Philip Yancey said that when he was feeling sad or stressed, people told him to read the psalms, and he would come across one of the “wintriest” psalms and go away frostily depressed. But then he realized that the psalms were not like the other books in the Bible. Instead of God writing to us, it is if we are reading over the shoulder of the psalmist, peeking at his honest prayer journal. The psalms are the inspired prayer book of the Bible, and because life has both great highs and great lows, so do the psalms.
Indeed, ever since paradise was lost, this life is bi-polar, and we need to learn how to trust our ultimate Bridegroom in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, and for better or for worse. The same enemy who slithered into the garden to cast doubt on the goodness of God slithers into our thoughts, so we must use the psalms as the sword of the Spirit against that liar.
Record the times when you sense His presence, His mercies, and His answers to prayer. By storing up these mercies, you have a reservoir for the dry times.
I live on the thumb of Wisconsin that juts into Lake Michigan. This summer, even as I snapped this photo, I thought: “I am going to remember this when the Wisconsin winter seems long! I will look at this and remember God’s mercies in my daughters’ daughters loving summer, loving this place, and loving each other.
For now, indeed, it is winter, and this is the same view, though oh so different. And there times are God seems as silent as the snow.
We will begin with just the prologue and then an overall reading of Psalm 78 that tells how the Israelites forgot the great miracles God had done for them and their fathers, and failed to tell the next generation. We need to remember these, and also the way we have experienced God in our own lives, so that we may trust in the silent times and help our children to trust as well. I’m going to tell a story this week I’ve told only in part before, and I’m debating about putting in “The Jesus Who Surprises.” I love the story, but it could also bring pain to some, so I am seeking God on this and your thoughts are so very welcome!
Sunday: January 7, 2018
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. When we go on a “God Hunt,” we need to be alert to the little daily mercies and get in the habit of giving thanks. Each time you meet with the Lord this week, look back on the day before and share one mercy from the day before. It could be a sweet time of fellowship with a friend, a child’s joy, a wonderful meal, a beautiful snowfall…What was it for you yesterday?
3. There was a time when C. S. Lewis struggled with the commands to praise God for His mercies, to glorify Him — but then he realized it was not to “build God up,” but for our own hearts. Have you experienced how practicing gratitude can impact your heart? If so, share.
If you are looking for a winter movie night, if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend Tender Mercies with Robert DuVall. The whole movie can be found on you-tube and by DVD from Netflix. There is a poignant scene when Robert DuVall’s new bride fears he has returned to drinking, after leaving the house after an argument. She is praying a psalm in bed, and just before she gets to the verse about God’s “tender mercies” she hears him coming home. Here’s the trailer of Tender Mercies:
Monday: January 8, 2018
Psalm 78 records the miracles God did for His people over a long span of history: from the exodus from Egypt to the kingship of David. Derek Kidner has put it from “Zoan” (verse 12 – a region in Egypt) to “Zion” (verse 68 – Mt. Zion is in Jerusalem, which is also called “the city of David.’) Today we will look at the opening.
4. As you look back on yesterday, record one mercy from God.
5. Read Psalm 78:1-16
A. Describe the urgency and the tone of the psalm in verses 1-2.
B. A parable is an earthly teaching used to illustrate a spiritual truth. What spiritual truth, for example, does the Exodus (described in verses 12-16 teach us about the character of God?
C. To whom are we to tell God mercies and why, according to verses 3-6?
D. What 3 positive reasons for doing this can be found in verses 7?
E. What negative reason can you find for doing this in verse 8?
6. The Israelites had many miracles to look back on, but we have far more.
A. What do we have, this side of the cross, that should help to remember, even in His silence, how deeply loved we are?
B. How was the exodus, with its passover lamb and its freedom from slavery a hidden picture of Jesus and what He would make possible?
Tuesday: Jan. 9
7. What tender mercy can you record from yesterday?
8. If you are one who grew up in a godly home, can you share one brief story that your father or mother told you of God working in his or her life? How has that impacted you?
9. Read Psalm 78:17-39.
A. What do you learn about the Israelites and how could you avoid this? (Note how their idols did not fulfil them but led to addiction and craving.)
B.What do you learn about God and have you experienced this in your life?
