Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Disappointment —> His Appointment

organizer-791939__340.jpg

What’s the biggest disappointment of your life?

Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.

I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.

Because how I cope with my disappointment reflects a lot on my God.

For God’s Sake, Do Disappointment Well

My learning to cope has been slow. The devils of Self-pity and I-deserve are right there, crouching at my door, desiring to have me the second my plans fall through.

But I am learning.  Here are two things I know about coping with disappointment.

  1. Joy comes when we choose what we did not choose.
  2. Grumbling won’t make the bitter taste go away, but gratitude will.

But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.

See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path

In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked? 

Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”

Boston writes,

I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”

When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?

Boston adds,

It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.

Because God makes no mistakes.

Too Wise and Too Loving to Err

John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th.  In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.

Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.

After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,

I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…

I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.

It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.

Love Leads in the Opposite Direction

I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.

The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.

Exodus from Egypt map, ESV Study bible

God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.

I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”

God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt. And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…

If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.

So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.

In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.

Disappointment, His Appointment

It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

-Edith Lillian Young

No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.

Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.

“For He performs that which is appointed for me…”

Job 23:14a

DARING TO HOPE: Discussion Questions & Quotes

Daring To Hope

Katie Davis Majors

Book Club Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do think this book is so popular? Did it make you cry? At what parts?
  2. Has anyone ever traveled to Uganda or close?  Does anyone want to go to the “Pearl of Africa” after reading this book?
  3. “Prisoners of Hope” are explained in ch. 5.  What did you learn about hope? Why do we sometimes resist hope? 
  4. Besides hope, what other themes did you see in this book?  Which one is the most meaningful to you right now? 
  5. “The LORD Will Provide” (p. 26, 192) is another theme. “But God’s promise to Abraham spoke to me. God wasn’t promising me ease. He wasn’t promising that things would go as planned. God wasn’t promising a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising me Himself.”
  6. Katie mentions a few lessons that she learned about life in the Western world vs. Uganda.  What can we learn?
  7. Katie discusses the true meaning of “happy endings.” (pp. 14-15) She shares how her “happy ending thinking” was redefined (p. 39)  Does teaching our children to pursue the American dream go against her idea?
  8. Besides Katie, which person in this book is the most memorable to you and why? (Betty dying p. 124-130)
  9. Many people think that what Katie Davis Majors has done is very brave (p. 135). Do you agree? How has reading this book challenged you to do something that takes courage?  What is one thing that you will do now?
  10. Is there a Scripture verse that was referenced or a quote that spoke to your heart?  Care to share? (i.e., “A faith that trusts Him only when the ending is good is a fickle faith. A faith that trusts Him regardless of the outcome is real.”)
  11. Do you have any criticism of this book- the content, the style? What would you say to someone who says, “Easy for Katie to say, she’s living a blessed life: big family, loving husband, great health, fruitful ministry. Easy for her to talk about meeting God in the hard”?
  12.  To whom would you recommend this book? Why?

Quotations from DARING TO HOPE:

