All That I Had Hoped For (Lamentations 3:18-24)

My bright always 

never 

my perpetual victory 

annihilated 

all that I had hoped for 

gone 

I remember 

over and over 

my mind locked  

in misery 

cast out wandering 

stillborn expectations 

the poison of bitterness 

begetting deformed memories I cannot stop  

and I sink down 

down in the choking dust 

Yet  

my shattered soul won’t let you go 

Yet 

I turn back 

Yet  

I still dare to hope 

Yet  

I bare my envenomed heart for 

Your love never wanders 

Your compassions  

great love, tender, merciful, pity full  

like a mother with helpless child  

they never fail 

they are new 

delivered anew 

every morning 

as the sunrise 

sparkling on newborn manna 

absolute, unfailing hope 

You are my exuberant share 

therefore 

I will travail 

writhe 

twist 

bring forth  

the birthing you desire 

I wait longingly for 

You 

Drenched in Tears

Would we really know God as Father, as Friend, as good, as faithful, if we had never known abandonment, rejection, fear, the end of the road, the edge of the cliff, the sealed-up grave? 

I’m kind of reluctant to admit this, but most times God speaks to me at church more with the lyrics of the worship songs than with the sermon. Two songs in the last month have been light to me, O Praise the Name1, and Goodness of God2

Singing O Praise the Name Sunday, I was arrested by these lyrics: 

His body bound and drenched in tears 
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb 
The entrance sealed by heavy stone 
Messiah still and all alone 

I suddenly realized, or I guess it really sank in, that Jesus’ followers didn’t know he was going to rise from the dead. They didn’t know. Jesus’ dead body was drenched in tears.  

We are settled into the comfy assurance of the resurrection. Even people who aren’t Christians know Jesus rose from the dead. He is famous for it. And that is good, but also bad. See, knowing Jesus rose from the dead is like the biggest spoiler ever in the history of the world. But they didn’t know. 

Maybe it is necessary for us to experience death and grief and utter despair in order to fully experience resurrection, new life, joy, amazing grace. Not arrogant assumption; not ho-hum presumption. That’s where the second song comes in. 

You have led me through the fire 
In the darkest night 
You are close like no other 
I’ve known You as a Father 
I’ve known You as a Friend 
And I have lived in the goodness of God  

… And all my life You have been faithful  
And all my life You have been so, so good 
With every breath that I am able 
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God 

“All my life you have been faithful.” That lyric has been vibrating through me like a bell. Because I never fully realized until lately just how faithful He has been in my life. I really don’t remember much of my childhood. I am sure that I deliberately forgot it, tried to not even experience it as it happened. But God has been healing me and He is getting down to the core pain. I am realizing that I endured decades of abuse, mostly emotional. But God was always there. All my life he has been faithful. 

Amazing grace. Resurrection joy – His but also our own and those we love and pray for. Think of the joy and wonder and the testimony we would miss – the witness we would not have – if there was no suffering, no grief and despair, no death. Death of hopes and dreams, death of relationships, physical pain and struggle. Would we really know God as Father, as Friend, as good, as faithful, if we had never known abandonment, rejection, fear, the end of the road, the edge of the cliff, the sealed-up grave? 

Jesus had to experience death in order to set us free. Maybe we have to experience a kind of death in order to have the solid-rock faith, the knowing God’s faithfulness, the hope and confidence that we can bring to others. Maybe we need to be drenched in tears so that we can say, with every breath that we are able, all my life He has been faithful. All my life He has been so, so good. 

God comforts us so that we can comfort others. God grants us mercy so that we can be merciful to others. God stands whole-heartedly with us in our suffering so that we will stand whole-heartedly with others who are suffering. God never leaves us alone in our suffering so that we won’t leave others alone in theirs.” — Dave Zuleger3 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  2 Corinthians 1:3–5 

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17 

1O Praise the Name. Songwriters: Martin W. Sampson / Benjamin William Hastings / Dean Ussher 

2Goodness of God. Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Ed Cash / Brian Mark Johnson / Jenn Louise Johnson / Ben David Fielding 

3God Brings Us Suffering for Others’ Sake https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-brings-us-suffering-for-others-sake    

Image in the Public Domain

The Bassline

We come to know God through our afflictions. Our praise would be rote, would be hollow without having known His Presence and comfort through our afflictions.  

