Every year I have a season where I rediscover a basic Christian discipline. Usually it’s prayer; I recognize that my prayer times have flagged, that I’m getting a bit more anxious or angry quicker than I should, etc. Recently it was the discipline of regular reading of the Bible. The Bible is a story about a Man, Jesus. It tells me that He has done something His Father asked Him to do and it involves me. It is a wonderful story full of intrigue, unexpected plot twists, death and even resurrection. The story ends well for Him and, therefore, it ends well for me. Why wouldn’t I want to read and re-read a story that ended well for me?!
Nonetheless, in my reading I’ve been making my way through the songbook of the Bible, the Psalms. Today it is Psalm 34. I was dumbfounded (literally, stopped cold in my reading) by the writer’s use of the word “all.”
I sought the LORD and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears (34:4)
This poor man cried and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles (34:6)
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles (34:17)
All my fears…all his troubles…all their troubles. There’s one more use of it in the Psalm that I’ll save for the end but these are astounding assertions. In fact, the same writer says:
Oh, taste and see that LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
I guess so! That man who takes refuge in the Lord will have all of his fear and troubles taken away. Of course, if you’re still reading (as I’m still thinking) you might want to jump to the many examples of where you cried out to Him and your situation did not change. Life brings with it the temptation to call God a liar, doesn’t it? We might not say that out loud, but like Abraham’s wife, Sarah, we laugh at the thought of God doing what He says He’d do. Life also brings with it an opportunity to “dumb down” the ALL-ness of statements like these in the Psalms.
But, both are true: the ALL-ness of these promises God makes in the Bible and the difficulties in our lives that seem intractable. Unfortunately, many among us (me, included) will be tempted to tilt toward the half-empty viewpoint and dismiss the largeness of the promises of God and His power with it. And so we either don’t read the Bible (because it reminds us of things that don’t make sense) or we read it and we dumb down the things it says. What do we do?
Keep reading the Psalm:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the LORD delivers him out of them all (34:19)
The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (34:22)
And so the song ends. The scope of God’s gaze concerning our lives extends far beyond what we can see and what we can imagine. The Bible never shirks away from the facts of pain and suffering; neither did this Psalm that so lavishly spoke of the promises of God. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him and he is not condemned. My regular issue is that the scope of the gaze of my life is that I not experience any of the difficulty that I regularly do. I define a blessed life in terms of the absence of bad things. God defines a blessed life by the presence of intimate relationship with Him (remember 34:8?). A definition like that is big enough to include bad things and good things; mine is not.
The burden of the righteous is to work hard to make sense out of the difficulties that come their way AND the lavish promises of God. It is not easy to see how they work together. But, it really is like gardening: breaking up clods, pulling roots and weeds, spraying against disease, watering, etc. eventually yields produce which brings contentment. Sweat on the front end, sweetness in the end. I am reminded today to remember that I should work harder to see the ways that the Lord has, in fact, heard my prayers and answered them. And, to dwell on the greatest answer of all: that He has said because of Jesus Christ, I am not condemned by my sins (as I should be) and am His son and part of His family. This is a great story!