Aug 30, 2011

the desert, the prison cell, and the storm: three paintings of grace

Don't you love it when you read a chapter in the Bible that you've read many times before, but this time, something special just pops out at you-- practically smacking you across the forehead with a banner screaming "remember this!" I had this moment Sunday reading Psalms 107. I was so encouraged by the beauty of these verses. It's a long [but oh, so worth it!] psalm, so I will highlight the key areas that jumped out at me and hope you will also be comforted and uplifted by this psalm.

Eight times in Psalms 107 the psalmist reminds the reader to give thanks to the Lord  "for He is good ... for His love endures forever... for His wonderful deeds ... for His unfailing love ... " A myriad of reasons why we should thank and exalt Him are listed throughout this psalm in between several beautiful metaphors of God's redemptive and saving power that are painted onto the canvas of Psalm 107. So, I suppose the main lesson of this psalm is to praise God in the good times as well as the hard times.

Here are the "paintings" that make up the masterpiece of Psalms 107:

Painting of Grace One: Thirsty in the Desert

4 Some wandered in the wilderness,
lost and homeless.
Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died.
6 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
      and He rescued them from their distress.
 7 He led them straight to safety,
      to a city where they could live.
 8 Let them praise the Lord for
His great love
and for the wonderful things He has done for them.
For He satisfies the thirsty
      and fills the hungry with good things.

This metaphor is described by a man named Garth Kroeker in his blog. He used it to explain how mental illness is like a desert, but I think I can apply the same metaphor to our overall journey in life.
"You may feel lost or starved. The view may be exactly the same, despite having invested days, weeks, or months, trying to forge ahead.

There may be life-threatening moments of intense thirst, and an uncertainty whether you will make it through the day.

The light of day may be intolerable and oppressive, and you may out of necessity have to work only at night, even though you may fear the darkness."
I have had moments where I feel I have been walking for miles, yet seem to have the same view as days before. Had I been walking in circles? The sun's fiery rays beating down upon one's back may lead to intense thirst, confusion, feeling lost, starved, and ultimately, the utter darkness of hopelessness.

But thankfully [and oh, so joyfully!], as children of a loving Father, we can call upon God and He will lead us "straght to safety" [v.6], rescuing us from distress... because after even a little while in the desert, you are dressed in distress. We serve a God who "satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things" [v.9]. Later in the chapter, the psalmist tells us "He also turns deserts into pools of water, the dry land into springs of water." [v.35]. Can you imagine springs and pools in your desert? Even if you can't, God can!

Take these verses to heart about the living waters that are available to those who are suffering through the desert wasteland and let them minister to you more than my words ever could:
  • "And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment." [Rev. 21:6]
  • "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” [John 7:38]
  •  "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them." [Isaiah 41:17]
  •  "He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers." [Psalms 78:16]
  • "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert." [Isaiah 35:6] 
  •  "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." [Ezekiel 36:25]

Painting of Grace Two: Shackled in a Prison Cell

10 Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom,
imprisoned in iron chains of misery. 11 They rebelled against the words of God,
      scorning the counsel of the Most High.
 12 That is why He broke them with hard labor;
      they fell, and no one was there to help them.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
      and He saved them from their distress.

He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom;
      He snapped their chains.
 15 Let them praise the Lord for His great love
      and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For He broke down their prison gates of bronze;
      He cut apart their bars of iron.

Sin binds us like shackles on a prisoner with "iron chains of misery" [v.10], "darkness and deepest gloom" [v.14]. But how joyfully we can shout praise when He breaks down our own prison gates and cuts apart the bars of iron that imprison us in depression, worry, guilt, shame. He is the one who sets us free!

