It’s a Wonderful Death

There is a death involved in our walk, but rather than one of despair that looks inward, it is a death that looks outward and brings life. 

May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ Job 3:3 

Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me. Job 10:18 

I have been re-reading Job and I can relate, in a very small way, to his wishing he had never been born. Sometimes the burden is too heavy; sometimes you just want it to be done. Job’s faith was tested to the utmost. He asked God, what was it all for? He was tempted to give up, to blame God, to “curse God and die” but he held fast. God was refining and testing Job, and, according to James 5:11, he passed the test.  

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 

But Job was not the only one to express this wish in the Bible. Jeremiah also cried out, Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! (Jeremiah 20:14). And there were others, all who carried heavy, heavy burdens. 

Elijah: He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:4 

Moses: I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me. Numbers 11:14-15 

Jonah: Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. Jonah 4:3 

Paul: I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1:23 

This, unfortunately, is a common feeling among the broken world’s inhabitants. If you have ever watched It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie starring James Stewart, you have seen this scene with the angel, Clarence: 

Clarence: So you still think killing yourself would make everyone feel happier, eh? 
George: Oh, I don’t know. I guess you’re right. I suppose it would have been better if I’d never been born at all. 
Clarence: What did you say? 
George: I said “I’d wish I’d never been born!” 
Clarence: Oh, you mustn’t say things like that. You…wait a minute. Wait a minute. That’s an idea. [glances up toward Heaven] What do you think? Yeah, that’ll do it. All right. [to George] You’ve got your wish. You’ve never been born. [snow stops falling and a strong gust of wind blows open the door] You don’t have to make all that fuss about it. 
 

In the end, Clarence is able to show George that living his life had been worthwhile and fruitful. What George had dismissed as small acts of love and kindness had had a ripple effect that resulted in hundreds of sailors being saved from death, and in hundreds of poor people getting a chance at a good life. While the story is fanciful, the message is good. Many of the stories in the Bible have a similar message. 

Joseph, after spending years in prison and servitude, was able to say to his persecutors: 

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Genesis 50:19-20 

I have a deep sense of gratitude to those who have gone before us, suffering but remaining faithful. Like Abraham and what he went though, his clinging to faith as he obeyed God in leaving his homeland for an unknown destination, and in being willing to sacrifice his only son. He did not know that he later would be held up as an example to us of God-pleasing faith.  

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Romans 15:4 

And look at Job. Though Job didn’t know what was going on at the time, for thousands of years struggling believers have been encouraged and inspired by what he went through. Job never knew that Handel would write the stirring aria, I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, which would inspire generations. But that is what is birthed out of testing and temptation, testing endured and persevered in naked faith. Assurance, trust, knowing, maturity in ourselves, but also life for others. For there is a death involved in our walk, but rather than one of despair that looks inward, it is a death that looks outward and brings life. 

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Philippians 1:21-26 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24 

Image in the Public Domain

Is the Lord Among Us Or Not?

When bad things happen to us. When we find ourselves in the life-sucking desert with no water – is the Lord among us or not?

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. Exodus 16:4 

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7 

Reading the two verses above together was mind-blowing to me. The Hebrew word translated “test” in each of these verses is the same word. It is nasah (נָסָה) which means to test, assay, prove, tempt, try.  

It seems like there is a lot of testing going on in Exodus, God testing his people and his people testing God. I remembered Jesus, who being tested in the desert by the devil, quoted another verse which uses the word nasah, Deuteronomy 6:16.  

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Matthew 4:5-7  

And, I suddenly had the thought: if God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow his instructions, when we test God are we seeing if he will follow our instructions? Am I trying to hold God hostage to my agenda? 

Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah. Deuteronomy 6:16 

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7 

One of the definitions of nasah is to “assay.” According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online, to assay something is “to determine its purity,” and “to judge the worth of.” Think about those meanings when applied to the Holy God. 

