How much longer will you hide yourself from me?
How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me. Restore my strength. Don’t let me die.
I rely on your constant love; I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord, because you have been good to me. Psalm 13: 1-3; 5-6
Sometimes it feels like the pain will never end. I’ve felt that way more than once: when loved ones were seriously ill; when my first marriage was ending; when a car accident left me bed-ridden for months. The pain was real and seemed endless, but I’ve been brought through ever nightmare I’ve ever experienced. Apparently God did restore my strength.
Although it might sound discouraging at first, this is a psalm of hope. The psalmist complained, but did not despair. Even in the midst of intense, long-standing pain, the he didn’t give up talking to God. He didn’t decide there is no God. The psalmist trusted God enough be honest. He trusted God’s love more than his own feelings. He affirmed that trust and made a commitment to sing to God…why? Because God had been good to him.
We don’t have to be pushed around by our feelings. It’s an amazing exercise to count our blessings when it seems like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Focusing on the good we’ve enjoyed in the past and searching for good in the midst of our problems (without denying those problems) bolsters faith. When our feelings, circumstances, or tunnel vision try to convince us there’s no reason for hope, pro-actively calling God’s goodness to mind does our hearts good. Putting evidence of God’s activity in our lives down in black and white has make a world of difference to me when things looked bleak.
How about you?
- When have you felt abandoned by God? What happened?
- When you feel bad, does it seem like good times will never come again? When you feel good, does it feel like bad times will never come again?
- Feelings come and go. How can that help you keep perspective in rocky times?
- When have you gotten through a challenge? Did you realize it as answered prayer at the time?
- How has God been good to you? Can you sing to him about it, or at least say thank-you?
What do we have to get rid of in order to stand against our enemies…especially the enemies within ourselves? It can be threatening to think we are responsible—at least partially—for the problems in our lives. The good news is if we are part of the problem we have a chance to do something about it.
So, what are we hanging on to that keeps us from conquering the self-defeating behaviors that hurt us and those we love? When we’re willing to take an honest look at how we contribute to our pain it becomes possible to change that part of the equation. Do we rely on substances like alcohol or nicotine? Or compulsive behaviors like recreational shopping? They seem to relieve tension but can cause more problems and tension in the long run. Is another person causing us misery? Are we clinging to an unhealthy relationship out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or fear of being alone?
Once we look at how we contribute to the problem, we can see which behaviors might have to go. That doesn’t mean we’ll be willing to let them go. Even unhealthy patterns can feel comfortable. After all, we must get something out of them or we wouldn’t hang on to them. But when we take an honest look, can we see that the benefits are no longer worth the price we pay in self-respect, damaged relationships, or physical and emotional health?
Maybe one of the things we have to get rid of is the false pride that tells us we should be able to kick these enemies all by ourselves. If we can’t see our part, or we see it and don’t know how to let go, we can seek help. I have to believe that if we ask, God will provide us with the guidance and willingness we need to get rid of anything that is harmful to us or our loved ones.
It’s scary to let go of even a false sense of relief if we have nothing to replace it with. That’s where asking for assistance can help us see alternatives we may never have thought of on our own. With God’s grace we can find the guidance and support we need and the courage to let go of self-defeating behaviors. We can face our enemies unafraid with an arsenal of healthy coping skills and an army of support.
Prayer: Lord, help me let go of self-destructive tendencies.
Reflection: What do you need to let go of to stand against the enemy you’re facing today?
All of them lie to one another; they deceive each other with flattery.
“But now I will come,” says the Lord, “because the needy are oppressed and the persecuted groan in pain. I will give them the security they long for.”
The promises of the Lord can be trusted; they are as genuine as silver refined seven times in the furnace.
The wicked are everywhere, and everyone praises what is evil.
Keep us always safe, O Lord, and preserve us from such people. Psalm 12: 1-2; 5-8
Wickedness everywhere. Evil praised as good. Insincerity. Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? From red carpet treatment and celebrity air kisses to political correctness beyond the bounds of reason, flattery and euphemisms for selfish behavior abound. But this is nothing new. If we believe the psalmist, human nature hasn’t changed all that much in the last few thousand years.
But there is hope. God promised to come and help those who are in pain. And he did. Hebrew slaves were freed and led to the Promised Land. Ancient Rome persecuted Christians and yet their faith survived and spread. People continue to abuse their power and make selfish choices that hurt others. There is much evil and pain in the world. God is still at work to give people the security they long for. Not necessarily freedom from struggle, but the reassurance that they are not alone. God’s promises can be trusted. Where there is love, God is working through people reaching out to help those who suffer or simply to let them know they are not alone.
