Monday, July 30, 2018

"Drinking Your Tears"

            Bear Grylls is a British adventurer, inspirational speaker, writer, and entertainer.  He is among the youngest to climb to the top of Mount Everest.  As a former 21 SAS trooper trained in unarmed combat and survival in harsh territories, he employed these skills on TV shows Man vs. Wild and Running Wild.  On these shows, he demonstrates how to build shelters, start fires, gather wild food, hunt and trap animals, and gather drinkable water from the unlikeliest sources.  When no water is available, Bear is not above drinking his own, shall we say, waste products.  I  know that’s disgusting, but Grylls and medical experts insist that it’s safe to do, to gain an extra day or two of survival.[i]

The author of Psalm 42[ii] talks about recycled water, too. “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God (v. 3)?’”  Now, you might think that it’s vulgar, comparing Bear Grylls’ disgusting survival tactics to David[iii] drinking his own tears.  But I’m trying to communicate to you just how desperate the situation is.  Of course, it’s poetry, but David is expressing how very thirsty his spirit is.  I want you to hear the desperation in this question, “Where is your God?”  You see, David has been trying to nourish himself on himself—something which, even if he drank all his body fluids, would only sustain him in the short term.  People see how his spirit is dying of thirst, wasting away, and mockingly they ask, “Where is your God?”

Have you ever felt your soul so desperately thirsty that you felt like a deer panting after water (v. 1)?  Like a deer that’s hunted, running through the forest, chased by dogs and desperate for life, run down and afraid and panting for something to nourish you, just so you can keep on running some more?  Have you tried to sustain yourself on yourself, but failed, and suddenly you realize that what you’re thirsty for is something greater than you can offer yourself?  Listen to the words of David: “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me (v. 5)?”  It’s because you’re hungry and you’ve been trying to eat your own tongue.  You’re thirsty and you’ve been trying to drink your own tears!  You can’t sustain yourself on yourself, David!  (And neither can you, reader.)

How does a person try to sustain himself on himself?  Remember when you were in school, studying for exams?  You knew that you had to get good grades, so you stayed up all night, cramming.  You thought you could help yourself by depriving yourself—and how did that work?  The next day, you didn’t remember the material because you memorized it when your brain was sleep-starved.  You tried to sustain yourself on yourself, and it didn’t work.  You were drinking your own tears.

Or, have you ever been driving, and you look down at the gas gauge and realize you’re almost out of fuel?  You know you need to make it to the gas station before the needle hits empty.  Then you notice that, in an effort to get there faster, you’ve been pressing down harder on the pedal because somehow in your mind, if you speed, that’ll help.  You’re just drinking your own tears.

David is trying to sustain himself by himself, then realizes what he needs and says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (v. 5).”  You see, David realizes what he’s really thirsty for—and that nothing else can satisfy.  In verses 1 and 2, he says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”  He knows the solution lies outside himself, with the One who made him and the only One who can sustain him. 

But there’s a problem.  David is full of himself.  Throughout the stories of David, he’s full of pride, confidence, and ego.  In verse 4, David says, “These things I remember…how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.”  On the surface, these simply seem like reminiscences of happiness.  But imagine how David’s leadership position as king often got to his head.  In this verse, his recollection might puff up his pride, but then he adds a phrase (which I omitted as I quoted earlier): “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul.” 

And when I read that, I realized that this is what I need—to pour out my soul.  Like David, I can also be full of myself.  If I’m going to fill up on God, first I’ve got to empty myself of me.  My pride, confidence, and ego have got to go.  If I’ve been nourishing myself on myself, then I’m full of myself—so I have to uncork the bottle and pour out my soul.  This is what happens when a person invites Jesus into their life—they die to the old life so He can live in them.  The result is rivers of living water.  On the day you quit drinking your own tears, trying to nourish yourself, wallowing in your own misery, and empty yourself to receive Jesus, verse 7 says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).”  You don’t have to try to sustain yourself anymore—God will be your nourishment forever.  Like streams in the desert, God will fill you to overflowing.  Sometimes, like Bear Grylls, we get into survival mode.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you need to survive.  But God wants you to do more than survive—God wants you to thrive.  To do that, you’ve got to quit being like a snake eating your own tail.  You’ve got to quit drinking your tears—and let Jesus fill you with his living water.