Wednesday: Jan 10
10. What tender mercy can you record from yesterday?
11. Share one story of God’s intervention in your life that you have or would like to pass on to the next generation — or, if you have children, to your children and your children’s children.
12. Read Psalm 78:40-64 and share any verse that becomes “radioactive” and why.
Thursday: Jan 11
13. What tender mercy can you record from yesterday?
14. Read the closing of Psalm 78:65-72.
A. How did God still show mercy to his disobedient people?
B. How has He shown mercy to you despite disobedience?
Friday: Jan 12 – Dee’s story of One of God’s Tender Mercies She’ll Never Forget (Optional!)
15. What tender mercy can you record from yesterday?
I have so many stories of God’s mercies to me despite my sin. I have stories of our adoptions, and then, this story of a biological child. This occurred early in my Christian walk. I have a theory that God gives “Red Sea Partings” to the young in faith to encourage them. This happened about 8 years after Steve and I put our faith in Christ.
Steve and I had been blessed with two sons, and the youngest was beginning kindergarten. Though I knew it would be going back to diapers and sleepless nights, I had an overwhelming desire to have a daughter and I was so ready to try. But when I told Steve, he felt differently. He felt our plates were full and we shouldn’t take on more. He also reminded me there was certainly no guarantee that we would have a girl, but that it was actually more probable now, statistically, that we would have a boy, since we had had two.
I told him I knew that, and I would rejoice over another son, but that we could ask God for a daughter, because, perhaps, God had put that desire in my heart.
Steve was silent and finally suggested we both pray. He was leaving in the morning for a three-day medical convention. As we had done before when we disagreed, we agreed to endeavor to surrender our own desires (as much as possible, considering the deceitfulness of our hearts) and ask God to show us His desire and thus make us like-minded.
During those three days I endeavored to surrender my will, but my desire for another baby only seemed to strengthen. But I had an idea. I thought, What if I stop using birth control for three months? If I don’t get pregnant during that time, I will trust that our quiver is only meant to hold two arrows and I’ll go back on birth control.
When Steve came home from the convention we sat down. He began:
“My heart hasn’t really changed, but I don’t know if that is God’s will or just a lack of faith in taking on another child. But here is my idea: What if you stop using birth control for three months? If God gives us a child, I will trust Him, but if He does not, would you be willing to trust it is not His plan and go back on birth control?”
The same Spirit had said the same thing! To me, I felt it also meant that God was going to give us a child, indeed, the daughter my heart desired! I went out and bought a pink baby book and asked Steve to help me be specific in prayer, and we’d write down our requests so that we would have a record should God be so merciful.
So we made this list, telling the Lord if He had a better idea, He should trump our ideas. The first request came from both of us, and the rest were just mine, but Steve didn’t veto any of them.
- For a daughter that had a heart tender toward Him
- For her to be smart but not so smart she would trust in her wisdom
- That she would be pretty, but not so pretty that she would trust in her beauty
- That she would be taller than me
- That she would look like Steve
- That she would have some talents she could use for His glory
I smile now at my youthful requests, and see my control idol, but God is so gracious, hears us, and will give us what He knows is best – either to delight us or to train us.
Three months went by and there was no pregnancy. I was shocked and truly grieved, for I had been so sure it would happen. Yet I knew I had to be obedient to God, for clearly, He had given Steve and me the same idea. I went back on birth control and asked God to make me content with the wonderful sons we had.
Months later, in August, I was visiting with my friend Betsy, sitting on her family’s dock overlooking Green Bay. She asked me if Steve and I planned to have any more children. I remember telling her clearly, “No. We feel this is the family God wants us to have.” What I did not know was that little Sally had already begun growing in me for God gave her to us after I went back on birth control.
Isn’t that just like Him? He is such a God of surprises.
In the fall, I began leading an evangelistic Bible study for residents’ wives. A few had come to Christ and I was also endeavoring to teach them how to talk to God. They were too scared to pray out loud, but I got them to write down a request and give it to the woman on their right to pray over that week. But when I saw the requests they were either for someone very distant (their Uncle Eddie’s neighbor) or so general (that God would bless our family) that they wouldn’t even know if God had answered their prayers. I said, “I want you to get personal and specific!” One of the women asked me to illustrate what I meant.
