Songs in the Night

When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul

“But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

There is a night in every day. There are also nights in every life. The night to which I refer, is a period marked by grief or gloom, by questions or confusion, by discouragement or doubt. A night can last hours, or days, or months or years.

It can be a night of anxiety, or a night of alarm; a night of brokenness or, a night of bankruptcy; a night of confusion, or a night of calamity;  a night of depression, or a night of desperation; a night of emptiness, or a night of emergency; a night of frailty, or a night of failure; a night of guilt, or a night of gloom; a night of heartache, or a night of hopelessness; a night of illness, or a night of injustice; a night of being jobless, or a night in jail like Paul and Silas; a night of loss, or a night of loneliness; a night of misery, or a night of mockery; a night of need, or a night of news that crushes the soul! On and on we could go, describing those dark nights that engulf us—those nights that seem to never have a sunrise.

Job was in one of those nights. His night was made darker by friends and family who couldn’t understand his darkness. They came along and said, “If you would just look for God—if you would just ask God—God would give you answers.” One of them, Elihu, observed: “But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

In his statement, Elihu was right, and he was wrong. He was wrong about Job. Job sought the Lord amidst the darkness of his circumstances. But God offered Job no answers. Elihu suggested that getting out of the darkness was as easy as breathing a prayer. “Just knock on God’s door, and He will answer.” But Job had knocked, and there was no answer.  Job had raised the question: “Where is God my Maker?”

Are you in one of those nights when God doesn’t answer? Are you in one of those seasons characterized by gloom rather than gladness, by fear rather than faith? Elihu was wrong! Answers are not always immediate, even when a man looks for God. But Elihu was right when he said, “God giveth songs in the night.”However, as of yet, Job had no song. Job wanted a song.  Job needed a song. Job was not guilty of failing to seek God. But God was yet to grant a song in his night of despair.

God promises to give a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But all Job had was heaviness and heartache.  All he had was weariness and woe! God’s songs come in His timing, but He does give songs in the night. He gives a song in the night of oppression and in the night of opposition; in the night of pain, and in the night of perplexity; in the night of questions, and in the night that quakes with dread;  in the night of regret and in a night of ruin. God does give songs in the night!

We see it in Scripture. Job’s life had no song. His life was all darkness. But God, in His timing, gave Job a song—and oh what a song Job sings from the pages of Scripture. Once God’s glory shined into the darkness of his circumstances, Job exclaimed:  “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of  Yours can be thwarted!”Job 42:2 Job’s sure song rings through the ages into your darkness and mine.

Two servants of God sat in a Philippian jail. Beaten and in bondage, God gave Paul and Silas a song to sing in their midnight. God gave Joseph a song concerning the darkness of his dungeon and David a song about the dark cave of Adullam. He gave Miriam and Moses a song as they came out of the oppression of an Egyptian darkness. Can God give you a song in the darkness of your personal despair?

We also see it in experience. How many of you have been through a time of darkness when you thought God was a million miles away, only to break through that darkness and discover thatGod was nearer than you ever imagined? Your soul still sings of that dark night when glory finally dawned!

Anyone can sing in the day. Anyone can sing when their cup is full and when their life is full of blessing.  It is quite another thing in the night of suffering, or in the night of sorrow; in the night of trial, or in the night of terror; in the night of urgency, or in the night of uncertainty; in the night of weakness, or in the night of worry; in the night of violence, or in the night of villainy!

It is easy to sing when there is light to read the hymal, but in the darkness, the words must come from the heart—they must come from inspiration. There are nights in life so black that it seems that there is no song! When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul. You may mouth the words in church, but your soul will not sing until God stirs and writes the words on your heart amidst the darkness.

Habakkuk’s song in darkness of his circumstances was: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk  3:17-18

One night, a young woman tossed in her bed, deeply discouraged. Her church was  was planning a full day of activity. But she was  sickly, and wouldn’t be able to participate. That night she struggled. She struggled with questions about her own life. She struggled with doubt and discouragement. Out of that night of despair, God gave her a poem. She wrote it that very night, never intending for anyone else to read it. The year was 1834. But in the providence of God, Charlotte Elliot’s words were published in The Invalid’s Hymn Book in 1836.  That prayer, penned in brokenness from her sickbed, has been used to touch millions of lives. Here are a few of the words of her song. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bids’t me come to Thee: O Lamb of God, I come!” That was her song in the night!

Is it dark in your heart? Are you discouraged? Do you have doubts? What could God do with your sorrow if you surrendered it to Him? What could God do with your brokenness if you allowed Him to place His hand on the keyboard of your life, creating beautiful harmony out of your brokenness?

Perhaps you know the story of Horatio Spafford. He was a lawyer in Chicago during the time of the great Chicago fire. He was severely hurt financially by the fire as well as emotionally. Matters were made worse by an economic crisis that followed. Overwhelmed, and overworked, his physician advised the family to take a trip allowing them some time to recover from the trauma. They planned a trip to Europe. Just prior to time for the ship to leave, Spafford was forced to stay behind to tend to unexpected business. His family made the journey. He planned to follow. However, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his family sailed, capsized. He wasn’t sure what happened to his wife and four daughters until he received a telegram from his wife that began with these words: “Saved alone…” All four daughters perished at sea.

