Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?"

Day #102:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - April 9th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 42 - 44 …

The truth is that you and I need redemption every day of our lives.  We have neither the wisdom nor the strength to survive spiritually, emotionally or even physically in this world without the grace of God, our Creator.  Even those who do not know Him or believe in Him exist by His will and take their next breath by His sovereign decree.  Were He to withhold His hand from us entirely we would simply cease to exist.  For many, this is a frightening thought, impossible to comprehend, but for those who have come to know God as "Abba, Father," through the work of His Spirit within us, this is the greatest of all comforts!  For God has sent a Redeemer, One who has both the wisdom and the power to save us, to rescue us … and His name is Jesus.

The writers of Psalms 42-44 did not know the name of Jesus, but they knew the name of God.  They were among the privileged few in the world at this time, approximately one thousand years before Jesus' birth, who had heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They sang songs of worship to Him and had seen His arm displayed in strength against their enemies.  Theirs was a God who was real, who was alive and who was with those who cried out to Him.  Yet, now it seemed that He was hiding His face, that He had rejected His people, that He had left them alone.  Why?

How many of us have FELT alone, even if our minds tell us otherwise?  In moments of trial and suffering, and especially during times of extreme tragedy, the temptation faces us to believe the lie that God has somehow left us; that He has turned His face away from us and is ignoring our cries.  Psalm 42 begins with such a state of mind:  "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (42:1-2).  He goes on to express his deep sorrow:  "My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" (42:3).

Still, his soul does not give in to the temptation to lose all hope.  "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will YET praise Him, my Savior and my God!"(42:5).  He remembers the things God has done before and declares, "By day the LORD directs His love, at night His song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life" (42:8).  Even though he doesn't "hear" from God, he questions what he is thinking and feeling and declares again, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will YET praise Him, my Savior and my God!"  (42:11).

You and I who believe in Jesus Christ and who know the true and living God are called to live by FAITH!  As we live in this world we all too easily begin to think that "things" will or should go smoothly every day.  Some actually think that believers, Christians, should have an easier life than those who do not know God through His Son Jesus Christ.  Where do people get this idea?  It has never been so.  Jesus said it WOULDN'T be so!  Jesus told His followers that they would have trials, that they would suffer for His Name's sake, that we would be persecuted and that some would be put to death.  All over the world this is happening, and yet we react to trials by questioning God … … there is a better way …

Rather than questioning God, we should question ourselves!  "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?"  That's the real question, isn't it?  He declares, "You are God my stronghold" (43:2).  But then he asks, "Why have you rejected me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by my enemy?" (43:2).  So many of us find ourselves in this back-and-forth reasoning that leads to confusion and sometimes to despair.  We believe in God … BUT …  As someone has said, what you really believe comes AFTER the "but" …  When you say, "I trust God, but …" you really DON'T trust God.  What you really believe comes after the "but"!

People sometimes say, "I believe in God, but I don't know why these things are happening to me."  That seems innocent enough, but it reveals that you are not living in a state of faith, but rather, in a state of doubt.  How much better to say, "I don't know why these things are happening to me, BUT, I believe in God and I KNOW that He is with me!"  Our lives and our words are a testimony to what we really believe every single day.  In Psalm 43, verse 3, the Psalmist prays, "Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell."  God's truth points us to HIM who is SOURCE of our hope!  Through Jesus, we who believe have access to the very presence of God!!

The writer of Hebrews contrasts the approach of the people of Israel to Mt. Sinai and the approach of believers to Mount Zion.  Listen:

"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.' The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.' … 

… but you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:18-24).

I share that long quote because it is the hope that every believer in Jesus Christ possesses, and it is the hope that the writer of these Psalms looked forward to.  It is the hope that the writer of Hebrews spoke of in chapter 6, verses 19-20:  "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf."

THIS hope endures through the deep waters, through the fiery storms, through the intense suffering of life and even through the valley of the shadow of death!  Even though Psalm 44 and others speak of God's judgment and His discipline of His people, it is the knowledge of the one, true and living God that brings hope.  The Psalmist knows the God who gives victory and why:  "… for You loved them" (44:3).  "In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise Your name forever" (44:8).  "For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered … Rise up and help us; redeem us because of Your unfailing love" (44:22,26).

God's love in Christ Jesus IS unfailing toward those who have received His grace, in whom His Spirit dwells, and who live by faith.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted; but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (II Corinthians 4:7-9).  And in what appears to be a reference to Psalm 44:22, Paul writes in verses 10-11:  "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that HIS life may be revealed in our mortal body!"

As Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:7:  "We live by faith, not by sight."  We live in this world, trusting God to provide today, to watch over us, to protect us and, if in His wisdom and plan it is time for us to go home to be with Him, to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, for our Shepherd is with us.  Our hope is in the LORD, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.  So, "why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God!"

"My gracious God and Father, YOU are my hope in times of trouble and my praise in times of joy.  I will praise You as long as I live and then, when my eyes see Your glory, forever and ever, throughout all eternity.  Give me strength to live by faith, trusting in Your unfailing love, knowing that I am redeemed by the blood of Jesus and I am, now and forever, YOURS!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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