Songs of a Warrior Poet

Praise from the Overcoming Heart

Psalm 146
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
He upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

“Happy Are Those Whose Help is the God of Jacob”

It is only right that we close these thoughts by focusing on a psalm praising God for His faithfulness. The persecuted disciples of Jesus are painfully aware of the jealousy, treachery, deceit, and cruelty of unredeemed mankind. But if they have turned their faces towards the Father, they have discovered in Him a reason to rejoice even in the midst of pain. Humans are not infinitely evil, but God is infinitely good. Human hatred has its limits, but the love of God is boundless. Human life is a mist that quickly vanishes, but the Uncreated Life of God reaches from eternity past to eternity future. The children of God carry in their hearts a testimony of His goodness, a proof of His love, and a deposit of His Life, no matter what this world does to them. And so they learn to praise!

In contrast, mere religiousness will never teach anyone to praise. Picture someone living an outwardly pious life, at least by this world’s standards. They work, they eat, they sleep, they clean the house, they obey the laws and pay their taxes. Each day the sounds of commercially-packaged “positive and encouraging” tunes and lyrics fill their houses and cars and earbuds. Once a week the notes of a “praise and worship” band fill an auditorium where they sit and listen. They sing along. They sway to the beat. They lift their hands. Then they return home to their cycle of working, eating, sleeping, and cleaning, accompanied by their playlist. Sometimes, though, life feels hard. Work is too stressful. Food is too expensive. Sleep is too short. Cleaning is too tiring. Taxes are too high. Perhaps they respond by taking a vacation, eating and sleeping more, cleaning less, and grumbling about the government. Perhaps they “cope” by turning to vices. Then the weekly singing, swaying, and hand-lifting provide an emotional release, and life goes on.

Now picture someone who wants to live a “godly life in Christ Jesus,” not just a moral one. They work and eat and sleep, too, but as they do the stuff of daily life they stand for something. They represent Someone. They join their hearts and lives to others who are also living for Him. They help each other to offer Jesus the gift of simple, cheerful, trusting obedience moment by moment. They build their lives on the Rock by hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice. “The world is crucified to them, and they to the world.” The very existence of such people stirs up the wrath of hell. They endure satanic opposition, often expressed in hateful words and actions directed against them by worldly people, whether secular or religious. As a result, they sometimes face dark days and long nights. In the midst of uncertainty and struggle and pain, they look to Jesus. They experience the fellowship of suffering with Him. Their hearts expand to receive a greater and more intimate knowledge of all that He is. They write and share poetry and music with each other, celebrating Jesus’ Life together. The day comes when they receive from His hands deliverance from their trials. They burst into praise together.

Now ask yourself: Which of these two people knows the meaning of worship? Which of these two people knows Jesus intimately and experientially? And most importantly, which of these two people do you want to be?

The truth is, you cannot be both.

Some may think that we are oversimplifying the situation, but many who read these words will realize that we are not. There is a fork in the road in front of us, and two paths diverge from it. The path on the left is well worn. On it you can be comfortably religious. You can have your claim on the world and its riches, worries, and pleasures while still saying “Lord, Lord” to Jesus. The path on the right is more costly. It is for those who have given Jesus everything, and by His word they are to receive “a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30-31). On the road sign pointing left is written, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” On the sign pointing right is written, “Whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). If you follow the easier path, you may not be taken very seriously, but at least you will never be persecuted. If you follow the less popular way, you are guaranteed to face hell’s hatred. But you will also come to know Jesus in a real and living way. And you will learn to worship Him, not with contrived emotion, but with deep conviction and sincere gratitude.

The choice is yours.

The poet who composed Psalm 146 had chosen the road less traveled by. He had known difficult days, but he had also experienced divine deliverance. He had turned his heart towards heaven, and in the process had learned to praise God. Worship was a permanent change, right down to the very core of his being. The psalmist knew beyond any doubt that he would “praise the LORD as long as he lived” and “sing praises to his God all his life long.” He didn’t have to follow some formula to turn out lyrics. He had come to know God as both awesome King and comforting Friend. Out of the overflow of his experience of this marvelous God, his mouth spoke praises.

The psalmist had emerged from these experiences with a deep conviction. Never rely on mere mortals for deliverance in times of trouble. The world has its leaders in the government and business and religious systems. The question is, if these so-called leaders suddenly stopped breathing, how much help would they be? If mortals are so unreliable in death, imagine how fickle they must be in life! Help instead must come from the Immortal God, whether through direct intervention in the affairs of men or through the shared life of His people. The psalmist had seen that those who relied on the God of Jacob for their help and their hope were blessed indeed. He had seen the miraculous works of God on behalf of His children, and he pulled back the veil to allow us to see them, too.

“The LORD Loves the Righteous”

The psalmist went on to highlight twelve aspects of God’s mighty work, truths that should encourage us, even as we suffer on this fallen planet. These are far more than just line items on some divine resume. They are revelations of God’s power, love, and faithfulness. They are motivations to trust Him in times of trouble. They are reasons why we praise Him. They are calls to worship.

