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Close to the Brokenhearted
David wrote the Psalm 34 in response to what he was facing at the time. Beginning of Psalm 34 tells us David was not yet King David; he was just a shepherd and King Saul was trying to hunt and kill David. So, at the point of writing this Psalm, David's living in a cave. He's running for his life. He's with a bunch of misfits, and he writes a song saying that God is close to the misfits, the losers, the vagrants, the contrite, and the brokenhearted. David is talking to everyone who thought they could do things on their own but now finds themselves in a place or situation they never wanted to be.  David now realizes that it's not even that he simply wants God close to him – he needs God. When we acknowledge how desperate we are and how amazing the God we fear is, we can say with David that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The Lord is close to us. The Lord rescues us. Are you misfit? Are you brokenhearted? Are you crushed? Are you in trouble or discontented? The Lord wants to draw you close. In fact, Psalm 34:22 says that the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. This verse is ultimately pointing to eternity. The way you take refuge in God is to humble yourself, to repent, to be baptized, and to be saved by calling on the name of the Lord to save you. Reflection/Discussion Questions: Have you taken refuge in the Lord? If you haven't, what's stopping you?
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Fear of the Lord
1 Peter 2:17 states, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” It can be easy to fall into a trap of mixing up the ending of that verse. For example, we honor God, but then we fear the HR policy at work, the teacher, relational status, the bank account balance, the unknown prognosis, or something else. Psalm 34 teaches same thing as 1st Peter does. If we fear God, we won't fear anything else. We'll honor the king, but fear of God puts everything else in its right perspective. If you're a Christian, you should tremble before the living God, before his might, his power, and his glory. But we find ourselves still falling into this habit of honoring God and fearing the circumstances of life. We can't always force our emotions to be what we want, but we can put ourselves in environments that take our emotions where they need to go.  When 1 Peter talks about fearing God, he uses the word phobos. This word does not just mean awe or reverence. It means terror, sweaty palms, and heart racing. When we do that, Psalm 34 says we won't fear what's in front of us. Fearing God gives you the right perspective for everything else in life. It puts sin in its rightful place, which leads to a desperation for God. An essential part of healthy prayer is putting yourself in environments that help you fear God. Reflection/Discussion Question: What experience, place, or activity puts God in his rightful place for you?
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Always Be Desperate
Remember the story in Luke 7 where Jesus goes to the home of one of the religious leaders named Simon and has dinner with him. Luke tells us that a sinful woman from that town made her way in the house. Everybody in this town knew that she was a prostitute, and she was looked down on by other people; they made sure to keep their distance. Scripture says she was overcome with emotion and began crying on Jesus's feet as he is sitting there at the table. She kneels down, she undoes her hair, and she wipes Jesus's feet with her hair. Then she takes her perfume, and she puts that on Jesus’s feet. Simon is bewildered at this point, and Simon thinks in his head: If Jesus were anything special, he'd know who's touching him right now. Verse 39 says, “When the Pharisee [Simon] who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’” But Jesus reads his mind and answers his thoughts. Jesus then responds to Simon’s thoughts with a question of his own in verse 41. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon responds that the one who had the bigger debt forgiven would be more appreciative.  At first, it sounds like Jesus saying that this woman can appreciate him more because she's just sinned more than Simon. But Jesus isn’t telling Simon to go out and sin more, then when he’s hit rock bottom, come back, and repent so he can really appreciate Jesus. However, that way of thinking doesn't match with anything else Jesus ever teaches during his ministry. So, what's Jesus actually saying? He's teaching that Simon has no idea how bad of a sinner he really is already. Or to use Psalm 34 language: Simon has no idea how desperate he really is. The key to growing in prayer is not learning about how you pray when you’re not desperate. The key is learning that you’re always desperate.  Reflection/Discussion Questions: When do you feel most desperate? How can you recognize your desperation in times that don't feel that way?
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Prayers of Desperation
Psalm 34:2-5 reads, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. 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. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” Verse two starts us off by reminding us of the power of communal prayer. Jesus reiterates this himself in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18. In verses 19 and 20, he says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” When is the last time that you prayed with someone else? Praying together as a couple, a small group, or a family can be so impactful; it can also be encouraging to hear the way that others communicate with God and to hear them lift up praises and requests on your behalf. Let’s jump down to the last verse of the passage in verse 5. Does that first part of the last verse sound familiar? Think about the last time you prayed to the Lord in desperation. Maybe you were worried that you wouldn’t have enough money for rent; maybe you were terrified of failing an exam; or you were anxious to tell your spouse some bad news. In those moments, we cry out and ask God to just do something, please. Even though God may not respond in the way we want or expect, we can take comfort in knowing God hears and understands the heart behind every single one of those desperate prayers. Reflection/Discussion Questions: When was the last time you prayed in desperation? Did God respond in the way you expected?