Fellowship with Jesus enables me to enjoy my relationship with Jesus.
According to Dave Anderson, God gave us 1 John to “show us how to have intimacy after the fall.” As he says in the first chapter of his book, Maximum Joy, “the security of being loved leads to a recognition of our significance.” According to Anderson, 1 John focuses not on relationship but on fellowship. Not that relationship is not mentioned–it is! But relationship is a secondary theme in 1 John unlike the book of John in which relationship is the major thrust (John 1-12; 18-21) and fellowship is the secondary theme (John 13-17).
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” (1 John 1:1 ESV)
Anderson suggests that 1 John 1:1 is revealing the Magnetic Messiah in which the author shows us the progression of getting closer and closer to Jesus physically as a metaphor for spiritual truth. Hear—See—Look—Touch! Jesus is drawing us closer and closer to himself.
As believers in Jesus Christ, God has introduced or led us into a relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is secure (John 5:24-25), a relationship that is permanent since we have been adopted by Him as sons and daughters (John 10: 27-30; Rom 8″14-17). But, as Anderson says, “to enjoy that relationship, you need His fellowship.”
How marvelous that God pursues us! Again, Anderson writes, “The marvel is that He could actually know what is inside of me and still want to pursue me and use His magnetic power to draw me closer and love me for who I am, not because of what I can do or have done, but love me simply for my essence and my being.”
Psalm 51:3 “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”
Ah yes, I know but do I admit I know! There are few occasions when I sin that am unaware of what I am doing. Not that I don’t have my blind spots. But most of the time I know what I should do when I don’t and I know when I don’t do what I should do! I am trying to be honest here but I am struggling to put this in words. What does this reveal about me or reveal about sin and my avoidance of it?
Honesty is what is needed, brutal honesty, an admission of my own wrongness, an admission that I have sinned against God and against others.
I think I do okay when I am confronted with my sin–I understand God’s forgiveness and know how to appeal to him to appropriate his grace and mercy but my greatest issue seems to be recognizing when I have sinned, that i am wrong. Why is that?
Is it because I have isolated myself and need more community? Well that would help but I can still deceive others and myself. A few things that keep me from recognizing my sin:
1. Pride–I expect that everything flows from this sin. Pride keeps me hiding my head in the sand with regard to my sin.
2. My pursuit of comfort and relief from pain keeps me dishonest about the way things are within.
3. Fear and shame keep me dishonest and in denial. Somehow shame whispers to me to push aside the dis-ease I feel inside and hide. Busyness is a one of the prime tools that I use to avoid dealing with the inner dark realities. Noise in my life is another way I avoid dealing with stuff.
4. Continued exposure to God’s word. How faithful is God to speak to me in his word and through other people–his church. He speaks straight into the heart of my self-deception–if only I will listen. Open my eyes and my heart Lord and give me courage to face the darkness within.
And so, it is no wonder that silence and solitude are wonderful gifts that God has given to me (us). In silence and solitude, it is difficult for me not to be uncovered. I must admit to God in the stillness and silence the true state of my soul. I have no place to hide in the desert.
What keeps you from an honesty about your own darkness? And how have you experienced the grace of God in this journey?
Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field”
Assuming that the serpent is a figure of the devil–perhaps a big assumption, I am foolish if I expect that I am going to win a head to head battle against him on my own (I have been watching too much tennis lately). He and his evil companions are crafty, sly, deceitful, liars and they hate God and all of us who call upon His name. Although the imagery of him as a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5 warns me of his danger–he really does want to maim, kill and eat me up!
But the serpent’s slyness should warn me that his attacks are rarely frontal assaults. His normal attack
is by the use of deception and this holds true in the Genesis 3 story. With Eve, he creates doubt–”has God really said?” He whispers lies so that others cannot hear (did Adam hear the conversation?). He tries to isolate me from others.
The evil one preys on those who don’t know God’s word or who know it incompletely. If we misunderstand God’s word either by neglecting something or by adding to God’s commands, as did Eve when she said that God told them not to touch the tree, then Satan will either entice us to sin in a direct way contrary to the word we do not know or he will lead us into the bondage of legalism. He contradicts God’s word.
