Hanging Up Your Harp

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By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
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; 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.
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)

Articles I’ve Read This Week

38d28218-ae06-459f-ab84-df393f1e312bThe 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:

The Scale is Not The Boss of You by Lisa-Jo Baker

This is a great article for any of us who struggle with body image and weight. I’ve been listening to Lisa-Jo’s podcast with Christie Purifoy for several months now, and she is such an encouragement.

Best Grief Books

This list of books on grief contains several good ones I knew about and some I had never seen before. I look forward to reading them.

5 Reasons Why You Should Start a Bible Study Group

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.

Afternoon Practices to Cultivate Creativity

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.

Knowing Faith Podcast#49 – A Conversation with Dr. Ligon Duncan

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.

 

 

Finding God in the Ordinary – Book Review

Blue-centered Daisy

I first heard about Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs while listening to the podcast Mortification of Spin. As the author spoke about his book, I knew that this was something I would love to read since looking for God in the small things is an activity I have long practiced.

My copy is a beautiful hard-bound book with a lovely cover and easily readable fonts. However, the treasure is in the words. Pierce Taylor Hibbs takes ordinary events like drinking coffee, shadows, dust, birds on a telephone wire, snow falling, wind, and light and shows the reader how to find God in these every day, ordinary events.

It’s not just that his prose is delightful, but his choice of words approaches poetry in many places within these essays. And his references to the Trinity, creation, language, God’s majesty and providence, and other theological subjects within his musings about “ordinary” events so enrich those events that I will never look at dust floating in the air or shadows on the grass the same again.

Let me share just a few quotes:

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight. p. 6

The beating heart of the Trinity is thumping underneath every human word, no matter how trivial or commonplace. p. 16

While darkness is an arena for the light of faith, it is the Lord of light himself that brings our feeble faith to fruition. pp. 26-27

Mistakes are not just markers of our depravity. They are more than that. They are the triune God’s spadework in the soil of the soul. They are opportunities for the great gardener to tend our lives and help us grow. p. 32

I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read these essays over and over again.

His Love is All Around Us

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Almighty Father, Thy love is like a great sea that girdles the earth.
Out of the deep, we come to float for awhile upon its surface.
We cannot sound its depth nor tell its greatness, only we know that it never faileth.
The winds that blow over us are the breathing of Thy spirit;
the sun that lights and warms us is Thy truth.
Now Thou does suffer us to sail calm seas;
now Thou dost buffet us with storms of trouble;
on the crest of waves of sorrow Thou dost raise us,
but it is Thy love that bears us up;
in the trough of desolation Thou dost sink us,
that we may see nought but Thy love on every side.
And when we pass into the deep again, the waters of Thy love encompass and enfold us.
– Anonymous

From The Book of Comfort by Elizabeth Goudge, p. 265

Reading the Bible Fast and Slow

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A few weeks ago, I read this article on reading the Bible fast and slow. If you are like me, perhaps you have tried, and maybe succeeded, at reading through the Bible in a year. There is a satisfaction in reading through all of Scripture in one year. However, one thing that irked me was that while I did get a big picture idea of Scripture and how it all hangs together, I would miss many of the details. I would skim so fast that I wouldn’t think about applications, and I wouldn’t go deep.

Tired of skimming the surface of the Bible, I would then decide to focus on one book of the Bible, like the Psalms or Proverbs or Romans, or Genesis, during a year. That was great because I would go deeper, but then I missed that bigger scope.

This article piqued my interest because the author suggested that rather than choose one of these approaches, you can do both at the same time. Each type of reading complements the other.

So, I planned my Scripture reading for 2019, using this idea.  I chose to read through the New Testament over the year, using a plan by the Navigators. I’m also reading along with She Reads Truth, an online Bible reading group that covers several books of the Bible over the course of a year. Then I am slowly reading through the Psalms. I read only one Psalm or a portion of one each day plus I will study a Psalm in depth every week.

By the end of the 2019, I hope to have read several large chunks of the Bible and to have delved into 50 Psalms. I’m going to read fast and slow. What are your plans for reading God’s Word this year?

