Scripture Journal Challenge: Suffering and Safe Places

I have to admit that when I read the book of Job NOW, it’s no longer an intellectual exercise or detached theological foray into suffering and the sovereignty of God.

I was always appalled at what Job and his wife (remember her!) suffered. I was always a bit confused by God’s question to Satan, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” I was both comforted and confounded that God set boundaries but set them at the bare minimum to spare Job’s life.

Just being honest here.

Pastors and teachers love to talk about the sweeping arc of the story. They love to pull out lessons about how to comfort others in suffering, how to endure suffering ourselves and how, in the end, God restored to Job the things that had been robbed from him.

But my heart walks slowly through those pages. My soul weeps with every new blow struck against a man who, by God’s own account, was a righteous servant of the Most High.

I wonder if David knew the story of Job. It’s believed to have been one of the oldest books in the Old Testament.

If he did, I wonder if he took comfort in the knowledge that God eventually restored Job to a place of blessing, honor and safety.

David certainly knew what it was like to ride high on the wave of God’s favor and then to be dashed to bits on the rocks of adversity. He slew Goliath and then he was anointed king. He was Saul’s musician, ultimately his son-in-law and then his enemy. He knew that God declared his glorious future but he lived for years hiding in caves, eating what he could find and serving random wealthy patrons in hopes of a little peace between Saul’s attempts on his life.

So when he survived yet again, he wrote this Psalm as praise and prophecy.

He rode upon a heavenly creature,[a] flying;
    He was carried quickly on the wings of the wind.
11 He took darkness as His hiding place—
    both the dark waters of the seas and the dark clouds of the sky.
12 Out from His brilliance
    hailstones and burning coals
    broke through the clouds.
13 The Eternal thundered in the heavens;
    the Highest spoke; His voice rumbled [in the midst of hail and lightning].[b]
14 He shot forth His arrows and scattered the wicked;
    He flung forth His lightning and struck them.
15 Then the deepest channels of the seas were visible,
    and the very foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Eternal One,
    at the blast of wind from Your nostrils.
16 He reached down His hand from above me; He held me.
    He lifted me from the raging waters.
17 He rescued me from my strongest enemy,
    from all those who sought my death,
    for they were too strong.
18 They came for me in the day of my destruction,
    but the Eternal was the support of my life.
19 He set me down in a safe place;
    He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me.

Psalm 18: 10-19 VOICE

Again, David paints a vivid picture of God as Mighty Warrior.

But not just any warrior, raging through battle, unaware of who may be on His left or right. God is the One who protects His anointed. He is the One who reaches down and rescues.

God set David in a safe place. When He declared, “Enough!” no enemy could come further.

David had the sure promises of God to lean on. He knew that God is in control even when things feel out of control.

In the same way, the Lord established a hedge of protection around Job. He set the limits for Satan. He had him on a chain.

Of course there’s no indication from Scripture that Job knew his suffering had any limits. And while he didn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing, he certainly voiced his pain, indignation and desire to end his suffering through death.

I feel like I’m living in a space between the personal, rock-solid promises God gave David through Samuel and others and the blind faith of Job where God’s hand and purpose were concealed.

I know that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I know that the end has been written and everything that has been stolen, broken or touched by death will be redeemed, restored and resurrected.

But some days I wonder how long I’ll have to wait until I see those promises fulfilled. I wonder how much more I might have to endure, give up or lay down before I reach my heavenly Home.

That’s when I call my heart back to this picture of God as a Warrior who will always rescue me-both here and in the hereafter.

God has put my foot on a solid Rock.

When sorrow threatens to drag me deeper than my heart can bear, He reaches down and pulls me up.

When fear finds me in the dark and whispers lies in my ear, He makes His Presence real and speaks comfort to my soul.

Like Job and David and millions before me, I can trust the One who promises.

I can rest in His unfailing love and absolute sovereignty.

He never lets go.

