Chronic Peace

“You seem really at ease with yourself these days.”

My friend’s comment came after my recounting a sad circumstance in my life right now. It’s a circumstance that has been around a long time and caused way more than its fair share of heartache. But as I described the latest development, instead of pain I felt peace. 

Huh. 

When my friend pointed out my demeanor, I realized that peace has been here for awhile now. I’m not sure when, exactly, it made its debut, but I do know exactly how it got here—inside the heart of a girl who is starting to grasp that she used to be broken, but largely isn’t anymore. 

(Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of cracks and fissures, and part of me is scared to death one of those weak spaces will break the whole dang thing again any instant. But I’m learning to ignore that part because she needs a Xanax and a week at the beach.)

This chronic peace I’ve been experiencing the past several months is a direct result of increased confidence in God to take care. To take care of my heart and my family and my friends and my future and my job and my church and my everything. 

How, pray tell, did I get this surge of confidence? By going through hell and experiencing Him deliver me. 

David spent a lot of time in his own hell on earth, during which he penned some brutally honest psalms. And what I’ve been noticing is his remarkable confidence in God to protect him and see him through and bless him—both during his suffering and after. 

Just one of the many examples we could look at is Psalm 71:20-21, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”

‭The NIV Study Bible guys say David wrote this toward the very end of his life. Enemies liked to come knocking when kings were elderly, seeing them and their nations as easy prey. 

Knowing this, how can David write so confidently? Does he really believe God will enable him to lead well and protect Israel against her enemies despite his body probably becoming frail and his mind probably starting to go at a rapid pace? 

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why. 

(I know, you can hardly wait.)

David uses the word “again” twice and again’s twin sister, “once more”, once. In three sentences David implies the foundation of his confidence three times: “God has done all this for me before!”

In fact, God had delivered David from countless seasons of ridiculous suffering and unbelievable trials throughout his life. As a direct result, David knows God will continue to deliver him until he is delivered right on into heaven. 

I’m not super old yet, but I’m starting to catch on to what David learned about God: He can be wholly trusted all the time. And truly believing that brings chronic peace. 

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How to Be Helped

David makes a simple observation in Psalm 28 that has stuck with me for a couple of weeks now, so perhaps it is important…

He writes, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me,” (Psalm 28:7). 

Now, I don’t know if David believed this when he wrote it and was just stating a fact or if he was struggling with a heavy heart, as he often did, and was rehearsing truth in order to make his heart believe it… (I tend to assume the latter because a) verses 1-3 communicate David is in distress, and b) I am, as it turns out, a pessimist.)

In any case, I’ve been pondering the second half of verse 7 for a few days – my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. In other translations it reads David’s heart currently trusts in God, and David is helped.

I guess there is a possibility the two ideas – David’s trusting and David’s being helped – were meant to be independent of one another, but experience tells me they usually aren’t.

When my heart has trusted in God in the past, I’ve been helped. Rarely, if ever, have I been helped while my heart was distrusting God. And by “helped” I mean emotionally stabilized and encouraged, not God gives me all the solutions to all of my challenges.

Interpreted that way, the verse presents us a very simple rule of thumb:

How to Be Helped

Simple. Not easy.

The truth is it’s hard for us to trust God most of the time. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Our feelings are loud and our circumstances are pressing and God is invisible and His timetable is not usually ever the same as ours… and we begin to question, quietly, in the corners of our souls where we don’t want church people to see, does God really have my best interest in mind?

The great theologian, Bono, once said, “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now.” But it sure feels like we need a lot of things and people we don’t have… It feels like God has maybe lost track of our needs… let them slip through the cracks…

And it’s when we are feeling like this that we have a choice. Do we want to be helped, or do we want to be hindered? It’s up to us, really. No one else can make the choice for us.

If we want to be helped, “all” we have to do is trust in God. God says He will meet all of our needs. Period. We have to resolve to believe Him (and Bono). If we don’t have something, it’s because we don’t actually need it. Not yet, anyway.

A final word: I suspect some of you might say to me, “I want to be helped. I want to trust God… I just don’t. And I can’t fake like I do…” I know. I lived as a hostage to my own limitations for many years (and frequently revisit that mindset, just to say hello…).

