victory in the stress and strain

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

There is no end to stress in this life. And at times it’s heightened, so that we call it “distress.”

Our help always and forever is in God. When we’re in over our heads and can’t see our way forward, that’s when God’s salvation is needed. We are unfit ourselves. Our only qualification and ability is received indeed as a gift in and through Jesus, God’s anointed one. We who are in Christ are part of God’s victory in Christ.

It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we receive this gift. God helps us desire what is really good: God’s will. And answers our prayers to that end. We have to hold on to faith in him through all of that.

Does that mean that all will go perfectly in this life? No. What it does mean is that through the stress and strain of it all, God will give us victory, and enable us to be part of that. Again, not in our own strength and ability. But only 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 help upstream

ר Resh

Look on my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law.
Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise.
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees.
Your compassion, LORD, is great;
preserve my life according to your laws.
Many are the foes who persecute me,
but I have not turned from your statutes.
I look on the faithless with loathing,
for they do not obey your word.
See how I love your precepts;
preserve my life, LORD, in accordance with your love.
All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:153-160

Oftentimes we feel like we’re rowing upstream, in other words, against the tide. While so many others are going with the flow, doing what everyone else supposedly does. And we can be looked on as strange and even estranged as a result.

During such times we need to hold on to God’s word and God’s promises, and not be moved from them. It’s all too easy for us to forget them for a moment in reaction to our trouble and troublers. Instead we need to continue to look to God and his word. Believing that God will help us to continue on in his will and way in and through Jesus.

 

 

for those who often don’t feel all that well

ד Daleth

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

There’s not much room in Christian evangelical circles for people like me. A person who often feels “laid low in the dust.” And when people ask me how I am, it’s usually “pretty good.” Some people would call that down in the mouth, not rejoicing and living in the joy of the Lord as I should. That somehow my mind and faith isn’t right.

We come to God just as we are, and we don’t try to hide. We confess our sins, and pray God will keep us from deceitful ways, like justifying what we ought not to. We don’t let our inward struggle dictate what we do, of course only through God’s help.

I’m glad there are the psalms for people like me, which express the way I feel. “My soul is weary with sorrow…” But also with God’s help in the strength and provision given to us in answer to prayer, the prayer to live in God’s will with God’s answer forthcoming. For people like me, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

an old standby: the need to pray when in need

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 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 18:1-8

Prayer is something Christians often struggle with. As time goes on we likely pray more, but may feel that we pray less. Part of that I would guess is the growing sense we have of our need to pray. Ongoing growth means less satisfaction with where we’re at, whereas in our early days in Christ we simply enjoyed basking in the new found light and warmth of the Lord, finding that new life quite moving and revolutionary. It was in part God treating us as infants before “pruning” (John 15) us for growth.

Not that later on we can’t be relatively prayerless. Unfortunately we can, but I think the norm for those who are intentional in growing as Christians is to keep on praying, and gradually grow in doing so. Our inner poverty on the one hand can discourage us from praying, but on the other hand, can help us pray more, as we look to God for help.

In Jesus’s parable above, he is encouraging his disciples and us to persist in prayer, to pray and not give up. We’re to keep on praying no matter what, through good times, bad times, and everything in between. The context is especially when one is running up against need, even great need. The widow was in trouble, even in dire straits. And our Lord’s answer for us when we’re in a similar place: always pray and not give up.

Justice is in the picture. On the one hand, it’s not like we’re deserving of God’s help. And we’re often at least partly to blame for the predicament we’re in. But God is more than ready to give us what we need to do well and honor him in whatever situation we’re in. For too many Christians in the world, yes, injustice is rampant against them. They need our active love and prayers. And for us, yes, we need God’s help, as we try to work through difficult places in a way that both receives and dispenses what is right and just and good.

Note in Jesus’s parable the widow’s plea to the unjust judge was nothing fancy. It was a petition, indeed cry for help. We need not worry about some perceived need for some kind of fanciful churchy prayer language. We simply cry out in our own way of saying things. Yes, appealing to God’s promises in Scripture. But not holding back. Always praying and never giving up. Believing that God will grant justice, that God will help us in time of need. In and through Jesus.

 

the challenge and reward of trusting God

It’s a lifelong challenge, but there’s ever present, and pressing at times, the need to trust in God. Or we may not see that possibility, and think it all depends on us. Left to ourselves, we might actually do well. Though if we would only realize that our very existence, as well as what we can do is all a gift from God. But God wants to give us special help, if only we’ll look to him. In fact, God will let us fail, because we actually do need him.

I like to have a scripture passage on my post, or at least refer to scripture passages, but this is all over scripture. Open your Bibles most anywhere, and start to read, and it won’t take long to see something of this. Though of course scripture covers the entire gamut of life. But faith and trust in God is so central to what we need to do as human beings.

It’s also a lifelong opportunity. Instead of worrying ourselves sick, or trying to figure things out ourselves, we do well to turn to God, and to the counsel of scripture. Proverbs (see, I couldn’t resist mentioning some specific scripture) is full of practical, down to earth wisdom throughout. And we really need all of scripture. But that alone won’t do it. We also need to look to God as we’re in scripture, in God’s word and prayer. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

when everything seems uncertain, unsettled, with upheaval and change

There are times and seasons when one is in the midst of it. Where so many uncertainties exist, and when a number of issues can be hanging in the balance. Add to that the fact that bad things can and sometimes do happen. One is left with an uneasy sense of deja vu, either of “here we go again,” or what one dreaded coming to pass.

That is when we need to continue all the more in our practice to be grounded in God and God’s word. “This too will pass,” and how we are in terms of both our disposition and actions is critical during such times. There may indeed need to be adjustments made, and life itself can force that on someone. We need to take one thing at a time, and go from there. We can be assured in the midst of it all, that God will be with us in Jesus. And that God will help us by the Spirit.

And so the watchword for us is faith: faith in God, in God’s word, God’s promise to us in Jesus. And endeavoring to find and become more and more settled into God’s will through it all.