When bad things happen to us. When we find ourselves in the life-sucking desert with no water – is the Lord among us or not? Is he the Holy God who cannot lie? Is his promise good? Is he worthy of my trust? 

When the devil “tested” Jesus in the desert he challenged Him to believe God’s promise.  

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”  

The devil must have thought he had Jesus now. If Jesus jumped, he would be playing the devil’s game, giving him power and indirectly, worship. And most likely Jesus would go splat, since jumping off the temple was not the will of God for Jesus. If Jesus didn’t jump, he would be admitting a lack of trust in God’s promise, right? See, the devil was trying to get Jesus, and the Father God, to follow his instructions. But instead of playing the game, Jesus held firm to the instructions he had been given by the Father. 

Jesus replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7 

Jesus didn’t have to prove or assay his Father. Jesus had complete confidence in God’s promises and in his will. Jesus didn’t have an agenda. He didn’t have to prove his Lordship or his value or power. He didn’t come to be a big success or to be prosperous. He actually came to be nothing, a humble servant, following and completely fulfilling the instructions given to him by a God whom he knew to be good and loving and faithful all the time, even in the desert times of testing. And even so he wants me to follow after him. His instruction for me is to trust that He is with me here in the dry, deadly places, the impossible, bleak, and heart-gutting places. The places where I see no hope or way out. The times when everything I hoped for is gone, my agenda is shredded and I am reduced to nothing.  

Do you ever wonder what would have happened at Massah and Meribah if the Israelites had trusted God and waited for his salvation instead of despairing and turning against him? What would God have done? What amazing things could he have done? But instead, God let what happened happen for us! Speaking of the Israelites in the desert Paul wrote: 

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  1 Corinthians 10:11 

Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. Psalm 95:8-9 

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) 

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will (His instructions) for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 

Photo free download from Pexels, Great sand dunes in desert at sundown, by Chris Clark 

In the Middle of Doubt

As sure as the sunrise, whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me.

Doubt has been flapping around me like vultures over a half-dead animal. Struggling with the high stress of caregiving and accompanying health problems, wrestling with disappointment and maybe even anger at God about how things have turned out in my life. The unhealed lacerations of past trauma making it hard to feel or receive anybody’s love, God’s love. Feeling that God’s love is conditional toward me. That I haven’t been able to get it right. I haven’t said or done the “correct” thing yet. My daily Word another disapproving censure. Out of yet another dark place I reached out to my sweet (and may I say oh-so-patient) sister. She had this to say: 

“God’s Spirit came to live in believers through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of love. We now live in Roman’s chapter 8 love. No condemnation love. No separation love.”  

And then she prayed: 

“Lord, we need revelation to sink down into our hearts! Change us! We can’t do it without you. We want to love you more truly and deeply. Amen.” 

Yes, I need revelation. That flash of Light in my darkness. And, let me say with deep thankfulness that whenever – always, as sure as the sunrise – whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me. Almost immediately. I am humbled and undone. 

In my daily reading the next morning were Paul’s writings about Jesus, who came as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, “not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). That word translated “indestructible” means no, not, or without (in other words it is impossible to) dissolve, disunite, destroy, demolish, overthrow, to render vain, to deprive of success, bring to naught, to render fruitless one’s desires or endeavors, to deprive of force, annul, abrogate.  

Jesus’ life is indestructible and our lives are hidden in His (Colossians 3:3). His plans and purposes, His desire and will, His power, His unity with me in the Spirit, are indestructible, cannot be destroyed, dissolved, rendered vain – not even by my weakness and wounds.  

And then I noticed that in the margin I had written, years ago, “Romans 8:38-39.” Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Soon after, in my inbox came this from a daily devotional1 I follow: 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 

OK, I’m listening. When this happens, I always know that God has a message for me.  

Well, the very next blog2 I read had this to say (thank you Alan Kearns!): 

“So often in life we are left scratching our head at how things have turned out; despite our best plans or efforts the unexpected has happened. We are left with a handful of question marks … we are mystified by the circumstances we find ourselves in, praying for His light on the matter … Be assured if you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, His Father is in control of your puzzle – He knows what the final picture is!” 

