when all seems in upheaval

Really everyday has its share of troubles, just as Jesus said (Matthew 6:34). But there are times when it seems all the more true. When there’s one problem after another, and some seem to resist any solution.

Psalm 46 is a great psalm to meditate on in the midst of difficult, troubling times. Things can seem out of hand, or this or that can really be nagging on us. God is with us, and we’re in this together, in Jesus.

What we need is what by the end the psalm gets at, and actually begins with. We need to take a deep breath and step back. Our problem is not helped by our near panic attitude, that somehow we have to fix it, or that there’s no solution. And at times we can even feel condemned for not stepping in and doing something.

But it’s best by far to refuse anything less than what God is getting at in this psalm. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our part, but our biggest part by far is simple faith. Through prayer and waiting on God we will find God’s direction for us, even in the midst of the struggle. And when we do get that answer, we need to hold on to it, even when under attack again. God is the one who saves, not us. We can trust in God completely, and rest in God’s goodness and greatness to see us through, and bring everything to a good end. In and through Jesus.

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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trusting in God at all times

Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:8

There are times which especially seem to test our faith in God. Somehow our belief in God’s goodness can correlate with whether or not things are working out as we might expect. Even when in this life, we can be sure that often things will not.

God’s goodness is above and beyond circumstances. And God’s goodness and greatness go together. So that regardless of the mistakes we make, and less than the best choices, and even grievous sins along the way, provided we repent, or try to learn from our mistakes, and even when we fail to, God remains God. Life remains an existence in this broken, sin-cursed world. We can’t expect either to change. Just because God is great and God is good, as scripture says, doesn’t mean that life under the sun in this present existence will not be without its difficulties, disappointments, and indeed dilemmas, not to mention dangers, along the way, as scripture says.

We’re called to trust in God at all times, which often is not easy for us in the midst of our trials and own weakness. But that’s God’s call to us. And an important part of that is expectations. God is always great and always good, and will be at work in everything for our good, as we trust in him, and live according to his will. But all the rest, including we ourselves, is limited at best, and flawed to the point of broken, at worst. It is healthy to realize both, clearly evident in scripture and life.

So God is great and good, and life under the sun has difficulty mixed in with goodness, and will have its problems all the way through. We are called to trust in God at all times in this existence, and to pour out our hearts to him in prayer. With the promise and reality that God is our refuge. It is God to whom we go, and in whom we trust. And we need to do so, just as the psalm tells us, to find our rest in him, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

prayer in difficult places

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Psalm 61

There are times when we don’t know what to do, or where to turn. We’re not sure what step to take. Those are times for me to especially petition God, and hopefully draw near to God in prayer. And I seek to get counsel from others I respect.

In the past I’ve gotten peace from God in answer to prayer to move one direction or another. There’s no question that it’s not like I’ve got this all down to any kind of science, with clear answers one way or another, on everything. Life is complicated. Our prayers factor in what we’ve done, or failed to do, and God’s answer doesn’t always means clear sailing. Read scripture, and you’ll see that again and again.

The prayer by the psalmist above, is a request that God would lead them to a rock higher than they are, to a place of safety. When I think of safety, I think of freedom from all harm. But that’s not promised to us in this life. Instead God promises us his presence, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.

More important than specific outcomes is our journey. We do need a sense that God is in it all, and that he will take care of everything. That he will lead us as needed.

The psalm above is suggestive and instructive concerning this. And of course we need to pray it with the truth that all of God’s promises, or in this case, intimations of what is available to us, are indeed fulfilled in Christ.

We know in the end all will be completely and perfectly fulfilled. In the meantime, we long for God’s peace, the sense that all is okay now, and will be okay no matter what we face. And that Christ will be exalted through our lives, and in everything.

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.

trouble knows no boundaries

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Job was a God-fearing, God-honoring man, who had been eminently blessed by God, and was a blessing to many. We know the rest of the story, and it’s not altogether good. In fact it makes little sense in our eyes, considering the backdrop of the story, God even bothering to deal with Satan at all, and especially as in this story.

But the point is: trouble knows no boundaries of any kind in this life. We might be able to avoid some problems, and there are basic steps to prevent trouble itself, like simply making sure a roof is on the house, or eating healthily and exercising. But life is more or less a trouble shoot, from start to finish. It seems like we just go from best case, trying to prevent one problem, to trying to solve the next problem. I notice that in my factory job. With machines, and how they’re working, or not working.

