And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I’ve heard a cancer patient talk about how difficult it was when she was waiting to hear back about whether it would be a serious cancer or not. It was a rough month of waiting and not knowing. Then she realized this: that the result that came back did not matter, but if she would receive whatever news with the peace of God, having trusted his goodness in either scenario, that was what mattered, and what she had to cultivate.

Coming from November 11th, Remembrance Day here in Canada, and the associated stories of soldiers told by family members who remember God’s faithfulness in narrowly saving this soldier or bringing that soldier home despite the odds, it remains that more still were not spared the bullet and were not brought home safely. What of God’s faithfulness to their family? As such, it is essential to cultivate a thankfulness and remembrance of God’s faithfulness in all circumstances, to not reduce God to being powerful only when He is granting our desires against all odds, but to see Him as mighty to accomplish His good, pleasing and perfect will even through everything that is not so pleasant.

This is still beyond my understanding.

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Sympathy

A friend and I have recently suffered similar losses. We have both found some comments from lovely and well-meaning people to be maddening. Many a wise thought we acknowledge, understand, believe and even trust, but we do not feel. Sometimes, even those dearest to us and most respected by us cannot sympathize with our state of mind and heart. Or it may be that even if they actually could, we still do not perceive that they can. We only feel akin to those who are in a similar state or can clearly recall being in a similar state. This sympathy is so precious. It also legitimizes the love and thoughts you receive from that person in a way that similar love and thoughts from others cannot compare. They just don’t understand — are not moved in their gut the same way.

That precious gift of sympathy reminds me of the precious gift of sympathy followers of Christ have. We know that our God is perfect and on high, and yet STILL, because he was made flesh like us, subjected to trials and temptations and still found to be perfect, He is a God who can sympathize with us in our weakness. In our moments of self-loathing, of doubt, or of hopelessness over all manner of situations, He understands how one gets to that place, though he emerges perfect through all such trials and temptations. He is not just lofty and immaterial, but also walked the earth and was subjected to its darkness and senseless sorrows, as well as enjoyed its loveliness and joys. The One who judges and has mercy and sacrifices and saves and shows grace is also one who sympathizes and comforts. How worthwhile to follow with loyalty such a leader! And how much more precious His commands to us, given this sympathy.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children [we] share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-16

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Getting all discouraged about being discouraged

Genesis 50:20

Perhaps you know this verse by heart just from seeing the reference, or perhaps the image helped jog your memory, because it is one of those verses we use very often to illustrate the necessity and fruitfulness of faith in our God despite dismal circumstances, and is a reminder of the existence of purpose somehow behind seemingly meaningless suffering.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Joseph’s words, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” don’t often get quoted with the pointer that there was a time of probably 24 odd years between his being sold into slavery by his brothers and his saying these profound words. Time is a great teacher and counsellor, and I’m sure it took Joseph a while to ‘get it’. Hence, in regards to trusting in God for redeeming our messes, the lesson is this…

Don’t be discouraged about getting discouraged.

It will take time and then more time and then some for us to see some of the good God intends and ordains. I don’t think this means we have to repress hurt, and then smile and laugh for the sake of showing joy. Rather, it seems appropriate to me that God is pleased when we are faced with gut-wrenching, forehead-holding, tear-jerking situations, sob the sobs and still maintain that God Himself is sovereign and good. Being discouraged is not good, but God’s grace covers that just like it covers everything else, like the mistakes you make along the way. In any case it could take anywhere from a few days to twenty-four years to see how God meant it for good. I’m betting that discouragement will recur between now and then. His grace covers us even as we use what seems like our last reserves of energy to live zealously, proclaiming God’s perfect kingdom still to come.

[Note: Click the image above for a further interesting blog post on the Joseph situation that I read re: prayer. The rest of the blog is good too.]

 

More Delayed Relevance

Hark: that moment of coincidence when the words “delayed relevance” turn out to carry more meaning than I thought they carried when I first used them

Meet my new favourite book that’s not really a devotional but functions quite like one: The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. (Links to Amazon.ca)

I chose “Longings After God” as it sounded kind of like the verses of Psalm 84 from the post I completed just last night, and shall include a great little snippet from The Valley here:

Engage me to live more for thee.

Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,
and when I feel at ease after sweet communings,
teach me it is far too little I know and do.

Blessed Lord,
let me climb up near to thee,
and love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with thee,
and pant for deliverance from the body of sin,
for my heart is wandering and lifeless,
and my soul mourns to think it should ever lose sight of its Beloved.

Wrap my life in divine love,
and keep me ever desiring thee,
always humble and resigned to thy will,
more fixed on thyself,
that I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.

