in the not okay

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Yes, I believe our salvation is in Christ, and that it’s a grand and glorious salvation. But I distrust teaching or theology which has easy answers, and doesn’t seem to take seriously the struggle and plight we can find ourselves in, even if confined largely to our experience. This is why we can turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. We find it’s for real people, and as we keep going, by faith we’ll come to see that God is just as real. To help us through. But sometimes we do feel alone and overcome. And if I judge correctly through this psalm, that’s okay.

the good’s shepherd’s presence in the midst of danger (or threatening circumstances)

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

We live in a time of upheaval when people for one reason or another feel threatened. And there’s no seclusion or real safety from the dangers of this world. Darkness threatens us in one way or another, the absence of light.

What is likely pictured here is evil in terms of life threatening enemies (see Psalm 23:5). The rod and the staff comforting the sheep with the awareness that the shepherd is present to protect them (see NET Bible footnotes).

Maybe we’re not faced with actual life threatening enemies. Darkness can still overtake us for many reasons. As Christians we know we’re up “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-20). What is called “the dark night of the soul,” is a part of life. And there can be struggles with mental illness which from what I’ve read can be a choking deep darkness.

Whatever darkness or lack of light we face, we can know by faith and be assured that the good shepherd is present with us. That our experience is not what’s definitive, but God’s promise to us in Jesus. That God in Christ experienced the deepest darkness to help us through our dark places and bring us into his wondrous light.

Life and certain seasons of life can seem threatening, certainly not for the faint of heart. But our dependence is not to be on ourselves and what courage we might be able to muster. But on God, who promises to see us through everything, whatever it is. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

where is our attention turned?

Nowadays with social media we have everything good, bad, and in between at our fingertips. There’s no end to what we can access, and to the time we can waste on things that may not be bad in themselves, but are not the best.

Yes, we have certain hobbies, or interests which usually are perfectly legitimate in themselves. And actually we should enjoy such. But we need to beware lest we lose out on what is most important.

We need to turn our attention to God’s revelation in Christ, and to the Scriptures to see this. Yes, to Scripture, because it, the Bible, is God’s written word pointing us to God’s Word in Jesus.

This will make all the difference. Like as in light and darkness, good and evil, peace and unrest, hope and despair. Trying to grind through another day, or instead trusting in God, depending on him for all the help one needs. And to work one’s way through the difficult places of life. In and through Jesus.

glimmers of light in our darkness

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

Ecclesiastes is a remarkable book and makes a remarkable contribution in the Book. But much of it is hard to really get hold of, and it’s interesting how Bible scholars interpret it differently. It seems to me to speak much truth in the midst of mystery, in the struggle to understand life. It is a reflective and pessimistic view of life, considering human toil and the actual result: how everything comes and goes over and over again.

The idea of God placing eternity, or a sense of the present and future (NRSV), or even darkness as in ignorance (NETNIV footnote) in the human heart, that humans can’t understand what God is up to. That leaves us hanging a bit, but either way life ends up being a mystery. Either darkness, or with a sense of much more, yet not being able to come up with what that is on our own. Ecclesiastes to me seems to echo that last thought, frustration over the seeming randomness and senselessness, indeed meaninglessness of life. But with glimmers of light here and there, even as seen in the above passage. Even the idea that God has placed darkness as in ignorance in the human heart is itself a revelation, and therefore oddly enough, a light.

We have revelation and a sense of so much more, and yet we walk around in darkness. A part of our lives now. Which should help us reach out all the more, maybe even grope, but push and pull all the harder to look to God to live faithfully in his will in and through Jesus.

 

 

 

the cloudy days, the dark nights

There are times when we don’t see clearly enough. That’s because life is experienced. When we feel unsettled, that is when we can become prone to veer off course. Though at times that can be good, since we may not be on the right course. Unfortunately we can have a false light and peace as well, so we can’t live on our feelings. But the experience of our emotions is a part of life, of who we are as humans. One of the reasons that the psalms are so wonderful, since they help us work through our struggles with God.

Oftentimes the psalmist is beset by trouble, sometimes life threatening, or perceived as such. What helps us is to see the process. The psalmist doesn’t deny what they are passing through and experiencing. They question God, or even acknowledge that they feel lost, seemingly are lost. But they also acknowledge their faith in God, in God’s goodness, and in light of God’s might saving acts. And they end up by and by praising him.

That is what I’ve found again and again. Though it really is hard when we’re smack dab in the middle of the storm, or darkness. Or when we go through a long season in which we know the sun is present, but the sky is overcast, sometimes threatening. And the sun hardly if at all ever breaks through. But in time the trouble will pass. Or more precisely, God’s light and the peace that brings will break through. As we experience something of God’s saving work in and through Jesus.

