Category Archives: Learn it

Listen, Learn, and Let Go

Listen, Learn, and Let Go (MJT Psalms 140-141)

I used to think the world was against me any time someone criticized a choice I made. Even if I asked for advice or wisdom on an issue, internally I would think what do they know anyway? They’re not living my life. They have no idea how to deal with my problems. 

I made enemies of a lot of people who were just looking out for me, or who were trying to help me grow and see things from a different perspective. I saw criticism as attacks, differing opinions as judgment, and advice as antagonism. I spent a lot of time and energy at war with people in my mind.

And then I became a teacher.

Quickly I realized other people have answers I scoured my world for because they had experience and knowledge. Life is lived in patterns, finding those patterns and learning from people who come before is the trick to good teaching–and good living.

Psalm 140 is a call from the poet to God for protection and rescue from the evil one(s). There are real enemies in our lives, and I suspect the poet actually experienced true persecution, but really when you look at life objectively there is just one enemy causing conflict with lies and deceit every day. As I read from 140 to 141 I realized for me it is less about an external enemy, but the enemies I create in my mind. The ones who preach pride, stubbornness, and grudge-holding that keep me isolated and angry. These lessons in 141 reflect the answers to defeating the enemies of 140 in three simple steps: Listen, Learn, and Let go.

LISTEN (Psalm 141:1-2)

When you call for God to hear you, you can’t forget to listen to his response. And not only hear it but really listen. There is a difference. God doesn’t ignore our cries for help, but sometimes we don’t like the answer and that pride keeps us from moving forward in all our relationships. More importantly, it keeps us from the growth and plans God desires for us. Plans to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11) because he knows us, and knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139:13).

LEARN (Psalm 141:3-5)

Learning from our own past mistakes is easy. Learning from the wise people in our lives is the hard part of growing and leaning into the plans God has for us. God has no desire to see us in pain, and if we are honest, most often we create our own sticky situations by not listening and learning from those who have already been there, done that. In Ecclesiastes 1:9,  Solomon aptly observes there is nothing new under the sun. Boy was he right. The more time I spend watching teenagers ignore my (and other’s) advice, the more I see the truth in this statement. And I get it. I once ignored a lot of advice, but imagine what rich lives we could live from the get-go if only we lived Psalm 141:5! Life is lived in patterns; it’s seen in literature over and over again and if we pay attention we can see it in our own lives. A lesson I wished I’d learned earlier.

LET GO (Psalm 141:8-10)

The most important lesson we can listen and learn from is ultimately to let go of what is not in our control–which really is everything. The famous missionary and Bible teacher Oswald Chambers put it this way in My Utmost for His Highest:

To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his [or her] whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the Spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else.

Essentially, let go and let God! It’s funny how often we will cry out to God for something and then step in God’s way to try to grasp it for ourselves. Like Sarah (Genesis), to whom God promised a son, determined to fulfill the prophecy handed her maidservant to her husband. Sure, she got a son…sort of…but it created a whole mess of problems we still encounter in today’s world. *By the way, this is a pretty prominent theme in literature as well. See, patterns!*

Here’s my own example.

I have been asking God to meet my future husband for a long time. More than once I have asked God for direction and then decided, like Sarah, to take matters into my own hands. Why? Because I’m impatient. As a result, I have endured quite a few BAD internet dates. And I mean wishing you could crawl out the bathroom window bad. I have nothing against internet dating. In fact, I know quite a few people who have had success in meeting and marrying people they have met through one dating website or another. This knowledge has brought untold frustration and insecurities when nothing seemed to produce a similar success story in my own life.

And then I got so frustrated and exhausted, I was so broken I actually waited to hear from God (I know, I’m 32 years old, and I KNOW what I should do, but I don’t always do it. I’m human. Sorry to disappoint). Lo and behold, when I stopped to listen, I heard. One morning when I was cranky, sleep deprived, and annoyed by an internet match I really wanted to make work (the snarky comments about teachers in high school always being on their cell phones was really the straw that broke the camels back), I heard God speak.

Online dating is not the answer.

Aw man! Really, God? Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?! Do you know how much time, energy and money I have wasted?

Um, yeah. I did. You just weren’t listening. When are you going to learn to let go and let ME be God?

Ouch. Great question. I didn’t really like this answer, and complained about it more than once (okay…so what IS THE ANSWER? Crickets. Sigh. Okay). But soon I got confirmation from two separate sources that these were, in fact, God’s words for me.