First Sunday of Advent

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While reading the weekly Scripture and prayers for the first week in Advent, I found this:

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love heavenly things; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                                                           Leonine Sacramentary, 7th century

It reminded me of Paul’s words in Colossians 3:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Which earthly things are keeping me from loving heavenly things? How can I let go more and more of earthly things that have no value while increasing my love for heavenly things which are eternal?

These are questions to ponder this season I as think about all that Christ gave when He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death in order to save us. The first step of that humiliation was when He became a helpless infant on the first Christmas. Like Mary, let us ponder these things in our heart during this Advent season.

An Opportunity to Trust

White Arum Lilies by Tony Hisgett

A few months ago, I received a call from one of my children. He was sitting in a parking lot an hour away from school with a smoking vehicle. The car was dead.

Usually, this particular young man is more than capable. However, this situation was beyond his experience, and he was unsure about what to do next. After discussing the situation, we agreed that the only thing to do was to call a tow truck. I had to leave for a meeting with my pastor and said I would call him later to decide the next step.

As I drove to my meeting, I worried and prayed. I told the Lord how J needed a car to work this last year in school. I told Him that he had food to buy and school bills to pay. Without that car, J couldn’t get to work. What if he would be forced to drop out of school a semester before graduation? None of us had the money to buy him even a junker car to last until May. What were we going to do?

At my meeting, I shared my anxiety. My pastor prayed with me for my son and his situation. As I was leaving, he said, “This is an opportunity to trust, to trust that God will provide for J’s needs.”

An opportunity to trust. How often do we see difficult or perplexing circumstances as opportunities to worry and to fuss and to run around, crying and complaining instead of seeing them as opportunities to trust God? We can have faith that our loving Heavenly Father, who created the world, who owns all things, and knows our needs before we are even aware of them, has every new circumstance in control. He wasn’t caught by surprise when J’s car broke down. He wasn’t wringing His hands in heaven because of the school bills or food needs or lack of transportation.

No, God had all of this in His sovereign control. He knew the exact minute that car would die, and He allowed it to happen for His own glory and J’s good. The Lord already had the provision ready to meet J’s need before the circumstance occurred. He wants His children to depend on Him just as the sparrows depend on him for food and the lilies of the field depend on Him for clothing. He wants us to depend on Him for our daily bread and for our every need.

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Matthew 6:31-32]

Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11]

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [Romans 8:31-32]

In our proud independence, we think that we need to take care of our own needs, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, instead of relying on God’s gracious, abundant provision. Scripture says that the Lord doesn’t let the children of the righteous beg for bread I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. [Psalm 37:25].

Here I was anxiously seeking provision for my son when God has promised to take of J. In myself, I am not righteous, but because of Christ, God the Father regards me as righteous so I can trust Him to not allow my children to be in need, physically or spiritually.

How many times over the years have I seen His provision! Over and over again I have been in need, sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, often spiritually. Yet, I have never been abandoned by our God. He has always supplied my every need in His perfect time and usually gave me more than I asked for. His generosity never fails. Sometimes His timing wasn’t what I thought it should be, but it was always exactly right for the situation.

There is a hymn that I would sing with my children when they were small. The words even now remind me of the Lord’s provision when my faith is weak:

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given

God, His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne?er forsaketh
His, the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy

Lo, their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev?ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev?ry foeman must surrender

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given –Caroline V. Sandell-Berg

Christian friend, are you in need today? Is there a circumstance in your life where you are poor and needy. Go to your Heavenly Father. Take this opportunity to trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He always gives good gifts to His children.

For my readers who don’t yet have the Lord as your Heavenly Father, are you in need today? He is willing to meet your needs—spiritually in Christ first and also physically and emotionally and in every other way. Go to the Lord, ask Him to save your soul and to provide for your needs. You can list those needs, but He already knows exactly what you are lacking in your life. Take this opportunity to trust that Jesus died for you, that He rose again from the dead to save you, and that He will lead you for the rest of your life.

As for J’s need, a friend had a van that he is not using. He graciously loaned it to J for the remainder of the school year until J graduates and can buy a new car.

God provided quickly and abundantly. He will provide for you, too. The next time a need arises, remember my pastor’s words: “It is an opportunity to trust.”