[i]  “A healthy person's urine is about 95 percent water and sterile, so in the short term it's safe to drink and does replenish lost water. But the other 5 percent of urine comprises a diverse collection of waste products, including nitrogen, potassium, and calcium—and too much of these can cause problems.”  Wilson, Chris.  The Yellow Liquid Diet: Is it a good idea to drink urine when water is scarce?  MAY 21 2008.
[ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.
[iii] While Psalm 42 does not specifically claim David as its author, many reputable Bible scholars believe David to have written this poem.

Monday, July 23, 2018

"The Other Side of the Wall"

            Some things are just disappointing.  Remember your high school yearbook?  In your football uniform, you thought you were a superstar, but after graduation you realized you were a shooting star.  Birthday parties are disappointing, too.  Now that you’re a grownup you might have a get-together at a restaurant with friends, but the gifts aren’t as exciting, the decorations aren’t as thrilling, and the only clown who shows up is the friend who passes YOU the check.  As a full-grown adult, roller coasters are never as good as your anticipation of them, either.  You’ll be standing in line for a ride, expecting to finish with a thrill on your face and wind in your hair—but in reality, you’ll end up with a green face and something else in your hair. 

            Jesus knew that the life of discipleship could be filled with disappointments.  At the beginning of his ministry, he chose his twelve disciples, gave them a lesson in casting out demons, and taught them that they were his new family if they did God’s will (Mark 3).  He told them to shine like a lamp on a stand (4:21-22), but he also knew that with the darkness around them, they could be easily disillusioned.  So he told them a story to help them understand the let-down when witnessing and ministry didn’t meet their expectations:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain (Mark 4:3-7 NIV).

            Those who have been Christians for a long time have heard countless sermons about the disappointing scenarios in this story.  Perhaps you’ve also been discouraged when you tried to share your faith with someone, but you felt like Satan was snatching that message away from them.  Or were upset by someone who heard what you said, but spiritually that person didn’t seem to go very deep.  Or maybe you got frustrated when you saw a Christian you were mentoring, who allowed the cares of life to strangle out the new growth that had begun.  Jesus understood this kind of disappointment, and felt the same way about his disciples sometimes.  In fact, in verse 13, Jesus asks them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables?”  His frustration is apparent, but his ultimate message is one of hope. 

            Jesus says in verse 8, “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”  The message of this parable is, “I know that if you try really hard to be the witnesses I’ve asked you to be, you’re going to be frustrated and disappointed.  Trust me—most people don’t listen to me, either.  But there will be a percentage who will listen to you, and the kingdom will grow in them.”  The fruit they bear will be amazing. My fiancĂ©e, Christina, tells the story of the time she planted two or three cucumber plants in her garden, and it yielded over two hundred cucumbers.  They had more than they could eat, more than they could give away, and more than they could turn into pickles.  The kingdom of heaven is like that—all you’ve got to do is plant the seed.

            Now, sometimes you get discouraged because you can’t see anything growing.  You’re trusting God and doing what you should and telling people about Jesus—but you just can’t see anything happening.  Don’t be disappointed.  Randy Reynolds tells this story:

There was a young woman who took great pride in the growth and care of the flowers in her flower garden. She had been raised by her grandmother who taught her to love and care for flowers as she herself had done. So, like her grandmother, her flower garden was second to none.  One day while looking through a flower catalogue she often ordered from, a picture of a plant immediately caught her eye. She had never seen blooms on a flower like that before. “I have to have it,” she said to herself, and she immediately ordered it.  When it arrived, she already had a place prepared to plant it. She planted it at the base of a stone wall at the back of her yard. It grew vigorously, with beautiful green leaves all over it, but there were no blooms. Day after day she continued to cultivate it, water it, feed it, and she even talked to it attempting to coax it to bloom.  But, it was to no avail.  One morning weeks later, as she stood before the vine, she contemplated how disappointed she was that her plant had not bloomed. She was giving considerable thought to cutting it down and planting something else in its place.  It was at this point that her invalid neighbor, whose lot joined hers, called over to her. “Thank you so much! You can’t imagine how much I have enjoyed the blooms of that vine you planted.” The young woman walked through the gate into her neighbor’s yard, and sure enough, she saw that on the other side of the wall the vine was filled with blooms.  There were indeed the most beautiful blooms she had ever seen. The vine had crept through the crevices and it had not flowered on her side of the fence, it had flowered luxuriantly on the other side.  Just because you cannot see the good result of your labour does not mean that it bore no fruit.[i]

            Sometimes all you can see is dirt—but faith, like potatoes, grows beneath the surface.  Sometimes all you can see are vines and no flowers—but blossoms bloom on the other side of the wall.  Sometimes you can’t see any fruit anywhere—but God is doing work that you can’t see.  Don’t write people off, just because you can’t see the flowers or fruit.  Trust God and continue the work.  “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9 NLT).”