I can also identify with the psalmist’s words on a more personal level. I’ve done my share of flattering others–especially when I was younger, to get someone to like me or to avoid conflict. If I haven’t actually praised evil, there have been times when I’ve kept my mouth shut rather than take a stand. On the other hand, I’ve also been in pain and felt oppressed by health challenges, abusive relationships, and more. The security I longed for didn’t always come because the problem disappeared. Sometimes it came in the form of friends who let me know I wasn’t alone, even though they couldn’t take away my pain. Sometimes it came as a dose of strength that kept me going for one more day—or hour. This has increased my trust in God. This helps me believe that no matter what I’m going through, I will come out the other side, and at the very least my experience can help someone else.
How about you?
- Human nature apparently hasn’t changed that much over the centuries. Is that discouraging, comforting, or both?
- When have you felt oppressed or in pain? How did you come through it? Has any good come out of the experience?
- What evidence do you have that the God’s promises can be trusted?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever passage speaks to you today.
Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.
Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.
Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.
Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.
Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?
Lot’s hometown was about to be destroyed. When God’s messengers urged him to flee, Lot hesitated. Why would he hesitate to act in his best interest? If he’s anything like me, maybe fear held him back. Venturing into the unknown is scary. But God took pity on Lot and his family. They were taken by the hand and directed to where they needed to go.
God has led my be the hand for my own good more than once—even when the stakes weren’t utter destruction. Some time ago, I lived alone in an apartment. Year after year, I regretted that 20 years down the road I’d have nothing but a pile of rent receipts to show for all those monthly payments. All those monthly payments could be going toward a mortgage on a home of my own. I had a steady job. It was the wise move to make. Why hesitate? Fear trumped reason. I’d never made a major purchase all by myself and I was afraid of who knows what?
But God took pity on me and led me step by step. A citizen action group had a presentation on home-buying. No obligation. There’d be no harm in sitting in an audience and listening. I attended and liked what I heard. I researched the group and found they were legitimate, so I contacted their local office. There’d be no harm in getting information one on one about my individual circumstances. The woman I spoke with was knowledgeable, reassuring, and careful to explain everything patiently. I learned that, as a first-time home buyer, they could help me get a reduced interest rate. They then guided me step by step through the application process.
I still had to find the place I wanted. A friend I met at a church group happened to be a real estate agent. She helped me find the place that was just right for me. I was guided to the right handyman to make a few minor repairs. Step by step I was led to buy and move into a home that was perfect for me at the time.
God has led my by the hand in my spiritual journey, too. It has not been a straight path. There have been plenty of detours and plenty of times I stalled out on the journey, but God guided me back to the church of my youth, one step at a time.
God patiently waits for us. He’s always ready to guide us one step at a time. All we have to do to get where we need to be is take that first step and follow.
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection: In what area are you hesitating? With God’s help, are you willing to take just the first step in a new direction?
I trust in the Lord for safety. How foolish of you to say to me, “Fly away like a bird to the mountains, because the wicked have drawn their bows and aimed their arrows…There is nothing a good person can do when everything falls apart.”
The Lord is in his holy temple; he has his throne in heaven. He watches people everywhere and knows what they are doing.
Psalm 11: 1-4
It doesn’t take bows and arrows aimed at me to make me want to run away. When it comes to fight or flight, my default instinct is flight. Although there are times when avoiding a confrontation is the wise choice, at other times we need to stand our ground. Even minor challenges can seem intimidating. Years ago, I was subpoenaed to testify in court on a work-related matter. I freaked out. I don’t know why I felt so threatened. I wasn’t even the defendant; I was only taking the witness stand. I wished I didn’t feel afraid, but the truth is, I did. I would have loved to run away but quitting my job was not an option. Besides, it wouldn’t have relieved me of the obligation to appear in court.
Still a beginner in my spiritual journey at the time, I shared my fear with my spiritual mentor. She always encouraged me to give my feelings to God, so I did. What came back was the thought that being in the witness stand was no different than being anywhere else in God’s world. All I had to do was tell the truth. Thinking of God watching me and doing what he wanted me do gave me courage. Even if I tripped on my words or made a mistake in that witness stand, God would know I was being sincere. That’s what mattered. Needless to say, when the time came I answered the lawyers’ questions and…that was it. Very simple, not the ordeal my imagination had created.
There are times we’d all like to fly away but some challenges in life, both big and small, are unavoidable. I find it makes a difference going through them with God’s watchful eye guiding me.
How about you?
- How do you know if you trust the Lord?
- When is it easy to trust the Lord? When is it challenging?
- Fight or flight: which are you more comfortable with?
- What are some ways to grow in trusting God?
- When everything falls apart, is there anything a good person can do? What?