When we are weak and vulnerable, when we are facing loss, these seem to be the times w
hen the evil one suggests we should question the goodness of god. When we begin to think that God may be witholding something that is good for us, we should expect that the tempter is behind these wrong thoughts. So, when God’s goodness is in doubt and I am not sure what God’s word says to do, I am vulnerable to the evil one’s temptation. Temptation seems to offer relief or comfort or power or control but it does so apart from the will of God.
I need to be aware of my vulnerabilities. I need to keep reminding myself of the goodness of God (Psalm 103) and I need to be aware of the deceptive and sly strategies of the evil one. And I need to remember that with every temptation, God provides me with a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13).
“Tender words to the tired heart” is how Max Lucado describes the story. After reading posts last week by Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson, (actually excerpts from previous books) I finally had time to look at this story of grace for the exhausted found in 1 Samuel 30.
Not a story of strength and power and training like in Men of Valor. It’s a story about broken men, weak and tired, unable to do what we (and their companions) expected of them. “As Lucado writes, How tired does a person have to be to abandon the hunt for his own family?”
But a story of grace for the exhausted. I know many of you understand this exhaustion. An exhaustion that I have much more experience with this year I would have chosen. An exhaustion that is no sparer of person nor of calling.
Two hundred men left at Brook Besor, too exhausted (stressed out ? to use a modern day term), to pursue the men (Amalekites) who had kidnapped their wives and children (30:10). While the 200 are reduced to being supply guards, David continues pursuit along with 400 others. David succeeded in recovering everything and everyone that had been taken (30:18) just as the Lord had promised success (30:10). David declared plunder was to be equally shared between those who fought in the battle and those who guarded the supplies (30:24, much to the disgust of evil men and trouble makes among his group (30:22). David’s reasoning–our victory was of grace, God has given it all to us (30:23), why not share?
Peterson comments about the final scene:
Just then David stepped in. His intervention is the climax to the story. David intervened at the Brook Besor, and his intervention is pure gospel. David ruled that everybody at the brook that day — the two hundred who had been unable to continue and had been given the undramatic, behind-the-scenes work of watching over the supplies at the brook 1 Sam. 30:24) and the four hundred who had fought for their lives — were equals and would share everything equally: “Everything we have is a gift from God; we share it with all who are saved by God” (1 Sam. 30:23-25).
The ringleaders of the “fairness” policy are called “wicked and base fellows” (1 Sam. 30:22). Strong words, it would seem, for what sounds like common sense and plain justice. Until we remember who these people are and where they are: these are the men of Ziklag with nothing in their backgrounds to be proud of, all of them picked up from a disreputable life and brought, through no merit of their own, into the net of God’s providence and salvation. And the Amalekite chase itself? They had started out wanting to kill David, and only through David’s prayer with Abiathar and their desert hospitality to the Egyptian had they gotten their families back
Everything they experienced was sheer grace. How could they talk about dividing things up fairly? God was treating them with marvellous and generous grace; David would see to it that they treated one another with marvellous and generous grace.
David at the Brook Besor anticipates Jesus: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30, The Message).
At the end of his post, Lucado writes about how in the church we have men (and women) who are exhausted like the men left behind at the Brook Besor.
The church has its quorum of such folks. Good people. Godly people. Only hours or years ago they marched with deep resolve. But now fatigue consumes them. They’re exhausted. So beat-up and worn down that they can’t summon the strength to save their own flesh and blood. Old age has sucked their oxygen. Or maybe it was a deflating string of defeats. Divorce can leave you at the brook. Addiction can as well. Whatever the reason, the church has its share of people who just sit and rest.
And the church must decide. What do we do with the Brook Besor people? Berate them? Shame them? Give them a rest but measure the minutes? Or do we do what David did? David let them stay.
Lucado provides life giving words to us all when we are exhausted.
If you are listed among them, here is what you need to know: it’s okay to rest. Jesus is your David. He fights when you cannot. He goes where you cannot. He’s not angry if you sit. Did he not invite, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest” (Mark 6:31 MSG)?
Brook Besor blesses rest.
Brook Besor also cautions against arrogance. David knew the victory was a gift. Let’s remember the same. Salvation comes like the Egyptian in the desert, a delightful surprise on the path. Unearned. Undeserved. Who are the strong to criticize the tired?
Are you weary? Catch your breath. We need your strength.
