Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36 – The Praise of Suffering

Psalm 69 by Japanese painter Makoto Fujimura

Save me, God,
    because the waters have reached my neck!
I have sunk into deep mud.
    My feet cannot touch the bottom!
I have entered deep water;
    the flood has swept me up.
I am tired of crying.
    My throat is hoarse.
    My eyes are exhausted with waiting for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
    are those who hate me for no reason.
My treacherous enemies,
    those who would destroy me, are countless.
    Must I now give back
    what I did not steal in the first place?
God, you know my foolishness;
    my wrongdoings are not hidden from you….

I will praise God’s name with song;
    I will magnify him with thanks
    because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
    more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves.
Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
    You who seek God—
    let your hearts beat strong again
    because the Lord listens to the needy
        and does not despise his captives.

Let heaven and earth praise God,
    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!
God will most certainly save Zion
    and will rebuild Judah’s cities
    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.
The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,
    and those who love God’s name will dwell there. (CEB)

As the Church’s and the Christian’s prayer book, the psalms offer a way to come to God when our feelings and emotions have us not knowing how to pray, at all.  If you are depressed because of people who would like to see you fail or are out to get you, then this is the psalm for you to pray!

When you are voiceless, the psalter can voice it for you. When you are unable to put your thoughts into words, the Scripture can word it for you. Two of the great attributes of God are divine power and love, which means that the Lord is more than able to do something about your situation, and it will always be done in a loving way.  Know today that God hears you and is working on a response to your lament – even if it is not in your own words but the words of Holy Scripture.

Psalm 69 by Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs, 1960

God will come through in God’s own good time. However, you can still praise the Lord right now, smack in the middle of your dilemma. David, the author of today’s psalm, chose to praise God, even though he did not get an immediate answer to his prayers. Perhaps God is more concerned to change us before changing our circumstances.

We need a solid theology of suffering. And that biblical psalms give it to us. I know of no one who wakes in the morning, sits on the edge of their bed, and says, “Gee, I want to suffer today and feel lots of emotional and spiritual pain.” No, we want happiness and joy, not agony and hardship. Yet suffering has much to teach us and the Lord is rarely quick to snatch us from its lessons. The hardship of personal suffering teaches us faith and dependence upon God, as well as leading us to ask for help from others so that we are lovingly supported.

“The way you look at things is the most powerful force in shaping your life.”

john o’donohue

Tribulations in life are common to all people without exception. The issue is whether we will submit to its hard-knock education, or not – whether we will become better people, or bitter. The Irish teacher and poet, John O’Donohue, penned a poem entitled, “For Suffering,” concerning the blessing of hard things:

May you be blessed in the holy names of those

Who, without knowing it,

Help to carry and lighten your pain.

May you know serenity

When you are called

To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom

To avoid false resistance;

When suffering knocks on the door of your life,

May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you

With the hard-earned light of past travail;

To remind you that you have survived before

And though the darkness is now deep,

You will soon see approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

May you know that though the storm may rage,

Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blesings (Doubleday, 2008)

We have all likely at times felt the anguish of the psalmist – being so overwhelmed that it feels like we are drowning. The feeling is compounded exponentially when behind the sense of trying to keep our heads above water there are people who do not like us – maybe even hate us, to the point of undermining our work every chance they get.  It is in such circumstances we might experience sleepless nights hoping that somehow and someway God will show up.

The typical modus operandi for some within adverse situations is the age-old route of complaining and wishing things were different. Yet neither griping about our problems nor dishing out slander and gossip toward others is a healthy way of dealing with adversity. Just the opposite response is the proper path to the bone-crushing feeling of opposition: to praise God’s name with a song and magnify the Lord with thanksgiving. 

The reason the believer can engage in adoring God during trouble is not some Jedi-type mind trick to make us think more positively. Instead, the basis for praise is in knowing God. It is God who ultimately will deal with the wicked; it is the Lord who will bend to listen to our lament when times are hard. 

