He Hears

Psalm 107:1-3; 17-21

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Today is a day for joy. It’s hard for me to read a passage like this and not feel gratitude. In some ways, I can’t speak for the experiences of every person, but deep down there are things that I know are true about us all. I know that we have all experienced hurt, and if you haven’t, I’m confident that you will at some point. It’s not that I like to be overdramatic about these things, but I do like to tell things like they are. So, at some point in our lives we have or we will experience brokenness. We’ll have to come to terms with our failures and our shortcomings. We’ll have to grapple with the fact that we are far from perfect. We are, in fact, sinful.

We like to always paint this as a complete negative, but I’m not always confident that it is. We are sinful, but it’s our sin that exposes our need for others and ultimately for God. We realize that it’s really hard to go through life alone and that we can’t always naturally pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We need a supernatural help from the Lord.

The good news is that a passage like this tells us some things about who God is. He has gathered together in one body, the global church, to be his heirs and to encourage, equip, and love one another. I know that this isn’t everyone’s experience with churches. Unfortunately, there are many people who have distorted the image and function of the church to be something that it was never intended to be. It was never intended to be oppressive, yet that’s many people’s experience. It was never intended to be abusive, yet many experience abuse at its hand. Despite the deeply distorted portrait of the church that some communities portray, it isn’t always aligned with the biblical vision of how things should look and function.

19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.

God does not promise deliverance from hardship in this lifetime, nor does he promise to end discomfort on your timeline. God is in this for the long haul. He has eternity in mind and is concerned with a spiritual freedom that only he can promise. Nevertheless, he has called the church to seek justice and relief on behalf of others. One of the charges of the church is to care for those who are struggling. We serve a God who hears the cries of his people. We serve a God who heals and who delivers. God hears your voice when you cry out to Him. It’s a time of joy and a time of thanksgiving. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Prayer and Reflection

If you feel like you need to cry out to God about something, do it. If the Psalms show us anything, they show us that it’s okay to do that. Cry out because He will hear you.

It Is Well

In 2010, author Shane Claiborne published a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I like the book. It’s designed to guide the daily prayer life of a group or individual. I’ve used it, like other things, as an off-and-on devotional since we bought it. I happened to pull it out this morning to use it for my personal reflection, but not necessarily for the blog, however, here I am. I’m going to use a simple quote from the March 1 reading in conjunction with the lyrics of a song from a concert that Hannah and I attended last night. I want to write it off as coincidental, but this endeavor is about seeking. So, let me break these moving parts down for you and see what you think.

Yesterday, Hannah and I had a doctor’s visit. She’s now 39 weeks pregnant. We’re completely aware that we are well into the birth range timetable, but things have progressed in such a healthy way that we haven’t been too worried about how things have progressed. Hannah and our boy have remained healthy throughout the duration of the pregnancy, and we’ve counted it a significant blessing. Yesterday though, there was a slight hiccup in a pretty routine visit. Our doctor wasn’t overly concerned about it but needed to run some tests to rule out possible complications that could change some of the details of our birth plan. Given how the pregnancy has gone up to this point, it seems unlikely that it will turn into something more serious. Nevertheless, this was the first instance in the 39 weeks that we’ve had to do something like that and in the moment it felt jarring.

We had tickets to a concert last night, The Lone Bellow, at a venue near our home. We saw them once in Chicago a couple of years ago and loved the energy they brought to their live performance. On the heels of the news from our prenatal visit, we were unsure whether we should attend. We want to do whatever we can to reduce stress at this stage and make sure we’re proceeding responsibly. We decided to go but would sit in the back and just enjoy the music.

Lone Bellow

The band added their stop here in Memphis late to their tour, so the setting was intimate. We saw a few friends and found some seats in the back corner. We couldn’t see the stage very well, but at different parts in the show could easily make out the upper quarter of the musicians. They were good. The Lone Bellow is not explicit about their religious beliefs, but there are certainly elements in their song writing that strongly suggest that they are people of faith. It’s possible there’s an interview somewhere in which they talk about it, but I haven’t searched that hard. Either way, there was an interesting moment in the concert last night during their song May You Be Well when the frontman Zach Williams, during an instrumental interlude in the song, raises both of his hands and clearly mouths the words “May you be well” multiple times with eyes closed. It was an odd sensation. It felt out of place, which is weird because it was a concert where a singer was singing the words to his own song. It felt out of place because he clearly wasn’t singing. It looked like he was speaking those words. It looked, very much, like he was praying those words over the crowd.

