Every time I’m in trouble I call on you, confident that you’ll answer

Sometimes you just need a Psalm…. This version is The Message, a really stunning paraphrase. You can also read it in the New Living Translation, but this version really struck a chord with me today.

Got any bullies after you today? And, no, they don’t have to be people. Sometimes the worst bullies in our lives are intangible. Anxiety and fear. Depression and despair. Anger and frustration. And insecurity. Just because a bully can’t physically touch you doesn’t make it less harmful. And just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean God can’t help you overcome it.

Psalm 86

person-young-woman-girl-7306Bend an ear, God; answer me.
I’m one miserable wretch!
Keep me safe—haven’t I lived a good life?
Help your servant—I’m depending on you!
You’re my God; have mercy on me.
I count on you from morning to night.
Give your servant a happy life;
I put myself in your hands!
You’re well-known as good and forgiving,
bighearted to all who ask for help.
Pay attention, God, to my prayer;
bend down and listen to my cry for help.
Every time I’m in trouble I call on you,
confident that you’ll answer.

There’s no one quite like you among the gods, O Lord,
and nothing to compare with your works.
All the nations you made are on their way,
ready to give honor to you, O Lord,
Ready to put your beauty on display,
parading your greatness,
And the great things you do—
God, you’re the one, there’s no one but you!

Train me, God, to walk straight;
then I’ll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I’ve never kept secret what you’re up to.
You’ve always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!
God, these bullies have reared their heads!
A gang of thugs is after me—
and they don’t care a thing about you.
But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.
So look me in the eye and show kindness,
give your servant the strength to go on,
save your dear, dear child!
Make a show of how much you love me
so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed,
As you, God, gently and powerfully
put me back on my feet.

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Edinburgh, Scotland on a cloudy morning

Don’t make decisions when you’re emotional

Sometimes I wonder how God puts up with me. My moods are volatile and harsh, and I can go from praising Him one moment to wanting to give up entirely the next. I’m not exactly sure what the root cause of it is; I’m still working on that.  But most of the time my moods are exacerbated by people, and the quickest, most efficient way to plunge me into a pit of discouragement is to point out my flaws and failures. I don’t know if that’s the perfectionist in me or not, and it’s something I’m trying to do better about, because most of the time people are just trying to help. I know I’m not perfect, and I know I need help, but admitting that I need it is still somehow tantamount to failure in my mind.

And every now and then, I have one of those rough days where I feel criticized by everyone, and even when they’re trying to help, my brain translates it to, “You’re not good enough.” And pretty soon I’m drowning in a pit of discouragement so deep I have no chance of climbing out. And here’s the ridiculous part: I know I’m being silly, so I don’t want to talk to anyone about it. Why? Because even though I have already established that I’m not good enough, I’d like people around me to maintain their opinions that I’m at least competent and not a psychotic, emotional nutcase.

And it doesn’t stop there, of course. No, my brain is a fixer brain. I’m always trying to fix problems. So when I encounter those moments where my insufficiency becomes too much to bear, I start making plans of how to lessen the amount of trouble my failures are going to cause other people. And usually I do a pretty good job of creating scenarios where I can shift responsibilities and bow out gracefully so that other, better prepared, “good enough” people can take charge. 

But as I was mulling over all of this last night in the throes of my despair, I realized how completely and utterly irrational I was being. I mean, this all probably stems from my own personal insecurity, and it’s never ever a wise idea to make judgment calls based on what your insecurities tell you about life and people.

I had a bad day. I got my feelings hurt. I had to endure some major stress that left me drained, and I had to act as mediator between people who don’t understand each other (for an introverted peacemaker there’s nothing more exhausting). And I had to face the fact that I’m not as good at certain things as I think I am. And after a weekend of that and a whole Monday of it in varying forms, last night I was just so emotionally distraught was about ready to implode. And I was going to make a decision that would affect my life for the next year?

Not the best idea ever. And that’s when I thought about a person in the Bible who I always identify with, the prophet Elijah.

Edinburgh, Scotland on a cloudy morning

Edinburgh, Scotland on a cloudy morning

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:1-8.

When Ahab got home, he told Jezebel everything Elijah had done, including the way he had killed all the prophets of Baal. So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.

Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.

I’m going to cut it off there this morning because I’m already rambling, but the whole story here is in 1 Kings 19, though I’d encourage you to read 1 Kings 18 too.

The point I’m getting at here is that it’s never a good idea to make decisions when you’re emotionally exhausted. We all get to that point. We all have been there, where we’ve faced so many discouraging situations that we can’t bear another one. Everyone reaches that point in their life where they’re ready to implode or explode (it usually depends on if you’re extroverted or introverted). And sometimes when you’re at that point, you’re going to be tempted to make decisions. You’re going to be so discouraged that you won’t be able to say anything positive about anyone, especially yourself. And if you’re normally a perfectionist, you’re going to turn all of that loathing and frustration inward anyway, so all your decisions will involve removing yourself from positions of authority to make way for other people who are better than you. You’re going to be so tired of all of it that you just want out.

