Remembering God in Our Affliction

Dear fellow travelers,

Psalm 119 is memorable in many ways, including that it is the longest chapter in the Bible, with 176 verses.  But the Psalm was also designed to be memorized in Hebrew, with 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  In Hebrew, each stanza has 8 lines that each begin with the same letter.

It is also memorable for its topic: a lengthy meditation on God’s law and its positive, multi-faceted qualities.  The Psalm uses 8 words to describe God’s law, and all 8 appear in 5 of the stanzas while every stanza has at least 6 of them. [1]

However, in addition to meditating on God’s law, at least 7 verses also refer to affliction and/or its benefits in one way or another:

This is my comfort in my affliction,
            that your promise gives me life.” (verse 50)

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
            but now I keep your word.”  (verse 67)

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
            that I might learn your statutes.”  (verse 71)

I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
            and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”  (verse 75)

If your law had not been my delight,
            I would have perished in my affliction.”  (verse 92)

I am severely afflicted;
            give me life, O LORD, according to your word!”  (verse 107)

Look on my affliction and deliver me,
            for I do not forget your law.”  (verse 153)

Why the repetition?  By repeating the idea of affliction in this Psalm, the writer wants to make one more thing memorable: in our affliction, God is faithfully present, giving us life, teaching us, and reminding us of His goodness.  His steadfast love remains, even when this broken world and our own sinful condition present endless difficulty.

The law cannot save us, and affliction in this world is difficult, but “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  (Romans 8:28-29)

What God uses all things for, and what He has predestined, is that His people will be conformed to His holiness: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). Even affliction, in God’s hands, contributes to our development in holiness.

As J.I. Packer sums up these verses from Psalm 119 in his book, Rediscovering Holiness, “God’s faithfulness consists in his unwillingness that his children should lose any of the depths of fellowship with himself that he has in store for them. So he afflicts us to make us lean harder on him, in order that his purpose of drawing us into closest fellowship with himself may be fulfilled.”[2]

Whatever our affliction, God will deliver us and bring us to glory. Amen.

[1] According to the Reformation Study Bible
[2] Packer, J.I.  Rediscovering Holiness (1992), P. 268.  I “miraculously” discovered this quote within ½ hour of posting this blog, then had to add it, and repost.

Godly Habits for Leaders and Others

All the people benefit from leaders and rulers who fear God.  In Deuteronomy, when God reluctantly says Israel may set a king over them in the future[1], He also required the king to have specific habits to cultivate a fear of God in them:

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”  (Deuteronomy 17:18-20, emphasis mine)

These requirements have several parts.  First, the king was to “write for himself in a book a copy of this law.”  “This law” refers to what we now think of as the first five books of the Bible – all 187 chapters of it.  Imagine the time that would take, but this tedious exercise was designed to help the king internalize the message.  Quickly skimming over the Bible would not do.

Second, the king had to get this copy “approved by the Levitical priests,” to make sure nothing was added or left out, but also to remind the king that His authority is subject to God’s authority, as intermediated by the priests at that time.  Regardless of what laws the king might pass, God’s laws would always reign supreme and eternal.

Third, the king was to “read in it all the days of his life,” because it takes time and effort to dig the treasures of wisdom out of the Bible.  However, it is worth the effort because Psalm 19:10 tells us these truths are:

More to be desired are they than gold,
                        even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
                        and drippings of the honeycomb.

Also, the king would be surrounded by reminders of his worldly greatness every day, so constant meditation on the law would show him his reliance on God.  The king needs a constant reminder that he is under God, whose law applies to everyone.

These habits exist “that he may learn to fear the LORD,” which leads to “doing” the law.  Even the king is expected to do what God commands, not just tell others to.  With “doing” as the objective, the king will remain humble and learn the fear of God, because we may be able to know God’s word, but doing it is the real challenge and we can only succeed by His grace.

These habits also exist to make sure the king does not err “either to the right hand or to the left.”  This encouragement is later echoed in Moses’ words in Joshua 1:7-8, but what does it mean?  I think it means that without constant saturation in God’s word, we can fall into a trap of not following God’s positive will, but instead defining ourselves by what we’re against.  In trying to avoid one sin, we drift too far in the opposite direction and into another, equally destructive, sin.  Instead, positive obedience coming from the fear of God should be better than fine gold and “sweeter also than honey.”  Truth is often subtle and not as black-and-white as we’d like it to be.

Most of us aren’t kings, but we can apply the passage from Deuteronomy in our prayers.  1 Timothy 2:1-2 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  But what shall we pray for them?  As Deuteronomy suggests, we should pray that they know God, fear God, and obey God, that they may be humble, and we may prosper.

Also, are you a leader?  Do you serve in a position of authority at your church, workplace, or other organization?  These habits will benefit you and those you serve anywhere.  (In societies where we can easily get a Bible, we don’t need to create our own copies of it, but we should seek to internalize as much of the Bible as possible, through memorization and other means.)  As Solomon wrote in Psalm 127:1 –

Unless the LORD builds the house,
            those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
            the watchman stays awake in vain.

If you’re not a leader, these habits are beneficial for you as well, as Psalm 128:1 says:

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
                        who walks in his ways!


