My God, My God Why have you Forgotten Me? [Psalm 22:1]
God speaks to me through scripture. Through other books I read. In dreams and through the wisdom of the people I encounter in my daily life. Several years ago God spoke to me through my pain and failure and gave me a vision for a life of comfort and peace that has guided me ever since.
I don’t mean comfort in the sense that my life would be easy, comfortable or pain free. I mean comfort in the sense that I would bring comfort and hope to some of the dark and dreariest places of this world.
My favorite character in scripture, apart from Jesus of course, has always been Paul’s friend Barnabas. Barnabas isn’t his real name. His real name is Joseph the Cypriot. He was a Levite, a member of the priestly class who joined the early Christ-followers. We first meet Joseph in Acts 4:36-37 where we learn that he had just sold some land and donated the money to the disciples cause. This is also where we learn his nick name, Barnabas which means “son of comfort”. You see, Barnabas was so committed to bringing encouragement and comfort to everyone he met that the rest of the disciples dispensed with his name altogether and just started calling him “Comfort Man”.
Later, when Paul comes on the scene, he needs someone with him who shares his history as a Jewish Priest and can help smooth the waters with the leaders of the various local churches, some of whom may even have been on the receiving end of some of Paul’s early persecution. The disciples elect Barnabas to go to Paul and work with him as his ministry partner.
We don’t know a lot about Barnabas before this time. But there are a few things we can guess at based on the culture of the time and the details that we do know. First of all, for Barnabas to join the early church would have been a fundamentally life changing decision, he was a Levite, a member of the priestly class. In order for him to join the early Christian church would have meant not only that he would become unemployed but that he would be turning his back on centuries of family tradition. Most likely his family would have disowned him. To be a Levite was not a career path one chose but a vocation one was born into. To refuse the duties associated with the office would be to turn your back on your entire family.
Secondly, Barnabas not only went through with his conversion to Christianity but he then sold what was likely his only early possession and gave the money to the work of the church. He is now both unemployed and he had liquidated his retirement account. He had no financial security whatsoever.
Finally, in light of all of this it isn’t much of a stretch for us the think that Barnabas was operating from a place of deep pain, loss and maybe even regret. And yet, he is still able to give so much of himself that he earns the nickname “Comfort Man”.
Through my own journey I have come to love Barnabas not for what he gave up, but for what he gained in the process.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4]
How will they be comforted? For many they will find their own Barnabas. And it was through my own mourning that God gave me the vision that I would one day be that Barnabas for so many experiencing the same kind of pain and heart ache that I was living through.
My journey started in 2005 and the vision took shape over the next 10 years. I now have, what I believe to be a fully formed vision. But it’s as if the life I see and the ministry God has laid on my heart now lie on a distant shore and there is an ocean between where I am now and where I need to be. Worst of all, it feels as though God give me the vision and moved on before giving me the blueprint for the bridge I need to build to get there – which brings me back to my study of Psalm 22.
For Christ-followers, the opening line of Psalm 22 is a familiar one. Jesus echoed these words from the cross (Matthew 27:46).
My sister is a pastor in Southwestern Ontario. Her Easter message this year was a study of Psalm 22 because, as she put it, Jesus prayed through this Psalm while he was dying as a reminder to both himself and those who would hear his words that even when God is silent, his promises endure.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me. [Psalm 22:19b]
And after several reminders of God’s promises we see the final transition to praise and gratitude.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever! [Psalm 22:25-26]
God has not forgotten anyone. Those who hold to his promises and heed them will be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord will praise him.
Some of what we learn from Psalm 22 is this idea that to the extent that God seems distant is how far we have strayed from his teaching. His promises are real, my vision is god breathed. I can’t yet see the path but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Just keep doin’ your best
And pray that it’s blessed
He’ll take care of the rest [Keith Green]