Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Psalm 40

God Is Great!

But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you.
May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, ‘The Lord is great!’
As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.
You are my helper and my saviour.
O my God, do not delay.
Psalm 40:16-17 (New Living Translation)

These words are a great conclusion to this Psalm, it’s the outpouring of a heart brimming over with happiness in God.  He is the one who rescues us from ourselves and from sin, who brings us into glorious relationship with Himself.  An overflow of that is that we share this good news – this brilliant, amazing news – with others.  When opposition, temptation and trouble come, God again helps us in, and rescues us from, difficulties.  No wonder King David pens these words of exuberant worship.

Exuberant worship…..  I used to think that raising arms, and allowing any part of my emotions into worship was wrong.  I disliked the fact that other people did it and thought of them as inferior Christians.  In my heart I think I suspected they were often connecting with God in a way that I wasn’t, and that made me uncomfortable.  Maybe I was angry and jealous that they didn’t fit into my sedate, sterile way of worshipping God.  It was during autumn 2010 through to the following spring that the Holy Spirit began drawing my attention to the kind of whole body, whole mind, whole heart worship that God wants.  As it says in many of the Psalms, to worship God is good.  The Psalms command that we should sing, shout, raise arms, dance, play instruments in our worship.  This speaks to me of exuberant worship.  A New Testament reference to whole-hearted worship is where a prostitute washed Jesus’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and then poured perfume on them.  All this before a group of religious men at a meal!

I am so grateful for my church, which has showed me how to truly engage with God in Spirit-filled worship.  A Sunday meeting where I haven’t met with God or known His presence is wasted time now as far as I am concerned.  I’m not talking about emotional hype (which I still despise) but about truly engaging with Jesus through His Spirit.  Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter, sometimes physical ‘side effects’ like shaking or falling over.  But these, to me, are simply just an outward demonstration of the fact that the Spirit is on me and I’m meeting with God.  Sometimes it’s just a heart bursting with joy at being in His presence.  There is power and healing in His presence.  Healing covers so much – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual.  God makes whole!


Exuberant worship….  What does this mean for me?  What does it mean for you?  Every part of our lives, every day of our lives, should be an act of worship.  I think the more we get to know God and comprehend His love for us, the more our hearts leap in worship.  The more we know and enjoy Him, the more satisfied we are with Him, the more we want Him.

In conclusion of this mini series of Psalm 40:

* Be filled with joy and gladness in God (ask the Holy Spirit if you don’t have this or want more because it’s something He is committed to giving you).

* Love His salvation.

* Worship God with extravagance because He is great.

* Remember you are nothing without Him.

* Remember you’re always in His thoughts.

* He is your helper and saviour.

Why not take a moment to thank God and praise Him for an aspect of His character or for something He’s done for you?  He loves to be praised, thanked and worshipped.  Because He is great!

Help!

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles surround me – too many to count!
My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out.
They outnumber the hairs on my head.
I have lost all courage.
Please, Lord, rescue me!
Come quickly, Lord, and help me.
May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame.
May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace.
Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, ‘Aha!  We’ve got him now!’
Psalm 40:11-15 (New Living Translation)

Working in a mission organisation, I know that opposition follows evangelism like night follows day.  When we talk about Jesus, the enemy doesn’t much like it.  Actually, that’s an understatement – he hates it.  He will use all sorts of ways to stop us sharing with our friends, work colleagues or family how wonderful Jesus is.  Trouble, temptation, fear, technology not working, illness, misunderstandings, etc, etc.  Jesus described the enemy as a thief, a liar and a murderer.  His ambition is to do as much damage as possible by stealing, killing and destroying.

As Christians, we need to take spiritual warfare seriously.  Paul wasn’t merely teaching theology when he wrote about putting on the armour of God, it’s meant to be a regular, practical exercise.  But our focus shouldn’t be on the enemy or on spiritual warfare, our focus should be on the Lord Jesus.  If the enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus wants to give us life to the full.  What is this life?  It’s to know God.  Life to the full, or eternal life, starts for us here and now as we get to know Jesus more and more intimately and He becomes increasingly precious to us.  Jesus is powerful enough to rescue us from the enemy.  Jesus gives back far more than what has been stolen from us or destroyed by the enemy, and He is a shield, a strong fortress, a mighty tower to protect us.  As God said to Abram, ‘I am your shield, your very great reward’.

