Creature of a Day, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: When Suffering Comes

In this week’s lessons we see how David responds in the midst of trouble, which is by taking his cares to the Lord and trusting him to act.

Scripture: Psalm 39:1-13

This is the meaning of verse 4. Verse 4 does not mean: “I am weary of this suffering; tell me when I am going to die so this will end” or “Life is too short for all I have been given to do; this is unfair.” Instead, it means, as J. J. Stewart Perowne expressed it, “Make me rightly to know and estimate the shortness and uncertainty of human life, that so, instead of suffering myself to be perplexed with all that I see around me, I may cast myself the more entirely upon thee.”3 This is exactly what David does in the verse immediately following this stanza, that is, in verse 7.

It is also what we find in classic language in Psalm 90:12. Psalm 90 was written by Moses, but it raises the same issues as Psalm 39, though in a much calmer and trusting frame of mind. It is often read at funerals: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Does David learn by doing this? Yes, he does. The first thing he learns when he turns to God is that, puzzling as the brevity of life may be, it is nevertheless something that God has himself willed. God has fixed the span of human years, as we see in verse 5: “You have made my days a mere handbreadth.” Therefore, the brevity of human life is no accident; it has meaning. And this meaning must be good, because God, the author of this circumstance, is a good God.

There is a second thing that David learns. He learns that, since life is short, the only real meaning of a man or woman’s existence must be in God, for God is eternal. David therefore turns to God, which is where we begin the next stanza. Verse 7 expresses this determination. It is the turning point of the psalm.

But the third stanza (vv. 7-11) also introduces a second, additional problem which intensifies the first one, namely, God’s heavy-handed treatment of so unsubstantial and fleeting a creature as man. Stanza two protested the brevity and apparent vanity of life. This stanza talks about transgressions, sin, rebuke and discipline. Why does God bother to discipline men and women, particularly when they are such unsubstantial creatures? This was Job’s question when he was made to endure so much suffering and apparent discipline at God’s hand:

What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more (Job 7:17-21).

Do you understand that? Can you see that David and Job are saying the same thing, asking the same question? And can you perceive how the question arises precisely from the fact that we are so small and that God is so great, that we are creatures of a day and he is of eternity. If you do understand that, I am sure you also realize that you have asked the same question yourself many times in one way or another. I have counseled many people who have asked it.

Study Questions:

  1. Why is it beneficial to understand the brevity of life? What does an awareness of our own brevity reveal about God?
  2. What is the significance of your existence?

Reflection: Contrast the world’s approach to the brevity of life versus that of the Christian.

3J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 328. Original edition 1878-1879.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Creature of a Day, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: Out, Out Brief Candle!

In this week’s lessons we see how David responds in the midst of trouble, which is by taking his cares to the Lord and trusting him to act.

Scripture: Psalm 39:1-13

We should learn a number of things from David’s conduct: 1) What we say is vitally important; we can sin with our mouths as well as with our other bodily members; 2) It is better to be silent than to say things that can be used against God by wicked persons; 3) We should not be anxious to share such grief even with godly persons; and 4) We should bring our troubles to God.

If we follow David’s example at this point, we will be doing what Paul recommended to the Philippians and will receive the corresponding blessing: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7).

The problem bothering David finally emerges in verse 4 and is developed in the psalm’s second stanza (vv. 4-6). It is the brevity of life and the corresponding emptiness or meaninglessness of human existence, as I have been pointing out.

The key word in this stanza, as well as in the next, is hebel, which is translated “a breath” (v. 5), “in vain” (v. 6) and “a breath” (v. 11). It is the same word translated “vanity” or “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes, the ideas of which are echoed in this psalm: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Eccles. 1:2).

The Apostle James, who was a great student of the wisdom literature, also seems to echo these ideas in the New Testament, where he gives an exposition of how Christians are to handle the problem. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).

I notice that after two of the three uses of hebel in Psalm 39 (in vv. 5, 11) the sentence in which it occurs is followed by the word selah, which means to stop, pause and consider. Good advice. It means, think about the brevity of life so you may apply your heart to wisdom.

