This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 7

During emotional struggles, sometimes great encouragement is found simply in knowing that someone else cares. Various psalms reveal that God cares very much about the hearts of men; His character is filled with love and compassion. "He restores my soul" (23:3). The verse doesn't identify how God restores the soul, but the context is that of gently and carefully meeting every need. As God supplies and guides, one of His concerns is the need of the soul.

"You will strengthen their heart" (10:17). These people needed their hearts strengthened because of vicious attacks by blatantly ungodly men. God responded in part due to His seeing the injustice and in part in response to the prayers of those weak  men who cried out to Him. God has a natural compassion for those who are helpless.

"You have known the troubles of my soul" (31:7). The psalmist says he will rejoice and be glad for two reasons - because God saw his affliction and because God knew his soul's troubles. The knowledge that God knew and cared was enough to bring comfort and joy.

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (34:18). God has special compassion for those who are hurting. The passage lists people to whom God has responded: a fearful man, a poor (afflicted) man, those in want (physical needs, food), those in affliction, those who take refuge in Him, the righteous, and His servants. A few of those simply identify His followers, but most of them refer to people in need, even desperate need. The brokenhearted and spirit-crushed are the very people that catch God's eye, the people to whom He shows compassion and care, the people to whom He is near and for whom He acts.

A similar passage states, "A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God is His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads the prisoners into prosperity" (68:5-6). These verses give insight into the kinds of people for whom God especially cares by mentioning four very needy groups: the fatherless, the widows, the lonely, and the prisoners. These people have physical needs, but their needs definitely extend deeper into the realm of heart and soul. God looks at these hurting people with compassion and acts on their behalf, providing what they most need. To the fatherless, He becomes their father, providing love, stability, guidance, and belonging. To the widows, He becomes their judge, an ever-present advocate who alleviates their feelings of helplessness and relieves their fears by making sure they are provided for and treated fairly. To the lonely, He gives a home, a place of acceptance, belonging, love, and care. For the prisoners, He rescues from poverty, dependence, deprivation, isolation, and bondage; He brings them to a place where they can prosper, meet their own needs, and have freedom. God cares about the deepest needs of the most vulnerable people, and He acts to meet those needs with His tender love. Only those who reject Him are left in their self-imposed desperation. "Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land" (68:6), but God meets the heart needs of those who love and follow Him.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (147:3). The psalmist speaks of broken and wounded hearts, those that have experienced great sorrow and pain, perhaps feeling beyond recovery. The reason for healing isn't overtly stated, but by implication is God's care. Those who are hurting are important to God, and His loving heart wants to help. The psalm begins, "It is good to sing praises to our God" (147:1); it then records a list of amazing reasons why God deserves praise. He does things of such global significance as building up Jerusalem, gathering outcasts from exile, and bringing down the wicked. He keeps track of every star, provides rain, makes grass grow, provides food for every creature, sends snow and frost and ice, creates powerful cold, and melts the snow. In the midst of all those amazing and important divine acts, God stops to care about those whose hearts are breaking. In the grand scheme, those individual hearts may seem insignificant, but they are important enough to God that He steps in and heals those who are hurting.

"O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days" (90:14). God's lovingkindness is capable of producing joy and gladness and of prompting singing. God's lovingkindness is prolifically taught in Scripture; the two greatest characteristics are that it is everlasting and that it is very exalted. God's special demonstrations of lovingkindness bring joy, and purposefully thinking about His lovingkindness can bring gladness at times when it is not directly seen.

God's consolations to the soul are very special. The word is used five times in Scripture. Once it is defined as gently spoken words, designed to bring comfort (Job 15:11). Job said it would be consolation if his friends would listen to him in his trial and let him talk without attacking him (Job 21:2).  Isaiah 66:11 uses the word to describe a baby taking comfort from his mother's breasts as he nurses. In Jeremiah 16:7, it is a drink offered during the bereavement for someone's parents.  Psalm 94:19 states, "Your consolations delight my soul." In a time of multiplied anxious thoughts, they quiet and delight. God's consolations take a situation that is sad or unpleasant and distract away from that negativity. They give comfort as the unpleasant is forgotten, replaced by something pleasant and light. Considering all five verses, God's consolations come in times of sorrow, trial, disquiet, and grief. They are gentle, reassuring, considerate, compassionate, solicitous, intimate, nourishing, deliberate, and supportive. A loving and caring God gives these consolations at times when they are particularly needed for the purpose of calming the soul and drawing the focus away from the trouble.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 6

When emotions are intense or unwanted, God can help. His help comes in response to the prayers of those who depend on Him. It comes also through the Bible, the best source for struggling people to be reminded of truth about their great God. The Bible reveals God as the One best equipped to help the hurting and needy.

