Psalms of Encouragement

Waiting is a part of life that nobody likes, and sometimes, we aren’t even sure what it is that we are waiting for. Maybe it’s a medical report, or a job offer, or finding a spouse, or even just for the workday to finally get over with. Hurry up and wait” was a phrase I heard often when I was in the military. Life is filled with “waiting” for something to happen. And we wait; and we wait; and we wait….

Sometimes what we are waiting for might take years or even decades to happen. Sometimes it can happen practically overnight when we least expect it. For example, I spent six years trying to find an apartment in an income-based senior apartment complex while living in tiny hotel rooms as my only housing option due to my low income that would not allow me to rent a regular apartment. And then what seemed like practically overnight it finally happened, but not in the way I was expecting, and not in an income-based senior apartment complex either that I never did find. And where I did find an apartment to rent was a total surprise that I never expected in a location I never thought I could even begin to afford to live in. But here I am, at least for now.

On a daily basis, we wait in grocery store lines, or traffic, or doctor’s offices; we wait for the rain to stop and the sun to come out; we wait for dogs to stop barking or for people to be friendly, and we wait, and wait, and wait. Waiting is a fact of life but we hate it just the same. We wait for family to call or love to come our way or a great job that just never quite seems to show up. And if you’re older like me, you’ve maybe waited all your life for something that you’ve finally figured out at this point probably isn’t coming your way after all. But you don’t lose hope since you’re still breathing, and you’re still on this side of the grave.

And, it’s not that we’ve been passive during all of this time of waiting, although sometimes we are. We’ve also been friendly to others, and we call our family, and we walk the dog if we have one (although I don’t).

Sometimes what we need during all of this time of waiting is a big dose of encouragement. And the older I get the more I turn to the Book of Psalms for encouragement. People can and will disappoint us, and David and the other writers of the Psalms have experienced every emotion and rejection in life that we feel. Reading the Psalms is like finding fellow travelers through life that have gone there before us, and God was their source of strength, encouragement, fellowship, and help.

In an article published on October 26, 2020, titled, 6 Beautiful Psalms of Encouragement for You in Your Daily Life,” by Jessica Brodie, Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, writing coach, and contributing writer on Christianity.com, she writes:

Throughout the 150 chapters that comprise the Bible’s Book of Psalms, the message is clear: When the trials and burdens of our everyday existence wear us thin and we experience despair, frustration, hopelessness, or even anger, the best solution is to call upon the Lord. The Psalms provide encouragement in all of life’s up and downs but also in your daily waking up and living!

Many of us have learned how to cope with life’s big moments—the mountains and the valleys, the times of wild bliss, and those dark periods of anguish and turmoil. But what about regular daily life, the day-to-day grind that can feel at times monotonous or even meaningless? On occasion, we all experience seasons when daily life can wear at our souls, make us question our faith, or wonder how we’ll possibly endure. At times like these, it can help to know God-breathed words of comfort, encouragement, and motivation into his precious child, King David, and the other writers of the psalms, who penned both cries for divine assistance, as well as deep, abiding messages of gratitude and praise. (Quote source here.)

I agree! In the rest of her article (click here) she includes six psalms and what they have meant to her. The six psalms are quoted below. She ends her article with the following paragraph:

These are just a few of the many encouraging psalms we can tuck into our hearts to help us stay strong and faithful in everyday life. And they all circle back to one crucial, all-encompassing truth: God is the only sure thing. When we focus on faith over fear, we cannot help but be encouraged. (Quote source here.)

Those six psalms are Psalm 16, Psalm 27, Psalm 91, Psalm 34, Psalm 142, and Psalm 37:

Psalm 16
A Psalm of David

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 27
A Psalm of David

The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing, Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 91
Abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 34
Praise for Deliverance from Troubles

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 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. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalm 142
A Prayer for Help in Trouble

I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. 7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

Psalm 37
The Insecurity of the Wicked

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The blameless spend their days under the Lord‘s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord‘s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked. The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

I hope these words have been an encouragement to all who read them. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 27:14 (NKJV)–Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart…

Wait . . .

I say . . .

On the Lord . . . .

