“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:6-8
God’s servant Job, when he came to the end of his season of suffering and loss, looked to God and stated: ” I know that you can do everything and not one of my thoughts can be withheld from you. Out of ignorance I caused confusion and second-guessed your purpose about things that were far beyond my understanding. I went on and on about what I thought was your purpose but that was only based on rumor. You tried to get me to give you more control in my life but I was filled with my own questions and my own short-sighted answers that really didn’t get me anywhere. I didn’t really see until now.” (paraphrased taken from Job 42:1-5)
It is the highlight of anyone’s life when they reach that “ah-hah” moment and are given hindsight with 20-20 vision. When clients come with stories of reaching the end of their ropes as the saying goes; when people speak of scraping bottom with drugs and alcohol and finding themselves on their knees praying for a miracle, there is now a window of opportunity. One of these window opportunities was related to me by a couple who had reached this point. They didn’t know anything but drugs for years. Every day was organized around the procuring of the drugs to make sure they had enough and the earning of the money to afford them – until they realized in the mental fog that everything was falling apart. They had lost control. Their lives were nothing but chaos. The wife knelt and prayed desperately for a way out and the next day their child, the love of their life, their one true purpose for living, was removed from their home by Children’s Division in a drug bust – not the outcome for which they prayed. Gradually, with legal constraints put upon them providing control over the drugs, their lives began to turn around and what they couldn’t do for themselves, they could do for their child. Out of love in their absolute desperation they could change their lives. The wife found Christ in jail through a ministry program that was offered and was excited about the new beginning it was giving her. The husband shed tears over the wasted years and money that drugs had taken from his life since a teenager – the day his father shared drugs with him. He talked about when as children, he and his siblings were the ones who kept the marijuana joints moving among the adults when the family got together.
When Job was told these words by his friend “No one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night” [Job 35:10], he was in the throes of horrific loss and chaos, laying in ashes with sores all over his body, but according to the story, he hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve this. His friend Elihu was trying to figure out what Job’s mistake had been. Based on our human nature to blame the victim, he was judging that Job must have done something terribly wrong. Elihu makes the point that it is uncommon for people to turn to God for help and comfort as soon as they should.
How would this young father even know God to call upon him for a song if he’s raised in a drug culture environment? How would this young man know that God was the missing element in his life, yet he sat at the table with tears running down his face over the lost years, the lost resources – wasted in blind pursuit of desperate want and at long last a spiritual need for a song in the night. Charles Spurgeon states that: “No one can create a song in the night by themselves; they may attempt it, but they will learn how difficult it is. Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him?” Charles Spurgeon from his sermon “Songs in the Night”.
Every time I do Women Rising with the inmates at Texas County, I am excited at how they are sharing the Scriptures together and want to talk about the things of the Spirit. Too often, though, when they leave jail and have to resume life with family members who aren’t trying to turn their lives around they can be drawn back into the chaos. That is a time of sadness for me when they come back in for the same problems but is never a time to give up. They need to experience that someone still believes in them. Fortunately, there are successes. One young woman who was in the Women Rising group was preparing to go to prison for a 120 day shock. Her fear was beyond anything she’d ever experienced in her young life. We prayed about it. She completed the shock period and I was pleased to see her again. I was amazed to see the change in her. She said it was the best thing that could ever happen. She was self-confident and hopeful and working on her treatment plan with a will to overcome her past. This is not always the outcome, but for her, it was what she needed.
When couples tell me that they have chosen to stay together because they love each other in spite of all the problems they are having, we can build on that. For the most part, I’ve seldom worked with anyone who didn’t have a love for someone or something where change wasn’t at least a possibility. Many times if it failed it was when they didn’t love themselves enough to deal with the obstacles mounted against them changing. At least they discovered that I cared. For those I never saw again, I hope that made a difference. Like the sower, we can only plant the seed in whatever type of soil that is presented. The rest is about faith.
At the time of Christ’s first coming, he came to a people who were in their nighttime – a time of deep spiritual darkness.
