“And it shall be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.’ For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” ~Isaiah 57:14-15
“The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” ~Psalm 121:7-8
For me, life is always interesting. And sometimes life is very interesting. And sometimes I can’t figure out what is going on.
Today is a day like that–which is also interesting.
It is a rainy spring evening in the American Midwest. The sky is a soft, pale grey, the air is still quite chilly, the rain is blowing and dripping heavily, and the wind is slipping by as quickly as the time seems to be flying….
I awoke this morning with my head full of the things I had been planning on doing this week–I have a few sewing projects with my name on them all cut out and ready to assemble. But I have not done this because I have felt ill all day long, dull of mind, and weak. Experience has taught me that, in such a state, I surely would have merely bumbled my sewing, made huge messes, and ended up with a less-than-excellently made garment…. When I am in a slightly more “normal” state of mind, I love the process of “building” clothing–especially when it is to be pretty outfits for a specific event…but I simply cannot find it in myself to enjoy this work in the state in which I found myself this morning.
The other foremost thoughts in my mind upon awakening were of my grandfather who lives with us. He had a long day out and about yesterday getting his dislocated hip reset–only to discover that it was quite visibly out of joint again by bedtime. My exhausted father was immediately on the phone with various hospitals and doctors, which resulted in a plan to take him in first thing in the morning. My grandfather has had significant decline since he broke his hip the end of November last year–but the amount and significance of his decline of the past week, in particular, has been difficult to watch. By this afternoon, I learn that he also has a previously undiagnosed heart condition which has (most likely) been somewhat contributing to his current frailty.
Meantime, along with all this and many more thoughts scattering around my dulled consciousness, I am wondering what is going on with me and my indwelling spirochetes, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, for my symptom sets seem to be shifting here recently and I don’t know what to make of it…but the words of Psalm 121 keep running through my head. When my mind is as grey and befuddled as it is today, I can’t seem to keep focus on any series of thoughts for very long–at least, not to any significant depth. The short Psalms of ascents are especially suited to such days…. Not only have I read Psalm 121 multiple times in my daily Scripture reading over the past week, but the sermon at church yesterday drew heavily from this passage, as well. Indeed, yesterday “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1). Some of us in my family have been taking turns staying home from church with my grandfather and I had thought that it was my turn to stay home yesterday. But the good providence of God had arranged otherwise–and I also was among those who were assembled together to worship our gracious Lord. Not only that, I was feeling pretty good; so I was doubly blessed yesterday.
Here, then, are a few of my bumbling thoughts from Psalm 121….
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Up, up…looking up the side of a mountain, up to the fortress, up to the stronghold, up to the throne of the King…it is from there, from on high, not from the earth or from any earthly physical power that we are given strength to persevere. Not only that–our God finds and helps each one of us individually…and it is with the same power of him who made heaven and earth that he stretches forth his hand to help us, each one….
“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The Shepherd of Israel, the King of the Church, watches over all his own, he keeps each one of us, he knows all our paths–all the time…. In the hour when we are not able to sleep, he is there. In the times when we are given sweet rest, he never slumbers. Always he watches and guards each one of his own….
“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Not only does our Shepherd and King never sleep in his watching over us and strengthening us, he promises he will keep us and bring us safely at last into his presence forever. We are his–our lives are in his hand because we belong to Christ–and he will preserve us through all those things he has ordained for us to pass through, for our good, for the good of his people, for his name’s sake, for his glory……
In what do we find our worth?
In other words, how do we define ourselves?
Do we define ourselves by our deeds and accomplishments? Do we define ourselves by our families? Our jobs? Our churches? Our words? Our God? Our character? Our vision? Our successes? Our failures? How do we define ourselves? What is that gives us a feeling of worth and of value?
Emotions are indicators–feelings are symptoms. If we learn to read our emotions and our feelings, we will be led to understand our thoughts. So…with an inquiring mind, follow your feelings with me for a moment and let us discover what it is that we truly think….
Ask why. Why is that you feel as you have done well when you have finished a job? Why is it that you feel discouraged and downcast at the end of the day, even when you have worked hard and actually accomplished something? Why?
