Where Sin Abounds, Grace Abounds Much More..

 

 

Over fifteen years have passed but the memory is vivid and unpleasant. While one was a complete stranger, the other was a trusted relative. The latter lasted a while.

“Why can’t I talk about it?” is a question I have battled with. If you are like me, putting one’s internal debates in writing draws one towards a more satisfactory if not the best conclusion.

I belong to one of the North-Eastern, fairly conservative Christian communities, and talking about sexual abuse is a little too graphic for us to absorb. Despite all our flaws, we are raised to be loyal, helpful, loving, forgiving and respectful towards every other member of the community; especially our elders, come what may. “We are to live and breathe with people”, Mum would often remind us and she does well at it too. Hence, trust and strong interdependence goes without saying. I cherish such values ingrained in our veins. No doubt, it reflects Christ’s plan for community, but I wonder how conscious we are of that! Is our validation found in pleasing the community more than Jesus?

Generally, we do not really know how to react or respond to matters regarding this issue, and I think the fear of this stops anyone from opening up at all. Playing the victim card, awkward empathy and attention make everybody uncomfortable. We are conditioned to prioritise convenience over necessity, and my filial loyalty did not want me to draw attention to both me and the offender.

We are also very comfortable at being on the listening end. We are not used to engaging in a critical dialogue involving experience and knowledge – scripture or otherwise. There is a tendency for us to leave such issues for either our pastors, leaders or those on the higher end of the social ladder, to deal with.

As a believer, there was also a deep conviction that my stand was more typical of the world and less Christ-like and lacking in grace. I was convinced that talking about the reality of molestation and encouraging victims of other kinds of sexual abuse meant that my reasoning, understanding and reactions must crucially be a manifestation of the Gospel. In other words, I feared misrepresenting my faith.

So, I let it go.

Interestingly in the past year, the Bible studies I was part of discussed in depth the recognition of sin. It is essentially a disruption of the created order: God – man – rest of creation, sin being anything that replaced God (..” because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator”.. -Romans 1:25). Sin is not categorical. It is both the action and the attitude.

It became evident that my reasons, as valid as they seemed, were essentially against the created order. They were still self/ human-centred than gospel-centred, steeped in fear, pessimism and an unwillingness to step out of my comfort zone. I moved on with an idea of forgiveness that was based on reasons other than the gospel, which is not really forgiveness at all. Whilst culture is also a gift, we need wisdom to see that our engagement with this gift does not precede our identity in Christ.

The Gospel First

It is easy to forget that we are all sinners in need of Jesus our Saviour. But it is indeed the truth, and if it does not shake us deeply and clearly, we evidently need to go back to the gospel again.  

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

God knows our fallen nature wholly and completely, yet he loves us and offers grace and forgiveness. All the categories and judgments that we are driven to make about people then disappear in the light of the cross – the faultless Son of God bore our sin and shame – the condemnation we deserve and suffered and died in our place. An atoning sacrifice. Not only does He free us of our burdens but He also makes us righteous. To forgive, then, is a necessity, a command (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” -Ephesians 4:32).

We live holy lives out of gratitude…One of the greatest proofs of gratitude is that we forgive others as we have been forgiven”  R.T Kendall.

Amidst such scarring experiences, when we struggle to overcome the hurt, pain and shame, the Scriptures come alive and we begin to see God’s way of discipling and moulding us for His glory and our good. There is joy when we begin to witness the work of the Holy Spirit driving us towards a transformed worldview: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We begin to see how we are created through Him, for Him and so we trust God’s power and timing to be the judge (Romans 1:18).

True justice and healing are possible only when we accept and believe in the Gospel. Jesus washes our scars away and in Him, we are as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). The Holy Spirit is able to make us see our perpetrators as brothers or sisters and we become burdened that they, the victims as well as activists and leaders, would meet with Jesus, repent, experience eternal forgiveness as well as healing and restoration, just as we have. We realise the need to share this good news all the more because we have experienced that nothing else, including ourselves, can redeem us from this crooked world.

Active Image Bearers

There will always be many other personal and cultural limitations that will keep us from speaking out. But as believers, we are not called to be passive. We are called to be ambassadors – which require us to be selfless and stand up against evil- just as Christ did. We need to go beyond empathy and merely acknowledging the evils of lust. The dark reality of sexual abuse makes our insides crawl and it is only telling of how much we need to expose it, rebuke it and reflectively question our own preconceived notions about the opposite gender. But we must do so with God, meditating in the Scriptures (Psalm 1), seeking wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1).

