Psalm 74: Where are you,God?

Why does it seem that God is silent in the midst of the most difficult trials and tribulations of our lives? The silence can puncture the ear drums of the most spiritual person. The pain eats away at your faith like acid as you begin to feel hopeless and helpless. You are stranded in a spiritual traffic jam until it clears, if it ever clears.

One popular saying concerning God’s silence is “The teacher is always quiet during the test.” While well-meaning, this saying doesn’t bring immediate comfort during the test because we simply do not know how long this test is going to be nor do we know if there is another part to it, which can sink us further into the depths of despair. I have been there and I know you probably have been there too.

In Psalm 74, the psalmist wrote about the destruction of the first Temple while questioning God. Essentially, the psalmist asks such questions as, “Where are you, God?” “Are you seeing this?” “Do you care about what’s going on here?”

The Old Testament tells us that the Jews are God’s chosen people, Jerusalem was the place where the Temple was to be built and God’s presence would dwell in said Temple. However, all of this came into question as the Babylonians laid waste to the Temple in 586 B.C.

“O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation  you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed-Mount Zion, where you dwelt.” (Psalm 74:1-2, NIV).

The psalmist goes on to describe the destruction:

“Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.” (Psalms 74:3-5, NIV).

The destruction is detailed- the paneling is smashed and the sanctuary has been burned to the ground. The psalmist once again makes note of God’s silence during this time and asks Him if He’s going to do something about it:

“We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” (Psalm 74:9-11, NIV).

These words portray such raw emotion. How many times have we pleaded with God to give us wisdom in a situation, asking for a sign? How many times have you prayed for God to remove sickness from your child or yourself? How many tears in the night must be shed before action is taken? When your last hope has nothing to say, where do you go? The psalmist is literally pleading with God to take His hands out of His pockets and do something about it.

Like the other Psalms, the writer reflects on some of God’s deeds (verses 12-17), and ends with another plea for God to intervene (verses 18-23). The Psalm does not end on a happy note nor does it make a declaration of faith. The Temple has been destroyed. God’s dwelling place has been burned to the ground. The treasures have been seized and are now in possession of a foreign king in a foreign land. For the Israelites, the story doesn’t end well, as they face seventy years of exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). After the exile, the Temple would be rebuilt during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it did not match the splendor and majesty of the first Temple.

Just as the destruction of the Temple and exile marked major turning points in the history of the Jewish people, so to we experience such turning points in our lives. There are events that take place where we may never fully recover; part of us will always be missing. Sometimes there are no answers. When we go through trials, we must be realistic about what we are facing- it’s going to be tough, but you will get through it, somehow.

 

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The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.

Book Review- Meditations

marcus aurelius
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Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is considered to be both one of the last great emperors of Rome and along with Seneca and Epictetus, one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism. Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as a great insight into the mind of Aurelius and provides a framework of Stoic philosophy. However, Meditations is not a book written for the public, but was Marcus Aurelius’ personal journal, written on the war front and during his quiet time at the palace.

Book One of Meditations details the list of people who have influenced Aurelius on his life’s journey and what he received from each of them. For example: “From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper. From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness. From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.”1

Aurelius’ note on Appolonius really embodies Stoic aspects: “…to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness…”2

Stoicism as a philosphy is about focusing on improving our inner character, controlling the things within our control (thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions) and not worrying about what’s not in our control (our reputation, whether or not we’ll be famous, the weather, to give a few examples). Aurelius is what we could call a reluctant politician, but he recognized that we cannot control how people act, we can only control our response to them. Book two starts off with this applicable nugget of wisdom:

“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling,ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own- not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.”3

Other major themes throughout Meditations:

*Live each day as if it was your last, not with reckless abandonment, but careful thought given to your ways andwords, doing all with excellence.

*Look for the beauty in everything.

*Minding our own business,working on improving ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or being judgmental.

*Being adaptable to whatever circumstances come our way.

*No matter how long we live, the same fate, death, awaits us all, as it did the generations before us and the generations after us.

*Manage our perceptions, thereby, we manage our judgments of events.

*What happens to you as an individual affects the whole of humanity.

The Stoics have often been characterized as being emotionless, which is far from the truth. The Stoics were people of great inner reflection and who were able to manage their emotions, thereby keeping their perspective of circumstances. As Aurelius wrote:

“Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being,are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot-as if this was anything lasting likely to trouble him for long.”4

Where do we fit into this scheme?

“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny-what fraction of that are you?”5

Stoicism began to decline after Aurelius’ death, which coincided with the rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Stoicism, however is making a comeback of sorts, as there are business leaders, athletes, and everyday people who are putting its principles to practice. I also find that Stoicism is compatible with my Christian faith, as some of Aurelius’ passage echo themes found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

You don’t need to have any extensive background in philosophy or religion to read Meditations, as Aurelius brings forth his points that are still relevant almost 2,000 years later. What if we were to focus our limited time on improving ourselves and not pointing the finger or bickering with each other? What if we could see that others are like us, they too are on their own journey, trying to find their place in the world? I will leave you with the perspective of Aurelius- we are all in this together, let’s make the best of it.

