Then I Understood
We are living in a season of uncertainty. Our previous routines now require careful evaluation and creative solutions, leaving many of us exhausted.
This is not new to the human experience. Scripture gives us multiple examples of individuals who have navigated life’s big challenges. Psalm 73 is an honest snapshot of one person who was able to stop his thoughts from spiraling downward and to find hope—the psalmist Asaph.
Asaph begins by stating what he knows to be true about God. “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Ps. 73:1).
Yes, God is good. God will always be good. Yet Asaph’s knowledge about God did not prevent an honest struggle within his heart and mind. From my experience, this is a normal tension. An honest struggle is healthy when we, like Asaph, can acknowledge and express our feelings.
Asaph confesses the turmoil in his soul with this opening statement: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2,3).
Asaph’s honest confession continues (see Psalm 73:4–15) and concludes with this statement: “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply” (73:16).
Can you relate? Is anything troubling you deeply during these uncertain times? There is good news. Just as Asaph’s journey—as recorded in this psalm—was not over, neither is ours.
Jesus’ invitation is from the heart of a good God, who welcomes us to draw near: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).
I don’t know if Asaph heard this invitation in his own spirit, but he did find a fresh perspective and rest for his soul when he entered the sanctuary of God. The tone of this psalm pivots when he declares: “then I understood” (see Psalm 73:17).
Take some time to savor the remaining portion of Psalm 73. We can smile at Asaph’s ruthless honesty when he admits being a “brute beast.” And we breathe a sigh of relief as Asaph finally finds peace for his troubled soul.
The world will continue to be complicated and confusing, but we do have a safe place—a refuge—for our emotional and intellectual distress.
The psalmist’s conclusion resonates with my deeply felt need for soul rest.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. . . . But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds (Ps. 73:26, 28).
May we all be able to declare, even amid uncertainty: “It is good to be near God.” And may we all have stories to tell of how He has refreshed our souls.
A Seismic Shift
They were invited to follow Him and along the way discovered their purpose—a culture-changing message.
Then their leader was arrested, and they all scattered (see Matthew 26:56). When He was crucified, the earth shook (see Matthew 27:51). And Jesus’ disciples experienced a seismic shift, a foundational reordering of their expectations.
As they quarantined themselves, locking the doors for fear of their own leaders (see John 20:19), perhaps they asked themselves: What do we do now? How long should we stay here? What do we do next? Is it time for us to disband?
The disciples had been shaken. Sound familiar? We, too, have experienced disruption, confusion, uncertainty, and tumult in these days. We are wrestling with the realities of COVID-19 and racial injustice and tensions in our communities. Our assumptions and expectations are being challenged. Our faith perspectives are being examined.
Yet this upheaval does not have to be devastating; the unstable unpredictability of today’s circumstances could very well be God’s grace to us.
Look at Hebrews 12:27. This verse speaks of “the removing of what can be shaken—that is created things,” perhaps our own thoughts, plans, ideas, and expectations—so that “what cannot be shaken may remain.”
Amid confusion and commotion, God’s presence brings clarity and stability.
Let’s go back to the scene described in John 20:19; notice what changes the atmosphere. Jesus comes and stands among the disciples and says: “Peace be with you!”
I’m sure the disciples were still feeling a bit unsteady, even in the presence of Jesus. But, don’t miss this: What could not be shaken remained—the purpose and plan of God manifested through Jesus’ Incarnate presence.
Let’s take a closer look at what can’t be shaken in His Kingdom:
First, God’s enduring purpose: “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11). God has already written the story from beginning to end. Nothing can thwart what the Lord Almighty has purposed (see Isaiah 14:27). For us, the story is still unfolding, but His purpose and plan will be accomplished and cannot be shaken.
Second, God’s faithful presence: Just as the pillar of cloud and fire did not leave the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness (see Nehemiah 9:19), Jesus has promised to be with us always (see Matthew 28:20). Yes, even in our wanderings and times of waiting. And, yes, even when everything seems to change. The disciples began their journey with the Incarnate Christ; after their seismic shift experience, they continued their journey with Him through the gift of His Holy Spirit (see Acts 1). Jesus’ centrality cannot be shaken.
Finally, God’s chosen people: From the calling of Abraham to the birth of the Church, God has purposed to reveal Himself and accomplish His work through people. When Jesus reappeared after His Resurrection, he told Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers” (John 20:17). In other words, “Don’t disband; stick together.” He spent the next 40 days reinstating and reassuring His followers. His final command sent them on mission (see Matthew 28:18–20). God’s people can endure because God’s purposes cannot be shaken.
May these unshakeable truths steady your soul.
We Are Sent
We have been given a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (see Hebrews 12:28). We have been given the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God. We are the people of His Kingdom—and there are tremendous opportunities ahead of us as we allow God to shake us.
May we reemerge from the seismic shifts of these days with gratitude for what remains.
Walking through Uncertainty
I still feel a bit disoriented since the sudden shift away from “normal” thanks to COVID-19. The uncertainty of future plans is simultaneously unsettling and freeing. In a fresh way, I’ve found myself identifying with Mary Magdalene in John 20, a woman reeling from the disorienting experience of Jesus’ Crucifixion, death, and burial. Nothing is as it was nor will be ever again. I’ve been drawn into this moment with Mary and noticed a few new things.
First there are the movements in the scene.
John 20 begins with a lot of running—to the tomb, away from the tomb, back to the tomb. There is a sense of urgency.
Then the scene shifts. Peter and John return to where they were staying, but Mary lingers, crying. I stood there with her, sharing her deep sense of loss. And I noticed that she takes a moment to absorb her loss and to grieve. It was not easy to stand with Mary, but I recognized that it is important to wait here—to mourn with those who mourn.
I’m reminded that in times of transition, especially those that are unexpected, it is good to acknowledge what has been lost and to grieve well. I asked myself anew, “Am I being honest with my emotions?” I was impressed by Mary’s authentic lament, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him!” (see John 20:2). And I asked myself, “Is there a loss I still need to lament in this season of uncertainty?” I coached myself: “Don’t move away from this scene too quickly. Linger as long as necessary.”
Once again, mercifully, there’s movement. A “gardener” enters the scene and asks Mary why she is crying. Mary offers the same lament, but the visitor already knows what is in her heart. In response, he speaks her name. My heart leapt with joy along with Mary’s. Then I looked at Jesus with a newly tender heart as I realized, This is who You are. You see my grief and move toward me. You know what I have lost, but when You speak my name, I find everything I need.
With one word, Jesus redeems all that is lost. A relationship is restored, and Mary finds her joy. With His next words, Mary finds her first steps forward into all that Jesus had planned: “Go to my brothers and tell them” (John 20:17). I rejoiced with Mary as she proclaims to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
The writer of Ecclesiastes states that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (3:1). The scene I witnessed in John 20 includes all of what is described in Ecclesiastes 3:4 as “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Life never remains static, and I am often uncertain of what I should do next. I asked myself, “What time is it for me? Is this my moment to grieve well, being honest with myself, God, and others? Is this my moment to notice Jesus approaching me in my grief and loss? Is this my moment to hear Jesus say my name and find myself laughing and dancing? Is this my moment to go and tell others with astonishment and joy what God has done for me?”
Though I am unsure of the answers, I know the Holy Spirit is able to help me. Every moment and every uncertainty can be entrusted to Him. And whether I recognize it or not, He is present in every moment.