A Psalm for Travelers

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.Psalm 121:8 (NIV)

Traveling at this time of the year (one of the busiest times of the year) can be a harrowing experience especially for the infrequent traveler who isn’t used to traveling long distances on a regular basis. Even for the seasoned traveler, crowds and lines at airports can be daunting, as can also be the case on crowded highways if traveling by car. Even weather is a major factor in traveling at this time of year with winter quickly approaching.

While I am not traveling this year during the holiday season, I came across an article published by The United Methodist Church titled, Psalm 121: A Prayer for Travelers,” that I thought would be a great comfort to those folks who are traveling at this time of year (or at any time during the year). The article states:

Whether traveling overseas or around the corner, starting a new job or a new family, we embark on all kinds of journeys. Life itself can be a long and winding road, but as Christians, a life dedicated to God is not one defined by standing still, and our faith assures us that we will never travel that road alone.

Titled “A Song of Ascents” in Scripture, Psalm 121 marks life’s journeys. The sacred song is believed to have been sung by pilgrims traveling the ancient road to Jerusalem but, over the ages, has become known to many by a more familiar name:The Traveler’s Psalm.” The words serve as a guide for the journey and a reminder God is watching over us every step of the way.

You are encouraged to use this video meditation [see YouTube Video below] as a source of comfort as you commence, continue, or conclude your journey. This short segment is easy to share or download and can be used in a wide variety of church settings, such as before or during worship, in Sunday school classes, or in small groups. (Quote source here.)

[The video at the bottom of this blog was produced by The United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN. Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458. This video was first posted in July, 2015. The images in this video were taken by photographers from various United Methodist conferences and agencies.]

Here are the words from Psalm 121 (NIV):

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

A decade ago I placed a small magnet with the words from Psalm 121 on the refrigerator door in an apartment I had just moved into in a new city and state where I was starting a new job. Every morning when I got into my refrigerator it was a constant reminder to me that nothing was going to happen that day that the Lord wasn’t watching over.

The job only last seven months, and I only lived in that apartment for one year (I had signed a one-year lease never dreaming that the job wouldn’t last even that long). Ten years and a whole lot of miles and experiences later, I am very much aware of just how true these words from Psalm 121 have been and continue to be in my life.

May these words be a daily comfort and constant reminder as we travel through life’s journeys wherever they take us. And as I’ve experienced in my own life, some of those places are totally unexpected. However, God is there in the midst of every single one of them.

I will lift up my eyes until to mountains–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord . . .

The Maker . . .

Of Heaven . . .

And Earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 121: A Prayer for Travelers” by The United Methodist Church:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here

Journey Into Thankfulness

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer       (1906 -1945), German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident
Thanksgiving (the holiday) is less than two weeks away, and Christmas will quickly follow. While many people spend the holidays surrounded by family who sometimes travel very long distances to be together, the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be a somewhat stressful time for others due to their particular set of circumstances. Take, for example, the black sheep in the family–and most families have one.

I ran into an article titled, Embrace the Family ‘Black Sheep’ This Holiday,” by Kristen Fuller, M.D., physician, author, and senior staff writer at Sovereign Health, published on October 21, 2015.  She writes:

The holiday season is filled with decorations, food, presents, family photos, and social and work gift exchanges. The holidays can be a fun time, full of food, festivities and gifts, but for many people the holidays can be a stressful time. Although the holiday season could be a time to celebrate friends and family, some are at a loss when family members do not get along and they feel like they have to survive the tension while sitting at the table, drinking apple cider and eating turkey. Almost every family has ablack sheep,” that one family member who is isolated because he or she is too eccentric, too smart, too outspoken or too opinionated with views not shared by the rest of the family….

Many family members who are outcasts are actually not bad people; they may have different views and values. Many black sheep are actually lovable people who are either extremely bright or creative. These family members are the ones who think outside the box and may get into a little trouble once in awhile. For example, a nephew may have gotten suspended from school for missing too many days, or the older cousin is labeled as a “party girl” because she often stays out late with her friends, or the young doctor in the family is the black sheep because of her success at such a young age. These are not necessarily bad people, and they do not deserve the black-sheep label. The holidays would not be the same without them.

For many it is not specifically the individual with the problem, instead it is the family’s perception of that person. Just like co-workers and strangers, family members will also judge each other. Instead of judging, it’s vital to find the value and good in every family member and give thanks for having that person around. Instead of shaming the black sheep at the holiday table or forcing him or her to sit at the kids’ table [if they get included at all], take a moment and be thankful for sharing a meal with loved ones for the holidays, a luxury that some people do not get to experience. (Quote source here.)