Are you strong? Reserve passing judgment on the tired. Odds are, you’ll need to plop down yourself. And when you do, Brook Besor is a good story to know.
My wife wrote the following excellent devotional this morning. Enjoy!
The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “draw near [with confidence] to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Here are 7 observations to encourage us to persevere in our practice of prayer.
- Drawing near means actively coming before God. If we were to enter the throne room of a king, we would have to deliberately and physically bring our bodies before the king because we had a request to make of him. I can’t say how many times I lament my ineffective prayer life without failing to see how many times I fail to physically bring my body before God in prayer.
2. Drawing near with confidenceis no small matter. For subjects of the kings of old, to approach the throne without being summoned was to invite certain death. You may recall Queen Esther’s boldness: “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Of course, Esther’s confidence came from her trust in the sovereignty of God over life and death, and our confidence comes because we rest in the advocacy of a great High Priest who is perfect and is sovereign over life and death.
3. Drawing near with confidence to the throne means drawing near a throne. Where God is seated. God. Who created and upholds all things by the power of His word. And we are approaching His throne to stand in the immediacy of His glory-filled presence, and all of His attention is on our lips to hear a request He already knows. This is stunning.
4. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace means this throne is unlike any other kind of throne. Many kings have been vicious tyrants; some others have been benefactors. But there is no throne upon which a mortal king has sat that can be called a throne of grace. Our God is so bent towards grace that He seats Himself upon it and surrounds Himself by it. His throne alone is a throne of grace.
5. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy may seem a paradox. A guilty man coming before a king to beg for mercy does not come with confidence; he comes with wobbly knees and a trembling voice. But the promise we have in drawing near the throne of grace with the advocacy of our perfect High Priest allows us the freedom to expect mercy when we come.
6. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace means the God who seats himself upon a throne of grace offers grace to us as well. He is the source of this grace but does not hoard it. He means not only to give us grace but for us to find it as well. When we seek at the throne of grace, we find what we are seeking.
7. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need means the grace we find when we approach the throne of God, with confidence, finding mercy, is the kind of grace that is meant to help us. His grace not only forgives; it enables. It not only absolves sin; it sustains. And this kind of grace is the kind of grace that addresses all kinds of needs because it is a grace from a God who is sovereign over all things.
Praise God for the instruction of his word and the patience with which He teaches us! And let us continue to practice prayer, with steadfastness and perseverance, because we serve a great Coach and a mighty King who invites us to enter His throne room with confidence wrought by faith in the God-man who perfected prayer: Jesus.
Amazing how suffering and glory run together as I read 1 Peter 5:1-10. Some thoughts that fit well with life right now.
Love the juxtaposition of the words, “witness of the sufferings” and “partaker in the glory.” How closely suffering and glory seem to be related in Scripture–for the Lord Jesus and for me as His follower and as one of the leaders in his church. Shepherding–willingly, not because I have to or should do so, not domineering but being an example, with humility not with pride. Surely there is suffering in the midst of the shepherding–my experience teaches me this and because when my shepherd appears he comes in glory and with glory for me, glory that comes after the suffering. Taking advantage of the suffering, my enemy wants to devour me with discouragement and despair, yet I have one who cares for me in the midst of the struggle and promises me after the suffering, eternal glory will come—He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, establish–words that give me life, hope and reassurance I am not alone in the battle. Thank you Lord.
After reading Luke 6:17-45 yesterday, I pulled out the first volume on Luke by Darrell Bock. Following are some nuggets I discovered:
Luke 6:21a The consequence of being among the poor is “hunger and sadness.” Darrell Bock 575
- Quote from Goppelt, “The hungry are men who both outwardly and inwardly are painfully deficient in the things essential to life as God meant it to be, and who since they cannot help themselves, turn to God on the basis of His promise.”
