Psalm 62:5-8 – Wait in silence.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

selah

The term “selah” is often said to meant as a call to consider, to meditate on what has been written. And that is what I set out to do this week.

This is a Psalm of confident assurance in God and God alone. This is not the desperate reassurance or the reminding tone of last week’s verse not to fear but trust in the Lord. This is a declaration of God’s greatness, and if nothing else, a lesson for us to rest quietly in the power and wonder of God.

God is a refuge for us, not only doing battle on our behalf, but also encasing us in security. Though from our own point of view we are surrounded on every side, we fear evil and the reproach of the unbelieving public, and feel as though our skin has the edge of their spears already poised and ready to pierce, we see not the spiritual reality.

Psalm 62 rectifies the difference between our eyes and God’s eyes. David declares to all who would hear, “Don’t struggle! Don’t seek for vain glory, or trust in money or your strength!” When Isaiah says “all men are like grass”, he mirrors David in verse 9, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”

This may be one of the biggest perspective switches that have started to breach into my view in the last year. All this, the whole story, the whole song and dance of my time on earth, is not primarily about my relationship with God, though it is an extraordinary and inscrutable thing that he would allow such an exchange. No the story is ALL ABOUT GOD. He is glorious. He is righteous. He is powerful. He ordains and holds ALL THINGS. Not only did he create the universe, but Hebrews 1 tells us :

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

You and I have troubles and trials sufficient to fill our minds and fill every single day. Allow yourself to be quiet for a few moments. Listen for his voice. Forget your own weakness. Tell your soul, for God alone to wait, for your only hope is in him.

Though to us it often feels as though we stand upon a precipice, with God as the rope that ties us off, David encourages us to realize that we stand upon the mighty infallible wall of God’s providence. So if you have worry, or fear, or doubt, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Amen.

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Psalm 56:3-4 | What can flesh do to me?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

In this past week the study and memorization of this passage has already proven helpful. Like all who follow after God, some days finding glory in his words and hanging and meditating on every one, being obedient, praying without ceasing, and seeing Jesus as supremely valuable are easy. But other days temptation is around every corner, my mind is altogether unable to focus on what is good and right and profitable.

I’m not someone who often fears physical harm. But what I do fear is losing focus. Coming to Jesus only when I am desperate only to find when he comforts me and gives strength to me I will grow complacent and make an idol of the closest thing to catch my eye or interest me.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love! Here is my heart Lord, Take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

David wrote Psalm 56 “when the Philistines seized him at Gath.” And his response is stunning. The beginning of the psalm is David’s only appeal to God for the removal of his trial. “Be gracious to me, O God.” That is all. The entirety of the psalm shows a curious lack of some of the most common Western Christian’s prayers. A prayer for removal of difficulty and the affliction of others.

David knows, or writes more than he knows of something so key. When he is afraid, he puts his trust in God, the God who has written down his name in his book before times eternal. The God who knows and keeps and “upholds the universe by his word of power.”

What can man do to him? God has already called him his own, just as he has called you, if you continue on in the faith, and therefore eternity and glory are sealed. But what may be in David’s words, and have been in my prayers, are the words of pleading for protection against his own flesh as well.

“Lord I am beset by many trials, I feel in my heart that I grow afraid and weak. I feel my heart wander from you, my flesh is what challenges the greatest treasure in my life, and that is your presence Lord, and it is my love for you, even that given by your hand. Strengthen my heart that I might never fear that my own flesh might lead me astray. Have mercy on me. Be gracious. But do justly, and never let me out of your hand.”

David trusts God to call all things into account, that no one who does evil is “getting away” with anything when they come to the judgment seat of Jesus. v. 8 says that God counts all of David’s tossing and has a bottle to catch every one of David’s tears that He might hold them up on that day as a weight to measure out the punishment for the wrongdoer.

Finally, for me, verse 9 holds the words that comfort my soul, and ease the burden of trust. that “Then (when justice comes) my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.

If you forget verses 3-4, remember those eight words in times of trial.

This I know, that God is for me.

Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

In a post by Orwell1627 (found here) entitled “NIETZCHE: The Dignity of Work” is summarized Nietzche’s view of work as a dishonourable necessity for the purpose of enabling true artists and purveyors of beauty to practice their craft. He claims that the idea that there is honour in work is simply a slavish defense mechanism in which the labouring man is able to fight pessimism with the idea that there is some ultimate purpose for his being made to work continually.

