Day Forty: Psalm 134 (March 26)

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
— Psalm 134

Day Forty. Can you believe we made it here? For someone who struggles with consistency, doing almost anything for forty days feels like a feat. But in whatever way any of us have learned or been challenged or changed due to these Psalms of Ascent, all glory goes to God. God has taken me on this unexpected journey in a way I never expected, and yet I'm so grateful and humbled to him for the opportunity this has been. And so I'm grateful that we end on Psalm 134, which is about blessing God, and being blessed by him. 

Psalm 134 is an invitation and a command to bless the Lord. When we stop to think about this for a bit, blessing God may sound strange-- we want to BE blessed by God, we are grateful when God blesses US, but for us to bless him? What can we do that would bless Him? Well, I think everything we have learned this lenten season is what we are called to do in blessing God. We are to come to Him at a place of humble confession, asking for his forgiveness. We are to trust in Him and not our own strength or might or willpower. We are to put our hope in His faithfulness, even when our present looks bleak. And praise-- we are above and beyond called to praise God, to bring him blessing for how much more wonderful and real and true He is than we even imagine. 

Sometimes, blessing God feels natural, a reactive response to how we have seen God work in our lives. Other times, when we are in the drought, when our lives feel lacking and our situations seem unfair, blessing God is not natural-- but it is still required of us. "Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord!" Sometimes, we sing even when the words aren't our truest feelings--because our feelings are not the ultimate. God's glory is our ultimate. Sometimes, we pray even when we feel alone, because what we know about God is more real than what we feel. And sometimes, when we take the physical act of blessing and praising God even when it feels unnatural-- it becomes more natural, and God reveals himself a little more, a little realer, a little more true. 

Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter) feels a lot like most of our lives: waiting. Waiting for God to move, to break in, to change circumstances, to right wrongs, to redeem. It is the space that a lot of these Psalms live in-- joy intermixed with suffering, hope in the midst of trial, a liminal space where hope is rooted in past examples and future promises. And in that place-- we bless the Lord. And in his exceeding graciousness-- He blesses us back. "May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!" He who made heaven and earth, the same one who is the mighty Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer of the world, he blesses us. How unbelievable is it that God would bless us, who have been untrusting, unkind, unbelieving, unfaithful, untrue. He blesses us. And when He does bless us, it creates a humility and meekness in us that can't help but bless him in gratitude for our blessing, and we create an unending circle of praise. 

Dear God, We bless you, lifting up our hands and recognizing that all goodness and glory and restoration comes from you. You are better than we could ever imagine, and we cannot thank you for that truth enough. Even when our feelings dismay and distract us-- You are good. Even when we are pressed at all sides-- You are real. Even when we are alone-- You are true. Thank you for who you are. May we walk this long obedience in the same direction, ever forward, ever towards you and your eternal hope. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Dig Deeper: I'd love to know your reflections on these Psalms of Ascent. Is there a way to bless God in what you have learned during these forty days? What will that look like for you, to bless the Lord? 

More about my next study, Cultivating Faithfulness: What We Can Learn from Peter, can be found here. 

Day Thirty-Nine: Good Friday (March 25)

Good Friday is a hard day. The church is black, the altar stripped, the hearts somber. Suffering is all around. We have talked a lot about suffering these past thirty-nine days of Lent. Jesus was the Suffering King, which we see so clearly in the Cross. Tim Keller says that, "suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story." (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 77) This is such a slow and hard learning process for me; I don't want to suffer. I don't want to hard, lonely times or struggle. I want the joy, without the pain. But if I have learned anything through these Psalms of Ascent (and I hope you have, too), it's that real joy doesn't exist without suffering, that it takes the pain in order to know how much we need the rescue. It takes the trials in order to truly know Jesus as more real and beautiful than we can imagine:

Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.” (Keller, p. 180–1)

Our suffering has a purpose that I am learning through this long obedience in the same direction: suffering exists to make us beautiful, to work out our salvation so that we become more and more like Christ as we await his coming glory. It's okay to sit in suffering, as excruciating as it is, because we know what it's doing to and for and through us. When we push it away, we push away Jesus, who brings himself near in those times of trial, because He knows suffering more than we can ever know it. So today, don't bypass Good Friday. Don't let the eggs and flowers of Sunday tempt you away from sitting in the uncomfortable suffering of Good Friday. Be okay with seeing the devastation of the Cross, don't turn away. It is only by knowing that real and true suffering, that we can know our real and true God, who is better than we could ever, ever imagine. 