- How might imagining a loving God watching you and others affect your choices?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speaks to you today.
Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong. Mark 3:5
Jesus had mixed feelings about the religious leaders who couldn’t see beyond the letter of the law. They wanted to condemn Jesus for breaking the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. What could be more holy than reaching out with compassion to relieve someone else’s suffering? No wonder he felt angry.
He also felt sorry for them. Why? Because they were stubborn and wrong. I can’t claim to know what Jesus was thinking, but I suspect it had more to do with their being stubborn than wrong. When we’re wrong, we can always change our minds once we’re corrected. But when we’re stubborn, the right information won’t help. We refuse to see the truth even if it’s right under our eyes. Stubbornness truly deserves pity. There is no hope of growth or change when our minds are already made up. We dig in our heels and refuse to budge.
What’s so hard about being open to another point of view? What’s the harm in looking at things in a new way? We have nothing to lose. If the new idea isn’t correct we can retain original position. But if we obstinately cling to what we think we know—without even considering other options—we’re stuck with no hope of growth. No wonder Jesus pitied them.
I’ve been stubborn more than once in my life, often for no better reason than, “I’ve been doing it this way for years, why change?” I said it in the 1970’s when our office computerized operations we used to do by hand. Luckily, my inflexibility gave way to the desire to keep my job. What if I had refused to consider the new procedure? I wouldn’t be writing this blog, for one thing. I would have shut the door on learning the skills that have become a way of life our culture today.
Stubbornness can stunt our spiritual life with even more impact. The Holy Spirt is dynamic. God’s truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it and the way we live it grows as we grow. The religious leaders weren’t wrong in wanting to honor the Sabbath, but they were wrong clinging to their narrow interpretation of what that meant. May God grace us with open-mindedness as he deepens our understanding of his truth.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the humility to be teachable.
Reflection: What ideas are you clinging to that might be worth a second look? How can open-mindedness help you grow spiritually?
Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they think that God doesn’t matter.
The helpless victims lie crushed; brute strength has defeated them. The wicked say to themselves, “God doesn’t care! He has closed his eyes and will never see me!”
But you do see; you take notice of trouble and suffering and are always ready to help. The helpless commit themselves to you; you have always helped the needy.
You will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage.
Psalm 10: 1-2; 10-11; 14
Why are you so far away, O Lord? I’ve been in trouble and felt like God was far away many times. Once, when I was living alone, I felt scared and demoralized because medical problems prevented me from taking care of myself. No matter how much I wanted to feel close to God, I felt cut off from him and overwhelmed with despair. Days later, seemingly out of nowhere, he spoke to my heart: It doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings do not determine if I am present or not. I am bigger than your feelings. They aren’t powerful enough to push me away. What a relief! I’d been trusting my volatile emotions to gauge my closeness to God, but feelings come and go. Shifting emotions are not an accurate reflection of our relationship with God. Just because I can’t see or feel God’s presence in a given situation, doesn’t mean he is not there. After all, the sun is still in the sky, even if a cloud temporarily keeps me from seeing it or feeling its warmth.
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they thing that God doesn’t matter…but you do see…you will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage. It adds insult to injury when those driven by greed, arrogance, or self-indulgence seem to “get ahead” in life. People who take advantage of the weak don’t always seem to get its comeuppance. When that happens it’s easy to question God’s justice. Apparently that was just as true in biblical times as it is today. But the psalmist tells us God not only sees, but is always ready to help the helpless and needy. So why are there still hurting people in the world? Why did God give us free will and leave us free to choose good or evil? Although I can’t answer that I believe, as the psalmist affirms, that God does listen to the prayers of the lowly. He will give them courage. It doesn’t say he will take away their pain this side of heaven, although the bible tells us elsewhere that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Isaiah 25:8) and there will be no more grief, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
God’s promises can be trusted. Why we have to wait only he knows but it’s safe to believe that he has a reason. Maybe that’s why he gives us courage when we’re lowly, so we can walk through the challenges this life has for us, trusting that God can bring good out of anything. If he can bring good out of the cross, he can bring good out of whatever we’re facing. I think it’s safe to trust Him, even if I don’t always feel like it.
How about you?
- When has God seemed far away from you? How did you get through those times?
- What are your thoughts when the ruthless seem to get away with something?
- What criteria do you think the wicked use to determine success?
- What criteria do you use to determine success?
- What do you think success looks like to God?
- If God sees us suffering, why do you think he allows suffering to continue?
- Why do you think the helpless are more likely to commit themselves to God?
- As an answer to prayer, how can courage benefit someone in need?