Thanking God for answers to prayer in advance of them being answered is a biblical thing to do. Having a faith robust enough to see ahead toward hope can bring love to a loveless situation, and usher in praise before the divine deed of deliverance is even accomplished.

Saving God, thank you for your deliverance!  I give you praise for loving me through sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earthly realm so that I might experience salvation from sin, death, and hell. By Christ’s authority, in the power of the Holy Spirit given to me, I resist the enemy’s attempts to seize control of my life.  I belong to you, holy God. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-6 – Making All Things New

Make All Things New by James Janknegt, 2005

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (NRSV)

The world as we now know it will someday disappear. We have a future hope – it will literally be heaven on earth. The entire planet will be a renewed and God will descend to dwell with us. The Lord will bring us to the original design of the garden with Adam and Eve – an unhindered relationship between divinity and humanity. We shall no longer be dogged by our personal shame, institutional and systemic evil, and the temptations and oppression of Satan. Tears, death, sorrow, and pain will be a thing of the past. Eventually, our struggle with the fallen nature of everything will be completely over.

The message from the Apostle John to the early church was extremely encouraging. The people had faced all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their Christian commitment. To know that suffering only lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning because of Jesus, changes everything. To the ancient church, as well as us today, this is a comfort and help in our present adversities.

Yet, we are such an impatient people! We want good things to happen, and now! All God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Apostle John did not  give a brand-new revelation to the church but upheld and anticipated what had been known and true for centuries. God said to the prophet Isaiah:

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19, NIV)

Making All Things New by Beth Lighthouse, 2018

In the first Advent of Christ, many of God’s people thought for certain all these promises would finally be realized. Yet, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated. The Apostle Peter addressed a common question asked throughout the ages:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (2 Peter 3:4, NLT)

Peter responded, in part, by reminding Christians:

Do not let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord is not slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. (2 Peter 3:8-9, CEB)

“I am making everything new,” said Jesus. And he wanted John to get that down in writing so not to forget. God is still in the process of moving history to its final stage. Will we be patient in letting God do this work until the final day comes, or will we be impatient? 

Although we are awaiting the end of all things, this is no time to be idly sitting by, twiddling our thumbs with nervous anxiety. Nor are we to go all apoplectic with furious activity creating prophecy charts, trying to figure out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s Second Advent. No, rather, we properly anticipate the Second Coming when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families, and churches, to be just like Christ.

God is presently preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old order to make room for the new. The Apostle Paul put it this way to the Corinthian Church:

When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world. The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new! (2 Corinthians 5:17, ERV)

With each transformed life, we are reminded God is not slow in keeping promises but is now vigorously active preparing for the last day.

The Revelation of John helps us to break our fixation with the past and the ways we have always done things.  God’s capacity and ability to renew is astounding. Even now, we can walk now in newness of life.

We were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4, NKJV)

To avoid impatience and to keep persevering, it is helpful to have a big picture view of what God has done, is doing, and will do.

In the Fall of 1991, a car driven by a drunk driver jumped its lane and smashed headfirst into a minivan driven by a man named Jerry Sittser. He and three of his children survived, but Jerry’s wife, four-year-old child, and mother died in the crash. In his book A Grace Revealed Sittser shares the following interaction with one of his surviving children, David, months after the accident:

“Do you think Mom sees us right now?” he suddenly asked.

I paused to ponder. “I don’t know, David. I think maybe she does see us. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t see how she could, Dad. I thought Heaven was full of happiness. How could she bear to see us so sad?”

Could Lynda, my wife, witness our pain in Heaven? How could that be possible? How could she bear it?

“I think she does see us,” I finally said. “But she sees the whole story, including how it all turns out, which is beautiful to her. It’s going to be a good story, David.”

God knows the whole story. When everything dies, all is stripped from our lives, and the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with?  God and the renewal of all things. The troubles of this present evil age will be eradicated forever.

