affliction, character, faith, God, God of miracles, hope, Jesus, meditate, miracles, Most High, persecution, perseverance, power of God, psalmist, purified, remember, remembering, Suffering, tested, the LORD
Reading: Psalm 77
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph (NIV).
Psalm 77 began with the psalmist in a state of anguish approaching despair. He was filled with questions for the LORD—questions but no answers. This brings us to our reading for today. After pouring out his complaint, the psalmist recalls the mighty works of the LORD.
“To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
When in doubt, remember. In a time of suffering, remember. When troubles assail from every side, remember. What should we remember? Remember the God who performs miracles. Remember that He is your personal redeemer. The blood Jesus shed was for you. The resurrection he accomplished was for you. The forgiveness he offers is for you.
During trying times, I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.
Our faith isn’t tested and purified in the good times while the choir sings sweetly in the background. Faith is tested and purified in the furnace of affliction. There’s no lineup of volunteers signing up for affliction. The gospel that is often presented today is branded as affliction-free. But Jesus gave no such promise. He promised persecution to those who leave all to follow him. (See Mark 10:29-31).
Paul, the apostle, makes this assertion: We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
As you face difficult times, reflect on the ever-present, never-changing, miracle-working power of God.
Response: LORD God, you are at work on my behalf even when I can’t see it. I believe in you, the miracle-working God. May my meditation center on you and your word, because your word brings light. Amen.
Your Turn: Does God have your attention when you are in trouble or pain?
Reading: Psalm 77
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (NIV).
Sometimes in our walk of faith, we go through dark days. Answers to our prayers do not come quickly. We are left wondering if God even hears or cares. The opening verses of Psalm 77 reflect the psalmist’s mood of desolation, which approaches despair. The psalmist has more questions than the Lord has answers. At least that’s how it appears. “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Last Friday morning, I was on a pleasant spring walk through a quiet residential neighborhood with my sister. Suddenly without warning, I was struck by a car backing out of a driveway. In an instant, pleasure was replaced by searing pain. My right knee was skinned and bleeding. Ligaments in my left ankle were torn. Now I hobble about on crutches. Surgery may be needed.
Like the psalmist, my week since the accident has been filled with questions. Questions by police officers. Questions by family members and friends. Questions by insurance claim specialists. Questions by doctors. And in my quiet moments, I have had a few questions for the Lord, “Why did you allow this to happen? What should my response be? How long will this pain last? When will I be able to walk normally again? Did I do something wrong to bring on this pain?”
Response: LORD God, I don’t have the answers. You do. Your word tells me to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Help me to do just that in these circumstances. You are always worthy of praise even when I don’t understand. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you have questions for God when life seems to go off the rails?
Note: This post was written over a year ago. I have fully recovered from the accident though the process was slow and painful. In it all God was with me.
Reading: Psalm 55
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.
Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm” (NIV).
There are days when we all wish we had wings. When there are troubles and worries all around we long for a place of rest. At such times David’s prayer becomes our prayer, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm”
Do you have a place of shelter? David was fortunate; he had such a place. In his spirit by means of prayer, he flew to the LORD. There he found the rest and comfort he needed. In times of suffering or loss, we all need such a place.
Yesterday, I met with a former neighbor and family friend. A few months ago he lost his young wife in a tragic car accident. With tears in his eyes he confessed how God has been his help in his time of overwhelming sorrow. He has found comfort with his Savior. When he felt he could not carry on, Jesus carried him. His faith and hope in the resurrection sustained him.
Jesus is our refuge from the tempest and storm. Whatever difficulties we face, we have a place of rest with him. Sometimes our burdens are simply too heavy for us to carry. Peter gives this advice, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Having cast our worries on the Lord, we can fly away to our Savior—our place of rest.
Response: LORD God, help me remember that I have a friend in Jesus. I can bring my troubles, sorrows and losses to Him. I offer you my thanks, Lord. You hear me when I call. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you recently experienced a time of suffering or loss? Has Jesus been a shelter from the storm for you? Have you brought your burdens to Christ?
Reading: Psalm 50
A psalm of Asaph.
The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice (NIV).
Psalm 50 begins by reminding us that Judgment Day is coming. A great summoning will take place. We will all gather before the throne of God. Rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, the living and the dead—all will gather before the LORD. None are excused. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
On the day before his crucifixion Jesus elaborated at some length on this great summoning. For some it will be a day of joy and gladness; for others it will be a day of dread and sorrow. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31-33).
What kind of day will it be for you?
It will certainly be a day of justice. The world is crying out for justice. All too often in this world—in this life—there is no such thing. The innocent suffer, while the perpetrators get off free. They gloat in their pride, while swaddled in luxury. On that great day—that Judgment Day—the tables will be turned. The great Judge of all the earth will see to that. And so He should. Since the fall of man, the world is crying out for justice.
It is well worth noting that in his account of Judgment Day, Jesus decides if we will enter into bliss or torment based on how we treat others. He states, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40).
Response: LORD God, help me to live my life in joyous preparation for that great summoning when wrong will be made right. Help me to be merciful so that I will receive your mercy in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Your Turn: How can we prepare our hearts and live our lives aright in the knowledge that Judgment Day is coming?
Reading: Psalm 35
How long, LORD, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among the throngs I will praise you.
Do not let those gloat over me
who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
maliciously wink the eye.
They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.
They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it” (NIV).
This portion of Psalm 35 begins with David’s cry for help, “How long, LORD, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.”
