The logic of a downcast soul

the-logic-of-a-downcast-soul

My soul is downcast within me,
therefore I will remember You

(Psalm 42:5 ESV)

It is common to think of emotions and logic as being somewhat opposed – there are logical types of people and feeling types. Mathematics is logical, emotion does not affect the outcome of an equation. Happiness is an emotion, logical analysis tends to ruin it. But this psalmist sees no such dichotomy, he uses logic to help his own emotional response.

The emotion

My soul is downcast within me,

Downcast is another way of saying despondent, despairing, disheartened, depressed. In other words, I feel like crap inside, I am broken, abandoned. I’m impressed by how the psalmist reacts to his internal state of being downcast – he makes a rational, logical decision to do something quite different to what comes most naturally. I’ve seen my own reactions to being downcast often enough to know that remembering God is not a natural instinct. My default behaviour is to become selfish, sulky and sinful. I try to make myself feel better. This psalmist seeks God. I react more like the writer of Psalm 73:2-5 &  Psalm 73:21-22.

The logic

therefore I remember You.

When I cannot control my soul, when it is downcast and I cannot do anything about it, this is when I most need to remember God. In remembering God I need to exert some stubborn trust, to hope in God, for I will again praise Him (Psalm 42:11). It is the realization that I have no hope of true satisfaction, joy or comfort on earth or in heaven apart from God, which drives me to resolve to remember God when feeling downcast.

My soul is downcast within me,
therefore I will remember You.
(Psalm 42:5 ESV)

God is constantly shaping me

It is good to be reminded of what constancy can achieve. I do not usually think of water as abrasive but its constant action over extended periods of time can wear away rocks.

There are certainly similarities between my own heart and the rough rock in the picture above – both are pretty ugly, both are hard, both need work from another to turn them into something of worth. The way that rock will get smoothed into a rounded pebble is by being tumbled, bumped and abraded on its journey downstream in the river. Life as a Christian can be like that, God uses the bumping and abrading of circumstances and other people to shape me. When I think I have found some place I’d like to rest, a change of season brings a flood that pushes me back out into the main current again.

There is also one more similarity between my heart and that rock which I am pleased to acknowledge, both will not be able to resist praising God when He comes in glory (Luke 19:40, Revelation 5:13).

Gifts I have noticed this week (75 – 85):

75) Your patient, constant moulding of me.
76) Daily rhythms of life that make me slow down and thank You.
77) Sunshine at the bus stop.
78) Reminders of my childhood fascination with the world You made, before I even knew You.
79) Someone on the other side of the world ‘scratching in the dark‘ to remind me that it is necessary and possible to seek You daily amidst the chaos of ordinary parenting.
80) Seeing my 20-month-old son running to me soon after we began a frantic search for him.
81) The irrational fickleness of children’s behavior reminding me of my own erratic walk with You.
82) Work that engages my heart and mind.
83) Rest from striving to be what I am not.
84) Birthday cards lovingly made for me by my children.
85) That You don’t rush in communicating with me.

Headache in a hailstorm

Christians have various ways of spending time with God, trying to engage with Him and experience His Spirit in their lives. Some find a quiet place and meditate upon the Bible, or pray, some write in a journal, others sing, listen or play music. There are many other means to cultivating an experience of God’s presence in our lives also, many folks are very creative in worshiping Christ.

One of the ways I get some time out with God is by taking our two dogs for a walk up the hill near our house through a reserve of scrub and pine trees that is criss-crossed with mountain bike tracks. The combination of fresh air, being out in a natural environment, the view across the city and hills and some time alone to think, often enables me to notice God’s presence with me more than I normally do in the busyness of life. As the weather warms up I will spend more time ‘up the hill’ with the dogs, so hopefully the musings and ponderings from there will result in a few worthwhile blog posts. Sometimes (like on Sunday) I take my camera so there may also be some pictures of what catches my attention, other days it will be seeing with the eyes of my heart through the window of words alone.

Part of my motivation to get out for a walk on Sunday was the headache which was brewing, the result of too little sleep and being inside too much over the weekend. So despite another spring storm I made an effort and was much better for it. A walk in the cold wind helps me to appreciate simple things, such as a warm jacket and woolly hat, especially as the hail came down.

Something I noticed was that the storms a few weeks ago had toppled some trees, including one that had been killed by fire. This poor lone pine had stood stoically for several years after the fire, seemingly solid until it finally came down with a resounding crash. So I had a closer look at where it had broken off.

What became clear was that despite it’s solid-looking exterior (albeit somewhat charred), the inside of this tree was rotten. Dry rot and insects had been eating away from the inside, weakening the structure of the wood until it became inevitable that it would fall. A strong wind hastened it’s demise, but the end of this tree had begun whenever that rot had begun deep inside it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
(Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

We all have rottenness inside our hearts, it is there festering and growing unless we combat it actively to prevent it destroying the very fabric and structure of our lives.

