13:5-6).

Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thankful hearts to present all of our requests to God.  This is what David did.  He asked the Lord to answer him, to revive him, and to save him, not only so that he would be saved, but so would the reputation of God’s name.

What caused David to turn from despair to praise?  Hope in God’s unfailing love and mercy.  David had faith that God was still God and would keep His covenant with him.  We must do the same when we face trials that have gone on so long that we think they will go on forever.  When we have lost our joy and our hope, we must cling to our faith.  We must remember that God is God and more importantly that we are not.  Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we must believe that He does.  We know that He understands every trial that we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16), that He will not give us more trials than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and that He longs to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).  Think back on how God has brought you through trials before.  He will again.

In Romans 5:1-11 Paul discusses the benefits of being justified by faith.  Years ago, I memorized Romans 5:1-2 in the New International Version:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

First of all, we are justified by faith.  I once heard someone define the term justified as “just [as] if I’d” never sinned.  Through faith, and only by faith, we are worthy to share in the benefits that Paul describes here.  They are gifts given through the grace of God to those who believe.  The NET Bible translates “justified” as “declared righteous”.  We don’t start out righteous, but we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we can be accepted by God.  All we have to do is have faith, believe.  (Romans 4:3-5)

The term peace here does not simply mean a contented feeling, but a state of peace.  It is not the peace of God, but peace with God.  We are not on opposing sides.  We can join God’s team, and the only way to get on the team is if we are justified by faith.  And this is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus acts as a mediator for us to reconcile us to God.  As soon as we make the decision, we are at peace with God.  So, our faith plus Jesus gets us access to God’s grace.  We no longer have to worry about God’s wrath because He is surrounding us with His grace, His undeserved favour.  It was grace that allowed us to be justified by faith in the first place.

This all brings us to the hope of the glory of God.  Hope, as it is used in the New Testament, is not defined as wishful thinking but as expectation.  We expect to see the glory of God; we are looking forward to seeing the glory of God—to see God as He truly is.  We know that we will see God clearly in eternity, but we can also see glimpses of God’s glory now if we keep our spiritual eyes open.  (Titus 2:11-13, I Corinthians 13:12)

Sometimes we can get discouraged by all the things that we have to face in life, and maybe we sometimes think that God is punishing us.  He’s not.  It’s true that we may have to face the consequences of our unwise choices, but this is not punishment, because, if we are justified by faith, we are no longer under God’s wrath.   If we dwell on the promises of these two verses, perhaps our hope will be renewed.  What we are going through today is small in the light of eternity.  Even still, God is on our side.

Sometimes we do things we regret.  That was certainly the case for David before he wrote Psalm 86.  In II Samuel 11 we read about David’s regrets…mistakes…sins—adultery, deception and conspiracy to murder.  That’s a lot to feel bad about.  So, when in Psalm 86:11 David prays that the Lord would teach him how to live, it is an earnest prayer.  He wants to be wholeheartedly committed to God.  The King James Version uses the term “unite my heart”.   In the New International Version, David prays for an “undivided heart”.  He realizes that if his heart isn’t entirely focused on God, he will go down the wrong path, but he also sees that he needs God’s help to do it.  He knows that what is impossible for humans is possible for God.  (Luke 18:27)

His vow, in Psalm 86:12, to praise God forevermore, is also sincere.  His reason is shown in Psalm 86:13.  David knows that what he has done is deserving of death, but God in His great mercy has forgiven him.  God is deserving of our praise simply because He is God, but His love and mercy toward David provided so much more motivation.  David vowed not only to praise God, but to do it with enthusiasm, and to do it forever.

It is likely that most of the people reading this have not sinned to the same degree that David did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah.  But even the most noble among us are dependent on God’s grace to save us.  We cannot save ourselves.  (Ephesians 2:4-9)

God wants us all to be completely devoted to Him.  He wants us to ask for His help to live the way we should.  He is ready and willing to give it, along with His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness.  He has provided His Word so that we can learn more about His ways, but it takes commitment.  We need to choose each day to put Him first, to praise Him and to give Him the glory.