Christ’s Intense Love in the Storms of Life

Jesus Lover of My Soul— Charles Wesley (1740)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;

Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

 

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;

Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

 

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?

Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;

Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,

Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

 

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;

Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.

Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;

False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

 

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;

Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.

Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;

Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.

7 Lessons Learned While in the Darkness of Despair (Psalm 88)

despair
In light of all the comments made in regard to Robin Williams’ death, I thought this post might be helpful. Depression is a serious matter that so many people struggle with, but it is an affliction that some Christians see as a weakness of faith and unbecoming for a person who claims Christ as Savior. But throughout Church history, there have been those who have struggled with an internal darkness that comes upon them. Whether we call it melancholy, depression, or some other name, the Word of God gives hope even in the midst of the dark nights of affliction. Tim Challies wrote about the struggle that hymn writer William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) faced his whole life, even after coming to Christ.

William Cowper was born in 1731 in Berkhamsted, England. His mother died when he was only 6 years old, leaving him to be raised by his father. The mental pain Cowper struggled with was primarily depression…. He had four major battles with it through his life, leading him to attempt suicide on several occasions. He was never successful, however, and God would preserve his life until death by dropsy in 1800, aged 69. Cowper apparently became a believer in 1764 while in residence at St. Albans Insane Asylum. He happened upon a Bible on a bench in the garden, and God used John 11 and Romans 3:25 to open his eyes to the goodness of Jesus and the sufficiency of his atoning work…. Throughout the rest of his life he remained convinced of God’s sovereignty and goodness, even if at times he had great difficulty believing he himself was a beneficiary of them. Cowper’s hymn writing came as a result of his friendship with John Newton. They became friends in 1767 when Cowper moved to Olney, England to be under Newton’s ministry.[1]

With Cowper and others in mind, I would like to briefly point out 7 lessons that we can learn while in the darkness of despair so that we can help others who are struggling, or so that we might find comfort and relief from our great God and Savior.

  1. Scripture does not deny the reality of a “darkness of the soul” (Ps. 88; Job 1)
  • The mere existence of Psalm 88 (among others) and the book of Job, as well as other parts of Scripture demonstrates for us that there is such a thing as “spiritual depression” (to use D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ preferred term).
  • By denying this reality, we become like Job’s worthless counselors for those who are in the most need of spiritual healing and care. Not only that, but we may also be guilty of speaking against many godly people who suffered while maintaining their righteous stand before God. It is one thing when a person suffers for their sinful choices, but what about those who suffer for no apparent cause of their own? Do not all those suffering, sinner or saint, require the grace of God to be applied to their souls?
  • Finally, when we deny this reality, we not only deny the truth of Scripture but also experience. We hurt those who are truly suffering and need us to minister to them, not lecture them to some sort of Stoic idea that is foreign to Christianity. Godly people really do suffer!

2. God does not always give answers for our suffering (Ps 88; Job)

  • We live in an age where a problem is introduced and resolved in the span of a 30 minute sit-com on TV. And there is a tragic perversion of Christianity that exists and is thriving that teaches that God doesn’t want you to be unhappy, but rather he wants to bless you with all the material possessions you desire. Many readers might reject this theology, but struggle dealing with how to deal with a godly person who sees no end in their suffering. But we cannot demand or even expect that God will either remove suffering in this life or even give an answer to the question “why?” But life is not like a movie or sit-com and Scripture accurately portrays real life.
  • As Derek Kidner has written,“The happy ending of most psalms of this kind seems to be a bonus, not a due; its withholding is not a proof of either God’s displeasure or his defeat.” [2]
  • Sometimes suffering is hard and long, and it may not end with a healing, comfort, or even any apparent reason why the suffering has occurred.
     3. God needs to be our anchor and life-line in the darkness or we shall have no hope (v. 1)
  • Verse 1 is the only positive line in the whole psalm. It frames the whole because it is a starkly honest conversation between the psalmist and his God. But what if the psalmist had no understanding of God or no relationship with him? What if the psalmist’s god was not the One true and living God? How could he account for his suffering?
  • Was it because his god was too weak? Incompetent? Evil? Unloving? All of these would make some sense and would have caused the psalmist to either seek his own aid or allow the darkness to swallow him up in death. But the reality of God’s existence and his goodness of character cause him to seek him and plead with him for help. There is hope to be found in our God and His Son Jesus Christ.