YouTube Video: “While I Wait” by Lincoln Brewster:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Elul and the High Holy Days

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”King Solomon, third and last king in the ancient Kingdom of Israel, renowned for his wisdom, his prolific writings, and his building accomplishments. (Quote is from Song of Solomon 6:3)Back in the summer of 2012, I discovered the Jewish holiday known as Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), which is an annual fast day in Judaism, on which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Gregorian calendar–our Western Calendar (quote source here). I have previously written five blog posts on Tisha B’Av on my regular blog (see search link here) beginning with my first blog post published on July 29, 2012, titled Tisha B’Av and 9/11.”

The minor holiday of Tu B’Av follows Tisha B’Av six days later, and it is known as a Jewish Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Av was the topic of my last blog post published on August 14th on this blog titled, A Day of Love.” I have also previously published a blog post on my regular blog on this holiday on August 5, 2017, titled, Tu B’Av 5777 (2017).”

Av is the eleventh month on the Jewish calendar (the Jewish civil year), and it is followed by the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish civil year. The following information gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days and Sukkot which follows the High Holy Days:

Elul usually occurs in August–September on the Gregorian calendar (Western calendar). In the Jewish tradition, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…. “Elul” can be understood to be an acronym for the phrase “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” meaning “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3). Elul is seen as a time to search one’s heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

During the month of Elul, there are a number of special rituals leading up to the High Holy Days. It is customary to blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat) from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the first day of the month) until the day before Rosh Hashanah. The blasts are meant to awaken one’s spirit and inspire him to begin the soul searching which will prepare him for the High Holy Days. As part of this preparation, Elul is the time to begin the sometimes-difficult process of granting and asking for forgiveness. It is also customary to recite Psalm 27 every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul (1st day of Elul) through Hoshanah Rabbah on Sukkot (Hoshanah Rabbah is the seventh day of Jewish holiday of Sukkot and the 21st day of Tishrei, the first month of the new year on the Jewish civil calendar). (Quote source here.)

From the first day of Elul through the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Hoshanah Rabbah), these dates convert to the following dates on our Western calendar for 2019: September 1, 2019 through October 20, 2019. This time period will start on Sunday, September 1st, which is one week from today. Actually, it will start at sundown on Saturday, August 31, 2019, as days on the Jewish calendar start at sundown.

As an introduction to the month of Elul, Chabad.org states:

Elul is the 12th and final month in the Jewish calendar (the sixth month counting from Nisan). It is a month that connects the past year with the coming year—a time when we reflect on where we stand and where we should be going.

It is called “the month of repentance,” “the month of mercy” and “the month of forgiveness.” Elul follows the two previous months of Tammuz and Av—months of tragedies that were brought upon us through our sins. In Tammuz, the Jews sinned with the golden calf; on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moses ascended to Mount Sinai for a third 40-day period until Yom Kippur, when he descended with the second tablets (luchot) and G‑d’s word of joyful, wholehearted forgiveness. (The first time Moses ascended was to receive the first tablets; the second time was after the sin, to ask for forgiveness; and this third time was to receive the second set of tablets.) These were days when G‑d revealed to the Jewish people great mercy. Since then, this time has been designated as a time of mercy and forgiveness, an opportune time for teshuvah”repentance.

The four letters of the name “Elul” are an acronym for the phrase in “Song of Songs (6:3): “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” “I am to my beloved”—we approach G‑d with a desire to return and connect. “And my beloved is to me”—G‑d reciprocates with Divine expressions of mercy and forgiveness.

This is the month when “the King is in the field.” Read: The King is in the Field

G‑d, the King of all Kings, is accessible. All can approach Him, and He shines His countenance to all. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Elul: 5 Things to Know About the Lead-up to the High Holidays,” by Jane E. Herman, senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism, she writes:

Elul is the Hebrew month that precedes the High Holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur).

Some say that the Hebrew letters that comprise the word “Elul”–aleph, lamed, vav, lamed–are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Most often interpreted as love poetry between two people, the phrase also reflects the love between God and the Jewish people, especially at this season, as we assess our actions and behaviors during the past year and hope for blessings in the coming year.

Several customs during the month of Elul are designed to remind us of the liturgical season and help us prepare ourselves and our souls for the upcoming High Holidays.

