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Category: Psalm

When the world went strangely dim: God’s glory amidst suffering and hate

My wife and I traveled down to my sister’s house in Albany, Oregon to experience the great eclipse a couple of weeks ago. From Oregon to South Carolina, the moon blocked out the sun, casting a 70-mile-wide shadow across the United States. Albany happened to be in the path of totality. Portland would get a 99.2% showing of the eclipse.

But what a difference .8% makes.

My wife and I sat in my sister’s backyard and donned our dorky eclipse glasses.

For an hour, we watched the moon slide slowly across the surface of the sun. A show like one we have never seen was about to begin. About fifteen minutes out of totality, Albany grew darker—a strangely dim type of darkness, not quite twilight, not quite dusk. It was like looking through oddly-tinted sunglasses.

Then, in the final moments of totality, the sun went completely dark.

For a moment.

A ring of fire burst out from around the perimeter of the moon. Cheers erupted throughout the neighborhood. Dogs barked. I snapped some pictures and then watched in quiet awe. Words cannot describe the event. The only thing going through my mind were the words of the Psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).

For two minutes, a wondrous act of the Creator brought the nation to standstill. Suddenly, I wasn’t thinking about my life. I wasn’t worried about the upcoming semester of classes, or my anxieties, or even what I was going to each for lunch that day. Heck, I wasn’t even worried about the drive back to Portland—a normally ninety minute journey that would take almost seven hours. All that mattered at that moment was the dazzling display high up in the heavens.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The heavens declare the glory of God. Summer 2017 had been quite eventful, emotional, and one of great transition.

Early on, my wife and I planned a trip back to my home state of Montana. Originally, the plan was to attend two weddings only ten days but five hundred miles apart—one in Billings and the other in Spokane, Washington.

However, that simple plan quickly turned sideways. my grandfather had a massive stroke that took his life just a few days later. Then, my father’s gall bladder attacked him during our special Father’s Day dinner, sending him to the hospital. This, of course, was followed by emergency surgery. Then, if that wasn’t enough, my dachshund Copper decided to get in on the fun when his mouth unexpectedly swelled up, requiring an urgent visit to a vet. My wife and I bounced around Montana like a ball in a pinball machine—Helena to Coeur ‘d Alene, Idaho and back to Missoula, then Great Falls, then Billings for the first wedding, then the mega-metropolis of Savage, back to Missoula, and finally to Spokane for the second wedding.

All in three weeks.

When it was over, my car aged over 3200 hundred miles. I didn’t fare much better.

It was a strange blend of laughter, sadness, celebration, stress, adventure, and of course, transition. A niece on my wife’s side of the family and a nephew on my side transitioned into the world of marriage. For us who are merely uncles and aunts, our relationships with them would transition into something entirely new as they cling to their new spouses and start a new life. My grandfather transitioned into his heavenly home, and those of us left behind transitioned into an unknown life completely without him. My father’s health transitioned back and forth on a daily basis, and I transitioned into a new experience of dealing with an aging dad.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

The heavens declare the glory of God. The last several months have seen an escalating in the great American Civil War—one that has been fought largely with stilted rhetoric. Then violence started to creep in, slowly—almost unnoticeably. All this violence didn’t have the impact on us as a nation.

Until a woman was run over and killed by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am afraid this rhetorical civil war is escalating into a violent one.

On August 26, a category three hurricane named Harvey pummeled Texas in one of the most violent displays of nature since, arguably, Hurricane Katrina. Watching the suffering and loss on TV, I couldn’t begin to fathom what is going on in the minds and hearts of people who lost everything. Also present were endless examples of people helping each other—lifting them out of harm’s way, providing financial resources, food, and lodging, and even encouragement.

Sadly, not to be outdone, brutality and malevolence found its way back into the trending headlines. In the days following, the devastation on the lives of countless Texans was eclipsed by sorry souls who have the heart of Swiss cheese—some of it is missing, and the parts that remain stink. The faces of Harvey were replaced with debates about climate change, whether or not Trump’s response to disaster was better than Obama’s, how Joel Osteen’s church responded or didn’t respond, and whether Melania Trump’s shoes were inappropriate. A professor tweeted the Harvey was karma on Texas for supporting Trump. Politico ran a cartoon mocking victims giving glory to God for their rescue while at the same time making government its own god. And the French satirical magazine Charlie Habdo, who twice was the victim of radical Islamic terrorists, published a cover with Nazi salutes coming out of the water and the headline: “God exists! He drowned all the neo-Nazis of Texas.”

