Climbing One Hundred and Nine Mountains
It took me almost a decade, but I finally climbed the mountains, all one hundred and nine of them. I began out of desperation, fueled by anger and fear and emotions untranslatable. I grasped neither the length of time it would take me nor the toll it would take from me. I simply moved forward, some days an inch, other days a mile. Looking back from the final peak, at the range over which I crawled, cried, and bled, I realize more than ever that this journey was a gift divine.
The mountainous range of which I speak are the one hundred and nine towering words of Psalm 13. Your tongue can speed through these words in less than a minute. But to voice them with your heart and soul and mind, to pray them with blood and sweat and tears, to drag your body over each towering word—that takes time. It took me ten years.
Are you suffering? Are you angry at God? Does your life seem like a bottle that’s toppled off the shelf and shattered into a million shards—broken, irrecoverable, useless for anything but something to fill up more space in the trash? Then, I beg you, as a fellow beggar for whom everything is a gift, to consider the gift of Psalm 13, and to begin your journey from its opening question to its closing affirmation.
The opening two verses are these:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
As you crawl into the cold, vacant bed and your body shakes and your eyes rain tears, you cry, “How long?” As company after company turns down your application, as the cancer continues to eat its way through your body, as your child sinks deeper and darker into the cavernous depths of depression, you scream, “How long?” Every emotion conspires together to convince you that your Father has forgotten that you are his child. Or worse, you suppose he has turned his back on you, written you off as a lost cause, hidden his face from you. Rather than pretending all is well, and thus praying a lie, this psalm places upon our lips a truthful plea, a pious complaint. These are God’s words, given as gifts to you, by which you can speak back to him. Voice your misery. Speak the truth to your Father. Climb these mountains.
The next two verses are these:
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
The highest mountain to climb in these verses is the tiny word, “my.” He is not God but my God. He is not the Lord but my Lord, my Father, my one and only life when death looms nigh. When my eyes are wet with tears, darkened by doubt, wide with fear, then my eyes look to my God for aid. “My” is the possessive of faith, the evidence of things not seen. It is the hand that clings to God, the Jacob that won’t let go of the Lord with whom he’s been wrestling all night. Lest I give up, carry me, my God. Lest every foe I face overwhelm me, fight for me, my God. Claim him as yours, for he is. He has claimed you, hears you, and will answer you. God says of you, “My child,” and you say of him, “My Father.”
The final two verses are these:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Here you have reached the summits of joy, where light drives away the darkness. There are no more questions. There are no more complaints or demands or petitions. There is trust, love, rejoicing, singing. On this mountain you stand with Noah exiting the ark, Jonah spit forth from the fish’s belly, and Jesus walking out of the tomb on Easter morning. Here God answers your question of “How long?” And he affirms that he had never forgotten you, but held you always in the palm of his nail-pierced hand. He cannot forget the one for whom he died. He will not turn his back on the one for whom his back was whipped and pressed into the wood of the cross. His love is steadfast, never wavering, never retreating, for he is your God and you are his child. He will deal bountifully with you. It may take years, but in those years of darkness and doubt and seeming death, he will always be by your side, surrounding you with his mercy. He will climb every mountain with you. As your high priest, he will pray every word with you.
More sufferings will come for me, as they do for all of us who still walk within this vale of tears. As there is a time for laughter, there will always be a time for weeping. So I will pray Psalm 13, climb every mountain within it, over and over. I will question, petition, rejoice. And as I do, I will remember that one day, I will climb a far different mountain. I will ascend Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, where sorrow and sighing will flee away, where death has been swallowed up in victory, and where I will behold my Lord, my God, who has been with me every step of the way.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!