Tag Archives: despair

A Hymn for Meditation

  1. hymnalWhat a friend we have in Jesus,
    all our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    everything to God in prayer!
    O what peace we often forfeit,
    O what needless pain we bear,
    all because we do not carry
    everything to God in prayer.
  2. Have we trials and temptations?
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged;
    take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful
    who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy laden,
    cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge;
    take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
    Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
    thou wilt find a solace there.

Words by Joseph Scriven
Text from http://www.hymnsite.com

  •  When I feel discouraged, no matter what the reason, this hymn is comforting. What sources of anguish are addressed here?
  • What biblical basis is there for believing we should take “everything” to God in prayer?
  • The second verse is particularly gripping. Who doesn’t have moments when he feels like an abject failure, worthless in the eyes of God and everybody. What is the hymn writer’s advice for those moments?
  • The daily news is not only discouraging as to its moral content, but the logic used to justify immorality is without any basis in logic or common sense. What recourse does the hymn writer find for such experiences?
  • The cultural restrictions on the expression of Christian faith in word and deed are increasing. How will Christians sustain faith and testimony against the pressure to be silent and stay out of sight?
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Pray Psalm 130

When Christ walked on the earth in the flesh, people possessed by demons, or people afflicted with mental illness if that is your preferred diagnosis, suffered humiliation, ostracism and even physical violence. People with crippling diseases, or blindness or deafness, were considered to have been doomed to that fate through sin. Seeing a blind man on the road one day, Jesus’ disciples inquired of Jesus as to whose sin was responsible for his condition.

Psalm 130 is the kind of prayer those afflicted ones must have prayed often. When they heard that the kingdom of God had come near, it would have inspired hope that God had heard their prayers.

Everybody experiences that kind of hopelessness and despair at some time or other. Life is full of challenges, and everybody goes through days and sometimes weeks when this cry from the pit expresses their concerns.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that we need to remember that Jesus prayed all the Psalms, too. Is it possible that in Gethsemane he prayed the words of this Psalm as he faced the cross? The few recorded words of those hours of prayer let us see a man in anguish, and we know that he pleaded with God to find some other way. The concerns in this psalm prayer mesh tightly with the words we know that Jesus spoke that night. In this prayer, both the anguish of the cross and the triumph of redemption are richly expressed.

This prayer resonates with the universal human experience of feeling overwhelmed and defeated by evil. The lonely, shunned leper of Jesus’ day, the miserable child who can never pass a spelling test, the only mother on the block who has no idea how to get her child to take a nap in the afternoon, the first manager laid off as the company offshores all technical projects, the man who reached for but failed to snag the child who ran into traffic and was struck down while chasing a ball – all these people can pray this prayer psalm and be comforted by the promise that God loves and forgives and redeems and heals his children.

For me, the most poignant phrases in the psalm are the words, “more than those who watch for the morning.” My husband and I cruise aboard a sailboat, and we often make passages longer than 24 hours, which require us to stand lonely watches during the night. When my husband is asleep and I am alone in the cockpit, despite the fact that the night sky is beautiful, I feel much more alone than I feel in broad daylight. If a storm builds up during the daylight hours, I always feel more competent to deal with it than if the storm develops after dark. If I am on watch at 5AM, my eyes constantly stray to the east for the first hint of light at the horizon, and I breathe a sigh of relief when the sky only barely suggests the coming sunrise.

Whether misery results from the supplicant’s terribly bad choice or from human error or from someone else’s bad choice or even from causes that nobody can discover, Psalm 130 mirrors the experience of feeling cast down, thrown down, knocked down by life. It speaks of our fear that even if it wasn’t our fault that we got in this fix, God might not help us because we are sinful. The writer of the psalm talks through the misery and fear, and then looks up. There is hope. There is hope not because he deserves it, but rather because of who God is.

Because God is who he is, Christ died for us.
Because God is who he is, our sins are forgiven.
Because God is who he is, we can always hope in him.

 Psalm 130 can be your prayer when things look hopeless.

  • Read the psalm exactly as printed in your Bible. Read slowly enough to speak each word distinctly. Listen to what you are reading.
  • Read the psalm again and replace every reference to the supplicant with your own name.

I would read it this way:

Out of the depths Katherine cries to you …
If you, O Lord, should mark Katherine’s iniquities …
O Katherine, hope in the Lord! …
It is he who will redeem Katherine from all her iniquities.

 Pray this psalm as many times as you need to. Borrow its rich imagery and immerse yourself in its profound hope. Think of Christ praying this prayer, maybe as he faced human suffering and need, maybe as he faced his own suffering on the cross.

 Can you make this prayer your prayer? Tell me why, or why not.

Unrepentant Plagiarist

Psalm 13

1      How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

2     How long must I bear pain in my soul,

and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3     Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

4     and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;

my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5     But I trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6     I will sing to the Lord,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

 

I love the book of Psalms. I didn’t always love it. As a child, I found it confusing. I appreciated it, but I did not love it. My Sunday School teachers called it a hymmbook, but it didn’t seem much like the hymnals I was familiar with.

