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Faith and Values: What overwhelms us is what brings us closer to God

By Steve Massey For The Spokesman-Review

Sorrow – over Kobe Bryant’s death.

Fear – of a growing and global coronavirus outbreak.

Exasperation – over America’s impeachment hearings.

So many hearts are overwhelmed these days it seems, well, a bit overwhelming.

“Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer.”

These words from Israel’s ancient King, David, are in the Bible’s book of psalms for a reason. Way back then, as today, God’s people struggled with both a sense of their world fraying at the seams and their utter inability to deal with it.

Sorrow, fear and exasperation at times conspire to clothe our hearts in darkness, even depression.

Psalm 61 continues: “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed…”

Is your heart overwhelmed? Does God seem far away?

You’re not alone.

The heart troubled by loss, anxiety or exasperation often feels a sense of God’s distance. “Where was God when this happened? Why did God allow this? When will He respond to my plea?”

David’s prayer is born out of a sense of apartness from God, as if he were crying out from long-distance – from the end of the earth. Surely, we know this feeling.

Yet prayer itself, crying out to God in trust and dependence, breaks down that sense of apartness, and brings us to reality – His true nearness.

We find strength not in the mere ritual of prayer, but in the God of prayer. He is near and attentive to those who call out to Him in humble dependence.

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

That last bit is instructive.

Our God has a perfect understanding of our deepest emotions and invites us to turn toward Him – which means we must turn away from any notion of self-sufficiency.

I don’t presume to know why God allows tragedies such as the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter and several friends; or a rapidly spreading disease like coronavirus; or the raw incivility so typical of our political leaders.

We live in a fallen, crooked world that God will one day restore and straighten.

In the meantime, He uses the sorrow, the fear, the exasperation provoked by such circumstances to draw us near to Him and away from self-reliance.

David humbly acknowledged that he had no answer to his deep despair; he needed God to reach out to him and pull him out of his darkness.

David’s song describes God as a rock of refuge to His trusting people. A strong tower. A tent of welcome. A sheltering parent. Each image progressing in its sense of intimacy with God.

Our hope is not found in keeping death, disease and dysfunction at a distance, in fact they are inevitable experiences – even evidences – of life in a sin-stained world longing to be restored. Our hope is found in keeping God near.

Of course, God has drawn near to us in the fullest sense in His Son, Jesus.

Jesus is our ultimate rock of stability and safety; He is our refuge from judgment for sin, our doorway to God’s warm welcome when this life is over, our strength and peace until that day comes.

I sometimes wonder if we need to feel we’re at “the ends of the earth” occasionally in order to remember just how great a savior He is to us. When we know Him by faith, we can pray as David did – no matter what’s going on around us:

“You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name… so I will sing praise to Your name forever.”

Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church. He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or steve@haydenbible.org.