[1] Deuteronomy 17:14-15

Christ Embraces the Different – Sunday Share from Tim Keller

Today’s Sunday Share comes from pastor and apologist Tim Keller, who died on May 19 after battling pancreatic cancer.  When hearing that news, it seemed appropriate to quote him in the blog, so the Sunday Share for this week is the extended quote below from Keller’s book, Making Sense of God:

“If you believe in Jesus’s message, you believe in a truth, but not a truth that leads to exclusion. Many voices argue that it is exclusionary to claim that you have the truth, but as we have seen, that view itself sets up a dichotomy with you as the heroically tolerant and others as villainously or pathetically bigoted. You cannot avoid truth claims and binaries. The real issue is, then, which kind of truth- and which kind of identity that the truth produces- leads you to embrace people who are deeply different from you? Which truth claims lead you to scorn people who oppose you as fools? Which truth claims lead to community? Which truth claims both humble and affirm you so that you’re not afraid of people who are different than you are, nor can you despise them? If I build my identity on what Jesus Christ did for me and the fact I have an everlasting name in him by grace, I can’t, on the one hand, feel superior to anybody, nor do I have to fear anybody else. I don’t have to compare myself with them at all. My identity is based on somebody who was excluded for me, who was cast out for me, who loved his enemies, and that is going to turn me into someone who embraces the Different.”

Rest in peace, Tim Keller.


Happy 2nd Blogiversary to Driving Toward Morning!

Fellow travelers,

It’s amazing to think it’s been two years since Driving Toward Morning’s first post!  Thank you to everyone who has read, liked, and commented on the blog.  A special thank you to anyone who has shared it with their friends or used what they found here to encourage others.

Looking back on my 1-year anniversary post, here are some thoughts on how I’ve done with my year 2 goals:

  • Re-blogging old posts to get closer to posting something every day: I posted almost twice as often, and almost a third of the posts were repeats.  Still not every day but moving in the right direction.
  • More predictable post length: Most posts are now in the 3-to-4-minute read range, with less variation.  Again, progress!
  • More posts on history, holidays, groups of quotes, and other topics: I think this has been the same in year 2 as in year 1, and I want to work on these more in year 3, especially moments from history.

Also, I’m learning that a blog is not good for: Writing serial posts.  There’s no way to know what order people are reading things in, and whether they remember what was in an old post (especially if it takes me a while to continue a series!).  So, I’m working harder on making each one stand on its own.

The Big Picture
Although each year seems to have its own goals, I don’t want to lose sight of why I started this in the first place.  Right after I launched the blog, I decided each post should meet 3 criteria: every post should be Compelling, Clear, and Charitable, meaning:

Is it about something that matters eternally, and is written in a way that connects emotionally and is worth reading? (Compelling)
Is it logical and makes sense, or is it likely to be misunderstood? (Clear)
Is it written in love, to build up whoever reads it? (Charitable)

In a way, these are just a modified version of Ephesians 4:15-16, which says:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The compelling and clear parts are the “speaking the truth,” and the charitable part is the “in love” part.  However, the three criteria are not equal.  If I am compelling and clear, I might come across as clever, smart or a good writer, but without charity, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  Without love, I’ve done it wrong, and therefore being compelling and clear should be tools used in service of being charitable.

I am still thrilled to be writing and am encouraged by the impact it’s had on my life, from challenging me when I am complacent, from encouraging me in my faith, and from growing deeper connections with friends and family, plus new connections with other bloggers.

Working on this blog has encouraged me, and I hope it has encouraged you as well.  Every one of us has something important to offer for God’s glory and for the benefit of the world around us.

Please leave a comment on what you’ve liked and what you’d want to see more of!

God Rules in His Sleep

In Mark’s Gospel, he tells a story of Jesus taking a nap, causing His disciples to panic.  Does it ever seem like God is asleep, leaving you feeling adrift the world’s circumstances?  When Jesus walked the earth, there were times when God literally was asleep.

One story comes from Mark 4:35-41.

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

At the beginning of the story, Jesus told His disciples they were going to cross the Sea of Galilee, then knowing what was coming, “He who keeps Israel[1] took a nap.  Had the disciples understood Jesus, His napping should have reassured them that they were safe, since He was not concerned about the storm.  Instead, they thought He didn’t care, which showed that fear of the storm had overcome whatever faith they had.  Jesus said they were going across, but they doubted.

Which brings up a very important question.

When did the wind and the sea obey Jesus?  At the beginning of the story, at the end, or both?  Or at all times?  Before Jesus calmed the storm, was the sea being disobedient to God’s laws and will?

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

I believe Jesus calmed this storm so that next time He wouldn’t have to.  He was teaching them that He always cares, regardless of what the circumstances seem to say.  He was teaching them that even when it seems like He’s asleep, He is still in control of our circumstances no matter how chaotic they look and feel to us.  During the next storm, He wanted them not to panic, but to trust Him because He showed them no circumstance escapes His notice.  The storm does not control us; He controls the storm.

When Jesus calmed the storm, He did not create a hedge (See Job 1:10) around His disciples, He just demonstrated that it existed all along.  God was not going to let His Son drown before His mission was complete and neither will He let His other children drown before their work is done!

Sometimes when God seems distant and we feel we are sinking, in reality we are being given a divinely designed opportunity to learn to trust that:

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
            he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
            your going out and your coming in
            from this time forth and forevermore[2]

He knows sometimes we have to learn the hard way, and He knows best.  Even when He is sleeping.“Let us go across to the other side.”

[1] Psalm 121:4
[2] Psalm 121:7-8