Unlike this unfortunate tree, there is a way to redeem the rotten core of our lives if we will commit ourselves into the mercy of God.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
(Romans 12:2a ESV)

The gift of gifts

Hand nailed to the cross with blood and dirtSometimes I am reminded of the one Gift that makes hope possible. The gift that takes a life destroyed by sin and redeems it. Such a life can be made new, lifted out of the mire and set upon a firm foundation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17,  Psalm 40:2,  2 Timothy 2:19). In this is hope; not in instant answers, magical changes or miraculously altered circumstances, but in Your life in me within the reality that I now find myself. This is hard – to hope in Christ within an imperfect, sin-distorted life. It seems so much easier to seek an ‘instant fix’, to look for avenues of escape. Being renewed in very small increments hurts, especially when it demands of me to work out my salvation. With trembling and groaning I step into each day, facing many failings, growing pains and hardness of heart.

I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

(1 John 2:12-14 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (# 65):
  • Redemption purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.
  • (There have been others, but I want to emphasize this, the Gift of gifts)
  • My entire list

Prayer advice from John Bunyan

John Bunyan's Dream

In the book simply titled Prayer, John Bunyan comments:

None knows how many by-ways the heart has, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God. How much pride also, if enabled with expressions! How much hypocrisy, if before others! And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret, unless the Spirit of supplication is there to help! When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

I think this is a marvelous paragraph written by one of God’s faithful, suffering saints. I also know how easy it is to skim blog posts, particularly quotes, and not pick up the treasure embedded within. Therefore I want to SLOW you d – o – w – n !

None knows how many by-ways the heart has, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.

When you try to pray, or meditate upon the attributes of God, or read the Bible, or memorize a verse, what happens? Does your razor sharp mind cling with tenacious attention to the matter in hand? Or do your thoughts drift and wander, meandering sneakily away from the things of God which are its set task, to more appealing pursuits such as what to have for lunch, wondering what updates might await on Facebook, worrying about bills needing to be paid, and considering how to justify buying some new clothes? My heart is sneaky, it will slip away from praying so quickly and quietly that it has been long gone from that task before I even realize I’ve gone. What about you?

How much pride also, if enabled with expressions!

Pride in my heart is insidious, not even noticed until it finds a way to express itself, and then I enjoy the buzz of making it known how fantastic I am so much that there is no way I can recognize it as pride, or admit this to myself. I am unwilling to see pride for what it is, and my pride is adept at finding ways to express itself. I even like to speak of pride as a separate entity from my will, when in fact I am willful and proud. I’m sure you are better than this, that you are humble and see the sinfulness of pride for what it is, not giving expression to it in your own life, though noticing it surprisingly often in others. Are you agreeing, nodding knowingly? That wouldn’t be pride finding expression would it?

How much hypocrisy, if before others!

Church, homegroup, prayer meetings, elders meetings… occasions of such honesty, candour and confession. NOT! It might offend ________ if I confessed this sin in church, certainly __________ would be likely to stumble if I opened up about my struggles in homegroup. A prayer meeting is really not the place to ask for help controlling my tongue, and true honesty in the elders meeting would fracture the working relationship of the group. So you confess all your failings to God in a quick prayer, knowing that He knows all things so it is no secret from Him. Surely it is best if others see you as you would like to be rather than as you really are. It is only proper to be honest to God and maintain a  facade of lies before others so that they can be fooled into thinking you have it so together that you couldn’t possibly understand their weaknesses and struggles. (I do hope you spot the sarcasm here!)

And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret

How often are you stricken with an urgency to pray? Do you hunger to be on your knees with God? Is your soul naturally longing to intercede for the Kingdom of God? Chances are high that you did not give very positive answers to those questions. I know that left to myself, prayer degenerates into sleep remarkably quickly! So what is the answer?

…unless the Spirit of supplication is there to help!

We need more than human willpower to pray. Praying is an act of faith, faith in God. It requires grace from God to be able to pray.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:10 NIV)

When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

Remember that the Holy Spirit will always draw us to Christ. When the Spirit drives prayer, Jesus Christ will feature prominently in those prayers.

A scrawl on the wall

When God wanted to get the attention of king Belshazzar, He made the fingers of a human hand write on the wall while Belshazzar was partying (Daniel 5:5-6). With His own people God prefers for them to write His words on their own walls (or doorposts, see  Deuteronomy 6:9). In both cases the reason for the writing is to remind people of the LORD, particularly when things are going well and folks become prone to forget God and gloat about their own achievements.

This is a timely reminder to me also, in a season when things are turning out well, to build into my life means to stay mindful of God from whom all blessings come (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).  One way we do this at home is by writing scripture verses on a blackboard in our kitchen where we see it many times each day. Another way to remember God’s blessings is to purposefully write them down.