Something that freed me up in moments like that is this instruction: go to God and tell Him, “I want to trust You, but I don’t. Please help me trust You.” That’s it. You don’t have to pretend like you trust Him when you don’t – that’s exhausting, and He knows the truth anyway. Just sit before Him with a transparent heart, and ask Him to help you.

In fact, you might not even want to trust Him right now… maybe you’re hurting and want to hang it all up. Go to Him and tell Him just that – that you don’t want to trust Him – and ask Him to help you to want to trust Him… the crazy thing is, He will. And once He gives you the desire to trust Him, even though you don’t, then you can ask Him for the trust itself.

Whatever your next step is on the road to trusting Him more, as David wrote in verse 7, God is your strength to move forward.

What to Do When You’re Depressed

Tonight was one of those nights I casually flipped through my Bible looking for something to speak to the crap in my heart. Usually, I can rely on David to put pen to paper for me, so I broke open the Psalms and started reading at random. About ten minutes into it, I found what I needed to ponder.

Psalm 13.

Allow me to mash the NIV, ESV, and Amplified versions together to propose the most impactful reading possible:

How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lighten the eyes [of my faith to behold Your face in the pitchlike darkness], lest I sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 

Cheery so far, no?

It’s important to point out that David is speaking like this to God. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a hunch a lot of religious people and/or new believers don’t understand they have the freedom to be transparent with the Lord.

David is depressed, and he just can’t keep his overwhelming thoughts to himself anymore. Although he has tried to keep his thoughts sorted out and his emotions in check, verse 2 tells us he hasn’t been successful. He’s spinning his spiritual wheels, and he can’t take it anymore. So, to borrow an expression from my friend, David verbally vomits all over God.

Now, David is not blaming God for whatever challenging circumstances he has found himself in that are causing his depression. And David is not being disrespectful toward God by expressing his feelings, albeit passionately. Yes, we’re allowed and encouraged to be candid with the Lord, but we still must be mindful that He is God and we are not, and, therefore, He is due respect at all times.

David communicates his painful feelings of sorrow, neglect, and frustration, and then he asks the Lord to “lighten the eyes” of his faith to behold God’s face in the utter darkness of his depression. That’s an interestingly worded request.

David understands his feelings are not necessarily reflective of reality. He feels forgotten and abandoned by God, but he knows he isn’t. Why else would he continue to pray? If he truly believed God had left him, David wouldn’t be calling out to Him anymore.

As inaccurate as they may be, his feelings are still a powerful force that needs to be dealt with. So David asks God to refocus his heart. David asks for his faith to be refreshed and his spiritual eyes to be put back on God.

Why does David make this request of God? Perhaps because David knows he can’t accomplish this feat himself. In the throes of depression, David doesn’t have the strength nor the will power to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and “turn that frown upside down”.

He asks the Lord to “lighten his eyes” because he can’t possibly lighten them himself. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person, you know this is true. There is no light in their eyes – no hope or faith in God – and no amount of them wishing there was makes it so.

[Note: I am not saying depressed people are not people of faith. Don’t send me letters. Read this instead.]

David knows if God doesn’t correct his eyesight – restore hope to his soul by refocusing his vision on the Lord – he WILL be overcome. David is in a desperate place, and, in a very literal way, his life is at stake. I don’t know that we can go so far as to say David’s lament that he will “sleep the sleep of death” if God doesn’t rescue him from his depression is an indication that he may have been suicidal. But I don’t know that we can rule that out, either. Most of the commentaries like to think of this as a reference to spiritual death – David’s soul will be so utterly overwhelmed if the Lord doesn’t deliver him that he will be as good as dead. In either case, David’s life will be profoundly changed for the worse – either literally through physical death or spiritually through spiritual collapse.

Just when this psalm couldn’t get any graver, David pens this conclusion:

But I have trusted, leaned on, and been confident in Your mercy and loving-kindness; my heart shall rejoice and be in high spirits in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Wait, what?

Where did that come from?

