Saturday, June 22, 2013

Answer Us When We Call - Psalm 20, Part 2

In the previous post, I mentioned that I feel a certain amount of shame over an area where I doubt God. I have full confidence in the almighty power of God.  It's never been an issue of whether God could show his power in my life, but rather an issue of whether God would.  After spending the past several years with the general feeling that God wouldn't use that power in my life (whether I should have been feeling that or not isn't really the issue right now), I am noticing a certain amount of bitterness in my relationship with God that wasn't there before.

All that being said, I am excited to look at the second part of Psalm 20.  I broke this up into two parts not because the psalm is particularly long (it isn't), but because I felt like my thoughts were going in such different directions they just needed to be posted separately.

The last part of Psalm 20 begins with a very confident statement, "Now this I know."  I talked about this some in my last post, but I do want to take a second to remember the reason David, the psalmist, is so assured.  Here's what he knows: "The Lord gives victory to his anointed.  He answers from his heavenly sanctuary."  He doesn't say when or how this victory will come or try to explain why it hasn't come yet, he just has overwhelming faith that it will come.  Somehow.

The next part of the psalm talks about the two choices when it comes to trusting that this victory is coming:

  1. Trust in chariots or in horses.  (Now I'm going to take some interpretive license and apply that thought to some of the worldly things I might be tempted to trust in.  Like myself and my own abilities.  After all, I don't think many of us put trust in chariots anymore!)
  2. Trust in the name of God.  
To help with our decision of what to trust, David lets us know where both choices lead:
  1. Those who trust in "chariots" are brought to their knees and fall.
  2. Those who trust in God will rise and stand firm.
Now, maybe it's the nerd in me, but I actually get excited at the poetry of this.  Trust in worldly things and be brought to your knees; trust in God and rise.  Trust in worldly things and fall; trust in God and stand firm.  Does anyone else see the beauty of this simple juxtaposition?  

Here's another interesting thought that just occurred to me: those who trust in worldly things fall and are brought to their knees.  What a perfect time to pray, to repent and trust in God instead, to be given the opportunity to rise and stand firm!  

When I first opened to this psalm, I quick skim of the verses led me to believe that it was a gloating, victorious passage.  It is not what I assumed it to be.  The words written by David so long ago apply to my life more than I imagined.  It's not at all about basking in the victory God has provided, but instead about trusting that God will answer and protect and provide that victory.  It's about firmly and confidently trusting and having faith in God and that in itself being a source of joy and comfort.  

May the Lord Answer You - Psalm 20, Part 1

Here is yet another example of a psalm that actually makes me nervous to think about, much less reflect on and write about.  For some reason, the beginning of this psalm leaves me feeling intimidated.  I'm not sure I can even explain what it is that leaves me feeling like anything I could say would be inadequate, but I think it all boils down to one word: shame.

Let me attempt to explain.  You see, I have been a Christian for a very long time.  I grew up in a Christian home with Christian values and have never doubted God's power.  So it shames me to be honest and say that I have been struggling for a while now with the perceived lack of God's power in my life.

Maybe I need to explain my explanation.  I know in my head that God is all-powerful and I believe that to be true whole-heartedly.  However, I have, at times, doubted whether God will use that power in my life in tangible ways.  It has never been an issue of could God, but rather would God.  Many times it has seemed, at least, that the answer is that God would not, leading to a vague sense of bitterness on my part.

So, when I read Psalm 20 and see a list of things that God is fully capable, I am conflicted because I believe my God can accomplish all that and more, but I don't have as much confidence that he will do that in my life right now.  And what does it say about my faith that I lack that confidence?

Verses 1 through 5 are framed by two very similar sentiments:

  • May the Lord answer you when you are in distress.
  • May the Lord grant all your requests.
In between though, may start to help me process through some of the bitterness I have felt.

Following the opening line, "May the Lord answer you when you are in distress," there is a list of requests.  May God:
  • protect you
  • send help
  • grant support
  • remember your sacrifices
  • accept your offerings
  • give you your desires
  • make your plans succeed
Without transition, this is followed by what the response to those answered prayers would be: shouts of joy and lifting high the banner of God.  Basically, this means a lot of loud and obvious praising of God for bringing victory and answering prayer.  

Then comes the reminder that God hasn't yet answered the prayers, "May the Lord grant all your requests."  The psalmist, David in this case, has listed his requests in confidence fully believing that God could do all of that and more.  I wonder if he felt any shame over doubting whether God would answer.  

I tend to think that there wasn't any shame because the very next line boldly states, "Now this I know." There is no room for doubt in that confident, faith-filled statement.  Makes you wonder what would have David so confident if his prayers hadn't been answered yet.  

Well, here it is: "The Lord gives victory to his anointed.  He answers from his heavenly sanctuary..."  Again, no room for doubt or shame in that statement.  God may not have answered yet, but David had faith that he would.  