Think for a moment, follow the trail of your feelings, tracing them back to the law of God.
Our Lord tells us that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Thus we learn that those desires which are the most important to us will be that which leads us to feel concern and sorrow when these are threatened, or joy and confidence when these are fulfilled.
Is it our dearest pleasure to delight in the ways of righteousness, rejoicing when truth is done, God is honored, and his law of holiness upheld? Or is there something else, some other desire, which leaves us secretly–or not so secretly–unsatisfied with the place and times given us by the Lord of glory?
If I may give an example, follow this story with me: once upon a time, a young princess worked hard every day at learning the laws of the kingdom and studying how to apply them in various cases relating to everyday life and justice, as well as about the wars that they heard rumors of round and about them. Meantime, she also had other duties upon which to attend–not least of which was her responsibility to oversee the kitchen garden and the supply of food for the palace. Day after day, she would work hard at her tasks, but every evening she went to bed feeling unsatisfied, weary, and empty of joy. She felt as if she was useless and profitless to the kingdom, wanting to do more and better things for her people, but frustrated and apparently unable to do so.
Why did she feel this way, we may ask? We see that she was doing valuable service and would one day make a fine lady, ready and able to govern her family and her people.
Though working hard, she was unsatisfied with the place and with the tasks God had given her. Once, when she dared to complain to a friend, her friend, with a little surprise, pointedly asked her, “What would make you feel as if you were doing enough?” She blushed and had no answer, for she could see that it was from her own discontent that her sorrow came. She was placing her worth in her deeds, instead of asking God to bless the work of her hands and then doing each day’s tasks for his glory alone. She was secretly viewing herself as an utter failure unless she were able to do more than that day’s duties–because she defined herself by what she did.
Thus, we can see that she was practicing a form of works-righteousness, though her tongue denied it. Her constant dissatisfaction was because her heart was bent on trying to prove that she was good enough to be a princess, instead of walking in obedience to God, trusting that each hour brought exactly what God had ordained–and that he put her exactly where she was, day by day, not so that she could prove that she was good enough, but so that she could walk in justice, mercy, and praise towards God.
This is just one example. There are many, many others.
One person defines himself by his family, pitting the reputation of his family’s name against the command of God, suffering justice to be trampled because his brother’s name is dearer to him than the name of God. Blood relationship is more to be esteemed in his eyes than truth. He is secretly unsettled, on edge, wary, uncomfortable, stooping to underhanded dealings to preserve his reputation as a God-fearing man.
Another defines herself by her successes in life–until they are swept from her by the hand of providence. At this time, she begins to define herself by her failures, cutting herself off from hope, counting herself too miserable to ever obey God and content herself in praising him, thus dismissing his almighty power as insufficient for her.
What shall we find when we follow our feelings, in order to see from what source they spring? Surely we shall often be surprised at the darkness and the pride that lurks in the hearts of even the most faithful saint–yes, even of our own selves. To discover your treasure, to find out what it is that you are most unwilling to give up, to uncover the causes of your reactions to life, follow the trail left by your emotions, etched on your heart. With the lamp of Scripture, by the light of the law of God, search your soul.
You will find out what you truly think.
You will see who you truly are.
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” ~Psalm 118:17-18
This is a phrase I have thought of often over the past few months–living is dying.
In a very real way, from the moment we begin to live, we are dying. Physically, as soon as we exist, we are culpable to degeneration, destruction, and death. Spiritually, we are dead already, though God can work regeneration in a heart even in the womb. Yet, when we come to believe in Christ and thus begin becoming conformed to the law of God written on our hearts, in this way also we are truly dying, though we truly live–dying to self, dying to sin, just as much as our bodies are dying physically. Thus, in two ways even while we live, we are dying.
The apostle Paul frequently uses the language of living and dying in his epistles–for the calling to be a Christian is indeed a matter of life and death. Until our physical deaths, our dying will be incomplete, for it is then that our spirits are made perfect. And at the resurrection, our living will come into its’ fullness, for then death itself shall be made to relinquish its’ last hold upon the saints.
