Making Room for Repentance

Psalm 38 offers a liturgy of lament for when it all goes wrong, and the sin is mine.

Those times when I realize I am the one who said or did something causing damage or disappointment to someone else. While I can pull out some handy well-worn excuses, the reality of my sin blares like a stuck car horn on a quiet Saturday morning parked right by the house. The sound of that horn and the implication of what I have done sincerely disturb me.

I would much prefer to skip suffering and leapfrog over lament, but stuffing away guilt and remorse will only lead to more and more damage. Like the psalmist, I require God’s mercy. I need to make room for repentance.

1O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
(Psalm 38:1-2 ESV)

Unrepentant Sin leads to Structural Damage

The longer it remains buried under the surface, the more damage it will do to my entire being. I was not designed to carry sin. The weight of carrying it around is too much.

4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
(Psalm 38:4-7 ESV)

Unrepentant Sin’s Damage Quietly Grows under the Surface

When a wound is not cleaned and cleared out, it may fester and cause a noxious odor.

A few months ago, after clearing out a storage unit for a family member, a tiny scratch or abrasion allowed an infection to enter my wrist. Slowly but surely, a hot red patch of skin expanded. I was busy and tried to ignore it. It was painful, but an injury to my hand caused me to miss the signs of a growing infection. I attributed the throbbing pain to a previous sprain. I tried pain patches, hydrocortisone cream, and ice packs, but things only worsened.

Finally, a friend expressed concern and encouraged me to have my doctor take a look. She examined my arm and immediately left the room to fetch an associate to review her findings. Moments later, I was sent to the pharmacy to fill a prescription for a potent antibiotic.

8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.
(Psalm 38:8-11 ESV)

Unrepentant Sin Leads to Isolation

God designed me to live in a community with others in mutually beneficial relationships. Unrepentant sin causes me to pull away and hide at a time when I am in the greatest need of support. Sooner or later, I need others to pray for me, encourage me, and offer advice or perspective. Life is hard. Traveling solo leaves me in a spiritual echo chamber.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.
13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
(Psalm 38:12-14 ESV)

Unrepentant sin disorientates me and takes my voice

Sound helps orient me on my faith journey. Hearing God’s word daily keeps me on track. Listening to praise and worship music fills me with hope. Sin dulls my appetite for God’s word and leads me to seek escapism in my media choices.  

Unrepentant sin comes between the Holy Spirit and me. I can no longer hear the still, small voice of guidance. Also, I lose my voice when I am not receiving regular replenishment from this promised helper. Doubts crowd my mind. The voice of the accuser is amplified. I get stuck and silent.


Lord, I need Your mercy to cleanse me of the things done and left undone that have wronged others and failed You. Order my life in a way that leaves room for regular repentance. Please help me to acknowledge my sins. Send a fresh wave of your Holy Spirit to examine me. Help me repent of every sin and keep me from denial. I pray all of this in the mighty name of Jesus, and I wait for your reply. Amen

Lent and Lament – Psalm 31b

One essential soul-tending tool might be to practice lament.

In the six weeks or so leading up to Easter, Christians worldwide participate in Lent. It’s a season for believers to take inventory of their spiritual lives. Perhaps a spring cleaning with some lament thrown in for good measure. Some choose to give something up as a way to remember Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Others take on specific disciplines like spending more time in prayer, reading through certain portions of scripture, or attending special church services designed to mark the season.

Taking time to lament our personal and corporate sins can be a central part of Lent. Some people even pray about what they have done and what they have left undone.

In the second half of Psalm 31, the psalmist takes an inventory of sorts. Take a few minutes today to participate in personal lament by reading each verse and considering these things.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand: rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!
(Psalm 31:14-16 ESV)

Words said aloud

What we say matters.

What we speak aloud seeps into our bones and shapes our thinking.  

The Psalmist begins with a declaration, “I say, ‘You are my God.’”
He follows this with a cry for the Lord to “Make your face shine on your servant…”. This refers back to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.  

As human beings, we were all made to crave being in our Heavenly Father’s presence and having His approval. It is in our original design. Many of us will spend a lifetime trying to please God in our strength. Sadly, we will fail and fail again without accepting Jesus as the only way to our Father.

What can you say aloud to build you up and encourage your spiritual growth?

  • Sing Christian hymns or songs  
  • Read the Bible aloud for a few minutes every day
  • Pray aloud in the car or on a walk using the promises of scripture
17 O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame;
    let them go silently to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
20 In the cover of your presence you hide them, from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
(Psalm 31:17-20 ESV)

Words heard

What we listen to matters.

