Archive | September 2019

Hope for those in a desert

Psalm 126 is a psalm that is written for those who are going through tough times.  It is written for those who know what it is like to wander in the desert (literal or figurative), tired and thirsty, with your energy depleted, longing for water, praying for rain, and waiting and waiting and waiting.

It was written for a people who endured hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, who faced hundreds of years of harassment from surrounding nations, who went through internal schism that ripped their nation apart, and who were dragged away as captives to live in exile for decades in the land of the nation that conquered them. 

It is written for people who deal with personal hardships, with chronic pain, with disappointments in life, with tragedies, with prayers that remain unanswered day after day or month after month. 

The psalm begins with rejoicing over the return of exiles to Jerusalem.  It declares, with joy, that God “has done great things for us!”  But the hope this psalm presents is actually the kind of hope that is like streams in the desert (verse 4), and it is the kind of hope that involves sowing our tears (verses 5-6).

On most days, “streams in the desert” are dry ruts—rocky and sandy creases in the barren land.  But on those occasional times when rainclouds build up overhead and release their contents, the otherwise dry riverbeds fill with life-giving water.  The water brings plants to life and provides life-giving sustenance to desert creatures. 

Psalm 126 is the hope of those who live in a desert, who recognize that life will not be a perennial outpouring of blessings upon them, but who continue to pray throughout those long, dry stretches that God will send the refreshment they need before it is too late.  Psalm 126 reminds us that we must become the kind of people who learn how to live not with the expectation of perennial blessings but by retaining and preserving every precious gift of refreshment God sends our way. 

Many people live under the false impression that a crop of joy grows out of a commitment to face all of life’s troubles happily.  They would expect this psalm to advise us to put on a happy face no matter what problems might confront us.  They would suggest that if we sow our masks of happiness, we will eventually reap the happiness we were pretending was there.  However, if we sow a pretend smile, all we will get back is more pretension.  If we sow hypocrisy, hypocrisy is what we will reap.

If, on the other hand, we want to reap a joy that is real, we need to plant that which is real.  If our tears are what is real to us as we go through those desert times in our lives, then what we need to do is to plant our tears in the good soil of God’s love.  It is that soil of God’s rich love that will bring forth the fruit of joy in our souls.  As the apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15, the seed that is sown dies and comes up from the ground in a gloriously new form.  The tears we deposit in the soil of God’s love will come to new life in the fruit of joy—a confidence and well-being at the core of our soul that knows that God is with us, that He loves us, and that He will walk through it all with us until He brings us to the home He has prepared for us in heaven.

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The Difference Faith Makes

God calls us to a life of trusting in Him not because God’s ego will be boosted if He can recruit more followers, but because our lives are enriched tremendously through a life of faith.

That’s the point that is made in the opening verses of Psalm 125: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.”

The focus here is not how strong or consistent or courageous our faith is, but how dependable and good is the One in whom we put our faith.  It is not that we will be unshakeable if we can learn to hold onto God tightly enough; it is that we are unshakeable because God surrounds us now and forevermore with His care and goodness.

Eugene Peterson points out, “We wander like sheep, true; but He is a faithful shepherd who pursues us relentlessly.  We have our ups and downs, zealously believing one day and gloomily doubting the next, but he is faithful.  We break our promises, but He doesn’t break His.  Discipleship is not a contract in which if we break our part of the agreement He is free to break His; it is a covenant in which He establishes the conditions and guarantees the results.” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 85) 

J. Alistair Brown shares a helpful illustration: “The 3-year-old felt secure in his father’s arms as Dad stood in the middle of the pool.  But Dad began walking slowly toward the deep end, gently chanting, ‘Deeper and deeper and deeper,’ as the water rose higher and higher on the child.  The lad’s face registered increasing degrees of panic, and he held all the more tightly to his father, who, of course, easily touched the bottom.

“Had the little boy been able to analyze his situation, he’d have realized there was no reason for increased anxiety.  The water’s depth in any part of the pool was over his head.  Even in the shallowest part, had he not been held up, he’d have drowned.  His safety anywhere in that pool depended on Dad.

