Hanging in there when you want to give up…

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Psalm 139: 1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. 3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

This psalm begins like many psalms of Thanksgiving. The writer was in need and God responded. What interests me this morning is HOW God responded. Look again at v.3:

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.”

Usually, when God responds to a cry for help, there is a visible/material outcome that results. Enemies are defeated in battle. Sick people are healed. Drought or famine are broken. In this case, however, the results were more internal than external “you increased my strength of soul”. The writer experienced a change, a strengthening… on the inside. In his soul. In the deepest most intimate part of his being. Even if nothing on the outside changed, this internal change… changes everything. There is hope and peace and perseverance to carry on.

Most of you know I’ve been a pastor for many years now. It’s interesting to me the connection between a person’s internal strength and one’s capacity to recover from illness. Over the years I’ve encountered people whose diagnosis was grim, yet they survived because they fought. They prayed. By the grace of God, they practically willed themselves to survive.

On the other hand I’ve known people whose illness was not nearly as serious, yet they didn’t last long because they had no strength, no will to live. One’s internal state can make a huge difference in the outcomes of life, particularly in times of crisis and loss.

My sense about the author of this psalm is that he was at the end of his rope. His strength was waning. His capacity to fight back almost gone – but then God did something. God increased his “strength of soul” and he survived the ordeal. It’s as if God lifted him onto his back and carried him to life.

In closing I’ll share the words of a poem called “Footprints in the Sand”, which many of you will find familiar. Some of you feel like you’re walking alone right now during some of the most difficult days ever. You find yourself running out of strength to keep up the fight, to hang in there during a tough time. You find yourself wanting to give up. Let the words of today’s psalm and this poem minister to you today:

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied: “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

Amen.

Footprints author: Carolyn Joyce Carty

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