A few weeks ago, I taught a class for The Influence Network called “When Suffering Abounds.” In it, we talked about how one of the first questions the Christian often asks during difficult times is, “how can I relate to God right now?”
This leads quickly to other questions:
- Who even IS God in this season?
- Is God real? If so, is He in this chaos? Do I want Him to be? If He was real, wouldn’t He DO something?
- If I’m going to believe that God is real even in this, how do I find Him?
These are all questions I’ve asked myself, some muttered under my breath more recently than I’d care to admit. These are questions I ask in my own moments of darkness, and questions I ask as the world around us seems to be crumbling. These are questions I ask as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile breathe their last at the hands of violence, as police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge fall to the hands of murderers, as Turkey and Nice and cities the world over, some far from this American land and some with roots burrowed inextricable into its soil, cry out for an intertwine of justice and mercy, gasping their need for comfort.
How long, Oh Lord?
There are moments in my life, moments that have occurred both when pain has been inflicted directly upon me and when it orbits around me, threatening my rose-tainted images of the world, that I have questioned the power of Scripture and prayer. Essentially, I suppose, this means that I have questioned the power of God Himself.
I do not mean that my perspective of God’s power should be limited to reading the Bible and praying. It really shouldn’t. What I mean is that I have often been skeptical of the power He proclaims and reveals in those pages, the power that calms wind and wave, the power that creates, beckons, and cares for souls. I have wondered where that power is.
In my more bitter moments of inquiry, moments marked by questions that do not actually desire answers, I am obstinate toward the Word, stubborn against prayer. I hate that this is true. I love, though, that there is a passage that near-always calls me back, a passage that seems to soften a place in me, makes the invitation of the Spirit seemingly irresistible. That passage is Psalm 40.
More succinctly, I suppose, that passage is Psalm 40:1. Fourteen words of David embedded in a book of prayer, lament, praise, thanksgiving, and heartbreak. Fourteen words that beckon me back when I am unsure of Who God is, of Who He says He is.
“I waited patiently for the Lord,” the Psalmist writes. “He inclined to me and heard my cry.”
I’ve read this verse many times, sometimes comforted by it, sometimes experiencing it in that rote way, that way carved out by years of growing up in the church, of having to remind myself that the Word is alive and active (because it doesn’t feel that way), the strange blessing and burden of having been born into a life with Scripture all around me, always. But one day, for some reason, a four word phrase within Psalm 40:1 leapt out at me, taking root in my mind and sprouting new thought, like the theme word in the midst of a brainstorm cloud.
“He inclined to me.”
And suddenly, Psalm 40 became prophetic.
I had always thought of God the Father as the inclining One, His ear bent toward me in prayer. And while I still think this is true and good, while I have no intention of relinquishing that image in exchange for another, the picture has become more robust, new layers added.
Now, when I read, “He inclined to me,” I think of Jesus as the inclining One, bowing to the Father’s will, condescending from His rightful, perfect place.
The image is crystalizing and cementing, I think of it so often now. Yes, God inclines toward me in prayer, in the everyday movements of my life. But He also inclined by sending His Son made flesh to dwell among us. He inclined to me in a way that was ultimate, a submission leading to death on my behalf.
The inclining Jesus came alive to me in Psalm 40 one day, and I cannot unsee Him. I think of Him condescending to earth, I imagine Him touching the sick. I think of Him bending down, stooping low from heaven to earth, I imagine Him knees to the dirt, stooping low to embrace a child.
Thousands of times I have walked into one of my babies’ rooms, during the days when they could not yet pull up on the side of the crib. They lie on their backs, or they sit, waiting for me to pick them up out of their cribs. Waiting for me to respond to their cries. Waiting for me to incline toward them.
This idea of the inclining deity, the inclining God made flesh, brings life, brings a new light. This week, I’m thinking of what Christ’s inclination says about His character, about His goodness, His humility, His love, His desire for us. I’m thinking of how I do not need to lose myself in worry over whether or not I am enough or too much, because His inclination draws my eyes upward. I’m thinking about what it looks like to wait patiently for Him, certain that He has inclined, is inclining, will incline.
And I’m giving thanks for Jesus, the ultimate inclining One, condescending toward me when I held no power to ascend toward Him. I’m thinking of my babies in their cribs and how their dependence is only a degree or so different from mine, though I fancy myself self-sufficient. I’m thinking of how my life depends entirely on the inclining One, and how that must mean His power and goodness are greater than I’ve known.
I’m thinking of how He inclined, He inclines, and He will incline.