Like I said before, I have never doubted the power of God.  Maybe it's time for me to start trusting in that power a little more.  Then maybe I will share a little bit of David's confidence.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Then I Will Be Blameless

I'm not sure that I have completely processed Psalm 19 at this point, but I'm starting to learn that sometimes you just have to jump in and do something even if you don't have the time to do it perfectly.  This is one of those times because I couldn't wait to share an "aha" moment I had while I was reading Psalm 19 this morning.  I also realize that by writing about this psalm, I am skipping posting about several.  Those posts are currently in the works and I have decided they can wait because this one is on my heart today.

When I started reading this psalm today and saw that it was very familiar to me, I must admit that I wondered what I could possibly "get out" of it.  I'm not saying that my fleeting thought was correct by any stretch of the imagination and thankfully, God did lead me to "get" something out of the chapter.

Starting in verse 7, there are several verses that talk about how God's Law is perfect, trustworthy, radiant, right, pure, sure, and righteous.  This handful of verses also talked about the benefits that come from the Law.  It revives the soul, it makes the simple wise, gives light to the eyes, and is more precious than gold.   As long as I have been a Christian, I have struggled to make sense of passages like this.  To me, the Law has never been reviving or joy-giving, but instead tends to be guilt-enducing.  I know the Law is perfect and I am, well, not.

Just as I'm beginning down my usual path of thinking about all the ways I don't quite measure up, I read on.  Verses 12 and 13 say, in part, this, "Forgive my hidden faults...Keep your servant also from willful sins...Then I will be blameless."  Duh.  I'm not sure if this has just never sunken in before or if it's one of God's truths that I just too easily forget.  I am not expected to be blameless.  I'm not completely sure why, but sometimes I forget that I become blameless because I'm forgiven, not that I'm forgiven because I am blameless.  Perfection is not expected because I am incapable of it.  But, my imperfection in light of the Law is the very thing that should bring me joy because it serves to remind me of the One who is perfect.

My imperfections allow me to appreciate how incredible it was that Jesus was perfect.  They allow me to recognize the magnitude of what he did for me and to seek forgiveness for every fault whether hidden or willful.  THEN and only then will I be blameless.  THEN I can see the Law as reviving because I will be looking at it through the lens of what Jesus has done.

I also need to remember that my "failings" in other areas of my life - the things I perceive I'm not doing right as a mother, wife, friend, or whatever - those things may not be imperfections in light of the Law.  In other words, those things might not hold as much value as I sometimes assign to them.  Small example: in light of what Jesus has done for me, does it really matter that I currently have an entire basket of unmatched socks spread throughout my living room?  (Or that I have an entire basket of unmatched socks to begin with?)


Instead, my focus should be the last verse of Psalm 19:
May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


In a conversation with my mom earlier a couple months ago, I mentioned that I was learning that I was a perfectionist.  She laughed at me.  That's right.  My mom laughed at me.

At first, I was a little taken aback.  My mom has never been the type of person to laugh at me when I'm struggling or being honest, so what was her deal?  What had I said that was so funny?  Before I had much time to think about it, she continued, asking why it had taken me so long to finally admit what she has been telling me for years.  Apparently, she has been telling me in various ways, for a significant period of time, that I am a perfectionist and, for some reason, I just haven't been able to accept it as truth.

I have spent months thinking about this one brief conversation and I think I've finally reached some conclusions.  First, I am a perfectionist.  Second, my particular need for perfection is directed inward and doesn't always manifest itself outwardly.

Why did it take me so long to figure out that I am, in fact, a perfectionist?  To answer that question, I think I need to define the caricature of perfectionism that has been developing in my brain since childhood.

A perfectionist is precisely groomed and dressed at all times.  She would never be caught wearing sweats or stained clothing.  Wrinkles are out of the question.  Her hair is never haphazardly done or thrown in a ponytail.  If it looks haphazard, it has been purposefully made to look that way after considerable effort.  The perfectionist coordinates clothes with shoes, jewelry, and other accessories so that she looks put-together.  Makeup is tastefully done to look like it isn't being worn at all and can be adjusted easily to accommodate any situation.

Let's face it, I definitely do not fit with this image of perfectionism.

Everything around a perfectionist is also neat, clean, and orderly, whether it is her desk, her home, or her car.  Papers are neatly filed.  Pens and pencils are placed in a holder at the corner of the desk, always easily found.  When entering the home of a perfectionist, the non-perfectionist cringes, worried about touching anything for fear of somehow messing up the cleanliness and organization of the space.  One spill or misplaced item would certainly be noticed immediately.  And don't even get me started on the perfectionist's closets.

If you have ever been to my house, my workplace, or seen my car,  it would be pretty obvious that this description is nowhere close to a description of me.