I shake my head in sadness.

It’s almost hard to remember that between Charlottesville and Harvey, a great eclipse brought the United States—from sea to shining sea—to an halt. For two minutes, the nation’s eyes turned upward.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The heavens declare the glory of God. To the conservative and the liberal, to the believer and the atheist, to the oppressed and the oppressor, to the human of every race and even to the beast—we all looked in awe to the skies. No one worried about their lives. Political causes moved to the back burner. No one fought or called each other names. No one listened to beltway pundits and arrogant journalists flap their gums. We were all humans again. We were community. For two minutes, the heavens declared the glory of God.

Sure, some tried to turn our attention away from the wonder. One writer tried to argue that science is greater than God because predicting the path of the eclipse is somehow greater than actually creating it. Another tried to use the eclipse as a hook to discuss racism. Fortunately, those attempts got little to no traction. Majesty blurred human nature.

Two minutes later, it was done. Light returned.

“Normal” once again pushed out the “extraordinary.”

Even though the eclipse was only a few weeks ago, it already seems so distant. Allowing life and sin to overwhelm God’s glory is not at all difficult.

It is also sad when it happens.

Perhaps it is time to step away from our personal causes, our debates, our vindictiveness toward others, and our hatred toward those who don’t see things the way we do, and once again look up to the heavens. Everything that matters to us—no matter how important we may think it is—will, in the words of Helen Lemmel’s great hymn, “grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Lyrics from the song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” by Helen Lemmel, 1922.

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“Hosanna!”: The presidential election, terrorism, and the state of the world

Last Saturday in Arizona, protesters tried to silence a presidential candidate while supporters retaliated with fisticuffs.

Hours later, on Palm Sunday, Christians commemorated Jesus’s kingly entrance into Jerusalem.

The next day, in Brussels, terrorist attacks killed over 30 people and injured at least 200 more.

This year has been that kind of surreal.

The elections, the unrest, the terror—all of this craziness makes me feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and afraid.

I can’t quite describe my feelings, but they include anger, horror, frustration, numbness, bewilderment and more, depending on what’s in the news each day.

I am distressed and heartbroken over the terrorism, crying out to God for the victims. But I can’t stop it. So I focus on something closer to home: election year, and how our next president might respond to terrorism and all of the other problems facing us, both here and abroad.

uncertainty-aheadYet it unnerves me to think who We, the people may choose as our next president. I am so un-thrilled by the choices that if I had to vote today, I couldn’t, even while holding my nose. I simply cannot shake the feeling that we are preparing to elect a dictator—because that’s what we seem to want.

I say this because I see a trend of feverish devotion, with several candidates being exalted to nearly messianic status. I understand that in a democratic republic, researching the candidates and trying to support the best one is a good thing. But where is the line between “support” and “worship”?

I’m not sure, but I think we border on worship when we defend our candidates by…

-shouting down or cold-cocking the opposition.

-attacking other candidates’ shortcomings while giving our own candidate a pass for the same offenses.

-name-calling and bullying anyone who dares to question our candidate.

-insisting that our candidate is the only one who has the answers.

All of these could fit the definition of “worship.”

It’s funny how history repeats itself.

In 2008 we elected a president based on a promise of “hope and change”—yet the world is still divided, hate-filled, and violent. Now we are preparing to elect one based on promises of “revolution” or “national greatness.” More and more these days, we seem to believe that the right person will be able to solve everything, and ring in utopia. Yet in truth, any president is lucky to fulfill maybe five percent, at most, of everything promised on the campaign trail (because our laws clearly define what a president can and cannot do—thank goodness for the Constitution’s “division of powers”!). In fact, no matter how great their desire, vision, and ability, none of these leaders will ever be able to save us—as a nation, or as individuals.

It has never happened, and it never will. 

Well, except once.

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, things were much the same as they are today. Then, as now, people felt a sense of political unrest and unhappiness with the government (and it was a government of brutal Roman occupiers, not their own self-government). Then, as now, many of Jesus’s followers were seeking a social revolution instead of a spiritual one. Then, as now, they despaired when their leader didn’t do what they wanted. And then, as now, people feared forces beyond their control and longed for a messiah to deliver them.

Yet Jesus came in riding into town not on a white steed, like a military hero, but on a humble donkey.