So I put on my big girl panties and did my best to listen, learn, and let go. But I am a work in progress (as are we all), which is why the big BUT in Psalm 141:8 holds so much promise for me. I keep doing these things Lord: doubting, fighting, crying out…

But my eyes are fixed on you, o Sovereign Lord…

And when this is true for me, when we truly fix our eyes on HIM and not on ourselves. When we listen, learn, let go, and let God work “we pass by in safety” all the days of our lives, no matter what our future might be.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: (My journey through Psalms 139)

I remember the first time I heard the song “Every Breath You Take” by Sting and the Police. The tune is so incredibly familiar it is easy to start singing and not even realize the words you are saying, but I’ve always been fascinated by words, so halfway through the song, I was kind of like…what on Earth am I singing about. This is not what love is. Is it?

The idea of one person claiming that ‘Oh can’t you see, you belong to me,” is a little disconcerting, to say the least. Even in a committed relationship, I personally wouldn’t want to belong to someone, which would imply that I am some sort of possession to be had. Be a part of someone, sure. Be someone’s other half, yeah I get that. Become one with someone, yes! That’s what God intended, but to belong to someone? That sounds morbidly obsessive and having them watch everything I do, now that’s downright stalker material there. Creepy.

So why, when I read Psalm 139, does this song come to mind? Maybe it is verse 7-10a, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there, if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there…

“Every step I take, Every move I make…Every vow I break…”

Now I am aware that Sting had no intention of writing this song to be a spiritual allegory (it’s actually, I believe about his jealous ex that he fled to the Caribbean to avoid if I’m not mistaken), but like most things if shifted into a certain perspective, I can hear God speaking through it.

Because God does watch us, not because he is obsessively jealous (although even he admits to being a jealous God when we begin worshiping anything besides him), but because we are created in his image and he loves us. Psalm 139 is a beautiful reminder of His involvement in every aspect of our lives. Because, beloved, we do belong to him, and that can be so very terrifying, but also so very comforting when we realize what his motivation is in loving us so fully and completely.

This song is not a perfect parallel by any means, but God speaks to use in wonderful and strange ways…we just have to be willing to listen when he does. 

His Love Endures Forever

His Love Endures Forever (My journey through Psalms 135-138)

Unlike most people in this world, I have been almost struck by lightning at least 3 times in my life. When I say almost I mean, it didn’t actually hit me, but it hit close enough to me that I could feel the vibrations of power and see the effects of the strike.

The first time I was hiking with my parents and sister. I was too young to really remember the details, but my mom has related the story to me. We were caught in the mountains when a summer storm rolled in unexpectedly and, though they high tailed it off the mountain with my sister and me in tow, the lightning struck around us enough to destroy some tree limbs etc.

The next time I was at Girl Scout camp and lightning struck our cabin in the middle of the night. I remember the deafening crack and the cabin shook under the pressure. When we all gathered outside part of the cabin had broken off and lay at our door.

More recently I was in a car with my best friends. It was raining so hard we decided not to continue and pulled into a grocery store parking lot. Next to us, a light pole was struck and shook so violently I thought for sure it would fall and crush us in the vehicle, but it did not–though the alarms in the bank across the street went absolutely bonkers.

To say I am leery of storms would be understating it. For a large part of my life, I remained terrified. People would talk about the beauty in the storm, but all I saw was raw uncontrollable power.

While I am still weary about storms, and probably more cautious than the average adult, I have drawn a different conclusion about these awesome events–they are beautiful, they are powerful, but they are also representative of God’s perfect, enduring love.

God’s perfect love is raw and uncontrollable by our human hands, power, and will. I’m not talking about romantic love or lust that you see in the movie where you are ‘so overcome’ by the feelings that you throw caution to the wind and make stupid mistakes. No, that is not God’s love.

God’s love strikes us, and when it does, it changes us and charges us. Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it feels destructive, but it is also filled with power that is unique to God and it endures, meaning it never changes. His love is constant, just like storms.

Moving on Up

Moving on Up (My Journey Through Psalms 120-134)

I love getting an A.

I may be 32 years old, but being told that I have gotten 100% on something still makes me feel, well, proud.

Unfortunately, that is also my greatest struggle with sin–feeling as though I can do it by myself, that I can EARN a 100% with God, and forgetting life isn’t all about me.

This collection of Psalms (120-134) is a humbling reminder to me.

Named Psalms of Ascent, this collection has been the center of debate for scholars–when were they written? why were they written?–honestly, we don’t even know if they were written at the same time by different authors or collected later and assembled, but we do know that they are associated with the journey, or pilgrimage, to Jerusalem and moving up to the temple. In other words, moving closer to God. And the journey itself is clear in the written words.

While there is a lot to unpack in each individual psalm, I found a lot to work with when treating them as a group. A general progression is clear and emphasized in these poems with the use of repetition and analogy throughout.

