I decided to read through the Bible again this year. Since I started reading through the Psalms in January I figured I’d just continue until I finished those and then go back to Genesis. I said that to say this…
When I read Psalm 86 something clicked. I read it again, and then again, and then again and I found myself captivated by the simple message from a piece labeled “A Prayer of David”. I’m not certain I can do it justice, but it seems the idea is pretty straightforward. David saw himself as someone who was “devoted” to God, someone who trusted God. He knew that God was “good and forgiving” and that was important to him. He also knew that when he was in trouble he could call on God and God would answer him. He knew that there was no one like God among all the gods – that God alone was God.
Establishing that, David goes on asking that the LORD might “teach” him his ways so that David could walk in God’s truth; that his heart would be “undivided” and that he would glorify and give thanks to God with his “whole heart”.
As I read the words my heart ached. I kept going back to v.2 where the NRSV word “devoted” is translated as “godly” in the NASB. My heart was pricked yet again when I read David’s comment about an “undivided” heart. Or, as the KJV and NASB translate the word – “united”. Soon, my own heart was so heavy I could not think. I could not read. I could not gather myself.
Many years ago, in a church my wife and I were heavily involved in, I was filling in for our pastor who was on a men’s retreat. I was scheduled to preach both services and my message was centered on Paul’s words “…this one thing I do…” from Philippians 3:13. The whole premise of the message was the goal of becoming a “godly man”.
My memory is not as good as it once was, but I believe, as I spoke, I could hear my words ricochet around in my head. At times I felt like I was sitting on the front row mocking the words “that guy” was saying. I recall looking across the crowded auditorium fixing my eyes on my friend Jerry pleading in my mind for him to rescue me for all of this.
I felt ashamed and anything but godly. I seemed so out of touch with God that I was embarrassed by my own words. It was like I was trying to convince myself of something that was not true. At the end of the service, once I walked down from the platform and out the front doors of the church, I would not be a healthy man for quite a long while.
At the time, we were having challenges with our youngest son and I was handling it in a manner that was anything but godly. To make matters worse, I was at odds with some of the church leadership over the whole thing. If all of that wasn’t bad enough, I felt totally alone in the muck and mire of it all. I wasn’t lonely, but I felt alone. I hit bottom.
The price of serving God seemed, again, just too high. I didn’t believe I could afford it. Yes, I know the cost of the cross was far more than what I was going through. I understand the sacrifice Christ made. But right then and there it wasn’t registering. Instead of reaching out or reaching up, I simply directed my energies in other directions.
For many of you this will seem like a silly pity party and that’s okay. But for me it was just the beginning of a “perfect storm” that would last for years.
I was angry, frustrated, depressed, confrontational, and antagonistic. I couldn’t figure out what happened. Why it happened. Where I went wrong.
I felt so sorry for my wife.
Over the next several years the storm would rage and I would do everything I could to hold on. Hold on to anything. I thought a good deal about that whole experience. I thought a good deal about what it means to be a godly man. I thought about the godly men I knew. I thought about the men I knew who professed to be godly but, in my opinion, were merely religious. I thought about God – a lot. I thought about what my understanding of God was. I thought about my understanding of who God is. I would spend hours pondering how pitiful my view of God had become. I would consider theologies and orthodoxies. I would struggle with an inadequate belief system that really wasn’t mine, but one I adopted from someone else. I wanted desperately for my belief system to be mine.
On those occasions when I would go to church with my wife, I would sit there wondering to myself, “does that guy really believe that dribble?” At the same time I would cry when we sang hymns like How Great Thou Art, Victory in Jesus, or choruses such as I Exalt Thee or I Love You Lord. The spark was there, I knew it. I was embarrassed by it, I was moved by it. Much of the time I didn’t know what to do about it.
Would I dare, could I dare, reemerge and seek God? Was there a means of rescue anywhere in this vast wasteland of a divided heart? Could I, yet again, ask God to “…turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant…”?
The fact that I’m writing this lends itself to an answer to those questions. But it’s not over. I struggle everyday with who I am, with who God wants me to be, with how to live a life that honors him and is a testimony to others. As the old country song goes, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.” I look at others and it seems so easy for them. For me, it’s not so easy. But that’s okay. I continue to learn how to manage the uneasiness. I’ve learned to understand that God is okay with my questions. How I emerge on the other side of it all will be determined by the big picture of my faithfulness, not so much my day-to-day journey. I have the psalmist David to thank for that insight.
“…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”