Perspective Matters (Psalm 34:1-8)

Psalm 34:1-3 confesses and encourages a buoyant life of grateful praise. In this God-crediting life we are bowing down before God in worship at all times and on all occasions. Our mouths continually express adoring appreciation to God. We are giving God credit for everything we have and everything we are. We cannot keep this life of grateful praise to ourselves; in fact our God-boasting is so compelling that broken people around us are drawn in and positively affected. We are magnifying God so noticeably that our God-magnification invites others to join us. We are lifting God up so irrepressibly that our God-exaltation invites others to join us.

WOW! The Psalmist sets the bar so high that it feels like pole-vaulting praise, doesn’t it? Carla follows a Twitter account called #ThoughtsOfDog. The account tries to capture in 280 characters what dogs might tweet if they could. One such tweet says, “Sometimes you have to spin in circles to appreciate all that’s around you.” Psalm 34 seems like that, doesn’t it?

But…

According to the superscription, David wrote these soaring words IN A CAVE!!! He was probably at the lowest point in his young life. King Saul was after him – again. David had wiped out many of Saul’s enemies but in doing so David had become more popular than Saul (we’ll call that oops #1). Insecure monarchs are easily threatened and they prioritize the decisive elimination of those threats. David had the advantage of being chased by a king who was a lousy aim with a spear. However, Saul was maniacally relentless, so much so that David and his friends were cornered and had to take refuge in Gath, which was Goliath’s hometown (we’ll call that oops #2). The Gathians didn’t want their giant’s killer living among them and they complained to their leader, King Achish (he is called Abimelech in the superscription). To save his skin, Goliath’s killer pretended he was insane, and he was so convincing that Achish told his people to chase Goliath’s drooling and pathetic killer out of Gath – he wasn’t worth the energy it would take to kill him.

Talk about a reversal of fortunes! David had gone from being Israel’s rising star to being a humiliated fugitive hunkered down with his buddies in the slimy confines of a cave. In such circumstances would you and I be lost in grateful praise to God? It’s important to understand that the context for a life of grateful praise is the triumphant internal movement of God’s Spirit in the midst of suffering. Perspective matters, and we always get to choose what perspective we take. Let’s keep perspective in mind as we read Psalm 34:4-8. In these verses, I have enclosed the Hebrew meaning of certain words in parentheses. David is taking us on a guided tour of the context for a life of grateful praise. The contexts are terror, shame, desperation, and vulnerability.

v.4) I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me (snatched me) from all my fears (haunts, terrors). Perspective matters when we are TERRIFIED or HAUNTED. David had ample reasons for both. God delivers our souls from terror and dread. 1st John 4:18 promises us that perfect love casts out fear. God in Christ loves the terror out of us, directly and through our relationships in the community of faith.

v.5) Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. Perspective matters when we are ASHAMED. David was shamed in Gath. If we are ashamed, it usually means somewhere back there in our history we have been shamed. But when we have been shamed, it does not mean we have to be ashamed. Being ashamed is a choice that quickly sets in as a malignant identity. According to this verse, faces are instrumental in recovery from shame. In the Hebrew Scriptures, relationship with God frequently plays out in some form of pre-technology facetime. God can and does heal our souls from shame, but these days God’s actual face is largely invisible. Our faces, however, are highly visible. Never underestimate what faces can do! God can use our faces to communicate divine love and grace. What if God heals shame through our facetime with each other? When I look into your eyes and I see the warmth of acceptance based on the love of Christ, there is in that look an invitation for me to “look into” the face of God and discover that there is no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  

v.6) This poor soul (desperately) cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. Perspective matters when we are DESPERATE. David was desperate. But did God really save David from every trouble? Does God really save us from EVERY trouble? Join me in pumping the brakes here, because on the surface we know God does not save us from every trouble. So what gives? Biblically speaking God does not promise to take care of the outside of us in the same way God promises to take care of the inside of us. People of faith still become sick, still have accidents, and still suffer the cruel sucker punches that are inevitable in a fallen world. People of faith still face death, not to mention whatever injury or health breakdown precedes death. God delivers our souls from the bigger trouble of desperation so that we become more than conquerors, sometimes in the ominous thick of the same difficulty that is making us desperate (Romans 8:28-39).

v.7) The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him (those who relate to God with reverent love), and delivers them. Perspective matters when we are VULNERABLE. I can only imagine how vulnerable David felt. God comes around us and brings to our souls a sense of secure peace that this world cannot take from us, and once again God does this in part through human relationships. Sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures the angel of the Lord is exactly that – an angel. At other times, however, the angel of the Lord is a manifestation of God in the Person of the preincarnate Christ. Psalm 34:7 promises us that God shows up in our vulnerabilities and delivers us by holding us through.

v.8) O taste (judge) and see (by experience) that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in (hide in) him. A God-crediting life starts here, where we choose the goodness of God. We decide God is good WHILE WE ARE STILL IN THE CAVE! Perspective matters.