So the point is that we need to learn to expect and accept this fact of life, as hard as that is. To definitely appreciate the seasons or intervals which seem relatively trouble free, and be ready to deal with the rest. Through prayer, and with what wisdom the Lord gives us.

In the case of Job, we know he persevered, and God was full of compassion, and blessed him in the end. Though the story still leaves a gaping hole for me in trying to understand the point of it all. Yes, Job did demonstrate faith in God, and that’s what we’re called to do as well, even when we don’t understand, and life is hard for us. Life rarely falls out like some fairy tale with a happily ever after ending. And Job surely still had to deal with trouble even after he was healed and again had seven children. The hurt of losing the seven previous children could never be fully healed in this life.

And that’s the point. We may not, and will not understand at times, or ever. But we have to trust God and go on. Believing in God’s goodness, and persevering in our faith and trust in God, yes, in spite of. Job didn’t even understand the backdrop, what was going on behind the scenes, thinking it was God who inflicted him with the loss of his children, his health, and his wealth. We know, yet are often bewildered and perplexed, and especially uncomfortable, even perturbed with what we face.

But such is life. We might as well get used to it and go on. In the help God gives us to go through every part of it. God can, and as we trust in him, will help us to the very end, in and through Jesus.

 

Paul’s chronic condition: the thorn in the flesh

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Yesterday I was thinking about the passage I really don’t like to go back to, but find that I should at times, this passage right here. The point I would like to make today for myself, and for anyone who might read this, is that Paul’s condition here was indeed chronic. It’s not like every moment he was tormented, not at all. But that he carried with him some condition which at any moment could be the source of experiencing that torment.

My own “thorn in the flesh” I think is at least largely anxiety. Which is the root of various manifestations. Your’s could be something else entirely different. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we struggle the way we do. Different factors are involved, surely complex. But the reality of our struggle cannot be ignored. We are all creatures of experience. Our life is lived there, of course. Not in thoughts, or things in our head, though they factor in for good or for ill.

Again, Paul’s condition was chronic. He couldn’t wish it away, ignore it, or even pray it away, as we see in the passage. It was present for a reason. The bottom line is that he had to learn to trust God in it, yes, in it. And that ended up being the source of great blessing to and through him for others. Notice too that Paul factored in with that thorn every weakness or problem in his life. Ironically the very problems that could have been his downfall ended up being his strength through God’s grace.

This is an encouragement to me. Instead of resisting it in the form of seeing it as practically choking the life out of me, which I think is at least half my problem, I want to increasingly learn to trust God in it, seeing it in fact as part of God’s grace to me. And not necessarily in the sense of passing through and out of it. Paul surely had that thorn his whole life long. The idea being that God sees us through with it to the very end, bringing good and blessing out of it for others, as well as for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

the good wake up call of Psalm 73

This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
    I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:12-17

If anyone really knows me, they will know that I can struggle with depression or toward despair, either one. Sometimes life can seem overwhelming to me, probably too often. Just as recently as yesterday that was the case. But then I thought about our grandchildren and our daughter. My wife and my responsibility to all of them. And what triggered that was probably the psalm quoted in part above, Psalm 73.

The psalmist sees what makes no sense to his faith. Those who have no faith are prospering, and he who is a person of faith is experiencing difficulty, or seems somehow to have come up short. He questions God. One can well say he is struggling in his faith. But he realizes that more than just his own faith is at stake here. There’s the faith of others, specifically God’s children, those who are influenced by him, surely including those who were under his care.

We have to do well. It’s not only our own faith, but the faith of others which is at stake. It’s not like we can believe for them. But they need to see faith, our faith in the midst of difficulty. That we trust God to see us through.

So the fact that we might struggle is not bad in itself. But what we do in that struggle is key. We are to be a model to others, not that they may see us and our faith, but more that they might see God and God’s faithfulness and salvation in their own lives.

In all of this we walk by faith, not by sight, as was true of the psalmist here. But read on in this psalm (the link above), and you’ll find that much more is awaiting that God would reveal to us by his Spirit. That this step of faith we take will be confirmed by God.

And so we must awaken to the faith God has for us in the midst of the trial of our faith. Because it is for the benefit of others. Realizing we need to bless to them can end up blessing us. Just as we are indeed blessed to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.