He arranged to board a ship to go and meet his wife. Near the scene of the tragedy, in the midst of his own heartache, Spafford penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot—Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well—It is well with my soul.”

God does give songs in the night! But until He does, you can’t pump it to make it sing. You can’t force something out of your darkness that isn’t there.! However, you can pray that God would plant a song in your heart. Only God gives a song in the night!

Why are you passing through a season of darkness and despair? I don’t know. You don’t know. But trust God to know! Trust God to have an answer. Trust God to come to you in your night of despondency. Do you remember the storm on the sea?  Jesus came, walking across the water in the dead of their night, and amidst the fury of the storm.  What time was it? It was in the fourth watch of the night. It was the deadest and darkest part of the night. As they struggled, they thought the Lord would never come. But come He did! Be assured, dear Christian, He will come to you in the stormy night of your circumstances. And when He comes, He will give you a song to sing from your darkness whose melody will touch the lives of countless more!

God does give songs in the night!

Photo by Victorien Ameline

Is He Still the God Who Sees?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

Whether from circumstances beyond our control, or consequences resulting from our own sinful choices, life can become very complicated. It can become so complicated that we see no way out of our own personal hopelessness. That was the case for an Old Testament woman known as Hagar. Hagar enters the biblical story  as the maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah. There is no way we can know the exact circumstances in which Hagar lived. It doesn’t appear she was under any form of duress while living in the home of Abraham, until Abraham’s wife gave her the assignment of being his mistress for the purpose of becoming a surrogate mother. The child would become the child of Abraham and Sarah. It was a bad decision from the start for all parties. Once it was clear she was pregnant, Hagar felt superior to Sarah, since Sarah was barren. As a result, Sarah hated Hagar and began to treat her accordingly. Abraham, certainly not an innocent figure in the story, found himself caught between the ire of the two women in his home.

So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence. Genesis 16:1-6

It sounds like a modern day soap opera. It is hard to feel sorry for anybody. You can identify with Sarah and her animosity. After hearing the story, you might feel that Hagar ought to leave. Depending on your own personal perspective, you will either see her as the villain or the victim. However, it is not up to us to pass judgment. Instead, we need to look for the response of God. The focus of the Biblical story immediately shifts away from the main characters, Abraham and Sarah, as God turns His concern toward Hagar.

Hagar was running away. She was running away from a bad relationship. She was running away from her problems. She was running away from her past. Running away is not always the answer. Running away can make problems worse. When you run away, you don’t always know what you’re running from. Is it a person? Is it the problem? Is it something you are afraid might happen? Or is it something inside you. Hagar was running away. It is interesting to me that her name means Fleeing. Maybe that is how she dealt with things her whole life. She just ran away.

Hagar was running without purpose. She didn’t know where she was going. She was flailing her way into the future. She didn’t have a guide. She didn’t have a goal. She never considered where her steps might lead. Would things be better, or would they be worse? One bad decision often leads to another, especially when you are simply trying to run away from the consequences of the previous decision.

The Bible tells us that she stopped by a spring of water on the way to Shur. That word can mean a place of walls. She was looking for security. That sounds a lot like our word sure. In her mind, she was running toward SURE, but in fact, she was running toward uncertainty. She was running toward disaster. In fact, a later verse tells us that this well where she stopped was located between Kadesh and Bered. Kadesh means holiness and Bered means hail. In the Bible, hail is an emblem of God’s judgment. Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment? As you run away from your problems, are you simply moving faster toward disaster?

Running away was not the answer. Running away would only make her problems worse. She was running away, but she didn’t know what she was running away from or where she was going. She was running away from her fears. Have you ever had that feeling of being followed—that something or someone was behind you? If Hagar continued to run, she would spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder. What will the rest of your life be like? Will you spend the rest of your life fearing the future or in fear of the past catching up with you?

Something wonderful happens in the middle of Hagar’s journey. Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:7

The Angel of the Lord found her. This is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. In every case where the Angel of the Lord appears, He always turns out to be more than an angel. Whenever this figure appears, the person who encounters Him realizes it was an encounter with God. Some theologians believe this to be an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Think of that! Consider who found Hagar. He intercepted her on our journey of running away. He found her! He knew where she was. He knew her name. He knew where she had been and where she was going! He knew what was going on inside her and around her. He knew what she was running from, and what she needed to do instead of running away.

Is this the moment God has chosen to intercept you—to speak with you about where you are, where you have been and where you are going. He knows your name! He knows what you need, what you face, and what you need to do!

What are you running from? Are you running from your past? Are you running from something you see looming in the future? Jesus knows all about it. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Genesis 16:8

Was Hagar worthy of a visit from the Angel of the Lord? No! She was not worthy! None of us are worthy! This is God, in His grace and mercy, reaching out to a woman to express His love, to offer His direction, and to spare her from further heartache. God also reaches out to you and to me, even though we are unworthy of His attention and affection.

This turns out to be one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. God reveals His love to Hagar. He speaks promises over her life, offering her a certain future made firm by the power of His hand. What if God is at work to do the same thing for you in your circumstances? God told Hagar to stop running. Instead, she needed to rest secure in His love, even though she would continue to face the wrath of Sarah. God was working His plan. This wouldn’t make all her problems go away, but it would allow her to experience His providential care across the journey of her life.

