Our Only Good

Ocean

……you have made us, and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.  St. Augustine; Confessions

The truth of that is astounding.

Our souls–for, I believe, that is a much accurate word than heart–our souls are so very often unquiet.  They churn–they are not still; they do not settle well.

They are very often, very noisy places.  Filled with so many thoughts that, if we allow them to, become much larger than the God who created our ability to think in the first place.  And, so often, our thinking is so wrong.

I have read Augustine’s Confessions before, but somehow I missed this passage.  It may be highlighted in my copy on my shelf, but I’m too wired to stop writing and go find it.  I want to sit down with Augustine and tell him that he has captured perfectly, here in Lib 1,1-2, 2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5, what I wish I could have said myself.

And so, tonight I borrow from Augustine, and pray:

Oh! that I might rest on Thee! Oh! that Thou wouldest enter into my heart,

and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace Thee, my only good.  Augustine

Our God–my God–you are my only good.  My only good.  There is no good in me, and there is no good around me.  There is good in my life; that is so very true.  But there is also much not-good.  And, what good there is, is only there because you are my only good.  The good that I am graced with–my children, a job to provide with, a home to live in, the sky, music, sleep when it comes, laughter–all these things are good because they are graces from you, my only good.

That I might rest on Thee!  That you would be what inebriates my soul, what a word God!  What a word, that Augustine chose.  And, not only chose, but recognized the power in that word to produce forgetfulness of ills.  But this is not forgetfulness that returns in a matter of hours, once sobering comes.  No, this is a forgetfulness that recognizes that though the ills still remain, they are colored by grace.  And, changed, even, to some degree, in the light of your sovereignty.  Enter my soul, o God.  Enter our souls, because that is the only–the only–avenue to quiet our unquiet hearts.

And, tonight, my heart is so very unquiet.

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

….and you will be exalted.

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Oh, have mercy on me and tell me,

0 Lord my God, what You are to me. Augustine

So often my mind turns to your grace, God, and I am grateful for that.  Your grace is a ribboned theme through my life.  But I also need your mercy. We, each, need your mercy.

We need to know what You are to us.

You do tell us, the nouns of who You are, in your scripture.  You are the way.  You are the truth.  You are the life.  You are the resurrection.  You are the shepherd.  You are I AM.  That all-encompassing, incomprehensible I AM.  And yet, sometimes we need you to still have mercy on us, and tell us again.  To settle our souls.  Sometimes we need you to have mercy on us, and remind us who You are.

And, sometimes, we just need you to have mercy on us.

Mercy, please God.

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Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Say it loudly enough that I may hear.  Augustine

Speak to our unsettled, restless, unquiet souls, O God, and speak loudly.  Loud enough that your voice becomes a whisper that says “Shhh” to our minds and souls, and that that whisper is so quiet and yet so loud that it drowns out the cacophony of noise in our souls–that drowns out the grief and anxiety and irrationality and illogical and fear.  Oh God, especially the fear.  The fear can be so loud.  We need You to say to our souls “I am your salvation” loud enough that we might hear.  Salvation from our sins.  Salvation unto you.  And salvation from our unquietness.

Say to my soul,
    “I am your salvation!”  Psalm 35:3

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Hide not Your face from me. Let me die, so that I will not only die.

Only let me see Your face.  Augustine

Hide not, our God.  Help us to sense your presence, when so often our souls are too loud to be able to.  Help us to sense that you are real, that you are near.  That you have not abandoned.  That you will not abandon.  And then, someday, home.

You are our only good.

 

 

Sitting with Psalm 73

Chairs

God, we need to sit a little while, in your presence, to be reminded that You are real…

that you are sovereign.

that you see.

that you know.

Certainly, there is the very real sense that you are omnipresent, and so we are always in your presence.  Or, put much more selfishly, you are always in our world.  You are, after all….

all-knowing.

all-wisdom.

all-everything.

We are not alone, even in our most loneliness-ness, because you will never forsake us.

You will not abandon.  You will not throw us away.

But, sometimes God, it is us who abandon you.

It doesn’t even have to be some huge, grand decision to leave our belief in you and our beliefs (the correct ones) about you in the dust.

No, sometimes it comes upon us with much more stealth…

we get busy.

we become anxious.

we become bitingly cynical.

we become tired.

we even become happy, sometimes, with our “success” and the smorgasbord the word presents us.

And, we forget you are there.  We forget that what John Greenleaf Whittier said, is truth:

Before us, even as behind, God is…..

And so, God, tonight, we need to sit with you awhile.  In your presence.  No huge study, no commentaries, no apologetics, no huge revelations, no answers.

Just your presence.

To sit in your presence is to acknowledge that the words found in Psalm 73:23-28 are truth:

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

It’s knowing that, even when I foolishly choose to not sit in your presence, you are still continually with me.  It’s knowing that you guide me with your counsel–your all-wisdom counsel.

It’s knowing that, there will be a day.  A home-going day.

It’s knowing that John 6:68 and Psalm 73:25 confirm each other.  Interpret each other.  Peter’s words of, essentially, “What other choice is there?  You have the words of eternal life…” resonate with the words here in Psalm 73:25—Who else do I have, God?  No one.  Only You.  You will not abandon.  You will not forsake.

It’s knowing that even on nights when the weariness is bone-deep from the responsibilities of parenting and work and to-do-lists and caring for others, you are my strength to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

It’s knowing that when the weariness is soul-deep from so-much, you are also the strength of my heart.

It’s also recognizing the rightful place of fear in verse 27–those far from you, shall perish.  God, help me to know your salvation.

