Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Long Oh Lord?

Has anyone ever asked you “What is your favorite Psalm?”  Many would cite Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) or Psalm 103 (Praise the Lord O My Soul and Forget not all His benefits) or something similar.  Though I appreciate these wonderful Psalms, I often find myself drawn to Psalm 13.  If you are familiar with this Psalm, you might think I am a little strange.  It starts out like this:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

This is a Psalm of David, whom Scripture describes as “a man after God’s own heart”.  David loved God, but apparently he experienced times when he felt like the God he loved was hiding His face.  He wrestled with his thoughts.   How long did this go on?  Apparently it went on “day after day”; and certainly long and often enough that he cried out, “How long, O Lord?” 

I can relate to David.  On and off through much of my adult life, I have had similar struggles.   Sometimes, I haven’t a clue why.  At other times, I can trace it to faulty thinking.  That is, like David, I have had to wrestle with my thoughts.  
  • For example, I have a very tender, sensitive conscience, which on the surface is a good thing.  I feel genuine shame when I even think an evil thought, not to mention if I actually say or do something sinful.  But a tender conscience that is not constantly bathed in the truth of the Gospel--remembering that Jesus Christ paid for all my sins past, present and future--puts me in danger of falling into a downward spiral of despair.
  • Or if I do not keep the Gospel foremost in my mind, letting it be a balm to my soul, memories of hurts, regrets and failures from the past will start to rear their ugly head; I must preach the Gospel to myself to correct my thinking in order to keep myself from reliving or rehearsing the past.
  • At other times, I have been horrified by unspeakably evil thoughts that have crossed my mind, perhaps because of something I read in the paper or heard on the radio, or even a thought that seemed to come out of nowhere.   I have been beset with fear and horror, thinking, “My God, what is wrong with me that I could even think something so evil?’  I forget the sage advice of Martin Luther, who once said:”You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from nesting in your hair.”

Sometimes it has been difficult to keep those birds of faulty thinking from nesting in my hair, and it has sometimes resulted in a heaviness of heart, a debilitating pall and sadness that weighs me down emotionally and even physically.  Even after I have caught myself and have corrected my thinking and started reminding myself of the truth of the Gospel, sometimes the sadness does not lift right away.  Sometimes it can go on for weeks. 

These times of sadness have not always been brought about by faulty thinking that is uninformed by the Gospel.  Sometimes they come for no apparent reason, and I have had to logically talk myself out of it.  I have had to speak to my soul not only with the Gospel but with some simple logic, such as:
Yesterday, all was well with my soul and I was happy, but today I am not.  Yet nothing has really changed, and God still loves me.  There is no logical reason for me to be sad, so I am going to do my best to move on.
Whatever the cause or the duration of these episodes, God has preserved me for all these years.  Even through the most depressing times, He has been faithful and shown mercy by causing the sadness to lift and joy to return.  Yes, I have experienced times of sadness and depression, but God has been faithful and true to bring me through them all.  So if and when the darkness returns, I can take courage that He will deliver me again, because He is faithful and true, whether I am experiencing joy or going through a dark period.  The Gospel is still true, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

One of the biggest lies that depressed people tend to believe is that nobody else has experienced or could possibly understand what they are going through.  But I know that I am not alone.  Just like David, there have been many saints in the Bible and throughout church history—Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few--who have glorified God by persevering through struggles that are not altogether different from mine, probably even worse.  In our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln suffered deeply from depression most of his adult life.  Knowing this, I can be encouraged to …
…stand firm in the faith,”--as it says in I Peter 5--“because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
There is another sense in which I am not alone:  I have some very dear friends in my church who stand by my side when I struggle, who do not condemn me but instead encourage me, who care for my soul by speaking truth to me.  They are a gift from God to me, a means of grace that He uses to help me persevere.

And persevere I will, not because I am somehow heroically fighting for joy, but because God is preserving me.   As Paul said in I Corinthians:
He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.      God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
So whether my soul is filled with “joy unspeakable and full of glory”, or I am wrestling with my thoughts, beset by dark clouds, I will agree with David in his conclusion to Psalm 13:
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.


Shirley Vandever said...

Beautifully stated, Leo. I too suffer from periods of the most awfully debilitating ennui and sadness, often for no reason at all. Your words give me strength and encouragement.

Tetamay said...

Thank you, Leo, for granting me a peak into your soul. As you state here, you have many friends (from your church and from other venues of your life) who see your many strengths and your brilliant gifts. You are an inspiration to many. So don't let the temptations of lent take away the light of resurrection soon to come.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Thank you both for your kind words. I had been debating for a while whether to post this, but if it offers hope and encouragement to anyone, I am glad I did. If you will indulge me quoting another verse of Scripture, it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."