Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Psalm 12

Well, I guess I can't put it off any longer.  I have been trying to figure out Psalm 12 now for a couple weeks and I just can't figure out how it relates to me.  I just can't seem to find the right perspective with which to read it.  You see, the psalm deals with unfaithfulness and disloyalty, deception and boasting.  Things that don't seem to be relevant to my life at the moment.

So, I'm going to resort to a previous strategy and break the psalm down into broad sections:

  1. David requests help from God (verses 1-4).
  2. David quotes God as saying he will protect the weak and needy.  Then, he asserts that the words of the Lord are "flawless," meaning that if God said it, it must be true (verses 5-6).
  3. David's prayer of confidence to God.  He states that God will be true to his word (verses 7-8).
Breaking the psalm down in this way helps me to generalize the meaning.  I may not be able to relate to unfaithfulness and deception, but I can relate to feeling the need to make requests of God.  My requests are just different.  I'm asking for relief, stamina, refuge.  

I really like that David goes straight from his request to quoting God.  And then, straight to saying that God's word is flawless and pure.  I think this is something I need to remind myself of.  A lot of times when I feel like my requests are unheard, my brain automatically quotes a familiar scripture about God's faithfulness and I cringe because, at the time, it doesn't ring true.  Then, I move on to the next thought.  I can't remember the last time I actually reminded myself that I can trust scripture and have fought back against my instinct to bristle at the "churchy" answers.   

That last insight may seem odd to you, or maybe even off-putting.  But, because of my perceived lack of refuge, I am having to fight to trust God.  I know that he has never been untrustworthy, but I have to constantly remind myself of that and even create arguments to prove to myself that God has indeed been faithful.  

Now that I've been honest about that, I'm going to challenge you.  If you have ever felt that way, please leave a comment letting me know if you found successful ways to re-trust in God.  Your support will be appreciated immensely.  If you can't relate to what I'm saying, please ask questions.  I'm serious.  Every single person who has asked me questions about the blog has helped me to reflect and make another tiny step toward complete faith.  So, thanks again to anyone who has pushed me to think more about my journey.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let Faith Arise

This post should be about Psalm 12 since my last one was about Psalm 11, but for many reasons I am not ready to move on (one of them being that I have no idea how to relate Psalm 12 to my life right now).  So, for today, I am going to post something that I have been thinking about posting for at least two weeks.

Now, I'm not usually one who gets wrapped up in whatever song is "trendy" or makes a habit of calling songs "mine."  I know plenty of people who do and it suits them, it's just not in my personality.  But, for weeks, there has been a song that I just can't get out of my head, probably because of how much it relates to my faith recently.  So, without further ado, here is a "trendy" (in Christian radio) song that I am starting to think of as "mine," Chris Tomlin's "Let Faith Arise."

If you know me well or have been keeping up with the blog, you will probably immediately recognize some parts of the song that I'm relating to.  There is so much that I could say to explain everything that I think I could ramble on for pages.  So, in the hopes of keeping everything as succinct as possible, I'm going to start from the beginning.

The very first verse says, "Be still, there is a Healer/His love is deeper than the sea/His mercy is unfailing/His arms, a fortress for the weak."  Never in my life have I felt such a need for healing and mercy as I have in the past months.  I have certainly not spent any time being still.  Sure, my life has been hectic without a doubt.  But, in reality, I have felt broken and have distracted myself from the desperation by keeping myself busy, not leaving any time to feel the disconnect from God.  Is this why I haven't felt the healing, love, and mercy I have been so desperate to have?

Then, there is a simple pre-chorus: "Let faith arise."  Let.  Again, has my faith been so weak because I have been stifling it, not letting it arise?

The chorus is what struck me so hard the first time I heard the song.  It starts with, "I lift my hands to believe again."  I have to take action.  If I want to believe God and trust Him again whole-heartedly, I need to act, to lift my hands.  You know, even thinking about that at this very moment is stressful.  I am anxious typing this because the thought of lifting my hands means a vulnerability toward God that I don't feel ready for.  It means I can't protect myself anymore.  To believe again, I have to raise my arms as a statement of faith to God.  I know this isn't necessarily a literal lifting of my arms, but right now my heart is pounding and I feel like I have a 30 pound weight sitting on my arms.