I wrote about this metaphor in a previous post, so please read it for a bit more study [and a poem that I wrote] of this painting of grace: chains be broken.
Painting of Grace Three: The Raging Storm

23 Some went off to sea in ships,
      plying the trade routes of the world.
 24 They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
      his impressive works on the deepest seas.
 25 He spoke, and the winds rose,
      stirring up the waves.
 26 Their ships were tossed to the heavens
      and plunged again to the depths;
      the sailors cringed in terror.
 27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards
      and were at their wits’ end.
 28 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
      and He saved them from their distress.
 29 He calmed the storm to a whisper
      and stilled the waves.
 30 What a blessing was that stillness
      as He brought them safely into harbor!
 31 Let them praise the Lord for His great love
      and for the wonderful things he has done for them

32 Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation
 and before the leaders of the nation.

Whatever storm is in our present or near future, we serve a faithful, loving God who has the power to still the storms in our souls and lead us beside the still waters of His peace, for as Jesus' disciples declared, "even the winds and seas obey Him!" [Matthew 8:27]. These men where stuck in a "furious storm" and "the waves swept over the boat". The frightened disciples cried out to Jesus, "Lord save us! We are going to drown!" As soon as Jesus "rebuked the winds and waves, it was completely calm"[v23-27]. How often  can the same thing be said of us as Jesus said to His disciples: "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" [v.26] 

Sometimes the rising winds and stirred up waves are God's way of reminding us that He is the only one we can find solace in. We try in our own might, but we find ourselves pretty useless when we are confronted with twenty foot waves billowing over our little boat. But when we humble ourselves and cry out to God, He saves us from our distress, calming the waves to a stillness only found in Him. He brings us to harbor where we can declare His goodness and faithfulness. Sailors always have heroic and exciting stories after braving storms and peril. How much more do we -- those who have gone through physical, spiritual, emotional storms -- have great stories of God's great love and wonderful deeds He has done!

Again, I have a previous post with a beautiful poem [not written by me] that perfectly adds onto this metaphor. Please consider taking a peek:
Song of a Bird in a Winter Storm

May these three pictures of God's amazing grace fill your mind and heart with faith in His ability to take control of every situation you are in. Whether it feels like you've been  wandering in the desert for forty years, bound in chains of past mistakes without chance of parole, or about to fall overboard during a raging storm, God is able to save us all from our distress. Let's never forget to cry out to Him in those times, and wait expectantly for the God who hears and answers.

Aug 14, 2011

The Love that will not let me go

As I was reading Elisabeth Elliot's The Path of Lonliness, I stumbled upon the story of George Matheson. His experience of desolation, rejection, and pain gave birth to a hymn that has been for many, a "balm of heaven".

Matheson went blind shortly after becoming engaged and his fiance broke off the engagement. Not only was he dealing with personal rejection in his eyes failing him, but he now felt the painful rejection of the one he thought he would live his life with. But instead of wallowing in the deep wasteland of bitterness for the rest of his days, this mighty man allowed God to transform him in his weakness. In the following hymn, it is plain to see that Matheson "gave back his life, restored the light of his life, opened his heart, laid down life's glory". In other words, he totally surrendered his life, which was only able to come when he fully trusted the Joy Giver.

Elliot writes that Matheson's blindess and rejection proved to be the exact means of illumination the Love of God. Instead of drowning in confusing thoughts, self-pity, resentment, bitterness, and and age-old question (Why?), he listed to God's sweet whisper, Trust Me. He sang out to the Love that will never let him go. Now his sweet song can be sung by generations of souls hungering for that same Love. That same Light. That same Joy. And oh, that glorious Cross.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine's blaze by day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossom red
Life that shall endless be.
Chris Tomlin has an amazing version of this hymn. You may need to silence my music player at the bottom of the page to be able to stop that music and hear this one.

May we also learn to surrender all that is in our heart. The desires and dreams, but also the painful rejections and bitterness residing in the dark corners of our hearts. May His glorious love and light shine in those hidden areas and fill us with a joy that "seekest [us] through pain". We can then join Matheson in tracing the rainbow through the rain and trusting that there will come a tearless morn.

"...weeping my endure for a night,
but joy cometh in the morning"
[Psalm 30:5]