First, we have an acknowledgment of God in Psalms 120-121; the poet(s) acknowledge the almighty power and presence of the Lord and his role in our lives. We move next into the pleas or appeals to God’s character. The plea of peace (122), followed by a plea for mercy (123), then an acknowledgment of the Lor’ds strength and favor (124), a plea for God’s goodness (125) and favor despite the hardships of life (126), and finally the joy, rest and rewards God grants to his people (127); what it ultimately boils down to is the promises of prosperity for trusting in God as his chosen people (128-129). In our next poetic phase we see repentance (130) with a recognition that we cannot achieve this, but rather it is granted through grace despite our naturally evil hearts (131). WIth a specific example of a man who sinned but still received the favor, pleasure, and promises of God (132), David’s story begins to tie all these poems together as the Psalms of Ascent end in thankfulness (1333) and praise (134) turning focus back to God and his awesome power and might. 

These Psalms outline how we should approach God, but also teach how to grow closer to him. Although we are maybe not physically ascending, spiritually we can experience growth if we follow this example. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, I can always use some help with.

First, we must always acknowledge who God really is.

Beginning our prayers with the acknowledgment of God’s awesomeness and power takes the focus off us and places it where it should always be–on God. I use to think I was the protagonist in my own life.  BUT I’M NOT! I am a minor character in God’s story, which is both humbling and restoring because it means I don’t always have to be in control of the outcome. Nor should I be. This life is not about me. It’s about Him. It always has been.

Next, we can appeal to God’s character for more purposeful lives.

This is a great supplication moment for peace, mercy, goodness, strength, and favor. BUT it’s not about YOU or ME; it’s supplication for ISREAL, aka God’s people. This is a time to focus on community and prayers for the local church and/or the church as a whole. The story STILL is not about me as an individual but about US as the bride of Christ. In helping others we grow closer to God, not in helping ourselves first.

After we focus our attention away from ourselves and our selfish needs then we can ask for forgiveness.

Amazingly, when we re-direct our focus, it highlights the many things we need to ask God to help us fix in our own hearts. We must then ask for forgiveness and accept the grace he offers us. In placing emphasis on God and other’s first, we abandon our pride and expose the places in our hearts that need work to be purified and made holy. Only then can we grow closer to God.

Finally, in the end we turn back to God, admitting to ourselves that the story has always been and will always be about Him, not us.

In reminding ourselves of the promises God has made and the promises he has fulfilled we are then able to humbly ask him for the desires of our hearts because then we will be less focused on what we get out of it and focused on the purpose of these supplications–how they can bring glory to God’s story, the only story that actually matters.

Acknowledging God, Appealing for others, Asking forgiveness and Admitting who the true protagonist is…

allows us to ascend toward him and grow both in faith and prosperity–being given, not earning, the only A+ that matters: God’s grace.

When You Stumble

When You Stumble (My journey through Psalm 120-121)

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

What a stupid question, one may respond. Of course, it makes a sound! Just because no one is there to witness it, doesn’t negate the laws of nature–if you go 90 miles an hour on the freeway and there are no cops, you were still breaking the law. You deserve a ticket.

We don’t get what we deserve, thank you, Jesus. Which is why we can call on the Lord and he will answer us. By rights, much of the distress we experience is the result of sin–ours or another’s–which is a result of stepping outside of God’s good and perfect will.  Just because your sin is hidden, it doesn’t make you perfectly deserving of all good things. We get good things because of God’s blessings and forgiveness, but the tree still fell. It still made a noise. It reverberated throughout history.

Thankfully though we can lift our eyes to the hills the only place our help can come from, the Lord (121:1-2, paraphrased). And because of his graciousness, he can turn that fallen tree into something really beautiful.

I had an interesting conversation with my sister last night about the paradox of God’s protection and pre-ordained will. One conclusion that we both drew was that God does not allow evil in the world. We allowed evil in the world when we made our choice to be like God and eat the forbidden fruit–and we have all made this choice at one point or another in our lives. Quit blaming Eve. Despite the fact that God does not pre-ordain this evil, he still manages to use it for his greater good. We talked about a number of different historical examples of God working out the good through the horrific evils of the world, but I have also seen this work out in my own life. As much as I would like to be, I am not perfect and I will beat myself up when I make a mistake. For days, weeks sometimes. Especially if that mistake affects others. But even so, I look back and realize that the mistakes humanized me and as a result, I was able to have an influence in a place I normally wouldn’t have.

That’s what I think these psalms are getting at. 121:3 states that He will not let our foot slip.

Well, that feels untrue sometimes because I know I slip up. But what I get out of this (whether it is what we are supposed to or not, I am unsure, but I hold onto the holy spirit speaking into my soul when I am writing and studying scripture), what I feel in my heart is that God doesn’t keep us from the consequences of our sin–our slip ups–but he can work it to our own good. A promise from Romans 8:28.

Therefore even as our foot slips, God is there, watching, catching, redirecting and loving us even in the hot messes.

If we will let him.