  1. Sometimes the things we would never pick for our lives gives us opportunities to receive God’s provision, to see Him working in ways we otherwise might not…
  2. It is a bit of a mess, this business of love. As more and more people enter our lives, we are left with not choice but to enter theirs as well…This, at first glance, seems so burdensome, so overwhelming, but somehow I have found it not to be any longer. Something about shouldering the burdens of another brings a lightness to our own affliction. We are in it together, and Christ is in it with us.
  3. Then we both look at that leg and see so much more than new skin. We see Jesus. He met us right there on the cold, hard cement floor of my sunroom with our festering wounds and our messy hearts. He took two broken people and showed us the scars on His hands and whispered that it was okay if we had our scars too, because the scars were always meant to draw us into His glory.
  4. In a full life of trying to do great big things for God and see His glory in big ways, He showed me that He is glorified in the small too. He is glorified in each pot of pasta faithfully put on the table for our people. God is glorified each time we look into a stranger’s eyes and acknowledge the person’s humanity. He is glorified when we focus on Him instead of focusing on our lack, and He is glorified when we help our child with her hundredth math problem..Small acts of love become whispers of His glory in the midst of our everydayness.” 
  5. I think that each of us just as lacking as the next, the most powerful thing we can do for another person is not to try to fix his or her pain or make it go away but to acknowledge it. I cannot heal or perform miracles. Even for all my trying, I cannot make sure that someone will receive salvation from Jesus. But I can be a witness. I can look at another’s broken, bleeding mess and say, ‘I see you. I am with you. I will not turn away.’
  6. I miss Katherine’s laugh, loud and infectious. When I see her children smile, I see her, and I still wish the ending had been different.I asked God Why? again and again. What could all this suffering possibly accomplish? Why would He allow us to love people so deeply? A dear friend suggested, “Maybe because He knew you would. Could it be that be God’s answer to us as we walk the hard road? “I knew you would do it. I knew you would love them.” And suddenly the hard road becomes not a burden but a place of great honor, a place of partnership and intimacy with Him.
  7. Then I think that maybe courage is not at all about the absence of fear but about obedience even when we are afraid. Maybe courage is trusting when we don’t know what is next, leaning into the hard knowing that it will be hard, but God will be near.
  8. And I want to be just like that little bird. Hope is a crazy thing, a courageous thing. Faith is a bold, irrational choice. But that little bird—she feels the sun coming, knows with certainty that it will come, even when she can’t yet see it
  9. I am the addict and doubt is my drug, this ugly lack of trust, the place I turn when I am weak. It is my lifelong Jacob wrestle, my unwillingness to lay a dear one on the altar and trust that the Lord will provide. 
  10. Our hope in Him is not determined by our circumstances but by His character, always faithful to us.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,

so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Winter’s Past. Go On Into Spring.

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us.

C.S. Lewis

The last JoyPrO was about pain that’s real and pressing and all creation groaning and our way-long delayed spring.

That was last week.

Winter Is Past

But it’s 78° today. Windows open, shorts on and the daffodils are smiling at the doves.

Spring came this way slowly. But, as C.S.  Lewis wrote, the great thing is that the corner has been turnedThe winter is past, the snow is over and done. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, The corner has been turned- at least, outside.

And who in his right mind wouldn’t prefer spring over winter?

Don’t Sympathize (With Yourself)

But some don’t. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I prefer to wait in the cold and withstand the spring.

Don’t get me wrong, My heart thrilled in the breeze in the season’s first big bike ride today.  I mean the inner spring. The one Christ said wells up to eternal life. I mean, if I’m not careful, my soul lingers in woe-is-me winter. I’ve noticed that when my soul winters linger it’s because I’m stuck sympathizing with myself. 

Now sympathy for others is good and right. It’s beautiful. We are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b) and to have sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

But our hearts are supposed to feel tender toward others, to be directed outside of ourselves.

I know- too well- that melancholy and self-pity are a slippery, wintry mix for my soul. They tend toward dark nights. When I sympathize with myself, I choose winter over spring. I choose not to turn the corner and I deprive my Help, my God, of glory.

But my inner self loves spring. Which is why I’m on a sophron quest, a self-control, sound-mind mission to not let my emotions rule me. It’s why I’m learning to distract my wintry thoughts by thinking on excellent and lovely things. To get a grip and push the brakes.

Get a Grip. (Talk to Yourself.)

It is a work. And a process- a Spirit-guided process.

But taking myself in hand is the only way I know to get my soul to spring. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.

Here he  explains why we must get a grip.

This other man within us has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you…

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Lloyd-Jones is only echoing the Psalmist’s 3,000 year-old cure for the downcast soul that can’t – or won’t- turn the corner from winter into spring.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Let’s take ourselves in hand and leave winter behind.  Hope in God, O my soul. Don’t withstand the spring.

We do have that choice. The flowers don’t. The crocus can’t choose if it will come out in spring or not.

But we can.

Go On Into Spring

We can choose.  

There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. (C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock)

There is a season for everythinga time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. And God knows it’s not for me to determine the times and seasons he’s appointed. 

But spring has sprung and it is mine to choose if I will get on with it. If I will hope-in-God obey and rise and follow Jesus.

What will you choose?

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away,
 for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:10-12