The salvation for us on account of which Christ, our God, was incarnate, walked the earth as a man, suffered, died, was buried, and was raised as the firstfruits was certainly a powerful salvation. The redemption into which we were brought when we were drawn to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit is indeed a redemption beyond the collective imagination of mankind. For, indeed, not only is the believer promised that he shall stand forgiven before the just Creator, not only is he promised that he shall be called a child of God, not only is he promised that he shall dwell forever before the holy throne of God, not only is he promised that, though dying here on earth, he shall live in his spirit and be kept by the power of God, but he is also promised that he shall be raised from the dead by the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead–that his body shall be brought also to life, nevermore to know what it is to be dying. His spirit already has this new life and freedom from death–but his body also shall be set free from the bondage of sin, since death is the curse upon sin–and Christ has borne away every curse upon sin that might otherwise very justly fall upon them.
Without the Scriptures, who would have imagined such a thing as this? Who, apart from the revelation of God, has ever imagined such a complete destruction of death in the history of mankind? Unless the Bible is true, death is merely a normal part of natural existence and there is truly nothing lasting, nothing of permanent value at all, no reason for living, nothing in which to hope–for there is no real, abiding life–there is only dying.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:1-4
“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” ~Psalm 25:4-5, 15
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” ~Isaiah 45:7
“Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” ~Psalm 116:7
The Lord our God is good indeed. Let us trust him for all things, since all things are in his hand, including our own souls, our own peace, our own happiness–yes, our very lives, both here on earth now and in eternity forever, where we shall stand before him clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” ~Psalm 90:12
“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” ~Psalm 25:4-5
“If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” ~Proverbs 2:4-6
I am quite sure that the passage from the song of Moses about “numbering our days” has been frequently referred to by people considering the coming of another birthday. It is not yet time for my next birthday (though that approaches quickly); but as it is still in the turning of a new year, I wish to pause to contemplate the thought of the purpose of my days and life here on the earth before the return of Christ and the resurrection.
In doing so, I realize that any consideration of the purpose of my own life is closely linked with the purpose of history itself–all of it–the good things, the bad things, the beautiful things, the ugly things, the dauntless strength of godly people, and the insanity of men and women who are without the light of the Word of God. All these things work together for the glory of God and these are those deeds of the Lord of which it is said: “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works I will meditate.” ~Psalm 145:4-5. In order that the Christian may come to learn more and more wisdom through numbering his days, he must bear in mind the remembrance of what God has already done in his own life, as well as in the history of his people–the mighty deeds of deliverance, the hours of discipline, the days of sufferings, the times of blessings, the joy and the anguish of our own lives as well as of our fellow saints; for it is the Lord who is the stronghold of the righteous in the day of trouble and it is the Triune God who says, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” ~Isaiah 41:14. Truly, isn’t it only in the context of the covenant of God with Christ and with his people in him that the years and days of our lives come to have any real purpose in our own eyes?
Furthermore, not only do these passages tell us that we are to “number our days,” but they also describe the manner in which we may come to “get a heart of wisdom” through doing so. The Bible makes it clear, both here and elsewhere, that the attainment of that wisdom which comes from God is the ultimate goal of considering the years of our lives. Without that understanding, we are unable to face our days and years in a way that is consonant with the joyful praises we are to pour forth at the name of our Creator, Redeemer, Savior. As the passages above make clear, it is the Lord God alone who enlivens our souls and instructs us in the paths of righteousness in order that we might fear him: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight…Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” ~Proverbs 9:10; 3:5-8. Truly, this fear of the Lord is the gift of God; it is not natural to fallen humanity, who, loving death, revels in his supposed autonomy from the wisdom of God: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot…So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” ~Romans 8:2, 5, 12, 13-15
Finally, it is not without effort on our part that we come to learn wisdom and understanding from the mouth of God. It requires a dedicated “searching as if for hidden treasures,” as well as applying the truth of Scripture which we discover to our own hearts and years. Truly, the way of gaining wisdom and understanding is found through obedience to the law of God. As the apostle says; “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” ~Philippians 2:12-13. Another apostle speaks of this same principle: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything–and it is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you–abide in him…No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” ~I John 2:27; 3:9
In short, it is a diligent searching of the Scriptures, accompanied by prayer and put into practice by application, through which we may learn to number the years and days of our lives and gain a heart of wisdom. As God teaches us his paths and leads us in his truth, we begin to break free from the various unscriptural opinions which surround us and invade our very hearts; for, as the Spirit works in us, we begin to learn how to discipline ourselves and to heed the voice of our God in his Word. In this, we also begin to find that our hearts are truly free and are no longer bound to serve sin–indeed, our hearts and minds are not bound to serve any but Christ! Through the pursuit of an understanding of the purpose of our years and days in the context of the truth of God, we begin to discover that no law but the law of Christ commands our spirits–lest we in the end deny the supremacy of his law and thus demonstrate a spirit of slavery and break the first commandment. And in this is found true freedom and true purpose and value for our own, personal lives and histories.