It seems somewhat unlikely that this is actually what was happening, but I couldn’t shake it. It felt so much like the moment in a worship service when the singer repeats parts of the song as a prayer under his breath. Fast forward to this morning and the aforementioned Claiborne book. There’s a quote for today’s entry from fourteenth century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich.

The worst has already happened and been repaired. . . . All Shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I’ve stated previously in this blog that sometimes pain will last a lifetime. We aren’t promised reprieve during our lives, but we hold on to the hope of the life to come. The refrain here of “all shall be well” is unavoidably similar to the lyrics of the song last night. I can’t help but feel encouraged. Even though I know that we aren’t promised that bad things won’t happen to us, and even though these types of moments are easily written off as coincidental, I’m not going to do it with this one. I’m going to choose to believe that it’s the Spirit. I’m going to take the connection and rest in the comfort it provides.

Simeon Temple

Prayer and Reflection

What connections might you have written off recently as coincidence? Could they be something more? Pray that God gives you the courage and ability to see what he’s doing in your lives. Pray for God to remove the cynical spirit that keeps us from living in the joy he provides.

Sorrow and Joy

Last Saturday, I departed from what is becoming my normal routine of biblical passage and commentary to share a prayer from Thomas Merton. I think I’ll make a similar departure this morning, but instead of a prayer, I’ll offer a poem. This particular poem is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison and it’s entitled Sorrow and Joy. Bonhoeffer was not exactly known for his poetry, but he was known for having a brilliant theological mind and this poem shows his ability to make deep connections.

His insights in this poem are powerful. He considers the natures of both sorrow and joy and finds that they compliment one another far closer than a first glance may give you. He suggests that time can easily make a moment of poignancy become suffering when dragged on too long. The poem ends with a beautiful reminder that it is at the moment of our callousness in the face of difficulty that we have to make a choice to fight against it. We can “fight the face of sorrow” with loyal hearts, not allowing ourselves to become uncompassionate because of our circumstance.

If you don’t know who Bonhoeffer is, I would suggest you take the time to read his story. It’s difficult to find a more compelling story of faith and courage in the face of oppression.

Sorrow and joy,
striking suddenly on our startled senses,
seem, at the first approach, all but impossible
of just distinction one from the other,
even as frost and heat at the first keen contact
burn us alike.
Joy and sorrow,
hurled from the height of heaven in meteor fashion,
flash in an arc of shining menace o’er us.
Those they touch are left
stricken amid the fragments
of their colorless, usual lives.

Imperturbable, mighty,
ruinous and compelling,

sorrow and joy
—summoned or all unsought for—
processionally enter.
Those they encounter
they transfigure, investing them
with strange gravity
and a spirit of worship.
Joy is rich in fears;
sorrow has its sweetness.
Indistinguishable from each other
they approach us from eternity,
equally potent in their power and terror.

From every quarter
mortals come hurrying,
part envious, part awe-struck,
swarming, and peering
into the portent,
where the mystery sent from above us
is transmuting into the inevitable
order of earthly human drama.
 
What, then, is joy? What, then, is sorrow?
Time alone can decide between them,
when the immediate poignant happening
lengthens out to continuous wearisome suffering,
when the labored creeping moments of daylight
slowly uncover the fullness of our disaster,
sorrow’s unmistakable features.
Then do most of our kind
sated, if only by the monotony
of unrelieved unhappiness,
turn away from the drama, disillusioned,
uncompassionate.
 
o ye mothers and loved ones — then, ah, then
comes your hour, the hour for true devotion.
Then your hour comes, ye friends and brothers!
Loyal hearts can change the face of sorrow,
softly encircle it with love’s most gentle
unearthly radiance.