As members of one body, one church, we need to actively guard and defend one another.

Our actions are guided by what we know and are aware of. We need to be aware that victims continue to be subjected to sexual abuse as we speak. One in every two children are victims of sexual abuse (World Vision India 2017); on an average, a woman is raped every 15 minutes (NCRB). Despite these glaring figures, 90% of the cases go unreported, as some reports state. Surely, there are victims, silenced or otherwise, within our reach, in our churches, home groups, within our families and workplace. Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) – this also incites that we stir one another in taking action against such prevailing sin.

As believers, we need to consistently remind each other of our position in the church and in the community. Given the cultural ties, many helplessly look up to elders and leaders to speak out and be their righteous shepherd just as Christ is (John 10:11-18). In such a hierarchical society, consider in what way younger victims can speak out when they already feel like they are in no place to question elders, let alone expose them. There is undoubtedly a fear of being dismissed and the issue being trivialised. There is an urgent need to make time, discuss and create a safe space that allows healing; for victims to be vulnerable and have their suppressed pain, fears addressed and protected as Christ would want us to keep aside uneasiness, awkwardness and weep and hurt with the victims (“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” –Proverbs 31: 9, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15). It is worth reflecting together, “Under whose standard are we being considerate and compassionate?”.

We need to remind each other that Jesus is serious and passionate about “steadfast love, justice and righteousness” (Jeremiah 9:24). He is a righteous judge who feels indignation every day (My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day – Psalm 7:10-12) and to whom we are accountable (v.8). Paul reminds us that being passive towards a wrongdoer is as equal to condemning him to hell (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Consider how Paul is preaching Christlike boldness, commanding the Corinthian church to protect their members, to remove such perpetrators as a disciplinary action – not to ruin them but rather for their restoration and salvation. The Lord not only binds the brokenhearted and sets the captives free, He also loves justice, hates wrongdoing and will faithfully give the oppressors their recompense (Isaiah 61). We need not fear a rebuke. Grace and justice go hand in hand. In this light, Barry Webb writes that God’s sovereign grace, “ is not simply arbitrary largesse, bounty distribution at whim. It is the expression of a relationship in which there is discipline, but also healing and renewal.”

The Living Word is Wisdom

We can be true to our calling only if we are fervently praying and feasting on the Living Word, alone and with the community. Let us walk in wisdom and in truth because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).

There are infinite ways to trigger anger, bitterness and resentment – “How can uncles/cousins/family/adults do this to helpless and vulnerable nieces/sisters/family/humans!?”, ‘Why was I not aware/warned!?’. If such valid questions are not actively answered in and through the Living Word, we allow ourselves as well as other members and victims to find recognition in and resort to an activism that is centred on human wisdom and judgment, only to find ourselves jeering alongside people, cursing our brothers, demanding a death penalty or other severe punitive measures.

“but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15.)

The gospel clearly does not teach us to be hostile nor trivialise hurt and pain but it powerfully teaches and enables us to be joyful in our suffering, finding solace in the arms of our loving Father who will give us wisdom and boldness to glorify Him as we plod the narrow road that only gets narrower. Like the psalmists, let us wrestle and fight to preserve our hope in the Lord, our Refuge and our Redeemer.

 

 

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Reflections on Transition

 

When Naomi left her hometown for a foreign country, Moab, the Bible doesn’t tell us how she felt. All we know is that she went along with her husband and two sons, in search of food. The family of four were running away from a famine.

Significant things took place for Naomi in Moab, the land of her sojourn. It was where her sons got married and where she welcomed into her family two local women as daughters-in-law. It was where her husband died and where she first identified herself as a widow. A decade later, it became the place where both her sons died and where she felt what a mother would feel to outlive her children.

If you are like me, and have moved cities, and watched significant things happen to you while in transition, you will know how seamlessly the place and its people gets attached to spiritual truths you have experienced. The spiritual pilgrimage that we are all on is deeply interlinked to the practical sojourn through the cities and communities we live in. The room and view to which you woke up each day and dragged yourself out of bed, the sights to which you let the pages of scripture awaken your body and your soul. The seat in church you sat in each Sunday and let a distinct flavour of fellowship surround you. The schedule of your week was neatly weaved together with the liturgy of your community. The faces that would greet you, the voices that reasoned with you, the convictions that rubbed against you, the resonant vocabulary that the Spirit whispered to you, and even the familiar brew of coffee or the home that you got used to worshipping in. There is a oneness you develop in your local church. The city you live in, as well, with its culture and structures is used to minister to you, as are you to it. All of this interweaving can become a part of the sojourner forever.

