The Bible has relevance for every reader, on every page. But this reader struggles with some books. This reader loves Isaiah and Jeremiah, Job, John, Romans and Hebrews, and grits her teeth through certain other books. Wonderfully inspired and instructive, but I struggle to read and understand them. That will change, I know. And I’m going to say something now which may make you wiser and saner people suck your breath in disbelief…. the book of Psalms has always been a bit of an ‘also ran’ to me.
But this last week, going through a slight upheaval of the soul (like you do), and wanting a contrast with Hebrews which requires a whole lot of brain power, I sat on a damp rock and decided to give Psalms another go as my beach read. As a sort of light relief (don’t judge). After quite a few days I found Psalm 119 and I discovered that if I get carried away with wonder and amazement then David did too, but much more so. Much much more so. My prayers are banal and hollow, superficial and cursory next to his. David, my man! David, who turned to God in true dependance and desperation and trust, David, mate, you’re great. Please can I pray with you?
Psalm 119 is a sort of defiant prayer, a declaration and a great huge paean of praise. Wowzer, this guy knows the heart of God and reaches up the the heavens in humility and joy. And triumph.
Then, the next day, I read Psalm 120. Which starts “I call on the Lord in my distress”.
Distress? Where’s the defiant joy and strength I’ve just read about?
True, the line concludes “and he answers me” but still… he’s in distress, this geezer who was bestriding the world with God in his heart just yesterday? And in the next Psalm, although he’s trusting God, he’s still in trouble… and then I vaguely remembered hearing about David’s sin with Bathsheba (my knowledge of the Old Testament is patchy, as you’ll have gathered) so I started to read that chunk…
I really love David. He’s a mess. Just like me. But he loves God, just like me. And God loves him, just like he loves me. It’s a lesson to me, when my soul is stumbling over hurdles, don’t give up because David was crashing through a whole Marines assault course, struggling up the net, falling off the sleepers, splashing through mud, hurdling barbed wire, frequently falling flat on his face (murder and adultery for starters) and still he could turn to God in repentance and submission. And – here’s the thing – he could still praise and worship and delight in God. So, however low you get Luce (and you really do scrape the bottom of the ocean sometimes) don’t give up. You’re never so lost that God can’t find you. What am I saying? God never loses you at all. You may lose Him, but that can be fixed.
After our service today a friend came to me with a concern in her soul, and one of the things we talked about was Isaiah 43:19 which I love, because it’s immediate and personal, and it’s conversational, it’s real-life, real-time, easy to understand dialogue. It’s God saying “Oy! Wake up! Listen on.”
“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
I love it because it’s a command we can obey instantly. See the new thing he’s doing. Our transformation, our new hearts. Think on, Luce. Selah. Don’t give up just because you landed in the manure again.
And while I’m wittering on, I may as well tell you what God has done for me today.;
I sometimes wake up with a sense of dread and fear. Fear of the present and dread of what might be racing towards me, like a clenched fist or a hand at the throat, or… other stuff. I don’t need sympathy or pity or comfort about this – it’s just how it is, a remnant from growing up, and intellectually I know there’s no sense to it. Maybe it’s the thorn in my side. In my old bad times it was frequent and could last for days on end, but now, with an awareness of God’s presence, it’s less frequent and lasts usually only a few hours. This morning, after the usual dream, I woke in that dense dread. The last thing I wanted to do with my morning was to spend it with a hundred others in a school hall, singing and chatting and being ‘fellowshippy’.
Anything but that.
But church has become a magnet to me. Even when I don’t want to go, I long to go. Even when I fear meeting eyes, I need to look them out. Even when the last thing I want is a friend’s hug, what I long for is human contact. Even when I don’t want to hear another single thing about God, I’m desperate to hear and discover even more. And I know, although my emotions deny it, that during the hour I spend in Church, the heart rate will quieten, and all the physical symptoms will fade. It’s very hard to get out of the car, walk into that building, find a seat. The sound is muffled and yet relentless, like the pulse in my ears, my senses are crowded, I just want to go. Anywhere. I long to pray with someone but fear stultifies my mind and paralyses my voice so I can’t ask. People come up and smile and chat and I’m so glad to see them, and I ape the responses and for those few seconds it seems that it’s going… but it’s a circular thing, fear. Imagination and anticipation cause physical symptoms and then, as the imagination is brought under control the physical symptoms take over and vroooom – we’re off again! Someone stands close, or comes into peripheral vision and skin prickles, hands grow cold, breath shallows, waiting for the shock.
If you have never been afraid, it’s probably nutty to you.
This particular round of fear started a couple of weeks ago when I was sent something to read – it was not well written but it was well meaning enough (death to drama). It was about a very hard subject and even as I tried to be objective and give notes, I found it was triggering the old flight response. I suppose I’ve been holding that reaction at bay ever since and it broke through into my sleep last night.
BUT HERE’S THE THING:
When Christ was praying in Gethsemane, anticipating the crucifixion ordeal about to come, He knew absolute terror. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:24. I reckon that’s pure fear. The God of pure love and pure righteousness, pure power, pure omniscience, living through pure fear. For me. For me and for you. The process by which sweat is mixed with blood is known as ‘hematridosis’ and it occurs when terror is so great that the capillaries just under the skin burst, and the blood is secreted through the sweat pores.
So, when Jesus faced the pain and shame, and the torture of crucifixion, His poor human body broke down. And yet, and yet, and yet He said “Not my will, but yours be done.” and then He walked to meet the soldiers who came, armed to the teeth, to arrest Him.
That’s what I call submission. For me. Courage, for me. Trust in the Father’s will, for me.
Fast forward 2000 years or so ; I drove into the car park this morning, really wanting to celebrate freedom from fear, thinking about Jesus, and as I battled with ideas and images and all that crap, I heard Him, clear as day, saying “Just do it. Just do it. I’m here”.
So I did.
Because He enabled me. The God who conquered fear is with me, even in the darkest hour. Even when I’m afraid, I know that He has already brought me through it.
Did it all go as if Fairy Tinkerbelle had waved her magic wand? Nope. Walking in is horrible. The first half hour was hellish. The children’s story was a babble of sound. Movement around me was a threat. When I’m afraid I sing flat (funny, eh?). Bonkers. I am a bonkers person, yes, undeniably, but I love learning and good teaching draws me in, so that I forget everything else. Just a pair of ears, that’s me. For a short time every week, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, I am just a pair of ears. So, the teaching took over, and pushed the panic away. Phew.
Afterwards I sat on a bench with a friend and we ate cinnamon buns (you don’t get them at my old RC church!) and the sun was out and people were dead cheeky and all was good.
If ever you wonder what difference God would make to your life, or even if you ever doubt His reality and His relevance, come and talk to me. Let me tell you about my life without Him, and my life now.
And if you want to smile, go to youtube and bung in ‘Bob Newhart, Stop it’. There are some long versions but there’s one two minute edit of the scene… fabulous. “STOP IT” A good friend reminded me about this little sketch (was he trying to tell me something? A subtle hint, perchance?) and now I think of it often….”Stop it.”
I think that’s what God was saying when I parked the car and looked at the building and quaked in my boots and He whispered “Just do it.”