The next line is one that I probably don't need to explain, considering the content of pretty much every other blog post.  It says, "You are my refuge.  You are my strength."

Then, "As I pour out my heart, these things I remember/You are faithful, God, forever."  Well, I think my blog qualifies as pouring out my heart, but when I think about the recent struggles I have been dealing with, I am blind to all the times God has been faithful - to me and to those around me.  But still, the stubborn, hurt, part of me wants to demand, "If You are so faithful, God, why did I feel deserted when ____ happened?"  And my arms still feel weighed down.

Then, it hits me.  How much more faithful can I ask God to be?  As the next verse says, "Be still, there is a river/That flows from Calvary's tree/A fountain for the thirsty/Your grace that washes over me."  Jesus let his blood flow freely for me.  He experienced COMPLETE separation from his own Father.  For me.  A little lighter.

Let faith arise.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Psalm 11 - An Epiphany about Refuge, Finally

This is the last Psalm that I read when I started reading through them back in February and I have been excited about sharing it since I started the blog.  It was an "aha" moment and I hope it brings you some insight, too.

Psalm 11 starts with the line, "in the Lord I take refuge."  If you've read any other post, you have probably heard me talk about refuge as being elusive: something I expect from God, but never really find.  It has been a source of great frustration to me to feel like I was missing something that I so desperately wanted (for more on this, see my post about Psalm 5).  So, when the word refuge came up yet again, I decided to do something of a word study to see all the times it is mentioned in the Psalms.

It's a lengthy list, so I'm only going to include the parts of the verses that relate to my "epiphany," even though that might leave out some of the context of each verse.  After all, I'll get to these Psalms later.

  • Psalm 2:12 - "Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
  • Psalm 5:11 - "But let all who take refuge in you be glad..."
  • Psalm 7:1 - "LORD my God, I take refuge in you..."
  • Psalm 9:9 - "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." 
  • Psalm 11:1 - "In the LORD I take refuge."
  • Psalm 16:1 - "Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge."
  • Psalm 17:7 - "Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes."
  • Psalm 18:2 - "My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge..." 
  • Psalm 31:2 - "Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me." 
  • Psalm 34:8 - "Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." 
  • Psalm 36:7 - "People take refuge in the shadow of your wings." 
  • Psalm 46:1 - "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." 
  • Psalm 62:8 - "...for God is our refuge."
  • Psalm 71:1 - "In you, LORD, I have taken refuge..."
  • Psalm 91:2 - "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
  • Psalm 144:2 - " shield, in whom I take refuge..." 
According to my concordance, I found 16 places where the word "refuge" is used in the Psalms.  Of those 16 times, the word refuge is used in the context of "taking refuge" 10 times.  An additional time, refuge is in the context of "finding refuge."  

So, perhaps all this time, the thing that has been missing hasn't been God's provision of refuge, but my own action of seeking it out and grabbing on to it.  Have I not been taking advantage of the refuge he's already providing?  It gives a whole new perspective to my anger at God, realizing that maybe his promises of refuge weren't empty after all.  Maybe my anger and desperation has blinded me to all the ways he was trying to give me a refuge.  God is safety, deliverance, peace - all those things I associate with refuge.  But somewhere between college and now, I have somehow stopped actually taking refuge in God.  

I don't know if anyone can fully understand the relief this brings unless they have ever been torn between trusting in God's character and feeling like he's breaking with that character.  It's humbling to think that all this time my pride might have been the thing making me feel like God was standoffish.  That isn't to say that my feelings of anger and bitterness are completely resolved, because they are not, but it at least gives me something to think about.

Psalm 10

If you've been wondering if I've been slacking, I have been.  I went back to work this week and I have not mastered fitting this devotion time into a work day.  I need to find a way to take some time away without feeling like I'm missing precious time with my family.  Ideas?