After He descended the mount following forty days of intense prayer and fasting, He was now fully aware of the level of spiritual darkness with which He was dealing. Matthew 4: 12-16: “12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
The experience on the mount for Jesus, now in a body of flesh and dealing with the god of this world, must have been quite different than what we imagine could have been before He came to earth. He stated clearly at the synagogue what he came to accomplish:
“The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.“ Luke 4:18-19 NIV
Luke 4:18 KJV: The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach
It was around this time when He began speaking in parables for the purpose of controlling the rise of the Pharisee’s hatred for Him and their eventual plan to take His life.
There are documentaries and movies that depict a dark time in history when America was young in the 1800’s. The city of New York was drenched in corruption with the actions of some of the wealthy who were posturing through Tammany Hall, a powerful ward in the city, to build their holdings ruthlessly on the backs of the poor. If someone got in their way, a plan was made in the cover of darkness or secrecy to remove the problem. Five Points, a section of the city at that time, gained international notoriety as a disease-ridden, crime-infested slum that existed for well over 70 years. It was a melting pot for the people who traveled from foreign places to live the American dream. The description of this historical time reminded me of what Christ found as he entered into HIs ministry. The oppression within His culture that created not only physical suffering but spiritual for many was at the base of His message and He would provide the way out of darkness. Darkness happens when the few who take from the masses that are powerless and vulnerable, opportunities for fairness and advancement. This darkness creates the status quo. Oppression and injustice has unfortunately existed throughout history. We find this reference in the Old Testament in the books of Amos and Psalms:
“Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor And exact a tribute of grain from them, Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, Yet you will not live in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.” Amos 5:11-12
“Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with dishonest scales, So as to buy the helpless for money And the needy for a pair of sandals, And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?” Amos 8:4-7 (the refuse would be the worthless chaff.)
“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” Psalms 12:5
In Jesus’ time, it wasn’t just some of the wealthy causing the oppression it was also the spiritual leaders. In Matthew 4, verse seventeen shows us clearly what people living in those times were to do to come out of the “land of the shadow of death”, “17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” They were called to “repent”.
Jesus didn’t advocate for higher taxes to share the wealth to benefit the poor or start any special social programs to relieve the suffering. He cried “repentance” knowing that as hearts changed there would be no need for any of these mandatory measures. The Jewish people who were being oppressed by their own religious leaders were rushing toward this Great Light for relief. They had found their song in the night. Eventually, they were the thousands who gathered on the hillsides to hear Jesus.
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25 NIV
The message of repentance was for everyone not just the wealthy and the religious leaders. Jesus was calling those living in poverty, the infirmed and the people who were vulnerable that they would accept the responsibility for their sins of entitlement and using their infirmity to manipulate others for gain that through repentance, they might glorify God in their weakness. Apostle Paul pleads for a personal healing and receives this God-response:
“Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
II Corinthians 12:8-10 NIV
“A piece of wood once bitterly complained because it was being cut and filled with rifts and holes. But he who held the wood and whose knife was cutting into it so remorselessly, did not listen to the sore complaining. He was making a flute out of the wood he held, and was too wise to desist for such an entreaty. Instead, the flute carver said, ‘Oh, thou foolish piece of wood, without these rifts and holes thou wouldst be only a mere stick forever–a bit of hard black ebony with no power to make music or to be of any use. These rifts that I am making will change thee into a flute, and thy sweet music then shall charm the souls of men. My cutting is the making of thee, for then thou shalt be precious and valuable and a blessing to the world’. David could never have sung his sweetest songs had he not been sorely afflicted. His afflictions made his life an instrument on which God could breathe the music of His love to charm and soothe the hearts of men by such an entreaty through the ages.” Mark Roper, Church of God, Sermon Central website.
With Jesus’ message of repentance, He was telling the poor, sick and powerless that they could endure, even change what was happening to them by repenting and making Him the center of their lives. Out of that decision, they could live in an illuminated, born-again life even in a time of darkness all around them. Christ’s Spirit would indwell them and their lives would never be the same even if their hardships didn’t change that much. At the time of Pentecost after Christ’s death and resurrection, we see this happening on a large scale. The darkness was still all around the new followers but not within them. They sought out other believers with whom they could create community and social change through their belief in the Living Christ.
