How Psalm 22 helped me lament suffering

2 04 2021

I wonder if, like me, you sometimes get discouraged with all the bad news in our world.

On a recent morning, I decided that rather than open my laptop and tackle the day’s correspondence, I would just sit and reflect on my life, our world, and any thoughts that God would bring to my mind.

I decided to review the headlines. I noticed a brief video of two Syrian women giving a 10-year lookback to the civil war in their country. They reported that dictatorship continues to oppress the Syrian people, and that the pro-democracy revolution has not yet brought about the freedoms for which the people long.

I pray most Thursday mornings with a few mission-minded believers, and we often pray for the parts of the world where the people are suffering due to war and oppression. Sometimes I feel as if our prayers as so tiny compared with the gargantuan problems faced by humanity.

As I sat with this sadness, it dawned on me that the Bible helps us deal with the reality of grief and fear. Many passages honestly lament at the way things are, while longing for the way God intends them to be.

Could I tell you what happened then?

I thought of the psalm that Jesus must have read so many times that He had it memorized, because He knew it described His life purpose. It gave words to the loneliest hours of His life:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning” (Ps.22:1)?

I read those words and I felt as if Jesus was feeling sadness for the Syrian people, and for all those who feel abandoned today. I kept reading the lament of David, the lament of Jesus:

“They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Ps. 22:16-18).

The Word of God was connecting the suffering Messiah with the starving women and children in Yemen. The lament of the crucified Savior was, in my prayer meditation, sympathizing with refugees who had to abandon their clothes closets and flee with only a carry-on bag of essentials.

Then, these words jumped out from the page and spoke to me: “You have answered Me” (Ps. 22:21b).

Suddenly, I felt included in the lament. Though I did not know that I was asking for anything, the Holy Spirit had heard the sadness of my heart. And God answered me.

“You are in the fellowship of His suffering”

That’s what God whispered to me. I was now in a three-way prayer circle:

  • Those suffering right now
  • The suffering Savior, alive again and paying attention right now
  • And me, a struggling disciple trying to cope with the sadness in the world.

I sat with the wonder of this for awhile. I felt an acceptance from God as if He said, “This is often the best thing you can do with all the hurt. Bring it to Me. I feel it too.”

I am convinced that lament is an essential spiritual practice for all we who long to make disciples of all nations but know that every hour people are passing into an eternity without knowing of the Savior.

I’m almost done.

The psalm which gave Jesus the freedom to grieve must have also given Him hope. It did me.

“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S, and He rules over the nations (Ps. 22:27-28).

Now my lament turned to petition. I asked the Holy Spirit to appear, in that moment, to suffering families in the Middle East. Most would be sleeping at that time, so I asked Jesus to appear to them in dreams, and invite them to Himself. After all, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! (Ps. 22:26).

I write today on “Good Friday.” The fellowship of His suffering is intimate today and tomorrow. The Word of God is alive. May Jesus meet you there as He did me.

The Prophet Who Turned

17 08 2020

In his day, his words were the voice of God to the entire nation. At times he wrote with the crude fury of a Steinbeck. Then he might wake up a la Tennyson and spread sunshine over the people.

His life became a frequent object lesson for the nation, for he heard crazy commands from God to illustrate the message. He must have spent sleepless nights in fitful prayer, hearing the murmurings of God.

The voices toggled between vengeance and comfort. God seemed ever disappointed with His people, chiding them for their disobedience and fakery, only to relent and invite them back to His mercy and a cup of tea.

For a long time, God’s voice had been unforgiving. The words poured out disappointment on one group after another. Parchments became dispatches of judgment which divided the people and sent the nation into despair. Brother distanced himself from brother, father from son. No one seemed to listen for the voice of God anymore.

Then the worst happened. No one was prepared for their world to be turned on its head. The prophet would never forget the year his life changed…

In the year that King Uzziah died.

It was a horrible year (like 2020 AD). King Uzziah had reigned many years and strengthened the nation. But he grew arrogant and “transgressed the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar” (2 Chron. 26:16). As judgment on usurping the function of the priests, Uzziah was struck with leprosy, and lived in isolation till his ignominious death.

The prophet Isaiah had been angry for months. Just read chapters one through five of his collection. He saw Jerusalem as a whore, all perfumed and bejeweled. Princes were thieves, bribing for gain and neglecting the fatherless. The nation was a vineyard that held great promise but, come harvest time, bore inedible grapes.

In this bog of loss and disappointment, God pauses His words for the people. Instead, a searing hot spear pierces the heart of the prophet himself. He envisions a throne room with worshipping angels in glorious regalia, calling to each other in words which depict a world Isaiah had rarely imagined.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3)

Glory? How did these heavenly spirits see the earth with greater clarity than he? Why had he never known of such a King?

His anger at others turned inward. He saw his own hubris. His judgmental words by which he castigated others reverberated back to his own soul, and he cried,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (6:5).

As I tell the story of this prophet, I must pause and be honest. Do we not also live among people of unclean lips? Many of our leaders and even our fellow Christians are speaking self-righteous words which divide. Truth suffers a lack of love. Love leaves truth behind. When did we lose sight of the King?

In the vision, an angel brings a burning coal from the altar. Touching it to Isaiah’s month, the seraphim consoles, “Behold this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged” (6:7).

Words can only turn sweet if the heart is first changed.

