fbpx
The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

I’m a runaway. When I accepted Christ at the age of thirteen, I recall the pastor celebrating my decision and describing its impact on my life. He spoke of how my heart would long to hear from God. The pastor told me that I would seek God in the Scriptures and that my kindness, forgiveness, and thoughtfulness would reflect Jesus. The pastor’s words should have given me confidence and hope about my relationship with God.

 

However, his words fueled me to fear disappointing God and meeting His expectations. I was not trained in spiritual disciplines, and my faith was immature. Sunday school stories made God feel angry and judgmental to me. As I entered the baptism waters before our congregation, I tried to put all of my worry behind me and clung to the promises the pastor described. I had barely made it through the car ride home after church when bickering and frustration with my siblings bubbled into anger that burst from me. Immediately, I was so full of shame and grief over not pleasing Jesus that I ran away. Ran away from my family. Ran away from God. Ran away from believing there was anyone who could guide me. 

 

This was the first of many times I would run away from my faith because I felt alone, lost without understanding spiritual disciplines, and lacking guidance to draw me home to the Father.

 

The twist and turns of the human heart are filled with our ancestors’ amnesia for forgetting our God knows our hearts and paths. His plan is for the Spirit to help us, intercede for us, and bring us back to the Father.

 

Never Alone

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16

 

We are never alone. The world applauds autonomy, but God designed us for dependence. Maturing followers of Christ must be aware of modeling dependence on God when we put on display seeking God with the Spirit in prayer, the study of Scriptures, handling our emotions around disappointments, or supporting others. We can counter the world’s celebration of being self-reliant and independent, where Satan can stir up glory in our minds and greed in our hearts. 

 

Jesus knew his apostles and followers were anxious to be left alone. So he spoke the words of John 14:16 as a promise that through the Spirit, we have a helper and guide on God’s narrow path.

 

Word Warrior

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

 

When we lose our way, we can also lose the words to describe what is occurring in our hearts and minds. Romans 8 is a powerful reminder that the Spirit intercedes where our words and emotions fail. We can find it hard to process our feelings and frustrations into words. The Spirit takes the raw groanings of our hearts and emotions and communicates to God on our behalf. I’ve learned to create stillness before God by repeating aloud, “Be still and know I am God.” I focus on my breathing and drop one word from the phrase each time I repeat it until only the word “Be” is left. Then I sit and let the Spirit comfort and speak to me.

 

Abba Father

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

 

The Spirit leads us to move toward God, our perfect Father. We know we have arrived at the destination at the end of most paths because there will be a home, park, marker, or person who lets you know you made it.  

 

The first time I ran away, I recall crying so hard that sobs caught in my throat. Words couldn’t escape, and my mind raced with distorted thoughts of being unlovable, unseen, and unworthy. I was messy, dusty, tear-stained, and worn out from imagining God’s disappointment when I knocked on the door of the house at the end of the road. 

 

The Spirit never left me in my sadness. Instead, it directed my feet to a path that my mind didn’t recognize until the door opened. Blinded by the sun and eyes almost swollen shut from crying, I was welcomed inside, invited to sit, and given a cup of water to refresh me. A cool washcloth softly wiped away my tears as my grandma whispered, “Child, you have walked a long way.” My grandma comforted me, listened to me, and prayed for me in the minutes that followed. Then, I was surprised as my mother came through the door with a suitcase and sat in the chair across from me. I could not have anticipated what happened next.

 

She laid the suitcase down, opened the locks, and revealed clothing packed for her and me. She knelt before me and took my hand, saying, “Wherever you go, I go too. I have been searching for you and love you. We can continue on this path together or go home.” 

 

Home. The work of the Spirit can feel so mysterious, but reflecting on this memory, I see the beauty of God in the person of the Spirit. A faith journey toward God is through the power of the Spirit, who is always with me. The Helper guides me toward God, whether the path is through valleys or on mountain peaks. And Abba Father receives the prodigal wanderer at the end of the journey.

What Psalm 131 Teaches Us About Humility and Rest

What Psalm 131 Teaches Us About Humility and Rest

My heart is not proud, Lord,

    my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

    or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

    I am like a weaned child with its mother;

    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.   Psalm 131:1-3 NIV

 

There is something about Psalm 131 that has spoken to me over the past few years. It’s a psalm for those Brennan Manning describes at the beginning of his book The Ragamuffin Gospel: “It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.” It’s a psalm for me.

