Purpose

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, July 14, 2018

In the Garden

My mother sang this hymn by Charles Miles often, and it became a childhood favorite of mine. As I have grown older, I still like the hymn, and after I studied Song of Solomon, I felt like I understood it better.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

In the first two stanzas and chorus displayed above, the narrator speaks of the sweetness of time spent with God in the garden. In that early morning quiet, they enjoy a special time between just the two of them. They fellowship together, and it seems that nothing can compare with the precious sound of the Savior's voice and the assurances of His love.

In Song of Solomon, the garden is a special place where the king and his beloved wife go to share especially sweet and personal times. This special picture begins in their betrothal stage, when the king excitedly describes the beauties of the spring and invites her to come with him to observe. (2:10-13). When the king later describes the ecstasies of intimacy with her, he compares her to a private and fragrant garden that he enjoys (4:12-15). She responds with an open invitation for him to enjoy this garden (4:16). When later there is a rift in their relationship, the bride desperately seeks her husband. She wanders aimlessly through the city, and then she remembers that the place she will find him is the garden (6:2). There the two are reconciled and again spend special time together. The gardens are both a symbol of their love and a habitual trysting place (7:12).

This picture from Song of Solomon fit very well into my understanding of the hymn. I even noted the line from the hymn, "and He tells me I am His own," and linked that to the repeated realization of the king's love for his bride. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6:3, variations in 2:16 and 7:10).

We know what it is like to have those special times with God. Sometimes they happen during times of intense struggle and difficult testing. When we have special communion with God during those times, we can have an inexplicable joy and even an illogical radiance on our faces, all due to the pleasure of that time with God. As the hymn-writer stated, it is so special that it seems like no one else could possibly understand. Surely no one else could know what it is like to have God personally minister in such a way.

This is how I understood the hymn, but I struggled with the final stanza.

I'd stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

It troubled me to present the idea that God would have me leave when I want to stay. When would He ever ask me to leave? There is a phrase in Song of Solomon that denies this could happen. "Do not arouse or awaken my love until she pleases" (8:4, variations in 2:7 and 3:5). This repeated phrase comes at times when the bride has chosen to be close to the king, and he has responded by urging that no one disturb them. He does not want the time to end, and as long as she is willing to stay, he is desirous of her continued presence. I reconciled my conflict by acknowledging the general concept behind the stanza - that if my time with God ever had to end, it would be with sadness.

As I prepared to write this blog, intending to focus on the sweet fellowship that is possible and on the truth that, in fact, God would never send us away, I looked up the hymn text and found the story that accompanied its writing.

As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Although there are a number of hymns that draw from Song of Solomon, this one does not. The hymn-writer was inspired by reading John 20 about the encounter in the garden between Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Savior. She did go to the garden (tomb) early in the morning (v. 1) and then ran to tell the disciples that the stone was moved. Peter and John accompanied her to the empty tomb; when they left, Mary remained (vs. 10-11). Mary was distraught, weeping and inconsolable, not understanding what had happened. First angels spoke to her, and then the Savior Himself (vs. 15-16). This would indeed have been a wonderful, special experience for Mary to have this unique time with Jesus, something that no one else shared.

This encounter calmed and comforted Mary, but as the third stanza of the hymn recounts, this special time did have to end. "Jesus said to her, 'Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father' " (v. 17). I believe the hymn-writer takes some liberties regarding the duration, activities, and timing of this encounter, but it is true that Jesus had to separate from Mary temporarily.

I prefer my interpretation based on Song of Solomon; it invites application to all Christians rather than focusing on one slice of the Resurrection story. Truthfully, though, God's love is expressed in both stories. He wants to have special times with us, and He wants to comfort us in our times of pain. There is indeed a distinct pleasure found in enjoying the love and presence of God.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Awkward Career Choices

Career choices, usually directed by one's college major, can seem unfulfilling or puzzling after a decade or two. Sometimes in retrospect, the college major one pursued seems now a little awkward. For example, my first major, Youth Ministries, now seems rather impractical for a lady.

Other friends have reached similar conclusions, as the exciting majors they chose didn't turn out to be very practical. Sometimes a new field of study drew interested students in larger numbers than the work force required. Some majors were actually impractical for Christians, unless a unique ministry situation materialized. Sometimes a talent should have been developed on the side, while majoring in something more practical. Some students have steadfastly completed their degrees, knowing even before they graduated that they would never enter that career.

There are many reasons why young people choose majors that they end up doubting or even regretting years down the road; the simplest is that they were young. Youth carries limitations. Some young people, in their limited awareness of possibilities, simply chose a career they knew about. Others were caught up in the excitement or appeal of a particular field. They may have made their choice based on a burden to serve God in a special way, but didn't know the best way to prepare, or perhaps made their focus too narrow. Still others devoted their studies to an area of talent or interest rather than a career.