I have grown to love this book, because I learned that it is also a prayerbook. When I learned that I could borrow the words of the Psalmist and use them for my own prayers, I began to love the book of Psalms. I gleefully plagiarize its prayers and grow in the discipline of prayer as I do so.

Psalm 13 is one that is easy to borrow. For starters, I have gone through numerous periods in my life when I felt beleaguered by enemies. I have felt despair, because it seemed to me that God ought to do something about the situation, and I could not see any evidence of improvement.

I have observed of myself that, like everyone else, I view my experiences from within the limitations of time and space. It is hard for me to remember that God views them from the perspective of eternity and infinity. In that point of reference, every point in time is now and every point in space is here. The resolution and completion I yearn for is already working, even as I pray, but I am not able to see it. God does not disdain my fears, my suffering, or my inability to see the culmination that is everpresent with Him. Kohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, observed that God  has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11b)

In Psalm 13, however, David summons up faith to assert, despite all appearances to the contrary, that he will “sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:6) By the time I reach verse 5 of this Psalm, David’s words of lament have worked like a drawing salve on my fear and frustration. They empty out all the things that make me need to cry out, “Help my unbelief!” I am finally able to step outside my time/space limitations and enter worshipfully into God’s throne room where my vision is expanded beyond the limits of my own worldview. David invites me to worship with the saints who see history from God’s point of view in that heavenly throne room. David’s faithful words nourish my own faith, and I am refreshed and encouraged.

I highly recommend plagiarizing David’s prayers and making them your own.

 

 

Re-entering the Day

Yesterday I attended a commemorative concert in honor of our memory of September 11, 2001. I heard two spectacular pieces that recalled the horror of that day. After the performance, I asked the composer of one of the pieces why there was no redemptive message. It has been ten years since we watched those towers collapse, and I felt that by this time someone should have a redemptive message about the day. As I listened and watched during the concert, I yearned for redemption, and found little hope in the performance.

The program consisted of two pieces: Requiem for 9/11(2003) by Hollis Thoms and Ashes, Ashes by Timothy Nohe. The requiem borrowed its form from Bach’s cantatas while Nohe’s piece was a mixed media presentation which included actual ashes from the day as part of a mostly musical performance. Both pieces dramatically evoked the painful experience of terror, dismay, despair, anguish, fear and shock we all felt that September morning ten years ago. They brought back such intense memories that it was almost like returning to that day. In fact, they were profound laments that allowed us all to grieve again with almost the same intensity we felt so long ago. No wonder I ached for redemption.

It isn’t true that the pieces offered no hope at all. The Requiem concluded with a piece based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke which ended with the words, (English translation) “Yet there is one who holds us as we fall Eternally in his hands’ tenderness.” Ashes, Ashes concluded with a soaring observation of the bright sunny Wednesday which followed that dark Tuesday. Each composer attempted to remind listeners that the world did not lose all hope that day. Yet even as I was leaving the building I still hungered for a message of redemption. Like a vague ache that simply won’t go away, this feeling gnawed at me all evening.

This morning, I realize that my longing arose not from a deficit in either piece, but rather from the power of these pieces. They are profound laments that truly engage each hearer in deep grieving. These pieces bring back the moment, the imagery, the heart’s cry of September 11, and they make each hearer desire the redemption that such an atrocity calls for. These pieces demand that we seek redemption, not revenge, and that is their real power.

When Jesus walked on earth, he predicted that there would be days like September 11. He warned us that evil personified in people would assault us. He told us to expect that evil will always be inextricably woven into our days on earth. He predicted grief and pain in every human life. However, the  life, death and resurrection of Christ, unlike the laments for September 11, do not leave us feeling hopeless. The crucifixion of Christ was a day even darker and more awful than September 11, but the darkness of that day was overpowered by the brightness and the hope of Easter morning. It is the resurrection power of Christ that redeems the day of crucifixion and redeems all of us. The hope we enjoy because of the resurrection is the reason we call the dark day of the crucifixion “good.”

I am glad that I had to remember September 11 so vividly, and I am glad that the composers forced me to remember what it was like to feel the pain and despair of that day. That deep, dark, brutal, anguished memory forced me to remember that our hope to defeat such evil does not lie in diplomacy or military action, necessary and important as they are. Our hope is in the risen Christ who holds each of us in his everlasting arms and carries us through evil days. As the apostle Paul reminds us, whether we live or die, it is all about Christ. That is the hope that transcends and overcomes the evil of September 11.

Where is the real power center?

This weekend I read an interesting statement. “One of the hardest lessons for a follower of Christ is that visible power is not always the highest level of power.” (Thibault, Jane Marie, 10 Gospel Promises for Later Life, copyright 2004, Upper Room Books, Nashville, p. 52)  The author was actually talking about the apparent powerlessness in people’s lives as they age, but when I read the statement, I realized that it applies to everyone. The feeling that we have lost control of our lives is a crazy-making experience at any age.