Now the prophet hears a conversation within the Tri-une God, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us” (6:8)?

Can’t’ I just sit here in my house and enjoy feeling clean? Can’t I distract myself, and protect myself from the messiness out there?

Once in a while, a messenger wakes up to realize that he or she is not just an activist for a cause or group, but an ambassador for a King.

They, with Isaiah, say, “Here am I! Send me.”

A school of prophets is forming today. They too are undone by their own self-righteousness. Their hearts are being cleansed and their lips beginning to represent their King, Jesus.

And it may be that some people will listen to them. But not many. Like Isaiah, these new prophets will encounter deaf ears and dull eyes. Why? Because people always get what they asked for. Their treasure always follows their heart.
Often the prophet must watch the city fall into ruin, must grieve the failing homes, must lament the oppressed lands.

They must look for the new remnant to rise from the heap, for God is ever willing to start over.

“Who will go for us?”

My letter to a young preacher

2 06 2017

Recently, our youth director gave a sermon. Here is the feedback I gave him. I thought his example might encourage some other young preachers out there.

Hey brother Allan,

I just listened to your sermon from youth Sunday. I appreciate so many things about your ministry:

  • Your story told with a personal tone is so engaging; you drew me into your own journey
  • You speak frankly and lovingly of your wife; I get the message from you that you love her, and that marriage is important
  • I love that you include the youth in your story; they matter; they are your colleagues and partners; you need them; this says a lot to them; they will not forget it
  • You take the preaching event very seriously; you labor in preparation; you are nervous because it means so much to you that you honor the preaching opportunity
  • You want the Holy Spirit to work; you want people to be encouraged and prompted to action; you value the emotional aspect of our faith, not just the cognitive
  • You are time conscious; your listeners know that you will respect their attention and time
  • You know you can’t do ministry yourself; you make it clear that you need prayer.
  • You are interactive; you talk to the people and welcome their response; you encourage them to look at, and talk to each other, comfortably (“at home”).

Don’t ever lose these wonderful traits.

Love you brother. In Christ,


He is food for the soul

11 05 2017

I can understand why some disciples left Jesus after they heard this. Jesus seems to have drifted into the terrain of the weird, yet in fact He was plowing further into the soil of truth.

Here’s the background in summary (John 6:1-50):

  • Jesus had fed thousands of listeners on a hillside. He told His disciples that He was the bread of life which would bring not just temporary satisfaction but eternal fulfillment.
  • He’s the bread that ends undernourishment of soul, the supply that can end spiritual starvation.
  • Why? Because He delivers the truth, and nothing but the truth, straight from God the Father. Manna in the desert was great for a while, but 40 years of the stuff got oldy-moldy. But the bread of life is pure satisfaction.
  • Believe it, He says, and you will have eternal life.

If Jesus had stopped there He would have kept His large crowds.

The “bread” I’m talking about, says the One who came down from heaven, is my flesh. If you want to have this life, you must eat my flesh. That’s not all. If you don’t drink my blood you do not have this life I’m talking about. But if you eat and drink, I will raise you up on the last day. “He who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:58).

At that point, the congregation dwindled. This stuff was too hard. Uncomfortable.

Let’s hang with the inner core disciples and say, in effect, “No we are not leaving because as weird as You are talking right now, you have the words of eternal life.”

What could it mean for us to eat and drink Jesus?

How do we consume a meal?

First, we hunger. We have an appetite for nourishment, realizing that we need food. This must be true whether the food is tasty or bitter. We hunger for food because it is good for us, and often sweet to taste. Peter wrote that we should desire the pure milk of the word so we can grow from it.

Second, we take it in. We put it in our mouths, we chew it, and we swallow it. Some of us heard our mothers say, “Chew your food, don’t just inhale it!” This is a cooperative venture between food and eater, between Christ and the disciple. We slow down and eat His words. We read, study, reflect, ponder. Meanwhile, Jesus functions as nourishment, delivering truth from the Father.

A final thought is that the nourishment becomes a part of us. Ever heard “You are what you eat”? We are changed by the nourishment we intake. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him.” The Son of God progressively enters the soul and inhabits a larger space. And, “he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (Jn. 6:56-57)

eats my flesh

Where do we go with this today? I got to thinking about this idea of consume.

  • A “consumer” is one who purchases, who uses, who takes for himself.
  • To “consume” is to imbibe or devour.
  • A marriage is “consummated” through profound intimacy.

The Son of God knew this teaching would turn away casual followers, so He pushed ahead and told the whole truth in expectation that a few of us would stay the course.

I want to accept the invitation to His table every day, bringing with me all my emotions, frustrations, and hopes. I want to consume His flesh and blood, and nourish my hungry soul.

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A man climbed a hill

8 05 2017

There was a man who climbed a hill.

hill pic

As he walked he pondered the section of the trail, and the season of his life. The terrain was windswept. Only the most scrappy bushes still clung by their stubborn roots, blown sideways away from the Pacific.

Patches of dandelions gripped the ground, their yellow flowers offering unexpected beauty in this stark place.

Below, waves crashed against rocks which stood as dutiful sentinels, metaphors of stability in troubled times.


As he walked, the man concluded that he may not be able to understand why his path to the hill had brought so much pain.

What mattered now was to search out whatever meaning could be taken for the journey ahead.

from the hill

Hi knew that this was a time for roots to cling to the soil.