Psalm 131 isn’t for the super spiritual…it’s a psalm that guides the Christians who need the help returning to a place of humility and rest in God over and over again. It’s also a psalm that reminds us to reorient all of our hopes and center them around a different kind of Hope. 

There are a total of 15 psalms of ascents, which were to be sung as the Israelites ascended or made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for annual festivals. Psalm 131, one of four psalms of ascents attributed to David himself, is the second shortest psalm in the book of Psalms. Here’s how David starts this tri-versed song:

Verse 1: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; 

When I first read this verse I was confused. It’s almost that David is proudly declaring that he’s not proud! Well, that’s in fact what the early church father Jerome thought; in essence, he figured David was proud of himself for being humble. The church fathers typically have lovely insights, but in this case, to be puffed up about one’s own humility is an oxymoron. You can’t be prideful about being humble; that’s just pride, too. 

I don’t think that’s what is happening here. David is not prideful about being humble. Instead, what David is doing is speaking to his own heart. He’s telling something to his soul, and at the same time, vocalizing it to God. Ultimately, he’s recognizing that his heart has adopted an inner posture of humility. 

This becomes more clear as David keeps going: “my eyes are not haughty.” This isn’t haughty like a hottie. Haughty means puffed up. Vain. Arrogance. David is really just saying, “I don’t look down upon others. I don’t feel the need to be better than others anymore. I don’t feel the need to compare myself to others to make myself feel better anymore. I don’t feel the need to compete for attention anymore.” David is putting words to an inner disposition. For whatever reason, whatever the circumstance, he’s been pushed out of a posture of pride and into a posture of humility. 

He goes on. “I do not concern myself with great matters…”

Great matters. When I think of great matters, I think of the big questions of life that we all have. Why does this happen and not this? Why does this person get cancer and this person doesn’t? Why does this person get promoted or get this chance, and this person doesn’t? Big questions. These questions take a toll on us because life is not fair. We can’t predict life, and therefore it befuddles us. We can’t come up with a reliable pattern. 

What David is saying here encompases the big theological questions, too. How is it that I can have a choice, and yet God holds me accountable for my choices? Nothing surprises God and at the same time everything is in His sovereign will…how can that possibly be? 

Christians have been studying these things intensely for hundreds of years, and so for some theological questions we have helpful answers. Simultaneously, what David is effectively saying is something very simple: “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the things figured out and you know what? I can’t. I can’t explain everything.”   

In the past few years of my life, I’ve resonated with this verse. Sometimes it’s a relief to not have to explain the world. Sometimes it’s a relief to not have to try to make sense of everything. Many times I have tried to make sense of everything to the point it just wears me out. But, I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I’ve come to realize that we really do live in a fractured world. It’s a broken world, and you know what? I don’t need to be perpetually surprised by that. 

David continues: “or things too wonderful for me.” This really means, “things beyond myself.” Things beyond yourself. 

Job says something very similar at the end of the book that carries his name. After everything happens, after all the hardship goes down, Job finds himself wanting to put God on trial for the things he has experienced. In a wild turn of events, God shows up to court, and He has some questions for Job. Job’s response to those questions goes like this: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.

There is something in this verse about embracing our limitations. Can we embrace our limitations? Or is that shameful for us? 

In the United States, we aren’t comfortable with limitations. We are always supposed to take on more and do more….more is always better. We really like the passage, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We get tattoos of that one don’t we? How many people are getting tattoos of this verse in Psalm 131? 

Again, I’ve been put in situations when I’ve had to learn to understand that I have limitations: emotionally, physically, and even intellectually. I was always a really good student and I got into the number one ranked university when I graduated from high school. However, when I got to seminary, I remember sitting in a classroom with other graduate students and thinking that I was not the smartest person in the room and I couldn’t even pretend that I was. For whatever reason, I felt ashamed about that. Over time, I had to learn to ask myself an important question.  Can I embrace my limitations and actually be okay with them? 

Can you embrace your limitations? Are you constantly comparing yourself to those around you? Are you competing with your friends or coworkers? Are you looking on Instagram and Facebook, seeing the lives of some of your friends, and feeling jealous about their ability to travel or have the freedom they do? Can you embrace the limits of time you have in one day? 