Finally, a perfectionist is supremely organized.  Appointments are scheduled in advance, written neatly in a proper planner, and never missed.  A perfectionist never forgets to do anything on her to-do list.   She never has a moment of panic when she realizes she has forgotten something incredibly, or not so incredibly, important.  Grocery lists are carefully planned and on grocery day nothing is forgotten.

Again, not me.

I'm sure anyone reading this can identify with at least part of my description.  My image of perfectionism has been growing and evolving for years, but it wasn't until very recently that I realized that I have somehow made a very important error.

Somehow, I have confused perfectionism with perfection.

A perfectionist, by definition, must be a person.  Based on the root word "perfect," one can surmise that a perfectionist is a person who is driven by being perfect.  Perfection, on the other hand, isn't a person at all, but an idea.  I am now very confident that while I am not even approaching perfection, I am, perhaps unfortunately, driven by perfection.

I plan to delve more deeply into the applications of this realization in a later post, but basically it means I hold myself to an impossible standard - all the time.  And because I can never live up to this self-imposed standard, I spend a good deal of time experiencing guilt and feelings of inadequacy.

For example, sometimes I feel an incredible urge to write, but I put it off because I don't have the time at that moment for perfection or, even worse, my husband is nearby and I don't want to take the chance that he might read something over my shoulder that is imperfectly composed.  It sounds crazy.  It is crazy.  But it's the reason I haven't blogged in months.  What if someone noticed that my writing was lacking in content or in editing?  What if it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be?  So, I fight back the urge to write and move on.

Before you go thinking that I was that kid with those parents, the ones who imposed such strict standards that the child is terrified of failure, let me just say that nothing could be farther from the truth.  I've done a lot of thinking about why I'm like this and I can't quite pinpoint a set of reasons.  As my four-year-old daughter says often, "It's just the way God made me."

I have so much more to say about this topic, but I feel like I've already gone on too long.  I do, however, feel like I need to mention one last thing.  This self-imposed standard of perfection is just that: self-imposed.  No one else is holding me to this standard.  God, in his infinite grace, isn't even holding me to this standard.  Every minute I spend feeling guilt over not being perfect enough is a wasted minute, a minute in which I am purposefully turning my back on God's gift of grace.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The (Brutally) Honest Truth

Just a caution, if you can't handle someone being brutally honest with where they stand with God, pretend you never saw this post.  The whole point of this blog has been to honestly share what God is doing in my life, through my struggles and triumphs.  This is one of the struggles and I'm not exactly sugar-coating it.

I cannot catch a break.  I know I've said this before to some friends and I might have even said it in a post.  I feel like every time I am doing what God led me to do in the first place, he starts loading me with more and more until I can't handle it anymore.  I have surpassed my breaking point.  A couple days ago, I was approaching it and now it feels like that invisible threshold is miles behind where I am now.  I am so angry I can barely make it from one minute to the next without showing it in some way, whether through body language, the way I talk to the people I love, or just flat-out crying for no observable reason.  I am falling apart at the seams.  

Here's what I know some of you are probably thinking right now, "God will take care of you if you let him."  The reason I know that's the Christian thought-process is because I have been coached to automatically think like that for as long as I can remember.  This type of automatic thinking just isn't cutting it.  I'm still not denying God or walking away from Him, but I have reached the point where I can't even think about Him without being angry.  I need to be able to move past the automaticity to something that is more meaningful, but I just can't get there.

What happened to put me over the edge?  One of my children picked up a stomach bug, something that I do not handle very well, especially when it happens in the middle of all the other stressors I am dealing with.  I was driving home from work and I remember just begging God to just let it be just the one child.  After all, with four kids in the house, this could easily turn into a weeks-long marathon of no sleep and cleaning up messes.  Add to that a diabetic husband, and my worry level goes through the roof.  Scott could easily end up hospitalized from something as simple as a stomach virus.  So, as I almost never do, I asked God to just take this one thing away from us.  Let us handle fevers, colds, coughs, just not a stomach virus.  I felt a release.  I felt a peace.  Two things I don't generally feel when I pray recently.  Usually I feel, well, nothing.  So, I trusted that God really would let this end with the one child.

No more than 24 hours later, another child develops the same stomach bug and my fragile trust was broken.

I can already think of dozens of arguments against my current thinking.  You might be thinking them, too.

It's just life; it's not like God is making the stomach bug go around.  But, the all-powerful God, whom I have been worshiping since I was a kid could have cut me a break on this particular round of stress because I asked.  He just didn't.

I'm just overreacting because of my current, temporary circumstances.  It goes deeper than that.  Whether it's stomach bugs or other things that just happen to go wrong, for years I have been loaded past the breaking point when I'm actively trying to follow God.