The Psalmist begs the Lord to mute lying lips. He requests that the wicked go silently to Sheol. What we listen to affects us more than we realize. Other peoples’ words have the power to weigh us down and teach us things that are not true. We live in a noisy world and can become surrounded by deceptive soundtracks.

Taking time to seek out silence each day can counter the inevitable feelings of overwhelm.

What can you listen to build yourself up spiritually?

  • Refrain from listening to the radio or a podcast during your drive time, and enjoy the silence.
  • Reduce the number of news programs you watch or listen to. Practice extreme discernment on your news sources. Do the anchor people seem angry or prideful?
  • Commit to listening to God’s word daily, even for a few minutes. Please read it to yourself aloud or listen to any of the podcasts or services that read scripture daily. In less than 20 minutes daily, I have listened to the entire Bible in one year.
21 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. 
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
(Psalm 31:21-24 ESV)

Things that were done and left undone

Have you asked for help lately?

Asking for help requires a certain level of humility and vulnerability. Too often, I am more ready to problem-solve than cry out to God for help.

He hears us and is so ready to send us aid.

In verse 23, the psalmist calls out the “one who acts in pride.” She might be someone who relies on her strength, leans on her courage, and requires her own schedule to be kept.

The Lord calls us to be found waiting for Him. Waiting for Him to answer us, aid us, and make provision. Do I sometimes miss His ideal solution because I have tried to run ahead and make my own way?

The Lord calls us to “take courage” as we wait on Him because He is willing to give it to all of us.


Lord, thank you that you hear my cries for help and always answer. Please help me to wait on your way and your timing. Please help me to complete the assignments you have given to me. Please open my eyes to things I may lose sight of that are essential to you.  May I glorify you with the words I say? May I honor you with what I listen to? Please give me wisdom and discernment in all of these areas. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Ashes, Anguish, and a Pathway to Healing – Psalm 31:1-13

Lent begins this year on Wednesday, February 22nd. On that day, churches worldwide will host Ash Wednesday services. Ministers will mark the foreheads of the faithful and say,

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 
Genesis 3:19 ESV

During the forty days of Lent, believers can set aside time to lament their own mortality. In the Bible, the use of ashes signals mourning and loss. Ashes on our skin make inner suffering visible. Christians are reminded that we sin and die because humanity rebelled against God. We must continue to acknowledge this truth.

In Psalm 31, David laments his own suffering as he is relentlessly pursued by King Saul. Examining the first half of this psalm reveals a great deal about prayers of desperation and lament.

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
(Psalm 31:1-2 ESV)

God’s rescue comes about because of His character. What a relief!

God’s refuge is a solid rock of certainty, not an everchanging unreliable aspirational goal. The rescue may not be what I expected, but it always comes in God’s perfect timing.

3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me;
4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
(Psalm 31:3-4 ESV)

God’s presence is the refuge. How often do I seek His presence and spend time there?

Suffering and Surrender

Verse 5 might sound familiar. Jesus intentionally echoes David’s words from this psalm as he is about to die on the cross. Jesus would have had many of the psalms memorized, and the crowd would have to. By using this key phrase, He models surrender.

During Lent, many believers spend time considering the suffering of Jesus on the cross. The gravity of our sin required a sacrifice of extreme and prolonged anguish.

Idol Check

6 I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,
8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
Psalm 31:6-8 ESV

Before I coast by verse six, I may need to conduct an idol check. I don’t typically feel like bowing down to a large golden cow. So, considering that weirdly specific Biblical allusion, I suppose I’m idol free, or am I?

While I do trust in the Lord, would an inventory of my spent time and treasure reveal some idol influences?

Where do I spend my time?

How do I spend my money?

How do I invest the talents the Lord has blessed me with?

Set aside time to spend alone with the Lord, seeking His wisdom on these questions. Consider asking a trusted friend or family member how she sees these areas in your life.

We live in a society that worships the idol of youth and beauty. People make important life decisions based on public opinion, pleasing the crowd, or external appearances. God looks on our hearts. We all can become obsessed with seeking a life of ease and comfort.  We feel outraged if we believe our rights have been put into question. These goals contradict the transformational call to follow Jesus and carry our cross. We are called to give up our own way, rights, entitlements, and priorities for the sake of the Gospel.

Verse seven reminds me that God sees me and knows my distress and brokenness. In the midst of suffering, knowing that someone sees and knows can help me hang on. A certain isolation weighs so heavily on my heart when I feel like no one understands. Often no human can completely comprehend another person’s journey, but the Lord always can.

