Tuesday, November 07, 2006

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.


At 11/07/2006 02:32:00 PM , Blogger Kevin J. Bowman said...

Once again you have connected perfectly to the true beauty of scripture. Thank you!

At 11/07/2006 05:28:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Patrick. I hope you enjoyed my homeland. Those are good people in the church in Canada. Good followers of Jesus that taught me some of those lessons that you talk about in this post. thanks.

At 11/07/2006 06:58:00 PM , Blogger That Girl said...

I would always feel so guilty for not just being perky and thankful all the time. When I was in the middle of a divorce, I found solace in the fact that even a man after God's heart wanted God to kill people for him. I tried not to read that one every day.

At 11/07/2006 08:40:00 PM , Anonymous Courtney Strahan said...

This post and your sermon on Sunday struck a chord with me. I can definitely say that I relate.

Thanks for posting this and your sermon... They have been encouragement to "keep moving forward regardless of whether or not I can see God."

Courtney S.

At 11/08/2006 12:13:00 PM , Blogger Stoogelover said...

I vividly remember the day I learned (in the context of pain) that I could voice those emotions to God and he still loved me!
Excellent post, Patrick! Excellent.

At 11/08/2006 04:16:00 PM , Blogger Serena said...

I love the Psalms! It is there that I have learned how to be real with G-d and that He is BIG enough to handle it.

Love and shalom,

At 11/09/2006 10:31:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff as usual!

Grace and Peace,
Royce Ogle

At 11/09/2006 02:53:00 PM , Anonymous carrie burlingame said...

Step 3 of AA says "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the the care of God as we understand Him". First I have to believe that my God is big enough. When I read/study the Psalms, I learn how to do that. I follow others who have done it. I can relate with some of your complaints against God. How blessed am I that He wants me to complain to Him, wrestle with Him and, in general, communicate with Him on all levels. But most of all he wants me to love and obey Him. And He wants me to carry the message. I am so grateful, and excited, to belong to the Rochester family. We have been here over 16 years, and the changes have been nothing short of astonishing! And we keep moving forward even if it's uncomfortable sometimes. I am amazed by the number of elders and other "long-timers" in our church who have hung on and been faithful. We need them! We need all of the folks you mentioned. The people who come into the building because they love God and the ones who don't and love God because of the faithful followers from within who reach out to them. Hallelujah!

God Bless you in your travels, brother, and hurry home!

At 11/09/2006 10:53:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not much of a psalm reader but I do have to admit, when I am struggling with things I love to go back to the OT and read the stories and find encouragement. Just the other day I find so much encouragement from the realization that God did not keep the three out of the furnace, but He did keep them safe while they were in it. I may be stuggling here and now, but my Father is with me every step of the way. How great is that.

At 11/12/2006 03:13:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

Patrick, thanks for reminding me and all who read the post that it is not all about the here and now but about how God is working to mold us into the vessel His vision has for us. I have been going through "Breaking Free" study by Beth Moore. Today I studied about Rebuilding the Ruins. One of the Psalms she used was Psalm 78:1-8. It helped me see that no matter what "garbage" is in the past and tries to bog me down now, I can change the effects that negative "family traits" have on this current generation and future generations. God knows all about us and still wraps His arms around us. He gives us what we need when we need it. There have been times when I also share the furstrations and fears you shared and I'm sure there could be times again. I am so thankful for my Father in Heaven who doesn't turn His back on me when I'm in that space but He carries me if I need to be carried or hugs me when I need to be hugged. Thanks for the reminder.

At 11/13/2006 10:13:00 AM , Blogger Blogging by Tina said...

I enjoyed your post, Patrick. Right now I'm going through a period where I see God as a God of hate, not of love, and that all He wants from me are demands I can't seem to meet.

At 11/15/2006 09:36:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post; thank you!



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