In verse 4 David is on the brink of spiritual annihilation, and in verse 5 he is skipping through fields of wildflowers with Pharrell’s “Happy” as his soundtrack.

This is about the point I want to shut my Bible and say, “I can’t even.” David and I had been tracking together just fine until now…

Just after he says he can’t pull himself up by his boot straps, he does? No, I don’t think this change of heart came from David’s can-do attitude. Remember, he just got done communicating he didn’t have what it took to overcome his thoughts and sorrow himself. He needed God in the worst way!

No, I think David’s sudden change of heart wasn’t of his own doing; I think it was a direct answer to David’s prayer in verse 4.

(I legitimately wonder how much time passed between David recording his plea with the Lord to deliver him from his depression in verse 4 and his inspirational self pep talk in verses 5 and 6. I’m thinking DAYS.)

The Lord answered David’s request to refocus his heart on God by empowering David to recall God’s trustworthiness, dependability, mercy, and unfailing loving-kindness, as well as by reminding David of his salvation and other blessings from the Lord. No matter how long it did or did not take for David’s tune to change, the Lord pulled him out of his depression by directing him to mediate on these things.

You and I can take a page out of David’s book when we’re flat on our backs emotionally. We can be honest with the Lord – passionately and transparently, yet respectfully honest – about how we’re feeling when we’re down. And we can fervently ask the Lord to “lighten our eyes” and refocus our hearts on Him. And then – and this is my favorite part – we can wait for the Lord to lift us from our sadness by empowering us like He did David to think truthful, helpful thoughts.

We don’t have to get ourselves together. Frankly, often we can’t. But God can. He did it for David time and time again (see Psalms 42, 43, and 55 for more examples), and He can do it for us too. Ask.

An Undivided Heart

A healthy human heart, biologically speaking, is divided into 4 chambers. Each chamber has a specific purpose – either pumping or receiving blood – essential to the function of the heart. These physical divisions are necessary and good.

image via ddpavumba/freedigitalphotos.net
image via ddpavumba/freedigitalphotos.net

This is what came to mind yesterday when I read Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

An undivided heart… that’s just not natural. Physically or spiritually.

Just as healthy babies are born with hearts literally divided, so they are born with hearts figuratively divided. The spiritual divisions go something like this: three chambers devoted to self – self-preservation, self-gratification, and self-actualization – and one chamber that knows it was meant for something more than self – divine longings one can’t quite put his finger on (Romans 1:20).

The heart is divided. What will that baby – who turns into a child, who turns into a teen, who turns into a young adult, who turns into an old adult (is that PC – old adult?) – pursue? Protection? Pleasure? Purpose? God?

All choices in life revolve around this question. And from the day we are born, our spirits wrestle to put our energy into the “right” thing at the “right” time. (I use quotations because most of the time we determine what is “right” through our fickle emotional filters rather than some concrete source of truth. “Right” is transient to most people, so the term really loses all meaning… I digress.)

Unfortunately, once we become believers, the parts of our divided hearts don’t supernaturally morph into one truly right chamber. We’re still sinners. Accepting Jesus doesn’t change that. So we continue to contend with our “divided heart syndrome” (Romans 7:19), which is what the Psalmist speaks to.

It’s clear David is struggling with the age-old battle between allegiance to self and allegiance to God (Romans 7:22-23). David – the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) – still had times when he was drawn toward self, and, necessarily, away from the Lord. David recognized that his temptation to follow after his own passions, as opposed to God’s passions, needed correcting.

So he prayed.

Good thinking there.

David recognized his inability to will himself into having an undivided heart 100% committed to the Lord. No matter how great his intentions may have been, David couldn’t conjure up complete devotion to God on a consistent basis, much less a constant basis, which is what the Lord both requires (Exodus 20:3) and deserves (Revelation 4:11). David knew that degree of commitment couldn’t come from within.

So he asked the Lord to provide it, “…give me an undivided heart…”

And we’re right there with David, too. We don’t have it in us to unfalteringly follow the Lord. Good thing we don’t have to have it in us; He has it in Him. And He’d love to give it to us. Let’s ask Him for it and see what happens.

(For a musical expression of this concept, check out “Two Hands” by Jars of Clay.)