So, grant me the grace to sit here, for a few moments, in your presence.  To settle.  Because it is grace.  To know, at the core of both mind and soul….

that you are real

that you are here.

that you are near.

I think this rendering of the thoughts in verse 28, sum it up best:

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good…

Your nearness–your presence, is my good.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

God, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

The Red Sea

Red Sea

I can’t even imagine it, really.

But, then again, I can.

The Israelites had fled.  They had watched as the Egyptians had been tormented by plagues from the hand of God–a consequence of Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to release the children of God, with the last plague resulting in a crushing blow, permanently–or so they thought–defeating their captors and setting them free.

There had to have been some chaos, in the fleeing–chaos in getting such a multitude of people moving in one direction–away from the Egyptians.  But surely there was some hope–hope that they had not experienced in quite some time.  Apprehension, too, I’m sure–fear of the unknown and of the future.  But surely the relief–the hope, was there.  Freedom.  From years of captivity.

But, then, panic.  Shock as the first person who saw the clouds of dust rising from the Egyptian chariots that had been ordered to pursuit the Israelites rose from the earth.  And then panic, as that person told the next person who pointed to the horizon and shouted for the crowd to look and then and then and then–panic.

And fear.

Would God have led them out, only to play some sort of cruel prank on them?  Only to see them slaughtered?  Raised their hopes that they had broken free from their chains of slavery, only to replace those chains with stronger chains of punishment?

Of course they panicked.  And feared.  And despaired.

Don’t we?

Obviously, none of us have a raging mad Egyptian army in chariots chasing us, with no where we can run to for escape or to hide.  But we do have things that chase us–things that haunt us.  Things that we think we have defeated, that rear their ugly heads again.

And then we panic.

Sometimes the captor is our wrong ways of thinking.

Or nightmares that threaten to choke us.

But, sometimes it is our own sin that holds us as prisoners.

Sometimes, it is the pull to partake in something that you thought you had defeated.  That you thought had disappeared.  But in a split-second, it is there again, and instead of fighting, instead of running, instead of jumping into the Red Sea and swimming far away until either you get away or you drown, you stand, stare at your captive, and let it overtake you.  You give in to the blasted pull.

And then you panic.

You panic because you have failed.  You panic because once one Egyptian captures you, the rest will also overwhelm.  You panic, because you lose hope.  You panic because the chafe of the chains is too dreadful.

And, you see a multitude of Egyptians.  And you are tempted to give up.  To quit.  To succumb.

I find it interesting though, that Moses’ first words in response to the Israelite’s cries of panic were not “Run!  Save yourselves! or “Arm yourselves and attack!  or “Hide!”, although, really, there was nowhere to run to, no weapons at hand, and no place to hide.  But, still, it seems that would be the first instinct.

No, he says this:

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today….”

Stand Fast, as in Ephesians 6:14.

Stand Fast, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:8

Stand Fast, as in 1 Corinthians 16:13

Stand Fast, as in Galatians 5:1.

And do not fear.

My soul, this is not easy.  Do not fear?  Stand Firm?  Do not panic?  Do not “submit again to a yoke of slavery”? (Galatians 5:1)

Sometimes, being taken captive again is easier than standing firm and fighting tooth and nail to defeat our enemies, even when that enemy is our very own sin.

But–and, I suppose, here is where the hope lies–we do not fight alone.

Oh, so many times, I fight alone.  I figure “I’ve got this.  I am strong.”  But had the Israelites taken that slant, well, all of history would look so very different.

No, the “salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today…” only comes when we stand fast and when this happens:

14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

We have only to be silent-to silence our arrogance.  To silence our self-righteousness.  To silence our independence.  To silence the thought that somehow we have procured our own escape.  That we are safe.

To silence our panic.  Our despair.

To fight, by God fighting for us.

But, we don’t just stand there.  We push, into the Red Sea.  We “…go forward”, just as God told the Israelites through Moses, in verse 15.  One step after another.  We push forward; we do the work.  We do not slide backwards into despair and give up.

We fight the discouragement and the panic and the failures and the enemy by simultaneously standing fast and moving forward.

God, help us.  Help me.  To stand fast.  To see your salvation.

Prayer: Does God Answer Retroactively?

I am puzzled tonight about the mysteries of prayer–the unknowable things about how prayer works.  How I wish that Jesus would have explained it more.

I had a strange experience today.  I had sent a text to my oldest girl, asking how her day was going.  She replied that she had a huge anatomy test during the 3rd block of classes.  I know she has been working hard at getting ready for this test.  I texted her back that I would pray.

And then I forgot to pray.

At around 2:00 (after the high school is dismissed) I remembered.  I felt terrible that I had forgotten to pray.  But even more than that, I began to think about prayer.  HOw does it work?  Since I forgot to pray, could I still say a quick prayer and God would answer retrospectively?

Here is what I know:  I remain confused and frustrated with wrapping my mind around God and the subject of time; also, God and the subject of hearing prayers.  I know He answers prayers, but how does He hear them all, and what does time (knowing that God operates outside of time) have to do with prayer?

I also know that God is not Santa Claus, he is not a magician.  He won’t “magically go back and change answers on Keli’s test” because I pray.  That would be ridiculous.

I pulled out my favorite book on Prayer, simply titled Prayer by Philip Yancey, and while I found re-reading many of the highlighting that I did in that book, I didn’t find what I was searching for.

Maybe that’s just it.  Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to wrap my mind around these questions.  But being the person I am, it is very hard not to ask these questions time and time again as they bounce around inside of my mind.

However: 20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:20)