Out of that experience, Hagar gives God a new name. Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.Genesis 16:7-14

This often happened in the Bible when someone encountered God in such a surprising way. She called God, “El-Roi”. It means, the God who Sees.She named the well the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me. Hagar is the first woman at the well. Remember what the woman at the well in the New Testament said about Jesus. “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” John 14:29

She also declared Him to be a God who sees! “He could See my past. He could See into my heart. He could See where I had been and where I was going. He could See that I was thirsty. He could See that I was lonely. He could See what I needed. He could See all the wrong in me. He is the God who Saw me and yet loved me!”

He is still the God who sees! He sees you right where you are. He sees you in the midst of your need. He sees you as you deal with the consequences of bad decisions and sinful living. He sees you, and yet He loves you! He has chosen to meet you in this moment, that He might intercept your journey, and re-direct you toward a better and brighter future. The only sure thing in life is the certainty of His Sovereignty. Would you give Him the opportunity to speak His promises over your life and wrap you in the shelter of His love?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

The God who Sees is watching you. He knows where you are. He knows your name. He knows where you have been and where you are going. He is still the God who sees.  He is still the God who seeks to rescue us from our own decisions, from our own dilemmas, from the dread of the past, and from the dread of the future.  Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment?

The God who Sees is a God who loves us so much that even when we are walking with our back toward holiness and our face toward judgment, He intercepts us on our journey, and redirects us, speaking His promises over our lives, and offering to swaddle us in His sovereignty.

Photo by Alexander Mils

 

Seasons of Discouragment

Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out. 

The days are getting cooler and shorter. Some people love it. Some people dread it, and they do for good reason. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The drop in the amount of sunlight causes mood changes. For some, it brings the onset of depression that may not go away without treatment. I don’t like the change in seasons. Some years ago, I began to notice that I got depressed in the fall. I know why it happens now, and I can handle it better. I look forward to the winter solstice when the days start getting longer. I dread the summer solstice when the days start getting shorter. That’s just the way I am made.

Discouragement is not always connected to the season of the year. Sometimes discouragement is connected to the seasons of life. We all begin life with a great deal of optimism. We have dreams and plans. Those can be shattered by some season of disappointment.

Disappointments can bring discouragement.

The writer of Proverbs once said: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. We all face disappointment. Our plans fail. Dreams fail to materialize, causing us to face the fact that they never will. Our hopes crumble in disappointment, leaving us heartsick and forlorn. Unfortunately, that is life. People let us down. Circumstances don’t always work out. Yet, the Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus will never be disappointed.

What does that mean? Is it true? Life is full of disappointments. The key to battling discouragement in the wake of those moments is to keep your hope in Christ.

The Life Path you travel can bring discouragement.

Have there been events along the way of your life that brought discouragement to you.

Did discouragement invade your life when you lost your spouse? Did discouragement descend like a cloud after you lost a child? Did discouragement sap your vitality after you or someone you loved was diagnosed with a serious illness? Did discouragement embitter your life after you went through a divorce? Each of us encounter circumstances across life’s journey that can leave us deeply depressed.

The Bible tells about the journey of God’s people through the wilderness. One sentence summed up the collective feeling of the entire body. The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. Numbers 21:4 The path they travelled led them into a season of discouragement.

In the January of 1990, our thirteen-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. One day our lives were normal. The next we were sitting in a hospital being told our daughter could never go barefooted again because a foot infection could cause her to lose a leg. We were told that in in the years to come she would have complications that could claim her vision, her kidneys, her legs or her life.  From that day forward, she would take three shots a day to just to stay alive. When I walked out of that hospital, the whole world had turned grey.  There were no colors.  Life lost its luster.  I cried every night for weeks and on and off for the next years, until a kind doctor invited us to his home and lovingly told me I was wasting her days with my grief. He told me that I should take each day as it came and not ruin today with tomorrows trouble.  Only then did my perspective change, and some of the gloom departed.  But neither my life nor my daughter’s will ever be the same as it was before January of 1990.

What event changed your life? What caused a tidal wave of despair  to come crashing into your life? Sometimes I have to be reminded that my Lord will take care of tomorrow.  My tomorrows, although beyond my control, are all under His Sovereignty. Trusting Jesus from day to day will help you in your personal season of discouragement. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34

There are times when the source of discouragement is our own separation from God.

I tell you these things by experience. I know what it is to know God’s peace. I also know what it is to be absolutely miserable because I am out of step with God. God warns us what will happen to our peace of heart when we walk distant from Him. See if the following words describe the present state of your heart. “…there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of the eyes, and despair of soul.  So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.  In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see.  Deuteronomy 28:65-67

Some of the most dismal moments I have ever experienced were during days when I was walking distant from God. Is that why you are discouraged? Is it because you have strayed from your Lord, and He has turned His face away?  There is no pill that will chase away that kind of discouragement. The only way to cure it is to come home to the Lord.

Discouragement can come when we get life out of focus.

Elijah was a mighty man of God, but a moment came when he walked out into the wilderness, lay down under a tree and prayed that he might die. Why was Elijah discouraged?  It was because Elijah had his eyes on his enemies—on his problems—and not on the Lord.

