Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Turning to the Psalms

The book of Psalms is my favorite in the Bible and has always been the safe place I run when life overwhelms me.  Since the time I was a young, to the darkest days of my life, to this very morning when I opened its pages, I find deliverance and wisdom for living there like no other place in the world.
I was first introduced to the power of the Psalms at the tender age of four. Growing up, I was a fearful child to whom the world loomed large. Every day of my young life was filled with nervousness and anxiety.   But one morning I found something that helped.  Sitting crossed-legged on the Sunday School room floor, I listened as the teacher opened to Psalm 23 and began reading a beautiful word picture of Jesus as my Shepherd… “leading beside still waters (2),” where I could “fear no evil (4).”  The sweetness spoken whispered peace to my sensitive soul and I yearned to hear more of these kind words filled with so much truth, love, and care for me.

 As I got a little older, the Psalms became the first place I’d flip whenever I opened my Bible.  The verses resonated so I consistently I felt I could have written each one.  And having always battled that deep, on-going fear, it was a balm to know I wasn’t alone---that David had felt those same things too, and that most importantly, he had found consolation and help.  Many nights, the pages brought such comfort I even slept with my Bible under my pillow!  I slumbered in peace knowing that there is Someone to whom even the night is not dark (139:12), and in Whom I can trust and not be afraid (56:3).

 Around this time, I stumbled across Psalm 91 and it quickly became my favorite chapter in the Bible (and remains so to this day). Oh, the peace it brought my heart!  I read its verses over and over and always felt better, stronger, more whole with each recitation. Much like the 23rd Psalm, it painted pictures that stirred my imagination and captured me with its promises.  The idea of God’s “covering” was something my young heart visualized easily:  that “he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty, (1)” and that “He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge (4),” “For He gives His angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways….(11-12).”  All 18 verses were the exact medicine my worrisome heart needed. I memorized each one and can’t begin to recount the number of times they have been right there with me when I needed them most.

After experiencing the comfort of Ps. 91, when I reached my teen years I committed to reading a chapter of Psalms every night, starting with chapter 1 and moving forward. The task seemed a little daunting at first and I doubted it would be worth the time and effort.  But I gave it a try, and was surprised at what I uncovered.  I found that my favorite book was more than just a place to open up and find verses when I needed a blast of encouragement.  Instead, it was chocked full of chapters like 23 and 91, and the more consistently I read them, the more steadiness I found in my day, and the more confidence I felt in my choices for living (and for a teenager that’s saying something!)  But perhaps the most miraculous and unexpected gift I received from reading through the Psalms was a deliverance from the bondage of fear that had plagued me for so long.  It was wondrous to witness firsthand the power Scripture can give over a life-long stronghold like that.

 Of course I didn’t recognize it at the time, but on top of providing freedom and guidance, my little “read through the Psalms” experiment also created space in my life for a regular devotional time with the Lord (a tool that any pastor or Christian counselor will point to as an essential part of victorious living). It is a discipline I still keep daily, and in which I never fail to find inexplicable power. No one will ever waste time in God’s word, and I am so glad I started that practice young.

 Looking back, I wonder if perhaps God fortified my heart in His Word at such early age because He knew how much I would need it as I entered adulthood.   My 20’s were filled with many ups and downs, but four years ago (around my 30th birthday) a suffering slammed into my world that left me reeling and desperate beyond anything I’ve ever known.  It started one morning shortly after my daughter was born--my lower back completely gave out and the doctors pointed to the problem being several disks in my spine that were greatly compromised. This led to a series of four major back surgeries, all of which failed to correct the problem.  I’ve lived through a nightmare of operations, hospitals, pain, and depression-- times when death swirled around me, times when I was tempted to give up.  But even in that tremendous oppression, I knew I wasn’t alone.  I knew where to turn.   I had seen too much of God and His power to ever really doubt His Word.  I also knew from experience that nothing could speak deliverance to my heartache like my very favorite book in the Bible.  Turning to the Psalms had almost become a habit-- a perfect, life-affirming habit that spoke truth into my darkest days, and peace into the hot, spiraling pit of hopelessness.

Even now as I deal with the aftermath of it all, navigating life as a young wife and mother who lives with severe pain, I find much of my daily strength in that same sweet book.  When I doubt God’s goodness, I’m reminded that he is “kind,” “good” and “merciful (116:5).”  When I find it hard to pray, I’m assured He “knows my thoughts (139:2).”  When I wonder if He is truly there and really loves me, I am guaranteed “He hems me in behind and before” (139: 5), and that He loves me with an everlasting love (all of ch. 136).

I could never have dreamed as a little girl listening to Psalm 23 how crucial this book would be for me over the years.  In every Bible I own the Psalms are well-worn, well-underlined and well-read.  They continue to be the first lifeline I turn to, and they always will be. I am forever changed because of its priceless 150 chapters and the peace my young heart found there all those years ago.

 Chapters that have meant the most to me:
Psalm 139 (God’s personal attention to us)
Psalm 91 (God’s protection and safety)
Psalm 23 (God’s sweet and tender care)
Psalm 40 (God’s deliverance from the pit)
Psalm 147 (God heals and finds favor)