But it is not just these systems and personalities of churches and cities that make transition such a big deal. It is the sides of God that we see in our daily and local context. God is constantly meeting with us in our journey. He is also meeting our local churches, cities and systems in their journey. Somehow all these interplays to give us the living experience that we have and shapes our walk with the Lord and His characteristics that are revealed to us in our life contexts.

If the forefront of a city’s social issues is the violence against women, then it is likely that the church in responding to that will build dialogue and structures for the empowerment and protection of women. The gospel becomes an important protective cover for the rights of women; and the cross, a place of refuge for the abused and the oppressed and an equalising ground for men and women alike. It is a place to rest while we allow His wounds to bring healing. This makes the gospel real to us, it necessitates the redemption of Christ and makes our communities and our hearts long for the justice of God.

Similarly, if another city has been burnt or disillusioned by the institution of church itself and young people are leaving churches and living self-protective and self-focused lives, it is likely that the gospel would beckon people back with a call to sacrifice, and lay down their lives for each other. The suffering servant, Jesus, would confront the narcissistic lifestyles and would call the church to bear each other’s burden; wash each other’s feet.

While it is such a beautiful thing to experience Jesus in our home contexts, change is good too. The Bible truthfully and poetically tells us that ‘there is a time for everything’. This is why we have seasons. And perhaps, this is why we sojourn.

When Naomi had lost her husband and two sons, she returned with her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to the land of Judah, and her hometown of Bethlehem. The famine was over.

When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19)

Herein the Hebrew writer uses poetry and perhaps because what better way to articulate interior thoughts and feelings? This is how Naomi responds to the women of her old-yet-new community:

“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
(Ruth 1:20-21)

It is not just that Naomi’s name meant pleasant and that she felt that ‘Mara’ or bitter was better suited for her now. Naomi’s life had been altered radically and she was a significantly different person. By requesting another name she wasn’t just expressing the heavy hand of God that she had experienced. She was looking at herself in the reflection of her spiritual and contextual realities and testifying that she was changed since she had left. When you see a new side to God, you see a new side to yourself. And all of that is contextualised and reflected in community. We are sojourners, we are testimonies and our paths keep crossing with each other. There are thousands of transactions to one story.

In all this change and transit and seasonal nature of life on earth, there are many agents at work. But in this poem, Naomi, the practical sojourner and spiritual pilgrim, speaks in the context of one agent. The Lord, and the Almighty.

Transition is something that is used to alert ourselves to the transactions taking place, because it becomes clear to you what was then and what is now. It is also something that gives us a choice to see that The Lord and Almighty is more than what any one community or city or season can capture. He is who He is, and our sojourning feet cannot traverse all His mysteries at once. But He walks with us. Every step of the way, He walks with us. It is He who has mapped our journey on earth. It is He who is the primary agent for all change. The Lord is our ultimate context, our city, our country. He knows the intricacies of the changes that have taken place within us and around us. They all happened at His watch. He is the master of all transactions. He will always meet us just where we are. And, He will always call us by name.

But let’s not forget that transition is exhausting. Today I do not feel kicked about this beautiful, hopeful process. I want to lay roots and design my life with a sense of permanency. It’s not easy to live like your only context is in the Lord (and nothing or no one else matters) because there are so many other relationships that are necessary and that the Lord calls us to invest in and be invested by. But it does give a sense of freedom to keep practicing a life in the context of the Lord. After all, everything and everyone is in His hands. But it’s also not a practice for nothing. One day, heaven and earth will become one. One day our spiritual pilgrimage and practical sojourning will open into the same land. There is a grand arrival, a promised land, and for the first time, we will really be home.

 

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40 Days of Journeying with Jesus – A Lent Devotional

 

Day 1

Dwell On Matthew 26: 6-13

We start the Lent devotional with someone who truly got it. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, actually understood. In fact, she understood more than the indignant disciples who tried to stop her from “wasting” the perfume on Jesus. She, perhaps, understood that Jesus wouldn’t be with them much longer.

Her response to Jesus’ imminent death is beautiful. She worshipped him. Not a casual, what’s-next-on-the-agenda worship. But an extravagant worship where she didn’t count the cost. It was a reverential worship, an extraordinary worship, perhaps even an irrational worship. She didn’t look at the clock or her wallet or at people around her who were wagging their fingers in judgement.