The brevity of life is a thought that troubles everyone, or should. I do not know whether

William Shakespeare knew this psalm or had these words in mind when he penned Macbeth’s despairing speech from Act 5 of the play by that name, but he expressed the same idea:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (Act 5, Scene 5).

But King David is not King Macbeth. So although he frets over the same problem, namely, the brevity and apparent vanity of life, he does not do it in the same way. What he does do is unburden himself to God and seek wisdom from God, as we have seen.

Study Questions:

  1. Review the four things we can learn from David’s conduct.
  2. What is the meaning of the Hebrew word hebel?

Application: Memorize Philippians 4:6-7. How do you need to practice this?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Creature of a Day, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Compelled to Speak

In this week’s lessons we see how David responds in the midst of trouble, which is by taking his cares to the Lord and trusting him to act.

Scripture: Psalm 39:1-13

Life is short. The world does not like to think deeply, especially about such things as life, death and eternity. The flesh is unable to think. The devil does not want us to think, certainly not about spiritual things. Instead, the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to keep us amused or entertained.

That is what the word “amusement” means, of course. It is a compound word of two main parts. The heart of the word is “muse,” which means to “ponder,” “meditate” or “think.” The prefix is the negative “a,” which means “no” or “not.” So “a-muse-ment” means “not thinking.” It is what most people do as they drift through life and inevitably pass through the dark doors of death into eternity. Psalm 39 is a challenge to such folly, as I said. It wants us to think about the brevity of life so we may apply our hearts to wisdom and use the time we do have well. In his study of these verses Arno C. Gaebelein says, “Read this psalm frequently; it will bring blessing to heart and life.”1

Psalm 39 is a good psalm to follow Psalm 38. In the preceding psalm David is seriously ill and is facing the prospect of immanent death; here, as might be expected from such sickness, he is contemplating life’s brevity. In Psalm 38 the author is silent before other people: “I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth… whose mouth can offer no reply” (vv. 13, 14). He picks up on this theme in the opening verses of Psalm 39 (vv. 1-3). There are also certain Hebrew words that are repeated, though the translation hides this fact in some cases. “My hope” (v. 7) is similar to the word “wait” in Psalm 38:15. “Your scourge” in verse 10 is the same as “my wounds” in Psalm 38:11.2

The four-point outline of Psalm 39 is marked well by the stanzas in the New International Version. The first three verses are a preface explaining the circumstances of the psalm’s composition. They explain how the psalmist had been trying hard to keep quiet and not express what was troubling him but how at last the fire burning within him burst out. Undoubtedly, this expresses a real situation. David was troubled. If not, we have to suppose that such depths of feeling, here and in other psalms, are mere literary compositions. Nevertheless, from a literary perspective, the preface plays an effective role in heightening our interest in what is coming. “What is bothering David?” we want to ask. “Why is he so troubled? Why is he not saying anything?”

In the next stanza we are going to learn that David is troubled about the brevity and corresponding vanity of life. But what he tells us here is why he was keeping silent. It was because of “the wicked” who were around him. Why should that be a problem? The answer is that he knew how what he wanted to say would be misunderstood and misused by such persons. To them his words would seem to be a criticism of God and his ways. Therefore, although David was troubled to the point of boiling over inside, he refused to express himself in their presence. In fact, when he finally does speak, it is not to men or women at all, whether wicked or righteous, but to God. He expresses his anguish to God and seeks wisdom.

Study Questions:

  1. Why don’t we like to think about life, death and eternity?
  2. What solution does Psalm 39 offer?
  3. How are Psalms 38 and 39 connected?

1Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 175.
2See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 157.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Sick Man’s Cry for Help, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: A Good Man Badly Treated

From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.

Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22

The last section of this psalm (vv. 16-20), before the final prayer, concerns David’s unjust treatment by his enemies, picking up on a theme he introduced earlier in verse 12. In this respect the psalm moves from: 1) his wretched physical condition; to 2) his abandonment by his friends; to 3) his treatment by his enemies. But this is only part of what we find in this last section. Actually, everything found here has been mentioned or suggested earlier and is brought in again, in my judgment, as an argument why God should hear his prayer. In two cases the reasons are actually introduced by the word “for,” meaning “for this reason.”