Certainly, there are young people who chose wrong majors because their hearts were not in tune with God's values and because they were not seeking God's guidance. They may have been motivated by money, popularity, or prestige. But what about those who wanted to follow God's will, who wanted to serve God, and who prayed about their decision? They truly believed they were studying what God wanted them to study. Did they make wrong choices?

I don't believe such situations should be considered mistakes.  If those young people acted in what they believed was sincere obedience, using the maturity they possessed at the time, then they did the right thing. God is sovereign and powerful enough to use that preparation and obedience within His plan. "Awkward" majors often contribute to an area of ministry within the church or as a means of relating to unsaved people. Sometimes they simply develop character and discipline while God builds the person's maturity.

In fact, I believe a significant reason for the choosing of awkward majors is simply that one's devotion to God was still developing. The doubting of twenty years later stems from spiritual growth and increased passion for God over what the person had as a college student. With a heart more closely drawn to God, the person can now more clearly see his gifts and potential avenues for serving God. His interests have changed along with his maturity. He might now long for full-time Christian service, something that his immaturely God-directed heart was not yet ready for.

A decision made with the current level of one's spiritual maturity and based in the sincere belief that one is obeying God's guidance is the right choice. Years down the road, as maturity grows, God can make adjustments. He can bring new opportunities and open new doors as the person continues to make decisions based on sincere belief that he is following God. Just as God has ways of maturing hearts and drawing people closer to Him, He also has ways of providing the opportunities for change of career if that is what He desires.

The Bible is filled with stories of men that God used greatly after He providentially changed their careers.

Noah's original occupation is not known, but God made him a shipwright, zookeeper, and preacher of righteousness.

Abraham started as a wealthy rancher, but his service to God was as a wanderer.

Joseph was a household servant and a prison supervisor before he became a government official.

Moses was a prince, then a shepherd, before he finally became a leader of men.

Gideon was a subsistence farmer who became a military leader.

David was a shepherd, a harpist, an armor bearer, a soldier, and an exile before God finally made him king.

Isaiah was a noble, Jeremiah was in a priestly family, Amos was a shepherd, and God converted them all into prophets.

Daniel was trained against his wishes for a job he would not have chosen, but God gave great opportunities to serve Him in his career as advisor to foreign kings.

Peter, James, and John were fishermen. Levi was a tax collector. God changed them into apostles.

Paul was an esteemed religious leader who God ordained as a traveling missionary.

Clearly, God does not have a strict formula that He follows arbitrarily with everyone. Practically every situation imaginable is included in the above examples. Many had secular jobs before going into full-time service, sometimes for many years (Moses). Others changed from one ministry to another (Jeremiah). Some remained in secular work (Joseph, Daniel). Abraham's position actually became less ideal. Noah transitioned into a combination ministry, which included completely new areas of secular work. Some went from one job to another for many years before finally landing in their greatest position (Joseph, David).

Young people, pray and seek God. Before making choices or changes, get counsel from your pastor and your parents. Listen to their cautions and concerns. Then don't fret about whether you made the right choice. God is most interested in your heart. He will use you if you are yielded to Him, and He will make adjustments as needed.

For those who are older, keep seeking and following God. If He wants to make a change, He will show you. If He wants you to continue where you are, whether it is what you prefer or not, He will give you the necessary grace and will use you there. Be sensitive to humbly follow God's leading, whether that means monotony, discomfort, adventure, or personal satisfaction.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 9

God can help troubled emotions by answering prayer and by reminding the believer of faith-sustaining truth found in His Word. Emotions can also be improved through various aspects of one's relationship with God.

First, improvement comes through enjoying God's presence. Believers can experience joy as they commune, fellowship, and walk with God. "You will make him joyful with gladness in Your presence" (21:6).

There is a satisfaction of soul that comes in the presence of God. David declared, "How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple" (65:4). There is satisfaction first as God chooses people and brings them near to Himself. Through salvation, God receives people into His family and allows them to dwell in constant communion with Him. There is satisfaction in remembering the specialness of that intimate relationship. Second, the verse specifically references God's courts and His temple. There is something satisfying in being in the special place that God has chosen for focused communion with Him in the company of other believers. The setting and activities associated with the church bring a satisfaction to the soul that cannot be found in other settings and activities.

David again received joy from God's presence. "Therefore my heart is glad" (16:9). "In Your presence is fullness of joy" (16:11). Some around David had abandoned God or were taking Him lightly, but David did neither. Instead, he deliberately chose to follow God and to value the blessings of God. He deliberately thought about God, with particular focus on God's constant presence. David's joy and gladness came from knowing "I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken" (16:8). He knew that God's presence would never change, but would continue with him through all of life. The earth-experienced joy of God's presence will only increase when that presence is fully enjoyed in heaven.