Instead, she looked at Jesus. She allowed him to fill her vision and eclipse everything else around her. She worshipped like no one was watching.

Bringing It Home

What is my response to Jesus’ death on the Cross? Am I offering Him a sacrifice of worship and praise? Or is my sacrifice this season of Lent geared more for my own benefit?

Lean In

Heavenly Father, Help me to worship in a way that truly takes all of me. Help me love you with not just my words but with all my soul, my mind, my strength and my heart. Let me never be content with lukewarm worship, but let me burn with the flame of faith set aglow by a deep reverence for you. Amen.

 

Download the Entire Lent Devotional

 

A Good Father

You open your hand;
You satisfy the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:16

I’ve been a Christ-follower for over 20 years, but getting to know the heart of God has been a slow process for me. Believing and trusting that He is a good Father who knows me, loves me, and cares for me specifically and personally has not come easy. Different experiences in life made me believe that if I don’t fend for myself, no one will look out for my best interest. I learned not to ask for much, not to make a fuss about my own needs and desires, and not to believe that I deserve good things, let alone abundance.

But this is not what a good Father wants His daughter to live like. He doesn’t want me to go through this life making do by the skin of my teeth. He doesn’t want me to think I can only have what I fight and strive for. He doesn’t throw rocks in front of me when I ask for food. And He doesn’t tell me to be quiet and stop wanting more.

This Father with a good heart invites me into relationship with Himself. He calls me daughter, and He looks at me with love and favour. In Christ I am covered in righteousness, and God sees this when He looks at me, and He sees my history, my personality, my dreams, my lacks, my hurts, my talents, my life situations, my fears, my hopes. He sees the girl He chose to create in a way that delighted Him.

I believe that He is ready to give good gifts when I ask, but I do have to do my own part and come to Him with my heart open. Asking requires faith, it requires honesty, vulnerability, and trust. A teacher friend of mine who came to India for a week once told a story that stuck with me. Each day she walked down the same street in the morning, and of course she passed a cow peacefully standing by on her way. She started taking an apple with her and would stop a couple feet away and offer it to the cow. But she only gave it to the animal once it stepped closer to get it. My friend wanted the cow to contribute something to the situation. In a similar way, God waits for us to ask for the desires of our heart with confidence.

His hand is ready to open. His heart is ready to satisfy our desires. He wants His children to live abundant lives. Do I dare believe this? Do I dare express what I need and want, big or small, serious or silly? Can I ask Him for healing? For helping me find ways to use my gifts? For a helpful landlord? For affirmation when I feel like I am not enough and peace when I feel anxious? Can I pray with my daughter for this one girl on her school bus to act kinder? With my son that he and his best friend will be put in the same class next year?

And while all our prayers will not be answered the way we imagine, I want to be confident that God cares, He listens, and He rejoices in us running to Him with all our needs. Just like loving parents want their children to confide in them and share with them their joy, their sadness, and their desires, our heavenly Father longs for us to have a close, honest, trusting relationship with Him. He is eager to provide for us, He loves to satisfy us and it brings Him joy to answer our prayers. So let’s dare run to Him with childlike faith and freedom.

 

 

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Beyond the Plagues and Ten Commandments – Lessons from Moses’ Prayers

It had been a long journey. They were tired and bone weary. None of them had travelled such a distance in decades. Tempers frayed as family members got on each other’s nerves. A baby was crying and wouldn’t stop regardless of anything the frazzled mother gave; the children were hungry and irritable; the elderly were trying to rub the stiffness out of their backs; and the men stood in groups grumbling about the lack of facilities.

That pretty much describes most family vacations I think. Of course, since we have hotels where we can stop for food or shops where we can buy water anytime we need, the mutterings generally tend to die down after a bath and clean change of clothes. This scene however occurred in 1440 B. C. somewhere in the middle of a desert! The extended family (numbering thousands of grand-uncles, grand-aunts, nephews, nieces, and various cousins twice and thrice removed, among others) were ex-slaves who had lived in enforced slavery their entire lives. This was their first taste of freedom and they were terrified! So they turned on the man who had taught them to hope – Moses.

The book of Exodus gives us an authentic account of the Israelites’ wanderings and God’s interactions with them. Among the various other things that it records, it also gives us a glimpse of Moses’ personal progress as an intercessor. These verses have taught me several lessons in learning to pray for those around me – especially those closest to me who also probably have the dubious distinction of being the ones who annoy me the most.

