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.

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Elle Alice