“The deeper our troubles, the louder our thanks to God, who has led us through all, and preserved us until now. Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise, we reckon them to be the bass part of our life’s song, ‘He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.’” — Charles Spurgeon 

I read this quote by Spurgeon in a little devotional.1 I wondered, what did he mean when he said our griefs are the bass part of our song? It inspired me to learn more about the bass part (also called bass line or bassline) in music. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the bass as “the lowest range of musical notes.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines the bassline as “[a] musical part consisting of a sustained series of the lowest pitched notes in the piece or composition.”2  

Hmmm, if the bass part is our troubles, sometimes it seems that the low part has been sustained for a very long time. But look at this quote from an 1880 book on the history and science of music: 

“the bass part… is, in fact, the foundation upon which the melody rests and without which there could be no melody.” — by Robert Challoner3 

Wow, if you think of the melody as our praises and the bass part as our afflictions, “the bass part of our life’s song,” that is a startling thought. There could be no melody without the bass part. It is the “sturdy foundation.” 

“Our basslines have to provide the rhythmic and harmonic foundation; the bassline provides the high-end with the structure and foundation to create interesting melodies… A bassline is the foundation on which the melody rides. With the sturdy foundation of the bass and other rhythm section instruments, the melody is free to do all sorts of things.” — Andrew Pouska4  

Esther Murimi goes even further, saying that the bass completes the music, adding a fullness: 

“Try listening to music without bass and one with it and you’ll notice the difference. For more clarity, if you have a sound system, you will notice that the music is complete when the bass is enhanced and sounds hollow without it.” — Esther Murimi5  

Finally, Wikipedia notes that the bassline bridges a gap: 

The bassline bridges the gap between the rhythmic part played by the drummer and the melodic lines played by the lead guitarist and the chordal parts played by the rhythm guitarist and/or keyboard player. — Wikipedia, Bassline 

“[T]he rhythmic part played by the drummer” to me is like the part played by the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). “[T]he melodic lines,” Spurgeon would say, are the melody lines of our praise. The bassline bridges the gap between these two. When you think about it, this intimate connection and teamwork between the Spirit (beat/step) and the bass (afflictions) makes sense. We come to know God through our afflictions. Our praise would be rote, would be hollow without having known His Presence and comfort through our afflictions.  

The hard times in our lives are the times that God has allowed to refine and purify us and to make us the place where His glory dwells. The baseline working with the (heart)beat of God gives the music of our lives richness, fullness, the reason to sing the melody, the joy, the with-all-my-heart passion. 

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy’ Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5 

Do you hear the beat? … suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Still using the metaphor provided by Spurgeon, I see that the love of God is the heart/drum beat and our sufferings are the bassline. And from these, through the knowledge of the character of God and trust in His goodness, the assurance that He is with us always – from these come our hope, and from that hope rises a pure melody of praise. 

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest (sits down, settles, consummates the marriage, dwells, abides in) the praises of Israel. Psalm 22: 3 (KJV) 

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:7-8 (NAS) 

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 12:9-10 

Yet take thy way; for sure thy way is best:  
Stretch or contract me thy poor debtor:  
This is but tuning of my breast,  
To make the music better. -- George Herbert, from The Temper (I) 

1Devotional Classics of C. H. Spurgeon, June 9, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 

2American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.  

3History of the Science and Art of Music: Its Origin, Development, and Progress 

By Robert Challoner, 1880. Full text available on Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=dwctAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false 

4StudyBass https://www.studybass.com/  

5The Scientifically Proven Importance Of Bass In Musical Performances, Merriam School of Music https://www.merriammusic.com/school-of-music/importance-of-bass-in-performances/  

Image, detail from How Firm a Foundation, hymn attributed to George Keith 1787.

I Am Certain of This

Well, when the first four blogs I read in a morning are saying the same thing it makes me sit up and take notice. What is the Spirit saying to me? Maybe He is saying something to us all (?) 

… for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Romans 14:8‭-‬9 (Blogged twice by Beholding Him Ministries) https://beholdinghimministries.org/  

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”. Matthew 5 11-12 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom.8.35-39 (Blogged by Eagle Sight) https://eaglesight.blog/2022/10/01/persecution/ 

And then this from Henri Nouwen: 

“We are fearful people. We are afraid of conflict, war, an uncertain future, illness, and, most of all, death. This fear takes away our freedom and gives our society the power to manipulate us with threats and promises. When we can reach beyond our fears to the One who loves us with a love that was there before we were born and will be there after we die, then oppression, persecution, and even death will be unable to take our freedom. Once we have come to the deep inner knowledge—a knowledge more of the heart than of the mind—that we are born out of love and will die into love, that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love, and that this love is our true Father and Mother, then all forms of evil, illness, and death lose their final power over us and become painful but hopeful reminders of our true divine childhood. The apostle Paul expressed this experience of the complete freedom of the children of God when he wrote, ‘I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:38–39).” — Henri J.M. Nouwen https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/  

Photo by Sheila Bair

Our Father – Where We Grow Up

Our Father, I know from long experience that I do not do well in the candy aisle.