“At various points in our lives, all of us feel we’re getting ‘out of our depth’—problems abound, a job is lost, someone dies.  Our temptation is to panic, for we feel we’ve lost control.  Yet, as with the child in the pool, the truth is we’ve never been in control over the most valuable things of life.  We’ve always been held up by the grace of God, our Father, and that does not change.  God is never out of his depth, and therefore we’re as safe when we’re ‘going deeper’ as we have ever been.” 

That’s the message conveyed to us in the opening verses of Psalm 125: God surrounds us with His care, and that care will never fade away.  We can live in peace because God holds us securely.

Another benefit of a life of trust is that as we trust God, He will lead us in the right way to live.

Psalm 125:3-5 states, “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.  Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.  But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers.  Peace be upon Israel.”

Henry Ward Beecher stresses, “The strength and the happiness of a person consist in finding out the way in which God is going, and in going in that way, too.”

Ted Koppel adds, “There’s harmony and inner peace to be found in following a moral compass that points in the same direction, regardless of fashion or trend.”

That’s what a life of trusting in God does.  It points us in the right direction regardless of fashion on trend.  It leads to a life of greater strength and happiness.

Our Help is in God

Psalm 124 makes a wonderful promise to us about God: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The word translated into English as help is the Hebrew word EzerEzer appears in the Hebrew Scriptures 21 times.  Generally the word is used to describe God as the Help of Israel or as our Help, as it does here. 

Three times the word ezer refers to a supporting army coming to the rescue.  To a significant extent, that’s what Psalm 124:8 tells us about God: Are you in danger or trouble?  Call out to God in prayer, and God will rush to help you like a rescuing army would. 

Bryan Chapell shares, “One of the most powerful images of my wife’s childhood came when she and a neighbor girl were playing in some woods behind their homes.  The neighbor girl wandered from the path and stepped into a nest of ground bees.  As the bees began to swarm and sting, the girls began to scream for help.  Suddenly, out of nowhere—like Superman, my wife says—her dad came crashing through the woods, leaping over fallen logs, hurdling vines and bushes.  He swooped up a girl under each arm and tore through the woods at full speed to get away from the bees.  As he ran, the father’s grip bruised the children’s arms, branches scratched their thighs, and thorns grabbed at their clothes and skin.  The rescue hurt, but it was better than the bees.  The image is not so unlike our heavenly Father’s work.  He sees the danger and, at times even before we call out, comes crashing into our worlds.  From some throne above the universe, he hurdles galaxies and the infinite expanse of time to enter our realities and take us from spiritual danger.  His rescue may hurt, but the goal is always our safety, and the motive is always his love.” (Holiness by Grace)

Two other uses of the word ezer come up in Genesis 2:18 and 2:20, where the word is used to describe Eve as the help and the rescue for Adam’s loneliness.  Ezer retains its sense of a strong army rushing to the rescue of one in need, but here it is combined with a sense of intimacy and love.  The rescue Adam needed was a rescue of intimate connection and abiding love—which is actually the rescue we are in greatest need of in our lives. 

When we combine these two aspects of ezer, we see that the help God promises us is the help of a rescuing army and the help of a loving partner who comes alongside of us to stand with us through the most difficult struggles of our lives. 

When a couple gets married, they share vows in which they promise to love and remain faithful to one another in sickness and health, in sorrow and joy, in poverty and wealth—for better or for worse.  By using the word that described Eve as the loving, rescuing life-partner to Adam, this verse reminds us that God is the One who will stand by our side, faithful and loving, in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth, in joy and in sorrow through all of eternity. 

It has been written about Jesus:

He gave away everything, that we might have God’s best.

He wore a yoke, that our burdens might be lifted.

He wept, that our tears may be wiped away.

He cried, that we might rejoice.

He was rejected, that we might be accepted.

He was shamed, that we might have dignity.

He became poor, that we might be rich in Him.

He had no place to lay His head, that He could prepare a mansion for us in heaven. 

That’s our Ezer.  That’s our rescuing and loving help from above!