Strong Horses & What Delights God Most

Percheron mares, aged 3 and under 4: Please enter the ringsounded over the arena loudspeaker. 

His pleasure is NOT in these strong horses? resounded in my bemused brain.

The draft horse stable is just inside the east gate at the Walworth County Fair. Each year we stop to see the horses. 

And each year, in awe, I gawk.

His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.       

Psalm 147:10-11, ESV

The Strength of a Horse

Immense strength envelop exquisite equine form. Burly, bulgy backsides and shimmery, sleek shoulders bear witness. Divinity designed such elegant power.

draft horse

From the war horse (heavy saddler) to diligence horse (heavy coacher or light draft) to the true horse of heavy draft, the breeders of Le Perche sculpted away on their beloved indigenous breed for hundreds of years, altering the animal to meet the demands of the times and to entice the buyer.

In the case of the Percheron breed, French breeders played a big role in harnessing living, breathing strength:

God himself praised these creatures as he questioned Job,

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength? Can you make him leap like the locust? 
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword

Job 39:19-24

Entice they do. I stand in awe of the Belgian Drafts, Clydesdales, and Percherons. To lay eyes on these beautiful hulks is to marvel.

God seems duly impressed by his creation. So what does God mean when he says he doesn’t take pleasure in horses? 

The Danger of Delighting in Horses

I found John Piper’s explanation helpful:

God is not displeased with horses, but in those who hope in horses—or in whatever our modern equivalent is for the strength and security that horses once delivered.

To take pleasure in visible strength is natural. Big bank accounts and a clean bill of health can make me feel secure. Top Gun Maverick had a similar effect. I left the theatre feeling confident.

But it displeases God when we put our hope in militaries, missiles, or health—or in anything other than him. Because God cares for us. He wants the best for his children. And he knows that all of those are false security, and worse than false.

When we swell secure with anything less than the Lord, we not only dig broken cisterns, but forsake the living water (Jeremiah 2:13). When we think we can buy or be our own strength, we reject God our strength (Psalm 81:1).  

Fear & Hope: What God Delights In

God helps those who help themselves isn’t in the BIble. Military might and financial force don’t dazzle Almighty God.

But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

If you want to swell the heart of God, fear him and hope in his love

Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes that fear and hope not only may, but must go together:

In the same heart at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness; not that we hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fearOur fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair.

Commentary on Psalm 147

Oh, for this holy, God-pleasing, Christ-exalting draw-near fear, for this fear co-mingled with hope! It is hope that will not disappoint us because God has poured out his love in to our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). It is fear that does not paralyze or make us run away. Perfect love casts that fear out. 

I got all that from a little trip to the fair.

Some might argue that these muscle-bound beasts have served their purpose. After all, horse pulls are just for show.

To them, I simply say “no.”

Every year at the fair, God uses them to remind me. These strong horses point past themselves to a God who is not impressed even by their splendid strength, to a God who is strength itself.

The LORD is the strength of his people…

Psalm 28:8a, ESV

Trust Only: A Wet Dog, Quicksand & A Lily Pad

Wet dog on kayak with owner and lily pads and river in background hope
Nolie after landing two feet on the lily pad.

They trust not God at all who trust him not alone.

Not at all? Them’s fightin’ words. I read them once, twice, then promptly looked for a way around them. Because of course I trust in God and in other things.

Then I heard about the little dog named Nolie who stepped out onto a lily pad. And I started to think about rocks, quicksand and trust in God alone.

Nolie, named after cannoli, is my friend’s roommate’s sweet pup. Nolie went on an outing this week. It was her first time in a kayak and she liked the ride. But Nolie got an idea as they paddled through the lily pads. She decided to take a walk.

So with her hind feet planted on the kayak, she stretched one foot out on the smooth green pad. Then she landed the other. And one surprised little Nolie got very, very wet.

He will sink and perish.

So can you trust in God and trust in something else along with God to keep you safe and secure?

Well, what happens if you place two feet on the kayak and two feet on a lily pad? Or, what happens if you set one foot on a rock and one foot on quicksand?

Nolie’s walk on the lily pad makes me wonder, do I really hope and trust in God alone? Can I hope in God to redeem my life and restore my soul and also hope in other things?

If my hope is in uncertain, unstable things—my wealth or health, or my family and friends—will I not sink?

Are these not quicksand and lily pads?

They will disappoint. They will let us down. As sweet as they are, as much of a gift as they are, they are all shakable, created things. (This is a favorite post about kids growing and good endings shaking me.). All other helpers will fail me and all other comforts will flee. Only one thing will remain.

So it only makes sense to trust only in Him.

Do you trust in “God and,” or in God alone?

Now back to those fighting words. They referred to Psalm 62, including verses 5-6, which say,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

In the Hebrew text the word only, truly, or alone occurs five times in the first eight verses. Bible scholar Derek Kidner says this little Hebrew word ak, “is an emphasizer, to underline a statement or to point to a contrast; its insistent repetition gives the psalm a tone of special earnestness.”

I think the contrast is between trust in “God and” and trust in God alone.

They trust not God at all who trust him not alone. He that stands with one foot on a rock, and another foot upon a quicksand, will sink and perish, as certainly as he that stands with both feet upon a quicksand.

