When I was a child, I used to have a secret place where I would go to talk to Jesus. I told him things that weren’t safe to say out loud where someone might hear. I didn’t know that was praying. I thought praying was when people recited rhymes at meal times or before bed or stood on a platform and shouted at God in King James English as if he were as hard as hearing as some of the folk in the pews (who some of us thought may have been as old as King James).
I talked to Jesus because he was someone who loved the little children. I could be very open and honest with him. Somehow, I had picked up the notion that God the Father was angry and disappointed with me like so many other people in my life. I couldn’t let him see the confusion and pain in my heart. It seemed ungrateful –and perhaps dangerous.
I’m realizing, all these years later, even though I have learned that God the Father is not who I thought he was and is loving and kind and inviting, I still don’t feel comfortable praying out loud in front of people. When someone asks, “Does anyone want to close in prayer?” I’m already avoiding eye contact.
You see, when I pray, I am very aware the moment requires total transparency. I call it praying naked. It comes from a time when the Holy Spirit spoke to me while I was in the bathtub. He’s not dismayed by my many imperfections in body and soul. Other people on the other hand…
Someone, who I’m sure meant well, once told me she had heard me pray a few good prayers in an intercessor’s group we belonged to. Then she suggested I listen to some of the more well-seasoned women’s prayers to see how it was done. I didn’t know I was being graded. Suddenly I was back in Jr. High.
It was the last day of the dreaded “Extemporaneous Speech Unit” in English class. I could no longer hide behind Big Bob or make an emergency trip to the restroom. I rose. I faced the class. I pulled the topic from the hat. I spoke. I tried to be humorous. My joke fell flat. Sigh. The teacher asked me to explain it. Sigh. I did. She still didn’t get it. Sigh. Neither did the other students. Sigh. The students were invited to submit their evaluations. Can you die from humiliation?
People who know me now, can tell you I have no trouble talking about almost any topic. That’s probably because I am an introvert who learned to function as an extrovert to avoid the humiliations of youth. It’s a skill I needed when I became a singer and later a teacher. But performing can be exhausting.
Some good friends have helped me learn to pray together with them. They don’t judge. They don’t hide their weaknesses. They encourage. They challenge. They support. They give me freedom to be myself. How beautifully precious they are.
I walked down by the lake thinking about this. I love how clear the water is here. Its transparency reminds me of the hope that someday I can feel less self-conscious when praying out loud in public. I hope for unity in spirit with fellow believers who will be safe, where judgment is replaced by encouragement, where we are recognized by our love for each other, and where our focus when we pray is on God and not ourselves.
If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about the importance of treating each other well, with out prejudice and with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, he added an important truth: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 NIV)
His advice about wrapping our motivations in love is what keeps us from turning his earlier instructions into another to-do list for controlling types. A song from “The Slipper and The Rose” called “Protocoligorically Correct” demonstrates a situation many of us are familiar with, even outside a fairy tale kingdom setting.
“Yes, we must be protocoligorically correct Good form must never suffer from neglect The rules and regulations we respect Must be treated circumspect Else the kingdom will be wrecked We’ve a system to protect Checked and double checked And protocoligorically correct.”
It’s an amusing song even if its satire stings a bit. Many virtues seem, well, virtuous, until we realize that without love they become mere rules and regulations and the means to maintain control. When virtues morph into protocols, the soul of Christian existence is relegated to the back of the broom closet. Sometimes it’s easier to preoccupy ourselves with protecting a system than actually caring for each other and raising each other up. Love is an investment in another person’s well-being and spiritual growth. Love requires sensitivity to the tempering wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the kind of emotional courage Jesus demonstrated.
Love is not an option for the Christian. It’s not something to be sentimentalized and brought out for special occasions. Love is the identifying feature of the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13: 34, 35
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.
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.
Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say, “All my springs of joy are in you.”
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.“