In Psalm 35, David reveals how strong the enemy is. They contend with him, fight against him, pursue him, seek his life, devise evil against him, hide their nets for him, dig a pit for his soul, rob him, repay him evil for good, bereave his soul, rejoice when he stumbles, gather themselves together, slander without ceasing, gnash at him, hate him without cause, devise deceitful words, open their mouth against him, want to swallow him up, rejoice at his distress, and magnify themselves over him. These godless men who are too strong for him are wrongfully his enemies. David calls them malicious witnesses, smiters, and lions, and speaks of their ravages. Truly the battle is fierce and stacked against him. David also reveals what he expects from God. He asks God to contend with them, fight against them, draw spear and battle-axe against them, bring them shame and dishonor, turn them back, humiliate them, make them like chaff before the wind, drive them, make their way dark and slippery, pursue them, bring sudden destruction, let them be caught in their own net, make them ashamed, and clothe them with shame and dishonor. He asks God not to let them rejoice over him, achieve their desire, or swallow him, but rather to deliver and rescue him. After reading how powerful the enemy is, David's desired outcomes don't seem likely. Even a scrape-by victory would seem amazing. God doesn't do the minimum, however. He completely stymies the plans of David's enemies and reverses their attacks. Far from winning the victory or even achieving a stalemate, the enemies meet utter defeat. They are humiliated, as they stumble blindly, are driven wildly, and destroy themselves. Focusing on a God so incredible certainly brings rejoicing. David anticipated seeing God's awesomeness, and he declared, "My soul shall rejoice in the LORD" (35:9).

Another psalmist states a conclusion of fact: God does amazing work on behalf of men's souls. "I will tell of what He has done for my soul" (66:16). While this verse comes nearly at the end of the psalm, it could easily serve as the introduction. The psalmist supports his premise that God has done things for his soul with numerous examples. The speaker purposefully recalls past deliverances and rehearses them to others. He leads a praise service regarding God's work in his soul and invites others to join in that praise. He invites others to hear his presentation of God's works: "Come and see" (66:5) and "Come and hear" (66:16). The psalmist recalls God's work in history (66:6-7), but also makes it clear that God's work is very personal. He gives testimony that God keeps him and doesn't allow his foot to slip (66:9). He shares examples that must have been very meaningful to him, evoking memories of specific events in his life. He talks of being tried and refined, of nets and burdens, of the oppression of men, of fire, and of water (66:10-12). He concludes by recalling that God "brought [him] out into a place of abundance" (66:12). Truly this man had much to praise God for as he recounted what God had done for his soul. There is benefit in recalling facts and proofs of God's help; the remembering of this well-demonstrated aspect of God's soul-help gives reason to praise God anew.

Another psalmist recalled, "You have rescued ... my eyes from tears" (116:8). It is another statement of fact of something that God has done, both because He is God and because this man "called upon the name of the LORD" (116:4). This psalm of thanksgiving comes from a man whose eyes are opened to the wonder of what God has done for him. It is filled with adoration to God who hears in times of distress and who preserves those who are undeserving. God's rescue of this man was great; God "dealt bountifully" with him (116:7). The psalm focuses less on the troubled man than on the wondrous God who rescued him. God rescues, even on the emotional level, because He is the kind of God who does that.

In fact, no one is more capable of rescuing emotionally than God is. God's help is unique. David states, "He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:2), and "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him" (62:5).  People other than God can provide help, but for various reasons, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes people don't know the problem, sometimes they don't want to be bothered, sometimes they don't know what to do, and sometimes there's actually nothing they can do. In spite of the limitations of people, that is often the primary place struggling people turn for help. They want to talk to their friends and family; they want to be with those people and be comforted by them. There is a legitimate level at which fellow Christians should fill that role, but there is no one who can do it like God can. Four times in this psalm, David states that God "only" is his help; ten times he uses phrases like "for God" and "from Him." There is something exclusive and restrictive about God's ability to help. David knows he can trust God; he calls Him a rock, his salvation, a stronghold, his hope, the rock of his strength, and a refuge. He recalls God's power and lovingkindness. While others can provide some help, God has a unique and unmatched ability to help. The great God is the best and most reliable source.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 5

God is able to help hurting hearts and sustain struggling souls. In addition to responding to the prayers of His children for such help, God also gives help through the Bible. The author of Psalm 119 was in affliction and misery, but he was comforted in his difficulty by the renewing power of the Bible. "This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me" (119:50). This man enjoyed new life, new hope, and a refreshed spirit because of the Word of God.