A) I totally need to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences, and less impressed with my ‘sacrifices’ and ‘suffering’.

B) The author of this prayer, whoever it is, actually asked to plead and wrestle with God in a Jacob-esque way. Interesting.

C) William Wordsworth has staked an immovable claim on all forms of the word “wander” in my vocabulary with his poignant line of poetry, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” (This was a stray point of interest; an ADD moment.)

D) Longing after God is to want to be fitted for doing and suffering. Asking for suffering, essentially. Gah. Indeed, let me be less pleased with my spiritual experiences, and less impressed with my sacrifices and suffering thus far.

Flies or Children?

The following concerns how one sees oneself when unceremoniously dumped into a less than ideal situation: am I a dirty, hairy, worthless fly, or a beloved child dealt a painful but sobering blow?

In other words, am I with the stricken and woeful King Lear, infamously betrayed by two of his daughters while having unfeelingly rejected the third one who loved him? In his suffering, he says, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” He seemed to think the gods tortured people for fun as boys tortured unsuspecting insects like flies, ants, etc. to sate their curiosity. (Apparently I have some fascination with Lear, as I found two other previous posts on this!)

If not Lear’s perspective, then might I have a more sober view of myself as one who could use some discipline, and a more reverent view of God than to see Him as a wanton boy looking for cheap curiosities and thrills?

The following passage from the Letter to the Hebrews makes me want to read it all in a sitting!

Do Not Grow Weary

[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
[12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [15] See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; [16] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. [17] For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

(Hebrews 12:3-17 ESV)

3 Things of Interest

  1. I’m not that interested in my holiness, on a standardized scale. Perhaps relative to a handful or more of people I could think of, I’m more interested in my holiness than they are in theirs. Nevertheless, as the author of Hebrews points out (correctly), in my struggle against sin I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding my blood. Touché.
  2. To our benefit (in most cases), we receive painful discipline from our legal and loving guardians, a.k.a. parents. We also reserve our energies and thoughtfulness to express the painful truth to those we love, not to any old acquaintance. We expect nothing less than the painful truth from those we trust. (“Do I look stupid wearing/doing this?”) Shallower words are for shallower relationships. Hence, we can expect painful discipline from a holy and loving God who wants us to be holy, like Him. (Romans 8:28-30)
  3. Pain always sucks because it hurts. There’s not really a way to go around this predicament or sugarcoat it. But as for the pain of God’s discipline for the followers of Jesus Christ, his adopted children, at least we know that this pain will eventually yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

1 Thing to Keep in Mind for the Rest of Life

  1. I am not yet holy enough for God to stop disciplining me. (Not even after next time. Or the time after that.)

I happily self-identify as a beloved child of God! I am no fly :)

They call it “osmosis”

There you have it: the gummi bear was destroyed by the end, and by something so benign as water.

As we continue considering loss, grief, and any kind of transition in life, there is a point that needs to be made. (Surprise! Haven’t you noticed a theme in recent posts?) When we lose something, we replace it. On a trivial scale, I dropped my phone on the ground recently and broke the speaker. It didn’t make sense to fix it, so I considered it a “total loss” and replaced it with a low-end smartphone. (Hello decade of 2010. Sort of – still no data plan.) I digress. When we lose something, no matter how attached we were, we inevitably let other things fill the void left behind, or else consciously fill the void ourselves, even if it’s gradual and slow.

The law of osmosis: when high concentrations of solvent molecules move through a semi-permeable membrane to regions of higher solute concentrations. The lack of solvent molecules in one region of solution is an open invitation to other solvent molecules to creep in. 

The period of grief poses a sad but simple time when you can really feel all the words like “blessed be the name of the Lord” and “all is well with my soul” and “fix your eyes upon Jesus.” It’s emotionally hard to bear the pain but emotionally easy to rely on the love of God. After the most intense moments of trial have passed, emotions stabilize and are easier to bear, but it becomes harder again to feel the passion of your complete abandon to God.

This time-of-trial VS time-of-ease conundrum of drawing close to God is a most common concern I’ve heard amongst Christians. In the case of grief+loss it is easy at first to fill your loss with the comfort of the presence of God, but as the pain lessens and as life resumes, other things begin to take precedence. That vision of devotion once so clear becomes more clouded. In considering this, I’ve been reminded of a principle I just read in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus speaks regarding the Sabbath.