1.The Desperate Prayer: Exodus 17: 1- 4 sets the scene for one of Moses’ earliest prayers for his people. Verse 4 says – “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!’” Have you been there – having to deal with a relative who misunderstands your every action, who takes offence at the smallest perceived insult, who stubbornly remains in your family circle despite “hating your guts” so to speak? Perhaps it’s a work colleague or a friend? These are folks who thought highly of you at one point but for whatever reason, the relationship has soured. And you have no clue how to deal with them. Which is pretty much what Moses felt I think. So he prayed candidly, truthfully, and desperately. There were no frills in this prayer. It wasn’t peppered with spiritual jargon, and he didn’t make any excuses – he baldly stated his incomprehension and asked for urgent aid. And I think God appreciates it when we pray such honest prayers. After all, He knows our situation much better than we do, and He knows exactly what we need. Instead of trying to spiritualise our feelings, we can go to our Father and tell him how we feel and ask for help. Which brings us to the second type of prayer.

2.The Dependent Prayer: Moses’ father-in-law gave him some practical advice on handling the various members of his vast family who wanted one-on-one time with him daily. In Exodus 18:19, Jethro says, “Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. That taught me a couple of things about interceding – i) “…for the people” which implies praying for people who probably are unable to pray for themselves, and ii) “…bring the difficulties to God” which indicates dependency on God, understanding that only He can transform people or situations. These may seem fairly simple things to do, but insert a motley group of annoying relatives, frenemies, and difficult co-workers, and suddenly we find our throats choking as we try to pray for them. The important thing to remember is that God is dependable; He is faithful and truthful. He can be trusted with all the complications in our relationships. However knotty they may be, He can untangle them. Prayers such as these require humilityto acknowledge that we do not have the answers and that we might be the problems ourselves sometimesand love. Which brings us to the third type of prayer.

3.The Unselfish Prayer: I find these the most beautiful prayers of intercession that Moses prayed throughout his lifetime. I’m sure there are others that are not recordedprivate between him and Godbut I’m glad these were, because they show us how far Moses came since that early cry of desperation. Most of his prayers in the latter part of Exodus reflect this same tenor. It begins with the incident of the golden calf or as I like to think of it – “The Deadly Consequences of Impatience” recorded in Exodus 32. When God tells Moses about the sin they have committed, He also states that He will destroy the people but promote Moses (v. 10). In essence, He was saying, I’ll get rid of these annoying folks who’ve been plaguing you for all these years, and I’ll give you everything you want. Sounds suspiciously like something that a person avowing the prosperity gospel would praise God for as the answer to all their prayers! Moses, instead, did not praise God for pledging to remove the “thorns in his flesh” but rather made this startling prayer – Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? …Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self …So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” Exodus 32: 11- 14. What a display of unselfishness! Instead of patting himself on the back for having endured this long, he reminded God of His character and nature, of His love for the patriarchs, and he begged God for mercy. Would you or I ever pray such a prayer? Especially for someone who we might consider doesn’t really “deserve” God’s grace? Someone who’s harmed us intentionally or who’s addicted to a sin and doesn’t seem to want to change? Perhaps we are afraid He just might answer our prayer! Later on, when God says He will not go with the people (Exodus 33: 1-3) – “…I will send My Angel before you… for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people…” Moses has the following conversation with God –

Moses: “…consider that this nation is Your people.” (Exodus 33:13)

God: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Moses: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us?” (Exodus 33: 15, 16)

God: “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight…” (Exodus 33:17)

Moses: “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin…” (Exodus 34:9)

What an amazing interchange. Every time, God attempted to single out Moses, he would remind God of the rest of the people. He identified himself with those who were struggling, seeking God’s mercy for them. His prayers are filled with “us,” “we,” and “our”. It is never “them”. He identified with the people he was praying for, interceding for himself along with them; praying with an urgency and desperation because he took the weight of the problem upon himself. He stood in the gap between Israel’s sin and God’s wrath. Those are the kinds of prayers we ought to pray – prayers filled with love and unselfishness, which would confound anybody listening because they would not be self-serving in the least.

Moses’ prayers were answered in the best way possible for, apart from actually answering his prayers, this is what God says of him; Exodus 33:11 – “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend…”; Numbers 12: 7, 8 – “…My servant Moses; He is faithful…I speak to him face to face, even plainly and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord…”

What a commendation – to be called God’s friend and speak to Him face to face! May this become a reality in our lives today.

