When my boys were young, they would bring me “junk” books on our weekly library trips. It wasn’t that the books were that bad, but especially during the school year, I wanted them to read better books. I would tell them that just as our bodies grow and remain healthy with good, nutritious food and just a little bit of “junk”, so our minds grow and remain healthy with well-written, edifying books and a small side of light reading (mostly comic books and thriller type books). We added those type of books in sparingly, and the boys soon learned to read them occasionally rather than regularly. A steady diet of “junk”, whether mental or physical, leaves us feeling sluggish and unhealthy. With so many choices of reading (and listening) on the internet, I’ve started instituting the same rule for my online reading.
To help keep your mind and heart full of enriching words, here are some articles and a podcast I found helpful this week:
Whether you are studying the Bible on your own, in a small group, or teaching it to others, listen to this podcast. Lane Tipton and Nancy Guthrie discuss the importance of teaching and studying the Bible in the context of the big themes God has given us in His Word.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? Psalm 137:1-4 (NKJV)
In my last post, I talked about how singing can help in hard times. However, sometimes singing seems impossible—our eyes are full of tears, our throats are choked with sorrow, our emotions are so fragile that even a word will cause us to break.
The Israelites faced a similar situation. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried away most of the Israelites to Babylon to live. The sorrow of the Israelite captives overwhelmed them. Jeremiah wrote:
For these things I weep;
My eye, my eye overflows with water;
Because the comforter, who should restore my life,
Is far from me.
My children are desolate
Because the enemy prevailed. Lamentations 1:16 (NKJV)
How could they sing when they were in a foreign land and most would never see their homeland again? So they hung up their harps and did not sing. Notice that they did not break their harps or throw them away. Even in the darkness of their despair, they put their instruments carefully away so they could use them again.
We see just a flicker of hope in the preservation of their harps. Perhaps they couldn’t sing today, but one day, when they returned to Zion, they could sing again. They kept their harps for that future day when the Lord relieved their hardship.
We can also have hope that our songs of lament or even silence in the night will again turn to songs of joy. Yes, today is full of sorrow, so much so we cannot sing, we cannot rejoice, we cannot even speak without crying. But it will not always be that way. Even if in this life we never reach the point of singing joyfully again, just as some Israelites died in Babylon and never saw Jerusalem again, we know that one day, we will sing again in the New Jerusalem, when we are with the Lord. Then we will join with the saints in songs of praise to our God, our Deliverer, our Savior and King.
The Lord knows our hearts. He knows that we are frail children of dust, as the hymn writer said, and if we are too full of sadness to do more than groan, the Holy Spirit will speak for us, will sing for us, before the throne of God. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26(NKJV)
What a merciful God to provide even words for us when we have none for ourselves. He never leaves us by those willows by ourselves but meets us there. Jesus was there Himself in Gethsemane, and He knows firsthand our sorrow and our pain. The fact that the Lord has endured the most crushing pain of all and has been victorious gives us hope.
Paul wrote, We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8-9(NKJV). When our strength is gone, He will intervene, and the gospel will shine through as we trust in Him in our darkest days.
If you are in a time when you cannot sing, do not despair. Put your harp carefully away, knowing that you will pick it up again when the storm has passed, when your exile is over, when you can once again sing praise to the Lord in the storm’s midst. Do not fear that He will abandon you if you cannot sing right now. Our Lord is tender towards us and will be gentle with our weakness. Isaiah wrote,
A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Isaiah 42:3-4(NKJV)
He will deliver you out of this difficult time just as He delivered Israel out of exile and brought them back, singing, to Jerusalem:
So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 (NKJV)
The internet is filled with many things and none of us have time to read it all. However, I do try to read some of what is being published each week in order to keep up with the conversations that are happening in the world as well as to grow in my understanding and knowledge.
Here are a few articles that I found particularly helpful and/or interesting this week:
In the midst of reading and studying Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word this summer, I am becoming increasingly convicted that regular time in God’s Word is essential and that studying with others is better than going it alone. This article has good reasons why we should start a Bible Study group.
Since I am at work all day, it is easy to lose sight of what I was meditating on in the morning, writing the day before, or reading last night at bedtime. This article was encouraging to me and gave me ideas for refreshing my thinking and creative thoughts even in the middle of a workday.
Anyone who knows me has probably heard me talk about this podcast. It covers theology, Bible knowledge and understanding, and more theology. The banter is fun but not mean-spirited and the three hosts, Jen Wilkin, JT English, and Kyle Worley, know their stuff. This is the most recent podcast with special guest Dr. Ligon Duncan from Reformed Theological Seminary. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough.
When life is hard or the way forward seems dark, singing can often lighten the load, if only for a few moments. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (NKJV)
The Bible is full of songs, particularly in the book of Psalms, but the old hymns, the ones that the church has been singing for generations, also tend to be full of sound theology and Biblical truth. While there are many hymns I love, one that especially helps in times of sorrow is How Firm a Foundation.
1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
2 “Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed; for I am your God, and will still give you aid; I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
3 “When through the deep waters I call you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply; the flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
5 “E’en down to old age all my people shall prove my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn, like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
6 “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.–“K” in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787
While we don’t know for sure who penned the words to this hymn, it’s almost certain that Isaiah 43:1-3 was in the author’s mind as he wrote the words.
Isaiah writes: But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43:1-3 (NKJV)
As I read and sing these words, I am assured that the Lord is with me, and that no matter how difficult times will get, whether floods or fire, storms or attacks, He has called me by name and I am His forever.
This verse and the hymn do not promise us an easy way, but they do tell us that we have a Redeemer, who goes with us, who will be our refuge and fortress (Psalm 91), who will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who will save us in the end, even if we must walk through fiery trials and the waters of sorrow now.
Are you passing through deep waters right now or walking through the fire of affliction? The Israelites walked through the midst of the Red Sea and were not drowned for the Lord held back the water (Exodus 14). Daniel’s three friends walked in the midst of the fiery furnace and they were not even singed for an angel or perhaps even the Lord Himself walked with them (Daniel 3).
Go to Jesus. He is your refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46).
Flee to Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are His precious child and He has not saved you to destroy you, but to refine you and remake you to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8).
Trust in Jesus. He has called you by name, you are His forever, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:28-29).
Sing to Jesus. Sing hymns and spiritual songs to yourself, sing them to your children, sing them to your friends who are suffering. Use the words and the truths they contain to comfort your heart and strengthen your resolve to walk with the Lord, knowing that whatever trials you are facing, whatever sorrows are overwhelming you, however thorny your pathway and however steep your road, that God Himself walks with you and helps you to persevere to the end.
What hymns and spiritual songs bring you comfort in times of need? Please share them in the comments so that we all may have additional truths to hold us up in difficult paths.