torn from limb to limb (living in the real world)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?

“All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.”

Job 7:1; 14:14b; NRSVue

Job had not only lost his children to disaster along with being devastated from head to toe, but he had no real human support. His wife had told him to curse God and die, and his friends’ promise in being with him seven days without a word turned into a correction which was nothing more to him than hollow, empty platitudes.

When one is beat up physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, you name it, we can easily add to that spiritually, because it’s easy to become despondent and potentially prey for more. Thankfully though that’s not the end of the story in Job, nor of our own story, or the world’s story.

But we have to be ready for such an experience, although really you can never be quite ready, if so at all. But at least when it comes it doesn’t have to take us completely by surprise.

God will help us in answer to prayer. Like in the case of Job, we might have to argue with God with a faith that doesn’t let go, but insists on God’s answer, God’s help.

Faith in such darkness and difficulty doesn’t put on a happy face and pretend all is good. Yet such faith also always looks insistently to the One who can and ultimately will intervene and is present before that day comes to help us all the way through. In and through Jesus.

in praise of mourning

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4; NRSVue

“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b; NRSVue

We all have to be careful, and I’m thinking especially of myself, because we can easily try to contradict something which actually in its place is quite true. Even while we too may be making a valid point. We may well be talking past each other, myself addressing something which really has nothing to do with what I think I might be correcting.

So there’s indeed need for people who are depressed, down, in despair, easily emotional, given to weeping to get professional help from a counselor, maybe a psychologist or psychiatrist, and perhaps to get medical help as well. There’s no shame in that. It can be not only the right thing to do, but absolutely necessary. Let there be no doubt about that.

I have gone down that course before, and it did help. But the meds had their side effects, and I thought I would rather be in my old normal state of kind of feeling down much of the time, and sometimes pretty depressed, though never to the point that I couldn’t carry on every day with everything, though that could make challenging times seem harder. I have never been diagnosed as being depressed.

At the same time, I’m wondering if we’re of a disposition nowadays to think that if we’re down, then we’re out. Do we have to feel good much of the time, maybe all the time, that serotonin kicking in? Yes, again you and I down the road might need special help. We must never ever give into despair. If we’re even heading that direction, then we need special help.

At the same time to lament over the world at large, and over our own world with the troubles people face, the intractable difficulties we ourselves face, along with the brokenness all around us in evil, danger and death, that is very much a Biblical response to life. There is nothing wrong with not feeling good at times, and in mourning. Yes, there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Yes, we do need some good belly laughs.

But by and large I think and feel that it’s not only okay, but good to be down given the brokenness of this world, of our present existence. As we see in the passages, Jesus said such is blessed by God. When we’re down we’re more prone to look up in prayers to God. We can tend to become more dependent on God, and less on ourselves, less even on circumstances. It can be a part of a needed humbling.

May the Lord give us all the wisdom we need. May we see sorrow, lament, and weeping as a gift from God. God’s comfort and peace even sense of joy helping us in all of this. In and through Jesus.

opened eyes (from God)

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Psalm 73:15-24; NRSVue

It is easy to be down in the mouth and grumble. And after all, there are terrible things going on in the world. And we’re faced with difficulties in our own worlds that seem hard to navigate. I remember working with an older man years ago who was quite sour. I think he loved God, but the downsides of life had seemingly gotten the best of him. That’s my memory of him, sadly enough.

What if instead we could be like the psalmist above? The entire psalm is one of those many gems in scripture. But what’s quoted above is enough to get the point. We need new perspective, to have our eyes opened. Frankly for me it’s like gravity. I naturally sink back into being downcast, in despair, and therefore down in the mouth if I do speak or speak too much. What I find I need is God’s lifting, opening my eyes to see what only God can help me see. And this shouldn’t be just an individual endeavor, but a group- indeed church endeavor, as well. But the psalmist is talking about themselves. They would be an example to others and potentially influential especially hopefully to those younger.

God’s word and revelation is what picked the psalmist up. The same goes for us. When the world for whatever reason seems closing in on us, God wants to and can and will open up a completely new vista, new view to us. And help us become settled in that, no longer unsettled in the other. Something we’ll have to continue to receive in this life. In and through Jesus.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

how do we grow? trials

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

I recently heard a pastor say essentially that we don’t grow except through trials. I don’t know if that’s an overstatement. They have been in the ministry a good number of years and are older than many of us themselves, and I know they have far more wisdom through that pastoral experience and in their lives than I do. It seems to me we might mount an argument from passages like 2 Peter 1 to say that growth can occur apart from trials. But it does seem true to a significant extent as we consider our own lives and the lives of others. It’s so easy to drift, which results in actually diminishing in our spiritual life. We probably don’t just remain the same. We are probably growing or losing ground. Well, that’s some speculation.

But we’re clearly told here at the beginning of this letter how we’re to approach trials of any kind. That we’re to consider such as nothing but joy. That is not easy to swallow, but that is to be our mindset and attitude. It is sadly easier to wallow in fear, despair and grief. Instead we’re to approach each in an active faith, as well as passive in the correct sense, that of receiving from God. And we’re to look at life that way, all the problems and troubles we face, and again, whatever kind they might be. No exceptions.