Our Bodies Keep the Score

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
Psalm 31:9-10 ESV

Our bodies bear the brunt of trauma and abuse. Years of verbal abuse may result in migraine headaches or other maladies. Sin takes a toll on our physical bodies. (For so much more on this topic, check out this book: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD)

Neighbor’s Betrayal

11 Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror on every side!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
Psalm 31:11-13 ESV

When someone in our lives becomes our enemy and seeks to harm us, we expect that person to be a threat. In normal and healthy ways, we draw boundaries and allow that person to experience the consequences of her actions. However, a neighbor’s or friend’s betrayal, inaction, or lack of empathy cuts much more deeply. Social isolation becomes a secondary trauma for those who have been victims of abuse.

Why does this happen?

Recently I heard Rachel Denhollander talk about our call as Christians to bear witness to someone else’s abuse and respond with active compassion. Denhollander warns that this requires so much of us. It is costly and painful. Sadly, the cost is far too great for some, who choose to pull away when others need them most.

How do you respond to those who suffer around you? Do you try to minimize a friend’s experience, or are you willing to be present and sit and hold space for someone to process through a time of grief?

To be able to hold space for others in seasons of suffering, we must seek to be healed ourselves by processing our own trauma and suffering.

Psalm 31 provides a set of prayers for those who suffer. It can provide a way to begin to metabolize grief. In an effort to bring his own brokenness before God, David boldly showed his whole heart to God. Not just the pure and acceptable parts, but he reveals the darkness and the desolation. This is our own path to healing.

Prayers of Desperation

David’s prayers all through the Psalms reveal a willingness to be honest and vulnerable which builds true intimacy in His relationship with God. These steps allow Him to draw near to God on his worst day. When he finds himself trapped, overwhelmed, and hopeless, he hands it to the Lord fully and completely. His prayers are raw without edits or apologies, and ours should be too. He refuses to dress it up as anything other than pure desperation. His heart is failing, and there is no way out in his own strength.

Hope in the Cross

If you can attend an Ash Wednesday service and receive ashes marked in the shape of the cross on your forehead, I encourage you to cling to the hope revealed there.

That cross carries within it an entire story and the foundation of human hope. It is the story of loss and gain, of the incarnation of the truly good one, his glorious life, and triumphant defeat of death. The ashes are not just a reminder of our great failure; but they remind us of God’s victory over sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.

Esau McCaulley
Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal

How will you navigate the season of Lent this year? What does God have for you in this journey? Lent 2023 begins on Wednesday, February 22nd.

Where do I find God in a desperate situation? Psalm 22

The book of Esther opens with the swift and forced exit of Queen Vashti, followed by a country-wide search for a new Queen. The King selects a young Jewish orphan named Esther. Just as she is settling into palace life, an enemy of the Jewish people has cleverly manipulated the King to issue a royal edict calling for the murder of her people. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, has begged her to go to the King. He warned her about the cost of her silence. However, she knows that speaking to the King without an invitation could result in her immediate death.

13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the King's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14 ESV)

Esther responded to Mordecai’s charge.

16 "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the King, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16 ESV)

Have you ever faced such a difficult decision in your life? Of course, it is unlikely that most of us will face the threat of genocide; however, most of us will face difficult decisions made in rugged and isolated places.

Have you been asked to give up a dream or a great opportunity so that someone you love can pursue their goal?

Have you ever agreed to take on something painful or challenging because it was necessary?

Have you ever been called upon to advocate for someone who is suffering or in need of help?

For such a time as this…. What is God calling you to take on or take off in this season?

Sooner or later, we will all have to rely on our faith in God in a season of hardship. Do you find yourself in a time of difficulty? Or is someone you love walking through a season of suffering?

Psalm 22 was written as a psalm of lament by King David. God provides psalms in the Bible for us to process complicated and passionate feelings. There are psalms for lament or sadness, like this one. Psalms are designed to process anger, betrayal, thanksgiving, joy, and acceptance.

Psalm 22 is often called a prophetic psalm pointing to Jesus’ time on the cross. However, the Jewish people have a different perspective.

The Oral Torah states that King David wrote this Psalm in foreknowledge of the time of Hadassah, also known as Queen Esther.

What does this portion of Psalm 22 say about having faith amid hardship? Take a few minutes to read through this portion of the Psalm and see what the Lord has for you.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2 ESV)


Lord, we thank you for being close by even in my suffering. Even when I cannot see or feel you, I will choose to believe you are still there. Thank you for hearing my hard questions and being willing to answer them in your perfect timing and perfect ways.