"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalm 19:7-8). Exposure to the Bible brings both restoration and joy to man's internal parts. The Bible is wholesome and healthful by nature, imparting health, vitality, and rebuilding. It is pleasing because it is correct, straightforward, and right; satisfaction comes in knowing that what one reads is dependable and reliable.

Even in the very worst of circumstances, God can provide comfort. "Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). The comfort, connected with God's presence, is specifically attributed to God's guiding and correcting. The Bible fills these roles well.

The help of the Bible is supernatural, but it isn't mystical. Rather, the help comes when a person looks into the Bible and seeks truth about God. It is necessary to deliberately focus on and think about the Bible's truth. When David was in the wilderness, "in a dry and weary land where there [was] no water" (Psalm 63:1), he related his physical thirst to spiritual thirst. His soul thirsted and yearned for God. David may not have found immediate satisfaction for his physical thirst, but his spiritual thirst was quenched. "My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness" (63:5). Although satisfaction may have seemed impossible, David identifies how it was achieved. "When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches" (63:6). The satisfaction of his soul came when he deliberately thought about God and remembered what God was like. He remembered the times of going into God's house. He remembered God's power, glory, and lovingkindness. He remembered God's help in the past. When David earnestly focused on God in this way, his soul was satisfied, even though his condition had not changed.

David was delivered from fear when he remembered who God is. David stated, "My heart will not fear" (27:3). His help came in remembering that God was his light, salvation, and defense. David remembered God's past deliverances. He remembered the promises of God. He remembered God's commitment to care and provide. Remembering brought trust and prayer and help.

In Psalm 30, David speaks of a great transformation. "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing" (30:11). As David moves through the psalm, he recalls a pattern of God's deliverance through multiple situations. He remembers great victories, followed by temporary stability and then renewed crisis. Each time David called, God gave him strength and another deliverance. David acknowledges the reality of life's difficulties, but he sees that God generates relief. Such knowledge leads David to praise. He anticipates new deliverance when his heart will again be brought to rejoicing. "That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent" (30:12).  Remembering who God is includes remembering His past help.

Psalm 107 includes the story of people who were wandering in a desert wilderness, unable to find their way to any settlement where they could obtain help. The wanderers were hungry and thirsty with fainting souls. When they cried to God, He showed them the path to take to safety and provision. He also satisfied the thirst and filled the hunger of the fainting soul. "He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good" (107:9). God met their immediate physical need, but He also met their deeper and more important spiritual need.

God can enable someone with a hurting heart to have improved emotions even in the midst of the troubling time. There is also an aspect of rejoicing that comes when God delivers, as in Psalm 64. David's life was in danger as his enemies planned ambushes and set traps. They maligned and attacked David with their words. They conspired to destroy him. David had reason to be troubled in his spirit, but he looked forward confidently to God's protection and deliverance. It was the victorious conclusion that would make David's heart glad, and his joy would be shared by others who observed. "Then all men will fear, and they will declare the work of God, and will consider what He has done. The righteous man will be glad in the LORD... and all the upright in heart will glory" (64:9-10). While God certainly can give a measure of joy during the trial, there is logically an increased level of joy when the trial ends - the special joy of deliverance and relief. It is perfectly appropriate and natural that joy will be somewhat reserved while the trial is occurring and that the fullest joy will come with the victory.

A similar response happened in Psalm 126. The children of Israel had been captive in a foreign land. Separated from their homeland, they had experienced captivity, servitude, and tears. Then God reversed their situation so dramatically that it seemed like a dream. "Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting" (126:2). When they realized what had happened, that "the LORD [had] done great things for them," they became glad (126:3). They laughed and shouted with joy. The overwhelming joyous response was because of the wonder of God's restoration.