QUESTIONS:

  • If you are like me, sometimes we read Scripture like a story book-we already know the ending and often ignore the very real human drama people were living through. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to know that even after God rescued David from the hand of Saul, he (David) was still not in full possession of the promise that he’d be king? Why or why not?
  • Child loss is absolutely the most devastating blow I’ve suffered in my life and it was a long, long time before I was able to look up in my brokenness and look for blessings. When I did, I found that while there was no cosmic scale that could balance my loss with whatever I might still have or gain, my heart was strengthened when I noticed blessings again. Are you able to look for blessings yet? If so, does it encourage you? If not, would you be willing to try to find one little smile-inducing good thing a day for a week?
  • I love, love, love David’s words: “He reached down His hand from above me; He held me. He lifted me from the raging waters.” Our God is a personal God who does not despise us because we are weak and unable to save ourselves. He delights in reaching down and lifting us up. How do those words make you feel? When have you felt God reach down and lift you up?
  • We end our study of this Psalm with verse 19: “He set me down in a safe place; He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me. ” We are ultimately set safely in the redemption of Christ (if we have received that gift by faith). But I also believe we can live our lives in a safe space even in the midst of suffering when we choose to focus on Who God is and refuse to let circumstances blind us to His love, His goodness, His promises and His strength. What concrete steps can you take to help your heart focus on truth when your feelings threaten to drag you into falsehood?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are the lover of my soul, my Mighty Warrior, my Savior and my Good Shepherd. Help me hold onto those truths when life threatens to undo me.

Give me the courage to face pain and suffering in the sure knowledge that You see me, You are with me and You will rescue me. I may not get a miracle or even a medical cure, but I will have the final victory in Christ.

When death and the awful darkness of grief roll over me like a flood, push it back with Your light, love and life.

Let me hear You singing joy over my soul.

Amen

***I combined today and tomorrow’s writing assignments***

Can I Get A Witness?

What, exactly, is the value of believers in Jesus plastering an “Everything is fine” mask across our faces?

Are we afraid that if we allow someone to see our pain we are letting God down?

And how could that be?

Did not Christ Himself beg the Father in the Garden to take the cup from Him?

jesus in the garden

Yet we smile and wave and chat our way through encounters with people around us, pretending, pretending, pretending that life is easy when it most certainly is not.

all broken trees

Denying the dark and refusing to acknowledge the depth of our pain diminishes the value of the comfort of Christ.

When David wrote that, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me” he understood both the desperate need for and the great assurance of Christ’s Presence.

When we allow others to see our broken hearts, we also bear testimony to the sustaining grace of Jesus.

heals the broken hearted

And we extend an invitation for them to meet this Savior that gives strength and comfort even in the darkest hours and hardest journeys.

walk with the broken toby mac

 

 

The Lifter of My Head

When I taught a young women’s Sunday School class, we were exploring the third Psalm.

David wrote this Psalm when fleeing from his son, Absalom.  He not only feared for his life, but his heart was broken by the shattered family relationships that led to this power struggle.

It wasn’t the first time he had to rely on God to intervene.

Psalm 3

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Jehovah, how many are they that trouble me, many they that rise up against me!

Many say of my soul, There is no salvation for him in God. Selah.

But thou, Jehovah, art a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

With my voice will I call to Jehovah, and he will answer me from the hill of his holiness. Selah.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for Jehovah sustaineth me.

I will not fear for myriads of the people that have set themselves against me round about.

Arise, Jehovah; save me, my God! For thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheekbone, thou hast broken the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation is of Jehovah; thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

DARBY translation

I will do almost anything to make a lesson come alive.

So I lay down on the carpet, forehead to the floor, arms outstretched and asked, “Can I defend myself in any way in this position?”

Of course the answer was a resounding, “NO!” because it was obvious that I could not.

I was at the mercy of whoever may intend me harm.  I could neither see them nor stop them.  It was a position of absolute vulnerability-the way prisoners knelt for execution in ancient times.

It was the position Esther assumed when she embraced very real danger to gain the opportunity to plead for the safety of her people.