Day Thirty-Eight: Psalm 133 (March 23)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.
— Psalm 133

We need each other to know Jesus. This might be a novel idea to you, especially in our religious culture where we talk about our "personal relationship" and "quiet times" and religion is viewed as a private, not a public, endeavor. Yet, we need each other to know Jesus. Our relationships and community with other believers is an enormous blessing that God has given us, yet we often view it was either an obligation, or a superfluous thing. "It's nice to have friends at church, but that's not what I come here for." It's not? Then why not stay home and watch sermon podcasts on Sunday instead? I am a podcast regular as well, but if it replaces church, you are entirely foregoing  the purpose and blessing of community and fellowship with other believers. God said, from the very beginning, it was not good for man to be alone; he recognized this even before the Fall, seeing the innate need for community and relationship even before Man sinned. 

In his book City Church, Tim Keller highlights a passage from CS Lewis on the importance of community in knowing one another, and in knowing God:

 “Community is the key to true spirituality as we grow to know God by learning to know one another in relationships. In a famous passage, C.S. Lewis describes a very close friendship between himself, Charles Williams, and Ronald Tolkien (better known as J.R.R. Tolkien). After Charles Williams died, Lewis made this observation:
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth. . .We possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven. . . For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isa. 6:3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”
Lewis’ point is that even a human being is too rich and multifaceted a being to be fully known one-on-one. You think you know someone, but you alone can’t bring out all that is in a person. You need to see the person with others. And if this is true with another human being, how much more so with the Lord? You can’t really know Jesus by yourself.” (Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, pp. 313-14)

We need each other to know Jesus more. And we work hard to create community. We look around the church to find "our" people-- and yet (and I am fully guilty of this myself), do we sometimes fail to recognize that "our" people are those who also believe in the same Jesus that we do, that are also seeking to know God and make Him known? They may not look, or sound, or politically vote like we do-- but that's what affinity groups are for. The church is not an affinity group hub, it is the place where God's people come to worship Him together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.” (Life Together, p. 30)

We try so hard to find a church that "fits", and I get that, I really do, more than you know. But if the foundation of our seeking isn't rooted in Jesus but rather in our own comforts, I think we really miss out on what community has to offer. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly-- and I think abundance looks like people and places that don't necessarily look like us. Should you intentionally go somewhere you don't fit in? That's not what I'm saying. But are you avoiding reaching out to people even in your own church because they aren't just like you? I am preaching to myself. When you go to a small church like I do, it's easy to see who I don't intentionally talk to after church, because I wouldn't know what to say, or I don't think we have anything in common. But the fact that we are at church together means we have the most important thing in common! Living in unity together means letting the commonality of Jesus trump the personal preferences we have about community. We need each other to know Jesus as greater than we can imagine.

Dear God, I confess that I don't always see the common bond I have with other believers because I am so busy looking at other differences. God, forgive me for my narrow view of community. Push me to build relationships with people who are seeking your kingdom, not necessarily those who are just like me, so that through others I might come to know you as more real and better than I can imagine. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Dig Deeper: Do you find yourself only seeking out community that looks/sounds/votes like you? Are you willing to push yourself to find community based on Jesus? 

Day Thirty-Seven: Psalm 133 (March 23)

How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
ordains eternal life.
— Psalm 133 (MSG)

So we went from our longest psalm, to a very short one with an odd reference to oil and beards! I struggled with this psalm at first, until I did some background studying to understand the context. In Exodus 30, God gives Moses explicit instructions on concocting a specific anointing oil that is to be used on the altar for sacrifices, as well as on Aaron and his sons, to consecrate them as priests. "You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. " (Exodus 30:29-30) I love that God is such a God of detail. The explicit instructions he gives Moses on the items and quantities that should be put into the oil are so specific, it is evident that even the things that seem small matter to God. And the oil itself was so important, because it made both things and specific people holy as well. God told Moses,  "This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you." (Exodus 30:31-32) Aaron was the first Priest of Israel, so while the example may be obscure to you and I, an ancient Jew would have known exactly what this psalm referenced: this was holy, sacred anointing oil, highly valued and rare and used to make someone or something holy. 

