Lately I’ve been doing a ton of self reflection, my week long trip to South Florida for a church planters conference got me thinking…introspecting…evaluating…and examining myself…my walk w/ Jesus…my shepherding of His children…my love and care for my 1stministry, my family…and how am I caring for myself? Last week I wrote and posted how I needed to establish healthy boundaries in my life and ministry for my own well being as that as the well being of my family. I’d noticed I gained even more weight, my back was messed up, I wasn’t sleeping right, I felt drained physically and emotionally, and I noticed I was easily irritable and to be honest, I think there was a HUGE margin for me to get some “act right” and be a better ambassador for Christ.
So when I come home, I’m immediately overwhelmed with all the stuff I wasn’t able to do while I was gone (insert face palm emoji here), church, family, school… you name it. BUT… I maintained, I started taking some time to gradually ease into everything, I made sure I started eating better. I met with good friends for different reasons, and one of them was w/ my homie Chris Unruh, he’s a secret agent that works for…nah, just kidding. But he is a really health conscious person who loves Jesus and heard me out and graciously recommended I try “intermittent fasting” and I’m glad to say I’m down about 7 lbs. and I know that might not seem like much, but for me… man, ya’ll don’t even know. Why am I saying all this? Because as I realized I’d missed assignments for school, I promise you when I checked they weren’t there, must be spiritual warfare (insert eye wink emoji here). But seriously, for one of my classes I had to study, memorize, and tear apart the Psalms. Here is one of my greatest accomplishments in doing so. I got to Psalm 119 and in case you didn’t know, Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with a total of 176 verses but check out this fact:
- With the exception of 2 verses (84 and 121) every singe verse (total of 174) in some way, shape, or form address God’s law and the psalmist emphasizes his dire need of them, and the fate of the wicked (vs. 119), faithless (vs. 158), and insolent that don’t care (vs. 85).
- Here are some examples of what is referenced in almost 99% of Psalm 119 referencing God’s expressed commands for us: God’s law, His testimonies, His ways, Your precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, word, promise, faithfulness, appointment, judgments, and pledge.
It kinda’ makes me wonder why in the world, would the author of this Psalm, say over and over and over again, just how much God’s expressed commands meant so much to him…the only think I can think of is because he in fact DID love God’s law, he in fact DID know how important they were to his being, and DID want the hearers of this prayer to be understood with ZERO misinterpretation. What does this mean to me? That I too must love the Lord’s Word, that I too must accept what my life and ministry will be without them. At a time when I’d just learned that Eugene Patterson has entered hospice care and that his time on this side of heaven is quickly approaching an end, I was blessed to be assigned his book “Answering God, The Psalms As Tools For Prayer” and was greatly encouraged as well as given a clearer insight into the Psalms.
Eugene Patterson talked about the Psalms being tools to help us better communicate with God through prayer. He hi-lighted how the text or words in the Psalms have a special characteristic and feel to them and that “they were prayed by people who understood that God, and not their feelings were at the center. God, not their souls, was the issue. God, not the meaning of life, was critical” (pg. 14). This is so encouraging for me, because in our context of ministry, we are faced with a people group that have been conditioned to which we always have to “feel” something and here the author tells us that our feelings are NOT at the center, but God is. And how is one to know who God is unless they meet Him in His Word? Just last night at our Spanish Bible study, we were given the opportunity to teach an introduction to Reformed Confessions/ Creeds (although that was not on the agenda) and the person asked, “Why is it that our church or type of church (Pentecostal) do not teach these things?” OMG, we were amazed at the opportunity that God had given us to share such golden information!
Patterson’s book goes on to elaborate more on the gathered group of people that are assembled, “attentive before God, participating in a common posture…offering themselves and each other to their Lord” (pg. 18). How beautiful is that? Patterson also makes a reference that prayer is primal speech, meaning that we don’t get taught how to pray, we just do it and then get better at it and mature. I’m reminded of how many different feelings and emotions are found in the Psalms, how such intense, raw, and genuine feelings are brought forth with such clarity that anyone who’s experienced hurt, anger, abandonment, fear, anxiety, and any other thing a human can feel, is found there. Today I was at the Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference and bumped into lots of friends, pastors, and co-laborers in the kingdom of different sorts, and one of them was a brother whom we’d taken some church planting classes together and I asked a general question about their church plant and got some news that shook me. He’d lost close to a hundred people, for different reasons, some of them were leadership, elders, and people he thought he could trust…people he never thought would’ve abandoned him. I instantly thought of our own story, and how we’d also gone through similar things. Things we’d been warned about but swore up and down that would never happen to “OUR” team…yeah right! Psalm 55 instantly came to my head and as I heard my friend share his story of pain, his words had a pang of hurt in them, pain that I’d too experienced, pain I kept to myself, but these words rang so true to me too:
12 Now it is not an enemy who insults me—
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me—
otherwise I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
14 We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.
Why do I bring this up? Because as David, a man after God’s own heart was betrayed, felt pain, felt despair, so too we as pastors experience the same. Yet there is hope, we read in Psalm 27 the following words in the opening:
“The Lord is my light and the one who saves me.
So why should I fear anyone?
The Lord protects my life.
So why should I be afraid?
And it ends this way:
13 I truly believe
I will live to see the Lord’s goodness.
14 Wait for the Lord’s help.
Be strong and brave,
and wait for the Lord’s help.
Patterson says in this book that “The Psalms train us in conversion language, from talking about God to talking to God” (pg. 42) and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve come to learn how we all have a story, none of them are the same, yet God uses them all for His glory, even ugly stories like David’s. Patterson also says this, which I loved, he writes, “There are no storyless prayers. Story is to prayer, what the body is to the soul…and prayer is to story what the soul is to the body, the life without which it would be a corpse.” What kind of prayer is your story at this precise moment? Think about that for a second. What prayer would your story inspire today? This week? This stage or phase of life, or ministry? The Psalms are so dope, encouraging, and a fresh reminder that when things are bad…really bad, others have also experienced those same emotions, and they trusted God…and He came through! Why wouldn’t He do that for us too? I pray that this longer than usual post encourages you to never forget the Psalms, be reminded that your life and life story are prayers in the making, don’t keep them to yourselves. Share them… the good, the bad, and the ugly! God will redeem it all for Himself anyways.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord show you his kindness and have mercy on you. May the Lord watch over you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26
I’ll close with some pictures of just a few people we connected with at The Gospel Coalition’s West Coast Conference in Fullerton this week. And in case you’re wondering, NO! None of the pictures here includes the pastor I was talking to about the problems he experienced at his church. But you can do me a favor and pray for him and his church, God knows who he is.