a psalm for the troubled times in which we live

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.

Psalm 46

We live in troubled, conflicted times. And there’s not much any of us can do to make it better. What we might do often brings unintended consequences. But we can’t fold our hands and do nothing. But just what are we to do?

We need to look to God. And God’s promise for us and ultimately for the world in Christ. And we have to remain there.

That is hard. It’s too easy to get caught up in the latest problem. And it’s not like we’re supposed to be mute in the face of evil. At the same time, we’re called to follow the way of Christ, who went like a sheep to the slaughter. But we do so as those in and of Christ. In God’s care. And as witnesses to the world of God’s salvation.

The call in this psalm when other voices would drown out everything, is simply to be still and know that God is God. To cease striving ourselves, and let God work it out. We are present as those in Christ, to be in prayer, and to be moved both individually, and especially together by God’s Spirit.

When all hell seems to have broken loose, or the the bottom seems to have fallen out, God is God. God’s will will be done. We only need in faith to believe, and in a sense let go. Not only for us, but for the world, for everyone. That is a senseless exercise, it would seem. But in doing so, we are putting our faith in the God who is at work, even in the world. Even in these troubled, conflicted times in which we live. God will work it out, actually regardless of whether we have faith or not. But we can learn to rest and remain in that rest for ourselves and hopefully for others. In and through Jesus.

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no paradise here

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:13

Utopianism is the push to find, or more precisely, create the perfect place for people to live. It is an ideal striving in that direction to minimize risk and maximize safety and well being. The goal of a flourishing human community is good of course, and actually biblical in the vision from the prophets carried over into the New Testament of a promise of a new world to come, a new creation in which the old is made new.

We might as well face it: we live in a fallen world. The story in Genesis 1 through 3, then beyond, makes that clear. And it’s right in our faces day after day, week after week, year after year. There’s no escape. Money and the best that is known may help alleviate some of it for a time, but even that’s not foolproof. Life is good, and we should thank God for all the good we experience in it. But it’s uncertain. Actually, given all the problems, it’s remarkable it’s as stable as it is. I guess that depends on where one lives. Some areas are not as stable.

So we do well just to get on with it, and deal with the problems we face, hopefully one at a time, and learn to enjoy life in a world in which so much is not ideal. We learn to breathe the air of the new creation, which we look forward to in its completion. When all will be well. But until then we wait, and live in a world that is broken, our own brokenness included. And make the most of it, as we seek to live in God’s will in and through Jesus.

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.

someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

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

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

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

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

taking our eyes off the Lord

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

If there’s one thing I’m probably good at, it’s getting focused on, and honed in to a problem, and spiraling down, when the problem can’t easily be resolved. It’s not like we’re supposed to ignore reality, or pretend problems don’t exist. We do carry plenty of responsibility in this life, and we’re to endeavor to stay on top of things insofar as we possibly can.

Why our Lord would walk on the water is an interesting question. Some might say to display his Deity, others, only to demonstrate the difference faith can make. Peter, as did the other disciples, saw himself as a follower of Jesus in the sense of following a Rabbi (Teacher), which meant he was to imitate, or do whatever the Teacher did. So it would be natural for him to assume that if Jesus could walk on the water, than he could too. Certainly bold, as well. And yes, that’s precisely what he did, Jesus responding to his request in the affirmative.

This reminds me of how the Lord has helped me in not ignoring a problem, but bringing it to him, entrusting it into his hands, and then proceeding in peace. Addressing the problem in a more sane, relaxed manner, and moving to, as well as settling in what seems to be the Lord’s leading, and remaining there.

But it’s all too easy, either ourselves, or maybe especially when someone else in our lives, points to the problem in near panic, to follow suit, cave in, and then lose out. Just what Peter did. He saw the waves whipped up by the wind, immediately became afraid, and began to sink. In faith he cried out to the Lord to save him, and Jesus certainly did. Yet Jesus rebuked him, I’m sure gently, for his lack of faith.

This so much reminds me of myself. Just how easily I can get my eyes off Jesus onto the problem, and then inevitably what faith I had is gone, and I’m left on my own to deal with it. God somehow wants us to deal with issues of this life with the help of what will be common place and completely natural in the next life, completely at peace in God, even in sync with God so-to-speak. That is neither an easy lesson for most of us to learn or hold on to, since we’re so used to taking matters in our own hands apart from God, and used to bad things happening if we don’t.

We don’t pretend the issue doesn’t exist, but we endeavor to commit it to God, and either God will help us work through it or let it go, trusting in his direction that it’s alright. The Lord calls us, so to speak, to walk on the water with him in this life. That what would ordinarily sink us doesn’t; we keep on walking, because our eyes are fixed on him. Always in and through Jesus.

 

prayer for relief

A psalm of David.

Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

Psalm 143

I hesitated in sharing the entire psalm. But all of the word is important, even those parts which might not be directly relevant today. Not that relevancy as we see it is the test for whether or not we need something. All is important for us in some way though, a part of the whole.

David as in the Old Testament engaged in a warfare which while physical, was spiritual at the same time. For us today, as Paul tells us, our warfare is spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It was apostolic, and in terms of the gospel, but by extension has application to all of us as followers of Christ.

That has its place within the main point of this post: the prayer for relief in the midst of trouble. We need the sense that everything is going to be okay in the end, that God will work all the difficulties out. In a sense it is true that “all is well that ends well.” But unfortunately there’s more than enough trouble on the way to that, and especially difficult is the heartache over people, and their troubles, especially when they make poor decisions, and fail to entrust their lives to God. Not that we know anyone’s heart, or understand anything fully like God does.

This is a wonderful prayer. Though we won’t mean exactly the same, we can trust that God will answer it according to his will, the Spirit even praying for us (Romans 8) when we are at a loss, and don’t know how to pray, ourselves. And with this psalm in mind, it’s good and even important for us to pray our own prayers.

God wants to give us relief from our troubles. As his people, we need to keep coming to him for the help that we will always need in this life. In and through Jesus.