The Darkness of the Dungeon

Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

Last week I was reading a blog post by a friend, in which she said that she was feeling that rock bottom has a basement. The definition of rock bottom is the “lowest of the low.” Yet my friend felt that life had managed to go even lower than the lowest possible place.

In Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian and his friend Hopeful are caught by Giant Despair and put in his dark dungeon. There they lay for three days, terrified and without hope. They were also in the basement of rock bottom.

In Psalm 88, the Psalmist is also in that place beyond the lowest low:

You have put me in the depths of the pit,

in the regions dark and deep.

Your wrath lies heavy upon me,

and you overwhelm me with all your waves. vv. 6-7

In fact, unlike the other Psalms that start in despair and end up on a positive note, Psalm 88 ends:

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;

my companions have become darkness. v. 18

The alternative meaning in Hebrew is darkness has become my only companion. The Psalmist has no hope left. There is nothing for him. He is in the black dungeon of Giant Despair. He’s with my friend in the basement of rock bottom.

If we left him (and Christian and my friend and us) there in that dungeon, then what would be the reason to go on? Where is there hope for the Psalmist or for any of us?

This man feels that God is against him, that there is nothing in life that’s good, that his soul is full of trouble, that he has no strength, that he has been forgotten by God, that his friends have all abandoned him and view him as a horror, that the only companion, the only friend he has is darkness, and that the only place lower is death.

However (praise the Lord, there is a however), despite all of these feelings and circumstances of darkness and feeling forgotten by God, the Psalmist still cries out to God, he still has the small kernel of faith that looks to God in the darkness and believes that He hears and that He cares.

Jesus says, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)

In our dark places, the tiny seed of faith that the Lord has given us strengthens us to turn to Him, the Light of the World, and cry out, pleading with Him for light, for hope, for salvation. When we are in the dark, we need only to remember to look for the light.

Despite the seeming hopelessness in this Psalm and in our lives, there are glimmers of light if we look closely enough. The glimmers of God’s promises:

  • He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Even if a mother could forget her nursing child, God will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15)
  • We are inscribed on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16)
  • He will with us in the waters and walk with us in the fire (Isaiah 43: 2)
  • He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • He rejoices over us with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

As we focus on these promises, even if the circumstances are still hard and our road seems endlessly black, we begin to see the glory of our Father’s face shine out in the gloom, the fingers of sun gleaming through the cracks of the dungeon walls, and to believe again in His love poured out for us in Christ. We start to grasp that if God is for us, which He is in Christ, who could be against us. We take shelter in His love and in His protection. And we take hold of the glorious truth that Christ is sufficient and will always be sufficient for all our needs, no matter what is occurring in this world. If we have Christ, then we have eternity and glory and unfailing love from our God.

Charitie Lees Bancroft wrote:

When Satan tempts me to despair

and tells me of the guilt within,

upward I look and see him there,

who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,

my sinful soul is counted free;

for God, the just, is satisfied

to look on him and pardon me,

to look on him and pardon me.

Christ has become wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us. (I Corinthians 1:30) If He has done all this, how will He not also give us all things. (Romans 8:31)

As Christian lay in the dungeon, he prayed and the Lord reminded him of the promises of God, and these promises were the key that allowed Christian and Hopeful to escape into the sunshine. My friend, too, acknowledged that God’s light still shines even when it is clouded over by life’s circumstances and she can’t see it at that moment.

What about you, friend? Are you in the darkness of the basement of rock bottom? Do you feel abandoned, forgotten, and alone in your hard times? Can you see no hope and no light and no escape?

Go to Jesus. He loved you enough to die for you, He stands at the throne of God and pleads your case, He will give you all that you need to walk with Him in this life, and He will come and take you home to be with Him, basking in the sunshine of His love for eternity.

A Month of Sundays

That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. 12 For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; – Leviticus 25:11-12a

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations,[38] but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. – Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 21.VIII

Our culture, which had become increasingly busy over the last few decades, suddenly came to a screeching halt because of the virus roaming the world. Many people started working from home rather than commuting or traveling. Shopping became a thing of necessity rather than recreation. Family meals, which were often interrupted or even non-existent due to school and recreation activities, became the norm rather than the exception

Everything slowed down and it gave us an opportunity to catch our breath, to regroup, to think about what matters to God, to us, to our friends and family. It has given us time to ask questions: What is the most important thing in my life? How do I spend my time? Are all of these activities and commitments even necessary?

In the Old Testament, the Lord not only set up one day in every seven for rest and worship, the Sabbath, He also set up an entire year, the year of Jubilee, a year in which slaves were freed, property was restored to its original owner, and the land was left to rest from the planting of crops. While the original Hebrew word, yobhel, referred to the ram’s horn used to proclaim the year of Jubilee, the meaning altered through the centuries to come to mean rejoicing. Rejoice that you are free. Rejoice that your property is restored. Rejoice that you can rest. Rejoice that more time has been freed up for worship.

In the 17th century, a group of men created the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document systemizing the theology of the Scripture for the church in England during the reign of James I. In that confession, these men wrote about the Sabbath as a time to rest from ordinary activities each week and turn hearts and minds to worship and rest.

This time of staying at home, of withdrawing from normal activity, of becoming more aware of what is important and what is not, has seemed like a jubilee or Sabbath. While I have been working from home every day, I have had much more time to think, time to take regular walks in the fresh air, time to reflect on what is important, time to see patterns in my life that weren’t always edifying, time to be rather than do.

Instead of only one day of the week, Sunday, to regroup, reset, take a nap, plan ahead, all of my days have had an extra cushion of time in which to rest my mind and heart and body. I have had the time to consider what is most important: to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

The news continues to be sobering, people are still suffering, and all many of us can do is to stay at home or socially distance in order to keep those around us safe. However, we can use the extra time for reflecting, for freeing ourselves from activities that have become a burden, for giving the soil of our hearts and minds a rest from its usual things, for resetting our schedules, and for rejoicing in God and His goodness in the midst of this difficult time.

As our communities begin to open up again more fully and work, commitments, and activities all begin to require more of our time and energy again, let’s make sure that we have built in the rest we’ve discovered during the past several months. Let’s reset our expectations for ourselves and for others. Let’s turn to the Lord for wisdom and discernment as we add back in only those things that help us to seek His kingdom first. And let’s rejoice that His sovereign will is perfect, trusting that all of these difficulties will bring Him glory and us good.

Christ is Risen!

MOST glorious Lord of Lyfe! that, on this day, 
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin; 
And, having harrowd hell, didst bring away 
Captivity thence captive, us to win: 
This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin; 
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest dye, 
Being with Thy deare blood clene washt from sin, 
May live for ever in felicity! 

And that Thy love we weighing worthily, 
May likewise love Thee for the same againe; 
And for Thy sake, that all lyke deare didst buy, 
With love may one another entertayne! 
   So let us love, deare Love, lyke as we ought, 
   –Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.by Edmund Spenser

Singing in the midst of fires and floods

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Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

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.

 

Abide With Me

September 12, 2018 at 0629AM - Sunrise Day 3

There are times in life when hard things happen and you seek comfort in the Lord. One of the hymns I most love to read and sing in those difficult times is Abide With Me. Henry Francis Lyte wrote the hymn just a few months before his death. Since then, his words have helped many Christians to seek the love and peace of the Lord Jesus as they walked through dark days of pain and suffering and grief.

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

–Henry Francis Lyte, 1847