Anyways, on to Psalm 10.  The very first verse grabbed my attention.  It says, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"  This is exactly what I have been trying to put into words for the past several months.  In some of the previous posts, I have mentioned feeling "abandoned" or "deserted" by God, always being clear that I knew all along that God would never desert me.  However, describing God as being standoffish seems to be a pretty good description without going against any truths I know about God.  So, why did it feel like he was hiding himself from me in the times I was most troubled?  I wish I had an answer, but I don't - and the rest of Psalm 10 doesn't seem to help.

I have a hard time finding a way to relate to the rest of the psalm if I'm being honest.  Verses 2 through 11 talk about what the wicked do and who they are.  Verses 12 through 15 tell God to hold the wicked accountable.  Then, verses 16 through 18 show conviction that God will indeed defend the helpless.  I know there is wicked in the world everywhere, but I also don't think "wickedness" is what has made me feel like God is standing "far off."  I feel like I've been battling difficult circumstances, not wicked people.  It just doesn't seem to speak to where I am.

It's disappointing to get to Psalm 10 and not really feel a connection to it, especially since Psalms 1 through 9 have seemed so relevant to what I've been going through.  I don't know if I'm just not looking hard enough or if there really is not much to connect with, but it's still discouraging.  

The whole reason I started reading the Psalms was to feel like God wasn't actually so "far off" and, in Psalm 10, I find a verse that completely summarizes how I have been feeling.  But, just like nearly every effort I have made in the past few years, being able to verbalize the issue has gotten me no closer to any sort of answer.  I still feel like God is hiding from me and I don't know why.  And the Psalmist doesn't give an answer, either.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Psalm 9 and the Thermometer

Since I started this blog, I have said many times that there are certain things that I have been taught that are considered truths about God.  These truths are things that I have grown up believing, but that had never really been tested in any real way.  While my faith was being tested, I held on to these beliefs, but as much as I've tried, I didn't feel it in any real way.

This might be difficult to understand if you've never felt that way before, so let me try to help.  It's like being outside in the middle of winter, completely bundled up from head to toe, leaving no skin exposed to the elements.  You're holding a thermometer and you know for a fact that it's 10 degrees outside, which, obviously, is frigid.  But, despite the cold outside, you don't feel the effects of the cold at all.  In fact, had you not been holding on to that thermometer, you never would have believed the truth about the temperature.

That's the way it's been with me.  I've felt like I've been "out in the cold" with God.  As part of a defense mechanism, I've added layer upon protective layer to keep out the "cold", whether cold means the distance I've felt between God and I or the situations I've been in.  Fortunately, I've experienced enough with God to be able to believe the truth about his goodness, or, to hold on to the thermometer.  If I had not been able to hold on to past experiences with God, I may not have been able to keep my faith.

This might not seem to relate to Psalm 9 at all, but when I look at the psalm, I see truths about God: things I have held on to as being truth, but that I haven't really had any sort of visceral, meaningful connection to.  This, of course, makes it more difficult to handle some of the situations I've been forced to deal with.  Imagine hanging on to a romantic relationship when your significant other no longer says that you are loved in ways that you can understand and also starts to do things that make life difficult and, at times, miserable for you.  You might eventually start to lose faith that your mate loves you at all.

Here are some of the examples of the "truths" that I am talking about:

  • Verse 1 mentions "wonderful deeds."  I am no stranger to the wonderful things God has done for me or people around me, but in these difficult times, it was hard to be able to point out any "wonderful deeds" that were being done in my life.
  • Verses 7 and 8 talk about how God rules from his throne with "righteousness" and judges with "equity."  I know this is true, but it goes against what I understand to be "fair."  God may have been ruling righteously and judging with equity, but I didn't understand the standards that he was using.
  • Verse 9 says "the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble."   I have believed this for years, but in the times of my life that can be most described as "troubled," I felt a distinct absence of God, not a refuge or stronghold.  I'll talk more about this in a later post; I don't want anyone thinking that I'm saying anything negative about God because I'm not.
  • Verse 10 says that God has "never forsaken those who seek [him]."  That might be true, but I certainly felt forsaken.  
  • Verse 18 says that God doesn't "forget the needy" and that the "hope of the afflicted will never perish."  So, why did I feel forgotten and hopeless?
I'm going to leave it at that for tonight, but I want to make sure I reiterate something one more time: I am NOT saying anything negative about God.  Like I said at the beginning of the post, these are things I know to be true about God.  I am just trying to convey what my thought process has been these last few years while I have felt so separated from God most of the time.  Like the thermometer analogy, I am beginning to think it takes a stronger faith to believe it's 10 degrees outside when you can't feel the effects of the weather, just like it takes a stronger faith to believe certain truths about God when you can't feel the visceral effects of those truths.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Psalm 8 - Majesty