So when we place this image back into the context of the psalm, we get this: the unity of believers and the relationships between those who follow God is really, really important. Just like the image of oil that liberally flows down Aaron's head through his beard and down his shirt, so does God's love--first through our relationships with other Christians, then seeping into all the other areas of our lives. While the dew on Mount Hermon initially builds on the mountaintop, it flows downward all the way into Zion (a physical impossibility, because the distance between the two is so great)-- and this is how unity between God's people should influence everything and everyone around them. 

Unity in community is so important. I can directly correlate my passion for spreading with Gospel with my involvement and relationships in the body of Christ. The stronger my relationships are, the more involved I am in my church community and more we are loving and supporting one another, the more God's love will pour out into the places where we live and work and venture throughout the day. God's love is so liberally given to us, it's like the overflowing oil dripping down Aaron's beard to his shirt. It is costly, yet given in such abundance. 

Dear God, Thank you for lavishly pouring out your love onto us. Thank you for communities we are in, and unity in the body of Christ. I pray that we view unity among believers as something so costly and precious that treat it as so, and work to keep it strong. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Dig Deeper: What do you think about this analogy? Do you value unity among believers as this costly and precious?



Day Thirty-Five: Psalm 132 (March 21)

1Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured, 2how he swore to the LORD and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, 3 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed, 4I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

6Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar. 7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!”

8 Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. 9Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. 10For the sake of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. 12If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.”

13For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: 14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. 15I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread. 16Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy. 17There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. 18His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.”
— Psalm 132

Psalm 132 is the longest of the Psalms of Ascent, and it also requires a bit of history to understand it. The psalm starts our by remembering David, referencing the trials that he endured, and a promise he made to God. The way that God symbolized his presence to the Israelites was through the ark of the covenant: 

The ark of the covenant was a box approximately forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches broad and twenty-seven inches deep, constructed of wood and covered with gold. Its lid of solid gold was called the mercy seat. Two cherubim, angellike figures at either end, framed the space around the central mercy seat from which God’s word was heard. It had been made under the supervision of Moses … and was a symbol of the presence [and rule] of God among his people. The ark had accompanied Israel from Sinai, through the wilderness wanderings, and had been kept at Shiloh from the time of the conquest. In a battle the ark had been captured by the enemy Philistines and was a trophy of war displayed in the Philistine cities until it became a problem to them … and was returned to the village of Kiriath-jearim … where it rested until David came to get it and place it in honor in Jerusalem where it later became enshrined in Solomon’s Temple (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 160).

The Israelites singing these Psalms of Ascent up the temple mount-- they knew this story. They didn't need the full background story on it, because it was embedded into their own history. The song does not recount the entire story, but rather serves as a memory of what happened-- and the outcomes, and sometimes consequences, of choices made by people. 

Memories are incredibly powerful. They can invoke emotions and thoughts and even physical manifestations. They can serve as a reminder to us, of mistakes that we've made that have led to outcomes we don't want to live again, and of goodness that we'd like to reoccur. But as Christians, we cannot just rely on our own memories and experiences to help us understand God. In fact, to do that is to entirely dismiss the Bible as our own history. If we believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the ways that he has dealt with his people in Scripture still ring true for us today. The covenant he made with Abraham-- he is always a covenant God.  The faithfulness he showed to David-- he is always a faithful God. The way that he rescued Esther-- he is still a rescuing God. The patience he had with Peter-- he is still a patient God. When we look at scripture and say, "Oh, God doesn't rescue/redeem/restore people anymore like that," we are saying that God is not really who He says He is: the Almighty, Everlasting I AM, who always has and always will be God. 

Maybe we don't look at Scripture and explicitly say, "oh that divine intervention he did for Rahab, that's certainly not going to happen for me", but it's essentially what we mean when we don't believe that God can intervene in our own circumstances and situations. We say that we don't believe that the forgiveness Jesus showed to the criminals on the cross is for us when we think that our sin is "too big" for God to forgive, that redemption is beyond our grasp. We don't believe that God still will make a way where there is no way like he did for the Israelites in parting the Red Sea when we say, "oh, this situation is hopeless, there's no way out of it". We have such short-term memories. We believe only whatever the last ten minutes have told us about God. His memory, however, is eternal, as is His love. 

