Discipleship in the Wilderness: Helping Our Fellow Believers Live Out the Pursuits of Psalm 63 (Part 2)

From Faith Pulpit. Read Part 1: Seek God Earnestly.

Reflect on God Continually

In the midst of this life’s wilderness, everyone thinks; in the arid regions of the wilderness, thoughts sometimes scream. In these times, we must learn what captivates the thoughts of our brothers and sisters. We must help them not only to give themselves to learning more about their God, but also to capturing their thoughts with the truth of God that they know and are learning.

Evaluating Meditation

In order to evaluate, once again, we must be loving, compassionate, and wise listeners. Words both reveal and betray our meditations. We speak out of the thoughts of our hearts. As we listen to our brothers and sisters, we must pay close attention to what they say and to what they do not say. We must listen for words that are in harmony with the actions we observe, and we must listen for words that are discordant with behavior. As we listen, we should consider the thinking of our fellow believers in at least three important areas: their views of God, their views of themselves, and their views of others.

Listening for the View of God. First, we must listen for our brothers’ and sisters’ views of God. What do they teach us about their views of God by what they say about Him? What do they teach us about their views of Him by the times they leave Him out of their life’s stories? When are they tempted to doubt the truth they know about God based on the intensity of their present circumstances?

In order to learn the answers to these questions, we must both listen to and encourage our beloved brothers and sisters to speak openly about the doubts and distractions that capture their thoughts in the wilderness. This takes time. It often feels wrong to speak our hearts’ doubts about God openly with others. Yet we must encourage our brothers and sisters to speak with the humble, submissive, frankness of David. We must take them to the words of the Psalms to help them speak their thoughts to God and to us. Notice these verses where the authors of the Psalms expressed their doubts to God.

  • Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble? (Ps. 10:1).
  • How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (Ps. 13:1, 2).
  • My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent. (Ps. 22:1, 2).
  • Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do You hide Your face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; Our body clings to the ground. (Ps. 44:23–25).
  • Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught. Your fierce wrath has gone over me; Your terrors have cut me off. They came around me all day long like water; They engulfed me altogether. Loved one and friend You have put far from me, And my acquaintances into darkness (Ps. 88:14–18).

As we look together at the words of these Scriptures, we should ask our brothers and sisters to tell us where they identify with these authors. We should help them give words to their own hearts. In so doing, we will learn what captures their attention, and we will learn where they need to be captivated with truth about God.

We can also evaluate our brothers and sisters’ meditations about God by listening to them when they pray. When they talk to God, what do they say about His character? What tone of voice do they use? How does this tone change as the topics of their prayers change? What do they ask God to do with the situation and in the situation? For whom do they pray—themselves and others? Do they pray for their own growth in Christlikeness or only for escape from the difficulty? Where do they exhibit instabilities or vacillations in their prayers? Remember to rejoice in the demonstrations of faith in God, as well as listen for the doubts and distractions that could overwhelm faith.

Listening for the View of Self. As we listen for views of God, we will also hear our brothers’ and sisters’ views of themselves. Our doubts about God always influence our views of ourselves. God forsakes us. He hides from us. He fails to hear us.

How do the thoughts of God that capture their minds lead our brothers and sisters to make their meditations personal? Where do their wrong views of God lead them to have wrong views concerning themselves? What influence do these meditations hold over them? How do these thoughts provide an interpretive grid for their lives? How can we help them to see themselves more clearly through the lens of God’s Word?

Listening for the View of Others. We must also take note of meditations concerning others. Once again, our doubts about God always influence our views of others. Our enemies prosper while we flounder. God hears others, but not us. God fails to defend us against those who seek to harm or even destroy us. Where do our brothers and sisters fail to view others accurately because they fail to view God correctly? How do these views of others influence their decisions and actions? Where are they tempted to jealousy or self-pity as they meditate on their flawed interpretations of others?

As we begin to discern the focal points of our brothers’ and sisters’ meditations, we must ask ourselves, “What truths about the character and works of God need to seize their attention? Where do we need to help them combat their doubts and distractions with the glorious truth about their God?” As we begin to formulate answers to these questions, we then must seek to communicate God to our brothers and sisters in ways that will capture their thoughts with Him. We must help them rebuild the broken altar of their meditations from the stable stones of God’s character and works. We must help them turn the ordinary elements of their world into captivating reminders of God. We must help them to turn food, birds, arms, and jackals into reminders to them of their God. We must make it our goal to help them turn from their doubts and distractions and instead meditate day and night on their holy God.

