Devotion by Carrie Black
We’ve had less than three weeks of school and already this semester I have seen the pain and hurt that sin brings, both sins we commit and the sin that infiltrates simply being in the world. Injuries, break ups, overwhelming thoughts, missing family members, an abundance of homework, the death of one we love, the pondering of big, tough questions, packed schedules, fading friendships - all these I have seen, both in the lives of my friends and classmates around me and in my own life too. All this and more, in just the span of three weeks. It leaves my heart heavy to consider all the heavy hearts on our campus. All these people, walking with their heads down - what are we to make of all this?
As Scripture goes, what we experience and feel does not go unexperienced and unfelt by others. Sifting through the Psalms, specifically, we can see the agony and anguish that comes as a result of sin - both known sin and the results of the presence of sin in the world. Psalm 42 and 43 are just a few that tap into this state of pain and hurt:
Here we read, in vivid imagery and stark emotion, the agony being experienced and expressed by the Psalmist: he is panting for God; he desires to be with God; he feeds on his tears; he faces persecution and ridicule from others for his spiritual state; he feels forgotten by God and oppressed by his enemy. What is this thirst, this oppression, this agony being expressed?
This is sin.
And it is in the midst of sin and suffering that the Psalmist denotes his soul as downcast. Like us, he walks with his head down.
Our theme verses for this 2019-2020 academic school year are Lamentations 3:22-23. In context, it reads:
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Compare this to Psalm 42 and 43. Within the context of the whole book of Lamentations, we read, again, a state of agony: there is no comfort (1:2, 16), there is starvation (1:11), there is betrayal (1:19) and destruction (2:6-9), and so on and so on. In the passage above, Jeremiah takes all the anguish and suffering and hurt within him, rearranges it, and expresses it: “my soul is downcast within me.”
The two Psalms we have considered are regarded as one when it comes to interpretation, and there is a reason for this. The structure of these Psalms is purposeful, comprised of a lament, a refrain of hope, lament, refrain of hope, lament, refrain of hope. Similarly, there is a unique structure to the book of Lamentations. The book contains 5 chapters, each of which contain 22 verses, except chapter 3 which holds 66 verses, and it is pretty much right in the middle of this middle chapter of Lamentations that comes Jeremiah’s own refrain of hope.
It is in the midst of testing and temptation, of agony and anguish, of trial and tribulation, the Psalmist and Jeremiah, and numerous others in Scripture, fix their eyes on hope. From this fixation, Jeremiah lifts his downcast soul toward the sunrise and the Psalmist raises his chin and goes forth in praise. The Psalmist and Jeremiah are fixing their eyes on the hope of God’s promise that He would send a savior to redeem their suffering. But then where, we must ask, do we fix our eyes? What is our hope today?
This is our hope: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It’s counterintuitive, it’s a great paradox, because “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” sounds more like the agony and anguish these two authors have expressed; it sounds like the pain and hurt we know all too well. These words, spoken by Jesus on the cross, are a reiteration of the Psalmist’s exclamation, “When can I go and meet with God?” because here the forsaken Son is crying out in his separation from God. This heart-wrenching question from Jesus sounds like agony and anguish, but it is here, on the cross, where our hope is found.
The Psalmist and Jeremiah fixed their eyes on the hope of God’s promise that he would send a savior; we fix our eyes on the cross, where Jesus took on every test we face, every temptation we encounter, every agonizing event, every anguish we feel, every trial we meet, and every tribulation we endure, and we fix our eyes on the empty tomb, because it is there that we see God’s new promise: that Jesus will come again and He will bring us to himself. And though we may earnestly pray for deliverance and relief in our present context, we have felt and know we will continue to feel the agony and anguish sin sneaks into the cracks and corners of our lives. And Jesus does not tell us he will keep trials from us; in fact, he says the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But, he continues, beckoning us to take heart! For upon the cross he has overcome the world. Because Jesus bowed his head on the cross, when our souls are downcast within us, we may ever lift our eyes, see the sunrise, call this hope to mind, and go forth in praise: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Amen and amen.