Palm%20Sunday_jpgAnd crowds of Jews spread palm branches before him and cried, “Hosanna!”—a rich, ancient word that we now use only on Palm Sunday. But I’m thinking we should revive it, because its meaning is, “Lord, save us!” (Psalm 118:25)—an urgent and desperate cry for deliverance.

The people were quoting this word from the Psalms. They weren’t welcoming Jesus into their city; they were pleading for divine rescue—as at Passover when God rescued their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, and as at Calvary when he rescued humanity from sin. No one knew it yet, but Jesus was coming to completely and finally answer the cries of “Hosanna.” He was coming to rescue us all.

Ironically, those cries for rescue would be answered just days later, after these same crowds turned on Jesus and demanded his death—the very death which would save the world.

If only they had known.

And now, during this holy Passion Week, we need saving more than ever. We see Americans attacking one another, a capital city recovering from fatal bombings, and a world possibly inching closer to the next great war.

None of this is exactly new (we’ve seen it all before), but it still feels so chaotic, so desperate, so uncertain. I simply do not have answers—nor, despite the politicians’ promises, does anyone else.

I’ve lived long enough to realize that we will never be rescued by anyone on the ballot.

And at that realization, my spirit cries, “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”

Only one Messiah has sacrificed himself for us, instead of for his own political ends. Only one Messiah possesses all of the power, authority, and credentials required to save us.

There is only one Savior.

And he is not currently running for President.


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Paralyzed by perfectionism

In January, I set a goal to complete a rough draft of my next manuscript this year. For the last six months the subject has been rolling around in my head, and for the last two, I have been itching to get the project underway. The words are dancing on my fingertips, hovering over my keyboard. I feel emotionally and spiritually ready to tackle the topic that represents the next chapter of my life. Everything seems ready to go.

writers-blockBut I just can’t bring myself to actually start. Every morning for the last eight weeks, I’ve vowed, “Today’s the day.” But by late afternoon, with no progress made, that vow becomes, “Tomorrow’s the day” – followed by an evening of more distractions and other business – and the next day the whole cycle repeats.

So far, it’s been a frustrating year.

Initially, I thought my problem was procrastination: even with my task immediately before me, I kept finding excuses to do other things. But as the days trudge on, I am starting to think the problem goes much deeper than that.

In reality, I want to get started. I want to immerse myself into the subject matter, to get into the zone for an entire afternoon. I try to will the words to start flowing through my fingers and onto my blank screen – but with each passing day that the word count doesn’t grow, I get crabbier.

The heart is definitely willing. Yet whenever I open the file on my computer, I feel frozen. By what, I am not certain, but it is enough to block the ideas. I get so frustrated that I want to run away.

Finally I shared my struggle with a friend in my home community. Immediately she said she was familiar with the problem – and for her, paralysis was caused by perfectionism.

That resonated with me.

perfectionist-imagePerfectionism is that god-awful affliction which stifles innovation and strangles creativity. It’s stealthy: we seldom recognize it as the root problem, instead blaming our paralysis on everything else. It’s clever, trapping us with fear and pride: fear because we might fail; pride because we’re too proud to take that risk.

We fear we won’t do it right. We fear our efforts will be rejected, mocked, or brutally criticized by others, and our egos will be irreparably damaged. So we freeze.

In my case, I have subconsciously refused to budge until I can guarantee my magnum opus on the very first try. That is a tall order for even the best writers. No one gets it right the first time. So, because I can’t guarantee perfection, my fingers won’t move.

It is in this perfection-based paralysis that I currently dwell. Yet now that I know why it’s there, exactly how do I overcome it?

In the paralysis itself, I find the answer: Turn the stillness to advantage. Don’t despise the dead air; embrace it.

Dwelling in silence, especially with God, can be one of the most meaningful experiences we can have. The psalmist says: “Be and still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This imperative conflicts with the very essence of American culture. We push goals. We reward achievements. We exalt  “busy-ness” to the point of burnout.

But the psalmist declares otherwise. Intimacy with God comes not through activity, but through stillness. It is in the silence—even paralyzing silence—that the still small voice often speaks. It is at this point that I must become aware enough to set aside my agenda for God’s. Perhaps he wants me to meditate more deeply on a scripture passage I am reading. Perhaps he has a more significant use of my time than writing the next great tome, or whatever my other goals are. Maybe there is something he wants to say to me.

perphictIn my case, God appears to be homing in on my idol of perfectionism. Instead of typing my first chapter, suddenly I am facing questions far more important in God’s eyes: why is perfectionism so important to me? How can I possibly think I could achieve perfection to begin with? Is this project for my own glory or for God’s?

