My year through the Psalms with Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus continues to be a powerful and precious journey. God’s Word is truly incredible in so many ways. One of the things I find amazing, and even surprising, even though it happens repeatedly (like here), is the capacity it has to speak into so many different circumstances and events, exhibiting relevance and personal connection, though often I feel like all I’m doing is picking up a devotional and reading the next scheduled passage.
The past couple of weeks have been full of contrasts for our family. There have been times of delight and joy as we continue to experience Kenyan culture and life in Nairobi, such as sweet fellowship with other believers and colleagues at church and at Bridgeworld College, as well as fun times with friends at home or visiting “touristy” places together.
There have also been times of deep sorrow and unexpected pain as we continue to mourn as a family for the loss of our son and brother. Findley was due in March 2017, and all of us were excited about this: talking about names, discussing new sleeping arrangements, and the fact that our van was already full so we’d need to replace it with something larger… None of us expected to have to say good-bye to him before we really even got to say hello, but that is what happened; we lost our tiny baby boy at 17 weeks of pregnancy on October 14th. We chose a middle name for him, Salim, which we read is a Swahili name denoting peace and safety. While we cling to that hope and comfort, that he is at peace and safe in Jesus’ arms, our own arms ache to hold him here. We are keenly aware that things here on earth are not the way they’re supposed to be.
So the Psalms. If you have read any of them, you know that grief, pain, loss, and heartache are not shied away from at all. You also know that words of praise and glory to God are everywhere, often side-by-side or intermingled with with the expressions of sorrow, even verse by verse. Such contrasting companions, are they not? And at first glance especially so. But the more I think about it, living in a time and space and country of contrasts myself, the more I believe there is no other way to mourn and to praise, especially while we live here in a world broken by sin and longing for the Saviour to return to make all things new and right again.
The Bible App has a “verse of the day” feature, which was one of the first things I read the morning we lost Findley. I don’t see it every day, and I don’t know exactly how these verses are chosen and sent to my tablet, but I know this: God planned this verse for our family long before we knew we would need it. Psalm 73:26 was October 14’s “verse of the day.” “My flesh and my heart may fail (and oh, how they have,) but God (are there any more powerful words in Scripture? ‘but God!’) is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” My Mom told me that a larger portion of Psalm 73, including this verse, was also part of my Grandma’s funeral texts last month.
And back to Keller: the reading for October 16 starts with Psalm 109:21-29, and studies the phrase “But you, Sovereign Lord.” “Our prayer may rightly begin with our own hurts, sins, enemies, surroundings, troubles. But it is only when you lay these things before God, see them in light of who he is, and say, ‘but You…’ – that release, relief, hope, and strength begin to come.” (Keller, p. 289). I can’t answer my heart’s cries as to why, how, and what now, but I know the One who made my heart does not ignore these cries. Even when I do not know how to pray, He knows; He sees; He even weeps with us. (John 11:35). “God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence.” October 22nd’s reading is Psalm 114, and looks at how God overcame seemingly absolute barriers to Israel’s escape from Egypt in order to bring them to their promised land: “The Red Sea parted and the mountains shook.” Likewise “to get us to our true country to live with him, [God] will shake and destroy death itself.” (Keller, 295).
Yes, these can seem like far-away and intangible promises sometimes (like now), but they are promises nonetheless, and our God is a keeper of promises. How do I know this? By the Psalms, for one. They speak of faithfulness, of answered prayers, of promises kept even in the midst of grief and inability to understand. The reading for today October 25, has us begin Psalm 116:
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling…” (Psalm 116:1-8, NIV).
We will trust that just as God did these things for the Psalmist, He will for us. It is in knowing that we cannot answer the questions, or stop the tears, or handle things, that we will find the One who can. October 25 is sometimes a hard day for us, because it marks the due date of the first baby we lost too soon, several years ago at just 8 weeks of pregnancy. Still, October 25 reminds us that we have experienced God’s comfort and healing in the past, and so we rest in knowing He is present, and He is faithful, even (or maybe especially!) in the midst of storms.
We pray this prayer, led by Tim Keller: “Lord, when I get into a tight place, my heart instinctively says ‘I can fix this. I can handle this.’ I think about people to call – but it is all futile. I can’t handle life, (or death!), and the sooner I admit this deep in myself, the sooner I’ll know the peace of always calling on You.” (Keller, p. 298).
These passages “coming along at just the right time” are not mere coincidences or random happenings; these are ways that the God who is infinitely greater than we can imagine does not fail to notice and care about the tiniest of babies and the families that love them and mourn for them. So we are encouraged: “Praise God because there is nothing too great for him … but also praise him because there is no one too small for God.” (Keller on Psalm 113:1-9). And further: “God’s greatness is seen in his regard for the ungreat. In Jesus he proved to be great enough to become small himself.” (Keller, p. 294). Sneak peek of tomorrow’s reading explains the full reason Jesus became small – “God saved the psalmist from death because his servants’ deaths are costly and painful to him … God does, of course, allow his people to die, but they are so precious to him,” that he has paid “the ultimate price on the cross.”
“Lord, you died that I (and that our precious Findley) might not die forever, and you rose so I might live forever. For this may I sing your praise!” (Keller, p. 299).