- Bock’s summary of the verse: “Blessed are you who sense your lack and depend on God, for God shall accept and reward you in the consummation.” 576
Luke 6:22 from Bock, “Blessed are you who suffer scorn and pain as you identify with God and depend on him, for you shall be fully welcomed by him at his table and shall rejoice.” 577
Luke 6:22-23 “The disciple is treated as evil, unclean, and thus as a person with whom one does not associate.” Total rejection. 579
Luke 6:24-26 Warning about trusting “too greatly in wealth, comfort, popularity and possessions.” 582
- “An attitude of independence from God is the road to destruction. Its reward is fleeting, limited to the present.” 582
Luke 6:24 “What is condemned is a misplaced focus that zeroes in on this life and its possessions without concern for God’s desires or fellow humans. The danger of succumbing to things of only temporal value is all too real and deceptive.” 583
Luke 6:25 “The joy of possessions now will become the pain of what is lost forever.” 585 Darrell Bock
Luke 6:26 Warning “not to fall into the trap of courting acceptance for one’s message at the expense of truthfulness. . . Popularity at the expense of being God’s faithful representative is disastrous.” 585
- Mercy should produce a hesitation to judge others. Luke 6:27-38
- Mercy and generosity belong together
- The disciples are to “make clear what the justice of God would mean for one who steadfastly refused to listen to God; but they were to seek to benefit their enemies as much as possible.” 591
Luke 6:28 supernatural love being discussed here since it reverses “all natural instincts.” 590
Luke 6:29a “Love is available, vulnerable, and subject to repeated abuse.”
- Turning the other cheek “is not so much an active pursuit as it is a natural exposure when one reaches out to those who have contempt.” In other words, we continue “to minister at the risk of further persecution.” 591
Luke 6:30b “To commit to a radical love, one must see that God honors such a commitment to reflect his grace (6:35-36).”
Luke 6:31 “not simply a command to avoid unfair treatment that one might not wish for oneself. Rather, it is a command to give the same sensitive consideration to others that one might want others to give.” 596
- “treat others with the respect and sensitivity that one would wish from them.” 597
- “As you wish to be treated with sensitivity to your preferences, so treat others with sensitivity to their preferences.” 598 (“this does not involve moral areas where God’s desire is clear”)
Luke 6:34 “One should give without strings attached.” 601
Luke 6:37-38 When we are merciful, we are hesitant to condemn and quick to forgive. 605 (my summary of his words)
Luke 6:37 Jesus warns against a harshness that holds onto an unforgiving attitude and ceases to hold out hope. 607 (my summary again)
In our online formational reading group, we read Luke 6:17-45 this morning and I wanted to share (with her permission) what my wife wrote about Luke 6:35, “For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil”
I find this verse comforting, but also uncomfortable!
Because grace itself is comforting but uncomfortable.
And this verse is a definition of grace, God’s lovingkindness toward those like me who don’t deserve it.
And the following verse, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Challenging, but also frightening, as I see how short I fall.
I can only be merciful, gracious, as I draw upon the fountain of God’s mercy and grace toward me.
I wonder what the original hearers of this passage thought? Even for me today, after many years of studying God’s words, and hearing about grace and mercy…even today, I am taken aback anew.
Just read this seemingly fair and helpful critique of Osteen and his theology of self-help.
One quote out of the article struck me. Osteen is said to say, “We don’t always get what we deserve in life, but we usually get no more than we expect; we receive what we believe.”
But, when I read Matthew 20, I see that all we receive is of grace and is not dependent on the effects of our believing.
I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the parable of the workers yesterday. A few quotes from Lloyd-Jones
- Even the rewards are of grace. He need not give them, and if you think you can determine and predict how they are to come you will be quite wrong. Everything is of grace in the Christian life from the very beginning to the very end.
- Be prepared for surprises in this Kingdom. You never know what is going to happen. The last shall be first
- It is grace at the beginning, grace at the end. So that when you and I come to lie upon our deathbeds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us at the beginning. Not what we have been, not what we have done, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Christian life starts with grace, it must continue with grace, it ends with grace. Grace, wondrous grace. `By the grace of God I am what I am.’ `Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Following is a paraphrase of Romans 8:18-25 by Macrina Wiederkehr in the 1991 reprint of her book, Seasons of the Heart.
It appears to me that whatever we suffer now will show up only dimly when compared to the wonders God has in store for us. It is as though all creation is standing on tiptoe longing to see an unforgettable vision, the children of God being born into wholeness.
Although creation is unfinished, still in the process of being born, it carries within it a secret hope. And the hope is this: A day will come when we will be rescued from the pain of our limitation and incompleteness and be given our share in a freedom that can only belong to the children of God.
