March 25 – My Strength or God’s?

Psalm 20 (NIV)

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
9 LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!

David frequently writes about ‘distress’ in the psalms. I can understand that because he had a difficult life. Israel was in its early infancy as a nation, and David was the king who had to lead the wars to establish its borders and make sure surrounding nations respected Israel. He was the first king from his family line. (We’ve recently been made aware of the royal line with Harry and Meghan’s exit from the royal line as they decided to step back and try to live as regular people.) In David’s time, Saul was the first king, and that turned out to be a disaster. David was the next king, and his family became the royal line, but there were people who challenged that – even David’s own sons fought over who would be the next king. So life was never calm and peaceful for David.

This psalm is divided into two parts. The first 5 verses are a prayer, asking for God’s help. Those verses are just like the way I pray – God make everything turn out well. David even mentions that God should answer his prayer because David has made sacrifices. Doesn’t that sound like us sometimes? God, please make this turn out all right because you know I’ve served You the best I can. I’m so thankful that God is patient with me. He has plans for me – and everyone else too – and those plans don’t mean that I get everything I want.

But then, David shifts gears in the last 3 verses and expresses his confidence in God. I like verses 7 and 8 as David states that confidence in your own plans and strength will only bring failure. Confidence in God helps us to ‘stand firm’.

A phrase in the Bible that has often caught my attention is “right hand”. It’s used in verse 6 where it is referred to as “the victorious power of His right hand”. It’s also in another verse that has been a special one to me for many years. Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (NASB) I looked that ‘right hand’ phrase up in a Bible dictionary*, and found these definitions. Sometimes it is used as a sign of a pledge; other times it is a sign of power or authority. It also indicates a place of honour in heaven. In this psalm and the verse in Isaiah, the power definition is the one that fits.

What do you rely on in difficult times? When I am honest, I have to admit that I often look to a variety of sources for strength. I count on family to help me with advice or practical help. I count on my church family, especially the small group that I’ve been a part of for a couple of years. I count on my own intelligence to figure things out. I count on the advice of some mature wise people I know. I might read a self-help book – made better if it’s written by a well-known Christian author. I count on experts in whatever area I’m concerned about. Sometimes I just hope for some “luck” to solve the problem by chance.

I really have to ask myself how much do I count on my Heavenly Father for the strength to deal with the issues life brings? How much do I give Him credit when things turn out well for me? Over the years I’ve often been surprised at comments made by my husband, a smart and very educated man. He’ll say he was looking for a parking space near the hospital and someone pulled out right where he needed the space; he says he was praying for a space and God answered his prayer. Or he’ll say he was praying that God would help him find his keys, and God answered his prayer. I find myself being amazed since I likely wouldn’t pray about such mundane things or expect God to care about those kinds of things.

There have been things that have happened that I definitely give God the credit for. I do “shout for joy” and “lift up the banners” openly about what God has done. My husband’s miraculous cure from cancer was certainly one of those times. To his doctors and anyone who asks, we state firmly right up front that this was God’s doing entirely – and his doctors agree since they can’t explain it. But on so many other things – stresses that tend to bog me down, problems at work or where I volunteer, my own aging health issues, and most recently the death of my husband – do I really count on God for strength or on my “chariots and horses”? I have the benefit of experience. I still have a tendency to turn to my own resources first, but I have also learned that ultimately, I have to turn to God for the strength to keep going. It’s a faith journey and a learning process that God will patiently guide me and you on, until we too can say:

“Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.”

*Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words – W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White Jr. Thomas Nelson Publishers 1980

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