For David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1), God was a sanctuary – a place of rest and restoration. He understood that it was only in the quiet and still presence of God that his heart would experience renewal. The classic expression of this has been Psalm 23. Penned some 3,000 years ago, the words of this beloved psalm still stirs the hearts of believers today. As we begin the 8th week of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs Reading Plan it’s my prayer that as God leads you beside the still waters, may you find rest for your heart and soul.
Monday, Feb. 18 – Acts 11; Psalm 21
In the two previous chapters, Luke detailed the conversion stories of the enemy of the church Saul, along with the Roman solider Cornelius. In today’s reading, these two stories come together. Peter defends his ministry to Cornelius before the church at Jerusalem. It is also here that Saul reappears as a minister to the church in Antioch, a church filled with both Jew and Gentile Christians. From this point on in the book of Acts, we will observe a dramatic shift within the church as it progresses from a Jewish church separate from the Gentiles to a Jewish-Gentile fellowship. In the face of change, how do you handle the need for a new perspective? Resistance? Excitement? Uncertainty? Fear? In what areas of your life and Christian community do you face change now? How are you responding to this change?
As previously stated, Psalms 20 and 21 are generally viewed as twin psalms; the first being a prayer before battle, the second being a thanksgiving for victory. So we shouldn’t be surprised to read David rejoicing that the Lord God has, “given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips” (v. 2). God always answers our prayers. At the most basic level He answers with either a yes or no. (I know it’s simplistic to think this way but play along.) Make a two-column list, on one side list you top-three yes answers to prayer. On the other side list your top-three no answers to prayer. Try to recall how you felt when God intervened and when He didn’t. How did you praise God for answering your prayers with a yes? With a no? Should there be a difference in your praise? Explain.
Tuesday, Feb. 19 – Acts 12; Proverbs 5:15-23
Acts 12 presents a conundrum for many believers, how could God allow Herod to execute the apostle James (vv. 1-2) but dramatically saved Peter from the same fate (vv. 3-11). Especially when we consider that it would be inconceivable to imagine that the same “earnest prayer” (vv. 5 and 12) that the church offered up for Peter wasn’t also offered up on behalf of James and yet James was killed. What conclusions about persecution, prayer, and deliverance can you draw from this scene?
Finally, in the third part of Solomon’s warning about illicit sex he extols the wisdom of marital fidelity (vv. 15-23). The erotic language of vv. 18-20 may be surprising for some, but it shows that God approves of sexual joy in marriage and how it can serve as a safeguard against unfaithfulness. In v. 19, Solomon says (depending on your translation) a man should be so “intoxicated” (ESV), “exhilarated” (NASB), or “enraptured” (NKJV) with love and sex for his wife so that he won’t be drawn to other women. (It’s worth noting that in 1 Corinthians 7:5 the apostle Paul offers similar advice to both men and women.) With the hustle and bustle of work and family life the need for sleep can quickly send sex to the back-burner. So then, what does Solomon’s council look like in the real world? What role does the husband play? The wife?
Wednesday, Feb. 20 – Acts 13; Psalm 22
Chapter 13 marks a turning point in Acts. The first twelve chapters focus on Peter with an emphasis on the Jewish church in Jerusalem; the remaining chapters revolve around Paul and his mission to the greater Gentile world. Having been culled from the faithful and tasked with spreading the gospel far and wide, Paul and Barnabas set off on what is common called the First Missionary Journey of Paul. A side from the miraculous (vv. 6a-12), what qualities do you see in Paul that enabled him to effectively share the gospel? What characteristics and qualities do you have that make sharing the gospel natural for you? What makes it difficult for you to share your faith? Pray to God to fortify your strengths and help you to be content with your weaknesses.
With Psalm 22, David provides a lament for the innocent sufferer who is being attacked by unscrupulous people and is intensified by the mockery of those who should pity him. Nevertheless, the sufferer looks forward to vindication and joyful worship with the rest of God’s people. Although Jesus quotes only the first part of the first verse of Psalm 22 (ref. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 24:44), the psalm seamlessly reflects His experience on the cross. From what you read in this psalm (and the crucifixion accounts), what do you learn about the Christ’s mindset during His time of deep despair?
Thursday, Feb. 21 – Acts 14; Proverbs 6:1-11
The Lystrians reacted to the healing of the lame man like typical pagans of that time. What do you learn from this incident about the religious beliefs of those people and the assumptions that Paul and Barnabas had to overcome? What are some of the assumptions about God or gods, miracles, creation, morality, the nature of man, etc. that your friends hold? Which of these beliefs are barriers to understanding and believing the gospel? How can you help them rethink those assumptions?
With his unreasonable aversion to productive work, the sluggard learns too late the high price of “A little… a little… a little” (v. 10) as he is overpowered by poverty (ref. v. 11). Even though, the proverbs hold out little hope for reforming a committed fool; wisdom does offer some hope for the reforming the sluggard. What does the sluggard desperately need to learn from the ant? Describe an area of your life where you tend to be lazy (for example: yard work, house work, or all work in general, or parenting, hygiene, finances, and so on). Be honest! How would you apply the lesson(s) learned from the ant to the one area of sluggardliness you mentioned previously?
Friday, Feb. 22 – Acts 15; Psalm 23
Whether it’s doctrinal issues or personal ones, conflict among believers is a difficult reality all Christians must face. Sadly for some, their total outlook on Christianity has been drastically shaped by conflicts within congregations and personal relationships. In Acts 15, Luke records for us two different conflicts, one doctrinal and the other personal along with the resolutions. In your own words, describe the two conflicts that arise between believers in this chapter. What principles do you observe in this passage that are vital to follow as you face both doctrinal and personal conflicts with others in our Christian community? When you are in conflict with others, how does your response compare or contrast with that of the church leaders (vv. 1-35)? With Paul and Barnabas (vv. 36-41)?
I firmly believe, that out of all Bible, the 23rd Psalm is probably the second best known passage just slightly behind “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1a). In these words, we find a testimony by David to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life leading to the conclusion that God would continue to be faithful to him and grant him fellowship in the future. This truly is a psalm of trust and confidence in God’s goodness in the present and in the future which lends itself to be a favorite funeral passage. Often though, we can become so familiar with a passage and it’s usage that perhaps the words and imagery can lose their power. With that in mind, slowly and purposefully re-read Psalm 23. With a fresh perspective, allow your mind to drift over the words imaging the scene that David is painting. Take a few moments to record your thoughts that popped into your heart as you read this much beloved psalm.