OK, here I am at the campfire still. I’m getting stinging smoke in my eyes now, and some mosquito bites. But let’s keep looking at the Lord’s Prayer from the point of view of a child.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). I read a commentary on this verse that I thought was definitely a child’s point of view of the Lord’s Prayer. It compared God not leading us into temptation to a mother avoiding the candy aisle when shopping with her children. “Praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is like praying, ‘God, don’t take me down the candy aisle today.’ It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for unprofitable things and that God’s wisdom can avert the unpleasantness of our bellyaching.” 

You know, there are myriad examples of ways we keep children from temptation. There is a whole industry devoted to it – baby gates, toilet seat locks, cupboard and drawer latches. Even with all of that, we sometimes have to chase them down as they run, giggling, toward a busy street. For a toddler, that is temptation – doing something forbidden (actually, for grownups too!). And so, we have to put blocks in their way to keep them safe.  Maybe sometimes when we find blocks in our way it is God answering our prayer to lead us not into temptation. 

God always has a purpose. Remember the commentary from the first blog on this subject: “Through ongoing sanctification, the believer more and more resembles their heavenly Father – i.e. each time they receive faith from Him and obey it, which results in their unique glorification.”2 Through ongoing sanctification, through obedience and yielding we become like Him.  

The word above translated “temptation” also means testing. Ellicott’s Commentary3 notes that “[t]he Greek word includes the two thoughts which are represented in English by ‘trials,’ i.e., sufferings which test or try, and ‘temptations,’ allurements on the side of pleasure which tend to lead us into evil.”  

This is where the child learns that some things are “nos.” This is where she learns to yield to the will of the Father. Learning to choose obedience. To not play in the toilet water. To begin to grow up. 

Receiving a place in the family of God, receiving daily spiritual and physical sustenance, receiving forgiveness: this is like being the little baby child, drinking the spiritual milk. But forgiving others, sharing what we have been given, yielding daily to God’s will for our lives, obeying His commands to love even our enemies, passing the test – the enduring, the waiting, the sanctification part, the becoming like Jesus part – that is where we grow up. 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to me in this part of the prayer: You are a little child of God. He is your loving, strong Father. Pray like a child who knows her weakness and vulnerability. 

“But those who are conscious of their weakness cannot shake off the thought that they might fail in the conflict, and the cry of that conscious weakness is therefore, ‘Lead us not into such trials,’ even as our Lord prayed, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me’ (Matthew 26:39). And the answer to the prayer may come either directly in actual exemption from the trial, or in ‘the way to escape’ (1Corinthians 10:13), or in strength to bear it.”3 

Our Father, I know from long experience that in myself I am weak. I do not do well in the candy aisle. I do not endure trials patiently. And after very bad days I even sometimes find myself playing in the toilet water again. Oh Father, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me! 

“We beg for forgiveness, protection, and deliverance just as a young child asks for help and safety as she prepares to fall asleep at night.” — Jeremy Linneman, The Lord’s Prayer is Meant to Be Lived4 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3 

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)  

Our Father … 

1Lead Us Not into Temptation, but Deliver Us from Evil | The Lord’s Prayer Petition 5 By Stephanie Soderstrom and Terry DeYoung https://www.faithward.org/how-to-pray-like-jesus-the-lords-prayer-petition-5/  

2HELPS Word Studies by Discovery Bible 

3Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

4Blogged by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/the-lords-prayer-is-meant-to-be-lived/  

Photo of candy aisle by Tiia Monto https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Candy_in_store_2.jpg  

To This You Were Called

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9 

Did you see that? You were called to this! That jumped out at me as I read the verse this time. Repaying or returning blessing is not one – though maybe the best – of many possible reactions. Returning blessing is not a suggestion or a nice bumper-sticker inspiration. Rather, to bless is why we were called in the first place. In this day of the celebration of karma pay-back, does this kind of thinking even compute anymore? Yet, to this you were called

Do not repay (pay back, pay off, discharge as a debt, pay wages, what is due, requite, give back, recompense)  

evil with evil (inner malice, what is worthless, depraved, injurious, bad, evil, harmful, ill, foul, rotten, poisoned)  

or insult with insult (abuse, railing, reviling, reproach).  

On the contrary (but, now),  

repay evil with blessing (speak well of, praise, confer what is beneficial, thank or invoke a benediction upon),  

because to this you were called (selected, roused, summoned, called by name)  

so that you may inherit a blessing (benefit).  

