Monday, March 26, 2018

Never Alone

This is the journal of my quiet time encounter with God in His Word today. I spent time in Psalm 42, two verses of which especially caught my attention.

Look: “I say to God, my rock: Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?...Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:9,11)

The psalmist recalls being among the crowds who went to the temple in Jerusalem for festivals, where he would join in the worship of God and offer sacrifices to Him.

But those happy times are, at this point, only memories. The psalmist is suffering oppression, unable to go to Jerusalem to praise God. The psalmist asks God why God has forgotten him.

Whether it’s through the dry spiritual patches that come to every believer or in those times when people are, in whatever ways, making our lives miserable, the honest question of the psalmist in verse 9 comes to the mind of every Christian. We may not be bold enough or honest enough to speak the question. But we all sometimes wonder, “God, why have you forgotten me?”

Jesus Himself asked this question when, at the very hour at which Psalm 22 would have been read in the temple, He cried out to God the Father from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

Even when we know intellectually that the God fully revealed in Jesus Christ never abandons us, there are times when we feel abandoned and alone. It would be a lie to not admit that to our heavenly Father. When we honestly admit our "issues" to God, issues like sins, fears, temptations, or the suspicion that God has abandoned us, that the God can help us. Owning our feelings of abandonment with God is as an honest prayer and a permission slip to God to intervene, assuring us that we aren’t alone!

As the psalmist continues to pray, to remember God’s past deeds of goodness to them, and, I assume, to consider God’s Word, he ends up in verse 11, talking not to God, but to himself. (I think of the line from the Bob Dylan song, “You’re gonna make me give myself a good talkin’ to.”) The psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

You know God, the psalmist was telling himself. You know that God always triumphs over the enemies of our soul: sin, death, and darkness. Given God’s track record of faithfulness and love, you know that nothing can separate His people from God. So, why are you so glum? Even if you die, God will not let you go.

We know that God won’t let an earthly death be the last word over the lives of those who trust in Him. God in the flesh, God the Son, Jesus, tells Martha, grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

As he finishes his prayer, the psalmist, having come again into the presence of the living God in whom he believes, reminds himself of a truth that belongs to all who today know and follow the God of Israel disclosed to the whole world in the crucified and risen Jesus: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”!

Listen: In those times when I feel bleak, dry, or doubtful, I need to come into God’s presence again. Even when I don’t feel it's true, God is real and God is there, even when I’m conscious of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Even when I feel far from God, His cross, His empty tomb, and His Word, not to mention all of the blessings, grace, and answered prayers I can look back on, show me that He is never far from those who call on Him. Facts are facts. God is never far from me. Never!

Respond: Lord, help me to place all my hope in You alone as I lift up my prayers to You today. Even when I can’t see how You will orchestrate things for my good, the good of my family and friends, the good of Your Church, or the good of Your creation, help me to trust that You have not forgotten us. You haven’t forgotten your promises. And remind me that because Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, You have already successfully accomplished everything needed to create an eternal fellowship with those who believe in Christ. Because of Jesus and my faith in Him, I know, with the psalmist, that I will again praise You, my God and my salvation. Help me to remember and live all of this today. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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