Reviving The Soul

Reviving the Soul3   Those of you who have are regular readers of this blog probably already know that at one point in my life I had a bit of a problem with drugs and alcohol. For anyone new here, suffice it to say that when it came to following the rules, I didn’t. I won’t dig into the details on that, I’m sure most of you reading this have experienced your own rebellious streaks at one point or another. If I have learned anything, it’s that I’m not nearly as unique as I might have once thought myself.

This rebelliousness that most of us have gone through, or perhaps continue to struggle with, is nothing new. Give a thorough reading to the Old Testament and you’ll see example after example of individuals and groups who rebel against God. The words “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (ie: Judges 17:6) have regular occurrence. It seems by our very nature we are a pugnacious lot.

While there are all kinds of rules we are expected (and sometimes reluctant) to follow, such as income taxes, speed limits, and the like; let us be concerned with the laws that God has set before us. In the Bible, from beginning to end, we find God has lots of rules for us. I won’t take the time to dive into a detailed analysis of all God’s rules, for such an analysis is beyond the scope of this blog, so let’s just focus on a few examples, taken from the Ten Commandments.

“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) So let’s get honest with each other. Who has not stolen something at least once in their lives? Maybe it was just a little something, like a few office supplies from work. It didn’t have to be something big, it was still stealing if we appropriated for ourselves that which belonged to someone else. And someone who steals is called…a thief, right?

And then there’s the rule that, perhaps, I struggle with more than any other: “You must not covet your neighbor’s house…..or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17) I suspect I am not alone in my covetousness. For me, it’s usually gazing upon that beautiful new truck that my neighbor just bought, or some other shiny object in my neighbor’s garage for which I feel such avarice. Have you not found yourself desiring that which belongs to someone else? Go ahead and admit it!

We are always tempted to wonder why God has such rules for us. Perhaps the answer to that question actually lies, in part, within one of those rules. In Exodus 20:12 we find this truth: “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Ah, there we have something “then you will live a long, full life….” Yes! Our understanding of why God has rules for us is revealed in that statement.

Now, almost from the first moments of our lives we are already failing to honor our parents. “Be home before dark.” “Eat your vegetables.” “Do your homework.” “Don’t play in the street.” I think we all know why our parents had those rules in place for us. In all likelihood, we have (or had) similar rules for our own children. Because we love them dearly and we want them to survive in this world and to be all they can be. And now we see, in the fifth commandment, that God wants the same for us: to survive in this world and to be all we can be!

In today’s world, a lot of people think God’s rules are archaic and irrelevant; but many of us have the same rules for our children as our parents’ had for us because, as adults, we have come to realize those rules were sensible in every way. And so it is with God’s rules, they made sense then and they make sense now – for it is only when we follow God’s rules that we experience all that life has to offer. It is only when we follow God’s rules that reach our highest potential and experience true freedom. And it is when we disregard those rules that we experience the most pain.

The psalmist wrote: “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.” (Psalm 19:7-8) So we see here that following God’s instructions will revive us, make us wise, bring joy to our hearts, and give us insight for living because God’s rules are perfect, trustworthy, right, and clear. And just as applicable for us today as our parents’ rules are for our own children or granchildren!

When I rebelled against my parents’ rules I was first and foremost rebelling against God and my life was a constant uphill struggle. Sure there were some happy times, but deep inside was constant unrest and deep dissatisfaction with life. But I have found the more I follow God’s instructions, like the psalmist says, the more peace and serenity I enjoy. I want you to know that peace and serenity, too, so I invite you to try life God’s way. What have you got to lose?

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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Within and Without

Within & Without  I am no stranger to difficult times. Like most of us, I have struggled through many very painful and stressful circumstances and I have felt the inner turmoil that comes with them. It seems today, more than ever, that people are really struggling. Depression, addiction, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and despair are just some of the symptoms stemming from the difficulties we face. If you are like me, you have probably even looked around at times for who to blame for the trials you’ve endured. And, indeed, sometimes our struggles do stem from the actions of others, but for me, more often than not, I’m pretty sure I need look no further than the mirror.

Like most of us today, King David was no stranger to difficulty. He was an adulterer and a murderer (read 2 Samuel 11). He was surrounded by enemies both within his kingdom and outside of it. Even his own son, Absalom, tried to overthrow and kill him (read the full story starting in 2 Samuel 15). If ever there was a person who might be tempted to blame his problems on others, one might thing King David would be just such a person. The ordeal with Absalom was devastating to David and upon hearing of the death of his son at the hands of the King’s warriors, the Bible says David was overcome with emotion and burst into tears (read 2 Samuel 18:33). David most certainly knew the reality of emotional pain.

In Psalm 38 we see that even in the face of his many enemies and the immense pressure he faced as king, David doesn’t start with blaming others. Rather, he starts by looking within himself and considering his own sin. Psalm 38 is an excellent example of how David cried out to the Lord in prayer, examining his own life and his own wrongs first, then the actions of others, and finally pleading with God for help and forgiveness. I have reprinted Psalm 38 in its entirety below. In verses 1 and 2 he addresses his lament to the Lord, indicating this is a prayer. Verses 3-10 address the onslaught from the enemy within whereas verses 11-20 address the enemy without. Verses 21 and 22 conclude the prayer. It is easy to see that David’s perspective was that his painful plight was, at least in part, due to his own personal sin.

A couple things strike me when I read Psalm 38; in verses 3-8, David articulates the anguish that he is feeling, describing it with words such as “crushing”, “broken”, “grief” and he likens his trials to sickness and fever. I can identify with the way extreme stress, sadness, and anguish can make me feel that the world is crushing in on me and how it can make my whole body feel sick, sometimes sapping me even of the desire to get out of bed. The second thing that strikes me is the way David cries out to the Lord, confessing his sin and acknowledging that God has the power to restore him. This is seen in verses 9, 15, and 18-22. So he starts with self-examination and concludes by reaching out to the only one who has the power to restore his spirit.

So here it is, Psalm 38, with my concluding remarks following:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
2 Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
3 Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
4 My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
6 I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
7 A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
8 I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.
9 You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.
13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”
17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.

The good news in all of this is that God loves you dearly. Just as you are. He says you are created in His image (Genesis 1:26) and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Like a loving parent he created rules to guide us so we could live full and satisfying lives (as Dr. James McDonald says: “when God says ‘don’t’ he means ‘don’t hurt yourself’”). Then knowing that we had failed to meet his holy standards, he sent his one and only Son so that we could be forgiven and stand in his presence again (John 3:16).

Sometimes when we are struggling, we need the help of professional counselors and doctors, and we should always consult with those resources. But we should not hesitate to reach out to God also, for he will always respond to our sincere prayers. Jesus said these words and I hope they bring you as much comfort as they do me: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Today my prayer for you is that you will find the love and peace of our Savior and the promise of his coming.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.