Well, this is a little different from the previous few psalms, even though it is still written by David.  Here's what I understand to be the basic ideas of Psalm 8:

  • Verse 1 - The Lord is majestic. 
  • Verse 2 - He has ordained the praise of children to silence his foes.
  • Verse 4 - Man is nothing in comparison to the awesomeness of God's creation.
  • Verse 5 - God has put man in a place of honor.
  • Verse 9 - The Lord is majestic.
When I was growing up, my church used to sing a song based on Psalm 8 - all the time. The video below isn't exactly high quality, but the singing reminds me of what it was like at church growing up.

The song is so simple and repetitive and while there's nothing innately wrong with that, I think that combined with the frequency with which we sang the song made me immune to the complexity of what Psalm 8 is saying.  

I did a quick search on Bible Gateway and found that the word "majestic" is used only 14 times in the entire NIV translation of the Bible, six of those times being in Psalms.  The word majestic is an adjective meaning showing majesty.  According to the Google online dictionary, majesty means "impressive stateliness, dignity, or beauty" or "royal power."

In thinking about just the words majesty and majestic, I know that I have never taken the time to truly let this psalm sink in.  Majesty is a HUGE word.  It's awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping power and beauty.  It's supreme dignity and worthiness.  How could I ever have let myself believe that Psalm 8:1 could be written off as being a simple statement, neatly wrapped up in a repetitive song?

I'm not going to pretend I have this at all sorted out in my head.  It says that "through the praise of children and infants [God] has established a stronghold against [his] enemies, to silence the foe and avenger."  So, God makes children praise him, which quiets his enemies?  How and why would that work?  I feel like I'm missing something here, so if you have any insight into this, share it with me.  

I challenge you to read Psalm 8:3-4 and NOT feel small and insignificant.  God made every intricate working of the universe, from the things we can see and generally understand to things we can't even begin to comprehend, even things we aren't even aware exist.  Then, he made humans.  

Keeping in mind how much significance I should have (none) I read Psalm 8:5-8.  What a startling contrast to the last two verses.  Man should mean nothing in comparison to the enormity of creation.  Yet, God created man to be just a little bit lower than angels.  He made man to rule over everything he created.  What responsibility.

Now that I've taken time to really start digging in to Psalm 8, I can't believe I ever just skimmed through it, thinking, "Oh yes, here's the one about how majestic God is.  It reminds me of that song..."  The very last verse of the psalm repeats the first one, "Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  For the first time in a very long time, I understand how inconceivable the majesty of God really is- and more than that, I feel it.  

Do you know that feeling you get when you're trying to remember something, but you just can't.  Well, when I try to think of a way to explain how thinking about the majesty of God has made me feel tonight, I get that tip-of-the-tongue feeling.  So, I'm just going to end with a list of synonyms for the word majesty:
  • grandeur
  • greatness
  • illustriousness
  • nobility
  • stateliness
  • power
  • sovereignty
  • supremacy
  • excellence
  • perfection 
  • loftiness
  • eminence
  • prestige
  • splendor
  • merit
Maybe that will help someone else comprehend how incomprehensible the majesty of God truly is.  I've been blindsided by it tonight.  It's seemed like forever since I've felt like I could praise God this easily, without a hint of cynicism or bitterness.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Psalm 7 - Separating My Praise from My Struggle

I know I've done this with nearly every entry, but I am once again going to divide this psalm into sections because that seems to be an easy way for me to make it more personal.

