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.

not giving up

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

The point Jesus was making in the parable was that rather than give up, his disciples should always pray. Straightforward enough? The parable is followed with an application and challenge.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:2-8

Oftentimes we give up because we haven’t prayed, but have tried to solve the problem or bring about the outcome ourselves. One of the key things I’ve learned all too late is to get out of the way and just pray, pray, and pray some more. And watch God’s answer come, maybe oh so slowly in forming an answer which might take months and years.

Jesus would seem to be suggesting that we will either be people of ongoing prayer or else we’ll lose heart and despair. It’s either give up, or pray.

Our tendency is toward prayerlessness just as Jesus might be implying when he asks if at his return there will be faith on the earth. When I’ve given up and lost hope, it’s then I need to start a path in the opposite direction by simply praying. It will take time, but we’ll begin to see a change in ourselves before we see the change were looking for in answer to our prayers. Prayer will make the needed difference toward blessing in other people’s lives, even as we are changed in the process from those who have given up to those who believe in God’s goodness, and don’t stop looking to him in prayer for his answers.

It’s our choice. Either pray or simply give up.

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.

persistent prayer

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

1 Kings 18

God was confronting Israel over its idolatry and the evil that came with that. The land was suffering from drought. We see in this chapter what probably Elijah is best remembered for, God making himself known as God, and Baal as no god.

What follows that is most interesting. Elijah tells King Ahab (his wife, Jezebel) that there is the sound of heavy rain coming. There’s not a cloud in the sky. And then Elijah goes off and prays, literally on his knees. And his request is for rain. He was surely led to thus speak to King Ahab, and then to pray. But it didn’t come easily.

Six times Elijah prayed with seemingly no answer. But the seventh time a small cloud emerged. Elijah then somehow knew God had answered, and sent word to King Ahab to be ready, precisely to escape the downpour. And then we read more Elijah like stuff. God’s power comes on him, and he runs by foot, and actually outruns King Ahab on Ahab’s chariot. Remarkable stuff.

But we can’t forget the entire narrative, what follows. Elijah is paralyzed in fear over Jezebel’s threats, and comes crashing down into a depression in which he asks God to take his life, feeling in despair and clearly exaggerating that he was the only follower of God left. James points to this incident for our application today:

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

And notice what preceded that:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5

We’re to pray, and keep on praying until God’s answer comes. Really pray. What people used to call, “pray through.” We may need to pray only one time. But ordinarily we’ll have to pray repeatedly for whatever reasons. Something God has given us, a vital role for us to play here and now, in and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s biggest lies (in my life)

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:7-10

A long time ago (it seems now), I lost heart and gave up in my life. Somehow I had failed to step across the doorway, or more like the abyss, by faith, of what I perceived to be God’s calling for me. There are so many factors in this; it’s not all that simple. But the giving up part was one key part of what turned out to be the devil’s deception (not to mention self-deception: see James 1). There was more to the deception than that. But that was a major aspect of it. And I would add here, the act of faith required was not just a step, but a continual walk, plodding along day after day come what may. We are never clear of the possibility of the devil’s deception.

This passage in Galatians captures something of the heart of this, and important aspects of it. It’s a matter of not sowing to the flesh, but instead, to the Spirit. It’s one or the other. Destruction is what is reaped from sowing to the flesh. Eternal life is reaped from sowing to the Spirit. So we’re to not become weary in doing good, since we’ll reap a harvest at the proper time, if we don’t give up. And then the great application: We’re therefore to do good to others: to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.

It’s so easy even now, and it was so for myself at a key point in my life, just to think all is lost, or there’s no use. Really, one has to know better. But we are human, like sheep so easily led off the path, and especially so when we get off on our own apart from the needed help of the Lord through others (Galatians 6:2). We need to keep on keeping on. Which sometimes means getting up, dusting ourselves off, and proceeding. Yes, by the Spirit; the Spirit present to help us help each other in and through Jesus.

for the downcast from the psalms

BOOK II

Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Psalm 42-43

“In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm” (NIV footnote). I am working on memorizing and meditating on this passage right now. It speaks powerfully to me in ways I sorely need.

Anyone who would get to know me would learn I can be downcast. Though I’m surprised and relieved, really over people near me not picking up on that. But my wife knows. The psalmist here engages both in some self-talk, and in reflection before God within the community of faith. We sorely and desperately need that for various reasons.

The psalmist struggled with what we might call depression today. And with some good reason. Things weren’t the same as in days past, and people were questioning both his faith, and his God as a result.

But the psalmist turns to God in a questioning yet sincere faith, and finds hope. In fact to just turn to God was what we might say, the cure for his depression. Hope sprung to life in his heart. Even in the midst of the ruin and despair.

A good passage for me, for us all to reflect on, and pray over. In and through Jesus.

the call to prayer

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 42

Sometimes there is nothing we can do, but groan. When life seems overwhelming, and we’re at a complete loss to know what to do. Or when we lose hope, or are near despair. When some things make sense, but others make no sense at all.

God would help us during such times to simply be still and quiet before him. Yes, to cry out to him. But above all to be in the kind of prayer that is looking to God for what might be said, or probably better yet, what God could put on our hearts, even write on them.

The Spirit is present in and through Jesus to help us. Individually and together. To seek and find God’s good will for us, and for others. In the love of God that is always and forever present no matter what, in and through Jesus.

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8

Jesus buried

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Mark 15:42-47

Jesus dead and buried meant to the disciples that whatever it was that was coming, that they were anticipating, even if they would acknowledge that they had more questions than anything else, was now dead and gone. Ended. Period.

Unlike the Eleven, Joseph of Arimathea (along with Nicodemus in another gospel account) felt far enough removed from Jesus to not feel threatened by his sentence and execution. He did what needed to be done in honoring Jesus.

Metaphorically, I would like to think that whatever dreams I might have, or have had in my life are to be dead and buried with Jesus, so that what can arise is nothing short of God’s will in the new life raised with him. Baptism is a picture of that (Romans 6). It’s not like God doesn’t give us dreams, but the point is that they need to come from God. So much of the flesh, not to mention the world and the devil can get in.

I wonder if something like that wasn’t happening even to Jesus’s disciples on that day. Their dreams were dead and gone. They didn’t get what Jesus had told him at least three times: that he would suffer, be crucified, and on the third day rise. That made no sense to them. So they were surely in despair. It is hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ place, even impossible since we can’t escape the knowledge of what followed, and all that has come from that.

We need to be ready to let go of whatever dreams we have for the dream and vision God would give us. We are to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6). For nothing less than God’s good will in Jesus. In and through him: his death, burial, and yes, his resurrection. Amen.