Whenever I am stuck in paralyzing silence, I can learn to see it not as a failure, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to check my heart, and listen.

When God chooses to unblock the dam, he will—probably in a way I could never imagine. But for now, in the dead silence and writer’s block, I will listen.

The words at the edge of my fingertips will come soon enough.

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Walking through the valley of terror … then and now

2005 Paris-England 159
The Eiffel Tower. Photo by Daniel Hochhalter.










The last—and only—time I visited Paris was in the summer of 2005.

I was studying in England over the summer, and had taken the Eurostar to Paris to meet my wife and sister-in-law for a wonderful couple of weeks exploring Paris, Normandy, Mont Saint Michel, and the Loire Valley. We had a glorious time—a dream vacation.

On July 7, I dropped off my family at Charles de Gaulle airport, then returned to Paris and boarded the Eurostar to go back to England.

But during the train’s stop at Calais—the last town before crossing into England—the doors opened and the PA system announced an unexpected delay, followed by the strange recommendation that everyone deboard and be transported back to Paris, free of charge. The announcer gave no explanation, nor any estimation of the length of the delay.

That was odd, but I didn’t think much of it. Since I didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak a lick of French, I decided not to return to Paris but to stay on the train and wait it out.

The delay lasted about forty-five minutes; then the doors closed and the train headed under the English Channel.

However, when we reached Ashford on the British side, again the train stopped and the doors opened. This time there was another train next to us, pointing back toward France. The PA system announced another delay, along with an even stronger recommendation that we should board the train beside us and return to Paris.

Something was happening in London.

At this point, cell phones started going off and conversations became hushed. Straining to overhear, I gathered that there was an emergency of some sort. London had suffered an explosion, or a series of explosions. Initially, it sounded like a power transformer problem or something like that. I desperately hoped it was—but I suspected it was not, because why would a power failure warrant a recommendation to return to Paris?

A silent fear crept through me. My body constricted and my throat grew dry as I researched my maps of London, trying to find the various locations I heard people mentioning. I felt some relief as I concluded that these locations did not seem to be near my intended destinations: Waterloo and then Euston Station.

But I was wrong. When the train pulled into London, crowds had gathered to watch TV broadcasts showing an unraveling situation. Three bombs had gone off in different areas of the Tube—London’s subway system—and a fourth on a double-decker bus; terrorism was suspected.

I was standing just a couple of miles from where these bombs had detonated.

At the ticket counter, I asked about rescheduling my ticket out of Euston Station since the delays had caused me to miss my connecting train. The ticket agent replied bluntly, “Euston is closed.” Euston was just three blocks from where the bus bomb had gone off.

Now I understood the effects of terrorism first hand: the unsettling fear that perhaps the attacks were not over; the determination to remain stoic on the outside while reeling on the inside; the inability to wrap one’s mind around what is happening; the growing confusion and panic over not knowing what to do next.

Everything was shut down. The only sound seemed to be the screaming sirens of emergency vehicles. I thought I would be stranded in a foreign city with no place to go. Worse, the authorities believed more attacks could be planned.

In an instant, all plans went up in flames. I could only explore my next step; it was impossible to look any further.

The ticket agent gave me a new itinerary that would take me through various locations and eventually to Birmingham—only about 90 miles away—while reminding me things could change any minute as events unraveled around the city. I was okay with that—just taking one thing at a time. That was all I could do.

Eventually I completed my twisted path back Birmingham—late, tired, and greatly relieved.

But the tension continued. The next day, I went into the city centre for supplies. When I returned to my room, an email from the U.S. was waiting for me, asking if I was okay. It turned out the city centre had just been evacuated due to a suspicious package on a bus. It turned out to be nothing, but the uncertainty was nerve-wracking and illustrated how much I, and everyone else, was on edge. Nerves were frayed.