Recently I noticed a wall plaque that contains the popular expression, “It’s all good.” I’ve used the expression before. It can be a positive affirmation, but we also use it to counter the reality that it’s NOT all good. Life can be bad. Life can stink. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” is not a form of denial or a way to blunt the edges of suffering. When it is not all good, but we can still affirm that God is good, the cave becomes a holy place.

Sometimes God demonstrates divine goodness by eliminating our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. Most of the time God demonstrates divine goodness by being present in us more deeply than our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. In either scenario, and in all of the scenarios between those two extremes, God is good.

Verses 7 and 8 belong together. Verse 7 says God holds us. Our affirmation that God is good motivates us to take refuge, which means we want to be held by the One holding us, like an upset baby who while crying eventually relaxes into mom’s strong and warm embrace and becomes calm. In this state of being we enter a God crediting life, which loops us back into verses 1-3.

I don’t think David and his buddies were throwing a pity party in the cave. I think they were worshiping. It reminds me of Paul and Silas singing praise songs in a Philippian jail after the city officials had them stripped naked and severely beaten with rods because Paul and Silas had cooperated with the Lord Jesus in delivering a young girl from demons and depriving the economy of the girl’s “entertaining” ways. Oh – the jail where Paul and Silas were chained and bleeding on the floor was a cave the Romans had converted to a jail.

David’s faith friends were right there with him in the cave. Nothing in Psalm 34 is individualistic. God calls us to be in this Christ-following life together, no matter where it takes us. Paul’s admonition to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) tells us the most powerful gift we can offer one another is the gift of our facetime willingness to keep company with each other in life’s existential caves. Our companionship with one another in those caves can become the way we start discovering God’s goodness.

In 1st Peter, Simon Peter comes alongside David when he says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1st Peter 2:2-3) In this passage the Lord is the second member of the trinity, Jesus Christ. We know Jesus is good because He atoned for our sins on the cross and three days later busted out of…a cave.

Are you in a cave? What is the name of your cave? Taking Psalm 34 to heart – when we are in a cave the most significant battle may be the battle to keep the cave out of us. How? We taste and see that the Lord is good. How do you know God is good? Go on a spiritual treasure hunt. Where are the signs of God’s goodness in your life these days? Take notes. Ask around. Choose God’s goodness. That choice can transform your perspective, whether you are in the cave, out of the cave, or trying to not cave in.

Can it be this simple? There is one way to find out, and I believe the goodness of God is a decent place to start.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)  

 

Can Faith Say OUCH? (2 Corinthians 4:6-10)

A few months ago I had the honor of officiating a memorial service for an Air Force Major. His widow is a woman of tenacious and vibrant faith, and yet I watched powerful spasms of grief slam into her and physically shake her. I arrived home from that Monday funeral and read a Facebook message from a friend I used to pastor. The year had been a succession of unanticipated and ferocious crises. His faith is alive, and yet he was staggering from this ruthless pummeling.

In my interactions with both of these people, I experienced the raw honesty of their faith as holy and humbling, because that authentically rough texture of faith is too rare these days. Most of us prefer our faith to appear smooth and unruffled.

It’s a shame when faith becomes stoic. We are pestered by this illusion that we always have to project a veneer of implacable fortitude, like nothing ever gets to us because we follow Christ. When spiritual formation deteriorates into appearance management, God’s people do neither themselves nor God any favors.

I highly regard what Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 4:6-10. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in fragile and broken clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

In verse 6, Paul reaches all the way back to Genesis 1:3, where God spoke light into being. Paul then informs us that this exact same God indwells us in the person of Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). Paul uses the word “face” to describe the light, which means it could not be more personal. What we have here is internal face-time with Jesus. That’s how close Paul tells us we can be with the indwelling Christ, the eternal One Who spoke light into existence.

In verse 7, Paul makes an abrupt turn, attested in the New Revised Standard Version by the conjunction “but.” Paul and his companions were in the heat of the battle, and they had no time or energy for appearance management. Paul was letting his readers see them sweat. In order to communicate the intensity of their trials and to place those trials in perspective, Paul uses the analogy of an ordinary household pot. That’s what we are. The Light of the world shines through common vessels, chips and all..

We discover that the same God Who caused light to pierce the darkness at the dawn of creation lights us up from the inside out, and then we discover that we are crackpots.

Oh well.

