You Will Not Fear

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

Psalm 91:1-6

 

Image by Jack Bair, all rights reserved

Very Present Help

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

God is our strong refuge from the storm,

our hope, our trust, a place of refuge, shelter from rain or storm, from danger,

a helper in time of trouble, adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, tribulation

He is found to be — vehemently, exceedingly, speedily, mightily, greatly present,

He comes forth to meet us in our trouble with muchness

He is able

He is with us

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4

 

He Remembers

The LORD remembers us, and he will surely bless us. Psalm 115:12a (NLT)

This verse has been a comfort to me. Going through a hard, dark time; feeling forgotten, left behind. He remembers us! He remembers you beloved. He cannot forget about you.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15 (NIV)

In the desert, in the wilderness, in the valley of depression and pain and brokenness, God has not forgotten you. He sees, he hears, he knows. Every tear you shed is precious to him.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Cling to the assuredness of his unfailing love in the dark place. The light will shine again for you. The Lord remembers us, and he will surely bless!

His love never quits (it is forever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, continuous, unending, through eternity). Psalm 136:23b (MSG)

 

Image in the Public Domain

 

 

Light Has Dawned

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12 (NASB)

“My eyes are feeble, and the windows are not clean, but I will wait on the Lord. The light does shine, the light will shine in me, and make me full of light. And I shall learn to walk all day in the light and joy of God.” –Andrew Murray[i]

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. Proverbs 4:18 (NASB)

Jesus, Light of the world, be born in me again this Christmas time. I know my windows are not yet clean. I know I still walk in darkness, in the shadow. I know I am not fully in the light you have for me. I say again, Yes, Lord! Lead me on your Way. Brighter and brighter. Let your Light fully dawn on me!

 

Photo by Derek Bair, copyright 2019, all rights reserved

[i] Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray (emphasis mine)

All My Bones

Maybe I have no breath left to even cry out. But, even so, my bones can hear God.

My whole being (all my bones) will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10 (NIV)

Recently I was going through some old papers and I found a note scribbled on a church bulletin. “God hears my bones cry. If I could hear it, I would hear them cry ____?”

The Hebrew word translated “my whole being” above is etsem (עֶצֶם) and means bone, essence, substance. Other versions translate it “all my bones,” “from the bottom of my heart,” “every bone in my body.” So David is saying in the verse above, “my very essence, my substance will say.” It is like declaring, “the very fiber of my being will exclaim!”

Going back to my note, if I could hear my bones crying out, what would I hear today? I’m not sure. I have been going through a very dark and dry time. I would probably hear, “Help! Save! Restore, renew, redeem! Remember your promises to me!”

Or maybe I would hear nothing at all. Maybe my bones are too dry, too crushed.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

Maybe I have no breath left to even cry out. But, even so, my bones can hear God.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. Ezekiel 37:4-5 (NIV)

At first when I read David’s cry in Psalm 35:10 I felt guilty. There is David, the man after God’s heart, again proclaiming God’s greatness, and here I am struggling to even get a breath after another low blow. But then I read the verse in context.

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me … arise and come to my aid … Say to my soul (that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being), “I am your salvation” … Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation. My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:1-3, 9-10 (NIV)

Later in this Psalm, David cries out, “How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me … Then I will thank you in front of the entire congregation. I will praise you before all the people (35:17-18 NLT).” As I read this I felt like God was saying to me that it is OK to be beat down, dried up, crushed. It’s OK to be crying for help. It’s even OK to be brutally frank with God about how I feel.

He hears, he knows, he is there in the valley of dry bones with us, and he is speaking grace and love and life and redemption. And I know that someday I will cry out, all my bones, with every fiber of my being, “Who is like you, O Lord?” I know that I will thank him and praise him for what he is doing, will do, has done.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Psalm 51:8 (NIV)

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

 

I have no idea where I am going …

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you 
does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

–Thomas Merton

 

The Brokenhearted

Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

I received this verse three times in two days recently. My sister sent it to me as a comforting prayer. A favorite blogger wrote about the verse the next day. The third time I heard it was later that day at the funeral of a young mother, taken too soon. She was only 39. She leaves behind a grieving husband and two small daughters.

Jesus applied these verses to himself in Luke so we can see them as prophetic words of the Messiah. This verse was quoted by Jesus when he got up in the synagogue to read the scroll. But when he read the passage, he left out some parts. For one thing, He stopped at “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and left out “the day of vengeance of our God.” He came the first time to proclaim favor, the Good News, the freedom of captives and release of prisoners. The day of vengeance would come later when he returns the second time at the last day. I understand that.

But I’ve always wondered why the part about binding up the brokenhearted was left out. We are brokenhearted down here. We need – so many need – binding up. But the passage in Luke leaves out the promise to the brokenhearted. Why?

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:16-19 (NIV)

Commentators and theologians have argued about if this omission was a mistake, added back in by scribes later, or was in the original. Many later manuscripts include the phrase “to heal the brokenhearted” but in the earlier, important ones it is lacking. I don’t think it was a mistake, though I can understand wanting to put it back in. I want to put it back in. But I think Jesus left it out on purpose, just as he left out the “day of vengeance” part. This world that we are in is a place of broken hearts, of too-early deaths, tragedy, a place of tears and trouble. That will not change until Jesus comes back.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33 (NIV)

For some reason we are “filling up the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps. Somehow our brokenness is like that broken alabaster jar filling the house with fragrance (Mark 14:3), and like the life-giving springs bubbling up in the dark valley.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains! Psalm 84:6 (NLT)

Those other brokenhearted ones, who come after us, receive life and comfort from our brokenness if we keep walking; if our broken hearts, all our broken hopes and dreams, are squandered on him as fragrant offerings.