I see five arguments, one in each verse:

1. It is not right that his enemies should be allowed to gloat over his misfortune or boast when his foot slips (v. 16). They may be his enemies, but their conduct toward him is nevertheless not right. They should sympathize with him, rather than gloat, and pray for him rather than boast over his sins and missteps.

2. His condition is desperate. He has already slipped, and now he is about to fall (v. 17). It would be bad enough if David had merely slipped for a moment. But the situation is worse than this. David is about to fall completely. If Psalm 6 was written at this time, as I suggested above, “fall” means die (cf. Psalm 6:5). So this is a prayer in extremis. He is in danger of death. It is help now or never.

3. He has confessed (and is confessing) his sin. He is troubled by it (v. 18). The purpose of discipline is to bring confession and a corresponding change of life. That purpose has been accomplished. David has confessed his sin. Therefore, it is time for the chastisement to be lifted.

4. His enemies are numerous, and he is just one person (v. 19). What hope does one person have in such circumstances, if God abandons him? Enemies will overwhelm him. His only hope is if God is by his side.

5. He has been good to his enemies, even though they are now being evil to him. Therefore, their words about him are slanderous (v. 20). At first glance it may seem strange that David claims to have done good in a psalm containing a confession of his sin. But it is not strange. In fact, it is an accurate description of all who are God’s people. God’s people sin, but if they are truly God’s people, their real (or renewed) natures are nevertheless set on doing good. Therefore, it is not right that those committed to evil should triumph over them ultimately.

With all this description and pleading behind him, David now makes his final prayer (vv. 21, 22), and it is that God will not abandon him or be far from him in his sickness, as his friends and companions have been, but rather come to him quickly and help him.

Will God do it? Of course, he will, for God is his Savior. This last line, like similar statements elsewhere, is the very theme of the Bible. We can never stress it enough: “Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), or, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Nobody else brings salvation. We cannot achieve it for ourselves. But it exists, and it is provided for all who, like David, confess their sins and wait upon God for his sure help and deliverance.

Study Questions:

  1. What arguments does David give for why God should hear his prayer? How can you use them when you go through suffering?
  2. Why does David claim to be pursuing what is good (v. 20) when he is suffering because of his own sin?

Key Point: Nobody else brings salvation. We cannot achieve it for ourselves. But it exists, and it is provided for all who, like David, confess their sins and wait upon God for his sure help and deliverance.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Sick Man’s Cry for Help, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: All Alone

From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.

Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22

Psychiatrists tell us that people do not like to be around those who are suffering because they imagine themselves being in the same condition and do not like to think along those lines. So they stay away. This is probably true and undoubtedly also explains why people make cruel jokes about retarded people, the handicapped and others who have suffered physical misfortunes. But even if people don’t go to that extreme, they usually prefer the company of those who are prospering and having a good time. This is what David experienced. This section of the psalm describes his sense of isolation (vv. 10-14).

I do not think it is necessary to elaborate on the attitude of David’s friends, companions, neighbors and enemies, each of which is described in turn. The neglect of the former and the taunts of the latter left David speechless. He could not defend himself. Who can? All he could do was leave his case with God. What I do need to say is that the sense of isolation and alienation experienced by those who are seriously sick should encourage Christians to behave toward them in exactly the opposite way. Instead of avoiding those who are suffering, we should go to them—help them, serve them, comfort them. And Christians do. In fact, this is the one mark distinguishing the sheep from the goats, according to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. Among other things, the sheep looked after the sick and were rewarded for it.

Here is a point of application. If even King David, with all his many friends and courtiers, felt abandoned in his sickness, certainly you and I know people who feel the same way, perhaps someone in a nursing home or hospital or recovering at home from an illness. Make it a point to visit that person and do so on a regular basis, daily or weekly. If you do, you will have a reward both here and in heaven.