[23] One Sabbath he [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. [24] And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” [25] And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: [26] how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” [27] And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. [28] So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

(Mark 2:23-28 ESV)

The command to keep the Sabbath day holy is not a restriction from lifting a finger on the day of rest at all costs, but a call to honour God consciously with strength of discipline. ***

Similarly, with loss, it’s not that you can literally have nothing in your life but Christ. The idea is that as life continues and activities and people begin to fill our lives again, we will have grown some and will consider our motivations in how we fill our lives and to what end. We shan’t be passively filled by our convenient environments via osmosis, but filled by contending in the faith, working out our salvation in a spirit of submissive but eager obedience to follow a good and faithful God who called us before the creation of the world. Hopefully filling our lives in a way that reflects being a good and faithful servant cognizant that our Master will return and that the pleasures of the world shall pass.

*** (For my own benefit and for yours if you are interested, here is an article about rest and how to rest by Tim Keller that I want to remember: http://theresurgence.com/2012/07/11/5-practical-thoughts-on-rest)

Psalm for the Depressed

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

[42:1] As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
[2] My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
[3] My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[4] These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
[6] my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
[7] Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
[8] By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
[9] I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
[10] As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[11] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

(Psalm 42 ESV)

Dealing with pain, as apparent from this psalm, takes more than just defiance. Note the repetition: turmoil doesn’t simply go away. You can’t say to your soul, “Why are you cast down, and why are you in turmoil within me?” and then just add, “Come, let us just move on,” or, “Let us just go and live as we were, ignoring this.” It’s not possible to just decide that you’re better or OK or happy or will go on to new things. You cannot just replace what was broken and expect to be healed. Humans aren’t cars that only need new parts – or new jobs or new friends to get better. Our souls need to hope in God, where hope is holding out for the unseen goodness in the land where God will bring us. Hoping in God is not hoping for better/best situations or better/best times, or else you will forever be sorely disappointed by a broken self and a broken world. Biblical hope is not hoping that God will eventually give you the earthly desires of your heart; it is learning to actually desire God beyond all, and sometimes, or even quite often, that will mean laying your desires on the ground and walking away.

As with Lot’s wife, the one who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (ironically enough the mineral in tears), it is hard not to look back, wondering all manner of things. It’s hard not to want to replay, and you can replay levels and whole games in video games, probably pandering to this desire. Perhaps I sucked at gaming, but I always made the same mistakes even when I replayed. This is not necessarily a theological link I wish to draw by mentioning Mrs. Lot, but more so just a visual. At the weekend retreat that I mentioned in another post (Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)), I was told something else that made me sit up:

Exercising self-control in our thinking and living (i.e. casting the whole of your care once and for all on Christ) involves:

  • not multiplying our suffering by rehearsing or reliving our troubles
  • keeping from futile speculation (Romans 1:21 in AMP)
Funny that we do these things, but we do. There’s some weird satisfaction in it. Thinking is the hardest to exercise self-control over. You can beat your body and make it your slave much more easily than you can beat your mind and make it your slave. (Ref: 1 Cor 9:27 NIV) Futile speculation, too, can seem like it’s not an entirely futile activity: we think we protect ourselves by speculating a worst case scenario so that we’re prepared for the worst and save ourselves the hurt, but in the meantime, that’s just more constant and fictional pain for something that might not even happen. More so, it’s indicative of not casting all cares, anxieties, worries and concerns on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) and throwing off those burdens.
Now I will quote verbatim my favourite introductory paragraph from the prayer guide we were given:

Have you ever felt helpless? Helplessness is an unsettling and sometimes terrifying thing to most of us. We resist it, deny it, and when we are finally face to face with it, we sometimes find that we are unable to endure it. But helplessness is actually one of the greatest assets a human being can have. Crisis brings us face to face with our inadequacy and our inadequacy in turn leads us to the inexhaustible sufficiency of God. Spectacular answers to prayer can come following a period when you can do nothing for yourself at all and therefore find yourself waiting on God alone. This hemming in process is one of God’s loving and effective ways of teaching you that he is gloriously adequate for all your problems.

The Puritans had it right in this prayer from The Valley of Vision:

Desires

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

Thus far, this post has mostly been me amalgamating a bunch of things I’ve read, heard and thought about in recent weeks, hopefully tying them together in a new way such that I’m not really just quoting them. I don’t know if it’s of any use to anyone else reading. In any case, since the title indicates there is a psalm for the depressed here, let me finish off with a part from a more hopeful psalm for the depressed than that first one:

[13] I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
[14] Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27:13-14 NASB)

The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living… that means while he’s still alive. Although I have said that our hope should not rest solely upon the goodness of the Lord’s provision in earthly things, I do think it is alright for that to be a part of our hope, because it’s not as if God keeps everything we desire from us either. Maybe just not in ways we expect.

Funny last thought, though not accurate: I always get mad at myself for speculating about how the Lord will provide, because I feel as if everything that I randomly or thoughtfully come up with will not come to pass because the provision can’t be anything I would think of… and sometimes I rather like my speculations.