1. Blowing the shofar

Traditionally, the shofar is blown each morning (except on Shabbat) from the first day of Elul until the day before Rosh HaShanah. Its sound is intended to awaken the soul and kick start the spiritual accounting that happens throughout the month. In some congregations the shofar is sounded at the opening of each Kabbalat Shabbat service during Elul.

2. Saying special prayers

Selichot (special penitential prayers) are recited during the month of Elul. A special “Selichot” service is conducted late in the evening–often by candlelight–on the Saturday night a week before Rosh Hashanah.

3. Visiting loved ones’ graves

Elul is also a time of year during which Jews traditionally visit the graves of loved ones. This custom not only reminds us of the individuals on whose shoulders we now stand and helps us honor their memories, but also prompts us to think about our own lives and the legacies we will leave to others–kind words spoken, comfort offered, love given and received–which take on added meaning as we enter the High Holiday season. Rabbi Daniel B. Syme explains more about this custom.

4. Reading Psalm 27

It is customary to read Psalm 27 each day from the beginning of Elul through Hoshana Rabbah, which is the last day of Sukkot.

5. Reflecting

It also is a month during which we are encouraged to study and take time for personal reflection around our actions of the past year and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged or with whom we otherwise have “missed the mark” in our interactions and behaviors. Many readily available resources can help you make this process interactive, including:

Whether you participate in some, none, or all of these Elul traditions, may you find meaning and fulfillment in this time leading up to the High Holidays. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the daily reading of Psalm 27, in an article titled, I Am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is Mine,” by Reuven Hammer, Ph.D., former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, and author of The Torah Revolution: Fourteen Truths that Changed the World,” he writes:

The selection of Psalm 27 is very interesting. The interpretation of that psalm found in the rabbinic commentary on Psalms, Midrash Tehilim, indicates that from ancient times this psalm was connected to the Days of Awe. “The Lord is my lighton Rosh Hashana, since this is the day of judgment… The Lord is my salvationon Yom Kippur, when He saves us and forgives our sins” (27:3).

The psalm itself is complicated. On the one hand, it begins by asserting that because of closeness to the Lord, one has no reason to fear or be afraid (verse 1); yet toward the end, the psalmist pleads, “Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger… do not forsake me, do not abandon me…” (verse 9). It seems that the psalmist very much desires the closeness of God–echoing the idea of “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”but feels he has not yet attained it, and God is still far from him. Thus he does feel fear and trepidation, which he has to work to overcome.

He concludes by encouraging himself to continue the search and not give up–“Look to the Lord: be strong and of good courage! O look to the Lord!” (verse 14). The message being conveyed by the psalm is that it is not easy to attain the feeling of intimacy with God, which is desirable and will banish our fears, but we must work toward it and never abandon the search.

There is no question that feelings of concern and even trepidation are part and parcel of the High Holy Day experience, even if they do not define it. The reason is simple. As we confront a new year, we begin to think of what lies ahead–and one never knows what that is. Uncertainty breeds concern.

This is expressed most openly and strongly not in the order of prayer itself, but in “piyyutim”–liturgical poems–that have been added to it, especially the magnificent “Unetaneh Tokef,” which describes the Day of Judgment.

The images there are taken from prophetic books in which the end of days, the final day of judgment, is depicted. “Who will live and who will die,” we say….

Fortunately, the month of Elul gives us the opportunity to grapple with these feelings, of accepting responsibility for those things that are within our control, namely our own actions, of seeing how we can improve and, most of all, of moving closer to a relationship of love with God which will help us to deal with our fears.

“I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”: These are our tasks during the month of Elul. (Quote source here.)

This post has turned out to be an introduction of sorts to the Jewish month of Elul, a time of reflection and repentance. I will most likely, later in the month, be following up with a blog post or two on the Days of Awe/High Holy Days and Sukkot.

As Chabad.org states, “The High Holiday season begins during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a clarion call to return to G‑d in advance of the sacred days that lay ahead” (quote source here). For a brief introduction to what follows, click here.

I’ll end this post with the last verse in Psalm 27 (verse 14): Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage…

And He shall strengthen your heart…

Wait, I say . . .

On the Lord . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 27 (One Thing)” by Shane & Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here