One of the things I enjoy about my Apple Watch is the connection I have with others who also use an Apple Watch. For instance, I get notified when my wife has finished a workout, and one of the pre-set replies I could choose is, “I’ve got questions!” That’s a funny way of me saying, “How did you complete that workout?!”
In Psalm 75 and Psalm 76, Asaph tells us how God will deal with the wicked. But then Psalm 77 begins with Asaph using words like, “My soul refused to be comforted, my spirit is overwhelmed,” and then he launches into the tough questions like: “How long is this going to last? Has God forgotten me? Have I fallen out of favor with God? Has His mercy dried up? Can God keep what He has promised? Is God angry with me?” When I read all this, I feel like saying, “Asaph, I’ve got questions!”
Yet, these complaints of Asaph ring true to real life. Like when a friend called me last week and started our conversation by asking, “Why can’t things just go easy for me?”
Here’s the simple answer: The Story isn’t over yet. We are in a battle, and the enemy of our soul is still trying to take us out, or at least shut us up.
In Psalm 77, Asaph tells his story to Jeduthun (a Levite worship leader whose name means praising) in four chapters, with a Selah for each of the breaks between the chapters.
Chapter 1—Distress (vv. 1-3)
The word distress means confronted by an adversary. Ever been there? Every follower of God has been, so Asaph invites us to Selah: pause to contemplate things like (a) Is this distress causing me to reevaluate the foundation on which I stand? (b) What is it God is shaking in my life? When God shakes things up, it is to cause us to remember and muse about the ONLY sure foundation that can withstand any storm (see Matthew 7:24-27).
Chapter 2—Questioning (vv. 4-9)
Notice the words Asaph uses: thought, remembered, mused, inquired. He is asking those tough questions, but he is asking them in a way that he can carefully consider the answers. That means he is really taking a Selah pause with each question. I think he has come to this conclusion: “Aren’t all these really just rhetorical questions? And isn’t the answer to all of them a resounding ‘NO!’?” If you aren’t sure the answer to all of these questions is no, please read Romans 8:31-39.
Chapter 3—Recalling (vv. 10-15)
Notice the continuation of the words: thought, remember, meditate, consider. He also asks another question in v. 13 which he then answers in the next two verses. His call to Selah here is another pause to reflect: “Has God lost His power? Has He changed His mind?” And once again the answer is a loud and clear, “NO!” (see Isaiah 59:1; Hebrews 13:8)
One of the important takeaways from this stanza of Psalm 77 is this: Looking back in gratitude at what God has done allows me to look forward in hope to what He is still going to do. My remembering what God has done in the past leads to:
Chapter 4—Hope (vv. 16-20)
Asaph says, “Look what God did! And since He is the same today as He was yesterday, guess what He’s still able to do!” We know this because the Bible says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Remember I said earlier that God isn’t done telling His story yet? God isn’t done yet, He knows His Story, and His Story is still being told. But He’s also already told us how His story will end (see Revelation 21:4-6). And the end of His story is really just the beginning of the Real Story!
C.S. Lewis said it this way in the closing words of The Last Battle:
“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
When you find yourself saying, “I’ve got questions: How long is this going to last,” Selah to remember that the Story isn’t over yet. The Storyteller knows how it ends, and He promises us: But what of that? For I consider that the sufferings of this present time—this present life—are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! (Romans 8:18 AMP)
If you have missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the complete list by clicking here.
Have you ever read the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Poor Alexander, his day just seemed to get worse—nothing was going right. He wakes up with gum in his hair, trips on his skateboard, and drops his favorite sweater in the sink filled with water. Breakfast doesn’t get any better, things go sideways at school, his least-favorite food is served for dinner, his nightlight burns out. And if all that’s not bad enough, the cat decides to sleep with his brother instead of with him.
Can you relate to Alexander?
Doesn’t it seem like when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong? And if things go wrong for too many days in a row, it seems like the bad times are lasting forever! All of us have a tendency to exaggerate during the dark days.
