A couple of weeks ago, I shared one of my favorite passages from the Psalms and how I am working on memorizing it. Another one I like and have committed to memory is Psalm 36:5-9 from the New Living Translation. It often comes to mind in the middle of the night when sleep is elusive. It’s comforting to remind myself through these verses of the greatness of God and his unfailing love.
For us humans, it’s all too easy to anthropomorphize God. (I love that word – not many fifteen letter words can be used in everyday conversations!) Having verses like these in the front of our minds bring us back to the magnificence of God and how much greater he is than us – truly “other” as some like to describe him.
We tend to think of his love as comparable to human love when verse five tells us it’s as vast as the heavens. His faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds, as opposed to ours, which changes with the wind. We don’t understand his righteousness, probably because we have none of our own, but his is like the mighty mountains. Perhaps his justice is even more difficult to comprehend, but we see here that it’s like the ocean depths: deep, mysterious and unfathomable to our petty minds.
Even if you aren’t a fan of poetry, after thousands of years, the psalmist’s poetic descriptions of the greatness of God are truly moving, revealing and awe-inspiring.
I’ve been rediscovering the Psalms in The Passion Translation. It’s interesting how reading familiar parts of the Bible in different translations can make it seem so different – even new and exciting. The psalm I’ve been kind of fixated on lately is Psalm 18:1-3. I won’t cite it here but will let you read it* for yourself. I’m in the process of memorizing it for those times I either want to praise God or need to find my “mountain of hiding” and my “pathway of escape.”
David wrote this after being delivered from his enemies, including Saul, who wanted to kill him. I’m sure most of us aren’t being chased by people with swords, but we do have enemies and we sometimes need deliverance and a way out of our troubles. But the escape we make into the arms of God is not the same as most people today think of escaping. We are all familiar with those ways – things we turn to, hoping to dull the pain. All of these are temporary escapes and do nothing but give momentary relief and then plunge the person right back into reality, possibly even making it worse.
When God gives us his version of escape, we are often still in the midst of our troubles. The problem doesn’t go away. The pain doesn’t stop. The worry and anxiety are often still there. But God is also there. He is in the midst of it with us. He promises he will never let us go and will never let us go through our trials alone. As David said in verse three: “All I need to do is call to you, singing to you, the praiseworthy God. When I do, I’m safe and sound in you.” Even in the most difficult times of our lives, we can trust him to reach down into our darkness to rescue us, take us from the depths of despair (v. 16), hold on to us (v. 18) and bring us into a beautiful broad place (v. 19). He truly is the champion of our cause (v. 2).
*This is a slightly different version from the one in The Psalms, Poetry on Fire, 2014.
One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery. We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.
Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.
What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.