 

 

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Learning to Lament with the Psalms

Most of my childhood involved different circles of friendship – school, colony, Sunday school, siblings, cousins, etc. All these friendships had moments of fights over small and big things, tears over unfair sharing of toys and chocolates, sorrow over friends moving away, distress over school discipline and so on. In all my memories of times I’ve cried or seen someone cry, there has always been a rush of responses, “Don’t cry”, “It will be fine”, “Let me tell you something funny”, “Don’t keep thinking about it”, “Think happy thoughts”, “If you cry your face will be stuck like that!”, etc.

Even in my journey as a follower of Christ, sadness or tears were something to be gotten over quickly or sometimes even considered sinful. The rush of responses has been, “The Bible says we have to rejoice always”, “We have to seek joy in the midst of trials”, “Have you any sin in your life?”, “You are not praying enough.” etc.

So ultimately, sorrow, sadness and periods of dryness are seen as something to be suppressed and gotten over quickly. It is seen as a weakness that needs to be overcome. There is a sense of shame tied with it, which then leads to denial. So if we are experiencing sorrow or sadness, we hesitate to tell people about it. We ask ourselves, “Are we truly people of faith, if these things are a regular part of our life?”.

We are wary of difficult emotions. We don’t always know what to do with them and we wish God didn’t make us feel all that we feel. Culturally we swing between the extremes of suppression for the sake of honour and reputation to melodrama and theatrics. The Psalms show us how to deal with difficult emotions. They show us that the response is not to suppress them but it’s also not to overindulge. They show us how we can best experience the human capacity to feel without being crushed under its weight or controlled by its power. They teach us how to lament before God and even one another.

The lament psalms are the largest category of psalms. The Psalm I want to focus on is Psalm 42 which is an individual lament. It should be read together with Psalm 43 (a number of Hebrew manuscripts have Psalm 42 and 43 together; also, Psalm 43 has no heading of its own and concludes with the same refrain found in Psalm 42). Many scholars identify David as the author and he wrote this when he was in exile because of his son Absalom. The music of the Psalm is ascribed to the sons of Korah who were priests in charge of song and music ministry in the sanctuary during David’s time. The psalmist was experiencing a deep sense of sadness, spiritual dryness and was feeling distant from the presence of God.

The Reality of the Psalmist (Psalm 42:1-4)

The psalmist describes his situation vividly and the imagery is that of a thirsty deer panting and searching for a cool spring of water. That seems to be a good feeling to have – to be seeking God with an intense hunger and thirst. Being far away from the sanctuary in Jerusalem, he is not able to worship God the way he used to.

He remembers how it used to be; how he would be the one leading worship, leading the processions, with songs of praise, with shouts of joy, and thriving in corporate and public worship. Past memories sharpen his present pain.

Instead of the soul’s thirst being satisfied in God’s presence – he has only two things all day long – tears and taunts. My tears have been my food day and night while they say to me all day long ‘Where is your God?” (Verse 3) He has to hear taunts from his enemies who look at his circumstances and question God’s presence. He compares this to a wound in his bones.

The Psalm echoes a question that I’ve asked a million times when situations are tough, never-ending and prayers seem to be falling on deaf ears – “where are you, God?”. During times of spiritual dryness, we remember what it felt like when we were close to God. We remember the joy we once experienced. We question if we will ever feel as spiritually alive as we used to. It feels like God has abandoned us, it feels like faith in God is hard, it feels like God is good generally but not to me.

My usual response, and I suspect for many of us has been to suppress these emotions and to pretend things are fine. Force ourselves to laugh, think happy thoughts and get over it quickly because otherwise we are being bad witnesses. But how does the psalmist respond?

The Response of the Psalmist (Psalm 42:5-11)

He remembers God’s Character (Psalm 42:5-8)

The psalmist says in verse 6, “My soul is downcast therefore I remember you”, he then talks about his location. The mention of Jordan and Mount Hermon could be linked to the imagery in the next verse; this is where the streams and waterfalls come together to form the river Jordan. The psalm follows an imagery of water, his thirst, and his tears. Now his situation feels overwhelming like waves crushing over him.

“Deep calls to deep, at the roar of YOUR waterfalls; all YOUR breakers and waves have gone over me.” (Verse 7) But the waves and breakers that overwhelm him are the Lord’s. In the midst of his sorrow, he affirms God’s sovereignty over his circumstances. This is both distressing yet comforting. It is comforting because God is Sovereign, He is in control and he is under God’s sovereign care. God is present with him through it. God commands his steadfast love in the day and at night he responds in song. Because of God’s covenantal love towards him, the psalmist is able to sing a prayer to God. He is far away from the sanctuary- from the place of worship- but he remembers God’s character and his soul sings to God.