     4. Even in despair, prayer tethers us to the Lord, so do not allow the darkness to silence you (vv. 1-2, 9, 13)

  • “This author, like Job, does not give up. He completes his prayer, still in the dark and totally unrewarded. The taunt, ‘Does Job fear God for naught?’, is answered yet again.” Kidner, 350.
  • Night and day impassioned cries come from the heart of the psalmist. He knows God hears, but he cannot understand why he has not answered his prayer. But the lack of understanding and answers to his prayers do not stop him from praying. The prayers are not long, sterile, liturgical prayers either. They are passionate pleadings mixed with heart-felt questions. The psalmist does not understand, and so he asks and argues his case before God. His prayers are wrestling with the One whom he seeks a blessing from. He will not let go until he is either dead or God has heard his prayers and answered by lifting the darkness.

     5. The grave is silent, but God attends to the living (vv. 3-5, 10-12)

  • “Am I dead?”, asked the psalmist. He asked this because he felt that God was treating him like someone who is in the grave, long lost and forgotten. But he was not dead, and as a man still in the land of the living he would still be able to praise the Lord for his steadfast love, faithfulness and righteousness. And as one among the living, the Lord could still act in working wonders that would remove the pain and suffering that would lead the psalmist to further praise and glory. At death there is no praise from the dead. But we must keep pleading and praying and trusting until our last breath.

     6. Hard providences point to our Sovereign God’s Mysterious Ways (vv. 6-8, 16-18; Isa 55:8-9)

  • C.T. Studd wrote, “A man is not known by his effervescence but by the amount of real suffering he can stand” [3]. Many Christians would like to protect the honor of the Lord by denying that God is sovereign in all things, including the suffering of men. But the psalmist knows his God and he knows that God is sovereign not only in the good, but also the bad, including suffering.
  • Job 2:9-10 speaks about this idea. It says, “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Just because we do not understand why God does not stop our suffering or why he doesn’t bring relief does not mean that there is no reason.
  • Isa 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

      7. Behind a frowning providence hides the smile of God (vv. 14-15; Matt 27:46; 2Cor 6:10)

  • In the end, God is good and knows what is best. And that includes our suffering and the darkest clouds of despair. After all, God the Father turned from His only begotten Son in the midst of the worst of his suffering for both Jesus’ glory and our good. But had we been standing there at the Place of the Skull, would we have believed that was true?
The [Cowper] hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is a combination of assertions about God’s goodness, sovereignty and wisdom along with commands to take courage and trust in him. Cowper’s use of the metaphors of storms, mines, smiles, and flowers illustrate this meaning in a timeless way. The hymn is a beautiful expression of the kind of faith that sustained Cowper through long periods of darkness and despair.!We cannot yet claim to know all the mysteries of God’s plan for William Cowper’s life. In time, as Cowper himself says, God will make plain his bright designs. But until then we can praise God for one of the fruits that is already evident—this hymn. Only he knows how many saints have had their faith sustained amidst storms and sorrows by these words. It reminds us that many of the greatest hymns grow out of life’s most difficult circumstances. [1]
William Cowper, 1774 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

[2] Derek Kidner, TOTC, Psalms 73-150, 350.
[3] Quoted by Steven J. Lawson, HOTC, Psalms 76-150, 70.

5 Reasons God Wants You to Stop Being Anxious (Matt. 6:25-34)

Anxiety

On the website for the Anxiety Disorder Association of America (ADAA), the following statistics are reported:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18.1% of U.S. population).
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill.
  • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.[http://www.adaa.org/AboutADAA/PressRoom/Stats&Facts.asp; accessed 3/20/09]

Anxiety is not merely a problem from Bible times that we don’t understand. Anxiety lives in our town, our street, and probably even in our own homes. Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes, and for all sorts of reason. Some elderly folks worry about having living too long so that their money runs out or about who will take care of them when they are no longer able to. But the young are not immune to anxiety either. I currently know of at least five young men and women who are worried that they will never get married and that maybe God has chosen them for a life of celibacy (we should get them all together!).

So, money and food, and clothes aren’t the only things that we are anxious about. Jobs, kids, bills, cars, relationships, health, all of these things and more give us plenty of reason to worry. But God says something different.