Looking to the Lord does not always make your problems go away.  However, as we keep our eyes on Him, He will give us strength to take another step forward. During days of discouragement, don’t ask to mount up with wings as eagles or to run and not be weary. Pray that God will just help you walk and not faint!

Sometimes, discouragement seems not to have a reason or a season. There are days when you know you shouldn’t be discouraged– but you are!  You know God is on your side and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are! You know God can help and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are!

Such was the situation in David’s life when he wrote Psalm 42: For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Psalm 42:4-5

David knew how he ought to feel—but he just couldn’t seem to get out from under the cloud of discouragement that had cast a shadow across his soul.

 What do you do when your discouragement won’t go away?

 It is estimated that one in ten people in the United States suffers from some form of depression. I don’t know what the statistics might be where you live. I am told that the number of people diagnosed with depression increases by 20% every year.  Discouragement can push a person over the edge into depression.   Depression is not a sin—it is a treatable illness that needs medical attention.

Rachel was one of the most godly women I have ever known.  She was the best Sunday School Teacher we had at our church.  Her husband was the author of God, If You’re Real, Let The Cow Be In The Pen When I Get Home.  She was the subject of many of his stories, and she worked tirelessly to help him market that book along with his second, Divine Appointments in the Master’s Vineyard.

Disappointment crushed her when her husband was stricken with cancer and died.  Not many months later, she lost her mother.  Rachel’s vibrant faith was rattled.  The couple lived about six miles out of town in a wooded area.  The nearest neighbor was almost a mile away.  Rachel was afraid to be alone.

Her growing discouragement gave way to depression.  She quit teaching her Sunday School Class.  This neatly dressed lady began to look unkempt.   All of these changes took place within a year of her husband’s death.  The weekend before the anniversary of her husband’s death, Rachel called her son and daughter and asked them to come home.  She prepared a meal in advance of  their arrival.  Shortly before the time they were to be home, she called a neighbor to come over to house.  She hung up the phone, took a gun, went out in her back yard to a place her neighbor would be sure to find her, and took her life.”

One year to the day after she buried her husband who died of cancer, Rachel died of depression.  Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out.

In July of 2011 a dear pastor’s wife took her life. Depression is no respecter or persons or positions. It strikes the young and old. After suffering from more than one severe bout of depression, and nearing her 80th birthday, it overwhelmed her. Her husband was a godly pastor, and a strong leader. He weathered the storm outwardly, but after nearly a year of struggling with repressed guilt and the discouragement he suffered from losing his wife, depression pushed him to end his life. What did these godly people lose sight of that sent them over the edge? Maybe they forgot the one thing that kept David from falling completely apart.

 David believed that God was aware of his discouragement. 

How deep can discouragement go?  You know how deep! It can go deeper than bone and cut to the very depth of a person’s soul!  David’s did.  Maybe yours does too.  David’s hope was that God knew.  Does He know how you feel?  Yes!

If you are discouraged or depressed, it is important for you to understand that God knows.  He cares. He will act in response to your prayers. But as you pray, make sure and talk to somebody you trust. Tell them how you feel.  Ask for their prayers.  Keep your hope in God, and if discouragement comes and stays in spite of your faith and in spite of your efforts to shake it, it may be more than discouragement, it may be depression.  Remember, depression is not a sin.  It is a disease just like high blood pressure or diabetes or cancer. People die of those diseases if they don’t get medical treatment.   When discouragement pushes you over the edge into depression, you need to do more than just talk to your pastor, you need to talk to your doctor! Remember, this is a season. Hope is on the horizon. Help is on the way.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me.  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42:11

Photo by rawpixel

 

From the End of the Earth

Where is God when you are in one of those end of the earth moments? Can He hear you? Can He see you? Does He know? Does He care?

Have you ever been away from your own country—on the other side of the world—distant from friends and family, with no way to call home? In 1981, I travelled to the jungle of Ecuador. There were no phones. Finally, we found a ham radio operator who was able to help us connect with home. That was such a lonely feeling. In a place like that, it is easy to get overcome with a feeling of homesickness and an overwhelming uncertainty about those you left behind. You can be surrounded by people and at the same time feel as if you are at the end of the earth.

You don’t have to be far from home to have a sense of being at the end of the earth. We often use that expression to describe how we feel when pressed by some crisis or difficulty. While reading Psalm 61, I found that David used that very expression to describe his feelings to God.

Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer.  From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.   For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy.   Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Psalm 61:1-4 (NASB)

It is easy to tell from David’s words that He is praying. Prayer can be a very spiritual thing. You can go on a prayer retreat. You can go to a prayer meeting. Or you can just bow your head wherever you are and ask for God’s blessing or guidance.

David was praying, but he was not at a prayer meeting. . David was praying. He was not praying because he had the opportunity. David was praying out of necessity.

There is an earnestness and an intensity about the way David approached God.. But it was when I read the words, “From the end of the earth I call to You” that I identified with David. I was facing circumstances of my own that left me feeling as if I was at the end of the earth.

David is not giving God his location. He is crying out to God concerning some problem or difficulty. Maybe you know what it is like to feel that you are at the end of the earth emotionally or spiritually.

To be sure, “the end of the earth” describes a place that is far away. But David means more than that. He is not pinpointing his location physically. He is not talking about geography. He is talking about something else.