Don’t.

Elijah had just called down fire from heaven. He had just led the beginning of a revolution in Israel. And all it took was one little threat from a crazy woman to send him scuttling for the hills in terror for his life. Exhausted and discouraged, he just wanted to pack it all in and give up.

And what did God do? He sent an angel to feed Elijah. And Elijah rested and slept and ate and rested some more. I think we blow past that a lot, especially the performance-driven people among us.

Later on in the story, God and Elijah have a little heart-to-heart, and it really comes down to the fact that God needed to help Elijah get his perspective straight. But it started with rest and food. It started with taking a moment to restore himself physically.

It’s really easy to make important decisions when you’re upset. It’s cathartic almost because when you’re discouraged and angry, making a decisions helps you feel like you have control of something. It’s something to hold on to. But it’s not wise. When you’re angry and discouraged, you aren’t seeing straight. You aren’t thinking straight. You’re thinking about you, and that’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not the time to make important decisions. 

So when you’re sad and discouraged and upset and frustrated and you’re tempted to start making judgment calls to help yourself feel more in control, stop. Never make a decision when you’re angry. Table it. Walk away from it. Sleep on it. Come back to it in the morning, and I promise it will make more sense. It won’t be as harsh as you thought it was. It won’t feel like a personal attack, and even if it is a personal attack, you’ll be able to see it more clearly.

God didn’t give up on Elijah, even when Elijah gave Him plenty of reasons to. God won’t give up on us either. But we can help ourselves out by saving the decision making for the times when we’re seeing the world the way it’s supposed to be, instead of through our own hurt feelings.

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

God’s rescue comes even though the waters keep rising

You’ve got to love David. If you’ve ever spent any time in the Psalms, you know what I’m talking about. David just had a gift with words. He could turn a phrase just right so that it got right down to the heart of the issue. Most of the time I think it’s because David was honest and earnest about who he was and who God is. But one of my favorite “psalms” of David’s isn’t in Psalms at all. In fact, it’s in 2 Samuel.

It’s long, like 50 verses, but I’m only going to post the first 30 this morning, mainly because those are the ones that really stuck out to me as I read them. (I should correct yesterday’s post too, since my best friend’s novel is actually based on verses 17-18 of this passage; I saw deep waters and got my verses mixed up!)

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Samuel 3-30:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
    the one who saves me from violence.
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and he saved me from my enemies.

“The waves of death overwhelmed me;
    floods of destruction swept over me.
 The grave wrapped its ropes around me;
    death laid a trap in my path.
 But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    yes, I cried to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
    my cry reached his ears.

“Then the earth quaked and trembled.
    The foundations of the heavens shook;
    they quaked because of his anger.
 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
    fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
    Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
 He opened the heavens and came down;
    dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
    soaring on the wings of the wind.
 He shrouded himself in darkness,
    veiling his approach with dense rain clouds.
 A great brightness shone around him,
    and burning coals blazed forth.
 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded. 
He shot arrows and scattered his enemies;
    his lightning flashed, and they were confused.
 Then at the command of the Lord,
    at the blast of his breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen,
    and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
 He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
    from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
 They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
    but the Lord supported me.
 He led me to a place of safety;
    he rescued me because he delights in me.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right;
    he restored me because of my innocence.
 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
    I have not turned from my God to follow evil.
 I have followed all his regulations;
    I have never abandoned his decrees.
 I am blameless before God;
    I have kept myself from sin.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right.
    He has seen my innocence.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful;
    to those with integrity you show integrity.
 To the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the wicked you show yourself hostile.
 You rescue the humble,
    but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them.
 O Lord, you are my lamp.
    The Lord lights up my darkness.
 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

David sang this song after God rescued Him from his enemies, but there is a lot in this passage that applies to life as we know it today. So much that I don’t really have time to go over all of it. I could spend a month on this chapter alone. Maybe I should.

But what I love about this–one of the many aspects–is how it depicts God coming to the rescue. Part of me thinks it’s ironic to see God’s rescue being depicted in natural disasters; maybe there’s a point in that. But when God comes to the rescue like that, who could doubt Him? He charges in with thunder and lightning and earthquakes and terror and reaches down to us to pull us out of our distress and our fear. I love how this passage ends too. God is our light in the darkness, and with Him nothing is impossible.

I’m not sure if we can really wrap our heads around that concept, but we can try. So the next impossible task you face, remember this passage. Remember that when you’re in trouble, you just need to cry out for help, and God will be there. He’ll come charging in to rescue you, to draw you out of the floods that are threatening to overwhelm you.

True, the verse doesn’t say God will stop the floods. But it does say God will be there to help. And if we have God’s help, there’s nothing we can’t do.