1 Peter 3:9 

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:20-23 

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 (ESV) 

Photo by Jack Bair

Must

“We must find each other again.”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:5-6 

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15-16 

I was a little startled lately when I noticed deep inside me a bristling response to the word “must” in the above verses. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. It is the natural response of the natural man, right? We want to do what we want to do. Being told we “have to do” anything in our current culture has become anathema. Having to suffer in particular. 

The Greek word, dei (δεῖ), means “it is necessary,” and in this context means a “necessity in reference to what is required to attain some end … necessity established by the counsel and decree of God, especially by that purpose of his which relates to the salvation of men by the intervention of Christ and which is disclosed in the O. T. prophecies.” 

Whoa. This is not just an authority figure telling us we have to do something we don’t want to do. This is what is necessary to attain God’s ultimate plan and purpose – the salvation of the world. If we call ourselves Christians there are things that we “must” do. The Lord didn’t waste time telling Saul/Paul what he must do, the works planned for him from the beginning of the world. 

Right after I read and meditated on these verses, J.D. Walt sent out an article with some “musts” for the Church today. I think the urgency with which he writes is justified: 

“We stand in the ruins of the still collapsing facade of Christendom. And all our churches are like so many blind people standing around a massive elephant each with our hand on a different part of the animal and each proffering and preferring a different diagnosis, prognosis and plan.  

So what’s the point today? The point is to say the Day of Pentecost never ended. We need not return to the first century church but to restore the 21st century church. This will come by Word and Spirit and the recovery of plain Scriptural Christianity. We must cease fiddling with forms and fads. We must find each other again, not as so many churches but as “Church.” We must cease chasing after phenomenology and begin to run after Jesus on the path of the race marked out for us.  

We must meet one another again at the level ground of the foot of the Cross and awaken to the fact the Heavens have been rended once and for all. Jesus is ascended as Lord and King.” — J.D. Walt 1 

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49 

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. Mark 8:31 

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. Luke 22:7 (KJV) 

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mark 13:10 

But when they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you should make your defense or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you must say. Luke 12:11-12 (NET) 

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. John 9:4 

1Don’t Pray for the Wind. Set the Sails https://seedbed.com/dont-pray-for-wind-set-the-sails/

Image from FreeBibleimages.org  

You Loved Me Back

It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 

The word translated bitterness above is the Hebrew adjective mar or marah. It means angry, bitterly chafed, discontented, great (as in greatly or bitterly distressed), heavy (as in have a heavy or bitter heart).1 It comes from the same root as the name Mara, or bitter, which Naomi called herself after her sons and husband died, leaving her bereft in a foreign land. 

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20 

We have all, or I’m betting at least many of us, have felt like Naomi. Life has not turned out as expected. We have been dealt a bitter blow. We have lost loved ones. We have been left alone. It can be easy to become angry at God, bitter, discontented.  

In the verse above from Isaiah, Hezekiah is recounting how very bitter he was when he was told that he had a terminal disease. He even repeats the word twice for emphasis in the Hebrew. He literally says “it was bitter, was bitter unto me,” or “I had such bitterness, such bitterness.”  

But then he declares the most wonderful thing: but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. 

Do you know what that says, literally, in the original Hebrew? “Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption,”2 or “thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction – as if God’s love, beaming on the monarch’s soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit.3 

You have loved my soul back! Oh, yes! What amazing grace! How many times has He done that for me? It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck. Loving me back from anger and discontent and bitterness. Pulling me up out of depression, fear, despair and hopelessness. He has loved my soul back. 

But the most wonderful thing is: for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Picture that – God throwing my sins behind His back “Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered.”3  

And what does Hezekiah say about why all this happened to him? It was for my welfare. Literally, it was for my shalom: my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

It was for my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. But you have loved me back from the brink – from the pit of destruction, corruption, failure, nothingness. For you have cast away, thrown, flung, hurled all my sins behind your back.  

“The worst-case scenario is that all the very worst things happen, and I am still loved.” — Ann Voskamp, excerpt from the WayMaker Study Guide 

Yes, we are still, always, loved, even when the worst-case scenario happens. And He is drawing us – me and you – always loving us back. Back to Him. Praise for His amazing grace! 

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (ESV) 

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:1-2 

“Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering 

1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

3Pulpit Commentary 

Image, Killer Cliffs! by Martin Cathrae https://flic.kr/p/jqrf5

When You Pass Through the Waters

Choosing love, choosing possible, most-likely, suffering, means choosing over and over.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (ESV) 

I noticed it says “when” you pass through the waters and the rivers and “when” you walk through fire. Not if. Right now, is a “when” time for me. Both parents in Hospice. Exhausting caregiving. And I am sure that there are others of you reading that are up to your neck or smelling the smoke too. I would like to share with you some writings that have encouraged me. 