At the present moment of all creation is struggling as though in the pangs of childbirth. And that struggling creation includes even those of us who have had a taste of the spirit. We peer into the future with our limited vision, unable to see all that we are destined to be, yet believing because of a hope we carry so deep within.
Wiederkehr writes the following as a reflection on Romans 8.
Could it be true
That some folks die
Because our hope is too small
To bring them forth?
It is good to remember:
We do not give birth to ourselves.
We give birth to others
By believing in that first, small spark of life
The spark we can barely see.
It is called hope.
After reading the above, I wrote the following confession:
Forgive me Lord for not having hope
They need the gift of hope I can offer them
And when I withhold hope
Or may never be born
Forgive me Lord
I suppose drifting is dangerous at any age but based upon my own experience, the temptation to drift grows even more powerful in the mid-life years. The early monks warned us against the danger of acedia (often translated as sloth or laziness).
According to Gerald Sittser, in a chapter on the rhythm of work and prayer that the early monks tried to establish, laziness is more a result of acedia than the meaning of it. He says, “Acedia is better defined as boredom, restlessness, inattentiveness.” Boredom, restlessness and inattentiveness very well describe what I have been experiencing in the last period of my life. Ouch!! Sittser goes on to say, “Routine can make us impatient; we wish that there was an easier and faster way to maturity of faith and fruitfulness of life. We want to take shortcuts; we look for entertainment along the way; we expect to be dazzled by the speed of our progress.” When we are experiencing acedia, the one thing we should not do (and yet are tempted to do) is to quit! Seems like I have heard these words from my wife more than once.
The real danger is that often acedia leads us to drift and Hebrews warns us about what happens when we start to drift. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb 2:1 ESV) In fact, if one traces the warning passages in Hebrews, there seems to be a progression: from Drift to Indifference to Disobedience to Hardness to Rebellion to Failure. We start drifting but then we end up in a place we never planned!
Michael Hyatt offers three solutions in a helpful post on drift.
- Become aware of your current location
- Decide where you want to go.
- Start working toward your destination.
What has worked for you in dealing with acedia? in dealing with drift in your life? I would appreciate hearing and perhaps others might benefit as well
Looking over Luke 19:1-10 about Jesus and Zacchaeus, I noticed several steps or movements of faith in the story.
Step 1 he was seeking to see Jesus v3
Step 2 he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree v4
Step 3 he quickly came down and welcomed him v6
Step 4 he stood and said to the Lord v8 (no small challenge for a short man–ok, maybe I am reading into things here!)
Step 5 half of my goods . . . I am going to give to the poor
if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I am going to pay it back four times v8
Step 6 salvation has come to this house v9
In looking over Bock’s massive commentary on this section, he has several points worth noting about the story
First: “The gospel is for the outcast.” He later says, “That one is a sinner does not cancel one’s right to appeal to God’s mercy.” He says later, “Too often people are unwilling to let the despised find God.”
Second “We see here a model response to Jesus’ initiative: joy, generosity, and the righting of the previous wrongs.” And later, “God’s graciousness to the sinner is also the basis for the sinner’s response of generosity to others, along with an effort to right past wrongs.”
Third: “A relationship with God requires not only Jesus’ call but a response to that call.” And, “Jesus’ mission is to initiate relationships with those who do not know God and to call to them to come to know him.”
Fourth: “Vocation is not as important as his heart.” And, “Zacchaeuss’s vocation does not cancel his potential access to God.” Rich people come to Jesus “on the same basis as others–in humility and responsiveness, recognizing their need.”
Bock sums up this section, “The one sent to seek and save the lost possesses the gift for those who respond.” Amen!!
My words reflect a heart that is saturated by beauty and goodness or contaminated by cynicism, anger and unresolved conflict.
That is why
- I must pray,”Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight” (Psalm 19:14)
- I must attempt to exercise self-control over my tongue (James 3:1-12)
- I must guard my heart and my mouth
“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalms 141:3 ESV)
“I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”” (Psalms 39:1 ESV)
“Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.” (Psalms 26:2 ESV)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalms 51:10 ESV)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)
As John Eldredge says,
- My heart is good
- God is deeply concerned for my heart
- Because a battle rages for my heart, I must engage the enemy if I am concerned for my heart.
