Scripture Journal Challenge: The God Who Comes Near

If someone asked me to describe Jesus I would say He’s the God who does not turn away.

He’s the God who comes near.

He’s the God who will always, always, always show up and bend down.

That’s what I hold onto in this life I didn’t choose-that my Shepherd Savior sees me, hears me, loves me and will help me.

For the Eternal watches over the righteous,
    and His ears are attuned to their prayers. He is always listening.
16 But He will punish evildoers,
    and nothing they do will last. They will soon be forgotten.
17 When the upright need help and cry to the Eternal, He hears their cries
    and rescues them from all of their troubles.
18 When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close
    and revives him in his pain.

Psalm 34: 15-18 VOICE

Not long after Dominic’s death there was a horrible mass shooting and the perpetrator was in his fifties. I have to admit I literally yelled at God, REALLY???? This guy lives to his fifties only to kill a bunch of innocent people and You didn’t save Dominic from his accident?!!!”

I was angry and frustrated and sad and broken.

If I’m honest I’ve had a few more moments like that since then.

But I’m brought up short when I read these verses and others like them. The wicked do not have God’s ear. They will not know eternal life with Him in Heaven. They may even be worldly successes but nothing they do will last forever. Riches don’t secure immortality.

Only a penitent heart leaning fully on the grace and mercy of God is eternally safe.

Because I am His child. when I’m hurting, God does not run away or turn a blind eye or a deaf ear-He meets me there.

Jesus is the lover of my soul.

He is the Healer of my heart.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you feel heard by God? By others? Why or why not?
  • How do you deal with the fact that sometimes evil seems to win and evil people prosper?
  • How would you describe Jesus? Has grief changed how you describe Him?
  • Is your description consistent with what Scripture tells us about Him?
  • Theology matters-especially when grieving. What I believe about God and Christ either undermine or strengthen my faith. Write down ten things you believe to be true about God and/or Jesus.

PRAYER:

Father God,

I admit that it’s infuriating and feels unfair that sometimes those who don’t love You still prosper. They seem to have a life free from trouble and heartache. And here I am-hurting, deeply harmed and holding on by a thread.

But You are not unjust. You are not ignoring me. You will work all things together for good for those who love you. Help me trust those truths.

You are the God who came near in the stable and on the cross. You are the God who dwells inside those who receive the gift of salvation through Christ. You are not far away.

Hear my cry. Touch my heart.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Tears Won’t Last Forever

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I didn’t cry much.

Since April 12, 2014 I’ve cried a river-tears for breakfast, lunch, dinner and into my pillow at night when I tried to fall asleep.

When sorrow overtakes a heart, it’s hard to think about anything else.

There was a very real danger that sadness would drag me down in a pit so deep I would never be able to crawl back out.

And then the enemy of my soul would win.

But God.

The most beautiful words I know.

God reached down and raised me up from the depths of despair. He dragged me out of the pit of sorrow. His light shone so bright that even the darkness of death could not hide it.

Like the Psalmist, I can praise the Lord for saving me from my enemy.

I praise you, Lord, because you have saved me
    and kept my enemies from gloating over me.
I cried to you for help, O Lord my God,
    and you healed me;
    you kept me from the grave.
I was on my way to the depths below,[b]
    but you restored my life.
Sing praise to the Lord,
    all his faithful people!
Remember what the Holy One has done,
    and give him thanks!
His anger lasts only a moment,
    his goodness for a lifetime.
Tears may flow in the night,
    but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 1-5 GNT

It’s thought that David wrote this psalm on the dedication of his house. He had been pursued, fought battles and only now taken the throne promised to him years before. He had literally been saved from death on many occasions. His enemies had plotted and planned and never been successful.

If God is for us, who can stand against us?

I think David was also thankful that God had rescued him from the pit of despair. I can’t read the psalms without a sense of David’s internal battle against what may have been depression but was most certainly deep, deep sorrow and disappointment that life didn’t go as planned.

When David thanked God for reaching down, lifting him up and setting his feet on solid ground he was as thankful for the emotional rescue as for the physical one. He had learned that things might be bad for awhile but they would not be bad forever.

Despite how long the darkness lasts or how awful the blow, it’s only a tiny blip compared to eternity.

It feels interminable. It seems insurmountable. But it isn’t. God’s goodness overcomes any scheme of the enemy and I need to remind my heart of that truth.

One of the reasons I watch the sun rise every morning is because it affirms this truth: night does not last forever. No matter how dark, no matter how cold, no matter how frightful, no matter how sad-night is constrained by the sunrise.

My earthly suffering is constrained by God’s goodness.

Tears are still my food more often than I could have ever imagined they would be.

Dominic is not going to be miraculously raised from his grave (although God could do it if He chose).