  • David asks for refuge (verses 1-2)
  • David claims he is innocent (verses 3-5)
  • David appeals to God for justice and vindication (verses 6-9)
  • David proclaims confidence that God will reply (verses 10-13)
  • David asserts that the evil with suffer (verses 14-16)
  • David praises God (verse 17)
I mentioned before that I started reading through the Psalms in January, quit, and then began again with the blog to hold me accountable.  Ever since I first read Psalm 5 on February 17, I have clung to the word "refuge" and David uses the word once again in Psalm 7:1.  I'm not going to focus on it right now, but have an insight to share when I post about Psalm 11.  That insight is something that started a major shift in my thinking, but I digress.

David points out that he did nothing that could make himself guilty, and that if he had done evil, he would feel as if he deserved what was happening in his life.  

I understand this feeling.  In many ways, I feel like I did nothing to deserve some of the burdens I've faced in the past and recently - the burdens that have ultimately pushed me farther from God than I ever have been in my life.  In fact, the struggles recently have seemed to be because I followed God's direction.  If I hadn't done what I felt God was calling me to do in becoming a foster parent, I never would have dealt with many of my recent struggles.  Please don't take this to mean that I regret any of the placements we have accepted so far, just that they come with an understandable amount of added stress.  That stress is compounded because I have felt like God has abandoned me at the most difficult moments.

David once again makes demands of God, telling God to rise up against the wicked and bring an end to their evil.  He demands that God also make the righteous secure.

I have trouble sometimes seeing God as a "just" God based on my own experiences and things I've witnessed.  So, when I struggle so much because I follow God, I don't understand why it seems like God's wrath is focused on me instead of the evil around me.  From my perspective, it's not fair, and as a human, I equate fairness with justice.  I have so many questions for God on this topic, but I don't think now is the time for me to dive into searching for answers on that particular topic.  We'll see what the rest of the Psalms bring for me in that area.

David knows that God is his shield and will save him.  He also knows that he will defend him from evil and let loose his wrath on the wicked.

I know these things also, but only on an intellectual level.  I know God will protect me and will bring wrath against wickedness, but it's all in my head.  Where did David's confidence come from?  Was it just something he believed intellectually, but didn't really feel in the moment?  Is intellectual belief enough to be called faith?

When you read this, I know a lot of you are experiencing the urge to answer those questions or say something to defend God in this area.  Trust me, I think all those things too, even as I'm honestly writing what is in my heart.  I know the textbook "churchy" answers, but, as mentioned before, this is my chance to be sincere about what I'm dealing with, and I have faith that God can handle my questioning and even appreciates that I'm seeking.  So, please, if you want to give me something else to ponder, that would be awesome.  Just don't expect neatly packaged answers to be earth-shattering to me at the moment.

David uses common sense and modern wisdom to reinforce his earlier confidence.  It's almost like he is giving himself a little pep-talk so that he can keep his earlier confidence.

This leads me to believe that maybe David's confidence in the earlier section really was intellectually based. Otherwise, why would he need this section of verses to bolster his earlier claims?  So, maybe my problem has been that when my trust and confidence in God is merely intellectual, I automatically assume that means my faith is weak and sometimes give up.  Perhaps there is significance to a faith that is based on clinging to truths you know about God even when you can't feel them.

David ends by saying he will give thanks and praise God because of God's righteousness.  It's almost like he's convincing himself that he will still thank and praise God, even though things are falling apart.  He also says he will do this because of God's righteousness.   

It's interesting that he picks this one attribute of God to focus on.  It's almost like it was one thing he was able to agree with intellectually, so he focused his praise on that.  It wouldn't make sense to praise God for refuge at this time, so he doesn't.  Instead, he asks for refuge and deliverance, but praises God for righteousness.  That way, his praise and thanksgiving remain honest and sincere.  He's not having to lie to himself or to God.