When I am in distress, help can never arrive too soon. I want an instant answer from God. Better yet, He should have pre-empted this disappointment—this disaster. But often God doesn’t instantly ride to our rescue. If poor choices are the cause of our distress, He may let us experience the consequences of our folly. When you are enrolled in “The School of Hard Knocks” the test comes first and then you learn the lesson. Often patient endurance brings about an invaluable change in character through the work of the Holy Spirit. James, the brother of our Lord, reminds us of this truth:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
But all of our troubles do not come as a result of bad decisions on our part. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). Job reminds us that even the good and the just will at times face suffering. Anyone who tells you differently is not being faithful to the full counsel of scripture. Satan severely tested Job, but he remained firm in his faith.
When hardships come will you stand firm? When the haughty accuse can you bear it? David felt the sting of false accusation. They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it.”
Thanks be to God. We can bring our trials and burdens to the Lord in prayer. He hears and in His perfect time He responds.
Response: Lord, you know the troubles and trials that I face daily. You are my help and my strength. I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you learn from God’s word or from “The School of Hard Knocks” or from both?
Reading: Psalm 22
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever! (NIV)
In this ongoing discussion of Psalm 22 we hit a critical turning point with yesterday’s scripture reading. The humiliated, pierced and tortured Christ prays, “But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (Psalm 22:19-21).
God the Father answered the prayer of his suffering Son, not immediately, but three days later Jesus arose from the dead. Now he reigns triumphant over death, hell and the grave. The opening words recorded here are the resurrected Christ’s song of triumph: I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
And why should we praise the LORD? Here is the answer: For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
In the context of this psalm, Christ is the afflict one. The prophet Isaiah declares, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Yes, praise Him! We have a Savior who can fully identify with every aspect of our humanity because he was fully human. He suffered just as we suffer and in his body he experience severe loss and pain. God incarnate knows all about the human condition because He lived as a human.
But in all this Jesus is the victor. May your hearts live forever because of Jesus Christ who conquered death and lives now and forever.
Response: Father, thank you for victory over death, hell and the grave through your Son Jesus. By faith his victory becomes my victory. Hallelujah! I praise you my Lord and Savior. Amen.
Your Turn: Does the knowledge of Christ’s suffering help you in times of personal pain or loss?
I will bow before Him!
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:4-9, NIV)
Reading: Psalm 140
Those who surround me proudly rear their heads;
may the mischief of their lips engulf them.
May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise.
May slanderers not be established in the land;
may disaster hunt down the violent.
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence (NIV).
Here is an observation I have made as a result of visiting and speaking at a wide variety of churches across this continent. Christians and Christian churches in North America appear to fall into two broad camps: Those that are primarily concerned about personal salvation, and those that are concerned mainly about social justice.
There’s often a considerable amount of tension between these two camps. Both are convinced they are doing the will of God as revealed in the scriptures, and they can quote chapter and verse to back up their particular perspective. So which position is correct?
The short answer is they are both right. The eternal destination of your soul is of primary importance, but love and compassion for others is central to the entire mission of Jesus, and the full scope of the scriptures. Today’s reading from Psalm 140 reminds that issues of justice and fairness rank high with the LORD. I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.
John, the apostle, gives us this perspective: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).
It got very messy when Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. A lot of blood was spilled. It was brutal beyond measure—humiliation and suffering beyond measure. Our personal salvation was messy—in every way a high cost affair. Are we willing to do the same for others? That’s what John is saying when he writes and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Now there’s a high calling. Do you want to change the world? It starts with a change in your heart. Jesus is in the heart changing business. I need an appointment with him. What about you?
Response: LORD God, I am selfish by nature. It’s not natural for me to think of others first. Help me to change. I want to genuinely care about others. Show me what I can to help because Jesus cares. Amen.
Your Turn: Should the church be involved in social justice issues or just stick to the salvation message?
Reading: Psalm 119
Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
I remember, LORD, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.
Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
In the night, LORD, I remember your name,
that I may keep your law.
This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts (NIV).
Raise your hand if you want a dose of suffering. There aren’t many volunteers when that question is asked. But in all seriousness, we do volunteer for suffering, if we believe there is a benefit.
As a youngster growing up on a farm, I remember getting a sliver in my finger. It took some convincing from my mother to allow her to dig it out with a needle. Once that sliver was gone, the suffering stopped almost immediately. A small dose of short term pain brought long-lasting relief.
There’s a similar principle at work in a statement from today’s reading. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
It’s the promise of a better future that helps us endure suffering in the present. I’ll endure the suffering of surgery, if it comes with the promise of a pain-free future. But the LORD’s promises are on a grand scale. He doesn’t just preserve my life for the present; He promises to preserve it for eternity. That’s an enormous promise, but our God is far beyond enormous. How do you measure infinity?
Now let’s return to that sliver. You can’t walk through this life without picking up mental slivers—foreign objects that lodge in your mind. It could be an erotic picture, an emotional scar, or an errant thought that grows into a bad habit. Brain slivers aren’t easily removed. And yes, they fester and become infected. It isn’t long and they may begin to take over your whole thought pattern. You can try to remove them yourself, but Jesus is the best brain-sliver remover that I know. Go to him. A little repentant pain can bring eternal relief.
Response: Father God, remove my brain slivers. Forgive me for allowing wrong thoughts and habits to fester. I remember, LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them. Preserve my life. Amen.
Your Turn: Are there brain slivers that have invaded your mind? Set your mind on God’s promise.