When I Am Afflicted and Needy

This morning I was reading Psalm 86, “A Prayer of David.” David was afflicted and needy. The combination of these two words creates a powerful picture of someone in distress. The first word (ʿānî) means “weak or afflicted from some kind of disability or distress.” In other words, it can be either physical or emotional. The second word (ʾebyôn) could poor in a material sense, but can also describe one who is in desperate need of help or deliverance.

David petitions Yahweh, his covenant God, as he does so often in the Psalms, to “incline Your ear and answer me.” His desperation is clear, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to You I cry all day long” (3).

Here is what struck me as I read this Psalm: The first thing is the vividness of David’s emotional state. He knew his weakness, he felt his distress, he was desperate.

The second thing is that he prays. “Well of course he prays.” No, don’t skip over this as if we all pray in times of deep distress. David prays and oh how he prays. What does he ask for? He asks God to “Make glad the soul of Your servant” (4a). His joy is gone, affliction and desperation have overwhelmed him, and now he prays and he prays for a glad soul. This echoes Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”

The next thing is that he prays with utter confidence in God’s goodness and God’s willingness to answer. God is “good, ready to forgive, abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (5). You can see other affirmations throughout of the Psalm of David’s confidence, but here is the lesson. When darkness overtakes us, we must pray, but we must pray remembering who our God is and what He is like and we must infuse those prayers with declarations of God’s goodness, even when it doesn’t feel like He is good.

The power of Psalm 86 is that David appears to have every reason to be depressed. Depression often causes us to withdraw and turn inward. But David will not turn inward, he turned upward. And he doesn’t simply turn upward so that he merely complains of his circumstances, he turns upward with bedrock truth about God. In his darkness his prayers are God-centered, read the whole Psalm, highlight everything David says is true about God. He petitions God towards the end, “Turn to me, and be gracious to me, Oh grant strength to Your servant, and save the son of your handmaid” (16). David’s confidence is so strong, “Because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” Maybe David is reflecting on times past, which is a good thing. Maybe he is so sure that God will come through that he can state it as if it has already happened. The bottom line is that David is honest about his state and condition, but he knows where to turn and how to turn.

Maybe today you need Psalm 86 because you are afflicted and needy. Cry out to the LORD, fill your prayers with His praise and glorious truth about Him. Remind yourself of who He is for you. He is the God who delivers the afflicted and needy.

The Fleeting Privilege of Parents

Life is a vapor (Hebrew: hebel). As you have heard many times, this is the pain of Ecclesiastes. Life is a breath on a cold morning, it appears and then is gone (James 4:14). The prime of life, the best part of earthly life, is spent working. There can be a monotony about that. But it occurred to me as I was thinking about being a grandpa and Ashley being a parent, that the prime of life is also spent parenting. Granted, parenting seems much more meaningful than work. We are talking about children, image-bearers, immortal souls, moral beings with minds, hearts, and wills. The prime of life is spent training them in the things of God, teaching them God’s Word, taking them to church, having family worship. The prime of life is spent having talks with them about the important and the not so important things of life.

The hebel of parenting is experienced in two ways. The first is that they grow up so very fast. They are little then they are big. They make little messes and then make bigger messes. It all goes by so fast. It can be downright depressing if you don’t keep perspective. Their lives are a vapor too. What you are experiencing, they will experience too, just like your parents before you. The prime of their life will be spent working and parenting too, and it will be here before you know it. We want them to stay kids forever, but that isn’t how God designed it. Their lives are also a breath on a cold morning. The breath doesn’t last forever, indeed, it is gone before you know it.

The second part of the hebel of parenting relates to what I’ve compared to chapters in a book. The way to ruin the end of one chapter is to try to prolong it instead of preparing for the next. Life is a series of vapors; each vapor is a short chapter in a short book. Try to prevent or delay the end of one chapter and the next one will start without you. That next chapter may start off differently from what you imagined because you didn’t finish the last chapter well. Although you can’t write the script for the next chapter, you can close out the current chapter in a way that you are a welcome part of the story for the next one.

Because life is a vapor, there is another perspective in Ecclesiastes: you can’t get more out of life than it was intended to give. You can’t turn life into an achievement to give you significance, a project to inflate your image or increase your joy. Life under the sun is life, and life is meant to be enjoyed as it races along, trying to suck more out of it than it can give sours it. The same truth applies to parenting. Don’t try to get more out of parenting than was intended. Parenting, in terms of children under your roof and care, is a temporary job. Why did God give us children? Why did He make us parents? Simple, to raise our children to become adults. Adulthood is the goal. If you try to squeeze your child so tightly and live as if they will be at home forever, you will exasperate them and possibly sour your relationship. By the way, they are not ours, they belong to God. God has given them as a fleeting stewardship for you to shape them and prepare them for adult life. They are a gift, not an achievement.

