March 22, 2019
by Jeff Wright
Psalm 63:1-8 NRSVO God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
The Comfort and Assurance of God’s PresenceThink of a time in your life when you needed the comfort and assurance of God’s presence. Perhaps it was a moment of grief, deep grief when you were mourning to the depth of your soul? Could it have been a time when you or a friend or family member was facing a devastating illness and the prognosis was not good? Or, was it a time when everything seemed to be falling apart in a relationship, in your marriage? Maybe it was when you were at a crossroads and a tough decision was looming? It could have been when you lost a job or lost an opportunity you were sure was yours. Was it a time you felt betrayed?
As I write these words, we are a few days removed from the 2019 Special Called General Conference. Emotions are still raw and there are lingering aftereffects no matter what plan you supported. We are also on the eve of that special time of the year some call March Madness; not the excitement of NCAA basketball March Madness, but the nervousness and apprehension of “Appointment Week”. And I assure you, the Cabinet enters that process seeking God’s presence as much as those who feel like they are teetering on the edge of limbo waiting on “the call”. In fact, by the time you read this, many of those calls will have been made and apprehensions may have plummeted or escalated.
There are simply times when life hands us more questions than answers. There are times when life just hits us with a gut punch and we face something that is beyond our power and scope of knowledge to change, answer, or even comprehend. We just want to cry out in our pain and anguish. There are times when we find ourselves in a proverbial personal wilderness mimicking the Israelites of old. We wander and wander with no end or comfort in sight. We may even grumble and complain and long to go back to a time when we at least knew what to expect rather than trudge on in uncertainty.
Psalm 63 begins with a longing; a longing for God’s presence. This longing is not simply the want of something superficial. This longing for God reverberates to the soul and invites us to feel the same effect. It is suggested these words of David arise from a time when he was in the Judean wilderness on the run from his enemies. In the barrenness of his journey, he longs to experience the immediacy and intimacy with God he has known before. These verses cry of the confidence David has in God even as he treks in the wilderness.
Sometimes life literally throws us into the wilderness just as Jesus was driven into the wilderness following his baptism. Being a follower of Christ does not exempt us from wilderness walking. Maybe we feel abandoned and alone or worse, forgotten. Sometimes, when we look at all that is going on in and around us it is easy for us to fall into a spirit of desolation. The lens through which we view life turns clouded which casts a haze on our soul. During our journey, I hope we can draw strength from the words of David in Psalm 63. My favorite image is the second part of verse 7, “in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy”. David, only a few verses ago, had spoken of the dryness and parchedness he was experiencing. Yet now, he sees the shadow of God’s wings and sings for joy. Imagine finding a shadow in the wilderness, a respite from the death rays of the sun. That shadow is hope. That shadow is rest. That shadow is the comfort of God’s presence.
What we need to remember is what David knew, God was with him. God would lead him out of the wilderness just as God led the Israelites out of the wilderness. Like David, Jesus put his confidence in God during his wilderness moments. Wilderness walking can be redemptive when we remember God is with us and when we remember to put our trust in the steadfast love of God. When we lose sight of that, the wilderness path can decimate us. When we lose that sense of longing for God’s presence, we begin to wallow in our misery and drown in distress.
There are three wall hangings above my desk in my office. I had not realized the significance of their proximity to one another until I looked up while I was writing this devotional. One centers on the promise of John 3:16, the promise of God’s love for all of us. The second is a rendering of Simeon’s Moment from Luke 2 and depicts the exuberance of Simeon as he held the Christ-child and felt the realization of what God was doing. The third is just a small picture of a decorative window on the side of a building with a shadow touching part of the window and a quote from Sharon K. Smith that simply says, “May The Beauty of God’s Love Define the Windows of Your Soul!” This unintended grouping reminds me of the joy of God’s love and revelation but also how we need to let that love and the assurance of that love be the window or lens for viewing life.
What we see outside can form what we feel inside. Life reeks of uncertainty and uncertainty casts doubt. Doubt births fear and fear can lead to withdrawal. Withdrawal leads to desolation and desolation in a good way can lead to longing but in a bad way can lead to utter despair. Despair leaves little room for hope or assurance. In our Lenten journey and in our wilderness walking, my prayer is that as we experience moments and seasons of anguish, pain, uncertainty, doubt, fear, questioning, and even desolation, we will remember to have confidence in the steadfast love of God to be with us. I pray we will sense being in the shadow of God’s wings and even if we don’t feel like singing for joy at the moment, may joy not be a stranger to us on the path. We know life is not always easy. In fact, at times, it is downright harrowing. Even in the dark night of our soul, may we see God, and may we cling to the assurance of God’s steadfast love.