3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you, they trusted and were not put to shame.
(Psalm 22: 3-5 ESV)

Lord, does how I feel about you, change who You are?

How do I counter the negative voice in my head?

Try reading a psalm of praise or thanksgiving. Then, try reading Psalm 145 or 146.

God is present in the praises of His people. What could you specifically praise God about today? For what could you give thanks?

What do I know is true about me? About God?

You are still on your throne even when it does not seem so. Lord, you have been faithful to generations before me. You are trustworthy to deliver over decades.

Take a moment to close your eyes and ask the Lord, what do you want me to know about you right now?


Lord, I thank you for delivering those who went before me. Thank you for answering their prayers. Please help me give thanks and record how you rescued my people and me. Thank you for bringing redemption out of the worst situations. Please help me to see how you will do that for me. If I can’t see those solutions right now, help me to know that your rescue is not based on my understanding.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 "He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
(Psalm 22:6-8 ESV)

Even when I feel like a worm or entirely worthless, these feelings I have do not define me. You say I am beloved, called, and cared for. Even when those around me mock me, Lord and You are still for me.

Take a moment to remember the times God has rescued you, delivered you, and delighted in you.


Lord, help to recall times when you have delivered me. Could you help me make a list and give thanks? Fill my mind with examples of Your faithfulness. Help me trust and delight in You. Help me have courage and wisdom in all difficult decisions knowing You are right by my side. Amen

Can Forgiveness Set Me Free? Psalm 10

(Prison cell)

During World War II, Louis Zamperini survived 47 days at sea in a raft after his plane crashed and then tragically became a prisoner of war for two long years. While being held captive, he experienced terrible abuse and almost daily beatings at the hands of some ruthless guards.

As I have been reading a book telling his story, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, I wonder how Louis could survive all of this. He did cry out to God during his ordeal, and I wonder if Psalm 10 reflects some of his experience in the prison camp.

1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1 ESV)

Did Louis feel God was far away, removed, and remote?

The psalmist describes in the following nine verses all that the wicked do. As I read these verses, many scenes from Louis’s experiences with cruel guards sprang to mind.

What do the wicked do?

2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they 
have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
(Psalm 10:2-4 ESV)

In the prisoner of war camps, the Japanese guards would intentionally target Christians and seek to break their faith. They mocked, tortured, and demanded their victims deny God.

5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

6 He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. 
(Psalm 10:5-9 ESV)

Over and over, the guards lashed out at Louis and the other prisoners. They were starved, beaten, and then forced to beat each other. As Louis was moved from one camp to the other, the abuse increased as the conditions in each camp deteriorated.

How do abuse victims react?

10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.

11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
(Psalm 10:10-11 ESV)

The effect of physical abuse is compounded by what the victim experiences psychologically. Endless torture of the mind and body crushes the spirit.

Many of the captives in the Japanese prisoner of war camps gave up hope as the violence took a toll on their bodies and souls. Others succumbed to a list of treatable diseases caused by extreme neglect. All of them struggled to believe there would ever be an end to the torture they were experiencing.

Finally, in 1945 Louis and others were liberated and returned home after the Japanese surrendered. Louis recalled how much he struggled with the memories and the trauma he had experienced. He became dependent upon alcohol to escape the nightmares that haunted his sleep.

Then in 1949, Louis heard Billy Graham preach on forgiveness, and he was delivered from his posttraumatic stress. Later he would travel the country speaking and sharing his testimony of healing and redemption through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Louis had gained true freedom through forgiveness. This incredible journey of forgiveness would lead to Louis reconciling with some of the same guards who had abused him so severely.  

Much like Louis Zamperini’s life took an abrupt turn, the final verses of Psalm 10 change in tone and meaning. The Psalmist cries out to the LORD and begins to declare truths about what God does or will do.

12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. (Psalm 10: 12 ESV)
God does not forget
13 Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (Psalm 10:13 ESV)

God calls to account

14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14 ESV)

God helps the fatherless and the helpless.

I can’t imagine a more helpless feeling than being held in a prisoner of war camp by your enemy.

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. (Psalm 10:15 ESV)

God takes their strength and calls the wicked to account.

16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. (Psalm 10:6 ESV)

God rules as King

17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear (Psalm 10:17 ESV)

God hears & strengthens hearts
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:18 ESV)

God brings justice

Most of us will never experience anything like Louis Zamperini did as a prisoner of war. However, all of us will experience encounters with wicked people. What do the wicked people look like in your life? Are you allowing them to hold you captive in unforgiveness?