There’s relief and joy found in embracing who we are, how God has gifted us, where He has placed us, and what He has given us. All of those are bound with some limitations…and there’s a recognition here that these limitations are actually good.

David has learned to choose this posture of rest, and he says it like this: “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

He carries on in the second verse: “I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” 

I’ve never had a child (shocker…I’m a 30 year old man living in a one bedroom apartment in River Market). But from what I know about it, weaning is a long, painful process. Weaning is basically teaching the child that their mom isn’t just a giant milk machine, which can result in the child just crying and crying incessantly. But it’s a process that ends in the calm, resignation of the weaned child and its mother. So the image we are supposed to get here is the image of an exhausted, calmed, trusting child, resting on its mother’s chest. 

Here’s the jump. In our dependence on God, we tend to see Him as a giant milk machine in the sky. Sometimes we say oh God I just wish you’d do this. Just change this for me. If only you’d make X happen, then I’d be ok. I think at times those prayers are totally fine. But there also comes a point in our lives where God says to us:

“You know that thing that I’ve given you before, well I’m not going to give it to you anymore. It’s time to grow up. You have to learn to let go of that. Why? Because I want something even better for you. I want you to want me for me. I don’t want you to want me only for the stuff I give you.” 

This maturation process is always difficult. There are times my prayer life has looked like crying, complaining, and just a lot of frustration. These times, painful and long as they can be, always end up with me in calm resignation. I once again find myself resting in the arms of my Father. 

What David is getting at here is a bit of what I think St John of the Cross writes about in The Dark Night of the Soul. The dark night of the soul is a period that feels like abandonment but is actually a progression into the fellowship of God. This is a part of what it looks like to mature as Christians. When God doesn’t meet our immediate need in the way we want, or our plan A doesn’t work out, we are challenged to learn a new kind of dependence and hope. 

The journey of the Christian faith always comes back to hope, and our psalm ends with a call to hope, too. 

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” 

For David, hope is only found in one place. In the Lord. There is a hope that will never fail us. Our plans will fail us. Our jobs. Our friends. Our own bodies. But there’s one place that we can put our hope that will never fail us. 

We have limitations, but there is One who doesn’t have limitations. We try to make sense of the world and can’t, but there is One in whom and for whom all makes sense. We are the ones who struggle with self-centeredness, pride, self-pity, and all that comes with trying to do things completely on our own, but there is One, who is always waiting for us to return and rest our heads on His chest. 

Friends, our hope is in the Lord. David reminds himself, and the people of God not to forget where real hope lies. 

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” 

Where’s your hope? Do you need rest? There’s Someone eagerly waiting for you to rest your head on His chest. He’s always there, and He always beckons you to himself. 

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

There’s nothing like sleeping in a tent to make you appreciate your house and your bed! There’s nothing like travel to make you treasure home. Every year our family takes a road trip to visit national parks across the country. On those trips, we’ve made some of our best memories together. It is always sad when the trip comes to an end. However, we never appreciate our home and our beds more than when coming home from a long trip. 

 

The common comforts of home — running water at the turn of a handle, light at the flick of a switch, flushing toilets, cold food without constantly filling a cooler with ice — all seem spectacularly wonderful after two weeks of camping, motels, and hours upon hours in the car. 

 

Good Friday works a bit like that in the Christian life. On Good Friday at Christ Community, we remember vividly in our Tenebrae style Good Friday services the darkness -— literal and figurative — of Jesus’ death on the cross. And it is profoundly uncomfortable. Yet, it is the discomfort of Good Friday that helps us treasure the comfort of the gospel. It is for this reason that this service has become a favorite of so many.

 

Good Friday is a trip into the wilderness of Jesus’ death so that we might treasure our home in Jesus’ resurrection life all the more. This once-a-year trip into the grief of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin helps thaw our hearts. Our hearts can so easily and quickly grow cold to the joy of the hope we have in the gospel. 

 

Poet Christina Rossetti felt this coldness in her own heart. In response, she penned the poem “Good Friday.” Published in 1866 as part of the collection The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, she describes herself as a stone instead of a sheep and laments how she among all God’s creation is unmoved by the cross. Take a moment to reflect on her words. (Read them aloud if you can.)

 

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,

That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,

To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,

And yet not weep?