The Bible is the place to find God's help. It reminds one of truth about the God of help. Remembering this great God's deliverance is encouraging and strengthening. Joy also comes through actual victories when man consciously identifies Who brings the victory.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 4

When the hurting and struggling becomes intense, and someone desires his heart and soul to change, he must first realize that he is dependent on God to help him. The realization of dependence logically leads to prayer, and it should not be surprising that God often gives emotional help in response to the prayers of His children. David says that is precisely what happened to him. "You have given him his heart's desire, and You have not withheld the request of his lips" (Psalm 21:2). David asked for something regarding his heart, and God answered.

On another occasion, David struggled in his soul. When he started out, he was not bold or strong internally, but he became bold. The change was not his work, but God's, and in answer to David's prayer for help. "On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul" (Psalm 138:3).

In Psalm 86, David was "afflicted and needy" (86:1). He prayed for God to deliver him, and his prayers were frequent. "To You I cry all day long" (86:3). He made fourteen requests in seventeen verses. Those requests were varied, but one of them was regarding the emotional state of his soul: "Make glad the soul of Your servant" (86:4).  He followed up his request with this argument: "For to You, O LORD, I lift up my soul" (86:4). He depended on God, openly dedicated himself to God, and prayed with that foundation.

In Psalm 62, David uses an interesting term for prayer. "Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge" (62:8). This is more involved than merely mentioning a request. The picture literally is to empty a liquid from a pitcher or cauldron, spilling all the contents onto the ground. When used of solids, the idea is to create a mound as the substance is poured from its container. The term can refer to completely using up money or another resource until it is exhausted. This action is intense, thorough, and exhaustive. Not many people want that level of accounting of someone else's troubles, especially regarding the heart. Such "dumping" is considered TMI - too much information. The overload is more than people can comfortably manage and process. God is not limited in His desire to hear every detail or in His ability to absorb and process it all. God cares enough to continue listening until His children have finished sharing.

Another level of prayer is appropriate, especially when the heart concern is spiritual in nature. David prayed, "Test my mind and my heart" (Psalm 26:2). Deeper than a routine request, David deliberately invited God to evaluate his inner-most being. He wanted God to refine and prove it to be true. He asked God to purify him and purge out anything that would keep his heart and mind from being what they should be.

Similarly, in Psalm 139, David prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (139:23-24). David was both concerned and uncertain about his heart; the heart is indeed hard to know. Not fully understanding his own heart, David asked God to search it for him. He was particularly concerned about "anxious thoughts" and "any hurtful way." He acknowledges that the anxious (disquieting) thoughts did exist; he was unsure whether those anxious thoughts would lead him in a wrong or painful way. If such danger existed, he wanted God to redirect him into the right way. Unsettled hearts do have the potential to lead one in the wrong way, often swinging out of control very quickly. When David recognized the potential danger, he wisely asked God to examine him, identify any actual concerns, and direct him accordingly.

There is reassurance in the realization that God "knows the secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44:21). God actually knows the truth about what is in the heart, and the assumption is that He will respond accordingly. If the heart were wrong, such knowledge could bring fear, but in this case, the heart was right, so God's knowledge brought comfort. The speakers recognized ways that hearts could be wrong, but affirmed that such guilt did not apply to them. They had not turned back from God in adversity. In their difficult place, they did not see the answer yet, but they expected God to do what was right because He knew their heart. Their faithful commitment to God meant something. They were comforted in remembering that an all-knowing God would ultimately give the right answer. The bond with God freed them from worry about the circumstances and concern over the evaluation of others.

A final aspect of prayer that is often needed during heart struggles is confession.  David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalm 51:10&12). The struggles of David's heart were a direct result of sin. David was not right in his heart and spirit, and he knew the reason why. He desired a clean heart, a steadfast spirit, and joy - none of which he had at the moment. He wanted a heart that was cleansed and pure, rather than polluted and defiled. He wanted a spirit that was firm, established, and secure; at the moment it was fragile, struggling, and vulnerable. He wanted gladness, exultation, and rejoicing in place of the sober sadness that fettered him. David did the right thing to achieve those results by humbly acknowledging his sin, asking for God's gracious cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration. For David, the only path to a restored relationship and renewed spirit was humble, dependent, and open confession of sin.

Change in the heart, always dependent on God, often comes as a result of prayer, necessitating action from the person seeking help. He must pray.