God made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. He spoke the universe into existence and then populated it with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Around our own He placed a tiny blue sphere, the earth, which shimmers like a jewel against the blackness of the cosmos. He formed our planet with vast plains, deep forests, towering mountains, surging seas. He filled the earth with millions of species of plants, animals, and microscopic creatures, so that everywhere around us there is life. We gaze at the night sky, watching the stars dance to a song we cannot hear. We stand on the shore of the sea, listening to the waves break over the rocks to a rhythm we cannot comprehend. So we worship the Creator. And we ask: Can our Father Who made these wonders not take care of us? Can we who see these marvels not trust Him? Are our futures for all eternity not safe in His Hands? He is our hope!

It is this Almighty Creator who keeps faith forever. What God promises, He never forgets. What He covenants to do, He never fails to accomplish. His loyalty is eternal. It is utterly impossible that He could ever forsake those who have abandoned themselves into His will. He has promised to work all things together for our good if we are called according to His purposes. As part of His faithfulness, God executes justice for the oppressed. As Jesus put it, “Will not God grant justice to His chosen ones who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long in helping them? I tell you, He will quickly grant justice to them” (Luke 18:7-8). Our part is to cry out to Him day and night; He will be faithful to execute justice.

God feels a deep compassion on us, His children. And so He gives food to the hungry. In the physical realm, He invites us to ask Him for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and to trust Him for our provision (Matthew 6:25-33). In the spiritual realm, He promises that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled (Matthew 5:6). He urges us “like newborn infants” to “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2). Jesus calls to us, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). In all these ways, God is saying that He is delighted when we place ourselves in utter dependence upon Him. He is overjoyed to fill our deepest needs. He does so by pouring His life into us. When we give all of ourselves to God, He gives all of Himself to us! God’s invitation stands:

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; listen, so that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

Our compassionate Lord also sets the prisoners free. Sometimes God miraculously intervenes to release His persecuted children from political prisons. The night before Peter was to be executed, an angel appeared and broke the chains from Peter’s wrists, led him past the guards, and opened an iron gate without touching it—all to set him free in answer to the church’s prayer. A few years later, Paul and Silas were lying beaten and bloodied in a dank Philippian dungeon, praying and praising through the watches of a long night—when God sent an earthquake to shake the prison to its very foundations, breaking the prisoners’ chains and opening the door to freedom. Sometimes, though, God leaves the oppressed believer in prison, choosing instead to unchain His word (2 Timothy 2:9), freeing His child’s heart to testify boldly before governors and kings (Matthew 10:18-20). Either way, God has been faithful to set the prisoners free.

Just as wonderfully, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. Many times during Jesus’ life, we are told that He healed blind eyes. One man, blind from birth, had scratched out a meager existence day by day begging on Jerusalem’s dusty streets. Jesus recognized that this man had been born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in Him” (John 9:3). Jesus mixed the dust with His own saliva to make mud and then spread it on the man’s closed eyes. After the man obeyed Jesus and washed in the pool of Siloam, he could see. When he had been blind, the Pharisees had ignored the man. But now that he was rejoicing in his healing, they began to persecute him. Because he refused to repudiate Jesus for healing him on a Sabbath, they threw him out of the synagogue.

Jesus was faithful to find the man, and He opened his eyes a second time—only this time, they were the eyes of his spirit. Jesus asked him, “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is He, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in Him.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘You have seen Him, and the one speaking with you is He.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped Him’” (John 9:35-38). In a miracle that far surpassed his physical healing, the man’s spiritual blindness was removed. He saw Jesus and believed. We who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus can take great courage in this man’s experience! If we are faithful to speak the truth we know about Jesus, and if we refuse to back down when others reject us for it, Jesus will not abandon us. He will show us more of Himself. He will open the eyes of our hearts to know Him better in His glory and goodness.

Our merciful Lord also lifts up those who are bowed down. The world tries to lay heavy burdens on us, to crush us under the weight of rejection and oppression and criticism. But Jesus’ call to us is always to come to Him and find rest for our souls. He has a yoke, but it is easy. He has a burden, but it is light (Matthew 11:28-30). He invites us to cast all of our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). There is no way for you to avoid suffering and persecution while remaining faithful. But “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). You will be able to say with David, “When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19).

Truly the Lord loves the righteous. One thing is absolutely certain in the gospels: the Father loves the Son*. He opened the heavens and proclaimed His love at the Jordan River. He blanketed the earth with glory and declared that love at the Mount of Transfiguration. And now the Father has welcomed us into that same love. He has “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). If we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus in faith, then God reckons us as righteous. If we have hidden ourselves in Jesus, then God accepts us as His children. The mighty love of the Father for the Son is ours as well. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

The hatred of man cannot cancel the love of God for His righteous ones, who live by faith in His Son. Persecution cannot possibly separate His children from His love. In fact, it only propels us into greater glory! “You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:15-17).

