real faith, in the real world

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Psalm 22

I love the psalms because you find in them not some finger snapping easy answers. They’re real and true to life. Yes, this is fulfilled in Christ, but still it spoke in some true way of the experience of the psalmist and to our experience as well. We won’t find the faith and help God wants to give us apart from going through real life, not ducking the hard questions, and not trying to escape. Instead we must look to God in faith. And these words of the psalms along with the rest of Scripture can help us immensely. In and through Jesus.

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

our humble, faithful witness

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

It is important to be faithful day after day. I did not say perfect, but faithful. None of us is perfect; we’re not going to realize that in this life. But we’re to be faithful, which includes plugging away in what we have to do every day and doing so in a way that is a witness to those around us. That will include repentance on our part along the way, and growth in grace, as we seek to love others because of God’s love for us, and our love for God in return, in Christ.

I have found this to be powerfully and wonderfully true in my own experience. God can work wonders even through us, in spite of and perhaps even through our imperfection, but honest attempt to remain faithful. We want to be pleasing to God and a blessing to others. That is our goal. And God will help us as we continue on day after day. In and through Jesus.

one step at a time

It seems like many want something like an instant spirituality, or great leaps into a new experience which completely changes everything or more like one’s experience of everything.

The Bible certainly doesn’t exclude spiritual breakthroughs like Saul/Paul’s Damascus Road experience. But one will find out after a season of being on the mountaintop, that most of life is lived out in the valley. One will have to learn to walk with God through thick and thin, depending on the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. 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.)

God’s transcending care

ל Lamedh

Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

When I think of how God looks at us, I am reminded of our kitty cat, Cloe who we rescued a year ago, and our cat, Ashton, as well. They might be distressed and so be out of sorts in their cat experience, but our love for them continues as full and unabated as ever. So it is with God toward us. We often are lost in our experience, not feeling God’s love in the least, perhaps overcome with fear or something else. But God’s love remains: pure, unabated, infinite, far beyond what we could possibly take in or understand.

The psalmist has a sense of this. In pondering God’s directions, the psalmist finds hope and delight. And it’s through the real, sometimes seemingly soul crushing experiences of life. It’s with an eye toward God, completely dependent on him, believing in his mercy, entrusting one’s self entirely to him, and bringing one’s problems and difficulties before God in prayer. Knowing by faith that God and God’s love is actually present, even when we aren’t enjoying any of that at the moment. That God has everything well in hand in his transcending care. In and through Jesus.