Trusting God in the wilderness
As we start our journey through Lent, Suzanne Cooke urges us to take inspiration from the psalms and get closer to God through our wilderness experiences.
I wonder if you have a favourite psalm?
Maybe it’s psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul."
Or perhaps it’s psalm 46: "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High."
Whatever your favourite, psalm 25 has to be amongst the most beautiful; "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; O my God, in you I trust."
In the Church of England this year, this is the psalm that begins our season of Lent. This alongside a reminder of the covenant God makes with Noah in Genesis and of course Mark’s account of Jesus who, having just been baptised by John, was driven out into the wilderness, tempted by the devil, watched over and cared for by angels.
Many of us probably feel as if we have been in the wilderness for a lot longer than 40 days and 40 nights! Particularly as have been given the news this week that restrictions will continue, in some form, until at least late June.
This will be the second Easter drastically affected by the pandemic – the second Lent where we or people close to us are experiencing a life of loneliness, difficulty, fear, and uncertainty. So, the second year where the wilderness experience doesn’t take quite so much imagination.
I wonder how many of you, when asked to read the psalm in church, when we were allowed in church of course, have winced at the emotion it contained – unfiltered, unrestrained, the psalmist’s anguish drips from the page. But this is exactly why this week’s psalm seems so vivid and arresting – we hear the psalmist’s pain, his distress, his fear, and about now, we are right there with him. We get it.
But this year, in particular, Psalm 25 has much to give us, because this psalm is all about seeking God’s guidance in life’s most difficult moments. In knowing that at the point of our greatest distress, not only will God be by our side, but that distress, that vulnerability, provides an opportunity that perfectly fits with our Lenten disciplines.
Because in the act of giving ourselves to God, in lifting up our soul to God, we have everything to gain. As the Psalmist tells us, in finding God’s ways and discerning God’s paths, we have the opportunity to gain wisdom, to learn.
Fundamentally, this is a psalm that is reminding us that our relationship with God best emerges from a place of humility. Or put slightly differently, that our relationship with God emerges from a place where we are always ready to accept that God is with us, God is merciful, but that even the darkest of times offer us, as Christians, the opportunity to learn and grow in our relationship with God.
Let’s go back to the opening verses:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; O my God, in you I trust.
That point of vulnerability, the point at which we have bared our soul in fearful trust of the one who is ever loving, ever compassionate, is the very point at which we are most likely to learn most and to grow most in wisdom and knowledge of God’s love for us.
Most profoundly these moments of fearful adversity are the moments when in our pain and anguish we are closest to the God who comes to rescue us, to meet us where we stand in our earthly difficulties and to make us the offer that only our God can – we are offered the gift of salvation.
A powerful reminder as we begin again our journey towards the cross.
The above image is courtesy of pixabay.com.
Rev Suzanne Cooke is the vicar of four rural churches, sitting at the foot of the Cheviot Hills in the far north of Northumberland. Her call to ministry came whilst living with her family in North Norfolk and she is proud to have begun her ordained life in the Norwich Diocese.
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