Referencing the memory of our faith, not ours individually but also the history of our faith collectively, provides us with a grounding point to say, "this is what I know about God, and this is why I will obey him wherever He leads". When our situation looks bleak, when we are facing times of trial, our stronghold in God is steadied by the ways we have seen Him work in the past, and our trust and hope that He will be faithful to us as he has been to His people before us. And, part of being a disciple is looking at the experiences of others in order to understand more fully what is expected of us as well. One of my friends says frequently, "God doesn't want half your heart, he wants your whole heart". He wants us to pursue him fully, with the abandon of the disciples who left their nets for Jesus. He wants us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow where he leads like Paul, who left behind a name and a career and an entire life to be God's messenger. He wants us to step out of the boat like Peter, to listen for his voice and trust that He will hold us up when the waves are rocky and we can't see where we're going. 

And with that, I'm excited (and a little nervous!) to share that I'm going to be doing a study on Peter for Eastertide (Easter through Pentecost - 50 days). I heard a sermon in early March on the way that God cultivated faithfulness in Peter, and it stuck with me and I feel like it's where God's leading. I want to cultivate more faithfulness, I want to be bolder in my faith, and so I'm excited what the example of Peter can teach us about following Jesus wherever He leads. If you're up for 50 more days with me, I'd love to have you join on this journey. I'll share more details about the study this week.

Dear God, Thank you for the examples in history of saints before us who you have showed your faithfulness to, and how you will continue to show your faithfulness to us as well. How often I look at the short view of history, of my own small life, when really your faithfulness stretches as far as we can see, all the way back to the Garden. Let us see You as greater than we imagine. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Dig Deeper: Do you look to the long history of Scripture to see God's faithfulness, or to your own short experiences? How does that reflect how you truly see God? 

Palm Sunday

It's Palm Sunday. The children at my church skipped and danced around the sanctuary this morning, wildly waving palm branches and shouting "hooray for Jesus!". What a contrasting service it was, when moments later we sat listening to a dramatic reading of the Passion, only participating to shout, "Crucify him! Crucify him!". All I kept thinking was, "We are the people who celebrate him on a Sunday, and crucify him on a Friday." What a strong example of a saw-edged people. 

Last night I had the opportunity to participate in a theological dinner and discussion. I saw zeal and fervor to know the Lord and know his tru"th in others that I so badly wanted for myself. I witnessed people who know God to be real and true in a way that I want to know him to be real and true. I prayed this morning as I was driving to church, "God, be real and true and near to me in a way I've never known today. Be present in an entirely new way that draws me closer to you." I don't know why, exactly, but I felt called to pray it, out loud, in the car. All day, I have an increasing tightening in my chest, a sense of urgency about sharing the Gospel and pursing God's kingdom above my own safety and comfort. It's frightening and exhilarating and a sense I've never felt-- a way I've never known God or sought to know him. Our lives are so short, and the opportunity to know God and make Him known passes us up day by day when we choose to pursue contentment from our own doing and not from God. "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

We are so privileged to seek the kingdom of God, and yet so often we put it as a low priority in our lives. I'll seek God's kingdom-- after I finish this degree. I'll seek God's kingdom-- once I find a spouse. I'll seek God's kingdom-- when the kids go to school full time. It's always later-- but friends, the time is now. The time to seek God's kingdom, to pursue discipleship and preach the good news and love the poor and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jesus-- that time is now, friends. Let's stop waiting until later, because God wants to use us now, where we are, in whatever stage of life we are in. Let's encourage and build one another up in love, let's seek the kingdom together, as families, friends, communities of the people of God. As my dad always says-- could have used angels and archangels. He chose to use us. Let's not waste it. 

In light of seeking the Kingdom, tomorrow I'll announce what I'm going to be studying for Eastertide will be (the time between Easter and Pentecost, 50 days). I'd love for you to join me

Read/Watch/Listen This Week

Marriage in the Light of Eternity- This talk started playing after another one I listened to, and I'm so glad it did. Of the many things God has taught me over this Lent, he is been re-working my idea of what marriage looks like, and what the purpose is. If you are married, or one day hope to be married, this is a worthwhile talk from Francis and Lisa Chan on the purpose of marriage, and all of life-- to seek God's kingdom, and pursue eternity above anything.  "There's a lot of happy but useless marriages out there". Powerful. 

