One of the real blessings of this sabbatical is being able to read more books. I love books. In fact, I would tell the kids, when they were younger, that books are our friends. I’m glad they still think so.
Over the past few days, I have been reading, “Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation” by Robert J. Morgan. It has been good to reclaim and be reminded of the value of biblical meditation.
This past few weeks have been wonderful and also faith-stretching for me. God has been drawing me to Him and away from my fears. In the midst of this time of stretching, I read this in Morgan’s book. “One of the best biblical illustrations of using meditation to gain insight into God’s Word comes from Asaph, the author of Psalms 77 and 78. We find him in Psalm 77 terribly anxious, so distraught that he couldn’t sleep.” He goes on to write words that are right where I live too often.
“How often does fear steal our sleep? Fear is like a skeletal hand that reaches into our chests, squeezing our hearts. This bony hand has many sharp fingers–anxiety, worry, anger, depression, obsession, compulsion, discouragement, jealousy, foreboding, phobia, timidity, mistrust, and that nagging sense of unease.” Robert Morgan, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation
“Truer words were never spoken (or written).” So I began to meditate and ponder the Asaph’s words in Psalm 77. I read and reread the psalm over and over. I listened to it while eating, while showering, while … never mind. Let’s just say I asked God to speak to me through His Word in Psalm 77.
Then I began to write some of my thoughts. What was the trouble that Asaph was going through that caused him to cry out to God? How long was he going through his challenge? What do you do when fear overwhelms you so much that you declare, “My soul refuses to be comforted.”
Maybe my situation wasn’t exactly the same as with Asaph, but I could relate to his feelings and thoughts. I continued to ponder this Psalm. I wrote it out and rewrote it. I circled words. I underlined phrases. I continued to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the Word.
Slowly I began to see. I began to see a clear, yet not easy, way through the fog of fear I so easily get stuck in. Yes, I can and need to cry out to God, especially in the day of my trouble, because He will hear me. It’s so clear that when I am overwhelmed by fear, I look inward. I focus on my fear, my trouble, and on myself. I begin, like Asaph, to look back at better days. “Oh why can’t things be like how they were? How good things were back then. Why does my life have to be so complicated now?” But I am meditating on the wrong thing, me, which leads to questions Asaph records in verses 7-9: “Will the Lord spurn forever and never be favorable again?” “Has His steadfast love forever cease?” “Are Hi promises at an end for all time?” “Has God forgot to be gracious?” “Has He in anger shut up His compassions?”
Then at the end of verse 9, Asaph writes a word, “selah.” It’s a word that many scholars far smarter than me are unsure of its exact meaning. But one of the things it can mean seems to make sense here in Psalm 77. It could mean “pause, or take time to consider.” I think that is what Asaph does here. He pauses. He ponders. He considers. For the rest of the Psalm, he chooses to remember, ponder and meditate on the goodness and faithfulness of God.
In times of fear and uncertainty, I need to be like my new buddy, Asaph. Yes, I will have trouble and fear and all kinds of challenges. Yes, I need to cry out to God. Yes, I will be tempted to focus on my troubles and wallow in my fear. But yes, I need to remember “selah” and pause. I need to pause long enough to remember, ponder, and meditate on the goodness and faithfulness of God. Because when I do, I will see that throughout my life, God has been there and His love has never failed. It makes a lot more sense to me now when John writes in 1 John 4:18:
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
Yes, indeed, God’s perfect love expels all fear. May I learn where to focus in times of fear and trouble. May I remember, not I will remember, by God’s grace:
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Ps. 77:11-14