Encouraging Meditation on God

As we spend time with our fellow believers, encouraging them to walk faithfully with God, we must look for opportunities to communicate the truth about God’s character and works in ways that can captivate their thoughts. In order to do this, we must be students of our brothers and sisters, and we must be students of the metaphors and imagery of the Scriptures.

Becoming Students of Our Brothers and Sisters. We must be students of people. We should take a personal interest in the details of the lives of our brothers and sisters. Where did they grow up? What were the sights and sounds of their childhood? Where did they go to college? Where do they work? What are the details of their work responsibilities? What are the sights and sounds on their commute to work? How do they spend their leisure time? What hobbies do they enjoy? What sports do they follow? What places have they visited? What are their likes and dislikes? Keep going and add to the list. If we are to help our brothers and sisters connect the truth about God to their everyday lives, we must know some of the details of their everyday lives.

Becoming Students of the Metaphors and Imagery in the Scriptures. We also must be students of the Scriptures—especially students of the metaphors of Scripture. Consider reading through the Psalms and noting the metaphors God uses for Himself. God is a rock, a strong tower, a shepherd, a light. For a period of time in my life, I read one psalm or section of a psalm each day and highlighted all the metaphors for God. This exercise helped me transform my meditation, and it also helped me better use these metaphors in my discipleship of others. Consider reading through the Gospel of John and noting afresh the “I am” statements of Christ—the bread of life, the light of the world, the vine, etc. How can these help us think on our Savior? How can these help us to encourage our brothers and sisters to turn from doubts and distractions and meditate on Christ?

As we become students of our brothers and sisters, of the character of our God, and of the metaphors of Scripture, we should then work to use metaphors in our conversations. When we do, the Spirit of God will use our words to help our fellow believers return in their thoughts to meditate on God’s character and work on their behalf. As Mary gives her energy to caring for her son who is dying of cancer, she will be reminded that her God stands watch over her life, always providing what is good for her at just the right time. As Ted faces the opposition of his boss, looking at the clock, hoping for the end of the day, he will be reminded that God’s mercies are new with every new day, and God is faithful every second. As Joel lies on his hospital bed and sees the IV providing for him the fluids and medicines his body needs, he will meditate on the truth that his God provides all he needs to respond with faithful trust as he faces each moment’s uncertainty. As Mark plants the crop in the spring, grieving over the loss of his son in last fall’s harvesting accident, his thoughts will be drawn to his God who will resurrect Jim’s body and reunite them in that day of eternal springtime. As Kathy cries out to God, humbly asking why her mother died in a car accident on the eve of Kathy’s wedding, she will also meditate on the fact that her mom is in the presence of her Eternal Bridegroom.

Meditating Continually on God. As we continue to assist our brothers and sisters to turn from their doubts and distractions to meditate on their God day and night, we can do this through encouraging them to take on various projects that will help them to reflect on God continually. Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep a list of the thoughts that keep fighting for your attention. How do they reflect the doubts and distractions of your heart? What Scriptures draw your attention away from these doubts and distractions to truth about God, yourself, and others?
  • Make a photo album of Scriptures, songs, hymns, poems, quotes, etc. that draw your heart to God and away from your doubts and distractions.
  • Make a list of God’s character and works from the Psalms. Turn it into a think list and a prayer list. Thank God for Who He is and what He does. Do the same with Ephesians or the Gospel of John.
  • Write your own psalm. Share your doubts and distractions with God. Remind yourself of the character of your God and His work on your behalf. Make it your prayer to God. Read it to Him when your doubts and distractions scream for your attention.
  • Create a playlist of songs and Scripture readings that will help you to meditate on God.
  • Develop your own metaphors. What routine elements of your world can you transform into wonderful word pictures and captivating metaphors that direct your attention to the character and works of your God?

(Part 1: seek God Earnestly. Part 2: Reflect on God continually. Part 3: Praise God Submissively.)

Jeff Newman, (D. Min., Westminster Theological Seminary) is a professor of Biblical Counseling at Faith Baptist Bible College. He and his family live in Ankeny and are active members of Altoona Regular Baptist Church in Altoona.

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