You and Me Forever- Francis and Lisa Chan have also written a book on this topic, and you can read it for free on their app

NO MORE MORAL-MAJORITY THINKING. RECOVERING A TRUER CHRISTIANITY- This article is powerful in light of our current situation, where it seems clear that the "moral majority" is no more. A friend prayed at church today, "God, may your will be done in our country's election, whether for judgment or blessing". Let's be a part of God's blessing in our country, by seeking God's kingdom. 

Is God Listening to Your Prayers?- Another Francis Chan talk that is rocking my world this week. What's getting in the way of God listening to our prayers? US. Also, I told a friend re: this sermon that my new life goal is to marry someone (and to become a person myself) who will chase down Jehovah's Witnesses. 

Crux 2016- New music out of a church in Houston for Holy Week (free too).

ReadScripture- This app is a work in progress, but so cool. The mission of it is "to get world-class bible teaching into people's hands so they can spend more time alone with God".

Public Faith- Tim Keller's RISE sermon series is worth putting on your podcast list. 

Day Thirty-Two: Psalm 130 (March 17)

The psalmist has come a long way in these eight verses, from the depth of deepest pit to waiting on the wall for God's forgiveness, to now witnessing to all of Israel

Lent Sunday Five

Dear Friends, 

This is the last "normal" Sunday of Lent. Who could believe it?! Next week is Palm Sunday, and then, Easter! I can hardly believe it. One thing I would like to gauge is whether or not anyone else would be interested in studying a new set of Scripture for Eastertide. Easter is both one Sunday, and a celebration of 50 days between Easter Vigil (Sunday) and Pentecost Sunday. I'm thinking it's time to step into the New Testament. If you are interested, let me know here so I can get an overview of who might want to journey with me to Pentecost. I am thinking I might do something a little different than this Lent season, still with online devotionals, and perhaps some additional tangible add-ons for anyone interested. 

Read/Watch/Listen This Week

Lamentations- This album by Bifrost Arts is exactly where God has taken us this Lent season: into a place of joy and suffering, of trust and confusion. The songs are beautiful and honest and real. Take the 2 minutes and watch the introduction video. Also available on Spotify

Rescuing Slaves- This article on Anu George Canjanathoppil (who works for IJM) is powerful. I heard her speak through IF:Gathering this year, and her story is a testament to the courage God gives those who trust Him. Makes me kind of want to drop everything and move to India to work with her (don't worry, Mom, I only said kind of...)

I Give Where I Feel Led- A sermon like you've never heard before on giving, shared via my dad of his friend Bishop Thad Barnum. Worth the 24 minutes (I know, I say this about everything).

Rethinking Outreach- This sermon by Francis Chan was not what I thought it would be, but it was more powerful than what I expected. 

Speaking of Outreach- I'm now in charge of the Outreach committee at my church, and I'd love to crowd-source some ideas, particularly on what Outreach options exist for families with Elementary and younger kids that you know of. If you can think of any family-friendly Outreach programs that you know of, please send me an email! 

Day Twenty-Six: Psalm 129 (March 10)

A Note: I want to begin by admitting something that has been burdened on me all day. When I began this study, I prayed, more fervently than I ever have, that this study would be deeply rooted in Scripture. I even asked friends specifically to pray that it would not be full of "Nancy-Pageisms", but rather that I would take so seriously the privilege and responsibility it is to share God's word with others, that anything I say would be rooted in God's truth and not my own. As I published yesterday's post, I knew that I had not given God my best, I had not let His word speak but rather had clouded it with my own examples and experiences. I'm not sharing this looking for any kind of approval, or sympathy, or as an excuse. But I wanted those of you who have been reading to know that's why we're doing a reset, of sorts, on Psalm 129 today. (And sorry this is so long! I've not mastered learned the skill of brevity. - np) 

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”
let Israel say;
2 “they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.
4 But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”
5 May all who hate Zion
be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof,
which withers before it can grow;
7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it,
nor one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say to them,
“The blessing of the Lord be on you;
we bless you in the name of the Lord.”
— Psalm 129

This is a difficult psalm. I have heard it referred to as a "war psalm", because not only is the writer seeing wickedness in the world, but also calling for God to harshly deal with those who have brought the pain upon them. We will get to that later, but I do want to talk today about being wounded, times when "plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long". There is so much painfulness insinuated in this example. An ancient plow along your back would absolutely tear you apart, making long and deep and incredibly painful marks on you. What a perfect example, then, of what people's words and actions can do to us. The seasons where we are absolutely torn apart, wounded so deeply by wickedness that can see no way to bring it back together. 