Gifts I have noticed this week (#50 -# 60):
  • A Mum and daughter eating icecream while watching Miss Potter.
  • Kids enjoying rainbow lollipops.
  • Our entire family of five piled onto the couch for a cuddle.
  • A father-in-law who loves his daughter mightily.
  • People who can express things I didn’t understand about myself until I read their words.
  • A new vegetable garden all ready to plant out.
  • A simple dinner with friends and happy children.
  • A career dream come true.
  • Reminders from Your word of how transient my contentment can be (Job 29-30).
  • The cumulative wisdom You give humankind (Isaiah 28:24-29).
  • See my entire list

Fear and faith

fear-and-faith

While I do a very imperfect job of it, I am a Dad and I love each of my children very, very much. My biggest fear is that something bad might happen to them – if anything bad is to happen to my family I would prefer it to be me who suffers rather than my wife or children. When I pray for my kids at night I ask Jesus to hold them close and keep them safe, knowing full well that in fact bad things do happen to Christians and their kids just as bad things happen to other people (see Luke 13:1-5).

In praying for God to keep my kids safe, my primary thought is that He will give them the faith to trust Him and keep that faith intact no matter what happens. I try not to think about the things that could happen to them, partly because it is a pointless, anxiety-producing exercise and also because God tells us not to worry ourselves about ‘what-ifs’ (Matthew 6:34). A more grey area is anxiety regarding how I might respond to a tragedy or suffering in my family – in part such anxiety is about something that may never happen, but it also relates to how deeply rooted my faith in Jesus and God’s goodness is – will my faith survive being tested?

Having been a Christian for over twenty years, my faith has been tested in various ways over that time but not by anything really major. I very much feel like the father asking Jesus to heal his child:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 ESV)

I believe, Jesus help my unbelief. In fact, I have felt this deeply in praying for my daughter to be healed of severe ezcema – I know Jesus has the power to heal her, yet also know that mostly healing comes through medicines and doctors and often people just have to endure sickness in this fallen world. Am I praying with faith when thinking like this?

When I worry about the safety of my children, a child who comes to mind readily is little Aisling Symes who died tragically a year ago, leaving a devastated family grieving her loss while clinging to faith in Christ. I’m sure they have struggled much over the past year, but their faith and the support of their church last October was inspiring to me and still helps me to be mindful of where my trust needs to be.

A couple of extracts of what was said by Pastor Russell Watts of Ranui Baptist Church in Auckland at the funeral of Aisling Symes on October 16, 2009:

“Last week we searched day and night, we posted flyers, we prayed for Aisling, for the family, for the police, for the nation to find her.
On Monday night we were still praying here in the church and many other churches joined us in prayer for her safe return. While God speaks to prophets about tragedies or impending disasters, to most of us He gives words of encouragement or comfort or words that will build character. And so, motivated by hope and love, we really felt that she was safe and that God was going to return her to Alan and Angela. When you love you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray, and often a miracle will result.

By this time Aisling had been in heaven for a long time, by our standards. And yet, I believe that God took those prayers which we prayed too late, and He stored them up and poured out His help in different ways. The Bible says that He treasures the tears of every believer. We did not get the answer to prayer that we really wanted; it was already too late, a tragic accident had taken place. But I know God still responded with compassion to our tearful pleas.”

“When you love, you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray,” this may seem odd to an action-oriented, make-it-happen-yourself type of society, but actually goes straight to the core of where the power to make things happen lies – with God, not us. Only God knows what the real purpose was in taking Aisling home so soon was, but her disappearance moved this nation to pray and helped many of us to see more clearly what is truly valuable:

“In a hundred years’ time that great house we built will be crumbling and decaying, that career we worked so hard at will not matter to anyone anymore, that sporting trophy or medal or money in the bank that we accumulated just won’t hold any significance to anyone anymore.

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, said all that stuff would pass. Those things aren’t eternal but these three qualities will remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
I would suggest to you that in those intense seven days of prayer, of searching and supporting, that you did something better, and bigger, than win a gold medal or gain world recognition. You displayed three qualities that really matter, three qualities that really count, three values that are of eternal significance – faith, hope and love.”

(Quoted with permission from an article featured in the November 2009 issue of the NZ Baptist newspaper.)

I have read  1 Corinthians 13:12 many times and have read commentaries about this verse, but this is by far the best and most vivid summary of the meaning and application all integrated in one that I’ve ever encountered. Love, hope and faith all in action as tearful, even fearful people pray desperately for God to have mercy on a little girl.

What I am talking about here is not some abstract, theoretical ideal of how faith should work – many of us prayed for Aisling to be found, her family and church grieve to this day, and so the reminder that the love, prayer and support given to them, the hope in Christ that she is right now in God’s loving arms, and the faith behind all of these – this is real. When I fear for my children, I am grateful for the reminder that faith, hope and love are what counts for eternity.

Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.
(Mark 5:36 ESV)

God bless you Aisling.