Jesus said ““What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:20 ESV) Yet because of the ongoing battle, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV)
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing says it well,
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart,
O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Psalm 19 encourages us that when we value and engage the Bible with our heart, soul and mind, we will be warned (11) and be able to discern when our hearts begin to wander (see discern his error in v12). Shagah is the word NIV translates as error but it has the idea of going astray or wandering as when sheep roam without their shepherd (Ezek 34:16) or a blind man is led astray (Deut 27:18).
Psalm 19:12 and 13 gives us three ways in which we may be prone to wander–three ways love and engagement with the Word can protect us.
“Hidden faults” is how the NIV translates sahar. When we allow God (and others) to speak to our heart from his Word, we have less chance of being involved in secret activities such as David (“you did it secretly” 2 Sam 12:12), secret idolatry (Deut 27:15), secret murder (Deut 27:24) or thinking we can slander others in secret (Psalm 101:4).
Pride reigns in a heart not submitted to God! May his word held close to our heart protect us from presuming that God will bless us when we are not doing what God approves. An example of presumptuous sin is found in Deut 1:42-43 when the children of Israel decided they would go up even though God had not told them to do so. The result: Disaster! Pride can easily deceive us into thinking we are safe (Jer 49:16). May we not presume upon the grace of God but rather live in true faith according to what he has promised us! With presumptuous sins, we are aware what is wrong but we assume that we do not have to follow. Bad choice! (Mal 3:13-14; Psalm 86:14; Jer 43:2)
Controlled by sin
The Psalmist prays in verse 13, “let them not have dominion over me.” Too many men understand the rule and dominion (mashal) sin can have in their lives. We don’t plan it that way but it comes following a period of drifting and sliding, following a time when we have not guarded our hearts.
When we spend time in the Word, we can avoid secret activities, presumptuous sins and being controlled by sin. We can live a life that is full of integrity–blameless and pure (tamim in v13) and one in which we are not condemned by the guilt or shame of sin (innocent of great transgression in v13). We can live lives of freedom.
Being present this week with my sister who is dying of cancer has pulled me back to Psalm 86. You can pick up the tone of the Psalm in verse 1:
“Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”
Re-writing v14 to reflect cancer as the enemy.
“O God, an insolent disease has arisen against me
a band of ruthless cancer cells seeks my life
no respecter of persons or of God.”
In Psalm 86, the Psalmist cries out to God for help (“preserve my life”, “save your servant”, “be gracious to me”, “gladden my soul”, “Give ear to my prayer”, “listen to my plea for grace” and more. But he does so because he trusts in the character of God. A key point since we often doubt God’s character when circumstances turn dark.
- you are good and forgiving 5
- abounding in steadfast love 5
- none like you 8
- you are great 10
- you do wondrous things 10
- you alone are god 10
- great is your steadfast love toward me 13
- you are a God merciful and gracious 15
- slow to anger 15
- abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness 15
Back to cancer as the enemy–Psalm 86 closes with my version of verse 17
“Show me a sign of your grace and goodness
put this cancerous disease to shame
“Unite my heart to fear your name” Psalm 86:11
Is my heart ready
to play music for you?
Do I wait?
Suspended in time,
Ready to dance,
Ready to sing,
As your Spirit
With breezes of love.
Two questions to get you going:
How hard is it for you to admit that you are struggling (1 to 10)
How easy it is for you to wait? (1 to 10)
If it is difficult for you to admit that you struggle or hard for you to wait, then Psalm 130 may be for you!
Psalm 130 teaches us two things–we should be honest about our struggles and we should wait! Eugene Peterson writes about the two great realities of Psalm 130: suffering is real and God is real. “Suffering is a mark or our existential authenticity; God is proof of our essential and eternal humanity. We accept suffering; we believe in God.” 145
Verses 1 and 2 allow us to admit to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Reflect on the first phrase, out of the depths and examine Psalm 69:1-2 and 14-15 to get a better feel for the imagery here. More from Peterson:
We can face, acknowledge, and live through suffering because “we know it can never be ultimate, it can never constitute the bottom line. God is at the foundation and God is at the boundaries. God seeks the hurt, maimed, wandering, and lost. God woos the rebellious and confused.” Peterson 144
Question: What is currently overwhelming you? In what way are you suffering? Or the people with whom you serve?