And it reflects the inner truth that I am not in control and utterly reliant on the God Who made me to save me.

save-me-o-god-hand-christian-wallpaper-hd_1366x768

A friend posted this on her timeline and I really like it.

lift-up-your-head-it-aint-overI would change only a single thing: Instead of “lift your head” I would say, “let God lift your head”.

Because I am unable to lift it myself.

I don’t have the strength, I don’t have the power, I don’t have the energy to raise my head above my current circumstances.  I am bent under the weight of sorrow and grief.  If left to myself, I will stay here and simply wait for the end to come-it sometimes sounds easier and more inviting.

But the truth is, it AIN’T over yet.

I don’t get to make that choice.  God does.  And as long as He keeps me here I want to rely on Him to lift my head and make my life a living testimony to His power, grace, mercy and love.

There IS salvation from God-not only eternal salvation but also salvation from the pit of despair and despondency that threatens to swallow my soul.  

When He lifts my head, I can see it.

no pit

His Name is Peace

It never gets old.

IMG_0289

 

I am always amazed to see my frightened flock bound toward me, faces raised in confidence that whatever is pursuing them is no match for their shepherd.

The loud noise may continue, the dogs may still be nipping at their heels, but in my presence is peace.

 

So often we think of peace as a cessation of hostility, but the biblical concept of shalom is so much more.

The Hebrew meaning of the word includes

  • completeness
  • wholeness
  • health
  • peace
  • welfare
  • safety
  • soundness
  • tranquility
  • prosperity
  • perfectness
  • fullness
  • rest
  • harmony
  • as well as the absence of agitation or discord.

It is more like the satisfied sleepy smile of an infant, safe in his mother’s arms and full of wholesome milk from her breast.

There is no thought for what might be next,

no fear that the safety he is experiencing right now may be taken away,

no worry that the bountiful supply of care will be depleted.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Psalm 23:2

Jehovah-Shalom-the LORD my Peace. 

Peace is not a place or a promise-peace is a Person.

Even as I walk this hard path of grieving my son, I am strangely, inexplicably at peace in the core of my being.

And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvationt through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: AMPC

Fear reigns in the hearts of many-even those who believe in Jesus.

And if I trust in the government, or the police, or myself to keep me safe, I have every reason to be fearful.

But when I rest completely in Jehovah-Shalom, the LORD Who is Himself my Peace, I can be assured that I am safe.

Not safe from all harm, but safe in His love and care.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking The Balance Beam

One reason grief is so exhausting is that every step I take is on a balance beam of faith and hope.

I must navigate every necessary task without falling off.

According to one sports writer, “The balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult event in women’s gymnastics at any level of competition. At only four inches wide and four feet off the ground, there’s barely enough space for a person’s foot to fit on the beam let alone enough room to flip and dance.”

But an average competitive routine lasts only 30 to 90 seconds.

I will have to walk this narrow way the rest of my life.

Despair lies in wait on my left.  One misstep and I’m lost.  Down on the ground, hurting and hopeless.  Doubt, guilt, anger and grief threaten to drag me into a pit so deep there’s no way out.

Delusion calls from the right.

Singing a lullaby to my wounded heart-he’s not really gone.  “Can’t you feel him in the wind?  See him in the clouds?” It would be so easy to just step off the rational and faithful path and embrace some fluffy facsimile of biblical truth.

The solid beam is my faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That what He said is true.

That what He promises will come to pass.

That even though I cannot see proof of life after death, it exists and Dominic is experiencing it.

That, like David said when his baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.”

It takes every fiber of my being to focus my will and to direct my attention to the Truth.

Many nights I fall asleep reciting Scripture.  Many mornings I wake before the sun and remind myself that even in the dark, God reigns.

So when you see me and I look tired-I am.

But I wait in hope for the LORD…

   We wait in hope for the LORD;  He is our help and our shield.
 In Him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in His holy name.
 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22 NIV