Today’s Lent Project devotional is by Ryan Stuart. Ryan and his wife, Jenny, are members of our Leadership Team.
Today I’m reminded of why we love the Psalms so much. Part of it is convenience. In just a few short verses, we can drop in on someone else’s moment of struggle, where emotions are raw and thoughts contradict. It’s a wild place where the most important and revealing questions are asked. It doesn’t take much study to get something from the Psalms, and not a whole lot of context either. It just takes being human. And it’s all so universal. If we’re not experiencing some of the same things as the writer, it’s only because we’re afraid to. The Psalms have a way of helping us get there.
Psalm 42 and 43 are a part of today’s daily readings, and both are scriptures I have heard or read before, at least in bits and pieces. Maybe you have too. The most popular piece of these chapters is the refrain, which repeats three times in the two short chapters.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for yet will I praise Him, my savior and my God. — Psalm 42: 5,11 and 43: 5
It’s easy to think of this verse as a rhetorical piece that makes for good reading, but for the first time I’m seeing this as more of a real thing. The writer seems swallowed up in a depressed and defeated state. He’s looking around at his life and asking the question, “Why? Why do I feel so defeated when there’s so much to put my hope in?” Throughout these two chapters, he mentions a living God who protects, rescues, loves and cares for his people, and yet his internal world isn’t consistent with any of that. Actually, his experience is aligned with something completely opposite — the idea that this God has rejected and forgotten him, leaving him to die at the hand of his enemies. There is one thing the Psalmist knows to be true – “God is faithful to me” – and then there’s his inner experience – “God has rejected and forgotten me” – and there’s a huge distance in between the two. How familiar is this? Have you ever felt distance between what you know and what you feel? Is there ever contradiction? For me, this can be a daily thing.
The writer answers his own question in an interesting and direct way – “Put your hope in God.” It’s almost like he’s noticing that, perhaps, his hope had not been in God. Maybe his hope had been placed elsewhere.
The Psalmist’s situation is a great example of something I’ve found to be true in my life. When my hope, my trust, is in lesser things, there’s a massive skewing of reality that takes place. I start to believe things that aren’t true and doubt or forget things that are. Some of my greatest doubts and personal insecurities come on the heels of identifying something other than God to meet a deep need and running hard in that direction. “Who am I? Do I have what it takes? Is my life significant? Where is God? Is he real or just my defense mechanism?” And on, and on. These are the kinds of wrestlings that eat me alive, and it happens most when my eyes see something I think will satisfy my need for personal identity, security, significance or comfort, to the exclusion of the only thing that can – connection to my Source. It’s a common struggle that shows up in ways big and small. It’s everywhere. Sometimes it presents itself in ways so seemingly insignificant that we don’t even recognize it.
The other day was interesting. In a moment of big stress, I found myself speeding down the road, completely out of control, in search of a cup of coffee. The funny thing is, I didn’t need caffeine – I had plenty of energy. I just needed a cup of coffee. It was bizarre. It was like my soul was saying, “If I can just get my Starbucks, everything will be ok!” Now, I’m aware that this isn’t a unique experience. Millions of other Americans live this same story on a daily basis. But it just seemed strange to me that I would be that attached to a 16-ounce hot beverage, not for a caffeine kick, but for a sense of well-being and relief from anxiousness. I realized that, for me, this is what it means to “put my hope in” something. When my uncensored mind and emotions are screaming, “If I can just have that, I will be ok”, I am placing my trust capacity in “that.” Surely, there are other more flashy and obvious ways I notice a misplacement of trust in my life, but the coffee thing caught my attention because of its subtlety. Chances are, this same situation has happened a hundred times and I just didn’t notice because, after all, it’s just a cup of coffee. But it’s really more than that. Whether it’s big things (relationships, achievements, possessions, accolades) or small things (Starbucks), it’s the same thing. Where we run in desperation to meet our needs is where we place our hope.
In my little moment of awareness, I was able to experience surrender. “My comfort does not come from my habit. My hope is in you, Jesus.” This moment of shifting my trust was more nourishing to my soul than anything else could have been.
So the Psalmist sings from his own experience, but it’s our song too. “Put your hope where your hope is found. Put your hope in God!” And that’s what the season of Lent is really all about. The custom of “giving something up for Lent” is not about depriving ourselves of some indulgence for the sake of tradition. Rather, Lent is a concrete way for us to remind ourselves of the futility of depending on any earthly thing to meet our deep needs. It’s an exercise that directs us to our Source — our Creator — rather than created things. And it anticipates and prepares us to celebrate God’s great act of victory over our death – the ultimate display of his ability to be everything we need.