March 1: Despair & Joy

Psalm 22 is best known for being the psalm that Jesus quotes on the Cross, as He says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; it is known for being the psalm that describes Jesus’ experience on the Cross centuries before it happened, all the way down to His clothes being divided up among His persecutors.  Though David wrote the psalm as an expression of his troubles at that time in his life, it also expresses the human condition we all experience in the midst of oppression and hard times.  This psalm epitomizes the desperation of the persecuted and at the same time the trust that comes from one who fully trusts in God.

You see, both David and Jesus are able to cry victory while surrounded by their enemies.  They are able to have joy in the midst of despair because that is what it means to rely upon God for every need.  The assurance that comes from a loving and engaged relationship with God is what carries us through both good and bad times.  We can praise God on the verge of impending doom, in fierce storms, in moments of the lowest depression and we can stand firm.  

As David will say later in Psalm 40, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. (Psalm 40:1-5 NIV)  

Our Lenten journey toward Easter is meant to teach us and remind us that no matter our circumstances, no matter how bad things are, no matter the desperation we feel, there IS a firm place to stand, a lift out of the mud, a way out of the woods; God will support us, lift us up, guide us through and so during Lent we draw close to Him.  We gauge ourselves during these Lenten days and we ask, “Where am I with God?  How is my relationship with God?  Am I pleasing God?  Am I caring for His people?  Do I have the peace that He promises?  Can I find His promises in the scriptures?  Do I see God at work in my life, in my family, in the world around me?  Am I really paying attention or does that need to become my highest priority?  And so on.

I challenge you to read the entire psalm, because if we’ll come to terms with the reality that it gives us, we’ll see that it is good to voice our frustration, to name our problems, and to identify them for what they are.  Then, as we accept our troubles as real and worthy of attention, we can hand them over to God and exclaim as David does, “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (v.24).

I want you to praise God the way David does, I want you to have peace and strength and joy.  But you have to do something first.  You have to cry out to God.  You have to call upon His name and either engage or re-engage in the love affair we call “faith.”  This flat attitude of nothing-is-wrong-and-nothing-is-right is the kind of spiritual laziness that will move from voluntary to involuntary habit.  The early Church called it listlessness—a state of being where we are no longer motivated but rather are trapped in the doldrums of a half-faith.  This is a troubled and dangerous state.

And so, I exclaim with St. Paul, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV)  Develop a life of praise today.  Grow in your relationship with God.  Let prayer be the sun, scripture be the rain, and your daily life the great care we take in weeding and watch the garden of faith.  Amen.

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