The third time David looks up from his state of physical and emotional suffering he tells the Lord that he will wait patiently for the answer to his prayer for deliverance: “I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God” (v. 15). It is usually impossible to say why one psalm follows another in the psalter, but in this case verse 15 may be the reason why Psalm 38 follows Psalm 37. The whole message of Psalm 37 was to trust God and wait for his deliverance, even though the wicked seem to prosper for a time. In Psalm 37 “wait for the LORD” is advised (cf. v. 34). In Psalm 38 waiting is practiced, and by the very person who gave the advice in Psalm 37.

Waiting is hard to do, especially for us. We live in an impatient age. Someone has said that a hundred years ago, if someone was taking a trip and missed the stagecoach, well, that was all right. He’d get the stagecoach next month. Today we get impatient if we miss one turn of the revolving door.

We can learn what it is to wait upon God from David, for David was a master and model of waiting. When Samuel first approached him, when he was just a youth, he was told that he would be the king of Israel. Yet this did not happen for several decades, and during many of those years David was a fugitive hunted by his enemy King Saul. Even after Saul’s death in battle against the Philistines, David remained a king in Hebron for seven years before being asked to rule over the entire nation. And even later, when his son Absalom revolted against him, David was content to wait for God to rescue him and vindicate his cause. Derek Kidner says, “His fugitive years, his Hebron period and his attitude to Absalom’s revolt, all proved the sincerity of his prayer in 15f., and of his advice in Psalm 37.”4

David was not utterly inactive, of course. He was praying—and composing his prayers, which is why we have Psalms 6 and 38. But the very fact that he was praying meant that he was leaving the outcome of his sickness and trial with God.

Study Questions:

  1. Why do people often feel uncomfortable around others who are suffering in some way?
  2. Read vv. 10-14. Have you experienced what David describes?
  3. While waiting on God, what did David do? What can we learn from him?

Application: Do you know anyone who might feel a sense of isolation now? What will you do to reach out to them?

4Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 155.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Sick Man’s Cry for Help, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: A Second Prayer

From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.

Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22

Yesterday we saw that in the case of Job, his suffering was not because he had sinned, but, rather, it was a demonstration before Satan that a human being will love God for who he is and not just for what the person can receive from him.

Another purpose of suffering is explained in the case of the man who had been blind from birth, recorded in John 9. The disciples of Jesus wanted to make an easy link between sin and suffering, asking, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (v. 2)? But Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, … but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). In other words, God had chosen to glorify himself through the man’s suffering, in this case by having Jesus heal his blindness.

But neither of these is an explanation of David’s suffering. David was suffering for sin, and as long as we are sinners you and I have to recognize this as a possibility. I suggest we ask the following when we undergo some great calamity or sickness:

1. “Have I sinned or gotten off the track of obedience to what I know I should be doing, and is this setback God’s way of getting me back on track and into fellowship with him?” I do not think we need to be too introspective in the way we ask this question, certainly not morbid in digging up a catalogue of past failures which we can then exaggerate in our confessions. If God is using sickness to stop us short and bring us back to himself, he will make clear that this is what he is doing. Otherwise it would be a futile exercise. If God is doing this with you, you will know it, just as David did.

2. “Is God using this to trim off some rough edges of my personality and develop a more Christ-like character in me?” We may not like hard times, but they do produce character. If nothing else, God may be developing in us a sensitivity to others who are going through similar times of suffering, so we will be able to help them.

3. “Is God using my suffering as a stage upon which his name and wisdom may be glorified? Is it a place for me to show that I love him for who he is, entirely apart from whatever material and physical benefits he may have given me?” This is the hardest of God’s purposes for us to see and accept.

It is why Job is such an outstanding Old Testament example. Still, there should be an element of this in anything we suffer, simply because we are told to glorify God in everything we do, suffering included. This theme is also in Psalm 38. For although David confesses that he is being judged for his sin—God has made this clear to him—he is nevertheless glorifying God in the way he deals with it. Primarily, he is not faulting God, but is instead praising God as the source of mercy and salvation.