Second, emotional benefit comes from a consistent focus on God. David states, "He will give you the desires of your heart" (37:4). The heart's gratification comes not through a focus on self or from insisting on personal desires. It is not based on wanting what other people have, in particular the wicked who seem to prosper. Such prosperity is fleeting and quickly disappears. There are far more important and lasting desires that are connected to wanting what God wants. David lists several God-focused heart desires: Trust in the Lord, do good, stay where God has put you, be faithful, delight in God, commit your way to Him, trust in Him, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, don't fret, don't be angry. Each of these actions are what God wants His children to do. Instead of sitting around making a list of selfish things they want, Christians ought to maintain a God-ward focus. When they do, God responds by giving the desires of the heart and accomplishing what is needed. The heart gratification accompanies an entire focus of living that wants what God wants and wants to please and trust Him.

Psalm 112 refers to a man whose heart is steady and firm. "His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD" (112:7). "His heart is upheld" (112:8). The key to the steadfast and upheld heart is found in the psalm's theme statement: "How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments" (112:1). The psalm gives an entire list of blessings that such a man experiences; one blessing is a stable heart. The passage contrasts stability with fear. Because the man's heart is steadfast and upheld, he does not fear, even when evil threatens. Three characteristics of this type of man are credited with facilitating the numerous listed blessings. First, he fears the LORD. He reverences God, stands in awe of Him, honors Him, and respects Him. Second, he greatly delights in God's commandments. He takes exceeding pleasure in them and is pleased to do them. Third, he trusts in the LORD. He has confidence in God's ability to take care of him. A man who has dedicated his life to living for God and depending on God will have a heart that does not fear.

A third emotionally beneficial aspect of one's relationship with God is praise. "My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed" (71:23). The verb phrase from the beginning of the verse, "will shout for joy," is understood to apply to the subject "my soul" just as it does previously for "my lips." What makes this man's soul shout for joy is the same as what makes his lips shout for you: "when I sing praises to You." Singing praises is often the result of joy, but it can also be the producer of joy. At the very least, the two things happen at the same time; they go together. Interestingly, in this psalm the speaker is not naturally in a time of joy. He is in affliction and is still awaiting deliverance. The man is mature, however, in both years and in development. He has been through many hard times in the past; he knows God has always delivered him, and he has praised God. He is in another hard time, and he knows that God will deliver him again, and he intends to once again praise God. Even without seeing the deliverance, he is intent on praising God for the help he knows will come. Both his actual and his intended praise bring joy to his soul.

In concluding this series, I note that emotions are quite changeable and are influenced by many factors. Clearly, God can change emotions for the good, and spiritual input can influence emotion. Even when biological or unavoidable factors contribute to troubling emotions, God's help can make emotions manageable.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 8

The Bible helps with troubling emotions by revealing truth about God. As the Christian focuses on that truth, his faith and trust in God grow, producing stability and strength. "My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults" (28:7). The opening verses of this passage include six requests, three statements that David is praying, three appeals for God to hear, one consequence of God not answering, one expected result, and one statement that God has heard. This focused prayer is possible because David remembers that God is his "strength," "shield," "saving defense," and "shepherd." David's emotional help came because his heart trusted expectantly in the God who is all these things.

"Let your heart take courage" (31:24). The command is to "all you who hope in the LORD." Courage of heart is possible to those who expectantly wait on God. It comes from confidence and trust in God. Such confidence is reasonable because God is "a rock of strength," "a stronghold," "a fortress," and "my strength." The psalm tells of God's deliverance and protection and expresses confidence in God's help. "But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, 'You are my God'" (31:14). Those who likewise remember God's goodness, lovingkindness, and past answered prayer can have courage as they hope in God.

"My soul takes refuge in You" (57:1). David sought God as his refuge, a place to flee for protection, a source of confident trust. Such trust does not exist unless the struggling person knows that the trusted person is equal to the task. David remembered truths about God that legitimized his trust. God is "gracious," "Most High," "accomplishes all things" for him, and shows "His lovingkindness and His truth." David described the trap laid for him but knew that his Refuge was greater than the opposition.

"Let your heart take courage" (27:14). When things seemed hopeless, David gave the challenge of clinging to the truth of God's goodness. To "take courage" is to fasten upon; the courage is not internal, but is based on something outside oneself. When one clings tenaciously to God and maintains faith in His goodness in spite of circumstances, his heart is strengthened.

"You have put gladness in my heart" (4:7). This heart level of gladness is deeper than what is given by ordinary earthly pleasures, because it comes from God. It is based on confidence in God from a man who has called to God and has seen His answers. David prays to God again, knowing God will hear him again. Because David has Someone greater on his side, he can proceed with life, doing what he ought to do and continuing to serve God. He quiets himself, trusting God instead of doubting; his gladness comes from deliberately resting in a God he knows he can trust.