So, embrace your black sheep, families!!! They would, no doubt, be ever grateful to you if you would… 🙂 And stop treating them like they either don’t exist or their lives don’t matter just because they don’t view the world exactly like you do. We are not all made from the same mold, and that is something to be thankful for, too… 🙂

On the subject of being thankful in general, I have found, especially over the past decade, that maintaining an attitude of thankfulness is not an easy thing to do. It’s like forgiveness–it has to be revisited over and over and over again.

Here are some quotes to get us started in the right direction on our journey into thankfulness. They come from an article titled, 30 Christian Quotes about Thankfulness,” compiled and edited by the Crosswalk Editorial Staff and published on November 14, 2016 on Crosswalk.com:

Thanksgiving is not just a holiday, it’s an attitude we can practice every day. Here is the opening quote from the Thanksgiving Proclamation signed by George Washington, President of the United States of America, October 3, 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

We have freedom in this country to express our thankfulness publicly and to celebrate with others on a special day.

Here are 30 Christian quotes to ponder on thankfulness and gratitude:

1. “God has promised to supply all our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.” –Elizabeth Elliot

2. “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” –Charles Spurgeon

3. “God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is – you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.” –Tony Evans

4. “We need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and that the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal.” –J.I. Packer

5. “No matter what our circumstances, we can find a reason to be thankful.” –Dr. David Jeremiah

6. “There are three requisites to the proper enjoyment of earthly blessings: a thankful reflection, on the goodness of the giver; a deep sense of our own unworthiness; and a recollection of the uncertainty of our long possessing them. The first will make us grateful; the second, humble; and the third, moderate.” –Hannah More

7. “If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace.” –Max Lucado

8. “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

9. “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.” –Kay Arthur

10. “A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” –John Bunyan

11. “In happy moments, PRAISE GOD. In difficult moments, SEEK GOD. In quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD. In painful moments, TRUST GOD. Every moment, THANK GOD.” –Rick Warren

12. “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.” –John MacArthur

13. “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” –C.S. Lewis

14. “Be thankful. God has commanded it—for our good and for His glory. God’s command to be thankful is not the threatening demand of a tyrant. Rather, it is the invitation of a lifetime—the opportunity to draw near to Him at any moment of the day.” –Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

15. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” –A.W. Tozer

16. “Genuine thankfulness is an act of the heart’s affections, not an act of the lips’ muscles.” –John Piper

17. “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that, I still possess.” –Corrie ten Boom

18. “Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.” –Andrew Murray

19. “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” –Tim Keller

20. “When we choose thankful prayer over wallowing in anxiety and worry, we are demonstrating an unwavering trust in God.” –Priscilla Shirer

21. “A spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord. Thank God in the midst of trials and every persecution.” –Billy Graham

22. “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –G.K. Chesterton

23. “’Gratitude’ comes from the same word as freedom (gratis = free). Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave.”  –Ravi Zacharias

24. “Gratitude produces deep, abiding joy because we know that God is working in us, even through difficulties.” –Charles Stanley

25. “Edwards [Jonathan Edwards] calls the deeper, primary form of thankfulness ‘gracious gratitude.’ It gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is: for His character — His goodness, love, power, excellencies — regardless of favors received. And it’s real evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life.” –Chuck Colson

26. “Yes, give thanks for ‘all things’ for, as it has been well said ‘Our  disappointments are but His appointments.’” –A.W. Pink

27. “Gratitude is a decision of the will, and if a decision of the will, the choice resides squarely with us. Deciding to be thankful is no easy task. It takes work.” –Chuck Swindoll

28. “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.” –Thomas Merton

29. “I’m just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that’s the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.” –Tim Tebow

30. “If there was ever a secret for unleashing God’s powerful peace in a situation, it’s developing a heart of true thanksgiving.” –Lysa TerKeurst  (Quote source here.)

If that doesn’t get us started well on our journey into thankfulness, nothing will… 🙂 I’ll end this post with a few of the many verses found in the Bible on being thankful: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus; and 2 Corinthians 9:11You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us…

Your generosity . . .

Will result in . . .

Thanksgiving to God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Whenever God Shines His Light” by Van Morrison:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

The Journey of Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” . . .King David, Psalm 23

There are times in everyone’s life where we no doubt feel like we are fighting an uphill battle that just doesn’t seem to end. Add to that any additional burdens we carry up that hill, and we have a perfect recipe for weariness, discouragement, fatigue, and defeat. We may even look for the first exit door that we think might bring some relief.