Geography is not a problem with God. You don’t need a cell phone or a ham radio to contact Him. He is never so far away that He is not able to hear your prayer, even if you are at the end of the earth.  But David is not talking about his location.

For David, the End of the Earth was a Place of Deep Desperation.

He was in some kind of trouble. He had some kind of problem. Perhaps he was dealing with discouragement.  Whatever it was, it left him feeling like he was at the end of the earth.

I will never forget receiving word that a man’s daughter had been in a serious accident. Her two boys were in the car with her. She and the youngest boy were killed instantly. The oldest boy received head injuries so severe, he would never be the same. What I remember most about that day is going to her sister’s home. I was in my early twenties and really didn’t have the skills that I needed to know what to say in a time like that. I don’t know that I do now decades later. I did my best to comfort her, but I said the worst thing I could have said in the horror of the moment. I said, “It’s not the end of the world.” And then she said, “Oh, but it is… oh but it is!” And  it was. She was at the end of the earth. It was a place of helplessness, hopelessness and loneliness. Grief leaves us feeling at the end of the earth, or as she said that day, “the end of the world.”

That is the way David uses this expression. David was praying. But he was praying from the end of the earth—from some set of extreme circumstances that made him feel like it was the end of the world. Is that where you are today? Has something happened, or is something going on that makes you feel like it is the end of your world? Then you can identify with David when he cried, “From the end of the earth I call to You!”

I did a little research to see how many times this same expression is used in the Bible. One of the things that became clear to me as I researched that phrase, is that God is concerned about all the ends of the earth, whether that be a geographical location and a people group that lives there, or a place of personal distress.

For David, the End of the Earth was a Place of  Deep Personal Weakness

He said, “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint…

Have you ever wanted to give up? Have you ever wanted to go to sleep and not wake up? Have you ever been so tired and so discouraged you thought you couldn’t make it through another day? Then you understand the heart of David. David described his heart as faint. It means to be overwhelmed. Have you ever received a phone call with bad news? Do you know what it is to have your heart sink or to feel weak from grief or shock? This is the feeling David describes. It was the end of the world. He was overwhelmed. Is that where you are?

Where is God when you are in one of those end of the earth moments? Can He hear you? Can He see you? Does He know? Does He care? Yes! David also believed that! From the end of the earth, he called out to God when all his strength was gone!

Perhaps you know the story of what happened to the Biblical character Jonah. Jonah disobeyed God. As a result of his disobedience, Jonah found himself in one of those end of the world moments.  He ran from God’s will for his life. He was determined to get as far away from God as he could. He boarded a ship that was bound for the edge of the known world of that day. He wound up a little farther away from God than he expected. He was tossed from the ship and swallowed by a giant fish who took him on a trip to the bottom of the ocean. What David, in his prayer, called the end of the earth, Jonah called the Belly of Sheol or the Belly of Hell.

 Then Jonah prayed to the Lordhis God from the stomach of the fish,and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars wasaround me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lordmy God. “While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. Jonah 2:1-7 (NASB)

This was one of those end of the earth moments for Jonah. It was the end of the world. The end of the earth can be the most far away place I can think of. It can and often does refer to geography. It can be a place of deep desperation—an end of the world moment. It can be a place of deep personal weakness—when a person has had about all they can stand and is ready to give in and give up.

In the Case of Jonah, the End of the Earth Was a Place of Great Distance from God.

 Jonah was about as far away from God as a man can be and live to tell about it. Because of his disobedience he was in a place of God appointed difficulty. Has that ever happened to you? In fact, aren’t some of you at an end of the earth place in your life because of your sin? Isn’t it true that God has brought difficulty into your life because of your sin and you know it. You are not just at the end of the earth—not just at wits end—like Jonah you feel as if you are in the Belly of Hell with no escape.

David and Jonah have one thing in common. That place of dark despair became a place from which each of them took opportunity to seek God. They prayed. David prayed from his predicament and Jonah prayed from His. The good news is that God was listening. Do you suppose He will listen to you?

If you look back at David’s prayer in Psalm 61:2 you will find that he made one simple request. He prayed: Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!

This is a very simple prayer, but it is full of dependence on God. David asked God to lead him to the Rock. It was obviously a place David couldn’t find on his own. He needed to someone to lead him. Would you be willing to admit your personal need for God’s guidance in the midst of your circumstances?

Both David and Jonah realized that they were in circumstances they couldn’t escape on their own. They needed God’s help. One of the greatest moments of a person’s life is the moment the person begins to realize he or she needs God. As David prayed, he was acknowledging, “God, my only way out is You.” Can you admit that to God today?.

The Rock, to which David prayed to be led was a place of safety and security David could not provide for Himself. He needed the help and protection of God. He needed to be saved. David needed to be saved from his circumstances. Jonah needed to be saved from his sin.  Both David and Jonah found themselves sinking. They were in desperate need of the solid security of God’s own saving presence. It was God Himself that Both David and Jonah Needed.  Jonah said, “I have been expelled from Your sight, Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.  Jonah 2:4  (NASB)

That is repentance. That is turning to God from the end of the earth. David said, “From the end of the earth I call to You.”