I think most of us can think of experiences, seasons, people who have deeply wounded us, who have plowed into us in such a way that it left an incredibly large hole in us. If you can't relate to this, I'm so grateful for that for you, and you know someone who has been wounded by something. People can hurt each other so awfully. One of my dad's oldest sayings is, "hurting people hurt other people". If you think of the times and situations and people which have wounded you the most, the wickedness in them is likely what caused the pain for you. This is such a difficult and scary thing to write about-- the wounds that we all feel, they are so real. And the places they come from are real too. They come oftentimes from the closest of relationships: parents, siblings, spouses, dear friends. People can hurt each other, deeply. 

Oh how I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to conjure up pain in you, I don't want you to wince or close the window when we talk about this, because I know hard these things are, and how real they are. The things that leave deep impressions on us hurt so badly: pride, arrogance, violence, abuse, judgment, anger, vindictiveness, selfishness. That's only a small list of the wickedness, the sin, that exists in the world. You know what it is that has hurt you. And hear me now: I am so incredibly, terribly sorry. I'm sorry for the pain you have felt, and maybe continue to feel. I am sorry for the things you've had to endure that were not your own fault, the experiences and memories that haunt you because of someone else's choices, someone else's struggles, someone else's sin. Just as the Israelites in captivity felt like their treatment was so unmerited and unfair, so too is whatever situation you have. 

I want to jump to "...but they have not gained victory over me"-- but I can't yet. Because the other thing about a plow-- it has a purpose: to prepare the land for new seed. And when our lives and our feelings and our situations have been painfully plowed by other people or situations, often whatever struggle in them that caused the original pain can also plant something awful in us. Sin begets sin in many ways. The insecurity of someone else that originally hurt me so deeply became something that started manifesting in my own life. Maybe it was a defensive move, perhaps it was what felt like it would protect me from ever being wounded like that again. But the sin in that person became something that rooted in me, that brought ugly and rotten fruit into my life. It is so difficult to see the ways that other people have not only hurt us, but affected our lives deeply. It took someone directly pointing it out to me for me to realize how much nasty fruit this situation had grown in me. 

I listened to a sermon once where the pastor said, "If you don't deal with your sin, other people have to". How real is that? Maybe you have been the one whose sin, like mine, has affected relationships around you. My insecurity has kept a guard around me that has caused other people to not feel like they can always be honest with me. When I can't find my security in God, those around me have to suffer the consequences. When I let insecurity have a place to grow in me, I also forced the people who love me the most to walk on eggshells and keep things from me and hold back from telling me the truth, for fear of the outcome.

The painful experience I endured years ago left a deep wound that I filled with the same insecurity that had hurt me originally. The cycle is painful to even admit, because the more and more I recognize it, the more I see how much I, in turn, have hurt relationships and wounded people I love more than anything. The sins that first hurt me, I have let them embed themselves into my heart and grow into a vine entangled around it.

That original plow, it hurt. Maybe you know what it is for you, and maybe you're still trying to figure it out. But we have to recognize the aftermath of that experience, and see if it rooted something in us as well, that is cyclically hurting others in similar ways to how we were wounded.

God wants desperately to redeem and restore us. He wants us to be able to say "Only because of God, '..,they have not gained victory over me'". He can do it. The situations that seem to broken to be redeemed-- He wants to redeem. The wounds that don't seem able to be healed-- He wants to heal. He knows it all. We cannot keep him from seeing our sin. Tim Keller says, "he loves us not because we are lovely, but to make us lovely". Our scarred backs can be made lovely by Jesus' redeeming love if we are willing to give it to Him. It's nothing we deserve-- just as others have hurt us, so have we likely wounded others. We should get what's coming to us. But the interception of that retribution is so graciously, mercifully intercepted by God at the cross. Let's leave it there. He is more powerful and loving than we could imagine. 

Dear God, I see the awful sin that has rooted itself in my life, wounding others just like it originally wounded me from someone else. Take this evil in me, intercept it from me, pry it away from my heart. I want to know you as more real, powerful, and loving than I imagine you to be. Plant your goodness in place of the evil I have watered. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Dig Deeper: Do you know what your wounds are? Do you see places where they have manifested in your life, hurting someone else in return? What's it going to take to give it up to God, to let him intercept that sin at the cross, and grow instead a garden of righteousness?