A Psalms Kind of Life
I turn on TV and there is a gaudily decorated set populated by gaudily decorated people (think -- hair that should never get near an open flame, eyelashes that could grate cheese) backed by a band and choir that looks like Lawrence Welk found a stash of crack and I wonder, is this what following God looks like? I change to another religious program and it tells me that I should be afraid; it is my Christian duty, a sign of my faith, to be afraid. I should be afraid of the moral collapse of the nation, abortion, what they are doing with the Ten Commandments in some school system, the end of the world, being left behind, the Democrats, the Council on Foreign Relations... Is that what following God is supposed to be like? I go to the bookstore and there is a book telling me that there is a verse that, if I pray it, God will have to bless me. It's a rule, a binding contract. Is that what following God is? Years ago when my pain was overwhelming me a man told me that it was because I didn't have enough faith. He told me that if I went to his church they could fix that. Is that what following Jesus is like?
When I go to the Psalms, I approach it in a deeply personal way. It isn't a cosmic medicine cabinet to me (Sick? Read this one. Happy? Read this one) but the story of what it is like to follow God. Unlike other books which are delivered from God to man, this book was delivered from man to God. They are our deepest personal journals, our prayers and fears and praise. They are as schizophrenic as we are.
I am a man who has had several serious complaints against God. I have complained that He stood too close to me and wouldn't let me move or live freely. He trapped me into this path or into that relationship and wouldn't step back far enough to let me breathe. I have also complained that He was standing too far away. I accused Him of not caring that my life was collapsing around me, that my house wasn't selling, that my personal relationships -- those people I counted on to make my life matter -- had failed.
I saw good people being blessed and I complained that it wasn't always that way. I got blessings from His hands and yet I didn't trust Him to keep the taps open. I saw failed missions, failed missionaries, failed marriages and failed churches and asked, "God, how could you?" I saw nation groups that had never heard the gospel and asked "God, where are you? Don't you care?" I sang the old song "Carest thou not that we perish? How canst thou lie asleep?" with gusto!
I knew and believed that God was good, yet I was angry because He refused to explain Himself to me, to reveal Himself the way I wanted Him to, and He wouldn't move at the speed I had declared to be right. I knew and believed that God was good, but I wasn't convinced He loved us. Or me. I was pretty sure He liked His other kids best.
And then I come to the Psalms. They aren't like TV. They're real. They are full of anger, joy, pain, and praise. They can say "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life" and "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" all in the same breath. The Psalms remind me of Isaiah and Jeremiah and their prophecies that the people of Israel would suffer, their land would fall, and horrible things would happen to them, their children, and their grandchildren... but that a Messiah would come after all that and make it better. That was supposed to make the people feel better and the strange thing is... it did. They had a long view of history. The story didn't end with them, and they knew it. The world wasn't about them, and they got that.
Jesus dying on the cross should have been a clue, but He supplied us with other clues as well. In Matthew 5:11,12 he told us that when we are mistreated we will receive our reward in heaven. Hebrews 11:13-16 speaks of the great heroes of the faith who died and didn't receive what they had been promised! They saw it from a distance and believed it would come to them later, after they died. For that, they were honored by God.
When I read a Psalm I remember a time when I felt the way the Psalmist felt -- up, down, or schizo. There were days where my heart was light and all was right in the world. There were days, months, and years where I bruised the shins of my soul in the dark, wondering where God was. The memories of those good and bad times help me through today and prepare me for tomorrow. For this is what following God is like. When I move my stiff hands or when my heart sags under the weight of life and the burdens of ministry, I remember that it won't always be this way. God will give me wonderful blessings -- probably now, but certainly later. My day may be like Psalm 22 where I am up, down, up, down.... but there will be dancing, there will be joy, there will be heaven. I have to keep the long view, gird my loins, and keep moving forward regardless of whether or not I can see God. That is what following God is like.