“All things are meshed together, and a sacred bond unites them.Hardly a single thing is alien to the rest: ordered together in their places they together make up the one order of the universe. There is one universe out of all things, one God pervading all things, one substance, one law, one common reason in all intelligent beings, and one truth- if indeed there is also one perfection of all cognate beings sharing in the same reason.”6

1Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translation and notes by Martin Hammond. London: Penguin Books (2006): 3.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 10.

4Ibid, 42.

5Ibid, 42.

6Ibid, 59.

Peace through Music

 

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. - Victor Hugo

There is something about music that resonates in the collective soul of humanity. For millennia, music has been used to sing praises to God, tell stories of epic victories, songs of nature, songs of love, to bring awareness of social causes, or just simply for entertainment purposes. Just as there are billions of people on the planet, not everyone will agree on the same music, as it is a fine-tuned individual preference based on what sounds pleasant to the ears.

In recent months, I have rediscovered my love for classical music. The music has brought healing to my heart and spirit. Throughout the course of my life, I have had to fight constant battles against depression and anxiety. There would be times that I would feel so overwhelmed by the everyday events of life, that I would get anxious and the tension would rise. It would feel as if a panic attack was coming.  I would put on my earbuds and close my eyes and I would allow the classical or instrumental praise music to help me refocus on what I had to do. There is just a timeless, serene quality to a symphony or sonata that can bring such joy to the heart and mind. (Along with music, we can tap into the power of prayer and even breathing exercises, but I will focus on music).

The Bible states Saul was the first king of Israel. However, due to Saul’s continuous disobedience, God rejected Saul and anointed David as the next king. Maybe it was the weight of God’s rejection or the realization of his personal failings, Saul became a tortured man.

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14, NIV).

Briefly, I believe the above verse means that God had removed His protection, grace and anointing from Saul and Saul was left to deal with the fallout of his sins. God had allowed Saul to reap what he had sown.

Saul’s attendants knew what was going on with him and they sought permission to find a harp player, who could bring comfort to Saul. The harp player ended up being David, who earlier in 1 Samuel 16, unbeknownst to Saul, anointed the next king of Israel.

“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel 16:23, KJV).

David’s harp playing would bring temporary healing to Saul’s spirit, but this verse also serves as a pivot point between Saul’s steady decline and David’s meteoric rise. Through music, David was able to bring praise to God and bring healing to the pain of others, much like how a hymn or worship song in church can touch a broken heart. David’s musical ability not only gave him audience with the king, but his praises of God would give him strength for the next challenge. In 1 Samuel 17, we come across the famous story of David defeating Goliath. David praised God before he went into battle. There are other instances in The Bible where music and praise won the battle.

*Jehoshaphat sent out the choir before he sent the soldiers to fight three invading armies. (2 Chronicles 20).

*When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people sang “Hosanna!” before Jesus went into the temple and confronted the corruption.

*Paul and Silas were praising God at midnight while chained up in the jail at Philippi before they were miraculously freed.

Music is one of the ways we are to build up our spirits.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16, KJV).

You may not be able to read music or play an instrument, but there is a song in you. Just as David acknowledged God’s deliverance from the bear and the lion before facing the giant, you too have a song of deliverance. Allow the music to dwell in you and give you strength to rebuild your spirit. God bless you.

 

Make the Best of It

By Michael W. Raley

No one wants to see a dream go unfulfilled.

However, we quickly learn this possibility is real.

Sometimes taking solace knowing you did your best

Doesn’t always stop your heart and spirit from sinking into your chest.

You look around at this disaster zone of a mess

And you go further down the bottomless pit, the hopeless abyss.

You hold onto the hope that everything will be made right

When you cross over into eternity’s light.

As you live out the rest of your days,

How do you find the strength to give thanks, to hope, or pray?

You feel used and burned.

You set the course, yet the winds and the ship turned.

You learned the steps, you took the chance,

Only to find out the conductor changed the song and dance.

We must continue in faith, but we must learn to adapt.

We don’t get all of the information, sometimes we must read and react.

If life is a game, we are the quarterback.

With each play, we may complete a touchdown pass or find ourselves sacked.

Sometimes a play will be broken and go haywire,

Which can get the adrenaline pumping, and turn a spark into a fire.

Life is a matter of timing and circumstance,

And we may have 60, 70, 80, or 90 years to live through.

Make the best of it, no matter what you decide to do.

Enjoy the journey, make up your own steps, dance your own dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.

 

The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.