prose by kate esser
all the tomorrows that wait for us
looming just out of reach
as the sun sets on today
and the dusk fades into the dawn
unknowns compel us to wait and wonder a little
how beautiful that is
to be at the edge of forever
dependent on our God
to receive all the tomorrows
and every moment they hold
here on earth
or there in eternity
Ephesians 3 brings much comfort to my restless soul when dreaming of what all the tomorrows may hold,
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us - to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
James 4 also humbles me, bringing to light my pride in my anxiousness and vain attempts to grasp control of all my tomorrows,
"Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it."
through all my planning and dreaming, it remains but a wisp of smoke.
yet when in the hands of my creator, it is more than anything imaginable to me.
so we wait and we wonder and we hope
fully dependent on our creator
for anything tomorrow may hold
that we may glorify Him
and let go of ourselves
for all the tomorrows
and eternity after that
all the tomorrows are already known and held by the creator of the universe. & you, my dear friend, are loved and cared for by that same creator. the one who is sovereign over creation knows your name and every quirk that makes you you. He pursues your heart day after day. do not be afraid of what tomorrow holds. because He knows you best and will take every moment into consideration to bring your heart closer to His. some moments may be hard, but look at them as refinement. He is shaping you and asking for you to trust Him to sustain you for all the tomorrows that He already holds.
Our first guest devotion is written by Naomi Moon, a senior DCE student and lovely beyond lovely human. Take a moment to journey beside her and the psalmist of Psalm 130 to ponder the connection between fear and hope.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
What is your deepest, darkest fear?
It's hard to think about, isn't it? It's uncomfortable.
Psalm 130 is like the song that you hear for the first time and feel that every word applies to your life, exactly. For me, it's a song about fear, but also hope.
Sometimes you feel like you hit rock bottom, where there is nothing else that could go wrong; I know I have felt that way before. I'm sure the Psalmist here feels that way, but he also calls to God because the guilt of sin is the place of ultimate despair.
We cannot stand, as he says later, before the face of God. The weight of our sin brings us to our knees. We have absolutely no right to ask anything of God, not even the breadcrumbs underneath the table.
Instead, he gives us a feast.
Verse four talks about the feast of forgiveness, a generosity that might take you aback, scared there might be a catch. The fear that the Psalmist is talking about is the reverent admiration of God. The only one who has the power to condemn us is the one who holds out his hand for the fallen child, on their knees.
Fear, love, and trust. That's like the motto of Martin Luther, right? That's exactly right. Luther tells us to fear, love, and trust God before all else because when you give those three things over to something, that is your God.
So why is it so hard to trust God with everything we fear?
I fear the future. I fear not being good enough. I sometimes even fear the monster in the closet. Why do I think God can't handle those? God is the only thing that deserves to be feared.
Instead of condemning us, which God has every right to do, he welcomes us to the table. Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, invites us to give everything over to God and saves us through no power of our own. We have forgiveness because of everything God has done.
So hope in the Lord!
Verse seven seems to me to be the bridge of the song. The psalmist mulls in the angst of pain and doubt but eventually gets to the point.
There is hope in the midst of suffering.
With the Lord there is steadfast love. This word, "hesed" translated to be steadfast love, is one of Pastor Matthias's favorite Hebrew words. It can also be translated as faithfulness, mercy, and covenant love. That last translation is the one I want to focus on because God has made a covenant with his people. Most of the time, the first thing that someone thinks of when they hear the word "covenant" is a marriage. And that is what the Psalmist is talking about. God has given his covenant to us, to protect us and abide in us.
God has given us the Holy Spirit as an engagement ring for when Christ returns [2 Cor. 5:5]. This is the hope we hold on to, for dear life. The only catch is, Christ has already said the vows. He loved us until death parted him from us, and even after.
God is to be feared, loved, and trusted above all else. No matter how many times we turn away, the table is still set.
Come feast at the table of the Lord.
This blog will be updated weekly with the speaker and text for the coming Wednesday's PRAISE, along with occasional guest post devos, announcements, photos, and other good good stuff.
Contact Emma Brand at email@example.com if you are interested in writing a guest devotion for the PRAISE blog. Or if you just want to chat. She'd be cool with that too.