 

Not so those women loved

Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;

Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;

Not so the thief was moved;

 

Not so the Sun and Moon

Which hid their faces in a starless sky,

A horror of great darkness at broad noon –

I, only I.

 

Yet give not o’er,

But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;

Greater than Moses, turn and look once more

And smite a rock.

On Good Friday we grieve, not without hope, but so that we may treasure the hope we have! We grieve so that we may be sheep, not stones. We grieve so that our stony hearts might melt. We grieve so that when we encounter the stone rolled away on Easter morning, our hearts may come alive with joy.

Chronic Illness and the Good News

Chronic Illness and the Good News

We were having coffee, just catching up. I asked politely about work, about summer schedules, just small talk. Then I asked about family. His whole demeanor changed. The smile faded. The shoulders dropped. The eyes shifted. He told me, “You know, my wife has chronic headaches. Migraines. Sometimes, she can’t get out of bed. It means that every day, we don’t know what we can and cannot do, who we can and cannot see, what we can and cannot enjoy. It is very difficult and lonely for her.” 

“That sounds really hard,” is what I say back. We kept talking about other things. 

Years later, I am sitting in a doctor’s office. An ENT actually. He’s great. Friendly. Competent. He’s telling me that the symptoms I am experiencing are part of a larger phenomenon known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL – because who wants to spell that ever again?): an unexplained but rapid hearing loss in one ear, accompanied by tinnitus (ringing), bouts of vertigo, and a constant sense of “fullness” or congestion. None of the symptoms, mind you, actually mean anything. They all represent the brain’s stubborn attempt to re-establish a connection with the nerve of the inner ear, which is (likely) permanently damaged. It’s a futile attempt to fix something that is fundamentally unfixable. 

How did it happen? I don’t know. The doctor doesn’t know. We never will.  

Anyway, I’m sitting there, realizing that from this moment on, my experience of life will never be the same. And all I can think about is that guy, over coffee, trying to tell me something about his wife and how hard her life is. I do a lot of coffees, a lot of sharing, a lot of listening. I’m a pastor, after all. And I know a lot of people with chronic illness, just stuff that will never go away. I’ve talked to them, held their hands, read them Scripture, prayed over them. But until this moment, I didn’t understand them. What it feels like to know, deep down, there are no next steps, no more doctors, no more meds, no more plans. There’s just a broken body, and the ways you learn to live around it. 

I haven’t shared this with many people. I wasn’t ready. I don’t want this to be a long, drawn out thing about my health. I was listening to someone recently talk about their own chronic illness, and he said, “One of the hardest things about it is that I’m offended when people don’t ask how I am doing, but then I’m exhausted when they do ask how I am doing.” I loved that. It’s so true. I don’t want this blog to be about how I’m doing (I’m really ok). But I’d love to share what I am learning. So here goes…

I need daily bread. During this time with my health, I have learned that some days I can do whatever I want, and some days I just can’t. I have no control over it. My plans are very much plans for the day. I know now more than ever the reason Jesus teaches us to ask for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Not weekly bread. Not monthly. Not quarterly. Not annually. Just daily. Upon further reflection, I think too much of my energy in life has been looking ahead to some hypothetical future, or mulling over some unchangeable past, instead of living the day right in front of me. Now, I find myself concentrating more and more on this idea, to live the day God gave me. There is a design element here: God indeed made us to plan as well for the future as we are able, but more importantly, He made us to live and obey and depend on Him today. When you really begin to pay attention, this idea is all over the Bible. Hebrews 3:12-13 comes to mind: 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

My body failing me is difficult, but it also throttles my attention from drifting too far ahead or behind. What can I do today? What does faithfulness look like right now? I need daily bread, and Jesus is happy to give it to me when I ask. I’m asking now more than ever. 

This body is not my home. It’s one thing to feel out of place in the world. It’s another to feel – even just a little – out of place in your body. To feel that your own body is an obstacle to who you want to be and what you want to do. This, by the way, is a feeling we will all experience at one point or another. If illness doesn’t get us, age will. My fellow chronic-illness folks and I are just practicing a little early. 