Barna Group on the website states that they are “a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California. Started in 1984, the firm is widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. They offer a range of customized research, resources and training to serve churches, non-profits, businesses and leaders. The company provides primary research; diagnostic tools; print and digital resources; leadership development; training and keynote talks; and organizational enhancement”. The following is a quote from their website under the heading “How Post-Christian is America”:
“Whether one believes this decline of “Christian America” calls for a time of lament, or presents great opportunity (or both) for the church, one cannot help but accept the changing landscape. In just two years, the percentage of Americans who qualify as “post-Christian” rose by 7 percentage points, from 37% in 2013 to 44% in 2015. Across the United States, cities in every state are becoming more post-Christian—some at a faster rate than others. (Barna Group online.)
One other article I read using statistics from the Barna Group polls cited that 51% of Christians were evaluated as self-righteous and only one in seven Christians lived a Christlike life actually applying the principles that Jesus taught. Could that explain why we continue to build prisons and try to arrest our way out of the moral decay in our country rather than find other ways to relieve the suffering? Right now in the U.S., there are 2.4 million souls in our prison system, the largest in the world.
The Scriptures point the way back to spiritual renewal:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11
From the book of Acts forward, we find a historical description of this viable period of living the kingdom on earth, a difficult but beautiful time.
Charles Spurgeon relates further: “Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man. If it is daylight in my heart, I can sing songs touching my graces—songs touching my sweet experience—songs touching my duties—songs touching my labors; but let the night come—my graces appear to have withered; my evidences, though they are there, are hidden; I can not clearly read my title to my mansion in heaven. And now I have nothing left to sing of but my God. . . . I had wells once; they were full of water; I drank from them then; but now the wells are dry; sweet Lord, I drink nothing but your own self, I drink from no fountain but yours.” Yes, child of God, you know what I am saying; or if you don’t understand it yet, you will in time. It is in the night that we sing of God and of God alone. Every string is tuned, and every power has its attribute to sing, while we praise God, and nothing else. . . Remember that God, who made you sing yesterday, has not left you in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can’t know his children in darkness; but he loves you now as much as ever: though he has left you for a little while, it is to make you trust him better, and serve him more. . . The nightingale sings most sweetly because she sings in the night. We know a poet has said, that if she sang in the day, she might be thought to sing no more sweetly than the sparrow. It is the stillness of the night that makes her song so sweet. And likewise a Christian’s song becomes sweet and enthusiastic, because it is sung in the night. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name:’ for that is a daylight song. But it was a divine song which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said— ‘Though the fig tree does not bud…yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior’ [Habakkuk 3:17-18]. . .However dark it may be, I think you may find some little comfort, some little joy, some little mercy left, and some little promise to cheer your spirit. The stars are not forever extinguished, are they? No, even when you can’t see them, they are there; . . . Try, then, to see if you could sing a song in the night.” Charles Spurgeon from his sermon “Songs in the Night”.
Sally Lloyd-Jones writes about our song: “We forgot our song long ago, when we turned and ran away from God. But Jesus has come to bring us home to God – and give us back our song.” Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.
A psalm of David when he was in the Desert of Judah:
1 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. 7 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. 8 I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:1-8
I write in the early morning hours when it’s still night. My song in the night is all the chapters of Sweetwater Journey that praise and glorify God through the lives of those who awake in their darkness and see the Great Light that is Jesus Christ and how that discovery has transformed them. Let us remember Job’s hindsight in our struggles:
” I know that you can do everything and not one of my thoughts can be withheld from you. Out of ignorance I caused confusion and second-guessed your purpose about things that were far beyond my understanding. I went on and on about what I thought was your purpose but that was only based on rumor. You tried to get me to give you more control in my life but I was filled with my own questions and my own short-sighted answers that really didn’t get me anywhere. I didn’t really see until now.”
“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here . . .” Romans 13:12 NIV