Well, don’t go there (as in going through the exit door that we think might bring some relief) as it will most likely only lead to a dead end. Also, it’s too easy for others who are not going through our particular set of circumstances to advise us on what to do, like pray more, or read our Bible more, or (fill in the blank with any advice that just adds to our burden).  We don’t need spiritual appeasement at these times; we need genuine help. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with praying more or reading our Bibles in search of help; but people often giving that advice are not walking in our shoes, and too often that advice comes off sounding trite or even “holier-than-thou”  (not that they intentionally mean it to sound that way).

At the risk of sounding like I’m giving advice, I’m only stating something that I have found to be very valuable to me personally when anything comes along that I don’t know how to handle or know which direction to take. I don’t remember when I stumbled upon it but considering some of the challenges of the past decade, I have fallen back on it time and time and time again. In fact, at this time in my life it has become a daily prayer. It never gets old and it never fails to bring calm in a trying situation, and I mostly pray it silently at any time of the day or night with my eyes open or shut. It does not require any particular “formal stance” to pray it. It is not long, and I memorized it a long time ago. It even brings calm in the midst of situations that don’t seem to relate to the words in this particular psalm.

The 23rd Psalm is probably the most recognizable, the most memorized, and the most treasured psalm in the world. My favorite translation of this psalm is taken from the NKJV:

Psalm 23: A psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;

He leads me beside
the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths
of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me

All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord

Forever.

Thanks pretty much it. That’s what I pray when I don’t know what else to pray. I do personalize it by replacing “He” and “His” in the first few verses with “You” and “Your” (meaning “God”) as in “You, Lord, are my shepherd; I shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures; You lead me beside the still waters. You restore my soul; You leads me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake.

The following is some information I found on Psalm 23 to include in this post. For example, I ran into a 8-part audio series produced by The Journey Church in New York City titled, The 23rd Psalm: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear, recorded in 2011. That 8-part audio series is available at this link.  The opening statement to the series states: “This powerful Psalm written by David in the Old Testament has given comfort and inspiration to countless people throughout history” (quote source here). I have not listened to the audio series but offer it as a resource.

I also found the following list regarding Psalm 23 that I first heard years ago from an article appropriately titled, 17 Facts You Need To Know About Psalm 23, on Nairaland.com:

The Lord is my Shepherd (That’s Relationship!)
I shall not want (That’s Supply!)
He makes me lie down in green pastures (That’s Rest!)
He leads me beside the still waters (That’s Refreshment!)
He restores my soul (That’s Healing!)
He leads me in the paths of righteousness (That’s Guidance!)
For His name sake (That’s Purpose!)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (That’s Testing!)
I will fear no evil (That’s Protection!)
For You are with me (That’s Faithfulness!)
Your rod and Your staff they comfort me (That’s Discipline!)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (That’s Hope!)
You anoint my head with oil (That’s Consecration!)
My cup runs over (That’s Abundance!)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (That’s Blessing!)
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord (That’s Security!)
Forever (That’s Eternity!)
–Author Unknown (Quote source here.)

Year ago when I first heard that list above, I thought it was attributed to Dr. Charles Swindoll, pastor, author, educator,  radio preacher, and founder of Insight for Livingbut I could not locate an author for it from a Google search or on the link to the website where I found it. However, I did find in a February 2018 devotion titled, In the Shepherd’s Care, by Dr. Swindoll the following that he had written on Psalm 23:

I shall not lack rest or provision—why? He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I shall not lack peace—why? He leads me beside quiet waters.
I shall not lack restoration or encouragement when I faint, fail, or fall—why? He restores my soul.
I shall not lack guidance or fellowship—why? He guides me in the paths of righteousness.
I shall not lack courage when my way is dark—why? Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.
I shall not lack companionship—why? You are with me.
I shall not lack constant comfort—why? Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
I shall not lack protection or honor—why? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
I shall not lack power—why? You have anointed my head with oil.
I shall not lack abundance—why? My cup overflows.
I shall not lack God’s perpetual presence—why? Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
I shall not lack security—why? I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Quote source here.)

I hope this is a source of encouragement for whatever you may be going through right now. I’ll end this post with the last verse found in Psalm 121–verse 8: The Lord will watch over . . .

Your coming and going . . .

 Both now . . .

And forevermore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir ft. Shane & Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here