2005 Paris-England 1376
The entrance to the Russell Square Tube, closed due to the bombing investigation. I was staying at the Russell Square Hotel, the darkest building on the far left.
2005 Paris-England 1377
The impromptu memorial in Russell Square, across from my hotel. The second (failed) attack occurred the day before this photo was taken. DH

Then, two weeks later, I was in London, staying in a hotel over the Russell Street entrance to the Tube, near where one of the bombs had gone off. The entrance was still closed due to the ongoing investigation. An impromptu memorial was set up in the square across the street. And just as things seemed to be getting back to normal, terrorists attempted to detonate more bombs. Thankfully, all of the detonators failed. But the true damage of terrorism was done: everyone believed another attack was imminent. Life had changed. This was the new normal: navigating life as best we could, while trying to keep our unsettling fears in check.

When the events unfolded in Paris last Friday, I found myself once again deeply engaged as new and scattered details emerged on the television screen. I felt the same fear I had felt in 2005—the uncertainty, the sorrow, the horror. The mostly blank expressions of Parisians, trying to hide their shock while exiting the stadium or standing on the sidewalks, seemed very familiar. Hearing the TV news anchors report sketchy details of yet another attack touched a raw, horrifying uncertainty that I had buried beneath ten years of “normal” life. I relived the feelings of those living in a city under attack – walking through train stations and wondering what to do, as sirens wailed past in the streets.

During that time I wished for normalcy, but instead I had to will myself to live each abnormal day as normally as I could.

Life is beyond our control; we must function on bits and pieces of information without knowing the whole story. And evil does exist. I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of cultures or current events, but last Friday I saw evil on my TV screen—and though I was thousands of miles away, I clung to Jesus as if I were back in London, living through old emotions from long ago.


At such times I do feel like a sheep, hearing the growls of a predator just beyond the reaches of darkness. I cannot see him but I know he sees me. I am helpless; I am frightened. I don’t know exactly who the predator is, or why I am being targeted. At this moment, I just want to run to my Shepherd and stand as close to him as possible.

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A perspective greater than terror

Last month we learned of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive and twenty-one Egyptian Christians being beheaded. In light of these horrors, I was flooded with anger, disgust, and heartbreak – natural responses to unspeakable acts. On top of this chaos was the painful suggestion that we shouldn’t feel such emotions, because other atrocities were committed in the name of Christ several decades or centuries ago.

christian-martyrs-todayI’m not saying old atrocities don’t matter. What I am saying is that these new atrocities are here and now, and the pain and horror are fresh and real. How is it helpful to debate historical events when we are in the middle of new terrorist slaughters day by day? Such debates will not stop the terror, nor will they help the victims that are being added with each new incident.

I think the crux of my overwhelming emotions was that I just don’t know what to do. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, respond to these terrible crises so far away—yet somehow so close? There seems to be no human solution to the violence, because violence tends to bring on more violence in our world’s economy of revenge. But on the other hand, doing nothing also seems to bring on more violence, because there is no pushback to check it.

Right after the beheadings, my daily scripture reading resonated amazingly with my feelings of frustration:

Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
We are given no miraculous signs;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
(Psalm 74:4-11)

This psalm was likely written in the context of the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar around 586 B.C. The author’s horror and confusion echo my own. Mass murder and brutality rage all around him, and God seems to be doing nothing about it.

TOPSHOTS-EGYPT-LIBYA-UNREST-CHRISTIANS-ISThe psalmist and I agree: Surely God sees the senseless violence; surely he could fix the problem. Together, we beg for divine intervention: Why doesn’t God stop the evil? Why doesn’t he unleash hellfire and brimstone in swift, sure judgment on this wicked world? (As I wish for this, I forget of course that if he did so, I myself would also be included in the judgment.)

Quite frankly, that was the direction my heart wanted to go. As in Revelation 19, I wanted to see Jesus, the Lord of Lords, galloping in with eyes of fire to confront the killers. I wanted justice—fast and brutal—poured down on the murderers of those twenty-one brothers in Christ, the Jordanian pilot, and the scores of other men, women, and children slaughtered in the name of a hijacked religion.

However, the psalmist’s next thought was so striking that it set me back on my heels:

But you, O God, are my king from of old;
you bring salvation upon the earth. (v. 12)

In the next verses (13-17), the writer goes on to praise God for his absolute sovereignty over the seas, the beasts, the rivers, the heavens, and the seasons.

In this psalm, there is no transition at all between challenging the inaction of God and praising that very same God. It seems an odd juxtaposition. On top of the old question of why God holds back judgment, I now have new questions: Why doesn’t the psalmist continue to hold God’s feet to the fire, so to speak? Why change direction and start praising God instead?