"You who seek God, let your heart revive" (69:32). David writes this psalm as a man whose heart desperately needs to be revived. His words are heavy with negative descriptions: "threatened," "deep mire," "no foothold," "deep waters," "flood overflows," "weary with my crying," "those who hate me," "would destroy me," "reproach," "dishonor," "estranged," "an alien," "wept in my soul," "sackcloth," "I am the song of drunkards," "swallow me," "pit," "distress," "shame," "broken my heart," "so sick," no sympathy, no comforters, "gall for my food," "afflicted," and "in pain." While written to others, his challenge, "let your heart revive," clearly includes himself. David wants and expects his heart to be nourished, quickened, and restored. He even gives a reason why it should. "For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners" (69:33). David has called on God to save and see and answer and deliver. He asks God not to hide His face, but to draw near and redeem him. David is so confident God will answer that he already plans to praise God.

"I have composed and quieted my soul" (131:2). In this situation David had a noisy, agitated soul. He took deliberate action to change his soul - composing (making smooth and still) and quieting it (making silent). Like a small child on his mother's lap, David went from troubled to peaceful. The change came as David humbly recognized there were "great matters" and "things too difficult" for him. He realized there were things that only God can handle. Instead of agitating himself by trying to push beyond his capacity, he decided to leave those hard things with God. Just as the child in his mother's arms trusts her to care for him, David trusted God to solve what was beyond his ability.

"His song will be with me in the night" (42:8). This is a raw, deliberate statement of faith. There is no human reason for the speaker to make this statement. The entire psalm is about thwarted desire, tears, disappointment, being left out, and being constantly mocked by others. He mentions multiple times that his soul is disturbed and in despair. He is mourning and feels like he is being crushed. Everything is negative: failed plans, loneliness, external attacks, and deep internal discouragement. In that situation, the psalmist purposefully chooses to say things that rescue him from sinking even deeper. He tells himself to hope in God. He tells himself that he will have reason to praise God again. He tells himself that God is his help. He tells himself that there will again be days that will see God's lovingkindness, and there will again be nights when God's song will be with him. None of these are reality yet, but this man embraces an anchor. It is not an anchor of a feel-good sentiment, empty platitudes of others, or positive-sounding reassurance; it is an anchor of truth, based in faith. The psalmist might not even be able to imagine how this will be true, but he deliberately anchors himself with the conviction that God will again give him songs in the night.

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 3

Emotions are a normal part of the way God made man; based on biblical examples, even strong emotions are not unexpected abnormalities. Some emotional responses are negative or unpleasant. By providing support and comfort, God can help His children during times when those undesired emotions are legitimately prompted. With His transforming power, He can change His children when the emotions are not spiritually appropriate. These truths are encouraging, but they may leave someone with an important and glaring question: How?

How does God change undesirable, immature, or ungodly expressions of emotion? Does someone just hope that someday it might happen? Is it a supernatural act that God will do if and when He decides the time is right? Is change guaranteed at some point? Does the individual believer bear some responsibility? Can a person do anything to change his emotional responses? The passages from Psalms that were shared in the previous posts provide answers; they share truth about how emotions can be mastered, controlled, and changed.

Several of the psalms that speak about changes and improvement regarding emotions attribute the change to the work of God. Whether recounting what has already happened or what is expected to happen, credit is given to God. For example, "You have put," "You will strengthen," "You have given," "You will make him," "He restores," "Your rod and staff," "You have turned," "You have known," "The LORD ... saves," "He will give," "His song," "He knows," "He will sustain," "He has done," "God makes," "Your consolations," "He has satisfied," "He has filled," "You have rescued," "You will enlarge," "Your word has revived," "You made me," and "He heals."

This does not mean that man has no part in adjusting his emotions, but it does mean that such change is never an independent effort. Man may work for improvement, which is possible through the enabling grace of God, but man must depend on God and draw from His strength. Any change is ultimately God's work.

God can increase the capacity of one's heart. It is not uncommon to speak of someone's having a small or shriveled heart, possessing little capacity to love or feel or be devoted. This heart is narrow, self-centered, and limited. It may be restricted in its ability to feel positive emotions, to express them, or to show them deeply. "You will enlarge my heart" (Psalm 119:32). God can broaden or widen the confines of the heart, making it like a bountiful, roomy pasture. In this particular verse, the heart is limited in its capacity to be devoted to God's commandments, but God changes that. He makes the heart larger so it has greater capacity to follow His way. Now the man can run in God's way, not limited and not fettered. Surely God who can expand the heart to follow Him more passionately can also broaden the heart to express other emotions that are pleasing to Him.

A few verses later, the same psalmist prays, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies" (Psalm 119:36). The heart naturally wants certain things and resists others. In this verse, the psalmist is concerned that his heart naturally wants to pursue dishonest gain, profiting at the expense of others. He doesn't want his heart to go in that direction, but he needs God's help to change. The psalmist asks God to incline his heart to His testimonies. He wants God to bend or turn his heart in a godly direction. This is an example of how man, even when he wants to do the right thing, is powerless to make himself do it. In fact, he may not even want to do right. When it comes to the heart, man is dependent on God to change his direction and help him do and be what does not come naturally.