We can be certain that the Lord watches over the strangers and upholds the orphan and the widow. We have already seen in Psalm 94 that God is deeply concerned about the well-being of the most vulnerable among His children and is fully committed to protecting them from exploitation. But we should also realize that all disciples of Jesus are truly strangers on earth and so are included in this promise. There are two kingdoms, two diametrically opposed cultures existing side-by-side on this planet. No one can be a citizen of both. Within the Kingdom of God, the disciples experience all of what belonging to Him means:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Within the kingdoms of men, however, we are aliens and exiles. We live and work side by side with the world’s citizens. We are productive contributors and law-abiding residents of their communities. But we are in this world, not of it. Our citizenship belongs to a different country, the New Jerusalem. Our highest loyalty belongs to our true King. We serve as ambassadors for His Governments, so we are careful not to get entangled in the affairs of this realm.

As foreigners and strangers, we frequently find ourselves targets of suspicion and ignorance. The world tolerates us for our contributions but hates us for our differences. Still, we keep our poise and our honor, taking to heart Peter’s words: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when He comes to judge” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

The life of a sojourner can be difficult. But we have a Purpose and a High Calling, a reason for being here. And we have One who knows us and watches over us—we are no strangers to Him. Daily we can experience His love and care within the ekklesia, a colony of Heaven on planet earth, provided the ekklesia is true to its name. So we have much to be thankful for and ample reason to praise God!

Finally, the way of the wicked He brings to ruin. This fact is permanently a part of our perspective. In the end, our courage and peace can rest on the sure knowledge that God is enthroned as Judge over all humankind. He takes note of all we do outwardly but also examines who we are inwardly:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the One to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

The genuine children of God have abandoned themselves to His purposes and have entrusted their past, their present, and their future to His care. They anticipate the Day of Judgment not with terror, but with confidence that God’s work in them is genuine and that His plans for their future are certain. As evidence that they truly belong to God, they hate sin. As God is, so they are, in all their attitudes regarding the world, the flesh, and the devil. If sin happens, they have an Advocate to speak on their behalf and a Sacrifice to atone for it (1 John 2:1-2). But through God’s mighty power, they are no longer slaves to wickedness. Their love for the Father and for one another grows to maturity in Him, a reflection of His perfect love for them. For all these reasons, they have confidence (1 John 4:16-18). In fact, Jesus has delegated to His people the authority to judge. In this age, they are to judge matters within the ekklesia; in the next, they will judge both the human and the angelic worlds (1 Corinthians 5:12-6:3). So they do not fear Jesus’ return; they long for it, with a heart cry of Maranatha!

Not so the wicked. It will not end well for them.

Part of the ruin of the wicked is a direct consequence of their sin. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh” (Galatians 6:7-8). Sin sows the seeds of decay in body, soul, and spirit. If anyone thinks he is the exception, he is self-deceived. He is not wiser than the Mind that created the universe. But God need not merely wait for a person’s own sins to destroy them. He is not passive, but active. The entire 4000 year history that we call the Old Testament bears witness to the fact that God is longsuffering, but that when He decides to bring judgment, He acts swiftly and decisively. God is the same today. Persecutors of God’s people in particular have not often lived to a happy old age. And in the end, the wicked have only eternal judgment to look forward to. “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will collect out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43).

Because of these truths, Christians endure suffering and persecution with patience, courage, and hope. We are absolutely certain that just as Jesus triumphed over sin and the grave during His first coming, He will triumph over the forces of wickedness during His second. “The God of Peace will shortly crush satan under our feet” (Romans 16:20). In the meantime, we have much to do to prepare the Bride in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We focus on the Work, not on the world’s opposition to it. For in just a little while, we will witness what John prophesied come to pass:

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name inscribed that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 19:11-16).

“The LORD Will Reign Forever”

With these words, we come not simply to the conclusion of this psalm, but also to the culmination of all history. Eternity will not so much be about man receiving his reward, but about God receiving His. In the end, what will we have done except what He has done in us? The treason of satan and his angels will be over. The waywardness and rebellion of the human race will be a thing of the past. All sin will have vanished into the abyss. The curse that has hung over all creation will be lifted. The memories of the persecution and hardship and hatred we have endured will melt away when He wipes the tears from our eyes with His nail-scarred hand. All that will remain will be a triumphant King, seated on His throne, and joining Him there a Bride, composed of all who willingly surrendered to His Kingship during this life. We will be so enthralled by His beauty, so fascinated with His wisdom, so awestruck by His glory, so thrilled by His love, that we will never tire of praising Him.

Paul, who suffered much for the Name of Jesus, also received surpassing revelations of God’s great purpose in history. Paul lifted up the corner of the curtain hiding these mysteries, and showed us a glimpse of the drama’s final act:

Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after He has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under His feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that this does not include the One who put all things in subjection under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who put all things in subjection under Him, so that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

All things submitted to the Son…the Son submitted to the Father…God our all in all. That is something worth suffering to see!

In the meantime, as we are waiting and working for that Day, we can already experience its realities in our hearts. Persecution can never stop us. In fact, we can let it thrust us into that Reality. The end of all history—all things submitted to the Father through the Son­—can also be, for us, the outcome of any experience of persecution. We can enthrone Jesus more in our lives and exalt Him higher in our hearts each time we must suffer. We can find Him in any situation, and once we have found Him, worship Him. The end of the matter can always be:
“The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!”


* Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 20:13; John 3:35; 5:20; and see 2 Peter 1:17
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