This is a very brief summary and I would recommend going and reading the explanation in its entirety, but I will begin my response.

My first challenge to this view of work as a dishonourable necessity is twofold. Firstly, the production of materials to be used in the arts. What shall we say of the man who collects materials to mix paints for the painter? Or of the builder of excellent violins? Or of the quarry men who unearth great blocks of granite for the sculptor? Am I to understand that these men take no part in the joy and beauty of the process and the outcome of such artistic pursuits? They are allowed no enjoyment of it at all? Is there not a deep honour in men who give their entire lives not only to pay bills, but with their work to finance those most artistically gifted? In this way do we not all take part in the artistic process? The suggestion is seems foolish. The second half is that if one were to choose any great novel or film or work of theatre, he would come to realize that the only stories worth telling are the stories of a character starting at some disadvantaged point, overcoming obstacles, and being victorious in the end. These are the stories of humanity, the ones that make us feel the beauty not only of what is seen, but to imagine depths of not yet existing beauty.

Nietzche also would (according to Orwell1627) claim that for a man to labour in our western 40-hour work week and attempt art on weekends would still be futile and wasted time because those 40 hours could have been spent creating art (I am not aware of any specific definition of “art” that this is based around). This assumes that all people are in some way artistic, and that “If only they had the time” they might be composing tremendous earth-shattering ballads, or etching the ceiling of some more beautiful Sistine Chapel. Where does he draw proof from? He has the philosopher’s benefit of never being required to touch the mediums he claims intimate knowledge of, and so with humanity, with work, and workmen he knows only by what he has heard.

He does not hear the pride hidden underneath the voice of the complaining worker at the end of a long day, reciting the difficulty he had in his exquisite execution of his task in spite of overwhelming odds. He knows beauty only as what the Greeks have claimed, and sees not the beauty of beads of sweat, toil, the pursuit of the valuable, the rest after a summers work, the excellence of a deep breath in the shade. He sees not the art in the internal conversation of a man who, on seeing difficulty ahead, girds his loins and prepares for battle, to face the deathly cold or scorching heat, for his clan, for his wife and child, and for the pride of his name.

A book could be written on the objection that he is only claiming beauty as the sole useful pursuit of man because that is what the Greeks have taught him. His vision of Art is too small, and his vision of value. But I will leave that for now in favour of illustrating through the words of one of my own favourite artists.

Perhaps chiefly, Leo Tolstoy not only saw the beauty in, but came close to calling toil the only beauty, or at least the basic core of the life well lived. In his well-known quote from Family Happiness:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”

This quotation possibly better than any other encapsulates Tolstoy’s love for, appreciation and romanticism of the workman’s life. Indeed, hard work and morality were nearly the only things he ever wrote about.

G.K. Chesterton says about Tolstoy in his book Orthodoxy that Tolstoy romanticized peasantry because he was not a peasant. Chesterton also says that Nietzche romanticized war for the same reason. The true beauty, to him is Joan of Arc, who saw the beauty of valour and toil, and romanticized them, but was actually able to live successfully as a warrior and peasant.

Art is nothing without toil. All of men’s greatest true stories (and therefore inspiration for invented ones) come from a commonality among the greatest majority of people. These stories strike tones in common with all mankind on some level, that draw us together for or against some common object, and enable beautiful things to be seen in all that is done.

Finally, I would suggest that I, the free man who is able to work hard, and enjoy well-executed joinery and carpentry, to listen to the finest music I can set my ears to, take a breath of thankfulness for a cup of hot coffee on a cold day, who can joyfully run and joyfully rest, can read Shakespeare and the Bible, am more archetypal of the ideal liberated open man than Nietzsche ever hoped to be. His principals betray his slavish devotion to the Greek cultural principles and reveal his never being liberated, and as we know now,  by his own principals, he was enslaved.

The true beauty is in anything examined carefully, held up to the light, and declared beautiful. Human art will only ever have the value that is placed on it by us, the power to create art lies precisely in our judgment of the thing to be beautiful. The attribute of beauty wherein its value is completely extrinsic is the same reason why it makes men fools who make it a god, and makes men crazy when it is claimed to be the chief end of man.

This is worth considering. Though if one were to find the source of true beauty, he would be not far from finding God himself.