Whenever we seek to do away with the world’s grinding poverty and the starvation of children; whenever we work to end global sex-trafficking and domestic abuse; whenever we tackle epidemics, pandemics, and disease; whenever we help others face and cope with the evil of this world; whenever we come alongside others in their trouble; whenever we extend comfort to the grieving and grace to the wayward; whenever we choose mercy and kindness; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming. But it is not yet here. God is presently working to make everything new by bringing deliverance from sin, death, and hell to people throughout the world.

Almighty God, in the New Year, at this moment of transition, we understand this is the moment of your intervention. We offer to you, O Lord, everything that makes us sad and upset; everything that makes us desperate; all our unfulfilled plans, and all our unrealized dreams. They are yours. Take them and transform them into something beautiful, magnificent, and new. Let your Holy Spirit make us new creations in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 – From Weeping to Singing

Stained glass window of Hannah offering her son Samuel to the Lord by Phil Watkins

Then Hannah prayed:

My heart rejoices in the Lord.
    My strength rises up in the Lord!
    My mouth mocks my enemies
        because I rejoice in your deliverance.
No one is holy like the Lord—
    no, no one except you!
    There is no rock like our God!

Don’t go on and on, talking so proudly,
    spouting arrogance from your mouth,
    because the Lord is the God who knows,
        and he weighs every act.

The bows of mighty warriors are shattered,
    but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power!
Those who were filled full now sell themselves for bread,
    but the ones who were starving are now fat from food!
    The woman who was barren has birthed seven children,
        but the mother with many sons has lost them all!
The Lord!
    He brings death, gives life,
        takes down to the grave, and raises up!
The Lord!
He makes poor, gives wealth,
    brings low, but also lifts up high!
God raises the poor from the dust,
    lifts up the needy from the garbage pile.
    God sits them with officials,
    gives them the seat of honor!
The pillars of the earth belong to the Lord;
    he set the world on top of them!
God guards the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked die in darkness
        because no one succeeds by strength alone.

The Lord!
His enemies are terrified!
        God thunders against them from heaven!
    The Lord!
    He judges the far corners of the earth!

May God give strength to his king
    and raise high the strength of his anointed one. (CEB)

This is the song of Hannah, a woman unable to conceive children and then offered a heartfelt petition to God for a child. Her prayer was answered. A thousand years later, Mary took this same song, reworked it, and personalized it, to voice and sing her own praise to God. (Luke 1:46-55)

Hannah dared to hope. It might seem from the perspective of one who has never struggled with being childless that offering a prayer for children is easy. However, when hope has been dashed and all seems impossible, putting oneself out there to ask, even to beg, is downright hard. In a fear of having what little hope remains be crushed, it is far easier to stay away from God and keep the prayers to oneself.

Hannah actively sought divine help and risked praying and emoting. The Lord heard. Hannah’s weeping turned to singing. And, like Mary’s Magnificat, Hannah quickly moved from her own experience to the experiences of people everywhere. In short, Hannah focused on the God of the impossible and the divine accessibility which exists when we become vulnerable and put ourselves out there in risky hope.

The great reversal of Hannah’s condition from barren to fertile gives hope for the weak to become strong, the hungry to be filled, and the lost to be found. In a world in which God is Sovereign, nothing needs to stay the same – nothing is carved in stone.

Since no part of our existence as humans is outside the purview of God, there is always the possibility of change, of a reversal of fortunes.

The underdog has a champion with God. The misfits, the exploited, and the downtrodden – those who cannot lift themselves or pull themselves up by their bootstraps – are precisely the persons whom the Lord raises up. God’s providential care shall oversee them, and justice will be dispensed with perfect equity.

It is one thing to hope; it is another thing altogether in daring to hope against all odds and while others poo-poo your dreams. Godly hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that God will show up and be gracious, merciful, and kind.