  • A family member who belittles you or doubts your abilities?
  • A coworker or boss who mistreats you?
  • A friend who betrays your trust?
  • An adult child or parent who became estranged due to toxic behavior or addiction?
  • A deceptive ex-wife or ex-husband or ex-business partner?

How do we as believers respond to the wicked?

If I can trust the truth in the final verses of Psalm 10, this provides a pathway toward the example of forgiveness set by Louis Zamperini. I can cry out to God and surrender my desire to settle the score or set things straight. God can do what I can never do alone in my heart and in my life. I can be set free. For many of us, this might even be a daily journey in forgiveness because sometimes the wrongs run deep and leave scars.


Thank you, LORD, that you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen our hearts and incline your ear to each of us. (Psalm 10:17). Thank you for doing justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (Psalm 10:18). Thank you, Father, for carrying this burden for each of us because the weight of it would destroy us. Please help us to forgive and be set free. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you want to learn more about Louis Zamperini, here are two great sources.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption  by Laura Hillenbrand

“8 Things You May Not Know About Louis Zamperini”

Have You Felt Depleted Lately? Psalm 79

Even after the warnings, God’s people could hardly believe the great disaster that fell upon Jerusalem during the Babylonian Conquest in 597 BC.

In the aftermath of war, Psalm 79 expresses the people’s grief about what had been done and left undone in the form of a community lament.

How Long, O Lord?

1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy Temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. (Psalm 79:1-3 ESV)

The city was left in ruins. The Temple was ransacked and destroyed. By the end of the siege, bodies lay in the streets with no one to bury them. The people’s inheritance, the promised land, was covered in their blood.

4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! (Psalm 79:4-6 ESV)

Shame filled their hearts as God’s people begged for mercy and began asking Him to turn His wrath onto those who denied God’s existence. They questioned how He could protect His reputation with their neighbors without rescuing and restoring them. Does God need such a reminder? Does He need to carefully guard His reputation with those who don’t even acknowledge Him?

7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:7-8 ESV)

How often have we failed to take a complete inventory of my sins? Do we regularly take time for confession, or do we wish to jump ahead to God’s compassionate response? Do we demand His quickest mercy so we can get to the forgiveness part more efficiently?

 9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!

10 Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! (Psalm 79:9-11 ESV)

God’s people begged for compassion, forgiveness, and help. Desperation drove the urgency of their pleading. Finally, however, they acknowledged their sins needed atonement, and since the Temple was in ruins, they couldn’t go and make sacrifices. Only God can provide for these prisoners. 

They were once again quick to remind God to protect His reputation. Does God need such reminders? How often have we been so quick to point out how unfair we consider something to be? Does the God of the universe grow weary of our limited view and hasty judgments?

12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! (Psalm 79:12 ESV)

God’s people also demanded vengeance (seven-fold) on their neighbors who taunted God. Does God need us to point out when others disrespect Him? Did He miss it by any chance? It seems unlikely. His endless patience with our need to keep score is yet another grace.

13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation, we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13 ESV)

Finally, in Verse 13, God’s people gain a proper perspective. They acknowledge their need for their one true Shepherd and pledge their thanksgiving for now and forever to the next generation.

As God’s people, we desperately need to spend time with our Good Shepherd. Expressing lament to God draws us closer to Him and brings healing to our souls. Most of us have not had our homeland destroyed, but smaller losses pile upon significant losses and chip away at our souls, leaving us desperate and depleted.

Lament is a necessary step in healing from the inside out. The healing balm of God’s presence brings about an abundant crop of gratitude. After all, we are charged with an essential responsibility to help our children and grandchildren to inherit a thankful and praise-filled attitude from us. Can I afford to take a few minutes to practice lament today?

Can I Be Rescued from the Quicksand of Anxiety? Psalm 40:11-17

Quicksand appeared in more than one television show when I was a child in the 60s and 70s. It served as a frequent plot twist. Many a heroic figure found him or herself sinking deeper and deeper. Or sometimes, the hero would discover someone else descending into danger. Whichever scenario unfolded, there were often guidelines given.  

  • Do not struggle. Less you will sink further down and perish.  
  • Save your energy.  
  • Just relax. 

An entire generation of my peers trained in thinking through a plan of action to handle quicksand. However, decades later, when I fall into the quicksand of anxiety, all those plans go awry.  