Here’s the thing. When we refuse to accept our fragility and our brokenness, it’s as if we are scotch taping together the cracks in our human vessels. People cannot see Jesus, the Light of the World, as clearly in us. Or they can see the shoddy scotch tape work and they decide we are hypocrites. So Paul proposes a God-induced balancing act. We are afflicted like everybody else is, BUT NOT crushed. We become perplexed like everybody else does, BUT NOT driven to despair. We may be persecuted, BUT NOT forsaken by God. We are sometimes struck down by life like everybody else is, BUT NOT destroyed.

This “BUT NOT” life of faith is a product of how we carry ourselves. Paul says we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, which sounds so weird it needs an explanation. Saying “yes” to Jesus with our lives involves a daily choice to deny ourselves (we aren’t in charge anymore), take up the cross of Christ (His love as our way of life is in charge), and follow Him (we aspire to live as He lived in this world). We become more identified with Christ than we are identified with ourselves, anything, or anybody else. When we are suffering, or when we are at our wit’s end, or when we are being bullied, or when we are knocked down by life, we deal with these adversities as people whose lives are in solidarity with the Man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). So everything that happens to us happens in the larger context of who we are in union with Christ. He is our derived identity.

The indwelling Christ can be a closer reality than our adversity, whatever that adversity is and however savagely the adversity affects us.

What better way to keep our hardships and issues in perspective? Regardless of what happens to us, we will never have to endure even a tiny fraction of what Jesus willingly endured on our behalf. Intentionally carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus is the ultimate attitude adjustment. It pulls us out of self pity or drama about our circumstances, and it puts us in a self-giving mode, like Jesus was during His incarnation.

Did you catch the cause-and-effect in verse 10? We are always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. Grammatically speaking, “so that” is a purpose clause. It tells us Christ can fulfill His purpose in us through everything we encounter. Nothing is wasted.

When we are carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus, we are no longer the main characters in the stories of our lives. No matter how shaken we are, we can be rock solid about the reality that Christ has overcome it all and Christ indwells us, which means indestructible and irrepressible Life is abundantly and eternally ours.

When we live this way, people cannot help but see the Light of the world shining through the cracks. This is no less true of us when we are struggling, sobbing, confused, battered, or aching. The surprise is that living this way takes a load off. It’s a relief. We do not have to pretend. Having a “but-not so-that” faith means we can trust Jesus Christ and be real at the same time, like my two friends were on that Monday. That’s what the people around us need from us.

In his song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen wrote these lyrics. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul says the opposite. There is a crack in everything. That’s how The Light shines out.

Yes, faith can say ouch. Sometimes it must say ouch.

  • Have you invited the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, to indwell you and to bring Light into your darkness?
  • What are the names of the cracks in your vessel (your life)? Write them down.
  • In this passage, honest faith means we can say so when we are afflicted (under pressure) or perplexed (confused) or persecuted (mistreated) or struck down (in crisis). On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how honest is your faith these days? Why did you assign a particular number to yourself? Ask God to reveal to you how to move up to the next number on the scale this week, so that your faith is more honest. Do you have a faith brother or a faith sister or a group, somebody who can be safe or some place that can be safe? The Christ following life thrives in redeemed community.
  • Study the four “but not” phrases in verses 8 and 9. 1) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;” 2) we are “perplexed, but not driven to despair;” 3) we are “persecuted, but not forsaken;” 4) we are “struck down, but not destroyed…” In each of the four, circle or mark which one describes you.
  • Study verse 10 – “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” Remember from the article above that verse 10 tells us to say “YES” to Jesus with our lives, so much so that the indwelling Christ is a closer reality than the adversity. How would you say this ultimate attitude adjustment strengthens us to not be crushed or driven to despair or forsaken or destroyed?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (rickjordankcmo@gmail.com, www.rickcarlajordan.com)

 

Remembering to Notice

This is certainly not an original thought, but it occurred to me again recently that my perspective can make a big difference in how I view the big and small parts of daily life. On the one hand, it can be so easy to take kindness and blessings for granted. But if I am plugged in to what God is up to, there are so many good things to notice and for which to be thankful.  

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

A recent example was a tiny (and I do mean tiny) addition to the wall of the ladies restroom/shower area at the indoor track where I walk. A screw had been strategically added so the blow dryer had a place to hang while not in use. I didn’t realize what big feelings I had about a home for that blow dryer(!), but I was so thankful when I saw that little addition, I took a picture!   

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The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Psalm 37: 23

Reflecting on what a difference our perspective makes also caused me to think about the words of a song Rick wrote several years ago titled “I Saw.” I think of it as a song not about people-watching really, but about people-noticing and how paying attention can help us be more aware of the world around us and the people in our path.

I highly recommend watching out for what God is up to in your life. When I do, I am reminded of how very good He is.  

Carla Jordan

www.rickcarlajordan.com