I wrote earlier that whenever David turns his eyes from his suffering to God, he seems to move a step forward spiritually and experience a calmer frame of mind. We see this in his second prayer (v. 9). In the earlier verses he has been describing his sickness. He has no health in his body (v. 3). His bones are affected (v. 3). Loathsome wounds cover his flesh (v. 5). His back is filled with searing pain (v. 7). Besides, he is overwhelmed with guilt (v.4), so that his very spirit is crushed and he groans in anguish (v. 8). Now he reminds himself that this is known to God already. All his longings, sighs and sufferings are plain to God’s eyes.

Sometimes we refer to the prayer that contains the words “before whom all hearts are open, all desires known.” It is a prayer of confession, and the words are a sobering reminder that all sins are known to God. But it is also true that our suffering is likewise known to God. Nothing that comes into our lives escapes his watchful eye, and he is concerned for us in everything that happens. So when David says, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you,” this is a truly comforting reassurance. Others may not know about us, or care. But God does both and does both perfectly. When we see this our natural anxieties begin to lessen and our trust grows.

Study Questions:

  1. What examples from Scripture teach us that not all suffering and sickness is a punishment for sin?
  2. Review the three questions we should ask when we go through a difficult time.

Application: Are you going through a very hard situation now, and you are not sure what the Lord is trying to achieve in it? How can the three questions asked in the lesson help you?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Sick Man’s Cry for Help, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Opening Prayer

From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.

Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22

One thing immediately strikes us about the opening prayer: it is identical (in the Hebrew, almost identical) to the first verse of Psalm 6, which is the first of the penitential psalms. In fact, the two psalms bear very close resemblances. True, Psalm 6 is shorter, only ten verses as opposed to twenty-two. Psalm 38 describes the illness at greater length as well as elaborating upon the desertion by the psalmist’s friends and the scheming of his enemies. But each of these elements is present in the earlier psalm too, which makes me think that they were probably written by David at about the same time and about the same situation. If a chronological order can be determined, it is probably that Psalm 38 comes first, because at the end of it David is praying for God to hear him and help him, while at the end of Psalm 6 he declares that God has.

In each psalm David’s specific prayer is that God will not rebuke him in anger or discipline him in wrath. Does this mean that David does not want to be rebuked or that he is rejecting discipline? Not at all! The emphasis is not upon the discipline but upon the words “anger” and “wrath.” What David is asking is that God not discipline him in anger. And he is asking this because the severity of his illness suggests that this is precisely what God is doing.

Psalm 6 gives us the right direction at this point. For immediately after his appeal to God not to rebuke him in anger or discipline him in wrath, David cries, “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint” (v. 2). And later in the psalm he adds, “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy” (v. 9). David is not suggesting that he does not deserve the sickness that has come on him. He is not faulting God. He deserves the anger, but he is asking God to show mercy instead. This is always a proper way to appeal to God. It is always right to ask for mercy. We cannot demand it. We have no claim to it. But God is a merciful God, and no one who has cried to God for mercy has ever gone away empty handed. God has never turned a deaf ear to any honest cry.

The next section (vv. 2-8) describes the psalmist’s physical and mental anguish. Physical, because he is suffering. Mental, because he is suffering for sin. The words “because of,” repeated three times in verses 3 and 5, leave no doubt that in David’s mind this was a judicial illness. He was being punished for a serious transgression.

Not all sickness is punishment, however. In fact, most sickness is not. It is important to say this, because physical suffering often depresses us mentally, and in such depressions we are inclined to see connections between our past sins and our present sickness that do not necessarily exist.

We need to remember Job, who was a righteous man and yet suffered. God described Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job. 1:8). In Job’s case, his suffering was a demonstration before Satan that a human being will love God for who God is and not just for what the person can get out of him. Job proved God’s point when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (v. 21).

Study Questions:

  1. What is David’s specific prayer in this psalm? Why?
  2. Describe David’s attitude in seeking God’s mercy?

Reflection: Can you recount any recent experiences where you were praying for God to help you in some way, and saw him work in a wonderful way?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Sick Man’s Cry for Help, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Looking to God

From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.

Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22

Psalm 38 is listed among the penitential psalms because of its confession of sin in verses 3-5 and 18.1 David, who is identified as the author in the title, does not actually name his sin in this psalm but rather asks for mercy and help from God because of the terrible sickness, loneliness and isolation he has experienced because of it. He says that God sent the sickness “because of his sinful folly” (v. 5). The psalm is actually a lament, or simply a prayer. Peter C. Craigie says, “Psalm 38 is a prayer… evoked by the experience of sickness and the consequent sense of alienation from both God and fellow human beings.”2

Here are two introductory questions:

1. Is the psalm written by David? The only real objection to David being the author is that it describes a very poor state of physical health on the writer’s part, and we do not have anything like this recorded of David in the Old Testament. But that is a very inadequate argument. It amounts to the expectation that the Bible owes us an account of every time David got sick or at least every time he got seriously sick, and there is no reason why it should do this. I have argued elsewhere that serious illness was certainly more frequent in ancient societies than today, when we have wonder drugs and modern medicine, and that would make it so commonplace that there would be no reason to mention it or even think twice about it unless it had some bearing on an important historical event. David was certainly sick many times in his life. So the only thing unusual about this description is that he sees his illness as a punishment by God for his sin.

2. What is the psalm’s outline? It can be handled in a variety of ways. The psalm begins and ends with prayers for God’s mercy and help. In between it describes the psalmist’s experience, which in turn can be divided into a description of the illness itself followed a description of the sense of isolation it produced. The latter part also speaks about enemies.

But there is another way of looking at the psalm, which Charles Haddon Spurgeon suggests and which I have found helpful. That is, in addition to the opening and closing prayers, there are also prayers in verses 9 and 15. So the psalm is actually one in which David repeatedly alternates between describing his condition and praying. Spurgeon says, “The psalm opens with a prayer (v. 1), continues in a long complaint (vv. 2-8), pauses to dart an eye to heaven (v. 9), proceeds with a second tale of sorrow (vv. 10-14), interjects another word of hopeful address to God (v. 15), a third time pours out a flood of griefs (vv. 16-20), and then closes as it opened, with renewed petitioning (vv. 21, 22).”3 I like this outline because David seems to take a step forward in faith and increased calmness of spirit with each glance in God’s direction.

Study Questions:

  1. Why don’t we hear about David’s terrible illness anywhere else in the Bible?
  2. Review the outline for this psalm.

1The complete list of these includes Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.
2Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 302.
3C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 198.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

When He Had Given Thanks, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: How to Give Thanks

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

So what should we do this Thanksgiving weekend? I suggest that we should follow our Lord’s example and thank God in each of these ways I have tried to point out in this study.

1. Give thanks for even the smallest things. Instead of thanking God for the big, obvious things you have received or been able to enjoy this past year, why not make it an exercise to thank him for the smallest things, which are the important things after all?

Thank him for the food on the table. Thank him for those who prepared it. Thank him for those who are present to enjoy it with you. Thank him for those who are not present but who love you and may be thinking of you and praying for you. Thank him for those who have died but who were used by God to bring spiritual nourishment into your life. Thank God for those who care about you spiritually today. Thank him for a place to live. Thank him for a place to worship. Thank him for the clothes you wear. There are people who do not have any of these things. Thank him for air to breathe and for such a beautiful world to live in and enjoy. Thank him for health and laughter and children and the fact that we can smile. Thank him for your mind. Thank him for good books to read. Thank him for the Bible.

2. Give thanks at all times. You have done that, particularly yesterday as you began to eat your Thanksgiving feast meal, I am sure. But do it every other day, too. Do it when you go to bed, and when you wake up tomorrow. Do it even when you start out on Monday morning to return to the regular weekly grind of work.

3. Give thanks in all circumstances. And if your circumstances are painful or unhappy or even just undesirable, thank him for those things too. It doesn’t mean that you have to call evil things good. Sin is still sin. Pain is still pain. Sickness is still sickness. Death is death. But Christians do not look at those things as unbelievers do. Bad things are still bad, but they are not the ultimate evil. The ultimate evil is to be separated from God for all eternity in hell, and that has been averted totally and forever for those who are in Christ.