The good thing about being overwhelmed—you become real and you don’t have to hide or deny. When we deny pain and suffering, we deny ourselves an encounter with reality. (Idea from Ivan Illich)
Verses 3 and 4 tells us that forgiveness is available. “The fact of forgiveness is not in doubt.” Peterson describes God as the forgiving God:
God is “One who forgives sin, who comes to those who wait and hope for him, who is characterized by steadfast love and plenteous redemption, . . . God makes a difference. God acts positively toward his people. God is not indifferent. He is not rejecting. He is not ambivalent or dilatory. He does not act arbitrarily, in fits and starts. He is not stingy, providing only for bare survival.” Peterson 143
Remember the following:
- No culpability, no sin
- If God kept a record, kept track of? Who could stand? Expected answer–NO ONE!
- The word guard or shamar is also used in v6–what is happening here?
- Now With Yahweh—forgiveness v4
- Fear follows forgiveness—reverence and implied relationship come with true fear of God
Verses 5 and 6 tells us what we are to do: We are to wait!
7 times the Psalmist tells us to wait
- I wait
- My soul waits
- In his word I wait (hope—yachal)
- My soul waits
- watchman (wait) for the morning,
- watchmen (wait) for the morning
Peterson helps us to understand what it means (and does not mean) to wait:
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.” 147
“And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.” 147
Verses 7 and 8 tells us why we can wait in two simple phrases
- With God—hesed—love, faithfulness, covenant keeping
- With God—abundant redemption—restoration
We wait. . .
He will redeem and restore
He will remove our sin, the guilt of our sin and even the consequences of our sin
Our suffering has boundaries and these boundaries are established by God!
Peterson writes, Psalm 130 does “not exhort us to put up with suffering; it does not explain it or explain it away. It is rather a powerful demonstration that our place in the depths is not out of bounds from God. . . We are persuaded that God’s way with us is redemption and that redemption, not the suffering is ultimate.” 148
What struggles do you need to admit today?
What will waiting on God mean for you today?
- not sending that email or text message?
- keep showing up?
- not responding in kind?
- letting go of something you have been holding onto?
- being quiet and allowing God to show you that he cares, he forgives and that he will redeem your situation. Remember, there are boundaries that he has established.
In reflecting further on Psalm 18, I expect most of you are like me–likely no one is trying to kill you, rob you, or threatening your life. But that does not mean that we have no enemies. In addition to spiritual forces in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 6), I can identify a number of enemies of my soul. And because of the integrated nature of personhood, a threat to my soul or to my heart (to use both biblical imagery and reflecting on Eldredge’s book) is a threat to my well-being, my shalom, my life.
The enemies and enemies in Psalm 18 are real. Look at the verbs in 18:4 and 5–encompassed, assailed, entangled and confronted! Looking at these verbs reveals the following:
- cords of death encompassed me. The word ‘apaq “is used exclusively in poignant descriptions of crisis, in a prayerful lament to move God to intervene (Ps 40:12 ), and in thanksgiving songs, looking back to the crisis with the intent of enhancing God’s gift of deliverance (2 Sam 22:5; Ps 18:4 ; 116:3; Jon 2:5 ). It serves to convey the idea of intense suffering.”
- torrents of destruction assailed me The word ba’at predominantly expresses the terror of a lesser individual who stands in the presence of a greater individual; terror or horror is involved here. Life threatening situations are involved
- cords of Sheol entangled me Sabab is used in hostile or military settings
- snares of death confronted me
Who or what threatens my life. Not intending to be paranoid, but a few enemies that periodically threaten me:
- critical spirit
- fear of men
- irrational fears
- unresolved conflicts
How about you? From where do your enemies arise?
Next question–do I want to be saved from my enemies? This is not a silly question. Remember Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Do you want to be made well? Jesus asked this question to both the disciples (Mark 10:36) and the blind man in Mark 10:51.
And if we do want to be saved, if we are needing relief, what then do we do?
Good reflections from the General Director of OMF, Dr. Patrick Fung.
Psalm 23:4, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Lord you comfort me because you know my limits
Lord you comfort me because you guide me when I am lost
Lord you comfort me because you stop me from wandering into danger
Lord you comfort me because you set my boundaries
Lord you comfort me because you protect me from my enemy
Question: Does the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort you today?