The end of the earth is the most far-away place I can think of. It can be a place of deep despair. It can be a place of deep personal weakness–a place where a person is ready to give in and give up. It can also be a place of distance from God or even a place of difficulty designed by God because of our sin.

I assume if you are still reading, you also identify with David’s words. You are at some end of the earth place feeling out of God’s reach yet desperate for God’s help. What is God saying to you?

Allow me to share with  who are at the end of the earth  the following words from the book of Deuteronomy.

If..you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. Deuteronomy 30:2-4 (NASB)

Now pray, and prepare to be delivered!

 

Photo by Frederik Löwe

 

Until I Know What God Will Do for Me

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.” 1 Samuel 22:1-3

I encountered the verses above in a very personal way two years ago this month. My dad was very sick. The situation required me to make a three-hour drive -one way- as often as twice a week, while maintaining my job responsibilities and my own family. I was burning the candle at both ends, and I was absolutely exhausted. I was also discouraged. I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do, but I didn’t understand how God was going to work out my situation. How was I going to be able to do what I needed to do for my parents and still keep doing what He wanted me to do and maintain my sanity in the midst of it all?

Then one day the Lord met me in these verses. I saw David facing his own crisis of faith.He was destitute, discouraged and in danger. His circumstances brought him a dark, damp, dreary, depressing cave.  He is at a low point. He retreated to that cave in despair. He was joined by a host of others in similar circumstances. But what really touched me, is that in the midst of that situation, David is trying to figure out how he can best care for his parents. Think about it. David had a host of brothers. Where are they? It is David who bears this burden on his own heart.

I knew when I read these verses, that God was trying to tell me something. I didn’t know just what. So, I spent some time looking at what David said. As I did, God began to show me some things that greatly encouraged me. I hope they will encourage you.

Remember, this was a low point in David’s life. He was living in a kind of limbo. His life was on hold. He was stuck in a terrible period of difficulty. Here are the things God showed me about David.

First, David Didn’t Know What God Was Doing.

Have you ever faced such a time in your life? Maybe that is where you are today. God promised David a kingdom, but he was living in a cave. There are times when we find ourselves in one of life’s cave experiences.  It seems to us that all of our help and strength is gone.  We are suddenly overcome by loneliness and despair. Even in a cave full of people, David felt all alone! Have you ever been there?  David was living in the cave of despair, and he didn’t know what God was doing.

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

The statement: “Until I Know…” makes it clear He just didn’t know what God was doing. It was a time of devastating uncertainty in David’s life.

In the midst of his uncertainty, Saul, his enemy, still searched for David every day. He wanted David dead. It was for that reason that David was hiding. This was not a short space in David’s life. It seems to have spanned more than a decade. He would get out of that cave, but it would be years before David would get out of this season of despair that entered his life.

There are times like that for all of us. We just don’t know what God is doing. Maybe you are in one of those seasons today. You can’t see God’s hand. You can’t trace his plan. David didn’t know what God was doing. But in spite of that, David makes this incredible statement of faith: I need make sure my parents are cared for, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

While on the one hand, that statement is an admission that David didn’t know what God was doing, on the other hand, it expresses his confidence that:

God Was Doing Something.

Even though you may not know WHAT God is doing, do you believe that God is doing something. You may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know God is at work in and around your life.

What was God doing? This cave, became for a time, a place of separation where David was brought to the place where he had nothing to depend on but God alone. Because it was a place of separation, it also became a place of preparation. It is in times of difficulty and discouragement, when trouble seems relentless, we are forced to ask questions about ourselves and about our faith.

Is God with me? Will God take care of me? Is He working—even when we don’t know what He is doing? It becomes a great test of our faith when we must choose what we will believe about the God we serve. David didn’t know what God was doing, but he did sense God was doing something.

Perhaps the first indication of God’s activity were all these people who came to join David in that cave. They just seemed to show up spontaneously. All of them were just as discouraged as David. Look at that motley crew God called to join him. They didn’t seem to be people of promise. Yet, it was some of these discouraged folks who became David’s mighty men whose exploits in courage became legendary.

What touches me about this passage is that this period of David’s life also impacted his family. He felt a very real responsibility for them—especially for His parents. He takes them to Moab. Why Moab?

If you are a student of the Bible, you will remember that  David’s Great-Grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess. She married a Jewish man named Boaz. They had a son named Obed—who had a son named Jesse. Jesse was David’s dad. Ruth was David’s great grandmother. She was from Moab. Do you suppose there were relatives in Moab, David thought he could trust to look after his parents?

He took them there he said, “Until I know what God will do for me.” This leads me to the next observation I want to make about this verse:

David Was Willing to Wait For God.

The Bible gives us insights into some of David’s feelings during this very discouraging time in his life. Consider these verses from Psalm 57. They were written by David when he fled from Saul and hid in this cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Psalm 57:1-3

Psalm 142 was also written by David when he was in the cave.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. Psalm 142:1-4

Obviously, he was in the middle of an incredible period of difficulty and discouragement. But David was willing to wait on God. Will you? Will you trust God until you know what He will do for you? David was willing to wait in danger or in difficulty. He didn’t know what God was doing, but his faith made him believe that God was doing something and he was committed to wait on God.

All of us find ourselves in times of discouragement. Our lives seem to be on hold. Our destiny seems down the drain. We are stuck in a dark cave of despair. It is in one of those seasons that David chose to surrender his life, as well as the life of those he loved into the care of God.