As verse 12 so eloquently reveals, for all of these questions the answer is the same: although God is a God of judgment, he is also a God of salvation. His highest purpose is to bring salvation to every corner of the whole earth.

In my anger and helplessness, I am forced to widen my scope.

Once again, I think of those twenty-one brothers in Jesus, kneeling on the beach, preparing to have their throats slit and their blood flow into the water. They are not victims; they are martyrs—a word which means “witnesses”—bearing witness to the Savior of this dark world. In the video of their executions, their last words were declarations that Jesus is Lord.

blood of martyrsJesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). There was far more courage in those Christ-followers facing death with Jesus’ name on their lips, than in those who stood over them holding the knives. Is it naïve—or even offensive—to think that this scene, horrific as it was, may be less about Allah’s vengeance than about God’s salvation?

Like the psalmist’s, my focus is taking a sharp, unexpected turn. Though the questions and confusion are real, we must lift up Jesus—like those twenty-one witnesses now in his arms—and pray for the Middle East to be flooded with something new: not horror and heartbreak, but salvation.

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Five seconds on the journey

As daylight seems to be breaking on my long, dark night, I have been taking some moments to look back and reflect on a few things about all that has happened — my responses to the chaos, my emotional spirals, my relationship with God, and especially my trust in all things Yahweh.

Take that last one in particular. During my dark night, at times my trust in God was definitely strained, uncertain. This issue often came up in my prayers. More often than requests for justice over wrongs done to me, or for a miracle check from heaven to pay off my debts and bail me out of my circumstances (though I did pray for both of those things, believe me), my prayers leaned toward a plea to know the future.

lamp_unto_my_feet_painting_by_madetobeunique-d2xsvcdTypically God doesn’t reveal many details about each person’s individual future. But in my own case, when life sucked, I often wished he would. And during my long, dark bouts of depression and uncertainty, I often heard myself pray a silly prayer: “Lord, let me see five seconds of my future—any five seconds at all. Just let me see that there will be an end to this nightmare.”

My prayer was born of desperation – desperation to know whether things would ever change, whether there was something – anything – to look forward to. Metaphorically speaking, for years I felt adrift at sea, with every land-sighting turning out to be a mirage – taunting me, mocking me. I longed to know if I would ever make landfall again, or if the drifting would go on forever. I longed for the darkness to end.

“Lord, let me see five seconds of my future.” An irrational prayer? Definitely. Because which five-second moment in the future would he show me? A really good one? A really bad one? Would seeing it ease my anxieties about the future, or stir up more of them?

But thankfully, when we pray, God hears our need – not our rationality. He knew my prayer was like the plea of an injured child: “Daddy, make the hurt go away.”

And I began to notice that he did answer me. The answer I heard was always the same: a verse from Psalm 119 – the longest poem in the Bible: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Not very specific. No details about the future. And definitely not the revelation I was seeking.

Yet during those long years of darkness, I had plenty of time to think about it. And I realized that for someone like me, in the middle of a “dark night” experience, that verse was very appropriate.

I came to understand that the “lamp for my feet” is not a high-powered flashlight, shooting a beam far into the distance. It doesn’t show me every perilous ledge, rushing river, or wild beast awaiting me up ahead. Instead it’s more like a lantern with a soft orange glow, illuminating only my immediate surroundings. It provides enough light to keep my next step safe. Beyond that, however, there is still darkness. And there’s no promise of future knowledge – only “your word.”

What is that “word?” To David, it was the Law of Moses – the first five books of our current Bible. To contemporary Jews, it is the whole Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). But to Christ-followers, it is much more: it is the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Christ himself, the living word. He is the lamp for our feet and the light to our path. For the light of that word to guide me to safety, I must constantly meditate and depend upon it—upon him.

If we pull back from that verse and consider the rest of Psalm 119, this whole poem is unified by a single theme: the word. And within that theme is the continual plea for understanding. Because in Psalm 119, deliverance from darkness comes through a deeper understanding of God’s word.

In the last stanza of Psalm 119, David prays:

May my cry come before you, Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise. (Psalm 119:169-170)

During my deepest darkness, the silly prayer I mentioned was met with a verse promising light to guide me through it, one step at a time. I was never shown the outcome of my journey in any detail. Instead I was given just enough light to keep me from stumbling or straying off the path. But that light came by hanging on to the written word of scripture, and also the living word – Christ, the light of the world, who will lead me safely down the path.

Through the darkness.

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