But my tears won’t last forever.

Morning is coming.

Sure as sunrise.

QUESTIONS:

  • I suspect I’m not alone in the changes child loss has wrought. For someone who didn’t cry much before, suddenly crying often was uncomfortable at first. Now I understand tears are often the only response I have left some days. Do tears bring relief or do they distress you further?
  • Does it help you hold onto hope to know that God will not allow our enemy, the devil, to win? Why or why not?
  • Some of the words used in Psalms hurt my heart. I may have been spared from the grave but Dominic wasn’t. How do you reconcile physical safety of some people with the fact that our child(ren) wasn’t/weren’t spared? It’s a question I had to face head on before I could allow God to begin a healing work in my heart.
  • Are you ever tempted to think your child’s death is punishment or that God is angry with you? It’s not and He’s not, by the way. (read this post for more: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • God is not confined by time like we are so often the authors of Scripture are speaking about events current to their own lifetimes and also writing prophetically. When David writes about weeping lasting “for a night” he’s not saying that all sorrow ends in twelve hours. He is saying that all sorrow will end. Does that encourage you? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord,

So often I am dragged down into the pit of despair by my sadness, sorrow and hopelessness. When I wake to tears on my pillow and fall asleep to my own sobs, it seems like there will never be a moment or a day when my heart is not overwhelmed.

I feel like the enemy is winning some days.

Help my heart hold onto the truth that I am only privy to a tiny sliver of knowledge. Give me strength to hold onto hope when my own strength fails. Put praise in my mouth when You pull me out of the pit, foil the schemes of my enemy and set me on the solid ground of truth. Speak courage to my soul.

Let each sunrise remind me again that the night will not last forever. Darkness cannot swallow the light. Death does not win. Life and light and love endure forever.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Keep Me Near

I have definitely felt besieged in this grief journey.

I imagined myself holed up in a castle turret, hoping against hope that heartache would stop battering the gates below.

For a long while I was afraid.

I was fearful that if the onslaught didn’t stop my heart would give in to despair, I’d let go of hope, I’d lay down and give up.

I don’t believe for one minute that David was never scared.

Instead, I believe that the words he used when his brothers mocked his step forward to take on Goliath were words God burned in his soul:

The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:37 NIV

David was courageous IN SPITE of the fear because he knew the God he served. He had prior experience with God’s faithfulness. He was confident that the Lord would not allow him to fail.

So we come to today’s verses. They were penned a good while after Goliath, after being anointed king but before he gained the throne.

He was running for his life, fighting enemies on every side.

David had to remind himself of truth, just like me. He needed to sing aloud so his heart could be brave.

When the armies of the enemy surround me,
    I will not be afraid.
When death calls for me in the midst of war,
    my soul is confident and unmoved.
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
    my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
    in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
    in the company of His people.
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
    It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
    He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
God lifts me high above those with thoughts
    of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
    In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.

Psalm 27:3-6 VOICE

His soul was confident and unmoved in the midst of danger because he threw himself on the mercy of the Lord.

His plea was not, “Keep me safe” it was “Keep me near”.

Jesus told the disciples not to fear the one who could kill the body but fear the One who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 1:28)

David got it.

He knew that no matter what happened-if he lived or died-his true shelter and his true life was in the Lord.

He was focused on Who walked with him not what might happen to him.

Truth is, we don’t always experience miraculous deliverance from life’s troubles or dangers. People we love die. People we care about are cast down, carried through hard times and come out the other side battered, bruised and barely holding on.

If I can only praise a God who spares me, I have no songs to sing.

But if I can praise the God who loves me, who offers eternal security through the blood of Christ, the God who will weave ALL the threads of my life-the dark, the light, the ugly and the beautiful-into a masterpiece declaring His glory for all eternity, then I have a song as long as I have breath.

And when breath leaves this body and I am free of my earthly tent, I’ll sing a new song for ever and ever and ever.

This was David’s God.

This was the God of Moses, Isaac, Jacob. Peter and Paul.

This is MY God.

And He longs to be yours too. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • Who do you turn to when you are afraid?
  • When have you felt God’s assurance in the midst of a fearful situation?
  • My family was very involved in worship music ministry for years. Dominic was a talented drummer, among other things. In the first days after his death, music ministered to my soul. But after the funeral I felt the music die within my heart. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a song to sing anymore? Did God meet you there and help you find your song? Are you willing to ask Him to give you a new song, even on this broken road?
  • Eternal hope does not keep us from feeling pain in the here and now. But it can help a heart hold on. What words from this Psalm stand out to you? Are you able to praise God even as you feel pain?
  • Can you ask for God to keep you near even if He doesn’t keep you (or your loved ones) safe?
  • Praise can be as simple as repeating truth aloud or writing it in your journal. If you can’t sing, consider speaking aloud the names of God, His eternal attributes or verses that describe them. Your heart is listening. Give it courage.