Ann Voskamp has conjectured that maybe we are made to be broken. It sure seems like it. “We are made in the image of God. And wasn’t God’s heart made to be broken too? Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory.”[i] A container for the fragrant, precious, glory of God. But it seems that the container must be broken for the glory to be shared.

I think we have to wait for the binding up part, but it will come. Someday, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NIV) and he will show us how all of those bottles full of tears that he has been collecting (Psalm 56:8) became pools of blessing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)

Image of tear under a microscope: “Psychic tear: This tear is harvested after an emotional response,” by Maurice Mikkers, https://medium.com/micrograph-stories/imaginarium-of-tears-10263c866ee1

 

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

Say Anything

One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment. He can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out … God can deal with every human response save one. God cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore God or act as though God does not exist. – Philip Yancey[i]

I loathe my own life; I will give full vent to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God … why?  Job 10:2-3 (NASB)

Why, then, did you bring me out of my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?  Job 10:18 (NLT)

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I [Moses] came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all. Exodus 5:22-23 (NASB)

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? Jeremiah 15:18 (NIV)

Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long? Lamentations 5:20 (NASB)

I counted on you, God. Why did you walk out on me? Psalms 43:2 (MSG)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

So let us come boldly (with free speech, with courage, to speak the truth, unreservedly, openly, frankly, bluntly, without concealment, freely, fearlessly) to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

 

[i] Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God

Image in the public domain

 

A Thousand Defects

I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NASB)

“The throne of grace.” The word grows as I turn it over in my mind, and to me it is a most delightful reflection that if I come to the throne of God in prayer, I may feel a thousand defects, but yet there is hope. I usually feel more dissatisfied with my prayers than with anything else I do.”  —Charles Spurgeon[i]

A thousand defects. Over the past ten years or so I have read a lot of books on prayer. I have twenty on the shelf before me right now. They all are good and have lots to offer. They have all enriched my prayer life. But there are many, many times, overwhelmed in the clouds of doubt and fear, words do not come. And I feel “a thousand defects.” I feel dissatisfied with my prayers, but worse, I fear that God is dissatisfied too. That’s why I love Spurgeon’s “but yet [!] there is hope.”  And I am comforted when he goes on to say:

But, brethren, suppose in our prayers there should be defects of knowledge: it is a throne of grace, and our Father knoweth that we have need of these things. Suppose there should be defects of faith: he sees our little faith and still doth not reject it, small as it is. He doth not in every case measure out his gifts by the degree of our faith, but by the sincerity and trueness of faith. And if there should be grave defects in our spirit even, and failures in the fervency or in the humility of the prayer, still, though these should not be there and are much to be deplored; grace overlooks all this, forgives all this, and still its merciful hand is stretched out to enrich us according to our needs.

One of the books before me is The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous monk. In it, the author recommends one-word prayers.[ii] That is about my speed in these times when I am in this “cloud of overwhelmed.” One of my favorites has become, “Help!” Just “help.” In the same chapter the author speaks of “a naked intent toward God, the desire for him alone.” And I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

It’s not a magical incantation. It’s not a precise liturgy, though liturgy is beautiful and can help lead us to the throne. It’s not a perfect recipe of words mixed with the right amount of faith, seasoned with the correct sprinkling of fervency or humility, in the prescribed position and vocal volume.

“True prayer is an approach of the soul by the Spirit of God to the throne of God. It is not the utterance of words; it is not alone the feeling of desires; but it is the advance of the desires to God, the spiritual approach of nature towards the Lord our God. True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise not a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that. It is spiritual commerce[iii] with Creator of heaven and earth.”

It’s a spirit to Spirit communication, a reaching out in the darkness and overwhelmedness. But it’s also that confidence thing. We cannot come to him naked and bare without complete trust and confidence. The word translated confidence in Hebrews 4:16 is parrhesia, which means “openly, frankly, without concealment, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance.”

Little children come this way to their moms and dads all the time, with requests, inarticulate, but confidently and with complete expectation of being understood and answered. “Owie,” “drink,” “belly,” “up!” Little one-word requests that we jump to satisfy. Or sometimes they come with no words at all, just arms outstretched yearning for the parent’s comforting embrace.

“Help!” may be all I have right now. But it is all I need. Let me run into His merciful arms.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)

(For more on the naked intent toward God, see A Naked Intent Toward God)

 

[i] All Spurgeon quotes from The Throne of Grace, sermon given November 19, 1871. Reprinted in The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

[ii] The Cloud of Unknowing and Privy Counseling. Edited by William Johnston. 1973. Chapter 7.

[iii] Definition of the word “commerce” from Spurgeon’s time: interchange (especially of letters, ideas, etc.); communication. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

Image by DVIDSHUB, from flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/13938506188

The Speed of Light

The light shines

(continually shines, is shining, shines on)

in the darkness, but the darkness

has not understood

(perceived,

conquered,

overcome,

seized,

grasped,

apprehended,

overtaken,

can never

extinguish) it.

John 1:5

 

 

Image By Zouavman Le Zouave – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3302900