What is more, God is able to accomplish his own good purposes even in the evil world. We can never doubt this if we remember that God accomplished the greatest of all goods, the salvation of his people, through the suffering and death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Since God’s purpose is to make us like Jesus Christ, whom we love, we can thank God even for the sufferings, for we know they are being used by God to form Christ’s beloved image in us. A few chapters earlier in Romans Paul wrote, “We… rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3, 4). We can be sure that no Christian will ever stand before God in heaven and have any reason to question the wisdom of God in what he has done in that individual’s life. He is God! He is good! He does everything well!

4. Give thanks publicly before other men and women. This may be hard for some people who have never given thanks publicly before. Some people are naturally shy. But that is all right. Your witness will carry even more weight because of your natural reluctance to speak about your gratitude to God openly. Can you imagine what a difference it would make in the moral tone of this country if even a percentage of those who are really Christians would regularly express their gratitude to God for their salvation (or for anything else) publicly? It might be the beginning of a revival. Why are you reluctant to thank God openly? Has he been secretive with you?

5. Give thanks to God. The last thing I have to say is: Give thanks to God. To God! There is nothing you have that is of any value at all that has not come from him. It may have come through human channels, even your own ability to earn money and buy the things you enjoy. But the channels are from God too, and the important things, those that are intangible—life, joy, friendship, peace of mind, contentment—these are from God directly, and you are sinning greatly if you fail to respond to him in gratitude.

Do you believe that? If you do, then speak it out publicly before the watching world.

Study Questions:

  1. Why should we give thanks to God?
  2. How often should we thank God?
  3. In what way do we know that God is able to accomplish good even in the midst of evil?

Application: Assign yourself a new reason to give thanks each day. Thank God for the perfect example of Jesus to teach you how to offer thanks. Allow him to teach you to be more thankful for all the circumstances of your life.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

When He Had Given Thanks, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: Giving Thanks Publicly

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

On this Thanksgiving Day, we continue our look at Jesus’ example to us in so small a matter as thanking God for his food.

4. We should give thanks publicly before other men and women. My fourth point is that we should give thanks publicly. Obviously Jesus did. That is why the disciples were able to observe it and why the gospel writers were able to record his thanksgiving in the books that bear their names. In the gospel of Matthew, from which our text is taken, Jesus thanked God publicly before 5,000 men as well as many additional women and children. “Ah,” you say, “but prayer is a private thing. I thank God privately.” That is good. You should. But you should also thank him publicly, as Jesus did. What does public thanksgiving accomplish?

First, it honors God. When we thank God before other men and women we are pointing out to them that God is a good God and well worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. That is an important testimony to give before the watching world, which thinks that God is indifferent at best and probably hostile. We should remember that one characteristic of the unbelieving world, according to Paul’s analysis in Romans, is that it is not thankful. Paul wrote, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). There is no heart so dark as one that is unable to thank God for anything.

Second, public thanksgiving identifies us with God. It is a way of saying that whatever happens in this unbelieving and sinful world, whatever we may suffer either for our own sins or for the sins of others, we nevertheless stand with God. We acknowledge him as God. We confess, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). We need to be witnesses of the grace of that most gracious and giving God to others.

5. We should give thanks to God. The last point is so obvious it almost goes without saying. But I should say it anyhow: We should give thanks to God. I mean by this not merely that we should be thankful, which is the point I have been making all along. I mean that we should be thankful to God. We express thanks to other people. We thank people who help us in the supermarket, who do work for us in the home, who smile or say a kind word. We are formally thankful to those who give us presents. It is rude not to be thankful or to fail to express thanks properly. But how reluctant we are to thank the great Almighty God from whom, in one way or another, all our other causes for thanksgiving come! How negligent! How embarrassing! How sinful!

Study Questions:

  1. What does public thanksgiving accomplish?
  2. How would you respond to someone who claims that prayer is a private thing, and thus he or she only prays privately and not publicly?

Reflection: For what are you most thankful this Thanksgiving?

Application: Send a note of encouragement to someone you know who shows a thankful spirit even in tough times. Also, find ways to thank God publicly in your speech. Pray for God to use that.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.