PRAYER:

Father God,

So many times I come to You with a list of petitions-do this, do that, solve this, fix that, keep me and mine safe, secure and happy. I’m seeking Your hand and not Your face. And when things don’t turn out the way I want them to I feel betrayed.

What you want is for me to trust Your heart even when I can’t trace Your hand. You have promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Help me, like David to ask you to keep me near, not just to keep me safe.

Your name is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved-not saved from earthly destruction or trouble but from eternal damnation.

When I lose my song, give me a new one. When I forget that You are with me, make Your Presence undeniably real. When I lose hope, speak courage to my heart. And when I doubt that I can make it one more minute, much less one more day, strengthen me with Your might.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: God Sees You. You Are Not Alone.

We’ve all done it-pretended to be looking somewhere else when we pass a needy soul.

Who has time to get involved?

They might be an addict or have a contagious disease or mental illness. They might be too lazy to work, too unpredictable to trust, too likely to be here next week and need something again. It might cost more than the five dollars we’re willing to hand out.

So we walk on by and hope they don’t force the issue by standing in our way.

But God never ignores a hurting heart.

He never redirects His gaze so it doesn’t fall on the one begging for mercy.


He does not ·ignore [despise or disdain] ·those in trouble [L the suffering of the afflicted]. He doesn’t hide his face from them but listens when they ·call out to him [cry to him for help].

Psalm 22:24 EXB

How amazing that the God of the universe, the One who hung the stars in the sky and told the sea, “This far and no farther!” hears me when I cry out to Him for help!

And not only does He hear me, He longs to comfort me with His love.

He does not despise my weakness or look down His nose because I’m unable to solve my own problems or help myself.

Even when others ignore me or try to make my pain small, God is listening. He never sleeps. He’s never too busy. He’s never hoping I go away and stop bothering Him.

He knows my name.

I’m not a faceless, nameless one of thousands or millions chattering away like background noise in a crowd.

He hears MY voice.

God-my God-has a personal, specific relationship with me, His child.

He leans in, bends down and listens attentively to whatever I tell Him. Like any human father, His heart is pierced when mine is broken.

I am so, so thankful that the God I serve loves me.

He specifically, purposefully loves me with unconditional love.

Even when I’m weak.

Even when I’m running away.

Even when I question the things He allows in my life.

He will never look away or stop reaching for me.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that God hears you?
  • Do you always FEEL heard? Why or why not?
  • When have you felt God’s personal care and encouragement?
  • How might you help your heart hold onto the truth in this verse when it seems God isn’t listening or at least isn’t giving you the relief you seek?
  • Can you find two or three other verses that emphasize God’s attentiveness to His children?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Sometimes I am willing to give mental assent to the fact that You hear me. And yet my heart argues that my head must be mistaken because the answers I beg for are long in coming.

The silence is deafening.

But I know our ways are not My ways and Your time is not my time. Give me confident assurance that You hear me whenever I cry out to You. Thank you that in Christ I can call You “Daddy” and always rest in the truth You are for me and not against me.

Fill my heart full of Your love. Overwhelm me with Your grace-grace to ask and grace to endure no matter what the answer may be. Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Righteous, Raging King!

They say there’s nothing more terrifying than a mama bear protecting her cubs.

If you’ve ever witnessed one come charging across a clearing, changed from a lumbering giant to a fierce killing machine you believe it.

What seems safe at a distance is oh, so terrifying up close and personal.

I think many folks picture God as the great Granddaddy in the sky, looking down benevolently at the earth and showering blessings on its inhabitants.

God IS love. Scripture says so.

But God is also a fierce Father who will protect His children.

That’s the image David brings to mind as we continue Psalm 18:

In my time of need, I called to the Eternal;
    I begged my True God for help.
He heard my voice echo up to His temple,
    and my cry came to His ears.
Because of His great anger, the earth shook and staggered;
    the roots of the mountains shifted.
Smoke poured out from His nose,
    and devouring fire burst from His mouth.
    Coals glowed from Him.
He bent the heavens and descended;
    inky darkness was beneath His feet.

Psalm 18: 6-9 VOICE

I’m so thankful that God in all His glory, majesty, strength and might is both my Savior and my Shepherd. He’s ready to defend me against the enemy of my soul and He’s made perfect provision for my eternal future. He’s also my constant Companion and guide as I journey toward Heaven.

I appreciate the passages in Scripture that talk about God as loving Father, as Comforter, as gentle, meek and kind. Those help my heart when I feel emotionally vulnerable.

But when I’m under attack, I want a Warrior to come rescue me!