Psalm 40 begins by reminding us of the victory we have in Jesus.  He is the one who lifts us out of the pit of despair, out of the sticky ooze of sin, sets us on solid ground and helps us every step of the way through life.  So, if you’re struggling right now and feel unequal to facing this New Year for whatever reason, why not use these verses as a prayer?  King David, who wrote them, clearly prayed this kind of prayer a lot because we find almost identical verses in Psalm 70.  Why not trust in God and allow Him to fight for you?  And if you would like me to pray for you, please get in touch (below) and I will gladly do so.

Look out for the last post in this series in the next couple of days!

Image used courtesy of shutterstock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

‘I Have Not Been Afraid To Speak Out…’

I have told all your people about your justice.
I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know.
I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;
I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.
I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness.
Psalm 40:9-10 (New Living Translation)

Telling others what God has done for us flows out of a full and grateful heart.  For years, I had a vague idea that if I could just get excited enough about God, my love for Him would overflow naturally to other people.  But it was just a vague idea.  When I did pluck up the courage to mention God in everyday conversation, it was stilted and awkward.

The breakthrough happened when I was ill.  Jesus’s presence was so tangible to me during those months I was ill, that He became precious to me.  I could no more have denied what Adrian did for me in looking after me physically as deny what Jesus did for me – physically (keeping me safe on the stairs and giving me strength when I literally had none), spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  And then when He healed me, I really had something to shout about.  As I’d always suspected, geniune passion for God does spill over into everyday conversations in a non-awkward way.  Of course, I am still shy and don’t always find talking about someone so special and personal easy, but it certainly comes a lot more naturally than it used to.

What did David in this Psalm get excited about?  What words did he use to describe what God had done?

*  Justice
*  Good news
*  Faithfulness
*  Saving power
*  Unfailing love.

There is a lot of injustice in our world and in our society.  I sometimes get angry about unjust and unfair things – war where there are all too many innocent victims, abortion, rapists walking free, a school massacre, paparazzi hounding famous people, etc, etc.  But God is just.  He is so just that even though we choose to reject Him, ignore Him, even refuse – in some cases – to believe He exists, Jesus died to take the punishment we deserve.  A helpful way to think about this is:  imagine you’re in a court room.  A woman is in the dock and the judge has just pronounced her guilty and passed sentence.  But a door opens and a young man comes in, moves the woman out of the dock and takes her place.  The guard then puts the handcuffs on the man and leads him away, leaving the woman to go free.  In this scenario, the judge is God, the prisoner is us, and the young man taking her place is Jesus.  This is a picture of what Jesus has done.  This is good news!

God is faithful.  He never lets us down, never gets in a mood, will never desert us.  We may not always understand what He’s up to, but we can rest assured that He knows what He’s doing, and that He’s faithful.

Because of what Jesus did by dying on the cross and taking God’s punishment for us, He has saving power.  There is nothing and no one more powerful than God.  He is the only one who has overcome all the evil powers of darkness, and can rescue people from the power of the occult.  He put all those powers to shame when He died on the cross, and they have no control over Him at all.

The Bible says God is love.  That doesn’t mean He’s wimpy and wishy-washy (who would want a God like that?!  Eugh!).  His love and justice met at the cross.  Because God loves us, Jesus bore the brunt of His justice when He took the punishment we deserve.  Without Jesus dying in our place, we could never have a relationship with God because even our best efforts at being good and pleasing Him fall well short of His perfect standards.

Do you know the good news of Jesus’s saving power, love and faithfulness for yourself?  Would you like to?  If so, please get in touch.  I would love to share more about it, and try to answer your questions.

If you do know this good news, are you excited about it?  Does your love and passion for Jesus spill out of your life to others?  If not, ask the Holy Spirit to make Him more real and more precious to you.  It’s a prayer I think He loves to answer with a big, fat YES.

God Wants What?

