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)

Don’t Buy The Lie: Suffering ≠ Unloving

Woman sitting guilty believe the lie
Rather listen to this post? Here’s the KEEP ON podcast link.
But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 22:6-8 (ESV)

Why do you believe in him anyway? God doesn’t do anything on this earth and he doesn’t answer you. Look at all your problems. Why would I possibly want to be like you?

That from someone I love, someone close. Someone who assumes God wouldn’t let his loved ones suffer. Someone, incidentally, who called me worse than a worm.

Satan’s Top Lie To Suffering Saints

“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” That is Psalm 22 verse 8, written by David. It’s not the first time I’ve written about that lie. For the accuser of the brothers is relentless.

So today I circled back and lingered on Psalm 22, alert for that old lie,

“that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all.”

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72

That lie was loud this week. That if God is here, he’s here for my convenience, my ease. I heard it in that dear one’s scornful words and again inside my troubled mind: If God really loved you, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. You must really be guilty for God to allow such heartache.

Satan kept aiming his fiery darts. A couple landed, with tips dipped in deadly poison. Because my grief morphed into self-pity, and self-pity is of the devil.

So this must be an effective lie. Because not only does he use it on me, he used it on David and on David’s Greater Son.

He Trusts In God, Let God Deliver Him

The devil first hurled it at Jesus in the wilderness when he said, “Command these stones into bread” (Matthew 4:3). It didn’t work.

But he came back to sling the lie again, at an opportune time. It came through different mouths.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Matthew 27:41-44

Did you hear the lie? In his weakest, most vulnerable moments, the dying Messiah heard it. He trusts in God; let God deliver him.

I suspect it didn’t sound as harmonious as Handel wrote it. I think it was a raucous, jeering sound.

If I’m honest, if I were at the cross I might have reviled too. At least, I would have urged the Savior, Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Come down from the cross.

Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer like that. 

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Away From Me, Satan!

When Jesus explained how he must “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-22). “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

I’m with Peter. Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth. 

For Christ to bypass suffering would have been nothing short of satanic. He demanded that His beloved Son suffer (Matthew 3:17). God sometimes sends his children into the wilderness.

That can be hard to hear when trouble comes. So Satan plants this seed of doubt, this lie, that suffering = unloved.

But Jesus would have none if it. He turned and said to Peter (Matthew 16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” The Son of God didn’t buy the lie that God the Father spares his children suffering.

Thank God, he didn’t.

For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

The Silence Of God

But in his deepest suffering, our Lord heard the silence of God. Nailed to the cross, Jesus borrowed David’s prophetic words from Psalm 22. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In our far lighter suffering we might hear accusing voices. Then we might hear nothing at all. There will be grace to endure, to stand up under (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we might receive no relief, no rescue, no response to our prayers—only the sound of silence.

Andrew Peterson describes the silence of God.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy
Or break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder
If he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleeding for comfort
From thy staff and thy rod
And the heavens’ only answer
Is the silence of God

But God’s silence need not break our faith.

As he was dying, Jesus fixed on to David’s words. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22: 1-2).

In lament, Great David and his Greater Son both talked back to their silent God.

Don’t Stop Talking To God

David talked back to God because he had faith. Even though he felt God’s silence, he believed God heard. Read the rest of Psalm 22. Paul believed this too.

I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”

Paul quoted that verse from Psalm 116. Lament is good. Crying out to God in our pain is healthy.

“Pain is when it seems like God stops talking to you.

The problem is when you stop talking to God.”

Kevin DeYoung

The problem is when we stop talking to God. Faith, belief, causes us to speak—even if our words form to tell God our troubles.

So cry out. The real problem is when we stop talking to God.

3 Truths to Defeat the Lie

Because it’s not where you start in this battle with despair. It’s where you land.

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he was nailed to the cross. We read Psalm 22 from the foot of the empty cross. There we find three life-giving truths to defeat Satan’s lie.

  1. First, if you are in Christ, your suffering is not meaningless—it is producing a weight of glory.
  2. Second, your suffering is not random—you were not spared from suffering for good reasons.
  3. Third, your suffering is not the end.

We know it’s not the end because God hears his people’s groans. He hears, he remembers, he knows. The Father heard the Son when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He hears your sighs and cries and moans.

He Has Done It!

Serious Bible scholars suggest that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) he was actually quoting the last line of Psalm 22. As Jesus hung in the dark on the cross, he was meditating on that psalm for he’d cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But those words were the beginning of Psalm 22, not the end.

“He has done it!” That is the end of the psalm.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews chapter 12 verse two says this is true.

Bearing sin and scoffing rude, the Spotless Lamb of God didn’t buy the lie. As the Son of God agonized, bearing our sins in his body on the tree and hearing the heavy silence of God, I think he was still meditating on the truth from Psalm 22.

I think he was looking forward to the real and glorious end, when,

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.

All the families of the nations
will bow down before You..
.

They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—

He has done it!

Psalm 22:27, 31

Rough Day? Rest on the Pillow of Providence

Child sleep on pillow of providence

We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.

To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”

So why do I disclose this much?

Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear this as a brag, because I mean to boast in the God of all grace: I slept like a baby last night.

Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.

When It’s Hard To Sleep

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9

The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

What happened this week marks years of prayers still answered, Not now. That answer, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.

At least, without the right pillow.

But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me: when I travel, I pack my pillow.

It’s well worth the space because to sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.

Providence Is A Soft Pillow

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic. Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.

Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.

Quoted by C.H. Spurgeon

The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.

Begg confides,

Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.

Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.

Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.

My Times Are In Your Hands

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a

My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”

Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.

Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.

And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”

Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Mark 4:37-38a

As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.

Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 

For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.

Into Your Hand

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5

How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:

Into your hand I commit my spirit.

I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46, ESV

Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.

I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.

Because I trust my loving Father knows best.

On Comparing, Scarcity & Working Your Little Territory

Man planting little territory

Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.

Read it out loud. Read it again.

Breathe. Post.

Scarcity

Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?

It all depends.

It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.

But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.

Because there is plenty of ground to go around.

Comparing

On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.

Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.

There, I said it. The Green-Eyed Monster still isn’t dead in me.

You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.

Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.

Yes, I know. Ug-ly.

Tend Your Territory

Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.

Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.

Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…

If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.

The Draft and the Marathon: Hierarchies and Territories

Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.

So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.

Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.

Two Prayers: Both/And

Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,

Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?

Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.

And. Pray for a calm, contented soul that is not so preoccupied with too great things that it cannot give thanks in everything.

Fellowship With Christ Or (Pity) Party Alone

After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.

Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.

It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus? Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth— as in Can anything good come out of Nazareth? — little backwater Nazareth. There was nothing in his appearance that would attract us to him. Not to mention that his own family thought he was crazy. Oh, sure, he didn’t feel the exact same deflation I felt at Facebook post. But in Hebrews it says, He was tempted in every way as we are but was without sin.

He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.

All Glory Be To Christ

That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.

God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.

And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.

In the best of ways.

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ

All Glory Be To Christ

Woman hoeing little patch of ground
My Mom tends her territory with a little help from the boys.