And then a link to this beautiful song. (Remember how I told you that God uses song lyrics to speak to me.) 

God Jehovah, Jehovah Rapha 

You’re our healer 

You and You Alone … 

In the middle of doubt 

In the thick of sorrow 

You say look up 

To where our help comes from 

If everything around us 

Says there is no hope 

We’re never gonna let go 

Of the hem of Your robe … 

We’re leaning on your power 

You’ll do what can’t be done … 

All depression, every worry 

Every sickness Lord, You heal 

All addiction, every family 

Every heartbreak Lord, You heal … 

You and You Alone3 

I looked up what Jehovah-Rapha means and found this at Got Questions. “Jehovah-Rapha has the power to heal physically (2 Kings 5:10), emotionally (Psalm 34:18), mentally (Daniel 4:34), and spiritually (Psalm 103:2–3). Neither impurity of body nor impurity of soul can withstand the purifying, healing power of Jehovah-Rapha.”4  

Yes, I need healing in all those areas – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. I need them all and I know He will do it. Because nothing can withstand His indestructible Life

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37 

He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:41 

RAPHA – Stephen Mcwhirter & Jason Clayborn (ART Music & Video) 

1Henri J.M. Nouwen, Daily Meditation, November 5, 2022 

2https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/11/05/the-puzzles-of-life/  

3Jehovah Rapha by Stephen Mcwhirter and Jason Clayborn 

4https://www.gotquestions.org/Jehovah-Rapha.html 

Image, A shaft of sunlight pierces the threatening clouds, by Mark Levisay  https://flic.kr/p/J9cBSr   

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 

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.

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  

How Long

Hope, it seems, is hardwired into our souls.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2 

If you have ever gone through a very long, dark night of trial and bewildering hard times, you may have felt forgotten; you may have cried out with David, “How long?” Actually, the Psalms record multiple times this question was asked of God. Other people in the Bible too, like Jeremiah (4:21) and Habakkuk.  

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Habakkuk 1:2 

Even Our Lord himself expressed this sentiment, though I don’t blame him. I am sure that dealing with someone like me for even three and half years would seem like an excruciating eternity.  

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Mark 9:19 

But sometimes our hard times do stretch out for very long times, even into decades, and we cry out with David, My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long? (Psalm 6: 3). Yet, even then, there is a hope we can’t seem to shake. 

“There are times when in our despair we cry, ‘God hath forgotten me.’ yet somehow the conviction rises, ‘No, I am not forgotten forever.’ The soul is in that condition which Luther knew so well. — hope itself despairs, and despair nevertheless begins to hope. In our dejection we think there is no hope, yet we feel in our souls that God cannot forget, and so we begin to question Him, ‘How long shall it seem as though Thou forgettest us forever?’” — McConnell, Moody, and Fitt (emphasis mine)1 

Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Psalm 42:9 

“Hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” Hope, it seems, is hardwired into our souls. Zechariah called us “prisoners of hope.” Hope, no matter how hard we try to get rid of it, is tenacious. It pops back up, poking through the hardened covering of our hearts or, at least, humming relentlessly beneath it. Sometimes hope feels like an invasive species that though it is poisoned, chopped down, and yanked up, just keeps coming back. Its roots run deep and are pervasive. Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), yet hope does not shame us.  

And hope does not put us to shame (disgrace, shame down, shame of one repulsed, shame of hope deceived) because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5-6 

I think it depends on what and who you are hoping for and in. Because, real hope, the hope that is hardwired into us, is hope in God. Hope that He is always doing something, even when we can’t see it. That is where hope and faith in what we do not see are intertwined. After Habakkuk complains to God in the above verse that God is not listening, not helping, not saving, how does God answer? 