John Trapp, Quoted in David Guzik’s Commentary on Psalm 62

Nolie learned that two feet on a kayak and two feet on a lily pad means the whole dog goes under. David learned that one foot on rock and one foot on quicksand means the whole man sinks—even, get this, if the rock is the Rock.

So David earnestly calls us to trust in God. Alone.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.

Nolie, and I, are with David.

Are you?

Nothing which does not shake the rock can shake the frail tent pitched on it.

—Alexander MacLaren

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken

—David, in Psalm 62:1-2, ESV

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Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

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.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Don’t Buy The Lie: Suffering ≠ Unloving

Woman sitting guilty believe the lie
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But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 22:6-8 (ESV)

Why do you believe in him anyway? God doesn’t do anything on this earth and he doesn’t answer you. Look at all your problems. Why would I possibly want to be like you?

That from someone I love, someone close. Someone who assumes God wouldn’t let his loved ones suffer. Someone, incidentally, who called me worse than a worm.

Satan’s Top Lie To Suffering Saints

“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” That is Psalm 22 verse 8, written by David. It’s not the first time I’ve written about that lie. For the accuser of the brothers is relentless.

So today I circled back and lingered on Psalm 22, alert for that old lie,

“that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all.”

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72

That lie was loud this week. That if God is here, he’s here for my convenience, my ease. I heard it in that dear one’s scornful words and again inside my troubled mind: If God really loved you, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. You must really be guilty for God to allow such heartache.

Satan kept aiming his fiery darts. A couple landed, with tips dipped in deadly poison. Because my grief morphed into self-pity, and self-pity is of the devil.

So this must be an effective lie. Because not only does he use it on me, he used it on David and on David’s Greater Son.

He Trusts In God, Let God Deliver Him

The devil first hurled it at Jesus in the wilderness when he said, “Command these stones into bread” (Matthew 4:3). It didn’t work.

But he came back to sling the lie again, at an opportune time. It came through different mouths.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Matthew 27:41-44

Did you hear the lie? In his weakest, most vulnerable moments, the dying Messiah heard it. He trusts in God; let God deliver him.

I suspect it didn’t sound as harmonious as Handel wrote it. I think it was a raucous, jeering sound.

If I’m honest, if I were at the cross I might have reviled too. At least, I would have urged the Savior, Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Come down from the cross.

Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer like that. 

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Away From Me, Satan!

When Jesus explained how he must “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-22). “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

I’m with Peter. Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth. 

For Christ to bypass suffering would have been nothing short of satanic. He demanded that His beloved Son suffer (Matthew 3:17). God sometimes sends his children into the wilderness.

That can be hard to hear when trouble comes. So Satan plants this seed of doubt, this lie, that suffering = unloved.

But Jesus would have none if it. He turned and said to Peter (Matthew 16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” The Son of God didn’t buy the lie that God the Father spares his children suffering.

Thank God, he didn’t.

For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

The Silence Of God

But in his deepest suffering, our Lord heard the silence of God. Nailed to the cross, Jesus borrowed David’s prophetic words from Psalm 22. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In our far lighter suffering we might hear accusing voices. Then we might hear nothing at all. There will be grace to endure, to stand up under (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we might receive no relief, no rescue, no response to our prayers—only the sound of silence.

Andrew Peterson describes the silence of God.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy
Or break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder
If he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleeding for comfort
From thy staff and thy rod
And the heavens’ only answer
Is the silence of God

But God’s silence need not break our faith.

As he was dying, Jesus fixed on to David’s words. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22: 1-2).

In lament, Great David and his Greater Son both talked back to their silent God.

Don’t Stop Talking To God

David talked back to God because he had faith. Even though he felt God’s silence, he believed God heard. Read the rest of Psalm 22. Paul believed this too.

I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”

Paul quoted that verse from Psalm 116. Lament is good. Crying out to God in our pain is healthy.

“Pain is when it seems like God stops talking to you.

The problem is when you stop talking to God.”

Kevin DeYoung

The problem is when we stop talking to God. Faith, belief, causes us to speak—even if our words form to tell God our troubles.

So cry out. The real problem is when we stop talking to God.

3 Truths to Defeat the Lie

Because it’s not where you start in this battle with despair. It’s where you land.

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he was nailed to the cross. We read Psalm 22 from the foot of the empty cross. There we find three life-giving truths to defeat Satan’s lie.

  1. First, if you are in Christ, your suffering is not meaningless—it is producing a weight of glory.
  2. Second, your suffering is not random—you were not spared from suffering for good reasons.
  3. Third, your suffering is not the end.

We know it’s not the end because God hears his people’s groans. He hears, he remembers, he knows. The Father heard the Son when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He hears your sighs and cries and moans.

He Has Done It!

Serious Bible scholars suggest that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) he was actually quoting the last line of Psalm 22. As Jesus hung in the dark on the cross, he was meditating on that psalm for he’d cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But those words were the beginning of Psalm 22, not the end.

“He has done it!” That is the end of the psalm.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews chapter 12 verse two says this is true.

Bearing sin and scoffing rude, the Spotless Lamb of God didn’t buy the lie. As the Son of God agonized, bearing our sins in his body on the tree and hearing the heavy silence of God, I think he was still meditating on the truth from Psalm 22.

I think he was looking forward to the real and glorious end, when,

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.

All the families of the nations
will bow down before You..
.

They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—

He has done it!

Psalm 22:27, 31