November 14, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 77:9-15 (NRSV)
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
And I say, “It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
In times of crisis and suffering, our reflections will not be easy. Sometimes we may even doubt God’s faithfulness. But Psalm 77 teaches us to reflect, not only on our difficulties but also on God and God’s wonders. Sometimes we’ll sense a tension between our current experience and what God has done in the past. That tension may even seem irreconcilable at times. But remembering God’s gracious actions in the past will reassure us even when our questions remain.
This devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Reflection
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I examined the first part of Psalm 77, which is full of reflection. The psalm writer is reflecting on the misery he feels in what he calls the “day of [his] trouble” (77:2). He is so sorrowful that he wonders if God has turned away from him. “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” the psalmist asks. “Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (77:9).
But then the writer turns sharply from reflecting on his distress to meditating on God and God’s amazing works in the past. “I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD,” he writes (77:11). Then, in the second half of the psalm, he calls to mind, remembers, meditates, and muses on God’s wonders, focusing especially on God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
The psalm ends with a concise summary of the exodus, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (77:20). I find it interesting that the psalm does not offer some kind of explicit resolution between the sorrow of the first half and the faithful affirmation of the second half. It seems that the writer has not yet resolved this tension in his own mind and heart. He’s still working on it, still remembering, still reflecting.
The example of Psalm 77 shows that reflection in difficult times isn’t something that happens quickly and painlessly. We don’t reflect for a few minutes and then discover that everything is just fine. Rather, reflection during suffering often takes the form of an internal dialogue, one in which we consider the apparent incongruities of the life of faith. Like the writer of Psalm 77, a part of us questions God’s grace while another part of us remembers God’s gracious salvation in the past.
When I worked for Laity Lodge in Texas, I had the privilege of praying in a variety of different contexts with Howard E. Butt, Jr., the founder of the Lodge and a man of deep faith. Howard would often begin his prayers with lengthy recitals of what God had done in the past, in his past, and in the historic past. He explains this practice in his book Who Can You Trust?: “When I’m in a really bad place, I make it a habit to mentally review before God—daily if necessary—my own private history. I deliberately go back and plug it into God’s Holy History: Creation, biblical Israel, Jesus and the Incarnation, his Cross and Resurrection, his Ascension and outpoured Spirit, the Church.”
What Howard did so regularly was a Christian version of what we see in Psalm 77. He would “mentally review before God,” or we might say reflect before God, on God’s actions in his life and in “God’s Holy History.” This reflection would lead to reassurance and boldness. Surely the God who had acted so wondrously in the past would do so again. Howard puts it this way: “All history—world history, Holy History, church history, plus your personal history and mine—tells us that God is dependably loving and good. You can rest your weary bones in that fact!”
In times of crisis and suffering, our reflections will not be easy. Sometimes we may even doubt God’s faithfulness. But Psalm 77 teaches us to reflect, not only on ourselves but also on God and God’s wonders. Sometimes we’ll sense a tension between our current experience and what God has done in the past. That tension may even seem irreconcilable at times. But remembering God’s gracious actions in the past will reassure us even when our questions remain.
Do you ever take time in prayer to remember God’s works in the past?
What helps you to reflect on how God has been active in your life?
Eight days from now will be Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For many years I have used this occasion as an opportunity to remember God’s gifts in my life. These days, I’m able to do so on Thanksgiving morning. I get up early and while it’s still quiet I reflect on the past year. To help me with this reflection I pull out my calendar and journal. I make a list of all the gifts I’ve received in the last year. Some of these are obvious and repeated every year (gratitude for my family, for example). But many of the gifts I jot down were special to the previous year. Without fail, I end up remembering things I had been taking for granted. As I make my list of gifts, I thank God again and again for such marvelous grace.
I would encourage you to join me in this exercise of Thanksgiving reflection and prayer. It may not work for you to do it on Thanksgiving Day. That’s partly why I’m mentioning it now. I expect you’ll be able to set aside an hour or so in the next eight days, or perhaps during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Gracious God, thank you for Psalm 77, which models for us diverse forms of reflection. This psalm invites us to reflect on the hard things in our lives and how they impact our relationship with you. And this psalm encourages us to remember your wonders.
In this season of thanksgiving, help us to make time to reflect on how your grace has been active in our lives. May we also consider how your grace has been at work in history. Most of all, may we remember your grace given to us through Jesus Christ, his life, work, message, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension. Amen.
Banner image by Eric Barbeau on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: A Psalm for Those of Us Who Are in Process.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.