Anxiety lays in wait 

Anxiety is stealthy and sneaky. I am moseying down the path of life when suddenly, a trigger opens up a pit of quicksand. I HAVE FALLEN before I know it, and I can’t get out. Time slows and speeds up in cycles as I try to escape. The “miry bog” (Psalm 40:2 ESV) encloses me, and I am overwhelmed.  

A well-meaning friend or family member stands on the firm ground calling out helpful tips and questions.

  • “Keep your head up, now. It’s not that bad.” 
  • “Don’t struggle. You will only make it worse.”  
  • “Why did you go this way? Why weren’t you looking out for the pit?” 
  • “Your life is so awesome. How could you struggle?”  

Anxiety puts the nervous system into fight or flight mode. As the heart rate increases, the mind becomes scrambled and unfocused. Panic descends. The next step beyond this point might be a place of becoming despondent and losing all hope – a pit perspective.  

Psalm 40  

In the second half of Psalm 40, the psalmist seems to cycle back into a desperate need for God’s mercy in the bottom of a pit. (See this link for the first half of Psalm 40 post.

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!  
Psalm 40:11 ESV

The psalmist speaks truth over his dire situation. He loudly declares the truth about God’s mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness. Speaking truth over my times in the pit of anxiety can help me regain a healthier perspective. However, sometimes the cycle is tough to break.  

12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see;  
they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.  
Psalm 40:12 ESV

Like me, no sooner did the psalmist get a foothold than he falls back down into the despair of feeling surrounded by external evil and his failings. He says, and I have often felt, “I cannot see…” But unfortunately, the view from the bottom of the pit of anxiety is minimal. The quicksand has sucked me down, and there appears to be no way out.  

A “try harder response,” something I relied on for years, fails amid the quicksand of anxiety. But struggling against it does suck me down further and further.  

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!  
Psalm 40:13 ESV

Like the psalmist, I cry out to God at my lowest points. I beg for deliverance and demand it be on my timeline. Panic drives desperation to the point of frenzy. The idea of telling the Lord of the universe to rescue me and be quick about it seems absurd in the cold light of day. But in the pit of anxiety, I can’t see any way I can survive even a few more minutes. Desperation washes over me in a cold sweat.  

14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt!  

15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"  

Just when it cannot seem to get any worse, it might. The well-meaning passerby suggests I need to try some essential oils or a great new supplement. While, unlike the psalmist, I may not be looking for revenge, I do wish those helpful suggester types would be willing to sit with suffering sometimes. Could you just take a beat oh helpful one?  

Here’s the awkward truth. How often have I been the one standing on the firm ground calling out to a quicksand victim? “Have you tried focusing on the positive? How about a little song?”  

How does God call me to sit with suffering when my loved ones strugggle?

Perhaps, I should be quicker to pray and slower to offer advice? Perhaps be willing to practice being fully present and allowing someone in her time of crisis to feel seen and heard?  

16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, "Great is the Lord!"   
Psalm 40:16 ESV

Rejoicing while visiting the pit is not my usual reaction. I prefer a lament. I believe there is time for that too. (Follow this link to learn more about the spiritual discipline of lament.

The psalmist suggests an offering of rejoicing. Somehow this rejoicing could be even more potent if done corporately. Sometimes I need someone else to begin the chorus of rejoicing before I can.  

Rejoice in God’s Greatness  

Who can rejoice? Those who have all the answers? Those who feel like it? Those who aren’t caught up in the quicksand of anxiety? The psalmist in verse 16 reminds me how those who seek God rejoice and be glad. Not because of where they are you are or what they have, but because of who we belong to. Because of the salvation the Lord has provided, I can rejoice. He is excellent, even when I fail, even when I fall, even when I can’t see it.  

17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!  (Psalm 40:17 ESV)

Finally, Verse 17 reminds me that while I am poor and needy, I am also thought of by God. The God of the entire universe thinks of me. He also thinks of you. He is even willing to help and deliver us. Like the psalmist, I love asking the Lord to hurry up and not delay. Waiting does not come naturally to me. People, we have a schedule to maintain.  

God’s Rescue  

However, God’s timing is perfect. His rescue will be right on time. Perhaps He never intended for me to pull myself out of the pit? While our culture calls us to consider such techniques, departing from the pit cannot be done alone. If only I could wait for the Lord to place my feet on the rock. He will make my steps so much more secure than I could with all of my efforts (Psalm 40:2 &3). His loving-kindness and mercy will indeed cause me to sing a new song.  