The LORD replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. Habakkuk 1:5 (NLT) 

… Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John 5:17 

So, in the end, the pain of “how long” can be endured through His grace and love if I remember that God has not forgotten me and will not put me to shame. He will not repulse me or deceive me. His promises are faithful and true. He is doing something amazing right now that I cannot see, but will see someday. 

I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (Amplified Bible) 

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:10-11 

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 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Luke 12:6-7 

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 

1Alexander McConnell, William Revell Moody, Arthur Percy Fitt, Record of Christian Work, Volume 39, 1920 

Image in the Public Domain, Dead Sparrow by Marc Franz, 1905 

Broken Walls Made Whole

If you are with me in that place of impossible burden, feeling guilty and useless, not just hidden but buried, be encouraged.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14 (ESV) 

When I looked at the original language of this verse, I found something unexpected, what seems like a vivid contrast, or even an oxymoron. 

I have always thought of waiting as a still (maybe frustratingly so, like sitting in a traffic jam) and almost sedentary activity, and patient waiting as almost an impossibility.  

The Hebrew word qavah (קָוָה), translated wait, is used twice in the verse. It means to look for, wait patiently, tarry, wait for, wait on, wait upon. It has this underlying meaning of the “tension of enduring, waiting.”1 But the words translated “be strong” and “take courage” are far from still or sedentary in their meanings. 

The word translated “be strong” is chazaq (חָזַק). It means “to be or grow firm or strong, strengthen.” In its various verb tenses it carries the meanings of prevailing over, the sound of a trumpet growing louder and louder, securing a kingdom. It means to seize, grasp, take hold, retain, and keep, restore to strength, make strong and encourage. In Nehemiah it is used of the repairing of the walls of the city. 

Wow, these biblical images sound familiar and do not sound like passive waiting. They almost don’t seem very patient either.  

The word translated “take courage,” or be courageous is amets (אָמַץ). This word means to confirm, be courageous or of good courage, steadfastly-minded, be strong, make strong, strengthen yourself, fortify, to be alert, physically (on foot) or mentally (in courage), increase, prevail. 

So, the psalmist appears to be saying we have something to do while we wait: 

Wait for the Lord. But while you are waiting for Him, secure the Kingdom. Seize, take hold, restore. Sound the trumpet of the Good News. Strengthen yourself and others in the Lord. Repair the broken walls of the church. Be alert for the attacks of the enemy and resist him.  

It seems like the psalmist is saying while you wait conquer, prevail over the enemy, bring the lost into dwelling place of the Most High, our most loving God. And I absolutely believe that is true.

But to tell you the truth this study has left me feeling guilty and deficient. I am in a place right now as a caregiver where I cannot do much for the Kingdom – or so it seems. I find myself overwhelmed, burdened with necessary responsibilities, unable to do one more thing, even sometimes it seems to take one more breath. Obvious, visible doings like volunteer work and helps ministries are impossible right now. And I feel sad and stymied. 

But then the Lord showed me something. Could it be that by waiting patiently – yielding to Him and the place He has me in right now, serving Him though “the least of these” – focused on Him and together with Him, I conquer my self-life, prevail over oppression in the unseen spiritual realm, I witness to my faith, and encourage others by my perseverance. Maybe in this waiting-yielding time I become better, as Chris Hendrix recently blogged Becoming Better.  

Maybe this is a refining time for me. I have always wanted to do big things for God, maybe for the wrong reasons. Maybe I have wanted to be wonderful and seen, when He wants me to be hidden in the One called Wonderful. And who is to say whether our patient waiting and enduring and persisting in love is not as powerful an encouragement and witness to others as physically sounding trumpets and repairing broken walls? Aren’t the faithful prayers of one person powerful and effective according to scripture (James 5:16), even though only heard by God?

So, if you are with me in that place of impossible burden, feeling guilty and useless, not just hidden but buried, be encouraged. Put on your armor, grow strong, stand your ground, hold on, keep loving the hard to love, keep lifting up your prayers. Maybe be still and let God repair some broken walls in your soul. Cultivate the fruits of the Spirit. Let them beautify walls made whole. And you and I will come out of this with a witness of God’s faithfulness. We will come out better. 