My dad died just a few weeks after I encountered these verses. I look back and I see how God was caring for me and for my parents during those difficult days. I didn’t know what God was doing. However, I sensed God was doing something. God taught me that in those times, all we can do is wait on God, as David said, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

Photo by Anaya Katlego

The Prayer of the Sorrow Maker

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy.

What is the impact or your influence? Have you been a help or a hindrance, a blessing or a burden, a bringer of joy or a bringer of sorrow into the lives of others.

We find a man in the Bible who, for no fault of his own, was known by all who knew him as the sorrow maker. That was the label he carried all his life. That was his reputation in his family and among his friends. In fact, that was all his mother ever called him—a little sorrow maker.

Perhaps she said it lovingly, or perhaps there were other occasions when she said it in one of those hurtful tones only a mother can use in her anger. She called him Sorrow Maker.

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy. Whatever this mother meant when she poured out her frustration on this little boy and named him Sorrow Maker, it followed him through the rest of his life. It shaped his self-esteem, and a day came when it even shaped his conversation with God.

Sorrow Maker would have been his English name. His name in his native tongue was Jabez.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested. (I Chronicles 4:9-10 NASB)

She bore him with pain. His birth caused her grief, and she would never allow him to forget it. Sorrow Maker. That’s what the whole family called him—affectionately or not—in anger or not—it became the way he viewed himself for the rest of his life.

I remember my mom and dad would arguing when I was growing up. Somehow, I felt it was always my fault. I don’t know how I drew that conclusion, but I did.

It’s easy for a child to feel the burden of problems in the home. Little heart’s assume blame for the parent’s problems, the financial difficulties, as well as the friction in the parental relationship.

Children feel that keenly. So here was Jabez—little Sorrow Maker. Whatever he saw in the life of his family—whatever difficulty they endured during his early years—he may have sensed he was the one who had caused it all.

He was the Sorrow Maker.

If you have been the victim of verbal abuse, you know the devastating impact in can have on your personality. Those words are repeated over and over in your mind, even as you come to adulthood. The devil can take those words and project them as God’s own words about you when you fall or when you fail. Remember that name your mom or dad called you in anger? When it happened, you heard it as if they were saying, “That is what you are, and that is how I feel about you.” Now, you still hear that voice in your head and in your heart, because that is the way you feel about yourself.

We don’t know the specific circumstances in the life of Jabez. The only insight we have into his home life is this name his mother called him. But a closer look at his brothers suggests brokenness in their own lives. The little we know about them simply says that Jabez—the sorrow maker—was more honorable than his brothers.

The difficulties these children endured growing up sent them in different directions. Jabez grew up to turn to God. His brothers turned elsewhere. I believe it is against such a background that Jabez pours his heart out to God. Jabez—
the sorrow maker—wanted something better for his life and family.

Can God redeem the life and circumstances of a sorrow maker? Maybe that is not your name, but maybe it is true about you. Maybe things you said or did brought sorrow into the life of your family. Maybe you broke someone’s heart.

Will God hear the prayer of a sorrow maker? Will God help a person who has lived a hurtful life? Is it possible for God to love a sorrow maker? If it is possible for
a sorrow maker to pray, it is possible for God to hear and answer.

We assume Jabez’ self-esteem was damaged by this name his mother had given him. By calling out to God, he is praying he will not live up to this reputation that had followed him all the days of his life.

As he prayed, he sought the blessings chosen for him by God. Literally the verse reads, “that blessing, you would bless me.” In other words, “in the process of blessing others Lord, please include me. As you go on Your way to work good in the lives of others, please work good in my life.”

His problems from the past moved him to prayer. Hardship humbled his heart, bowed his head, and bent his knees before the Lord. While his brothers looked elsewhere for hope and help, Jabez, the sorrow maker, looked to God.

Where are you looking for help in your problems as sorrow reigns supreme in your life?

The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. He sows the seeds of sorrow into marriage relationships. He sows the seeds of sorrow into the hearts and lives of children— because that is what he wants them to know—sorrow and calamity. The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. But the Lord Jesus is the Sorrow Breaker, and He can break the cycle of sorrow in your home and in your life.

Jabez, the sorrow maker, simply sought the blessing of God—the Sorrow
Breaker. He wanted the touch of God upon his life. “Oh, that THOU would’st bless me indeed!” He was content to allow God to choose the blessings He sent. He trusted God’s wisdom, and he trusted God’s heart.

All of us have been sorrow makers to the heart of God through our sin and disobedience. As a result, we also brought sorrow to the hearts and lives of others. Maybe you’ve been a sorrow maker in your own home. Now, you can to ask God to reverse that. Ask Him to help you live a life pleasing to God. Ask God to open doors of opportunity where you might be an agent of blessing in the lives of those to whom you have brought sorrow. You should also consider asking God to help you forgive those who brought sorrow to you.

Jabez was not a sorrow maker. The family sorrow had been shifted upon him. It was a burden of responsibility he need never have carried. But still, Jabez,
the sorrow maker, asked God to make him a sorrow breaker in the life of his own family. What would that look like in your life?

