Today’s Bible reading is Psalm 61.
I love the Psalms of the Bible for a variety of reasons, one being the fact that just about every human emotion is represented, wrestled with, and channeled back into the ups and downs of everyday life with God-shaped perspective.
Fear. Anger. Frustration. Despair. Guilt. You don’t have to turn many pages in the Psalms before you encounter each one of those feelings, and in the encounter, you’re reminded that you are not alone. Many before you have known what it is to grapple with each one of those emotions.
But what will I do with those very real feelings in the present? Where will I turn for perspective, guidance, refuge, and hope when fear, anger, frustration, despair, and guilt are knocking on the front door of my heart?
Answers and approaches vary.
Some of us look to the PRESENT–the fleeting, fickle, ever-shifting present–as a means of coping with what we’re feeling. We’ll distract ourselves with social media. We’ll detach ourselves with mindless smartphone games. We’ll incessantly occupy ourselves with the latest “news” or seek to pacify ourselves with another instant download. In short, many of us fill our present with noise in an attempt to divert attention away from what’s going on in our hearts.
Some of us look to the FUTURE–the persistently-promising, rarely-delivering future–in an attempt to deal with what we’re feeling. If we can just get to the next road trip, or the next promotion, or the bigger house… If we can finally reach the dream getaway, the shinier car, the perfect relationship, the next rung in the ladder…
…and all-the-while, the noisy present doesn’t build my sense of peace or clarify my perspective. The ever-elusive future isn’t settling my heart or galvanizing my hope, no matter how much stock I put in it. And the heaviness of my present remains.
Am I missing something? If what I need to cope, endure, and thrive isn’t in the distractions of a noisy present or the dreams of a self-centered future, where else can I turn? Is it possible for the answer to be preserved in the PAST?
In Psalm 61, David was wrestling with a very heavy present. It felt like life had taken him to “the end of the earth” and David’s heart was “faint” (61:2). He had a keen sense of present need. He needed to be led “to the rock” that was higher than himself. He was presently in need of “refuge under the shelter” of another’s wings (61:4).
So how did he cope? In Psalm 61, David didn’t attempt to drown those emotions with distractions in the present or dilute those feelings with bigger and better dreams for the future. He processed those very real feelings in light of what God had already done in the past.
“My heart is faint” (61:2)–present tense–but “you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (61:3).
“Let me take refuge” (61:4)–present tense–“for you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (61:5).
And by the end of the psalm, David has found solid ground on which to stand, in the present. His immediate circumstances may still be beyond his control, his future may yet be unclear, but blessed assurance is abundantly available because he has reminded himself of God’s faithfulness in the past. “So,” despite the swirl of present emotions and future obstacles, “I will ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” (61:8).
If you’re like me, you find it very easy to begin and fill and end your day with the vain noise of the present and fruitless worries about the future. What if–let’s say tomorrow morning–we did a little bit of Bible reading, taking a quiet, reverent look to the past before we filled our minds with the noise of the present and blind predictions about the future? What if we spent a few moments praising God for what he has done before we tackled our to-do lists? What if we thanked him anew for the prayers he has answered and used those as fuel for taking future steps with him in confidence? What if we stopped presuming on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience and we just did the next right thing, for the sake of his name, day after day?
I’m guessing, if we did that, we’d find it easier–more natural even–to “ever sing praises to his name,” regardless of how chaotic the present may seem in the moment. And in the future? Perhaps we’d see more clearly the One who has been closer to us, all along, than we ever imagined.