The Good Old Days

“I think of the good old days, long since ended, 
when my nights were filled with joyful songs. 
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Psalms‬ ‭77:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Asaph, today’s Psalmist, seemed to be in a place of trouble. A place where he was calling out to God, but there were no answers to his cries of distress. And he wrote in verse 4, “You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!” Have we ever been in a place like that? One where the Heavens seem to be made of brass and we wonder if God is taking a holiday?

The Psalmist did what we tend to do when life is difficult. He reflected on times past, the “good old days”. When life seemed so much easier than it is today. “Why did I ever leave that job – it was much easier than today and the people were much nicer”. Or, “I wish our old minister had never retired”. Or “I always seemed to have money in my pocket then – it’s difficult making ends meet today because things are so much more expensive.” The list is endless. But the problem is that we tend to look back with what have been called “rose-tinted glasses”. Remembering the good bits in our lives but conveniently forgetting the hard and difficult times. And, like the Psalmist, we compare our memories with life today and ponder.

But such a strategy is unproductive. Though it is good to take our memories out of the closet where we keep them and dust them off from time to time, we would do well to remember that we cannot relive those times. They are gone. As I keep reminding myself when times seem tough, what lies before me is what I make of it. With God’s help I can deal with any issues and move on. We must use the memories to remind ourselves of how we handled tough times, not lapse into self-pity, dwelling on “if only…”.

The Psalmist does the same. He turns away from the nostalgic analysis of his memories, instead leveraging them for his current situation. He wrote, “But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.” And that is all Asaph needed to do. He remembered himself into a place where he knew God would “do it again”. In faith we too can reach out to God, reminding Him of His grace and mercy in years past and asking Him to help us again. God never changes. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. If He helped us through a crisis a year ago, He will do so again. And He delights in answering the prayers of His children.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippian church, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Our lives today can’t be tougher than Paul’s. But nothing was going to deter him from finishing well in the race of life. Let’s press on together.

Forgetful People

Don’t kill them, for my people soon forget such lessons; stagger them with Your power, and bring them to their knees, O Lord our shield.
‭Psalms‬ ‭59:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 59 continues the epic journey of David and his thoughts as he focuses on avoiding Saul’s malign attempts to end his life. In this Psalm, David rants before God about the nasty people who are out to get him, waiting for him to return home. They are “criminals”, “murderers”, “vicious dogs”, people with “sinful lips”. David doesn’t have much good to say about them at all. But at the end of the Psalm he again lapses into the comfort of his relationship with God, waiting for Him to rescue him. 

But today’s verse is interesting. David knows what people and their memories and thought processes are like. He knew that if God killed David’s enemies it would be a warning to some at the time but then quickly forgotten. Human nature is still the same today. Take for example someone’s driving behaviour if they see a road traffic accident caused by speeding. Their driving style and speed might moderate for a few miles, but for how long will it stay that way? Sooner or later they will forget or ignore what happened and carry on as they did before. The reoffending rate of people imprisoned for burglary is another example. Many soon forget their period of incarceration and return to their old ways. It is a trait of human nature to forget sinful events committed by others or ourselves, adopting an “it will never happen to me” mentality, or ”I’ll be more careful next time and not get caught”.  

However, David appealed to God to “stagger [such people] with [His] power and bring them to their knees“. He knew that someone repenting of their sins, on their knees before God, would have a far greater impact on the society around them. I know a lovely man in Glasgow, jailed in his teens for a drug offence. He found God in prison and is now the Pastor of a church in the very same community where he committed his drug offences. What an impact he has had! He is a constant reminder to the people in that community of God’s grace being available for all sinners, even him. David knew, and recorded in his Psalm, that a life snuffed out will have no future value, but one redeemed from sin will last forever. If my Pastor friend had continued in a life of drugs and crime, there would have been no lasting legacy, no outpouring of God’s grace, no constant reminder that there is a God in Heaven who cares for all mankind, and particularly those in his community.