About nine years ago I wrote a very brief blog, “Let Them Follow and Please the Lord for Themselves”. I had heard a sad story about parents who had two daughters, one desperately wanted to go to college and earn a degree. She still wanted to be a wife and a mother, but she wanted to go to school. She believed God was leading her that way, opening doors for her. The parents dug in, “girls shouldn’t go to college.” The tension increased. This wasn’t rebellion, the girl was a solid Christian. The parents would not entertain the idea that God could directly lead their adult daughter. I guess it never occurred to them that they raised her to think for herself, follow God for herself, and make decisions for herself. She went to college. Although I do not reference the story, I concluded that blog with this paragraph:

We raise our kids to follow Christ, to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and then we try to play the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding them. If we have raised them right, we should yield to the Lord’s leading in their lives and not try to control them under some misguided concept of parental authority. If we have raised them right, they will seek our counsel and even the counsel of other godly people. If they are seeking to please the Lord and serve Him, then by all means let them! Do more than that, rejoice! It is sheer grace, not the wisdom of your parenting that brought them to that point.

Parents, keep in mind, parenting is enshrouded in hebel. Our lives are a vapor. Our kids’ lives are a vapor. Our calling and our stewardship are short. Let’s keep the goal in the mind. I say this as one who painfully realizes that my grandkids will grow up faster than my kids did. I say this as one who wants to grandparent in a way that builds into the lives of my grandchildren. Don’t mar the chapters because you didn’t accept the hebel. Don’t sour the relationship because you took your eye off the goal. As they start to spread their wings, rejoice, these are the moments for which you raised them.

Consider the Consequences

There are some bad actors in Scripture, like Pharaoh, Ahab, Jezebel, Judas, and others. Bad people who did bad things, and all faced “Payday someday.” But there are others, who weren’t bad actors, they just made bad choices. Jephthah, Eli, David, Peter, and a host of others. No, not bad actors, but tragic figures. Tragic because they made choices that deeply impacted their lives and the lives of others. It is the tragic figure that grabs my attention. I have (rather had) a close friend in ministry, who through sexual sin threw away 30 years of fruitful ministry that was expanding and blessing many people. Tragic. Oh, the consequences of our choices! Shattered relationships, deep burdens, years of work down the drain – these are consequences, not of bad actors, but of bad choices.

When we study the wisdom literature of Scripture we see that wisdom is the application of knowledge to life in order to secure the best outcome. Although we know we can’t control outcomes, the call to be wise is a call to consider the consequences of our ideas, our words, and our actions.

Consequences are usually unintended. For instance, when certain States legalized marijuana there were the unintended but very real consequences of more DUIs and driving fatalities. Not accounting for unintended consequences demonstrates a lack of wisdom because it shows a lack of forethought about how this could go wrong. Wisdom asks, “What damage could possibly come from this?”

When we make sinful choices, we rarely think about the consequences. We are too caught up in the moment to think beyond our own desires. But wisdom says, “Consider the consequences.” Reckoning with the possible outcomes of sinful choices is part of fearing the Lord. The fear of the Lord keeps in perspective that there is a God to whom I will give an account (Heb. 4:13), which of course is a major consequence of our choices. But there are other temporal consequences that should also dissuade us from sinful choices or unwise ones.

When we make selfish choices, we are being too short-sighted. We are only thinking of the now, how this situation affects me now. Often, we don’t think of the ripple effects. We don’t think of the possibility of broken relationships, or financial burden, or health risks. Selfish choices put us at the center of the situation, and we want a certain outcome, but we go about it the wrong way. We want to control the outcome for our own sake, our own advantage. In the end, we may reap serious unintended consequences.

As I sit here in Zambia, thinking about some situations where people did not consider the consequences. I plead with all of us, remember, what we think, what we do, our attitudes and actions, will produce outcomes. Have you thought about the possible outcomes? Have you considered the consequences? Wisdom demands that we ask…

How will it go for me when I give an account to God for this?

How will this impact my relationship with my spouse? My kids? My church?

How will this change me? Is this leading me on a path of “becoming”? How many times I have sat across from somebody who has told me, “I don’t even know who I am anymore.” That is the consequence of a series of bad choices.

How does this glorify God? Only if the thoughts, ideas, words, and deeds are in alignment with God’s Word, will it glorify God. Only if I am trusting Him, fearing Him, and loving Him, can I leave all outcomes to Him (Prov. 3:5-6).

After the dust of devastating choices settles, no one says, “that was worth it.” Except for the hardened reprobate, the tragic figure thinks, “if only I had thought through what could have happened, I would have chosen differently.”

I don’t know your situation, but you are in one. You are making choices, relational choices, church choices, moral choices, financial or career choices. You are settling in an attitude or way of thinking about a situation. You are ten steps down a certain path. Stop! Ask God to search your heart. Ask God to give you the wisdom to think about the outcomes, to consider the consequences. Then plead for Him to give you the wisdom to know the right choice and the grace to make it and follow through. You will be glad you did. You will regret it if you don’t.