These were the words I needed this week:
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, And their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like mankind. . . They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. Therefore his people return to this place, And waters of abundance are drunk by them. They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning.
I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’ve been on a wretched and miserable path for a long time now. But what I’ve been a bit more reticent in sharing is that seemingly at every turn, there have been people just waiting to condemn me for my wretchedness. Those who did evil to me would criticize me for walking down paths they had helped to push me onto. Those who turned me out when I was weak would point to my homelessness to condemn me. Those who cut refused to have me around would express shock at the company I was able to keep. Those whose actions crippled me complained bitterly that I was lame and slow no matter how good my work was or how remarkable my healing had been. When I would point to God as the northern star I was following, the response was just like in this psalm: “what does God know? Is he going to pay your bills or fix your car or mend your relationships? Forget God – look at the mess you’re in!”
And over and over, I fell for it. I was convicted because they had comfort, they had wealth, they had homes, jobs and respectability and security and friendships and I so often did not. I’ve made mistakes to be sure. But as I’ve said before, each time I would look back over my life to figure out where it all went so wrong, the spots where I could say, “if only I had done this differently” were either places where others made choices for me or where I had chosen to follow a clear leading from God. Often I wanted to look at those moments with regret, but regret for what? For not being invincible? For following God?
Like the psalmist, I’ve struggled mightily not to become bitter that “in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence”.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form. When my heart was embittered And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
I have sometimes walked right up to the line of saying that following God is a fool’s errand. That he will set you on paths towards misery and never show up to redeem them. Tell you to seek his kingdom and allow you to figure out later that he’s only promised not to allow you to die of starvation or exposure if you do. But we live in unsettled times. Other Christians who are struggling on the edge as I have been read the things I write. If I had taken that last step and embraced the condemnation which so many people in their high and comfortable places were heaping onto me, “I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.” I did know that. We’re one body – I cannot speak against God without betraying the body and sometimes just for that reason I bit my bitter tongue.
I’d read a psalm like this and try to reconcile myself to its message that I’m getting the better part. That it’s worth it to go through so much suffering. But I really was like “a brute beast” before God. In fact, just three weeks ago, I told a friend in an email: “Sometimes I think I’m becoming like the animals – just chewing my cud and moving about without any of it meaning anything or having any larger purpose. I don’t understand it, but that’s where I am.”
But everything changes for the psalmist when at last he “came into the sanctuary of God”. Over the last few weeks, I have experienced something of a ground swell of affirmation which has watered and nourished my dry, battered heart. I got a lovely 5 star review on my first book. And the next day, I got another 5 star review on one of my other books from a man who is far more accomplished than myself. I reached out in a moment of insecurity for support and had people come forward to fight those demons off for me. I put up my video and the first person who watched it – someone who had never heard of me before – was so moved he sent an email to tell me about it. I’ve had several deep conversations lately which people told me ministered to them. People on facebook have been amazing lately. Just this week, several people have made donations to me and encouraged me to continue doing what I’ve been doing. The sanctuary of God came and found me. And it is good for the pure of heart who have innocent hands in God’s dwelling place.
I hadn’t made the connection until reading this psalm yesterday, but as this has happened, I’ve finally started to grasp the end of those who I have felt so convicted by. The psalmist calls them wicked, and yes, some of their actions can only be described as wicked. But believe it or not, these are people who I have and will always love dearly and deeply. They’ve been lost and hurt themselves and have chosen things other than to follow the path of love to cope – at least when it’s too hard and demanding for them to manage. It’s what people become when they embrace the things and ways of this world over God and love. They were made pure and loving as their creator but do not know it or understand it and therefor have not acted it.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve stood up under what felt like some rather fierce assaults from some of these folks. And for the first time I could clearly see their end. That one day, they will realize that what they called love was often cruelty and self-interest. That what they condemned me for was what they created. That when another soul was weak and vulnerable, they attacked and piled on and harshly turned me away. That rather than repenting at the site of the pain they caused, they felt unfairly treated by any expression of it. There will come a day when God will wake them up from the dream they’ve been living in and it will be like a sudden terror to be confronted with what they have done. It’s not something I wish for them – not in a million years. But there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. If they continue to refuse to open their own eyes, God will one day open them for them.
Now finally, in the sanctuary of the Lord, I can see that however much I’ve suffered, following God has not been in vain. Because I would rather go through what I have gone through than live with what the “wicked” will have to live with when God tears away their delusions.
Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.
Brothers and sisters, some of you have told me recently that you are on the verge of failing. That your faith is in danger of becoming bitterness. I’ve heard of hopes dashed, family and friends become bitter enemies, sickness with no hope of cure and fears that hope is foolishness. Dear hearts, come into the sanctuary of God with me. Don’t be convicted by the wicked around you. Even if you’re a brute animal, God does have you by the hand. Even if you were once among the wicked dreaming, he will destroy that unfaithfulness for you. Perhaps you are in darkness because God has closed his palm around you – you are in his hand, after all. Let me tell you of all his works . . .