We have courage in God’s presence, because we are sure that he hears us if we ask him for anything that is according to his will. 1 John 5: 14
We pray for lots of things. It’s right to bring our needs and desires to God. After all, he knows what’s in our minds and hearts before we ask, so we may as well be honest. But asking for things in accordance with his will is trickier.
When my mother was seriously ill I prayed for her healing because that’s what I hoped for. As I prayed, I questioned whether she’d be healed. James warned that if we doubt and are tossed about like a wave blown by the wind when we pray we shouldn’t think that we’ll receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-8) Praying for Mom’s healing wasn’t a prayer I could make without doubting. I began praying that God’s will be done and that he hold her close to him. I was certain that was God’s will. I felt consoled as I pictured the Good Shepherd tenderly leading Mom home. Shortly before her passing she smiled and said to me, “Oh, Barbara, it’s all One and it’s beautiful.” I don’t know what she saw, but I know my prayers were heard and answered.
Honest prayer about what we want and for God’s will to be done can coexist. After all, if we can’t be honest with God, who can we be honest with? Sometimes my honest prayers look like this: “God, I don’t know if this is your will or not. I pray your will be done, but I know that you know what I really want is for this situation to turn out in this certain way. I recognize your power of veto. Help me accept your will.”
I never doubt that God is hearing and answering when I remember C.S. Lewis said God answers prayer in four ways:
- No, I love you too much.
- No, not yet.
- Yes, and here’s more.
- I thought you’d never ask
I think this matter of removing all doubt is clearest when I pray for God to change me. Usually, the first petitions that come to mind are for God to make a situation go a certain way, have a certain person brought through a challenge, a conflict resolved, etc. But I’m never sure if that is God’s will. But every time I have asked God to change me in whatever way I need changing and for openness to act on those changes, I have truly believed I have been heard. Those prayers have been answered. I started praying for patience, and was told patience can be acquired by letting go of self-will. When I started praying for God to help me let go of self-will, I could almost hear God saying, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Prayer: Lord, your will be done today.
Reflection: How confident are you of God’s response to your requests?
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done.
I will sing with joy because of you. I will sing praise to you, Almighty God.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you.
Psalm 9: 1-3; 9-10
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done. David rejoiced because God protected him from his enemies. His victory over Goliath and foreign armies were renowned, but during his lifetime David also battled enemies closer to home: Saul, his king, and even David’s son Absalom turned against him. David knew it was God’s strength, not his own, that got him through, and gratitude filled him with joy.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die. Our opponents may be outside of us. We may also battle enemies within ourselves: destructive habits or character flaws that damage our relationships and peace of mind. These forces might be bigger than we are, but they are not bigger than God. When we surrender our problems to God, seek and act on the guidance we receive, and accept the support of those he puts in our path, our enemies can be turned back. Bad habits wither as we stop acting on them. The sharp words of those trying to hurt us can fall on deaf ears. We can learn to stop reacting to provocation or to side-step meaningless arguments. In light of God’s love for us, we can stop taking hurtful criticism personally as we consider the source. Enemies can lose their power–not because they change but because we change, by God’s grace.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble. The Lord truly is a refuge; his loving arms are always open, so we never have to face anything alone. He loves us as we are, warts and all…but he loves us too much to leave us that way. Nothing we have done could make him reject us, if we turn to him. Bathed in his love, the enemies—willfulness, greed, hatred and the like—will die. That doesn’t mean the trouble will magically disappear, but that God welcomes us, no matter what. Safety doesn’t always mean problems go away. Sometimes it means God’s Spirit empowers us to cope with the problems and endure. We grow as we walk through the problems and come out the other side.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. It isn’t always easy to trust God. It’s scary to let go of control; we don’t know how things will turn out. The truth is, we’re not in control anyway. What we often have is the illusion of control. God, the almighty Creator of the universe, is in control. And it is safe to trust him. If we don’t trust him, maybe it’s because we don’t know him well enough. As we come to know him better, trust can grow. Maybe we fear things won’t turn out our way. Maybe they won’t, but do we really know better than God? As we come to know God as all wise, all loving, and all powerful, we can trust that things will turn out well—even if things don’t turn out our way. Maybe we fear a punishing God. Knowing him better will reassure us of his forgiveness. As we experience his presence and love in our lives or listen to those who know him better, we can be reassured. After all, Jesus forgave those who crucified him. What more reassurance could we want?
How about you?
- What wonderful things has God done in your life?
- Can you thank God for the things that bring you joy?
- Who or what are your enemies?
- How has God guided or helped you in facing trouble in the past?
- What actions might God be prompting you to take in coping with current conflicts?
- When has God been your refuge?
- How would growing closer to God help you trust him more?