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand –
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come.
As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your instructions are written on my heart.’
Psalm 40:6-8 (New Living Translation)

This Psalm became important to me after my first healing breakthrough in the autumn of 2010 and I’ve spent time since then meditating on it and pondering what it means.  These verses were a bit of a puzzle for a while, but the meaning is becoming clearer.  So I’m going to share here where I’m at with my thoughts on obedience and sacrifice and who has God’s instructions written on their hearts.

Why doesn’t God delight in sacrifices and offerings?  Whole chunks of the Old Testament are dedicated to exactly how sacrifices were to be made.  The Israelites would have been in big trouble had they neglected to make sacrifices and bring offerings to God.  But even in the Old Testament, God is more concerned with what’s going on in people’s hearts than what we show outwardly.  Anyone can make sacrifices.  Obedience is harder because it can cost more.  We can make sacrifices and look good, but still be doing what we want and going our own way.  Obedience requires that we put someone else first (in this instance, God) and yield to what they want.  Israel’s first king, Saul, was given specific instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to destroy the Amalekite people and their animals because of their sin.  But Saul kept the Amalekite king alive along with the best of the cows, sheep and goats.  When confronted about it, Saul said he’d kept the animals to make sacrifices and offerings to God.  He didn’t realise until Samuel pointed it out, that:  ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’  (1 Samuel 15).  God wanted obedience, not sacrifice.  Sacrifice can be a cop out.

Obedience is much more important to God because when we obey Him, we show Him we love Him.  Jesus explained this to His disciples a few hours before He was arrested and executed (John 14).  Being a Christian isn’t about keeping a list of rules – that’s legalism – but about a relationship with God.  Jesus had an incredibly close and intimate relationship with His Father and He delighted to obey His Dad because God’s instructions were written on His heart.  And, if you know God, He has done the same thing for you.

This is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people… they will all know me, from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8).

Do you love Jesus?  Then just love Him.  You don’t have to do anything to earn His love and grace – He’s done it all, even to the point of putting His law in your heart.  Aim to please Him because you love Him.  Obeying Him is a joyful thing.  Jesus didn’t walk around miserable, He was full of joy (I know Isaiah described Him as a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ but that was when He was on the cross carrying your grief and sorrows and sin).  Jesus was an attractive person to be around – look at the crowds He drew.  I love being around joyful people who are radiant with their love for Jesus, and I want to be like that.  I’m not so fussed on being around people who are full of woe with a daunting list of do’s and don’ts!  Christians aren’t meant to be weighed down with rules; we joyfully obey God because we love Him.

Renew Your Joy And Wonder

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
Psalm 40:4-5 (New Living Translation)

Is there joy in your heart?  I pray that if you are low on joy today, God will fill you with joy by the time you get to the end of this post.

I used to trust God for things, sort of, but I always wanted to get to that place where I could trust Him completely and stop worrying about things.  Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything except a quickened heart rate, sleepless nights and a mammoth-sized headache if you’re not careful.  When I was ill, God took me to a whole new level of dependency on Him.  My regular prayer during the illness was ‘help’ – several times a day I would stand at the top of the stairs knowing I had neither concentation nor adequate control of my body to get down them safely and in one piece.  Same for going up them, I knew there was every likelihood of my body lurching over backwards as I climbed.  But every time, God got me safely up and down the stairs.  Every time.  At the worst of the illness, at my weakest stage, I was unable to get out of a chair by myself.  I would count under my breath, ‘one, two, three, hup’ but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get to my feet.  Only when I prayed, was I able to get out of the chair.   The fact that I counted the Lord in is neither here nor there…. ‘Okay Lord, one, two, three, hup’ – as if He needed help!

When you have that kind of confidence in God – confidence in Him enabling you to do the small, everyday things that we normally take for granted – it brings a real sense of joy in Him.  This is a joy that can’t be manufactured.  It’s an impossible joy that bubbles up inside, despite the circumstances.  We realise on a new level the wonderful deeds God has done for us and know that we could never get to the end of thanking Him for all the things He does.  Do you realise that every breath you take – and the fact that most of the time you’re not even aware of breathing – is a gift from God?  Every time your heart beats – and it usually beats around 80 times per minute – is a gift from God.  It is due to Him entirely that you are able to read this blog post and understand it.  Just a handful of all the wonderful deeds He does for us continuously.  Because He loves us, and because He wants us to enjoy Him and rejoice in Him.