Dear Lord, 

When I am in the pit of anxiety let me cry out to you. You are never bothered by me, but You delight in hearing from your daughter. Thank you for thinking of me and rescuing me in your perfect timing. While I wait, I will trust Your timing. I will give thanks in advance for the future solid rock location I will occupy soon. I will choose to rejoice. I will deeply breathe in the truth I find in your word. I will exhale the doubts and the frustrations. In Jesus’ name. Amen 

Should I Fear Fasting? Psalm 35

empty plate with fork and spoon crossed

During the season of Lent, there can be many calls to use fasting as a spiritual discipline.

  • no red meat on fridays
  • stay off social media
  • pick one thing you really love and give it up for the season

In most Christian circles you will rarely hear fasting mentioned, and few will have read anything about it. And yet it’s mentioned in Scripture more times than even something as important as baptism (about seventy-seven times for fasting to seventy-five for baptism).

Donald S. Whitney
“Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”


I was afraid to fast.

I grew up in a home where disordered eating played as a background playlist on loop. To this day, my mother will evaluate my food intake. Anxiety, an honored guest, typically joins my mother and me for every meal we share. Am I eating enough? Have I ordered something that meets her approval? If we go out to a restaurant, I can expect her to suggest I help her eat the food on her plate because surely it is too much for her. I must help finish what she can’t see wasting.

Second, only to my mother’s food anxiety, comes my mother’s health anxiety. Let’s just say, I may have been raised with the idea that my body lacked certain abilities to deal with everyday stresses. My blood sugar was far too unstable. My coordination and physical strength were things I simply couldn’t expect to have. I could easily get hurt doing normal things. So, skipping a meal or two was far too risky. Ironically, it was during a time when I was preparing for surgery that I discovered I could miss a meal or two or three without passing out or experiencing some other dire consequences.

To be clear fasting is not only about giving up food. God may call His followers to give up any number of things. In this piece, I will be focusing on fasting from food, but there are many other ways to fast.

For years, fasting food, as a spiritual discipline, was not available to me.  Recently, God made it clear that He wanted me to learn to trust Him in this area. He gently called me out of a toxic dependence on avoiding fasting out of fear.

Unhooking toxic disordered eating patterns from the invitation to fast from food challenged me to even greater dependence upon God. Asking the Holy Spirit to examine my heart and check my motivations became essential.  I am continuing to disconnect fasting from becoming a weight-loss tool for me. The struggle is indeed real for many believers caught up in diet culture as I was for decades.

“Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God’s hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the bulimic act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us.”

Dan B. Allender, PHD

As Dr. Dan Allender explains, what I gained from fasting was an opportunity to attune my heart to God’s heart.  

Saul, David’s mortal enemy, pursued him for decades. In Psalm 35, David cries out to God for help and support.

1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, “I am your salvation.”

4 May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin
    be turned back in dismay.
5 May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

7 Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me,
8 may ruin overtake them by surprise—may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
9 Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
Psalm 35:1-10 NIV

David found himself fully relying on God’s ability to rescue him. His desperation draws him closer and closer to God.

11 Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about.
12 They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved.
13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
14 I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.
15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing.
16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.

Psalm 35:11-16 NIV

In verse 13, David talks about how fasting brings about humility and causes a heart shift. Fasting attunes hearts to what God cares about. The enemies remain, and David continues his lament and mourning. However, David feels his heart shift from anger to empathy. He begins to mourn and weep for his enemies. Only God could bring such a change.

While David’s attitude toward his enemies shifts in profound way, his enemies continue along the same path of vengeance. They mock and slander him when he stumbles.

17 How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.
18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.
19 Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye.
20 They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land.
21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it.”
Psalm 35:17-21 NIV

David’s enemies are relentless in their bad behavior. Somewhere between these verses, David chooses a different response from what surrounds him. He promises to praise God. Even after he declares this he continues to be surrounded by false accusations and sneering. His promise to praise reveals a spark of hope being fanned into a flame of passion.  

22 LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me.
25 Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.”
26 May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace.
27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

Psalm 35:22-28 NIV

David praises God amid pain and offers these praises all day long. In Psalm 35 David moves from lamenting his hopeless situation to proclaiming God’s righteousness and praising Him all day.

Choosing to fast can powerfully propel me into a closeness with God’s heart and His desires for me. In this position of dependence, I become more attuned to what God delights in despite my circumstances. The Lord begins to allow me to catch a glimpse of some of the mysteries that swirl inside. My empathy grows for others and bonds me even more closely with God and His heart for all He created. Fasting is both a tool and a gift from my heavenly father. He knows exactly what I need.