Five Reasons God Wants You To Stop Being Anxious

1. Anxiety Clouds Your Real Mission on Earth (vv. 25, 33)

Jesus asks a serious question that we forget when we are in a state of anxiety. It is found at the end of verse 25, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” God wants our lives to be more about getting stuff and keeping it. If all we do is chase after the latest and greatest, then we prove ourselves to be serving the false god mammon, and not the Lord Jesus Christ. The correct focus that every true child of God ought to have is found in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” You see, we can spend all of our time worrying about temporal things, and we shall find that when we get to heaven, we missed the boat completely. Our eyes were on the wrong prize. Our true mission is to see the kingdom of God grow and for the individual members of the church to grow in the likeness of Christ in holiness. That is our mission—priority one. The church has become weak and diluted because it has lost its mission and has begun chasing after lesser things.

2. Anxiety Causes You to Doubt God’s Love for You (vv. 26, 28-30)

Jesus goes on to give us two illustrations of God’s loving care and concern over his creation: birds and lilies of the field. First, Jesus shows that although birds work very hard daily to care for their needs by feathering their nests, hunting down worms and other insects, they don’t worry about storing up food for the winter. They let God be God and trust him to supply their needs tomorrow.

Second, Jesus directed his disciples’ attention to the wildflowers growing around them on the mount they were gathered on. These flowers were adorned beautifully by God himself, all without worrying.
Jesus’ main point is this, and don’t miss it—God cares more for you than he does for any animal, even these little birds. He loves you more than the temporary grasses and flowers that last only a few days and then wither up and die. If he cares enough to attend to their needs, how much more does he care about you?

Rom. 8:32 reminds us, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Did Christ die for sparrows? Did he give his life for flowers? Did God send his only begotten Son to save your soul, only to leave you to die naked and starving? It is when we are anxious that we imply these things. We imply by our anxiety that God doesn’t love us enough to take care of us and supply us with every need, whether physical, spiritual or emotional.

3. Anxiety is a Waste of Energy (v. 27)

This reason is probably the most pragmatic of the five reason. It asks, what does worrying change? How has anything ever been accomplished by anxiety? Stress and panic, sleepless nights and tearful fretting all accomplish nothing. They cannot bring a solution to the table, and in the end, they usually make us feel worse.

4. Anxiety is a Mark of Small Faith (vv. 30a-32)

Jesus doesn’t say that if you are anxious that you have no faith, but he does say that you have little faith. I don’t think I know of a Christian who wants small faith. You may have small faith, but you want to grow in your trust of the Savior. Jesus is setting before us an opportunity to do just that. But how?

Peter tells us in 1Pet. 5:6-7, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

We need to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We can’t be anxious and at the same time say we have placed our full trust in God. Matthew 6:32 tells us that the Gentiles, or pagan unbelieving world, chases after its own needs, feeling that if they don’t take care of #1, then nobody will. Should a follower of Jesus Christ have the same attitude? We need to be humble and put our full weight upon the Lord, and he will not fail us. Why? Because he cares for you!

5. Anxiety Tries to Get Ahead of God (v. 34)

Today has enough problems doesn’t it? God has wisely and sovereignly distributed the amount of blessings and troubles that we can handle. Like the manna in the wilderness, He has given us enough grace for today. But we can’t hoard it up for tomorrow. There is only enough for today and the worries of today. We need to trust the Lord in this. We can’t begin worrying about tomorrow. What a precious Savior, that he cares so much for us!

So, what can we hope to do when anxiety attacks our hearts? Here are some wise closing words of biblical instruction from A.W. Pink: “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). Worrying is as definitely forbidden as theft. This needs to be carefully pondered and definitely realized by us, so that we do not excuse it as an innocent “infirmity.”

The more we are convicted of the sinfulness of anxiety, the sooner are we likely to perceive that it is most dishonoring to God, and “strive against” it (Heb. 12:4). But how are we to “strive against” it? First, by begging the Holy Spirit to grant us a deeper conviction of its enormity. Second, by making it a subject of special and earnest prayer, that we may be delivered from this evil. Third, by watching its beginning, and as soon as we are conscious of harassment of mind, as soon as we detect the unbelieving thought, lift up our heart to God and ask Him for deliverance from it.