Satan is just trying to keep you from God.  So why is God letting him when our relationship is already so tenuous.

I just need to "give it up to God."  Why?  In the recent past, that seems to be the times when things get the worst.

Even if I'm thinking these things, I shouldn't publicize them.  That could make people stumble or turn people away from God.  I'm not giving up on God.  If anything, this blog is proof that I would rather struggle through my relationship with Him than give up on Him.  Maybe someone can even relate to the struggle.

Am I anywhere close to renouncing my faith?  Absolutely not.  Am I struggling with it?  Definitely.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Psalm 16 - Therefore

There's something I left out of my last post about Psalm 16 because I felt like it was a significant enough thought to stand alone and not be buried among other musings.  It's a relatively simple idea based on the word, "therefore."

Therefore is a transition word that not only signifies a switch from one thought to another, but also shows causation.  The following thought is caused by the previous thought.  "I forgot to study.  Therefore I failed the test."  "I forgot to put away the leftovers.  Therefore my dog thought it was acceptable to climb on the table and eat them."  Or, you could read those backwards.  "I failed the test because I forgot to study."  "My dog climbed on the table because I forgot to put away the leftovers."

So, when I get to verse 9, I think the same way.  "My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices" because of whatever is mentioned previously.  So, what is mentioned in the preceding verses?

  • Verse 1 - "I take refuge."  I act.  I have an entire post that talks about this idea of taking refuge.  
  • Verse 2 - I recognize that "apart from [God] I have no good thing."
  • Verse 4 - I do not worship false Gods.
  • Verse 5 - I recognize God as "my portion and my cup."  I admit that He is everything that I need to sustain me.
  • Verse 6 - I praise the Lord because he counsels me.
  • Verse 7 - "I keep my eyes always on the Lord."  My focus is unwavering.
THEREFORE "I will rest secure."

I will rest secure because I keep my focus on God, praise Him, accept His counseling, recognize that he will sustain me, do not worship other gods, realize that apart from God I have no good thing, and take refuge.

Taking refuge, recognizing God's power and provision, praising Him, and keeping my focus on Him will allow me to rest secure.

I think I'm just going to let that sink in for a little while.

Psalm 16 - More About Refuge

If you've kept up with this blog, you will recognize this recurring theme of refuge.  My inability to experience refuge is what prompted the blog in the first place and I've mentioned repeatedly how the whole blog seems to be a journey focused on finding that safe refuge I used to so easily fall into.

To be honest, even with some of the new understandings about refuge that have settled into my heart, I still get uneasy when I come across another psalm focused on the topic.  It's like when you are already feeling self-conscious about the only clean outfit you could find that morning and then you get to work and someone mentions that there is a stain on the front of the shirt.  It makes you cringe and want to pick a fight all at the same time.  That might not be the best analogy, but I'm struggling to define exactly why it is so hard to read a psalm that deals with the purpose of the blog - refuge.

I guess the main reason reading about refuge is uncomfortable to me is because it is so obviously lacking from my life.  I try hard to have faith, but it's not always easy when things are tough and I can't seem to grasp onto the refuge I used to so easily take hold of.  I read about how refuge means a safe place and get frustrated because I can't seem to find that safe place.  Then, I wonder why I can't find refuge.  What am I doing wrong?  Why is God ignoring me?  Is he ignoring me?  When will things finally change?  The list continues and I have no answers.  At all.

So, Psalm 16 is no different than the previous refuge-focused psalms to me.  It's tough.  I see what refuge should look like and I long for it and I become frustrated because I can't reach it.  Then, I beat myself up.  If only I did this or this, God might let me have the refuge I desire.  Maybe if I wasn't so _____ or _____, I could feel close to God again.  Then I wonder, how much of this thinking is God trying to point me back toward him and how much of it is Satan trying to pull me away.

If you know me well, you know that I'm a very analytical person.  I spend a lot of time thinking and making decisions.  My brain and my heart do not handle unanswered questions very well.  I am used to understanding things and understanding them easily.  The current state of my relationship with God, however, seems incomprehensible.  How did I get here and how do I get out?  I think Psalm 16 helps illuminate some of those answers, even if the answers aren't exactly what I'm looking for.

Verse 4 says, "those who run after other gods will suffer more and more."  I could go on for a while about this idea of other gods, or idols, but I'll keep this brief.  While I don't chase down other deities, I do let my focus stray from the true God.  I don't worship things other than God, but I do let other things block the focus that should be directed toward Him.

I want to be able to say that God is "my portion and my cup," like David says in verse 5.  I know that once I am able to say that with honesty, I will be able to stop focusing on the circumstances in my life that seem so difficult at times.  Just like in verse 6, I want to praise the Lord and the instruction of God in my heart always.  I want to keep my eyes on the Lord and remain firm, unshaken, like in verse 7.