Saturday, March 2, 2013

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind - Charles Swindoll




One of America’s finest Bible teachers makes the Psalms intensely practical.

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind
Author: Charles R. Swindoll
Publisher: Worthy Publishing (www.worthypublishing.com)
Pages: 306

What is about the Psalms? How is it that one like Psalm 23 has become so familiar? I recall a friend reading them for the first-time and being amazed at the honesty. It reminds me of a line in an Andrew Peterson song (“No More Faith”): “This is not another song about the mountains/Except about how hard they are to move.” This ancient collection of songs is not pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. Perhaps it is because they relate so well to fallen human nature that Charles Swindoll finds encouragement in Living the Psalms.

His choice of psalms serves as a counterpoint to the ills that wear God’s children down. In these applications, Psalm 8 is an antidote for feeling overlooked. Psalm 19 is the answer to divine silence. Psalm 27 combats fear. Psalm 137 provides hope against lingering consequences. Insignificance recedes in the light of Psalm 139. Psalm 142 is a balm for depression.  

These selections, like the Psalms, can be read over and over for profit. They are arranged in a devotional format. Each Psalm is divided into five days of short reflections. Each one of the 26 chapters covers a different Psalm, with the exception of a couple of weeks where two closely related psalms are reviewed.

Swindoll may be best known as a preacher and teacher, but he writes extremely well, which makes for easy reading. It only takes a few minutes to read a passage.

Even so, the wealth of wisdom in his sentences is amazing. When considering references to babes and the heavens in Psalm 8 he writes, “Infants may be small and the stellar spaces silent, but both convey a profound significance to the observer. So it is at those times in our lives when we may think we are no longer that valuable or necessary. While God honors us by accomplishing His work through us, that is not the basis of our value. To put it another way, we are not valuable to God because of our usefulness. He values us whether we are productive or not” (31).

Swindoll is a teacher’s teacher. He not only draws upon a lifetime of experience, he is a master communicator. His teaching methods are worth studying and emulating. He makes studying the Psalms an intensely practical exercise. Each daily reading concludes with a brief “Making it Strong in Your Soul” section that provides suggestions to make the lessons come alive.

Christian speakers have sometimes made fun of those who define Hebrew and Greek words when the meaning of a biblical text may seem clear. Swindoll shows how judicious use of this method reveals helpful layers of meaning. It’s not a waste of time. He recognizes the value of illustration and knows when to use it.

The author’s encouragement is balanced by his willingness to challenge, “While it’s difficult to understand the reason, God has planned that we continue to live in a hostile, wicked, non-Christian world system (kosmos). He deliberately did not remove us from an atmosphere of hostility. Instead, He has promised to preserve us through the conflict. He has made possible a plan of insulation, not isolation. God isn’t interested in our isolating ourselves, hidden away like hermits in a cave, but rather in our living courageously on the front lines, claiming His insulation amid an evil environment” (171).

As Annie J. Flint wrote in “He Giveth More Grace,”

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.  

In addition to being one of this country’s foremost Bible teachers, Swindoll is like a prophet of grace: “The longer I live and the more time I spend with the Lord (and with others), the more I am driven back to the answer to most people’s problems: sincere, Spirit-empowered, undeserved love. It’s called living by grace. Once Christ is in full focus, it’s amazing how powerful love can be!” (153).

For those who might never have seen the value and beauty of the Psalms, this is a fine introduction to some of the highlights. This book should be helpful to anyone wanting to deepen their relationship with God and rise above their personal challenges.
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