Songs speak to the deepest part of us; they help us remember who God is! The Psalms are primarily songs, they are God’s word to us to help us give voice to our feelings and help us remember God’s character.

“Sing these songs, and they will renew you from head to toe, from heart to mind. Pray these poems, and they will sustain you on the long, hard but exhilarating road of Christian discipleship.” N. T. Wright

He is brutally honest before God (Psalm 42: 9-10)

The psalmist does not hesitate to make his feelings known to God. He throws out these questions to God – Why have you forgotten me? Why do I have to go about mourning? Why have you rejected me? I am in pain because of those who say to me “Where is your God?” I am telling you what they are saying because I want to know – Where are you God? Why don’t you do something to change my circumstance?

C. S. Lewis says about prayer, “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” We don’t have to pray sanitised prayers; we can come before God with all our feelings, all our doubts and all our questions. The Psalms show us what that looks like; they give us permission to be brutally honest before God.

He preaches to himself (Psalm 42:5, 11)

He ends each section of his lament with these verses.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

The psalmist talks to himself. He looks deep into his soul and asks questions. Times of difficulty, sadness and dryness force us to think more deeply than we do in our normal daily life. It is an opportunity to question why we feel the way we feel and to search our own hearts and see who or what are we relying on. The psalmist asks himself the question, “Whom are you putting your hope in?”

Paul Tripp says, “No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.”

What kind of self-talk do we have going on? Is our self-talk searching our souls and pointing us to hope in God or are we beating ourselves down and believing in lies?

“Instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.” Martin Lloyd Jones

The psalmist speaks to his soul of hope, a confident hope that he will praise God again, he will see the end of this and he will get through this with God- his salvation. The most important sermon is the sermon that you preach to yourself.

During times of tears, sadness, suffering, spiritual dryness or circumstances brought about by injustice, we can be real about what it feels like because we have the testimony of priests, prophets and kings who have lamented before God. The Psalms are full of prayers of people who have brought their real selves before the real God.

The greatest Prophet, Priest and King – Jesus – is someone who suffered, who faced rejection, who faced taunts, who cried out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”(Psalm 22). We can lament because we have One who lamented; a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. Hebrews 5:11 says “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

Because of Jesus’ reverence we can be certain that God hears us, our lament can lead us to hope because we can be sure that God is for us, He is with us and nothing can separate us from His love.

“The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.'” C.S. Lewis

Photo Credit : Unsplash

 

What I Learned from Losing My Mother (and Other Lessons of 2017)

 

I sat in silence and contemplation in my small and cozy new home in the beginning of 2017. There were mixed feelings within me, happiness, anticipation, expectations and nervousness, with happiness overtaking it all. After all, I was newly married with my own home and I had all the support in the world. The other emotions were lurking around though because of the fact that I am now ‘adulting’, something I never had to do before!

2017 was indeed a rollercoaster for me. Emotions ran high throughout the year and it is safe to say that the experiences I had in this one year cannot compete with any other in my entire life. As I sat thinking about what I learned throughout this year and as a hundred thoughts flooded my mind, three of them stood out as significant:

1. The Importance of Lessons Learned from Family

Life is liveable and comes with small doses of joy in our everyday lives because of the family God has blessed us to live with. The unconditional love, the memories that are created each and every day needs to be cherished because we never know when one might have to leave and we will be able to see them again only on the “other shore”.

I lost my mother this year and it has truly taught me the amazing blessing and the value of having a good mother. My mother showed me right and wrong and never hesitated to correct me when I did go wrong. A mother who taught me to trust God first and then the family in guiding me the right way. She often spoke of how just having a good laugh with a sister or mother can lighten the heavy burdens of the day.

She never just taught me, but rather lived and inspired me on how to have a beautiful marriage. She showed me how to love your husband unconditionally, how to never ever put him down in front of others but rather talk it out in private, and never to blame him for your mistakes just because he is the first one you find. It is only because of the grace of God and because of her example, I learned to be a good ‘woman’ in every sense of the word.