In Psalm 55, David reveals the same truth. He speaks of pressure, trouble, anguish, terror, trembling, and horror. He longed to escape from the oppression that gripped his heart, from the hurt of betrayal, and from the disappointment of abandonment by others. In the end, David couldn't physically escape, so he turned to the only source that could help him. "Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (55:22). He called out repeatedly to God, knowing that God would save him. "Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice" (55:17). The burden was too great for David himself. At best, David's friends were unable or unconcerned to help; many of them were actually contributing to the problem. David turned to the only effective source; he looked to God, knowing that God could help his hurting heart and uphold him in his struggle.

In Psalm 73, Asaph was painfully aware of his own frailty. He came very close to slipping and to counting his following of God as a waste. He was tempted to spout out words that would have been highly inappropriate, and he acted like a beast before God. He experienced bitterness and inner pain. Through his experience Asaph learned that he did not have strength in himself; his heart was weak and prone to failure. When he was struggling and in need of help, Asaph had to turn to God. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (73:26). God was the strength of his heart. When Asaph realized how much he needed God to help his naturally weak heart, it is no wonder that he cried out, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth" (73:25). Asaph could not pull himself up. He couldn't be tough and push through. He couldn't be stronger than his circumstances. On his own, he was capable only of failure, but God strengthened him. Like these men, believers today must depend utterly on God.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 2

God created man as a deep and complex person; emotions are part of man's makeup. The previous post looked at what the Psalms reveal about the depths of man: his heart, his soul, and his spirit. The psalmists describe many emotions, including sorrow, loneliness, emptiness, depression, anxiety, and guilt.

While some emotions are desirable, those listed above are not; they may, however, be appropriate at times. For example, there is nothing wrong with sorrow at the death of a loved one. Negatively-evaluated emotions like those above certainly can be wrong and definitely are wrong in many cases, but they are challenging even when they are appropriately experienced.

While all other verses included here are from Psalms, Jeremiah includes an interesting passage about the heart. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The heart of man is difficult to understand and evaluate; ultimately, God is the only one who can do so with accuracy.

Not only does God fully understand the human heart, He alone is able to change it. The Psalms reveal many descriptions of man's emotions; they also contain many statements about God's power to influence the emotions. God can change the heart, the soul, and the spirit. When emotions are wrong, God can help His children change them. When the emotions are merely uncomfortable or unwelcome, He can sustain and encourage His children through them. The deepest and most mysterious aspect of man is under God's power.

General troubles. Knows, upholds, refreshes, repairs.
"You have known the troubles of my soul" (31:7).
"Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (55:22).
"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul" (19:7).
"He restores my soul" (23:3).

Tears. Stops them, transforms them.
"You have rescued ... my eyes from tears" (116:8).
"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing" (30:11).
"His song will be with me in the night" (42:8).

Grief and sorrow. Abides, comforts, consoles, heals.
"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (34:18).
"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (23:4).
"This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me" (119:50).
"Your consolations delight my soul" (94:19).
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (147:3).

Loneliness and abandonment. Knows and meets the deepest longings, faithfully intervenes.
"He knows the secrets of the heart" (44:21).
"God makes a home for the lonely" (68:6).
"My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him" (62:5).
"I will tell of what He has done for my soul" (66:16).

Emptiness. Grows the heart, gives purpose, enriches, satisfies.
"You will enlarge my heart" (119:32).
"That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent" (30:12).
"You have given him his heart's desire" (21:2).
"He will give you the desires of your heart" (37:4).
"My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness" (63:5).
"We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house" (65:4).
"He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good" (107:9).

Feeling overwhelmed. Listens, protects, strengthens, stabilizes, supports.
"Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge" (62:8).
"My soul takes refuge in You" (57:1).
"He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (62:2).
"You will strengthen their heart" (10:17).
"God is the strength of my heart" (73:26).
"His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD" (112:7).
"His heart is upheld" (112:8).

Depression and despair. Lifts and revives, gives gladness and joy, singing and laughing.
"You who seek God, let your heart revive" (69:32).
"You have put gladness in my heart" (4:7).
"Therefore [because God is at my right hand] my heart is glad" (16:9).
"The righteous man will be glad in the LORD" (64:10).
"Make glad the soul of Your servant" (86:4).
"You will make him joyful with gladness in Your presence" (21:6).
"In Your presence is fullness of joy" (16:11).
"The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart" (19:8).
"My soul shall rejoice in the LORD" (35:9).
"My soul [will shout for joy when I sing praises to You]" (71:23).
"That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days" (90:14).
"Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting" (126:2).

Fear and anxiety. Removes fear, makes calm, gives courage, makes bold.
"My heart will not fear" (27:3).
"I have composed and quieted my soul" (131:2).
"My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults" (28:7).
"Let your heart take courage" (27:14 and 31:24).
"You made me bold with strength in my soul" (138:3).

Guilt. Renews, cleanses, restores.
"Renew a steadfast spirit in me" (51:10).
"Create in me a clean heart, O God" (51:10).
"Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (51:12).