Here’s one of the psalms that illustrate the point made here:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

humility and truth

Under our Modernist Enlightenment influence, we view truth as something verifiable, but rather open ended, and with both the objective and subjective sides. But it’s something we can more or less measure in terms of human observation. And there’s a grain of truth in that through creation. The Postmodern emphasis is on the subjective, and what we can’t really know, and how we really have no moorings except what might well be “true” for ourselves. And there’s actually some truth in that, as well.

The Biblical take is in a sense to equate humility and truth. Pilate asked Jesus skeptically, “What is truth?” Jesus had told Pilate that all who are on the side of truth listen to Jesus. We can say for our purposes here that truth is that which corresponds to reality, in other words, truth is that which is true. And humility is the acceptance of reality. But there’s more. At the heart of this in the Biblical take is the acceptance of God as the truth, Jesus and the gospel being the truth, and that truth revealing the truth about all else, especially ourselves, and our own need. We are exposed in that light of truth, and either in humility accept that verdict against ourselves, or in pride resist and reject it.

Both humility and truth are something we should seek (Zephaniah 2:3). We find it through the gospel, the good news of Jesus. And this is ongoing. It’s not just a one time entry point, when we find it and have arrived. No, we have to keep after it all the rest of our lives in and through Jesus and the gospel, because we are ever so prone to wander into pride and the subtle (and not so subtle) lies that accompany that.

trials as opportunities

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Who likes trials? No one. And for me they often come in the form of thoughts, but about real life situations. And so I try to ferret everything out as best I can. I try to pray according to Philippians 4:6-7, trying to practice all that verses 4-9 include. Certainly in an imperfect, broken way, but sincerely.

And by and by the Lord somehow gives me relief. And in one way or another, either a sense of growth, though that usually takes some time, not just over one episode. Though if I can handle it well enough, that is cause for encouragement. And another way is  through a new thought that comes my way, which itself may have nothing to do with the trial itself, but more with the kind of reaction I need to have regarding it.

At any rate, as hard as it’s going to be at the time, we need to develop the mindset and attitude that sees trials of whatever sort as opportunities. Just like the passage quoted above tells us.

Of course there are the places of deepest darkness through which we may need to pass which I’m not sure qualify for actual trials, but are more like life changers. I think of a person losing a loved one through an unexpected physical malady or accident. Maybe in some sense that might qualify as trials, but I hesitate to place it here, in what James is referring to. Perhaps what might fit into what James is saying, during such times, would be when we are faced with new problems which indeed are trials as the result of such happenings. But I hesitate to see even that in this category.  God is certainly at work in all things for our good, but that doesn’t mean at all that those things God is at work in are good themselves.  But we can be confident, whatever it is, that God will bring us through to the other side. And will be with us the whole way, throughout our lives in our brokenness and loss.

Trials as opportunities. May we more and more learn to see them that way with God’s help, as God’s word tells us to, in and through Jesus.

muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this in and through Jesus.

holding on to the vision

Yesterday the post about what (or who) were looking at, along with the post the day before, no condemnation or corresponding fear for those who are in Christ Jesus, present a vision which actually speaks of both the reality and possibility for those who are in Christ.

It is difficult to really get hold of a vision, so that one catches a glimpse of what really changes everything. And even more difficult it is to hold on to that vision.

What we’re considering here is like a getaway in which we have a mountaintop experience, followed afterward by life in the valley, where sooner or later the hard facts of life, including our own mistakes and the aftermath, again take over, and grip us, so that the vision is lost.

First of all, visions as in experiences do come and go. Someday in the life to come, the experience will surely remain with all the variables mixed in that. But in this present life we have to deal with factors which depending on what they are, and on our own disposition, can bring us down into a kind of heavy, crushing darkness.

Again, we have to get back to basics, and determine by God’s grace in Jesus to live there. Those basics are not dependent on our circumstances, nor on anything else, but on God’s promise in Jesus, the good news in him, period. God’s heart of love is expressed in that, and is indeed unwavering toward us. But living down here often makes it seem otherwise.

Faith is essential here. Truth remains the same, but faith lays hold of it in the sense that it lives accordingly. God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new birth in and through Jesus with all that is involved in that (justification, sanctification, etc.) is ours. And that does make a difference, even when we feel like it doesn’t, even when we’re in the darkest depths. But God wants us to live in another reality, according to the promise given to us in Jesus. And through that, God wants to give us another vision of how things really are, how the new life in Jesus, even the eternal life impacts us now, so that we can live to praise of the glory of God’s grace in a way which is renewing and life-giving, not only to ourselves, but potentially to others, as well.

Something I’m working on through the word and prayer, along with meditation and reflection, now. What thoughts might you add to this?

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).