I hate to admit this, but for most of my 20s and 30s, Paul’s teaching on the new body has been for me a fascinating abstraction. Chronic illness has cured me of that. When I turn to, say, 1 Corinthians 15, rather than reading for mere comprehension, I read for hope. I read for reminders and promises. Promises that reshape my reality. Promises like “what is sown perishable will indeed be raised imperishable”, and that a glory awaits me that I can hardly fathom, just as I cannot fathom the beauty of a rose by merely studying it’s seed. 

I no longer just believe this is true. I need to believe this is true. And there’s a sense in which the culmination of our faith only happens when we don’t just think it; we feel it. 

I feel now, in a way I didn’t before, that while this broken body is a gift, it is also a problem. It has limits, weaknesses, short-comings, and liabilities that I was not designed to carry. But God is not surprised by this, and He gave me good news about it before I knew I needed it. If that is true, if my broken body is not an obstacle to His love and care, then I can trust Him with what comes next. I can trust Him with tomorrow. And so can you. 

The Good News of Jesus’ Ascension

The Good News of Jesus’ Ascension

One of the most monumental steps humanity has ever taken was when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. What had previously only been the stuff of dreams had now been accomplished for all humanity: humanity had finally made it to the moon. In Armstrong’s own words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But as monumental as that step was, it is only a small picture of a far, far greater human step: when Jesus ascended into heaven and stepped into the presence of God.

According to Acts 1:3, following his resurrection, “[Jesus] presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days….” It was on the 40th day after His resurrection that Acts 1:9 tells us, “as they were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

It sounds very weird to us. None of us have ever seen someone ascend into the clouds like this, but let’s not let the weirdness of this keep us from understanding the tremendous significance of what it means.

In the Bible, clouds often symbolize God’s presence. When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, clouds covered the mountain (Exodus 24:15). When Moses entered the tent of meeting, a pillar of cloud would descend and the Lord would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:9). But when Jesus ascended, he did not merely enter a tent or go up a mountain. He went into heaven itself, the true place where God resides.

The ascension has tremendous implications, not just for Jesus, but for all who identify with Him. Let’s consider some of the blessings that come to us from the ascended Lord.

The ascension gives us confidence before God.

Once a year on the Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest would enter the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice before the Lord (Leviticus 16). As he entered, he would be wearing a breastplate with 12 stones on it, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel (Exodus 28). In this way, year after year, the priest would represent the people and bring them into God’s presence, providing a covering for their sin.

But according to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is our great high priest. Unlike Israel’s earlier high priests however, Jesus has offered a perfect sacrifice, once for all time, and appears before God as our priest forever. And because Jesus is human, He is able to represent us before God. We can say that as Jesus appears now before God, He carries us on His heart, and has our name on His lips. This gives us great confidence before God, because our security before God is as secure as Jesus himself.

The ascension gives us courage on earth.

As the ascended Lord, Jesus is seated “…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). What this means is that Jesus is not just Lord over the church, or in our hearts, or over the spiritual realm; Jesus is Lord over all creation – every time period, every person, every nation, and every realm. The rulers of this world may think they are at the top, but they would be wrong. Whether or not people recognize it, Jesus is the King of kings to whom all are accountable.

This is the courage and boldness the apostles and the early church had as they proclaimed Jesus in the face of persecution and opposition (Acts 4). Since our Lord is the Lord over all creation, we need not tremble before any power or any circumstance, come what may. We must not shrink back from faithfully and boldly following Jesus in every sector of life without compromise. And because Jesus is the ascended Lord, we may do this no matter the pressures or opposition we face. 

The ascension gives us comfort in sorrow.

One of the frustrations we may feel with our leaders and those in authority is that they seem so unrelatable. They don’t know what it’s like to be one of us. How can I trust them to represent what’s best for me? But when we find leaders who have gone through the same things as we have and can truly sympathize with us, we find ourselves placing our hopes and trust in them. They know what it’s like, and they know what we need.

The ascension of Jesus gives great comfort for those who feel sorrow. In Jesus, the Son of God became flesh and lived like one of us. He fully experienced the traumas and scars that come from life in this broken world (Hebrews 4:15). And when He ascended, He did not leave His flesh behind but took it with Him, forever identified with humanity. So for those who bear the scars of life, take heart, because the One who rules the cosmos is one who bears scars.

The ascension gives us hope for our future.

