You know when it’s fun to share something? When you’re on the other side. When you’ve walked through it or trudged through it or even stumbled through it, but somehow you’re on the other side. Do you know when it’s NOT fun to share something? When you’re right in the thick of it. When your feet are muddy, your knees are bloody, and your cheeks are stained with tears. When you feel stuck. But that’s where I am.
If you find yourself, like me, stuck in the middle—of toddler antics or taking care of an aging parent or battling cancer or navigating infertility or still waiting for one piece of paper to bring your long-awaited child home or any of the myriad of journeys our stories take—I hope my brokenness and the hard, messy things I’m learning encourage you.
The reading plan I’ve followed for the last couple years has me in the psalms for much of the year, and there’s a recurring theme throughout the psalms. There’s this ebb and flow between, “Lord, help me everything is falling apart” and “God, you are great and you are good and your steadfast love endures forever.” My own prayers look very similar. Maybe yours do too. Our prayers reflect the way humans feel.
Psalm 5 “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God for to you do I pray … But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.”
Psalm 10 “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? … O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.”
Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel, In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”
Psalm 78 “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them …so that they should set their hope in God … they forgot his works, and the wonders that he had shown them.”
Here the Israelites who once crossed the Red Sea singing and weeping and playing their tambourines have forgotten His works. They weren’t feeling it anymore.
“My feelings are important for many things. They are essential and valuable. They keep me aware of much that is true and real. But they tell me next to nothing about God or my relation to God. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.”
Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
I can tell you I’ve been in just this spot many times over the last 63 months and especially the last few weeks. There have been many days I’ve forgotten His works and wonders. Many days I’ve groaned and asked why He stands so far away? But my feelings tell me next to nothing about God. My feelings are a roller-coaster up one moment and down the next. But our God—He is steadfast, everlasting, our Rock, our Firm Foundation, and He never ever changes.
This is what I love about the psalms. While the fluctuating feelings of humans are honestly displayed, the Steadfast nature of our God is always the end. His Love, His Victory, His Justice, His Righteousness, His Sovereignty is steadfast.
“That he sticks with us is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions—look back across all that and see it as a road of blessing, and make a sound out of what we see…Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not be probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God.”
Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
How do we stick with God?
We make a MAP of His faithfulness.
Write down every single way God has been faithful. Do this often. Write down every need you have, every prayer request you can think of, write down every way He has provided, every bit of encouragement He has sent you.
A couple weeks ago I found a square card I started back in June when we finally got matched with our daughter. On it, I had written a couple dozen specific needs related to our adoption, some small and others huge. When I found the card a couple weeks ago, I took out a pen and put a check next to every need God had provided for or given clarity about. So many little check marks over that small card. I was reminded how often I forget what He has done.
We are a forgetful people, and if we don’t write it down we will forget. Remember Psalm 78? “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them…so that they should set their hope in God.” We must remember and teach the next generation all that He has done.
We carry each other’s MATS.
Even as a child, you probably heard the story about the friends carrying their friend to Jesus. When the door was crowded, they went to the roof and lowered him down on a mat. They would stop at nothing to get their brother to Christ. As sisters in Christ, we must carry each other’s mats. Sometimes this looks like a kind word of encouragement, a hug, fresh flowers to remind us of life. And sometimes it looks like calling out the enemy’s work and helping our friend say no to the enemy’s lies.
In Gloria Furman’s book Alive in Him, she says this about the community God created us to live in, “Solid doctrine is our building material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim.” And later she says, “Truthing solid doctrine with each other wars against our flesh while it strengthens our souls.”
This very thing happened to me recently. I was out of town for spring break and late in the day I saw on our agency’s FB group that the director who has to sign the one piece of paper we are waiting on in Ethiopian court was going to be out of town for 20 days. Earlier that morning my best friend had texted me a verse Psalm 86, verse 17, “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” She said she was praying God would give me a sign of His goodness that day to encourage me. When I heard the news of the director’s being out of town, I wasn’t feeling encouraged. I was discouraged. When I texted her the next morning to let her know about the director being out for 20 days and how I was discouraged, she immediately called me and said, “No. We are not letting the enemy have that. We are believing that God is at work even if it doesn’t make sense right now. We will praise Him right now.” Through tears, I said okay. We would find out a few days later that the director left another person in charge and that person has granted approval to 11 families from our agency over the last two weeks. While our family has not received approval yet, and that’s been very hard, God is certainly moving to bring these children to their forever families.
We need friends who can see when we need truth spoken into us and over us. Liz did this for me. And she said it with such conviction that I immediately realized she was right. We must carry each other’s mats. We must speak truth in love to each other. We must build each other up with the Word and call out the enemy’s work with a gentle and loving firmness.
We go to His Word for daily MANNA.
Our God does not show us the entire road before we start down it. Thank goodness. If he did, I’m afraid I would never say yes. Our time in His Word every day is manna, it is our sustenance, our strength to carry on.
He weaves His Word together in such a way that it will leave us speechless if we are faithful to keep coming back to His Word. We need ALL of His Word just like a body needs all of its parts to function. And how He brings together different parts of His Word to give us the manna we need that specific day—y’all, it blows me away. Last week in my reading, one of my passages was Nehemiah 9:20-21.
“You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”
There I was exhausted because my best friend had had surgery the day before to remove melanoma cancer. Exhausted because another week had gone by with no approval for our adoption. And this passage. I want to grumble and complain but the truth is that He has sustained me. For 63 months, He has fed me manna from His Word every day. He has clothed me in His armor and kept my feet moving step by step forward. He has given me water, deep and soul-quenching water. Has it been hard? Yes, so crazy hard. But He has and He will sustain me. And He will sustain you. I decided to look up the word sustain in the concordance on my phone. It is the Hebrew word “kuwl” and in its description it says, “to sustain, maintain, contain, nourish, support, endure.”
After doing that little word search, I finished the last of my passages for that day and opened my prayer journal. I stumbled upon a little verse at the top of my page to pray for my husband and, of course, it was from Psalms, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (55:22). When I saw the word “sustain” again, I had to check my concordance to see if it was the same Hebrew word. It is. The concordance said this Hebrew word “kuwl” can also be used for our word measure or provide. Here I am obsessed with measuring another day with no approval, counting up the days we’ve been waiting instead of counting up the days He has SUSTAINED me.
We humans can be a fickle bunch, especially the human writing these words. I am so grateful that perseverance is not the result of my determination but the result of God’s faithfulness. I love the words of old hymns, and during morning basket time each day, my girls and I will sing one together. One of my favorites is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I especially love this part because it is so true of my life.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13
This is what the Psalms and His Word at large remind us of over and over again. Though prone to wander, we have been sealed. Though prone to leave the God we love, we are chosen. We are rescued. We are redeemed. We can persevere.