 I feel that way often these days. It is not my health, or even my finances. It is actually my country. I see this country do things and go places and harm people in ways that are completely incomprehensible to me. I feel simultaneous amazement, despair and total incredulity. Is this really happening? Why can’t I do anything about it?

I don’t think I could feel more despair if a soldier had suddenly arrived at my door and escorted me in handcuffs to a re-education camp. I used to read stories of the Israelites going into exile because their conquerors wanted to erase their memories of the way it was when Israel was an independent kingdom, and I had no idea what they were feeling. In those days, I imagined that relocation was like taking a permanent vacation to another country, and as a child, I thought that might be fun. Today I feel that without being moved out of my country, I am constantly subjected to a barrage of re-education by the press with the objective of making me forget what it is like to live in a country governed according to the Constitution of the United States. Somebody, obviously a lot of somebodies, intend for me to learn to live a different sort of life. I experience the visible sources of power as both oppressive and confusing.

 You may not agree with my political despair, but you probably experience your own sort of despair. We both know that sick feeling as we examine our options and discover that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to push back against the power being brought to bear on our lives, power that is taking us where we do not want to go, regardless of our wishes or even our deep convictions. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, you know how I feel. If you just discovered that the person to whom you committed your life “till death do us part” has no such reciprocal commitment, you know how I feel. If you have been laid off from a job that was both personally fulfilling and well compensated, giving you means to care for your family and enjoy a few things above the survival level, and now when you search for work, that kind of work is no longer available, you know how I feel.

 We all have to go through times, sometimes very long periods of time, when we are in the grip of power we cannot resist or defeat. The days look hopeless. The nights seem endless. There seems not to be any light at the end of the tunnel where we live our dark days. Maybe there is no end to this tunnel of doom.

 What do we do about this situation? Despair and dismay destroy our ability to appreciate anything beautiful. They crush our hope that we can accomplish even small things. What do we do?

 If we truly believe that we are completely at the mercy of only the powers we can see in the world of time and space, then we are truly doomed. In fact, if we believe that the reality we observe in time and space is the only reality, then we are doomed. This reality has a propensity to cave in to evil intentions and monstrous egotistical power. Furthermore, nothing in the world of time and space lasts forever – not the happiest life, not the best of people, not the most beautiful bridge or the finest painting. Nothing at all lasts forever. Everything ends and everything dies. Our best survival strategies still end in death. What can we do?

 Our only hope is that this world we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel is not all there is. Our only hope is God.

 This message is the whole point of the Bible. The Bible tells us from the first word to the last that this reality is not all there is. God himself created this reality for our joy and blessing, but when we allowed ourselves to be deceived by Satan, then we allowed ourselves to believe that this world is all there is, and that is when we lost hope. The Bible tells us that we can have hope, because the evil, destructive power we can see at work around us is not the strongest power and is certainly not destined to hold sway forever. There is hope.

 In the days of the Roman Empire, a lot of people had reason to feel hopeless. The might of Rome was greater than anyone in Galilee or Judea had ever seen before. Rome’s power had conquered nations across the entirety of the world Mediterranean peoples had known. Roman power suppressed all power but its own, and eventually the emperors of Rome demanded not only submission, but actual worship. The book of Revelation was written to Christians who were in danger of losing hope in God while living under the boot of the Roman Empire. They were being tempted and/or threatened to worship the emperor of Rome, and the impetus behind that demand was to shore up Rome’s political power. The emperor wanted all his subjects to look to him for what they needed, and he wanted to be the one who decided what they needed. Christians had to ask themselves whether they wanted to be subject to the power of Rome, the power they could see at work in the time/space reality, or if they were actually subject to the power of God, the eternal, infinite Creator who had given his Son’s life for theirs. They had to decide if this world we can experience with our physical senses was all there was, or if there were something more, a higher order of power, a different and more compelling Savior than the emperor of Rome. The author of Revelation instructed them to hope in God, not the Empire, and he recorded the promise of Christ to those who hang on to that hope.

  •  To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
  • Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
  • To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
  • To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. ( Revelation 2:28)
  • If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life. (Revelation 3:5)
  • If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. (Revelation 3:12)
  • To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

 According to the author of Revelation, we conquer when we put our hope in God alone. We conquer by testifying to our faith in Christ, by living according to his call and his claim on our lives. According to Revelation, Christ says, “hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:11) If we have faith in Christ and live our testimony, putting him ahead of everything else, we do not succumb to despair because the Roman emperor thinks he is God or because a twenty-first century socialist government enslaves and impoverishes its citizens. If we put our hope in Christ, we will not despair at terminal diagnoses or give up on life when betrayed or be defeated by the job market.

When I face my hopeless situation, I remember that this world is not all there is. I remember that God sits on his throne, and that he has power and sovereignty over everything that happens. I trust him to be with me as he promised, no matter what happens in this earthly reality. That is the only antidote that gives me peace and happiness in my time of despair. I believe it is the antidote we all need when we feel powerless. It is not for me alone; it is for you as well. Hope in God. He is on his throne. You can count on the One who gave Himself for you. You can count on the One who is the real power in the real reality beyond the limit of time and space.