Joy characterised Jesus.  It says of Him that the Father anointed Him with the oil of gladness more than His companions.  Therefore, joy must characterise the life of a Christian.  It’s God who gives the joy; it’s part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?  If you want joy and don’t have it, or you want more joy, just ask God.

While I was ill, my brain was pretty messed up and it was hard (impossible at times) to pray coherently for myself, but I had a handful of wonderful friends who lovingly prayed me through that time (and I’m convinced God shielded me from the worst of that illness because of my praying friends).  So, if you’re needing help but feeling overwhelmed by life just now, please leave a comment on this post and I will pray for you.

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘Many Will See… And Be Amazed’

I’m in Marseille right now meeting with my team-mates and unexpectedly found myself with a free morning so, since I’m leading Prayers on Friday, I thought it would be a good time to prepare.  And now I’m excited about God’s wonderfulness so I thought I’d share it with you.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.
He has set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what He has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3 (New Living Translation)

Do you feel bogged down with life just now?  Are your circumstances difficult?  Are you stuck in some temptation or situation that you know is wrong and you don’t want to be caught in it but feel you have no power to help yourself?  Are you at the end of your tether?

I have good news.  Jesus specialises in breaking the power of temptation (He really does!), cleaning up horrendous messes, and rescuing hopeless situations.  When we’re at the end of ourselves, all we have to do is tell Him that we need Him and ask Him to rescue us.  And He does.  He is able to forgive, and provide us with a new heart and a positive outlook on life.  He makes everything new, bringing healing and wholeness, as He gradually changes us from the inside out.  The more we understand – really comprehend – what He has done for us, the more we want to sing and praise Him out of a heart overflowing with thankfulness.  And people around us will notice, and want to know why we are different.  They will be attracted to the Jesus they see in us.

Let me show you how this was mirrored in my life a couple of years ago.  As you know, I had a debilitating illness – cerebellar ataxia and chronic fatigue – which meant that most days my brain and mind were exhausted and I had no strength in my body.  I was constantly dizzy, and could only walk by slowly shuffling along, lurching unsteadily from side-to-side.  It felt as though I was drowning in the mud and mire of excessive weakness and confusion.  My body was in a terrible state, some days every ounce of energy and concentration went on simply breathing – in… pause, out… pause, in… pause, out… – and I knew I was in the valley of the shadow.  But praise God, He healed me!  It felt very much as though He had set me on solid ground and steadied me as a I walked along – literally! – by taking away the vertigo and infusing my body with strength.  I soon discovered the power of praising Him (not for nothing did the songwriter pen those words:  ‘His praise shall be our battle cry’).  I felt as if I’d been made new in some way from the illness, and I had a new song to sing of praise to God-my-Healer.  As I tell my story, and as people have witnessed the change His healing power has wrought in my life, they are amazed and built up in their faith.  My prayer is that through my story of the wonderful things Jesus has done for me, many will put their trust in Him.

For me, my healing is a picture of salvation.  I was bogged down by the mud and mire of selfishness and pride, in the desperate pit of wanting my own way and of ignoring God.  I couldn’t do anything to help myself.  When I realised I needed someone to rescue me from that, I prayed to Jesus.  He is the only one who can save and bring us into relationship with God.  He forgave my sin, and kept a careful watch on me as I learned to live with Him as my boss.  He keeps me on the right path and hoiks me back when I stray.  The more I understand of what He has done, the more I praise Him out of a deeply grateful heart.  And I trust that my joy spills out so that others notice it and want to know the Source of my joy.

How about you?  If you feel like you’re weighed down by the cares and responsibilities of life, in the pit of despair, tell Jesus about it.  He can and He will help you.  If you’d like me to pray for you, then please leave a comment on this post or contact me using the ‘contact’ page and I will be happy to do so.

© 2017 Mandy Baker Johnson

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