I’ve seen my family, both immediate and extended as a source of happiness, support, and comfort at all times. They are the ones who we have to catch us when we fall. The Bible talks about how we need to be there for each other. It is a blessing from God to have a family, big or small, and it is a duty and a responsibility of each individual of the family to look out and look after each other. A family (and being close to them) is always, in my mother’s words, “Such a great blessing to have!”

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

(1 Timothy 5:8, Psalm 133:1)

 2. Thanksgiving

God showers his blessings on us as we are His children and he loves us. We do thank Him too for His many blessings. Our physical health, spiritual blessings, relationships, material resources and all others, we owe it to Him. But how do we react to the bad in our lives? Though both have opposite emotions, do we mull over the incidents for the same amount of time? Or does one grab our attention more than the other?

In an experiment that was done, the participants were given a significant amount of money for a while and then the same was taken away. What was found out was that the distress that the participants expressed over losing the money was greater than the joy they felt when the money was gained. It is in our human nature to give the negatives of our life more attention than the positives. So what do we do when bad things happen in our lives? A financial debt, the loss of a loved one, physical ailments, personal strife or others? We often tend to question God based on our circumstances. But the word of God says that God knows what He is doing, and so if we doubt Him, we would be sinning.

My mother’s death seemed to take over everything that happened to me in 2017. But I did enjoy a lot of God’s blessings this year like a great job at a reputed institution, a suitable life partner, trips around the country and His protection throughout it all and so much more. But my mind often consciously or unconsciously dwells on my mother’s loss. We need to focus on the many positives in our lives rather than the few negatives. Though this is easier said than done (since we will be going against our innate human nature), we always have God by our side to help us out. Who else better to go for help? Psalm 46:1 reminds us,

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

So no matter what the situation, good or bad, the Bible is clear in its instructions to us at any time. It promises us God’s guidance, blessings, and comfort. Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

All we have to do is trust in Him and give Him thanks always. 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

3. Uncertainties

Life on earth is never certain. Uncertainty is something that lurks around in the shadows of all human life. We can never be sure of what will happen tomorrow. So we often see people running after fortune tellers, palm readers and trying ungodly practices to take control of their future.

We don’t know our future as well. Our future is as uncertain as anyone else’s. But as believers, what is expected of us? Nothing but trust in our Father. We might not know our future, but we can be certain it is a good one, provided we submit all things to Him. Though things might see dreary now, we can firmly believe it will change for good, because He has promised us a bright future. We can claim those promises and hold on to them knowing that God is in control. God expects us to make all plans, both big and small, after asking Him to lead us according to His will. So let us submit our plans to Him, watch Him fight our battles for us and grant us His peace and guidance through it all. Take the words of Exodus 14:14 and Psalms 40:8 as encouragement:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.

One of my favourite quotes from the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes this way: “Everything will be alright in the end. So if it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.” Taking this within the context of God’s will, it is a beautiful saying to consider.

So now, I sit in silence and contemplation in my small and cozy new home in the beginning of 2018. There are mixed feelings within me, happiness, anticipation, expectations and nervousness, with happiness overtaking it all. I’ve moved in just behind my father’s place to be closer to him and I know God continues to be in control. The other emotions were lurking around though because of the fact that I am ‘adulting’, something that I still haven’t got the hang of, even though I started a year back!

 

 

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Only One Life

2017 was a year of tough decisions and transitions, and also a year of experiencing God’s love in amazing ways through His community. And even as I look back, one thought that stayed with me through most of the year was a line from the poem ‘Only one life t’will soon be past’ by C.T. Studd.

‘Only one life t’will soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last!’

And with this thought in mind, here’s a simple poem I wrote about the year that was.

 

Another year gone by,
My mind is flooded with memories.
Some to cherish and some to let go
Laughter, tears, highs and lows.
New friendships made and some hard farewells
Moments of rejoicing and the sound of wedding bells.

Relationships strengthened and seeds of love sown,
I’ve stumbled, fallen and the grace of God known.
Lessons learned as my faith grew
Some learned willingly, some I cried through.
Learning to let go as choices had to be made
Trusting my good Lord with tiny steps of faith.

But some questions linger in my mind,
When I look back, will I find
Words spoken from a heart filled with God’s love
And deeds that glorified my Father above?
Was someone turned away for my comfort and convenience?
Or did my heart respond in obedience to the Spirit’s guidance?

And when I stand before my Lord,
will my work be burnt away,
Or will I hear my Saviour say?
‘Well done, my daughter, your heart has been true
Your life shows the Spirit dwells in you.
Only one life which soon will pass,
Live not for the moment, but for what will last!’

 

Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

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