[i] Randy Reynolds

"Mayday! Mayday!"

            The famous hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” also called “The Navy Hymn,” has been a favorite of mariners and heads of state since it was put to music in 1861.  Breakpoint reports:

It’s one of the most famous hymns in Christendom: “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” It’s often called “the Navy hymn” because it’s sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.  But how many of us know the story behind this moving hymn?

The hymn’s author was an Anglican churchman named William Whiting, who was born in England in 1825. As a child, Whiting dodged in and out of the waves as they crashed along England’s shoreline. But years later, on a journey by sea, Whiting learned the true and terrifying power of those waves. A powerful storm blew in, so violent that the crew lost control of the vessel. During these desperate hours, as the waves roared over the decks, Whiting’s faith in God helped him to stay calm. When the storm subsided, the ship, badly damaged, limped back to port.

The experience had a galvanizing effect on Whiting. As one hymn historian put it, “Whiting was changed by this experience. He respected the power of the ocean nearly as much as he respected the God who made it and controls it.”

The memory of this voyage allowed Whiting to provide comfort to one of the boys he taught at a training school in Winchester.

One day, a young man confided that he was about to embark on a journey to America—a voyage fraught with danger at that time. The boy was filled with dread at the thought of the ordeal to come. A sympathetic Whiting described his own frightening experience, and he and the other boys prayed for the terrified student. And then Whiting told him, “Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith.”

Whiting, an experienced poet, put pen to paper, writing a poem reminding the boys of God’s power even over the mighty oceans.[i] 

Whiting’s first verse begins:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm does bind the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

This verse refers to Job 38:11, where God shows that the Creator alone  knows the mysteries of the deep, because it was God who established the limits of the sea, saying, “This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!” [ii]

The Navy Hymn continues:

O Savior, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walked upon the foaming deep,
And calm amid the rage did sleep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

In these lines, Whiting refers to Matthew 14:22-36, where Jesus’ disciples were struggling against a violent storm, tossed back and forth in their boat.  In the darkness, they saw the form of Jesus coming to them, walking on the water.  When Jesus got into the boat, the wind ceased. 

The hymn goes on:

O Holy Spirit, who did brood
Upon the waters dark and rude,
And bid their angry tumult cease,
And give for wild confusion peace;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

Here, the hymn writer causes us to remember the watery chaos of pre-creation, where Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  That brooding Spirit of God took wild confusion and breathed peace upon it, so that the world might receive life.

Finally, the hymn concludes:

O Trinity of love and pow'r,
Your children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

            Whiting wrote four original verses, but others added on to the hymn, so that today the song has at least eighteen verses,[iii]  asking God’s assistance for those in peril on the sea.  The hymn is reminiscent of Psalm 107:23-30, which speaks of the dangers of sea travel, and the faithfulness of God who calms the storm.

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.

What do people do when they’re about to get shipwrecked?  They cry out for help.  They send out a distress signal.  A few years ago I wrote in my blog: The traditional SOS has been misunderstood to mean “Send Out Succour,” “Save Our Ship,” and “Save Our Souls.”  Actually, was officially ratified as the universal distress signal in 1908, and was chosen simply because it was easy to send the morse signal that consisted of only three dots, three dashes, and three dots, and it could not be misunderstood.[iv]  The distress call “mayday” is actually an English version of the French m'aidez (help me) or m'aider (to render help to me).[v]  Each of these distress signals anticipates help that may come from nearby ships or other rescuers.[vi]
What do you do when you’re about to get wrecked?  When the storms of life threaten?  Like the disciples in the boat, you send up a distress signal to God.  Like the sailors in the psalm, you find yourself at wit’s end, so you cry out to God.  Like Paul in the storm, just before the shipwreck, you can say, “Take heart…for I believe God (Acts 27:25).”  When you find yourself in life’s storms, you can be confident that God’s got you.  You can relax, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

[i] Metaxas, Eric.  “The Story Behind the Navy Hymn.”  Breakpoint.  Nov 11, 2015.  June 21, 2018.
[ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NKJV.
[iv] “What is the Meaning of SOS?”  Krzenski, Jim.  April 19, 2011. 
[vi] The above paragraph taken from my blog post, “My Help Comes from the Lord,” May 2, 2014.  June 21, 2018.