I decided to tell them the story of my pregnancy, and of how specifically we had prayed for this child. They looked stunned. One said, “Do you really believe you can pray these things into happening?”
“I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the Bible says “we have not because we ask not.” However, He also tells us to pray according to His will, and we honestly don’t know what His will was in this case, so we asked for what we would like, but we also told Him that if He has a better idea, that’s what we wanted. I told them I wouldn’t want to miss being a chance to be a mother to a Charles Spurgeon or a Deitrich Bonhoeffer!”
Their eyes were full of wonder, and as the months passed, their faith and excitement seemed to grow until they seemed more convinced than I was that God would answer our prayers. In the beginning of my ninth month, when I walked into the Bible study, they shouted “Surprise!” They were throwing me a baby shower – for a girl! This was before routine ultrasounds, so we still did not know the gender, but they felt certain enough to have made us a pink baby quilt. Each had embroidered a square that had to do with little girls or the promises of God. I thought, What have I done? Will the buds of their new and tender faith shrivel up if I give birth to a boy who looks just like me?
Steve laughed when I brought home the quilt. “You got yourself into this one!” Then he said, “Since you’ve gone this far out on the limb, you might as well go all the way. They posted the surgery schedule for the week you are due, and I’ll be in surgery every single day except April 27th? So why don’t you ask your friends to pray our baby will arrive on the 27th?”
I did. They prayed with real faith while I squirmed, hoping the limb I was out on would not break.
I went into labor in the wee hours of the morning of April 27th. I still remember Steve’s great cry:
“GOD GAVE US A GIRL – AND SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE ME!”
The doctor and the nurses laughed, but indeed, Sally is clearly a clone of her father: his long legs, his fair complexion, and his beautiful blue eyes – but best of all, his wonderful nature. (So though my husband went to heaven early, I still have a strong reminder of him on earth.) The women in my Bible study were beyond excited. Truly, it was a great celebration and our bulletin board was absolutely filled with cards rejoicing over answered pray, exclaiming that “the Lord had done it.” (Psalm 126:3)
When Sally turned 19, she came with me to Chicago where I was giving a large women’s retreat at Moody Bible Institute. Since the retreat was on April 27th, I decided to tell the story of her birth. When I was done, my tall fair blue-eyed daughter came out with the quilt, and the audience thundered their applause. I knew it was for the graciousness of God, who does indeed answer prayer, who “bends down and listens.” (Psalm 116:1 TLB)
The night before I had almost decided not to tell it, for fear of hurting those who had prayed for daughters and gotten sons, or had prayed for babies, and gotten none. A wise woman who was with me said, “I think you should tell the story for it glorifies God, and gives us all the courage to be specific. Just be sure to say it happened because it was His will, and many times, for reasons we cannot see now, we ask for things that are not His will.” And so I did, and I also prayed for the women who were struggling with infertility, that God would either grant the desires of their hearts or change the desires of their hearts.” I received several letters months later, telling me of babies conceived or adopted. One woman wrote: “After many miscarriages we were told it wasn’t safe to try again, and my heart was truly broken and your story was hard to hear. But when you prayed an unmistakable peace enveloped me. My husband and I are now dreaming and praying about how God might use us in a way that He might not use a couple with children. Perhaps we’ll move to the inner city and minister to children there – perhaps He’ll take us overseas. We are truly excited to see what He will show us!” I loved this letter, for truly it shows how revolutionary Christianity is. In biblical times, and still in many lands today, women are treated so poorly and the widow and the barren woman are at the bottom of the heap. Jesus shocked the men of the Bible by the way he honored women, stopping everything to give a widow’s son back to her, going through Samaria purposely to talk to a woman, telling Martha that Mary should stay at his feet, even though women were not supposed to sit at a Rabbi’s feet. In Isaiah we are told that the barren woman who trusts in Christ will have more childen than the woman who is not barren.
I want to tell this story without reinforcing the idea that somehow those who are blessed with biological children are more valuable than those to whom God leads down another path. Can it be done? I don’t know, but I am trying, and I value your input.
16. I welcome your thoughts, negative or positive, or your ponderings on the above story.
17. And this is a tangent, and an issue over which those who truly love the Lord have different convictions, but what thoughts do you have on family planning and the ethics of various plans to have or not have children?
18. What is your take-a-way from this week and why?