By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, “All My Springs of Joy Are in You”

Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say,
“All my springs of joy are in you.”

(Psalm 87:7)

There is something special about the city that King David loved. I didn’t expect my emotional reaction as we travelled up the hills to Jerusalem from Emmaus, but I found myself crying tears of joy that at last I would see this wonderful city for myself. I didn’t get to see the magnificent temple made of polished gold-toned stone that David planned and Solomon built and where the Sons of Korah sang and played instruments. I didn’t get to see Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city many years later. I do hope to see him return through those gates though.

The story of the Sons of Korah’s journey from the pit of shame to the heights of worship in the temple takes place over generations. It is a story of restoration and of grace. I hope to join them in singing my own song of restoration and grace one day too.

In the meantime, I include a link to a song of praise from my culture that I’ve often sung this time of year.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold Thy King cometh unto Thee!

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, With Skill and With Understanding

Can you hear the joy in their voices? Perhaps Psalm 47 was written after a victory, or the recollection of a victory. Since some of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah have been proven to be prophetic, the triumph celebrated may be about a future event. We know that Psalm 45 is about Jesus, the King.

O clap your hands, all you people;
Shout to God with the voice of triumph and songs of joy.
For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience];
He is a great King over all the earth.
He subdues peoples under us
And nations under our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us,
The glory and excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.
God has ascended amid shouting,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises in a skillful psalm and with understanding.
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together as the people of the God of Abraham,
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted.

(Psalm 47 Amplified Version)

Can you sense the change in the hearts of these artists who once mourned and walked in discouragement and poverty of spirit as they carried inherited shame?

When God lifts the burden of shame, guilt, rejection, and self-loathing, he replaces it with a better identity. When we see ourselves in our heavenly father’s eyes, the way he created us to be, we also find our purpose.

Worshippers worship. It’s just what they do. Purpose is found in a restored relationship with God. Some people find their purpose when they worship. It fits. It’s what they were created to do, especially when it is expressed creatively. Whether they sing, or dance, or shout, or write, or play instruments, or take photographs, or design houses of worship, or prepare food for the hungry, their hearts are full when focused on God. They sense his pleasure. The connection motivates a desire to give praise with excellence, and more importantly, creates a deeper hunger for deeper understanding.

The Creator wired his beloved in different ways. Korah, as a Levite, was given a position in the place of worship. His desire for control and recognition abused the characteristic that would give his descendants purpose. In this psalm we see purpose restored in the sons once marked by rebellion.

I’m including links to four different expressions of Psalm 47. Some styles of music can be more accessible to us depending on familiarity and custom.  All are performed with skill. Like the Sons of Korah, having gained some understanding of the character and nature of God, I long for more.

Who are you? How does God see you? Do you know your purpose in life? What motivates you to keep seeking when pain is all around and nothing seems to make sense?

Ask him. Pour out your heart. There is more for you to discover.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, The Wedding Psalm

Overflowing

Psalm 45 is called the Wedding Psalm because it describes a bridegroom and a bride. At first it seems like a flattering poem written by someone who is a bit over the top with enthusiasm.

Beautiful! Beautiful! Beyond the sons of men! Elegant grace pours out through every word you speak. (verses 2 and 3)

Then the praise seems to pole vault over esteem for any human I’ve heard of.

Awe-inspiring miracles are accomplished by your power, leaving everyone dazed and astonished! (verse4)

Wait. This is not about King David or King Solomon.

Your glory-kingdom, O God, endures forever,

for you are enthroned to rule with a justice-scepter in your hand!

You are passionate for righteousness, and you hate lawlessness.

This is why God, your God,

crowns you with bliss above your fellow kings.

He has anointed you, more than any other,

with his oil of fervent joy,

the very fragrance of heaven’s gladness. (verses 6&7)

Going back to the introduction, it appears the author/s were not merely exaggerating to gain political points. This was no meeting of a deadline to write something extra nice for a royal wedding. What the son or sons of Korah experienced here was a spiritual experience beyond what most people knew. I’m quoting from The Passion Version because it attempts to include emotional content.

My heart is on fire, boiling over with passion.

Bubbling up within me are these beautiful lyrics

as a lovely poem to be sung for the King.

Like a river bursting its banks, I’m overflowing with words,

spilling out into this sacred story. (verse 1)

I have no trouble imagining someone who limited their concept of God to intellectual debate accosting the singer/songwriters with the question, “Who is this king you are calling God? And where is this in the Torah?”

They might have been especially upset when the song mentioned this God-King marrying a pure and glorified bride.

And standing beside you,

glistening in your pure and golden glory,

is the beautiful bride-to-be! 

Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.

Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,

even those who once were close to you!

For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.

Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord! (verses 9b -11)

Other prophets wrote about feeling overwhelmed when the Holy Spirit came upon them for a purpose. They called it fire in the bones, or an intense need to be purified, or falling as though dead. Sometimes they needed days to recover. The writer of Hebrews verifies that this psalm is indeed about Jesus, God’s son.

But about his Son, he called him “God,” saying,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever

and you will rule your kingdom

with justice and righteousness, 

For you have cherished righteousness

and detested lawlessness.

For this reason, God, your God, has anointed you 

and poured out the oil of bliss on you 

more than on any of your friends.”

(Hebrews 1:8,9)

This was a glimpse of the future, but by itself the meaning of the psalm remained a mystery for a very long time. The writer of Hebrews explains:

Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways. The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these last days, and now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time. (Hebrews 1:1 & 2)

Psalm 45 is a prophetic word picture of an event that wouldn’t be explained until John, who wrote down his vision in the book of Revelation, told us about the great marriage celebration of Jesus and his bride, the purified, sanctified, glorified ones he came to redeem.