When God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He made them in His own image and entrusted them to rule over creation with care (Genesis 1:27-28). Humanity was intended for greatness, but with the introduction of sin, we have fallen terribly short of the glory that was supposed to be ours. Even our best moments are still tainted in some way by brokenness. It is a great tragedy, because we were made for so much more.

But in the ascension of Jesus, we see a glimpse of humanity as it was intended to be. When we see the ascended Jesus, we see a picture of our future. In their book, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God, authors Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow explain:

“The ascension of Jesus is the ultimate rags to riches story. A child born in a barn becomes the king of the world. But it is not His story alone. It is the story of the restoration of humanity. The story of Jesus is the story of His people. All believers participate in this rags to riches story. We ascend to become who we were born to be.”

The ascension of Jesus is good news for humanity. Just as the Son descended to earth in the person of Jesus so that God might again dwell with humanity, so He ascended to heaven that humanity might again dwell with God––forever and ever, amen.

Psalm 1 in Winter

Psalm 1 in Winter

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1 is one of my favorites, and I find myself returning to it often. What I am drawn to most is its placement and imagery. Perhaps you’ve never heard this before, but the Psalms, the ancient prayers and songs of God’s people, are arranged in a particular order. In a sense, they are meant to be read from start to finish. Psalm 1 is, well, first. Along with Psalm 2, it is meant to shape how we read the rest.

Verse three states that God’s people are like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, whose leaves do not wither, and prospers in all things. It is a description of the ideal reader of the Psalms, and really the reader of the whole Bible. This is the kind of life we are promised when we meditate on God’s Word as the psalmist instructs. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that right now. We are in the middle of a physical and spiritual winter unlike I have ever known in my lifetime. As I speak to those with more years and experience, they agree. This is different. 

I keep going back to Psalm 1 and asking: what does this say about winter? What is the flourishing life in a really difficult and prolonged season like this? And is there hope? I’m still processing, but I want to share a few thoughts about Psalm 1 in winter. 

1. Seasons happen to the tree. The tree does not control the seasons. It weathers them. In our climate, we think of harsh winters. The original reader would have thought of dry summers. Either way, the point is the same: drought, scorching heat, bitter cold, high winds, floodwaters. The tree will experience all of it. Seasons are real, they are God-ordained, and they are completely out of our control. In other words, while this psalm promises a “blessed” life, it does not promise an easy one. It acknowledges that hardships will come, and the good life is not to avoid those things, but to endure them.

2. Sometimes growing feels like…not growing.  Psalm 1 says that a good and faithful tree yields its fruit “in season”. I think this means there are times when fruit – external, abundant, successful-looking fruit – may be hard to come by. This winter feels like one of those times for me. As I look at the “metrics” of my life, almost everything feels harder. School? Check. Work? Check. Parenting? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. Putting pants on? Check. I mean, seriously, the fruit is hard to see. But I think that’s the point. The fruit (as I have defined it) comes and goes, but the leaves do not wither, which is a reference to the deepening work the tree goes through even in otherwise “fruitless” seasons. It may not feel like it is growing, or even look like it is growing, but it is. As I reflect on my own life, I sense this “winterizing” work of the Spirit. More simplicity. More quiet. This has led to more painful internal work, work I often avoid through busyness and noise. I sense the Holy Spirit’s pruning in things I continually ask for His help to increase until I receive that help, and then I don’t want it anymore. Things like patience, endurance, and long-suffering. There is growth occurring now, but it really doesn’t feel like growing.

3. Streams of living water. This gives me the most hope this winter. Scholars note that the word “planted” here in Hebrew actually implies “transplanted,” as in, this tree was intentionally moved near a source of water. The water, too, is not just a “stream,” but a cultivating stream, more like a canal. In other words, even though the seasons are difficult, if you look carefully, this tree has someone watching over it, caring for it, providing for it, in mysterious and often overlooked ways. No matter the circumstance or externality, it has access to life-giving water. The branches may appear bare at times, but the roots are deep and lack for nothing. And, of course, we know something even the psalmist didn’t know, at least not fully. We know the Living Water, Jesus Himself, who no doubt had this psalm in mind when He made that startling proclamation to the woman at the well in John 4. Our roots, come hell or high water, always go back to Him.

I still don’t always know what God is up to, especially right now. But I do know where to find the kind of life whose leaves do not wither, whose fruit comes in its due time, and a life that knows joy even in difficulty. I hope that you do, too.