Man makes his plans, Solomon tells us, but the Lord directs his steps. I was planning to finish differently before Lent (two weeks away), but the Lord has been telling me you need a pause, a “selah,” a psalm to help you care for your soul. So this where we will be for the next two weeks. So many of you are going through stress, and life seems out of control. That’s frightening. Elizabeth remembers a time of illness, when she felt “crippled with fear because she didn’t have control.” The truth is, we never have control. There is no guarantee that Julie’s son Kyle will overcome the emotional distress of the war he was in. There is no promise that this little boy Angela has unselfishly brought into their home will not cause great disruption. We cannot know if Susan’s husband will come to the Lord. Laura-Marie fears she may get laid off. Tammi is in a hospital right now — and we pray for her recovery — but we do not know what will happen. How often, in my own life, I have cried the prayer from 2 Chronicles:
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.
Each of you has a story of a time, either right now, or in the past, of tumultuous circumstances. At any time, life can spin out of control — and for many of you, it feels that way right now.
We’re going to hear from David Powlison again this week — so many of you loved his gentle humble spirit. (I do too — I am most drawn to people of humility.) In his soothing way, he talks about the storms of life. How like hurricanes they can spread havoc all around us. We may not be able to stop the havoc, but we can be in the eye of the storm with our Savior.
We cannot control the storm.
But we have a rock and a fortress.
This picture hung in the emergency room
when Chris waited to see if her son would live or die
and it gave her strength
Our own dear Joyce, who has faced so many storms, sent this picture, reminding her that she is under the cover of His wings.
What Powlison also says, which is easier to receive because of his gentleness, is that storms can help us change, can help us see our own sin. Even when storms are not a direct result of sin in our lives, they can still reveal our idols, our sins, and help us change. When my husband died, it revealed so much that was selfish and sinful and misplaced in my heart. Angela, who has brought a little boy into their home, wrote: “God is doing a painful uprooting in my life through this little boy.” When Anne had a difficult time with a patient this week, at first she was in tumult, but she slowed down, and allowed God to search her. She wrote: “I looked to the Lord and asked Him what was in this for me to grow on. That is when He showed me how starved for love this young woman is and how I was once very much like her.” This is how the godly respond to suffering, and may we do the same.
Two huge things to remember in the storm:
Jesus is your refuge.
Jesus is your refining fire.
He may show you things about yourself so that He can conform you to His image. In question 2 of the ice-breaker, I’m going to ask you to look back, remember a storm, and then remember how God was with you, and how He refined you. It can be a hurricane from the past, or simply a ten minute downpour from last week. As I’ve been praying for Angela and her family, as they have brought this child into their home, it has caused me to reflect on the storm that came to our home when we adopted Annie.
Annie was five, and was like a little stone because of hurt from her past. Steve and I threw ourselves into loving her well. But that triggered a storm in our 11-year-old daughter Sally. She felt, as she put it to us, “rudely displaced.” She spun into a depression, losing weight she really didn’t have to lose, not sleeping, in despair. We got her help, we gave her love, but the storm continued for two more years. In this storm I saw my own failures as a mother — I’d been too lenient with Sally — I’d been too selfish…storms show where we are weak. They reveal our sin. This storm also revealed sin in Sally’s life — but it took time for her to see it.
When she was thirteen, she went to a Christian concert and the singer said, “If you have yuk in your soul and you cannot get rid of it, God can help you.” Sally practically ran forward. And, as she says, “God took the yuk out of my soul so I could love my sister.” When she was on Focus on the Family with me, Sally said: “The night before I was to leave for college, I was snuggling with Annie on top of our bunkbed. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Sally — you are my very best friend.’ I’m so thankful God took that yuk from my heart.” Storms can always reveal sin — can always help conform us to the image of Christ. Romans 8:28-29 show us God has a purpose in the suffering of his saints, and that purpose is to conform us to the image of Christ. The fire may be painful, but the Potter is at work, making us beautiful. In light of eternity, is this not what matters most?
That is the ultimate rescue, whether He delivers us from the actual pain of our circumstances or not.When I met Cyndi, who has also adopted, she told me my adoptions had inspired her, and yet “It was really really hard!” 🙂 However, God is molding her into a beautiful woman. Last week Cyndi posted a song that was filled with word pictures to speak to your soul when it is in the midst of the storm — and you may want to see this, if you did not before:
I think these will be a tremendous two weeks — whether you are in the storm, helping others in the storm, or simply strengthening your soul for the inevitable storms around the corner.
1. What is one thing that stood out to you from the above, and why?
We’re going to begin Psalm 31, a psalm for soul care in the midst of stress. It is a psalm that Jonah, Jeremiah, and Jesus all quoted in the midst of stress. In fact, the final words of Jesus from the cross are in this psalm. It opens with David reminding his soul of times when he was in the storm and the Lord was his fortress, his refuge.
2. Remember one such time — either a big storm from the past, or a smaller storm from last week.
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study of Psalm 31
This is a psalm of lament which was to be sung in the assembly. God wants us to tell Him our need. He also wants to reveal, through suffering, the sin in our lives. He wants us to know He understands our pain, for He has suffered, and that He will, in His time, rescue us — if not on this earth, in that broad place in heaven.
3. Read Psalm 31:1-5
A. There are several word pictures in this passage. Find one, describe it, and imagine how it can help you right now.
B. Verse 5a are the final words of Jesus on the cross. In every psalm of lament, if you look deeply, you will see The Man of Sorrows. How does this help you in your pain, whatever it is?
C. In verse 5b, David says, “You have redeemed me, O Lord” — and yet David lived before the cross. (Compare with Job — who also lived before the cross, when he says, “I know my Redeemer lives, and I will see Him upon the earth.” How do you explain this?
4. Read Psalm 31:6-10
A. David says he hates those who trusts in idols, but God will also use this suffering to reveal where David has trusted in idols of the heart. How has suffering revealed to you where you have trusted something or someone other than the One True Rock?
B. What truths does David speak to his soul in verse 7? Do you believe this? Comment.
C. What is the word picture in verse 8?
This is a theme in the psalms — can be seen in Psalm 18:19 and 119:32. We may feel hemmed in by sickness, persecution, or poverty — and yet God will have the last Word, for all of eternity is before us. Eye has not seen the wonders that have been prepared for us. These are transitory troubles.
D. How can the above give you hope, even if God does not change your earthly circumstances?
Thursday-Friday: David Powlison
David Powlison is a counselor, who definitely uses the approach of gospel transformation in his counseling. Listen to this 7 minute testimony from him.
5. What storm did Powlison face? How did it make him think about where is trust was and how did he respond?
6. How might the picture of mopping floors at McDonald’s help you to face where your trust is?
7. Other comments on the above?
The following is a message from David Powlison preached at John Piper’s church. It’s free and if you download it then it will be easier to stop and start. Piper has a long intro! Listen to just the first half, or about 38 minutes, until he gets to the part where “Sarah” begins to see Jesus in Psalm 31. As a background, Powlison is speaking to pastors, encouraging them that in most cases, they are competent to counsel. I think this is relevant to us as sisters counseling one another on this blog. We’ll complete the psalm and Powlison’s message next week.
8. Write your notes on the first half of his message here:
9. What’s your take-a-way and why?
Next week we will have a discussion on Courageous, as well as finishing this study. As we are beginning to understand how the gospel can help us overcome not only the penalty of sin, but also the power, I think this could be an interesting discussion. So if you have to time to watch it do — if not, you can still benefit from the discussion. This is from the producers of Saving the Giants and Fireproof. Christianity Today rated it number 10 in the top ten redemptive movies of the year.