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns! 

Let us rejoice and exalt him and give him glory,

because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come. 

And his bride has made herself ready. 

Fine linen, shining bright and clear,

has been given to her to wear,

and the fine linen represents

the righteous deeds of his holy believers.” (Revelation 19:6b – 8)

The Psalms of the Sons of Korah are probably not in chronological order of the dates they were written. That tends to be a western way of organizing things. It’s hard to tell where this ecstatic bank-bursting overflowing words experience occurred on the road back from shame that began with the rebellion of their ancestor in the desert, but I’m often surprised by God’s timing and who he picks to pass on these fragments that over millennia create a fuller picture of who he is and reveal his plan since the beginning of creation. I think one of the purposes of prophecy is not to give us a program with a list of events in order of appearance. A lot of prophetic words won’t make sense until the time comes to recognize that this thing happening now was foretold. This is that. Through prophecy, God gives his people re-assurance that he knows all about it. He’s been in it all along. He’s not surprised or anxious. He’s got this.

I’m very grateful he leaves clues for us like a trail of mysterious crumbs that urge us to find the one who left them there. Perhaps the Sons of Korah needed to get their eyes off the pain that is so evident in some of their psalms and venture out, taking steps of faith toward him by singing a song that must have made people at the time scratch their heads.

Encounters with God can be scary out-of-the-box events for which we have no grid, but they create a hunger that makes us want more.

And there is more.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Part II

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Thinking about hidden stories to be found in the genealogies of the Bible that I once thought boring (Part I) made me think about my own. Unexpectedly, I discovered research that someone else had done on my family’s ancestry. What a thrill when I opened a page full of the symbols of royal heraldry! Some ancestors were leaders and innovators and heroes. Some were not. I also found despots, drunks, and deadbeat dads.

Children are more perceptive than we realize. I picked up a sense of shame when I was a kid. Over time, I gathered clues to the unspoken story that leaked out in photo albums, overheard conversations, and hints like the fact my grandfather forbade the mention of his father’s name. Recently, with the help of archived newspapers online, I discovered the family fortunes took a drastic downturn after an incident of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of mothers, children, a fiancée, and shop workers heading home on Christmas eve. My great grandfather failed to attend to a safety matter on a tram system in a large eastern city. He was drunk. The family lost their big house, their wealth, and their status. Old photos no longer featured my grandfather as the child dressed in velvet and ruffles. He became the dirt darkened boy clad in worn overalls. Instead of the elegant brick house, his mother stood in front of an unpainted shack. Her husband was not with her.

My great grandfather’s father was the illegitimate son of someone with money in England who paid for him to go away. Like many others whose mere existence was an embarrassment, he was given cash and passage to the colonies when he was old enough. He wasn’t a good father either. When his wife died, he gave his children to someone else to raise.

We all carry inherited shame since our first forebearers chose to believe the serpent’s lies. Some are more aware of rejection and the mark of shame than others. In shame/honour societies like the culture of Biblical times, being kicked out of the tribe is the ultimate punishment. Until recently, western culture has been based on guilt and forgiveness. A person who has broken a law can be redeemed after anything from issuing an apology, or making restitution, to a fine, or serious jail time. It’s possible to come back after “paying his debt to society.” In a shame/honour society, there is no forgiveness, no yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree. There is only shunning.

One way to tell if you are still operating under the guilt/forgiveness system is if you find yourself being dismissed or “cancelled” and respond with, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” In a shame/honour society you don’t have to be guilty of breaking any law to suffer rejection; you merely need to have said or done something that identifies you with other rejects. In this system once a person has “lost face,” especially in public, there is no coming back. In this system the outcasts didn’t just DO something wrong; they ARE something wrong – and so are their families and their dog.

But God’s plan for the outcasts is different.

Sometimes victims of injustice form new tribes like David and his Mighty Men – re-echoed in the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Those who band together often maintain a common sense of being shamed, but still long for vindication and restoration. Perhaps this is why the Sons of Korah still carried their identity as the descendants of a traitor. Perhaps David learned something from being on the run.  In the rocky terrain of the desert he took physically gifted rejects from society and turned them into a band of warriors fighting for justice. Perhaps this is why, after his vindication, he took a band of artistically gifted poets and musicians and gave them a public position back in the tent of worship.

But it takes more than a new job and fancy clothes to change how a person sees themselves. Psalm 42 reveals that the Sons of Korah still struggled with discouragement and shame and depression. This psalm is a cry of longing for personal revival. It begins:

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Step one on the road back to a closer relationship with God is admitting that all is not well with one’s soul. It’s responding to the question “How’s that workin’ for ya?” with an honest assessment of, “Not very well. In fact, not well at all. I am consumed with longing to stop hiding in shame and walk with God again.”

Verse 4 says:

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

We can be doing all the religious things but still feel like we’ve lost something. The joy of the Lord may feel illusive. We don’t want to stay like this.

Then the Sons of Korah take another step. They recognize their poverty of spirit but dare to hope. There is a moment between overwhelming waves of emotions of loss and despair when we start to take charge of them by declaring a truth we may not yet feel.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

But the struggle is real. It’s a life and death back and forth battle in the heart between old lies and new truths.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”

The psalm ends with an act of faith by choosing to do what God has made them for and a repetition of the declaration.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The journey back has begun.

By day the Lord directs his love. At night his song is with you, even if you can’t quite hear it yet.

The Problem With That Is…

What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.

-Os Guinness

Let the Healing Streams Abound

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley

One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait of mine, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.

Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”

Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.

It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.

“Ask me,” he said.

“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.

“Ask me about my grace.”

“I don’t deserve your grace.”

“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”

I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”

Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.