A psalmist named Asaph seemed to be having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of his own. Listen to some of his words, including the exaggerations of how bad he thought everything was:
Why have You rejected us forever, O God? … Your foes roared in the place where You met us… They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. … How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand? (Psalm 74:1, 4, 8, 10, 11)
In the middle of the storm, we tend to not only exaggerate how bad things are but we also seem to lose our bearings and we can even lose sight of God. I think that’s what was happening to Asaph in the first half of his lament. But then we come to the middle verse of this psalm and we notice the beginning of a change in perspective: “But You, O God, are my King from of old; You bring salvation upon the earth” (v. 12).
Aha! In the middle of his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Asaph stopped looking at all the bad things around him and turned his gaze upward. “Look,” he tells himself, “there is God still reigning as the Supreme King!” Asaph begins to recount all that God has done, using the phrase “It was You” who did these miraculous things five times in the next five verses.
In the middle of the storm, Asaph has to remind himself…
My friend, I implore you to remember these words of Asaph. Commit them to your memory now, so that when your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day happens—when it seems like everything is going to go wrong forever—that you can spot those lying exaggerations, you can turn your gaze upward, and you can find hope in knowing your God not only has all power to save you in the storm, but He has unlimited love that wants to save you through the storm.
Look up, look up, look up and see your God reigning supremely over even the worst terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.
In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!”
The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.”
In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself.
Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end!
Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).
When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26).
Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.”
Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy.
Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.”
You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others!
If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here.
A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment.
You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have.
In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified!
In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.”
That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am.”
Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.”
The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases:
Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.
If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here.
Last week I shared that a mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation.
Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses:
Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:
Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.
Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us.
One lesson I learned in a very dark night time of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away.
The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.
Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing.
I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends.
If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here.
Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb.
For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!”
But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”
Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.
Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies.
But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.”
Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God!
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.”
Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded!
Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.
Notice that the psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterward because of the lessons learned in that dark time.
Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights.
If you have missed any of the messages in this series, you can watch the video or read the post here:
This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.
Our Prayer Helper
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
God helps our infirmity, and with a Helper so divinely strong, we need not fear the result! … We take our burden to our heavenly Father and tell Him in the accents of childlike confidence, and we come away quite content to better whatever His holy will may lay upon us. …
We bathe our wounds in the lotion of prayer and the pain is lulled; the fever is removed. But the worst of it is that in certain conditions of heart we cannot pray. We may be brought into such perturbation of mind and perplexity of heart that we do not know how to pray. … We fall into such heaviness of spirit and entanglement of thought that the one remedy of prayer, which we have always found to be unfailing, appears to be taken from us. Here, then, in the nick of time, as a very present help in time of trouble, comes in the Holy Spirit! He draws near to teach us how to pray, and in this way He helps our infirmity, relieves our suffering, and enables us to bear the heavy burden without fainting under the load. …
He will guide you both negatively and positively. Negatively, He will forbid you to pray for such and such a thing, even as Paul essayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit would not allow him. And, on the other hand, He will cause you to hear a cry within your soul that will guide your petitions, even as He made Paul hear the cry from Macedonia, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ (Acts 16:6-10). …
If I am a true believer, there dwells the Holy Spirit, and when I desire to pray, I may ask Him what I should pray for as I ought and He will help me! He will write the prayers that I ought to offer upon the tablets of my heart, and I will see them there and so I will be taught how to plead! It will be the Spirit’s own Self pleading in me and by me and through me before the throne of grace!
From The Holy Spirit’s Intercession
Oh, how many times I’ve been in desperate need but cannot find the right words to pray. The Holy Spirit understands even groans that come from my anguished heart and can help me turn those groans into perfect prayers.
Jesus said the Holy Spirit would remind us of His words and would guide us into truth. I’ve experienced this for myself: I’m at an utter loss of what or how to pray, and then a passage of Scripture comes to my mind. I start there with that phrase. Often I will begin to read the surrounding passage from the Bible out loud and feel the gentle affirmation from the Holy Spirit as I begin to personalize that portion of Scripture into my own prayer. As Spurgeon put it, this is “the Spirit’s own Self pleading in me and by me and through me before the throne of grace!”
What a Helper we have in the Holy Spirit!