Our hearts are going to break —
we can count on it.
I want you to meet Stephanie, a new young friend and neighbor!
She is the youthful Mary to my aging Elizabeth and
comes to my door brimming with joy, magnifying the Lord.
She tells me:
“I used to get antsy after five minutes of prayer, Dee,
but now I don’t want to stop, for I am sensing His presence so!
I don’t want this sweet season to end!”
How did this twenty-something woman stumble
upon the secret that eludes many believers for decades,
even their whole lives?
Here is Stephanie this summer.
Before Stephanie moved to our green thumb that juts into Lake Michigan,
She was a missionary in a
dry and dusty part of Africa.
She was there loving Muslim women and children.
Here is Stephanie dressed like her neighbors in Africa,
looking to me like she can’t move! :-)
I want to tell you Stephanie’s story, for it is such an illustration of what Psalm 16 teaches — that our suffering can actually
Stephanie felt called to Africa right out of college — she just had one hesitation. One day she hoped to be married and have children, but where she was going was a very unlikely place to find a godly young man. But she decided she needed to trust God with that, and so she went.
To her great surprise and delight, it was in Africa that she met the man of her dreams, another missionary who came from Australia. They developed a friendship that was wonderful, and as Stephanie said, “We were so good together!” Each separately began to seek the Lord and godly counsel to see if they should take their relationship to the next step. Receiving only green lights they moved ahead. It was such an exciting time. Eventually Stephanie went to Australia to meet his family and he went to America to meet hers. How thankful Stephanie was for this love, and for answers to her prayers!
And then, he began to have doubts, uncertainties about issues in his life, and opened up to Stephanie about them. They discussed them together, and though he was kind and so sad to be bringing her this pain, Stephanie realized his conflict was deep, and she needed to release him. He went home to Australia. Stephanie was left with shattered dreams and sobbed on her mother’s couch.
Not wanting to return to the mission field, Stephanie decided to leave her mother’s home in Green Bay and work for the tourist season at a resort in my corner of the world: Door County, Wisconsin. She hoped to rest, heal, and get some answers from God. She lamented:
How could You let this happen, God?
We tried so hard to hear from You – to do it right.
Your Word says not to awaken love before the time is right – and I did that!
I know You aren’t a God who plays tricks, but I feel like you led me on.
Stephanie was being honest with God. And that’s when the dialogue began to open – she heard neither a voice from heaven nor saw a vision, but He came to her in ordinary ways.
One day Stephanie came across Sara Hagerty’s book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. She thought, Could something sweet really come out of my pain?
She read Sara’s own story of heartbreak, of one miscarriage after another, when Sara felt so strongly she was called to motherhood. God began to bring healing to Sara, as Sara lamented and pressed into God for help. And God met Sara, speaking to her gently through His Word, His Spirit, and His family. She surrendered her dream to Him, and He gave her a different dream. She and her husband began to adopt one international orphan after another, each one an exciting “God” story of its own. And then, when their home was brimming with beautiful children, Sara found out she was pregnant again – and this baby she carried to term.
But the greatest change in Sara was not in her circumstances, but in her sense of the presence of the Lord and in discovering that in His presence is fullness of joy.
Stephanie followed Sara’s model in endeavoring to release her dream as best as she could, and in not backing away from God but pressing in.
She found herself drawn to The Song of Songs, that mysterious book of earthly love that points, as all the Old Testament books do, to Christ. He is the Bridegroom hidden in the earthly bridegroom who rejoices over His bride. Stephanie was particularly captivated by the 2nd chapter where the bridegroom proposes to the bride, saying:
One day Stephanie showed Every Bitter Thing is Sweet to Whitney, a friend at church. Whitney turned the book over and saw an endorsement from me. She told Stephanie that I lived in Door County and that I had a new book out on The Song of Songs called He Calls You Beautiful. Another confirmation from God that she needed to understand the message of the Song of Songs.
One Sunday I happened to visit Stephanie’s church and sat right behind her. When we were introduced she gave me the widest grin and her eyes filled with tears, for it was yet another confirmation of God’s mindfulness of her. She was already studying my book with Whitney, but when I invited them both to my study of the same, they eagerly accepted.
