Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 1 August 20:
Psalm 88 — “I cry out day and night before you…. I am a man who has no strength…. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…. You have caused my companions to shun me…. I suffer your terrors; I am helpless…. But I, O Lord, cry to you.”
Psalm 88 has been described as the most sorrowful Psalm in the Bible. The entire Psalm describes utter despair and sorrow from beginning to end and doesn’t seem to end on a positive note. Many believe this psalm reveals a person suffering the consequences of a terrible sin, having isolated themselves from God and others, now pleading for mercy and grace from God. Can you relate to this Psalm? Have you ever been in deep despair (v 3-5), felt forsaken by God (v 6-7), lost your friends (v 8), felt trapped or helpless (v 8), felt as if you were dying without remedy (v 9-12), felt God had turned His back on you (v 13-14), felt that bad things always happen and nothing ever changes (v 15-17), felt like every day you wake up in darkness (v 18)? If so, Psalm 88 is for you.
God put this Psalm in the Bible so you could know that God understands the full range of human emotions, and that in this broken world we will at times feel this way. The promises of the Redeemer come to people who live in a world where such things take place – no matter how you feel, God knows exactly what you are going through. God wants you to understand that sometimes life will seem overwhelming, and sometimes you might feel like He has abandoned you, though He hasn’t. You are not the first of God’s people to feel defeated at times. God invites you to be honest about what you are feeling and to cry out to Him in faith. Psalm 88 reminds us that during desperate times, we must run to God and not from Him. The Psalmist has poured out his emotions before the Lord, in all honesty, holding back nothing. Do you honestly confess your fears, doubts, struggles, and failures to the Lord in deep prayer?
Knowing that God is love, is all powerful, and desires only the very best for us, we must see our crises differently. In our crises, God is always doing a few things at once: revealing the truth of Him to us in a greater way, revealing the truth of ourselves to us in a greater way, revealing the truth of this world to us in a greater way, revealing Himself to others through us in a greater way, preparing us for greater things to come, and using us as instruments of His grace and His glory in this world. In your crises, God is reconciling you to Him, sanctifying you, and glorifying Himself. Trust Him through the process. We will all go through crises, and we will all die a physical death (unless Christ returns in our day). How important is it to have the right perspective on suffering and death?
What is particularly interesting about Psalm 88 is that the title says that it is a song of the Sons of Korah, the doorkeepers of the tabernacle. The Korahites would lead the Israelites in procession to the tent of worship and sacrifice. Why in the world would they want to sing such a depressing song on the way to worship? Because this was a reminder to the people that God invites us to bring our darkest laments to Him and to the family of God – “Come to me as you are, with all your doubt, fear, pain and discouragement. Hold before me your shattered hopes and dreams, and find redemption and rest when it seems there is none to be found. Don’t hesitate because your heart is weak, and your mind is confused. Don’t hesitate because you have questioned my goodness and love. Come as you are because my sacrifice is for you, just as you are (Tim S. Lane, Paul David Tripp).”
Not only does God call you to rush into His loving arms in your despair, He also calls you to surround yourself with other loving Christians who can minister to your needs. Who are the Christians in your life that can give you support when you need it? Remember, you were saved into a family; God never intended for you to be alone. The “It’s just you and me Jesus” mentality is contrary to the Great Commandment of loving both God and others.
– Romans 8:28 — And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Sometimes God uses hard times to draw you back to Him as He did with the Psalmist. God may have to tear down your self-confidence so that your confidence, your hope, will be in Him alone. We are easily deceived by the world, the flesh (our self-centered, selfish desires and pride), and the devil. We easily lose perspective on who God really is and who we really are (or aren’t). With our sin glasses on, God becomes smaller (the opposite of glorified), while we see ourselves as becoming bigger. We try to ‘lord’ over our own lives, and we try to build our own kingdoms. The focus of our lives becomes ourselves, and we tend to see God as working for us rather than the other way around. In pursuit of our earthly goals and ambitions, we place our trust in our own understanding and strength, and we take comfort in the social, familial, financial, and emotional ‘strongholds’ that we build up for ourselves rather than in God alone. We become like a pilot who thinks ‘(s)he can fly rather than the airplane itself, a pilot who has taken the airplane for granted, until the engines stop running; then all the pilot’s thoughts are, once again, on the plane.
God may have to tear your idols down in order to bring you back to a right relationship with Him. The psalmist cried out day and night to the Lord when his personal strength was gone and when no one else remained to comfort him. The psalmist recognized that God had “caused” these things to happen. Of course, there are many reasons why bad things happen to Christians, but nothing happens which The Almighty did not allow. And in all things, whether they appear good or bad to us, God is working to bring us closer to Him. (Romans 8:28) During trials we must always reexamine our perspective and draw ever closer to God, not further away.
In the desert, Satan tried to tempt Jesus to make Himself bigger and the Father smaller, to pursue His personal power and His own kingdom on earth; but Jesus remained solely focused on advancing the Kingdom of God in accordance with the will of His Father. Jesus did nothing that was not directed by the Father: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19) Likewise, Jesus commanded His disciples to follow Him and only Him: “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)
Jesus built no personal ‘strongholds’ on earth: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) Jesus cried out day and night to the Lord, well before the cross, because His life WAS the Father. To us Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus gave us the example: “Do NOTHING from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:2-8) Our daily cross carrying involves dying each day of self and claiming the “mind” of Christ which is already “ours in Christ Jesus.” Our mission makes us servants to God and others, making us the very least among them. Yes, this is a daily process that involves daily, continual repentance, claiming the promise of 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous [just] to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness.” Each day, in grace, God calls us to grow into the image of Christ – “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.” (2 Peter 3:18) We get NO glory, and our reward is Christ. Don’t let the world, the flesh, and the devil deceive you into wandering away from the Shepherd.
The key to handling any challenge in life, including our own failures, is to draw closer to God (not further away), trusting Him to bring all things together for good. (Romans 8:28)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 1 August 20: Whatever you are going through, draw closer to God and simply trust Him. “Trust and obey, For there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.”