Spiritual desire. Evaluates, reveals, draws.
"Test my mind and my heart" (26:2).
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts" (139:23).
"Incline my heart to Your testimonies" (119:36).

The heart and soul, the deepest part of man, present immense challenges. Man easily seems overwhelmed, unable to cope and challenged to change. Where the deepest challenges exist, God is not limited. He can respond with the deepest and most amazing level of help. No situation is hopeless. Man's thorniest problems are a showcase for God's unmatched skill.

This is not to say that God will always change every situation in the timing and in the manner that man desires. Sometimes it is God's plan for challenges, sorrows, and testing to continue. He is always able to help His children in the midst of those troubles and challenges. If God doesn't change something, it is never because He can't. (Future posts will present practical application.)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 1

Reading through Psalms recently, I noticed frequent references to emotions. God doesn't ignore the profundity of the inner man; in fact, the heart, soul, and spirit are regularly discussed and openly revealed. God created man as a complex creature. Truly, "the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep" (Psalm 63:6).

Some Christians are uncomfortable revealing or discussing emotions, perhaps considering them to be indications of weakness or shallow spirituality. The Bible recognizes the legitimacy of emotions, thoroughly examining these God-given, natural expressions. Clearly, emotions can be good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. The Bible guides in evaluating emotions, encourages in enduring the unpleasant, and aids in developing the pleasant.   

This study focuses primarily on the words heart, soul, and spirit. While not synonymous, the terms similarly refer to the inner man, the center of man, or the deepest part of man. In some contexts these terms have other meanings; I tried to choose only verses that seem likely to refer to the emotions. The Bible's descriptions of emotion are poignant and descriptive.

General troubles. Undefined struggles, beyond description, often numerous.
"The troubles of my heart are enlarged" (25:17).
"The troubles of my soul" (31:7).
"I pour out my soul within me" (42:4).
"Burden" (55:22).
"I was in distress [narrow place]" (66:14).
"I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (77:4).
"My soul has had enough of troubles" (88:3).

Tears. Unwanted, copious, unending, inconsolable.
"I am weary with sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears" (6:6).
"My tears" (56:8).
"I am weary with my crying" (69:3).
"The bread of tears ... drink tears in large measure" (80:5).
"I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping" (102:9).

Grief and sorrow. Affecting the body, constant, deeply painful, eliciting audible groans, seeming beyond healing.
"My eye has wasted away with grief" (6:7).
"Having sorrow in my heart all the day" (13:2).
"The words of my groaning" (22:1).
"My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also" (31:9).
"For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing" (31:10).
"Brokenhearted ... Crushed in spirit" (34:18).
"I wept in my soul" (69:10). [What an expression!]
"My heart was embittered and I was pierced within" (73:21).
"My soul refused to be comforted" (77:2).
"Groaning" (79:11).
"Make glad the soul of Your servant" (86:4). [He isn't glad now.]
"My heart is wounded within me" (109:22).
"I found distress and sorrow" (116:3).
"My soul cleaves to the dust" (119:25).
"My soul weeps because of grief" (119:28).
"Brokenhearted" (147:3).

Loneliness and abandonment. Relating to God or man, possibly accentuated by neglect or attacks.
"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (13:1).
"I am lonely and afflicted" (25:16).
"Reproach [scorn, taunting] has broken my heart and I am so sick. And I looked for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none" (69:20).

Emptiness. Lost, no satisfaction, no meaning, beaten down to nothing.
"Thirsty soul ... hungry soul" (107:9).
"My heart has been smitten [blighted] like grass and has withered away [dried up], indeed, I forget to eat my bread" (102:4).

Feeling overwhelmed. Possible physical effect, no strength to continue, too much to absorb.
"I am pining away [weak, feeble]" (6:2).
"My heart throbs [palpitates]" (38:10).
"My heart has failed [abandoned] me" (40:12).
"My heart is in anguish within me" (55:4).
"My heart is faint" (61:2).
"Pour out your heart before Him" (62:8). [There's enough in it to overflow.]
"My heart may fail" (73:26).
"When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint" (77:3).
"My eye has wasted away because of affliction" (88:9).
"Their soul fainted within them" (107:5).
"My spirit was overwhelmed within me" (142:3).
"Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me" (143:4).
"My spirit fails" (143:7).

Depression and despair. Dark, dangerous, debilitating.
"I would have despaired" (27:13). [Barely escaped in this case.]
"I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart" (38:8).
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?" (42:5; also 42:11; slight variation 43:5).
"My soul is in despair within me" (42:6).
"For our soul has sunk down into the dust" (44:25).
"Their soul melted away in their misery" (107:26).
"Despondent in heart" (109:16).

Fear and anxiety. Unreasonable, paralyzing, out of control.
"My soul is greatly dismayed [alarmed, anxious]" (6:3).
"My heart is like wax; it is melted within me" (22:14).
"Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me" (55:5).
"When my anxious thoughts multiply within me" (94:19).