So we need to be gracious. We need to pray, and keep praying, for those in our communities, workplaces, families, circle of friends, anyone we know who may be causing us difficulties. These people may not be enemies in the way David describes, but they may be telling lies, or posting unfavourable comments on social media about us. They may be ignoring us in the street. They may even be unpleasant to our faces. But prayer changes things. As we pray God will work on their hearts, and give them the opportunity to kneel before Him, asking for His forgiveness. And as we pray, He will change our hearts too, helping us see these people through His eyes, even loving them as He loves us. I can only say in response to such a gracious God, “What a Saviour!” Do I hear an “Amen”?

Legacy

“O God, we have heard it with our own ears— our ancestors have told us of all You did in their day, in days long ago:” Psalms‬ ‭44:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What legacy has my ancestors left me? There is the cache of memorabilia at the back of a cupboard. My father’s war medals. My mother’s diary and items of jewellery. A box of photographs. An unusual item of furniture from a great-aunt. But what about “all [God] did in their day”? My parents were very private in their faith and have left little, if anything, to describe their experience of God. Not even a reference on a tombstone. But what about me? What faith and God-experience legacy will I leave my children and grandchildren? And even beyond to future generations? Will it just be an epitaph below my name and life-dates on a marble monolith, located in a graveyard somewhere? Or will I just leave a Bible with a few notes in the margins? Will that be the only legacy I will leave?

Traditional Jewish families were very good at story telling, and particularly the wonderful stories of what God did in the lives and circumstances of their ancestors. The Red Sea and Jordan crossings. The David and Goliath story. The first Passover. But I don’t want to fall back on the stories of previous, more recent, generations. The exploits of men and women like John Wesley or Charles Finney. Smith Wigglesworth or Corrie Ten Boom. I want to leave my descendants something significant from my life. Something wonderful that God has done for me. Of course, there will be many small things that happen in the lives of faith-filled Christians, as God’s people look to Him for guidance and provision. But there will also be bigger things, and I can look back at the way my wonderful God answered my cries for help when my daughter was at death’s door in a hospital bed. When a boat journey was perilous and all I could do was call on His name as He helped to steer my boat to a safe harbour. And that wonderful time when porpoises interacted with me and my grandchildren when boating on the Sound of Jura.

But today’s verse encourages me to be more vocal with my God-life experiences. So that the next generations can hear what God has done for me because I choose to communicate as often as possible all that God did in my day. So that my ancestors can tell of memories of “days long ago”.

So let’s ask the question this morning, “What legacy will I leave my ancestors?” Hmmm….

Life the Jesus Way

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you..” Psalms‬ ‭42:5-6‬a ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been “downcast”? In a place where your view of life is monochrome in a technicolour world? Where the negative and difficult issues of life are weighing heavily in your thoughts? Where even depression is affecting your mental health? The Psalmist who wrote these verses was himself not in a good place, with a downcast and disturbed soul. But he knew from his own experience of God that he needed to grab hold of three words – “remember”, “hope” and “praise”. The Psalmist had a personal relationship with God and through the experience of years of walking closely with Him he knew that by the application of these three words he would regain his mental stability and restore colour to his black and white world. Notice it is ok to be “downcast”. Life is like that. We can find ourselves in such a place frequently in life. I know a dear lady who even when recently given bad medical news, was able to remember, hope in and praise her wonderful Friend, altering her perspective for the future. She had found the key to living a life where circumstances were not going to affect her soul, no matter how bad the issues were.

There will be those who will say that I don’t know how bad their situation is. They will blame their upbringing, their mental health, their families and so on. They will say that not even God can lift them out of their circumstances. But there are Christians in North Korea, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, but who can remain active in their faith, remembering, hoping in and praising their Saviour and their God. There is a lovely Christian man, Nick Vujicic, whose strap line has been, “I’ve no arms and legs – what’s your problem?” We all live in our own life bubbles, experiencing our own issues, facing into our own worlds, dealing with our own downcast souls. And God has provided all the resources we need through Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:10‬b ‭NIVUK‬‬. I saw a bumper sticker today, “One Life, Live It”. Let’s live the life God has given us the Jesus way, full of God-memories, full of God-hope, and full of God-praise.