When I cry out, I’m looking for a righteous, raging King to ride in and vanquish my enemy.

This is no battle of equals. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. The end of the story is already written.

I don’t fear my Father.

I know that in Christ His wrath is perfectly satisfied. I’m a child of the King, safe and secure in my position and my inheritance. He will defend me to the end.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

That’s a promise.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve cried out for deliverance do you feel the Lord has always answered? Why or why not?
  • If He answered, was His deliverance what you were expecting?
  • I’ve written before that some of us (myself included) might need to admit God has disappointed us.* If you feel like He hasn’t done what you expected/needed Him to do, are you prepared to voice that? Are you ready to breathe out the pain, the doubts, the disappointment-even anger-and make room for Him to minister grace and healing to your broken heart?
  • David’s imagery is definitely at odds with most popular depictions of God the Father as a Santa Clause type figure. Do any of the words he uses challenge your own idea of who God is? Are they comforting, frightening or something else?
  • What is your takeaway from the verses we’ve looked at so far in this Psalm? How can you make it personal?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I want to stuff You in a box where I can pretend to understand You. Or I lean too heavily on verses that describe Your love and compassion and gloss over the ones that emphasize Your holiness and righteous anger. Truth is, when things are going along alright, I don’t really enjoy being challenged much.

But the “god” I design or understand is not You at all. You are more than I could ever comprehend. Your ways are not my ways. And when I’m forced to come face to face with that truth, it’s a little frightening.

Give me the courage to read and heed ALL the verses. Guide my heart to embrace the full revelation (so far as we have it) of who You are. Grant the grace to to receive Your love and Your correction.

Thank You that you are both Savior and Shepherd. Thank You for fighting for me and singing over me.

Amen

*Here are links to a couple previous posts about trust after loss and “forgiving” God:

Scripture Journal Challenge: The One I Run To

When I read the Psalms I hear human voices.

I hear real people living real lives facing real problems.

Life and death and celebration and devastation-all laid bare for the ages.

They give me courage to speak plainly to God.

They help me frame my own struggles in the context of who God is and not only what I feel.

I love You, Eternal One, source of my power.
The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation;
    He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide,
    my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower.
I call out to the Eternal, who is worthy to be praised—
    that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.
The bonds of death encircled me;
    the currents of destruction tugged at me;
The sorrows of the grave wrap around me;
    the traps of death lay in wait for me.

Psalm 18:1-5 VOICE

David had escaped Saul’s attempt on his life. He could have given credit to his superior battle skills or ability to hide or just plain luck.

But he didn’t. He understood that God alone determined the outcome.

David knew that God was his true stronghold-not the cave or the tower where he might hide.

He is reminding his heart of truth-something I had to do the day Dominic left us.

I have never felt so desolate as the early morning when I was told my son was dead. My physical life wasn’t threatened but the life I knew was shattered.

The “bonds of death” circled my heart and I could feel them squeezing tighter and tighter.

Sorrow swallowed me whole.

There was nowhere to hide from the awful truth that death was on my doorstep.

In the hours between the knock on the door and sunrise I kept assuring myself that God was still God. I kept repeating that He had not abandoned us.

And then (because I didn’t know what else to do as I waited for family to gather) I went out to feed the animals.

Walking toward the rising sun I choked out the words to a favorite song:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul by Matt Redman

There was no moment of divine revelation.

I didn’t feel the burden lift.

But I knew if I didn’t remind my heart of truth, I’d be headed toward a darker path than the one I was already walking.

“I call out to the Eternal who is worthy to be praised-that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.”

QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you think it’s important that even when we experience victory, we acknowledge God as the One who gives it to us?
  • Are you ever tempted not to?
  • Obviously I’m sensitive to the fact that as bereaved parents our child was not physically saved. Does that make it hard for your heart to think of God as a fortress, shelter, safe place? Why or why not?
  • Even though I have not faced my own death, I find David’s description apt for the dark feelings that threatened to undo me after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. Do his words resonate with you?
  • David was a man on the run for years. He spent a lot of time in the rocky wilderness and describes God in ways that reflect his personal experience. If you were going to describe God as a place of safety, what words would you use that reflect yours?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are most certainly worthy of praise simply because You are God. Sometimes I struggle to praise you because You do not always give victory in the here and now and that’s hard to take. You don’t always step in and assure physical safety and that hurts my heart.

But you always invite me to bring that pain to You. You are a stronghold for my heart.

When the enemy of my soul whispers lies in my ear and tries to convince me You don’t care, help my heart refuse to be led astray. When despair tries to drag me down, speak courage to my soul and lift me up.

You have made every provision for our ultimate victory. Death doesn’t get the last word. Life does! Thank You for that promise.

Amen