My New Year’s Toast

To my family, to our son, new this passing year,
I lift this glass with friends tonight, may it pass with cheer.
Here love abides, strangers welcome, as friends they may soon be,
I lift this glass in thankfulness, though sometimes hard to see.
And to my friends I lift this glass, through trials come and gone,
Laughter in our hearts has filled our houses and our lungs.
Friends new are pleasant, old are grand, wrought with depth and truth,
I’d raise that glass a thousand times, though ageing, from my youth.
Now to this year,  through blessings brought from God who art on high,
Our hearts and minds have reeled at gifts we have, but know not why.
Now raise with me a glass you all, for things as yet unseen,
For what is coming next, God knows, in two thousand and sixteen.

Happy new year.

After God’s Own Heart

I know how this will sound. I know what you must think. All of this talk of pursuing perfection and impossible ideals and demanding that everyone follow some stringent and Pharisaic set of principles can never be kept up. It must be a falsified, conjured, and only possible in the imagination. And perhaps that is true. It is often true, but there are moments of an inexplicable quiet lucidity that I have long felt but only recently decided to reveal to you.  I will not claim any sort of perfection or nearness to perfection, but only that I delight to ponder it daily. The God who speaks, the God who provides, the one who takes away the sins of the world, he has revealed himself to me at many times and in many ways, most often through the Bible, and he gives me hope. He gives me reasons to sing and to smile and find true joy even in adverse circumstances.

If the earlier part is what you’ve thought than what is coming next can only be considered an absurdity. But I feel this welling of my heart and soul to only attempt to put into words the things that only lightly touch upon my waking mind as if an echo of heaven, a waking eternal bliss that fills me with such joy I cannot comprehend. While I work, while I drive it hits me that I’ve spent my life hearing and learning about the God of the universe and to grow to find that he is true? To find that he is THE truth? My heart can hardly contain. There is no structure to this and I cannot apologize for it. I feel not the pressure to organize my thoughts into anything proper or dignified. So I have had it in my head to write a psalm. Not inspired scripture but script inspired by scripture. This has no doctrinal authority, it is just an expression of my affections.

So I take in a deep breath of air and this is what exhales:

O Lord, my Holy Father,
Teach me to know your ways,
Let me learn your precepts and observe well your laws.

I see and know that they are perfect,
I believe they revive the soul,
They are sure, ‘Making wise the simple.’
For, ‘No one ever spoke like this man.’

Who can lift a burden as you lift them?
Who can shower his children with such a joy?
Who can make all things new, all extraordinary?
In the desolation of my heart I could not have imagined you.

For you are good, yes, you are goodness,
Let me never forget,
Good is everything that comes from you.

Let me not be far from you O Lord!
Let me not forget your ways!
Keep my heart steadfastly attentive to your words.
Keep me in your loving arms.

For you strengthen the weak, you lift high the needy,
In my hatred of you, you brought me.
I despised, and you bore my affliction,
I was dead in my sin, but now ‘Alive in Christ’!

Could I ever turn away? I know my heart!
I am so prone to wander yet I know that you are true!
Is there darkness yet in my heart? Destroy it!
The rapture of your presence cannot be undone.

Truly, you have marked me,
The very heat of your glory has made it’s mark.
Truly I desire to know you and be fully known,
To hold not only the law but your gaze,
Could a man contain it? Could he suffer your presence Lord?
Could weak unknowing man ever draw near to the Lion of Judah?

I know the veil is torn!
I know the ransom is payed!
But dare I even still?
Would your glory not overwhelm me entirely?

I give what you have given back, take it from me,
My life, my all, my heart and soul.

Yes, your absolute presence would destroy me to my very foundations,
So destroy me, I will never need to breath if I have seen your face.
Though I am lost except in memory still I will live in you.
I might cry “Woe to me! For I am a man of unclean lips!”

But I know that I love you,
Help me to love you rightly.

All of your presence Lord.
All of your glory.
Overwhelm me.
Consume me.
I am none, and you are all.

 

Even if these words never see their full potential, even if I never stop struggling. Even if I speak an unkind word or hurt the helpless through selfishness and greed, I will pray these sorts of prayers and think in these terms as long as the Lord allows.

It has been given to me that I may be able to imagine a place I might run to in my actions and in speech. A brighter city. So I will continue to paint as loftily as I can imagine the ideals as they come along, because I need to be looking to what is greater than myself, walking out to me on these tumultuous waters, this sea of sin and transgression, lest I begin to sink, looking into my depths instead of toward his glory. Knowing that even if I begin to sink, ‘he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify all unrighteousness.’

Peace and Amen.