“My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.” ~Psalm 71:15
There are some days that I just feel sick. That just means that my immune system is too busy and is getting swamped. But my immune system is swamped because some of the nasty little bugs are dying–so I say, praise the Lord!
Today is one such day when I just feel sick; I have a headache, I feel rather weak, and am just slightly achy all over. I’ve been slightly increasing my “bug-killers” for the borrelia, babesia, bartonella, and protomyxoa rhumatica over the past couple of weeks and I’m beginning to see where I should set newer, higher daily doses…. I’ll be going to see a new doctor next month–about which I am a little excited, though also a bit trepidatious.
But I was writing here today to mention a few ways in which I have been blessed by God in the past couple of months, specifically in regard to my Lyme et al. A few of my symptoms are almost entirely gone–things like that terrible near-paranoia that was frightening me last summer and the intense and frequent shakiness I have had off and on for some while–also, while the foggy, darkened mind I have so struggled with the past year or so is definitely still with me, there have been an increasing number of bright spots when I’ve even been able to read and comprehend and remember what I’ve read. These few days here and there have made me quite happy and it causes me to be even more willing to wait through the treatment time and continue on with as vigorous treatment as I know how at this time–for to have a little taste of getting my mind back is very encouraging. I still don’t have hardly any creativity stirring within me; I still feel fatigued a great deal, but I am feeling glad and hopeful and stubborn all at once right about now….
Strangely enough, what seems to be the most difficult symptom I am dealing with today isn’t this headache and the accompanying poor eyesight, but that my hair is thinning as my body is detoxing…but, clearly, that is only difficult because of my vanity, as it is really a rather harmless symptom…. Regardless of this, there are other ways in which great encouragement has been given to me by the Lord in recent days which has lightened my heart and restored a joy to my daily thoughts–God has blessed me by bringing my family back under the same roof, he has given me a new friend, and he continues to draw me along the road of life under his sanctifying hand and in the love of Christ, the Lord. My life is not perfect, but it is blessed.
Truly, the Lord is very good to me.
It has been a long year for me this time around. It hasn’t been an easy year for me by any means, but I have been mightily blessed by God, day after day after day. I have complained much. I have repented much. I have grieved much. I have laughed much. I have felt as if I have lost much, yet I have been given much. I have found true friends in the Lord. I have been nearly stuck in the mud in Georgia and I have sheltered from a Hoosier tornado. I have ridden a horse in Florida and I have danced in Illinois. I have had turmoils of soul and now I have peace. I have not done what I had wished to do this year. Regardless, I certainly have reason to rejoice in the One who created me, redeemed me, sanctifies me, and before whom I shall someday stand in glory, singing in praise of his majesty and steadfast love. As a new year is entering in, I think of things such as this: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the people’s praise you!” ~Psalm 67:1-2
This is also my prayer, as in all the paths of life down which I am lead by the good hand of God it is to the glory and honor of him who has saved us; not only that I myself might grow in the knowledge of God and in sanctification, but that the Name of God might be honored among the nations because of his faithfulness in steadfast love shown to his people, his nation, his church. He is the God who is. He is the God who is not silent. He is the God who defines the universe. He is the God who proclaims what is true and what is just. And he is the God who has come and is even now with us, his people, and with whom we shall be unto eternity. This is salvation and this is eternal life.
And this is what my year has been about: the glory of Christ.