What experience do you have with fasting food as a spiritual tool? What questions do you have about fasting? Have you chosen to fast from something this Lent?

Leaving and Lament: Psalm 17

(A woman is seated with her head bowed down.)
1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
Psalm 17:1-2 NIV

3 Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed.
4 Though people tried to bribe me, I have kept myself from the ways of the violent through what your lips have commanded.
5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled.
Psalm 17:3-5 NIV
6 I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
7 Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings
9 from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
Psalm 17:6-9 NIV

10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance.
11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
13 Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down; with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
14 By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.
15 As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
Psalm 17:10-15 NIV

Five Lessons Learned about God’s Love from a Sinner’s Situation – Psalm 51

(Man praying on a hill.)

When I was in fifth grade, I peered in the mirror smiling and discovered that my teeth were coated with red dye in various shades. Plaque disclosing dye tablets had done their job. My reflection revealed a real lack of dental hygiene in my 10-year-old self. The plaque had been invisible but now the dye made it glaringly obvious.

In 2nd Samuel chapter 12, God sends Nathan to confront King David about his sin. Nathan uses a simple story about a rich man taking advantage of a poor man to help King David to see his own sins. The narrative nail is pounded into David’s heart when Nathan enquires about what consequences a rich man should receive for slaughtering the poor man’s only lamb. David begins to list various severe punishments for the rich perpetrator and then Nathan adds, “You are that rich man.”

A sin-disclosing tablet is dropped into David’s life, and he is utterly overcome with the length and breadth of his sins. The consequences of his moral failings unleash some far-reaching results. Regret and humility spur David to pen Psalm 51 as a piece of lament.

What can I learn about love from a sinner’s lament about love?

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Psalm 51:1 NIV

1 God’s love comes first and foremost, even before I am forgiven. God’s love doesn’t give up but continues relentlessly to bring restoration and transformation.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Psalm 51:2-3 NIV

When David pursued a relationship with a married woman named Bathsheba, his sin was somehow not “before him”.

When David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered on the battlefront, so he could marry her, David refused to see his sin.

While David continued to choose sin over loving and obeying God, his desire to please himself, no matter the cost, grew.

Did the growing pile of sins obscure David’s view of his own guilt?

A lack of ability to see sin does not make it any less damaging. The consequences of David’s sin were significant and even deadly. And yet, God had mercy.

2. God’s mercy is borne out of His love for us.

It was out of mercy that the Lord sent Nathan to rebuke David. God sometimes places prophets in our lives or calls our friends to serve in a prophetic way. Has God ever sent a prophet to speak truth into your life?

David couldn’t see his sin, and then he did see all of it. He was devastated.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Psalm 51:4-6 NIV

  • 3. As my heart is filled with God’s love, my sensitivity to sin is restored. Conviction cuts deep, but God’s grace flows more. 

Reading through Psalm 51 reveals a rinse and repeat theme. Sin is ever-present and must be continually dealt with. In order to remain sensitive to sin, I must commit to regular confession. 

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:7-10 NIV

Repentant sinners are in desperate need of renewal. God is gracious enough to provide a deep soul reset whenever we ask Him.

11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Psalm 51:11-14 NIV
  • 4. God’s love and mercy blot out my transgressions and empower me to obey Him and teach others about His love.  
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51:15-19 NIV

  • 5 God’s love can be reciprocated with praise from a contrite heart and broken spirit.

David penned some of the greatest pieces of praise and lament in the Psalms. Surely his creativity and passion were fueled by his humility and repentance. For me, those plaque disclosing tablets taught me a valuable lesson. I saw my failure in dental hygiene and was able to take corrective action before I lost some of my teeth due to my own negligence. Sometimes I wish there were sin-revealing tablets to reveal my hidden sins. It is far too easy to become blind to my own moral failings. It is far too easy to become hard-hearted towards sin.

The good news is God loves me too much to allow me to remain in ignorance. He has provided the Holy Spirit to help me shine a light into every part of my heart and soul. On a regular basis, God calls me to do an inventory of my soul and root out sin.

Reading back through a repentance psalm like 51 gives me an opportunity to prayerfully consider what I might need to confess. Other penitential psalms to consider reading and praying through are Psalms 6, 31, 37, and 101.

Ultimately God’s love provides a pathway to reveal our sin. God’s generous provision through Jesus makes a way for reconciliation and renewal.