I sometimes use Dennis F. Kinlaw’s devotional book, THIS DAY WITH THE MASTER (Nappance, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2002), when I want a change from my usual devotional routine. This is a wonderful book which is both deeply devotional and solidly scripture-based. Today I discovered two wonderful truths from the Psalms (from the reading for August 8).
First, we can “find a psalm for every human situation. For moments of difficulty, moments of exultation, moments of tragedy, and moments of praise: there is a psalm that corresponds to each personal story.” How wonderful that the Bible faces up to the harsh realities of life unashamedly and frankly and mentions the struggles the biblical figures went through. This is particularly true of the laments which over a third of the psalms in the book of Psalms are. I have come to the conviction that lamenting is one of the most important features of the biblical lifestyle, because they help us “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3).
Lament, of course, opens the door to God’s comfort. And God’s comfort is so wonderful that when we look back at the pain what we see most is the goodness of God and not the severity of the pain. And Kinlaw’s second point relates to that. “Many times the psalmists give their conclusion at the beginning.” After the conclusion is given “the reader must work through the psalm to see what the situation was that brought the psalmist to the answer” (see Psalm 73). This is also true of 2 Corinthians where Paul is in raptures over the glory of the ministry but where the background is one of severe pain. The conclusion was the dominant thought, not the pain which resulted in their arriving at that conclusion.
The first and last word is with God and not with pain. In fact this is why we are not afraid to face pain squarely and open ourselves to lament. We know deep down that God will comfort, that he will turn this to good, and that the end of the process of lament we initiate will be joy!
These past two years or so, many of my e-mail reflections have focussed on pain. These reflections are primarily intended for young Christian workers, and I have stressed this issue of pain for two reasons. Firstly, I think many Christians are running away from their call because of the pain they encounter. I want to encourage people to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10) so that they can battle on without giving up knowing that the end will be good and joyful.
Secondly, there is this terrible tragedy of the unhappy Christian leader. Many Christian leaders today do not know the joy of the Lord which is what gives them the strength (Neh. 8:10) to bear pain victoriously. They are bitter and angry with the church, with individuals and sometimes even with God. The result is a terrible advertisement for Christianity. I believe we must develop the discipline of grappling with pain until the joy of the Lord shines through. The assurance that this will indeed happen is what gives us the strength to launch into this battle.
Whatever your problems may be, dear friend, do not let Satan deprive you of that which makes you a truly contented millionaire: the joy of the Lord!