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 1 Timothy 1:18-19 

For our struggle (fight, conflict, wrestling bout) is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground (take a complete stand against, withstand, resist, oppose, refusing to be moved, to keep one’s possession; ardently withstand, without giving up), and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:12-13 

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

Occupy (do business, make legitimate gain, bear much fruit, the opposite of being fruitless) until I come. Luke 19:13 (KJV)  

… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

1All definitions from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Discovery Bible, NAS Concordance of the Bible, and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. 

Image, Pomegranates hanging over wall on our climb to the castle, by ralmonline alm, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pomegranates_hanging_over_wall.jpg  

Clothe Yourselves

This is a humbling thing this being clothed.

Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. Psalm 132:9 (ESV) 

Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy. Psalm 132:16 (ESV) 

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:14 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 

The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by. Zechariah 3:4-5 

This is a humbling thing this being clothed. My clothing is filthy and has to be removed. The righteousness and salvation of the Lord Jesus has to be put on me like clothing. They come from the outside of me, from God, not from within me. It’s all grace. Being an exhausted caregiver has clearly shown this to me. It’s amazing how fast a person can go from walking on water to sitting around a campfire talking trash about the one who loves you most. From blazing revelation and faith, to falling asleep and abandoning the beloved one in the agony of death.  

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18 (ESV) 

No there is nothing good in me. I can’t do it on my own. I can’t even have compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience1 in my own strength, rather I have to put them on as part of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is always and only Jesus loving and being kind and patient in me and through me. I don’t have “the ability to carry it out.” 

I have written about putting on Jesus before, but it’s one thing to get the revelation and understanding and write about it, and another to live it out. To take the test and fail. That makes it real. That makes it sink down deep and, I hope, effects change. 

Lord, take off my filthy clothes of self-righteousness, of trusting in self, of forgetting to cry out to you for your strength and love and help. Only you can do it. Thank you for your patience and love and amazing grace towards me! 

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 (ESV) 

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Genesis 3:21 

1 Colossians 3:12 

Image, Struggling with her jacket, by Jinterwas https://flic.kr/p/bEJUEW  

They Took Him Along

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41 

Reading this verse, I was stopped, and maybe a little amused, at the phrase “they took him along.” I think it is a curious statement. They brought Jesus along, or so they thought. Jesus had been in the boat all day teaching the crowds. So, they brought him along just as he was already in the boat. They brought him along as the Teacher, but did they bring him along as Lord? When it was time to go, they got in the boat with him and started off – right into a huge storm. While they began fighting for their lives, Jesus slept.  

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

I think Jesus was sleeping for a couple of reasons. One, I’m sure he was exhausted. But also, he wanted them to discover that he is in control and sees what is happening, even when it seems he is asleep and doesn’t care. And that you don’t just take him along with you. As J.D. Walt wrote, Jesus needs to be at the helm of our boat, not the stern. 

I am with you. I am not distant or far from you. I am in the boat, sleeping. The problem is not that the storm is raging all around you (though that is a problem). It is that the storm has gotten inside of you. These waves may do irreparable damage, but I will redeem it. What the enemy meant for evil I will turn to good. I AM THE PEACE OF GOD, the one who sleeps in the storm, and though I am with you, I will come closer. Welcome me to come within you, from the stern to the helm. — J.D. Walti 

Lord you are my peace. When the storm has gotten inside of me and I am fighting for my life and struggling, seemingly all alone, help me to see that I have put you behind me in the stern. That I have “taken you along.” Help me to put you before me as Lord, to follow you whom the wind and waves obey. To trust you to turn this evil into good. You are the One who cares. 

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 

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Image, Gandalf’s Gallery, Ludolf Backhuysen – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee [1695], https://flic.kr/p/22qS8Sx  

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