“I’m no sage. I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, but I know this: some live well, some die well, but few love well. Why? I don’t know if I can answer that. We all live, we all die – there is no get-out-of-jail-free card, but it’s the part in between that matters. To love well … that’s something else. It’s a choosing—something done again and again and again. No matter what. And in my experience, if you so choose, you better be willing to suffer hell.” — Charles Martin, Where the River Ends 

Yes, when you choose this Way. When you walk through the fire. When you follow in his steps. 

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 

Besides descending into hell after his death on the cross, Jesus suffered a great deal of hell while on earth. We are commanded to follow in His footsteps, but we need to do it with His mindset. Becoming nothing. Being a servant. Pure love. 

Against my own best intentions, I find myself continually striving to acquire power. When I give advice, I want to know whether it is being followed; when I offer help, I want to be thanked; when I give money, I want it to be used my way; when I do something good, I want to be remembered. I might not get a statue, or even a memorial plaque, but I am constantly concerned that I not be forgotten, that somehow I will live on in the thoughts and deeds of others. 

But the father of the prodigal son is not concerned about himself. His long-suffering life has emptied him of his desires to keep in control of things. His children are his only concern; to them he wants to give himself completely, and for them he wants to pour out all of himself. 

Can I give without wanting anything in return, love without putting any conditions on my love? Considering my immense need for human recognition and affection, I realize that it will be a lifelong struggle. But I am also convinced that each time I step over this need and act free of my concern for return, I can trust that my life can truly bear the fruits of God’s Spirit.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son  

So, choosing love, choosing possible, most-likely, suffering, means choosing over and over. A “lifelong struggle.” And as Marshall Segal writes, it must be tenacious. 

“In other words, the deepest patience comes from a humble and hopeful joy in God above all else. That means that real patience is not only inconvenient, difficult, and wearying, but, humanly speaking, impossible. The kind of patience that honors God is so hard that we cannot practice it without help from God. It grows only where the Spirit lives (Galatians 5:22–23) … Paul does not charge the church to admonish the weak, but to help them, and the word for help here can also mean to hold firm or be devoted. There’s a tenaciousness in this help, a clinging to the weak, even after months or years of inconvenience and sacrifice. Where does that kind of patience come from? From knowing that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” … Those who know how painfully and helplessly weak they are apart from God are more ready to endure the weaknesses of others. They don’t resent helping for the hundredth time, because they gladly trust and submit to God’s plans, including the weaknesses he has placed around them.” — Marshall Segal https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/patience-will-be-painful  

Tenacious, gladly trusting, and, as Henri Nouwen writes, unhesitating.  

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love even more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love 

All this is indeed “humanly speaking, impossible.” But we have a Helper. 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 

The carvings had faded, but I ran my fingers through the grooves I could reach. ‘When you pass through the waters …’ The passage continued but my arm was too short.” — Charles Martin, Where the River Ends 

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save … Isaiah 59:1 

I will strengthen you and help you … 

I will be with you. 

P.S. And look what just came out as I was about to publish this! “Faith under fire becomes a furnace of transformation.” There is Another in the Fire

Image by Jackie, Noreaster April 16, 2007 https://flic.kr/p/GSsv8  

Sandstorm

This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (ESV) 

I was meditating on this verse lately and found this revealing commentary: 

“The valley of the shadow of death . . .–This striking expression, to which the genius of Bunyan has given such reality, was probably on Hebrew lips nothing more than a forcible synonym for a dark, gloomy place. Indeed, the probability is that instead of tsal-maveth (shadow of death), should be read, tsalm-th (shadow, darkness), the general signification being all that is required in any one of the fifteen places where it occurs. It is true it is used of the ‘grave’ or ‘underworld’ (Job 10:21-22). But it is also used of the ‘darkness of a dungeon’ (Psalm 107:10), of ‘the pathless desert’ (Jeremiah 2:6); or, possibly, since it is there parallel with drought, of ‘the blinding darkness of a sandstorm,’ and metaphorically of ‘affliction’ (Isaiah 9:2), and of the ‘dull heavy look’ that grief wears (Job 16:16).” — Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

“The blinding darkness of a sandstorm.” Wow. While I can relate to all of the above metaphors, this speaks to me right now. This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try. I am being sand blasted and refined in pitch darkness. All I can do is cling to the One who will never leave me, and fear no evil from His unfailing love.  

for you are with me … 

Image in the Public Domain, free download from Picryl 

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