Through the truths in the Song, God showed Stephanie His deep love for her, and more and more, she sensed Him rejoicing over her, as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. One day in study Stephanie shared, “When you give your heart to a man,” cupping her hands together as if holding her fragile heart, “it’s a real risk, for he may take it and break it. But when you give your heart to the Lord, you can trust Him completely, for He is altogether good and will only do what is best for you, even if it may not at first make sense. He has come to me in a way I did not even imagine was possible. He is filling my life with the joy of His presence.” Stephanie’s face is the face of one who’s heart and mind are fixed on Him.
We’re going to be looking at Psalm 16 for the next two weeks, for it is so packed with treasures. Let’s go!
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. This life is hard and full of trouble — was there a time when the presence of Jesus, either alone or with other believers, filled you with joy this week?
Monday: The Stonecutter
Psalm 16 deals with idols of the heart, those “stones” that keep us from experiencing God. We’re going to begin, therefore, by looking at Ezekiel and a metaphor God uses to show us how to respond so that we might experience growth and fullness of joy. There are two steps needed for spiritual growth. Something must be recognized and removed and something must, by faith, replace what has been removed.
3. Read Ezekiel 36:25-27
A. What makes us unclean, or to put it another way, what is “the sin beneath our sin” according to verse 25? (Use a translation rather than a paraphrase like The Message.)
B. “The sprinkling of clean water” is a metaphor for the cleansing of God when we repent of our idols. To recognize and repent from an idol, ask yourself, where is an area where I tend to yield to temptation? What need am I trying to fulfill for myself that God could fill?
C. Jesus quotes Ezekiel when speaking to Nicodemus in John 3:5. I often wondered what the water was, but now I understand. What do you think it represents?
D. The second part of the process of growth is described in verses 26-27. Idols cannot be removed but only replaced. With what do we need to allow God to replace them according to this passage?
Tuesday: Applying Ezekiel
4. Application of Ezekiel 36:25-27
A. Let’s say that a man has a habit of blowing up when things don’t go as he wishes: he’ll throw his golf club after missing a putt or curse the old man who is driving too slowly. Describe how he could cooperate with this two-step process of growth. From what “heart idol” does he need to repent, and how does he need to trust God?
B. Now go through this two-step process with the sin you mentioned in 2:B.
Wednesday: The Sorrows of Those Who Run After Another God
The truth is, we love our heart idols, and we are afraid to let them go. So the Psalmist helps us to see the truth so that we might be strengthened to truly repent and trust.
5. Read Psalm 16:1-5
A. Of what does David remind himself in verses 2-3? How does this inspire confidence in God?
B. What happens, according to verse 4a, to those who run after another god?
C. Share a personal example of your running after “another god,” or rebelling against God’s way and experiencing “multiplied sorrows.” (It doesn’t have be choosing something bad, but making something good like food, friendship, ministry or position your security or identity.)
D. What happens, according to verses 5-6, to the person who makes the Lord his chosen portion and cup?
E. The tribe of Levi, or the priests of Israel, were given no land like the others, to remind them that the Lord was their inheritance. How could this help you as you ponder financial losses or decisions?
Thursday: How Sorrow Can Produce Joy in a Believer’s Heart
6. Read Psalm 16:7-11
A. What does God give David, according to verse 7?
B. In order to experience the two part process of cleansing and replacing, we must listen to the Lord. How has the Lord given you counsel in regard to your heart idols?
C. Hebrews tells us that God is going to shake our world – but what will happen to the person who sets the Lord always before him, according to v. 8?
D. Sometimes the shaking of our world causes us to realize the futility of our idols. The only One who will never let us down, move away, or die is the Lord. Have you experienced a shaking of your world that helped you to press into God and experience joy?
E. How do you see joy in the psalmist in verse 9?
F. How does verse 10 show you we are no longer talking about David?
G. What three joys await the one who makes the Lord his refuge according to verse 11?
7. In applying this psalm to a heartbreak like Stephanie’s, what thoughts do you have? When we are endeavoring to follow God and yet are deeply disappointed, how could this psalm be helpful?
Friday: Optional Free Keller Sermon
9. This sermon is actually on last week’s psalm, Psalm 126, but fits perfectly with the first part of Psalm 16 as well. It is a favorite of mine so many of you have listened before. But it is so worth a repeat. Listen and share your comments.
8. What is your take-a-way and why?