I find this so helpful myself. There are many reasons left to ourselves to be down in the mouth and simply wanting to escape. But God wants us to meet all of life head on, but in full dependence on the Lord, along with interdependence on each other. But finding our way so that we can stand on our own, but only because of God, along with the help of others along the way. What God has for each one of us. In and through Jesus.

hope in the midst of despair

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

In the midst of chaos and rubble; humiliation, loss and darkness many of Israel were experiencing and had experienced- and one has to read this book to realize and more than shudder at the full impact, at what actually happened- well in the midst of all that, we have this great word of hope. Yes, actually kind of sandwiched in between despair.

We can be assured of God’s faithfulness in terms of goodness, no matter what. Even if we experience setbacks and loss and even if our sin was a factor in that, we can still have hope. Why? Because of God’s merciful love, because of God’s great faithfulness.

God wants to put us on track. But that doesn’t mean we might not have to walk through some difficult spaces. God is at work in all of that, somehow for good, if we’ll only trust him through it all.

Lamentations is indeed a book of lament. Needed lament, and we need to learn to lament. See the psalms and elsewhere, as well. Pouring out our hearts and minds to God, being silent. While also remembering God’s great faithfulness. God is for us, even when we and others have failed, and are living in the fallout of that. And God is faithful. We can be assured of that. In and through Jesus.

fighting and longing

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life summed up something of it with the above the words. When you read of Paul’s life in Scripture both from Acts, and through his letters, especially 2 Corinthians, you see just how true this was. He was indeed in a fight spiritually, and it was Christ-centered in the hope and promise of Christ by God in the Spirit.

I find it easy to lose heart for a number of reasons. For just one thing, I’m not Paul. He may well have been haunted by his past (watch the wonderful film, Paul, Apostle of Christ), but his failure was pre-conversion. For some of us, we’ve had failures post-conversion. Not that we all don’t need grace in forgiveness along the way, for we most certainly do. But it’s easy to lose heart for any number of reasons, and especially so when we’ve gotten off track ourselves.

Encouragingly Paul lumps others with him who simply long for the Lord’s appearing. If we want Christ to return so that this mess will be fixed in God’s final judgment and salvation, at long last this old creation being replaced with the new creation, which includes us and everything else, then we’re in good company for sure. And with that longing, God will put the fight back in us. The fight and the longing seem to go together.

Longing includes the sense of not arriving in this life. If we’re looking for a faith through Christianity that brings us to a sense of having arrived, then we won’t find it. There’s no such thing. For us in Christ the fight and longing go together. We continue to press on, knowing we haven’t arrived. But intent in heading for the goal.

In the end we may not be able to say that we ran the entire race well. But at least we can hopefully say that we finished the race and kept the faith. In and through Jesus.

a reviving hope

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

It is easy in this world given all the sin, our own included, simply to lose hope. We fail along the way, or have failed. Others let us down. The circumstances of life weigh heavily on us. We lose hope.

Something like that had happened to Israel of old. They were guilty to be sure. They had not listened to God, had not been faithful to God. And yet God was moving in judgment and salvation to call his people back to himself. That in itself is a note of hope.

Israel might have felt they were past the point of no return. Not true with God. There is not only hope in this life, but we find that hope in God. We may think we’re undeserving, and that’s certainly the case, or that we may have crossed a line outside of God’s mercy and grace. That all there’s left for us is judgment. But God has something different to tell us.

We’re to hope in God and not give into despair based on our own limited understanding. When we put our hope in God, certainly waiting is part of that, but it’s more like God meets us then and there at least to strengthen us to carry on, as we await God’s good work. What we can count on here and now. In and through Jesus.

 

when overwhelmed with darkness

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

Sometimes, especially for some of us, we feel quite down and not far from despair. At times lack of sleep may be the culprit; we need proper sleep. But some of us easily drift into this state of despondency when so much seems wrong to us, or when at least we don’t feel good inside.

This is so very true with the psalmist here. Someone said they made darkness an idol. I don’t agree at all. They were simply stating their experience to God.

The crucial point for us to hold on to when we’re struggling is the importance of addressing our concerns and baring our heart to God, holding nothing back. We can see that eloquently done in this psalm.

I like the way this psalm ends with a sense of being stuck in the mire, lost in the darkness, akin to “the dark night of the soul.” Because it’s real to life, not some phony pretense of saying “All is well” when it’s not.

Fortunately the Bible and the psalms don’t end there. God is good and God will work everything out for good. When we don’t see the good, when essentially we don’t feel good, we need to practice what the psalmist does here. Cry out to God, and keep talking to God, looking to God for the help that only God can give. In and through Jesus.

(Medical and/or psychological help may also be needed. Some of us are just more prone this way, but others need special help. And that can include any of us. So we need to be open to that possibility, as well.)

the insight and strength needed

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.