Guilt. Profitable when legitimate.
"Renew a steadfast spirit in me" (51:10). [He does not have the spirit he wants.]
"Create in me a clean heart, O God" (51:10). [He does not have the heart he wants.]

Spiritual desire. Obvious positive emotion.
"My soul pants for You, O God" (42:1).
"My soul thirsts for God" (42:2).
"My soul thirsts for You" (63:1).
"My soul clings to You" (63:8).
"My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD" (84:2).
"My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times" (119:20).
"Incline my heart to Your testimonies" (119:36). [It isn't inclined at the moment.]
"My soul languishes for Your salvation" (119:81).
"My soul longs for You, as a parched land" (143:6).

The study thus far may seem rather academic; even so, it demonstrates that no one who faces emotion, even extreme emotion, is alone or abnormal. Emotion, in its purest state, is a God-designed, normal human response. God has included examples and descriptions of emotion in the Bible, thereby revealing that it is a legitimate field of examination; emotion is something that God knows about and cares about. Future posts will deal with what God can do in hurting hearts and struggling souls. God has amazing ability to reverse negative emotions and incite positive ones. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Teach and Revive

Psalm 119 powerfully presents a believer's devotion to the Bible. The psalmist repeatedly declares his love for the Word of God. "I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love" (v. 48). "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (v. 97). "I love Your law" (v. 113). "I love Your testimonies" (v. 119). "Your word is very pure, therefore Your servant loves it" (v. 140). "Consider how I love Your precepts" (v. 159). "I love Your law" (v. 163). "I love [Your testimonies] exceedingly" (v. 167).

The psalmist delights in the Bible. "I shall delight in Your statutes" (v. 16). "Your testimonies also are my delight" (v. 24). "I delight in [the path of Your commandments]" (v. 35). "I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love" (v. 47). "I delight in Your law" (v. 70). "Your law is my delight" (v. 77). "They are the joy of my heart" (v. 111). "Your commandments are my delight" (v. 143). "Your law is my delight" (v. 174).

The psalmist shares his longing and admiration for God's Word. "My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times" (v. 20). "I long for Your precepts" (v. 40). "My eyes fail with longing for Your word" (v. 82). "My eyes fail with longing for ... Your righteous word" (v. 123). "Your testimonies are wonderful" (v. 129). "I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments" (v. 131). "My heart stands in awe of Your words" (v. 161). "Seven times a day I praise You because of Your righteous ordinances" (v. 164).

The psalmist's passion is profound. "With all my heart I have sought You" (v. 10). "With all my heart I will observe Your precepts" (v. 69). "May my heart be blameless in Your statutes" (v. 80).

The psalmist gives powerful pictures of the Bible's value. "Your word I have treasured in my heart" (v. 11). "I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches" (v. 14). "Your statutes are my songs" (v. 54). "The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (v. 72). "How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (v. 103). "I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold" (v. 127). "I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil" (v. 162).

The psalmist expresses dedicated resolve to follow the way of the Word. "Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!" (v. 5). "I have chosen the faithful way" (v. 30). "I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever" (v. 44). "I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies" (v. 59). "I will never forget Your precepts" (v. 93). "I shall diligently consider Your testimonies" (v. 95). "I have chosen Your precepts" (v. 173).

This man provides a wonderful pattern and outstanding challenge regarding a Christian's relationship with the Word. His heart appears stable and well-established, firmly founded in a strong foundation. He is the example of a mature Christian, one who would seemingly need very little improvement. What could such a man need? What would he pray for? His prayers are varied, but two petitions stand out.

The most frequent prayer of this devoted follower of God is for God to teach him. "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 12). "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law" (v. 18). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 26). "Make me understand the way of your precepts" (v. 27). "Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes" (v. 33). "Give me understanding" (v. 34). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 64). "Teach me good discernment and knowledge" (v. 66). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 68). "Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments" (v. 73). "Teach me Your ordinances" (v. 108). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 124). "Give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies" (v. 125). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 135). "Give me understanding that I may live" (v. 144). "Give me understanding according to Your word" (v. 169).

Actually, this prayer for God to teach him is not completely surprising when one stops to consider. If someone loves the Word as much as this man does and is as firmly dedicating to following the Word as this man is, then it is logical that he would also have a deep desire to know and understand the Word of God. Because the Bible is so important to him, he must know it well. He must continually increase in his understanding. Even a mature Christian must be honest enough to realize he has not yet fully arrived. While initially surprising, this request makes sense.

The second frequent request is even more surprising. This devoted and dedicated follower repeatedly asks for revival. "My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word" (v. 25). "Revive me in Your ways" (v. 37). "Revive me through Your righteousness" (v. 40). "Revive me according to Your lovingkindness" (v. 88). "Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word" (v. 107). "Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness; revive me, O LORD, according to Your ordinances" (v. 149). "Revive me according to Your word" (v. 154). "Revive me according to Your ordinances" (v. 156). "Revive me, O LORD, according to Your lovingkindness" (v. 159).