The place of crying and weeping is important because it is our tears which find a better way. Anyone can offer cheap praise but the person who sits with their sadness and feels the heart-wrenching agony of a hope unfulfilled is the one who is able to give genuine praise and to sing with authenticity. Since their hope was planted and watered with tears, their joy in the harvest is abundant and plenteous.

As we move to the expectant close of Advent and realize the Christmas hope fulfilled, allow the daring hope of Mary and Hannah to conceive a fresh hope in your own life so that you will give birth to new life.

God of hope, in these times of change, helplessness, and uncertainty give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share together, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 – Being Confident

Our Lord, I will sing
    of your love forever.
Everyone yet to be born
    will hear me praise
    your faithfulness.
I will tell them,
“God’s love
    can always be trusted,
    and his faithfulness lasts
    as long as the heavens.”

You said, “David, my servant,
    is my chosen one,
    and this is the agreement
    I made with him:
David, one of your descendants
    will always be king….”

In a vision, you once said
    to your faithful followers:
“I have helped a mighty hero.
    I chose him from my people
    and made him famous.
David, my servant, is the one
    I chose to be king,
    and I will always be there
    to help and strengthen him.

No enemy will outsmart David,
    and he won’t be defeated
    by any hateful people.
I will strike down and crush
    his troublesome enemies.
He will always be able
    to depend on my love,
    and I will make him strong
    with my own power.
I will let him rule the lands
    across the rivers and seas.
He will say to me,
‘You are my Father
    and my God,
    as well as the mighty rock
    where I am safe.’” (CEV)

I wonder where the world places its confidence. I also sometimes wonder where the church places her confidence. Poverty, injustice, starvation, human rights violations, and war have existed throughout time. We all recognize these and the awful problems they are for so many people. It is, however, quite another thing when it comes to our confidence in addressing them and how they will ever be eradicated.

If we view these great humanitarian issues as a matter of ignorance, we will pursue education as the means of tackling them. If we discern them as political issues, we will seek to elect officials who will take them on, and we will lobby to make things different. If we understand them as moral issues, we will agitate for change and speak prophetically into what we believe to be the sources of the problems. In truth, each of these approaches have merit and are necessary components to a full orbed attention of their multifaceted and complicated nature.

For the pious and devout, the ultimate confidence comes in basic faith and trust of the Divine. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love are the solid foundation from which the believer constructs her hope and confidence.

The psalmist is not one bit bashful in reminding God of divine promises. God swore to King David that his descendants would rule forever. At the time the psalmist crafted these words, it was not looking much like those promises were having any attention from the Lord.

The David spoken of in the psalm is interpreted in the Christian tradition as Jesus. King David of old was certainly no perfect man, and the psalmist presents an idealized version, looking ahead to messianic qualities of a coming Ruler. Those qualities include a concern for the common good of all persons without striving for personal power or being aloof; and an ability to be victorious over foes.

Advent, much like today’s Psalm, calls on people to rely upon and have confidence in divine promises – even when those promises seem far from being realized. It is the trust and hope of the faithful which perseveres in prayer for a coming redemption and a day when wars shall cease, the rights of people are thoroughly met, starvation eradicated, injustice turned to justice, and poverty done away with once for all. In other words, a sinless world free from the machinations of evil.

It is no small thing holding on to our confidence as believers when circumstances all around us are askew and askance. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews had this to say to a struggling church who had a hard time seeing future promises fulfilled:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39, NIV)

We keep going by remembering God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and our past joy of committed faith. Then, like psalmist, we allow a song to bubble up and be sung about divine goodness. Never underestimate the power of memory and music to keep us on track toward living each day in faith and confidence.

May you be able to sing of God’s love forever.

May you give voice to God’s faithfulness.

May you express daily affirmations of faith in God.

May you bank on the promises of God.

May your faith be strengthened for the rigors of this life.

May your hope overflow.

May the love of God work in and through you to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever by Encounter Worship Band.