This gives me hope as I have been finding it hard to praise God without feeling insincere.  I beat myself up at church for singing words that don't seem to honestly reflect the state of my heart, just because that's what I'm supposed to do on Sunday.  Looking at Psalm 7 leads me to the conclusion that it's okay to separate your requests from your praise.  I can ask for what I need, be honest about my struggle, and still praise God for what I know to be true.  Sincerity doesn't demand that I can't praise God unless my faith is perfectly unshaken or radiating freely from my heart; it just means that I might be praising him for the beauty of his creation while I am begging for refuge that doesn't seem forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Own Psalm 6

This is by far the hardest post I have written as of yet.  At the end of the previous post, I mentioned wondering what it would be like if I wrote my own version of Psalm 6 based on bold demands, bold honesty, and bold confidence.  So, I did it.  Before you read it, though, please keep in mind that it is not at all easy for me to make myself vulnerable, especially not at this level.  First of all, I truly am being boldly honest.  Second, even though I love to write and have always possessed some level of talent, I never let anyone read something that is still a draft, and I feel like this is.  I am a perfectionist and rarely let anyone in on something that is anything less than nearly perfect.  

Psalm 6 - A Psalm of Katie

Lord, do not neglect me in your indifference 
   or ignore me in your apathy.  
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am desperate;
   renew me, Lord, for my soul is unfeeling.
My faith is in tatters.
   How long, O Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
   reach out to me because of your unfailing love.
I cannot remember you when you feel so distant.
   Who praises you when it echoes back, seemingly unheard?

I am worn out from trying.

For years I have scattered my days with frustrated weeping
   and drenched my face with hopeless tears.
My heart grows weak with futility;
   it stagnates because there is no discernible response.

Come back to me, God of my youth;
   I know you have heard my weeping.
You have heard my demand for connection;
   you accept my prayer.
All my years of distance will not be wasted by insignificance;
   they will be used to strengthen my faith.

Psalm 6 - Bold Demands, Bold Honesty, and Bold Confidence

The notes in my Bible say that David is requesting relief from an illness brought about as a rebuke for sin.  I'm not sure how they know that exactly, but I'm curious to know what was going on in David's life at the time.  What had he done?  How long had it been going on?  How long was he ill before he actually prayed this?

When I look at the way Psalm 6 is set up, I immediately notice the format.  There are two halves split in the middle by the beginning of verse 6 which says, "I am worn out from my groaning."  Because I was curious, I looked it up and this same literary device is used in Psalms 8, 21, 23, 34, 42, 47, 48, 54, 71, 74, 76, 82, 86, 92, 97, 113, 138, and 141.  The format of this psalm makes the sentence "I am worn out from my groaning" the climax, or turning point of the poem.  And when I read more carefully, I find that it really is the turning point.

For the first half of the psalm, David is begging for mercy.  He uses verbs, commanding God to do something:

  • "Do not rebuke me"
  • "Have mercy on me"
  • "Heal me"
  • "Turn and deliver me"
  • "Save me"
This is bold.  David does not say, "Hey, if you wouldn't mind, would you please help me out a little."  He says, "Have mercy on me."  He even goes so far as to tell God no one can praise God from the grave.  

Then, the turning point, during which David is no less bold and honest.  He's straight-forward about being worn out.  He doesn't say he's felt better or pretend that things really aren't that bad as I tend to do when asked how I'm doing.  He feels miserable, so he tells God.

The second half of the psalm is just as bold, but in a different way.  David displays remarkable confidence that God has heard him, even though he has yet to be healed:
  • "Away from me evil"
  • "The Lord has heard"
  • "The Lord accepts my prayer"
  • "My enemies will be ashamed and disgraced"
He still has no relief from his agony or assurance of healing, yet he triumphantly tells evil to be gone and says that the Lord has heard his prayer and accepted it.  He confidently proclaims that his enemies will be ashamed and disgraced.  

Psalm 6 has given me a lot to think about.  I know I started reading the Psalms because I knew they were bold and honest, but I suppose I forgot just how frank they were and how supremely confident the authors sometimes seem in the midst of their honesty.  It makes me wonder:
  • Where does this confidence come from?
  • How does David seem to know that God has heard him and accepted his prayer even though he's still not healed?
  • If I were to write a similarly honest psalm to God containing bold demands, bold honesty, and bold confidence, what would it look like?