As mature and devoted as this man is, he clearly does not consider that he is perfect, nor that has he advanced beyond needing God's help. He still struggles. He has not reached a plateau where he is immune to falling. He longs for God's Word and desires to walk in His paths, but he cannot do so unless God continually renews his desire. In our quests to follow God, oh, that we would echo this man's humble dependence. Father, teach me! Father, revive me!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Refuge

I recently attended a ladies' retreat with a group from my church. Because of my continued health struggles, I had seriously debated canceling. I know such situations are challenging for me, especially if I don't sleep well, which is almost a given in this setting. Knowing the potential risk, I finally decided to go, praying that God would make the retreat worthwhile.

My life has been sober lately, carrying various challenges. While my health has improved somewhat, the prolonged nature of this trial is a burden. Even still I manage the bare minimum in terms of activity, generally needing quantities of rest every evening and every weekend. There are still significant questions regarding future treatment; I've procrastinated emailing my doctor for lab results, not wanting to know the answer. My parents' health has been especially concerning lately, with emergency medical intervention for both of them. I can't help them, and wouldn't have the capacity to do so even if I lived closer. I had limited information on new complications occurring the day before my trip. Work always has some level of challenge; my morning before leaving for the retreat didn't go well.

At the retreat itself, new challenges surfaced. I was already tired, and poor sleep made things worse. Normal people can take in the activities of a big event; they might get tired, but they can enjoy the time and handle it okay. I can't, and I was reminded of my distance from being normal. My life is simple enough that I was not interested in typical female activities that others were doing; I felt disconnected. I was aware that while I would love to speak in such settings, the limitations of my body would interfere with my effectiveness and even ability to do so.

In the difficult moments of recent weeks and months, I have had a great longing, one that was present and reinforced even at the retreat. I have wanted someone to lean on - literally; I have yearned for someone to hug me or put their arm around me and hold me close, to support me, comfort me, and allow me to share my heart's burdens. There is no such person in my life, and I did not anticipate anything different at the retreat setting, even though it is what I still wanted.

I know there is one Person who does care about me that deeply and is willing to express that level of support, and my primary goal at the retreat was to seek solace and support from God. I went to the retreat knowing that I did not need the crafts, game time, conversations, fellowship, or various other pleasures of the camp; I needed to rest in God. I went with the intention of spending extended time with God, communing with Him through His Word and through prayer. I wanted to sit and relish His presence. I knew that I needed every possible minute of such activity, so I spent the free time of my weekend in the Psalms. I read and meditated. I talked to God about what I was reading: confession, yearning, petition, thanksgiving, and praise. My in-depth approach meant that I only reached Psalm 90, but it also meant that God could minister precious truth to me.

As I jotted down major recurring themes, two words stood out: "refuge" and "trust." Much of what I read tied into those ideas. God is repeatedly called a refuge. He is proclaimed as worthy of trust. There need be no fear of being ashamed in life's trials. God's track record is spotless, having repeatedly delivered His children and given them blessings. God is exceptional in every way; His righteousness, goodness, lovingkindness, and faithfulness are constantly proclaimed. Believers can be confident in God's care, fully assured of His attention. This is not based on their perfection, because they are frail and often fail. The Psalms echo with prayers of aspiration to walk closely with God, to grow and to be led. God does amazing work in the heart and soul, where the profoundest troubles of man occur. God's response is often compared to that of other sources. Man can't help himself, and the help of others falls far short. Even when others oppose, God supports, and the help He gives is the only truly effective aid. He always hears when His children call to Him. He especially cares and notices the most needy. He accepts and welcomes them, offering a close relationship. God is the best possible refuge, one that can be trusted whole-heartedly. These wonderful truths stirred my heart to poetic expression.

A Trusted Refuge: Themes in Psalms (Sonnet 49)
I find in God each day a refuge sure.
Through countless acts, He's proven year by year
He always does what's right and good and pure.
His fail-proof, matchless pow'r is ever near.
I need this refuge, for I am so weak;
My heart and soul oft' struggle and despair.
God knows my frailty, but asks that I Him seek.
My deepest struggles bring His deepest care.
If others do not help, I can survive,
For God responds each time I call to Him.
My self and friends can never make me thrive,
But God prevails when other hopes are dim.
He is a shelter safe in which to trust,
So rest in peace and wait on Him, I must.

I could have done nothing better with my weekend. While not an exuberant, bubbling victory, it certainly was not defeat. It was stability, calmness, and comfort in the midst of what threatened to be the opposite. It was sweet reassurance that God alone can meet my deepest needs. He held me like I longed to be held, listened to me, comforted me, and gave me helpful truth. He was my refuge. God's answer was not dramatic nor outstanding, but He answered my prayer. He made the retreat worthwhile.

"Trust in Him at all times ... God is a refuge" (Psalm 62:8).