Jabez asked for God’s hand to be upon his life. In so doing, he is asking for the presence of God, the blessing of God, the power of God, and the guidance of God to rest upon His life.

After graduating from college, I began to seek God’s guidance about attending seminary. I reluctantly prayed “God, if you want me to go to seminary, have someone I respect greatly come and lay his hand on me and tell me I should
go.” One night as I sat with my family at a restaurant, my Jr. High football coach, Robert Pepper, came and stood behind me. He laid his hand on my shoulder and simply said, “Isn’t it about time you went to seminary?” I know that was from the Lord. His hand was the Lord’s hand on my life.

God’s hand of affirmation gives you comfort. It gives you courage. It gives you direction. The sorrow maker needed the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to give direction to his life.

Isn’t that what you need? You need the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to wipe away the pain of the past, the tears of today, and give you hope for the future. Lord, bless me according to Your desire. Open doors of opportunity for me to live apart from the sorrow that has shaped my life. Place Your hand upon me. Lead me, and guide me!

There are two ways to read the last part of verse 10. In the NASB Jabez prays that he will not know the pain of the past. “That it may not pain me.” But in the HCSB it reads, “That I may not cause pain.”

The sorrow maker no longer wanted pain in his life. He was ready for the painful days to be past. But neither did to be a source of pain in the lives of others. He asked for deliverance. And who did He ask? The sorrow maker turned to the Sorrow Breaker. And what happened? God granted him what he requested. God answered His prayer!

Is there hurt in your life? Have you been the source of hurt in the life of someone else? Who can fix the pain of the sorrow maker? Only the Sorrow Breaker. He understands our sorrow. In fact, he carried it. Consider the description of the Sorrow Breaker from the New Living Translation of Isaiah 53:3-6

He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment

for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:3-6 NLT

Would you, the sorrow maker, consider allowing the Lord Jesus to be your Sorrow Breaker?

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg

Where Can I Carry My Shame?

Shame is something we all carry. Because we do, it impacts our lives. It impacts our self-esteem. It impacts our relationships with others. It limits our relationship with God.

David’s son Amnon was attracted to his half-sister, Tamar. He and a friend came up with a scheme for how he could be alone with her. In that vulnerable moment an awful thing happened.

He took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.”  She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.  As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.”  But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.  Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”  But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.  He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”  Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.  And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. 2 Samuel 13:11-19 (NASB)

One haunting question shadowed her steps. Where can I carry my shame?

Shame can come as a result of something done to us—as it did for Tamar. Or it can come as a result of something we did that dishonored God and caused us to dishonor ourselves.

Where can I carry shame? Is that a question that troubles you? Shame occurs when something happens that causes us to be dishonored in our own eyes. It causes us to think less of ourselves—and whether it is known or unknown—we believe it would cause others to think less of us.

Where can I carry my shame? Shame is something we all carry. Because we do, it impacts our lives. It impacts our self-esteem. It impacts our relationships with others. It limits our relationship with God. We hold ourselves at a distance because of shame.

Tamar was a princess. Once she was violated, she felt she could never be that again. She lost so much because of what was done to her. It could never be recovered. Her purity was gone. Her position was gone. Her hope was gone.

Do you find yourself in a similar position? Is it because of something you did that dishonored God and dishonored your own soul? Or is it because of something done to you? You still carry the shame of that moment. Where can you carry your shame?

The Hebrew word here translated shame means to be despised. Of course, shame causes us to despise ourselves and sense that we are despised in the eyes of others—including in the eyes of God. We know we have done things to dishonor Him. Tamar knew such an act would not only bring dishonor to her—it would bring dishonor to her father Sin is an insult to God. It is also an insult to our own soul. What was done to Tamar was a reproach to God that brought shame to her own soul.

Perhaps you wear a robe of shame today. Don’t you wish you had an answer to the question of Tamar? Where can I carry my shame?

There was no answer to Tamar’s question. In the Old Testament world of Tamar’s day, there was no remedy. She could never regain what she lost. I suppose Tamar carried her shame to her grave. But you don’t have to!

There is an interesting verse in Psalms. Paul tells us in Romans 15 that this verse is a direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. John also relates it as a direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9

The word reproach, in each occasion of its use, is the exact word used in 2 Samuel 13:13 for the word shame. God planned a way to deal with Tamar’s shame, my shame and your shame before it ever happened. All of us carry the shame of something we did that dishonored God and caused us to be dishonored in your own eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others. Where can I carry my shame?

Allow me to replace the word reproach in Psalm 69 with the word shame. For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the shame of those who shamed You have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9

Where can I carry my shame? Where can you carry yours? Dear brother, dear sister, the Lord Jesus carried your shame on the cross. The dishonor you brought to yourself, and the dishonor you brought to God-all your shame and sin was laid upon Him. Jesus Christ bore your shame on that cross. He saw that hurtful thing long before it happened, and through the suffering and shame of the cross, He took your sin and shame.

David, struggling with guilt and shame in his own life, wrote these words. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

Where can you carry your shame? Go to the cross. By faith, turn your eyes upon Jesus. God laid all your sin and shame on Jesus, and He nailed it to His cross. Carry your shame to the cross of Jesus and there find release from the shame and guilt of whatever you might have done–or even the shame you carry for something that was done to you!

Photo by Ashton Bingham