“He lifts the needy from the ash heap” (1 Sam 2:8).
At a time in seminary when my soul was overwhelmed and my will overtaken, utterly tired, I thought I had reached my end. One night, however, the familiar call of the kitchen table drew my apartment mates and me towards its shelter, and, with a most bewitching power to which many lovers of friendship and conversation owe their communion, it held us there for what felt like hours. My sisters’ decision to sit with me that night was a commitment to see that I would stand once more.
Our conversation was long but not haphazardly verbose. It was more like long, contemplative silences held together by carefully selected words. I began, of course, by giving a voice to my struggle and explaining its effects on my relationships, my academics, and most of all, my soul. One sister caught me off guard when she asked in return, “What is your worst-case scenario in life?”
Genuinely puzzled, I reached for something, anything to mutter, but could only respond with dubious conviction, “That my family will pass away.” That is, after all, virtue’s upstanding answer, isn’t it? I knew so well, though, how uncertain my words were and admitted the dishonesty.
The night progressed, and, eventually, I confessed the sin that I resented the Lord. I resented knowing God because knowing him meant carrying my cross. I resented him and envied the ignorant bliss of those unregenerate who have no seeming responsibility before the Lord and therefore enjoy their mindless self-indulgence. How far I was from the hearts of the psalmists who looked upon the prosperity of the wicked with scorn. I confessed this sin, and, several moments of silence later, this Scripture was placed heavily on my heart:
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)
My soul wept instantly. The heart of Peter’s confession, the empowerment of his words—I wanted to say those words, too. Immediately, I knew: my worst-case scenario is to say on my dying breath that I resent the Lord.
Broken, I shared this new conviction with my sisters and read the passage aloud, only to find that God had placed this passage on one sister’s heart for me, too. I closed with thankful prayer and reflected alone as my sisters went off to bed. God had preserved me one more night to say, “To whom shall I go? There is none but you.”
There was a painfully slow ascent that night in the course of our conversation. I went from “I am hurting” to a half-hearted worst-case scenario to a confession of resenting the Lord to a Scripture being placed on my heart to a repentant worst-case scenario to saying that the Lord is good. Noting the ascent, I reflected this in my journal:
Tonight, I sleep a little more confidently that even in ugliest depths, on dreariest nights, when all that pains within wills me to scream, “I despise the Lord,” yet I say unworthily, disgracefully, wretchedly, “In my poverty, the Lord is still good,” because he wills that I do. Even in my despised unworthiness I cannot despise him, because he wills that I don’t. He demands that I still love. A God who loves even when he is not loved. A God who pursues even when I demand I not be pursued, who not only leads but carries. I am unworthy to untie the straps of his sandals, but he calls me worthy through his Son. This is my God.
Who Shall Ascend the Hill?
Two weeks ago, I came across Psalm 24:3-4 in my devotional:
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
Of this, Tim Keller writes, “To know his presence, however, is to ascend a hill or mountain … and doing so is always a struggle.”
The uphill battle of life is always a struggle, and the one who ascends it, the one who reaches the summit and stands in God’s holy place is one who is essentially blameless (v. 4). That hill only reminds us who are blameful—us who are weak at heart, susceptible to lies, fragile, and faulty, though well intentioned—that we are hopeless to climb all the way up, hopeless to reach the top. And so we tumble; by our own strength we fall all the way down until we are once more at the foot of the hill, defeated, overcome, undone by our weaknesses.
But I am reminded of another hill that was ascended, another struggle that was fought. I am reminded of the blameless Lamb—beaten, mocked, rejected, despised, and alone—who carried his cross up the hill of Golgotha, yet never once strayed from his dark path, the path of Calvary. And I am reminded that when he carried the cross, he carried not only this physical burden but our burdens as well, and he is with us now, climbing up that hill with us, not as the beaten, mocked, rejected, despised, alone one, but instead as the glorious King (Ps 24:7-10), the resurrected one, the great I AM, the triumphant one, holding us up on that hill.
We have not yet reached the top, but he has. And my prayer as I finish this post is that as we ascend the hill and as he who is blameless—and in whom we, too, are blameless—keeps our feet upon that hill, that we would persevere especially when we feel we cannot go on, looking to him, seeing him, speaking honestly to him, and coming to “know his presence” there in that intimacy truly and closely. For the will of the Father was that the Son would carry his cross up the hill so that, just like that night at the kitchen table, our will would be to rise with him there.