Mrs. KathyKeller: I was able to say, “God, You promised!” I mean, the Psalm tells us to actually hold. God to His promises. You promised. You promised You would give me Your face. That’s all I want. Just look at me. Just give me Your face and tell me that You see what I’m going through and it’s what You want me to go through and I’ll be all right.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Kathy Keller recalling a challenging season in her life when she cried out to God. And she and her husband, Dr. Tim Keller are on today’s “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we had such a powerful discussion last time about how reading and praying through the Psalms, especially with your spouse, draws you close to God and to each other. Psalm 139, 7 through 8 reminds us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You’re there. If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.” Today we want to encourage you that whatever you’re goin’ through, whether it is a joyous season or maybe a dark one, that God is with you and hears your cries.
John: And He promises that over and over again in the Psalms and that’s why this conversation with the Kellers is so encouraging. And if you missed any of it last time, we have a CD of the complete discussion with the Kellers available at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And the Kellers’ book is called The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms and let’s go ahead and hear the second part of this conversation. Jim, you had just asked them about having faith and trusting God, even in the midst of pain and here’s Tim’s response.
Tim Keller: Years ago Kathy and I took, you know, went to seminary together and we had an Old Testament professor, Meredith Kline that summed up the book of Job in a way I never could’ve imagine in that, he said, “As Job looks like he’s complaining, and he is and he’s cursed the day of his birth and he’s actually saying to God, ‘I’d like you to appear before me, ’cause I’ve got some questions for You.’” And he’s actually talking in a way that makes most Christians feel uncomfortable. People saying, “Oh, my goodness, he’s really being pretty rude and angry.”
But at the end of the book, God shows up; vindicates Job, tells him he passed the test. And our professor said, it’s because even though Job was screaming and yelling and biting the rug and doing all that, he was doing it to God. He didn’t leave. He did it all in front of God. He was complaining to God. He wasn’t going off and complaining.
Kathy: Like we’ve heard people say, “If this is how God’s gonna treat me, I’m done with You, God.”
Tim: That’s right.
Tim: In other words, he stayed in the presence of God. He continued to pray and therefore, when you do that, even when you’re saying some pretty hard things, that shows trust. And I think therefore, yes, I do think that’s part of the essence of, you know, Psalm 62 [FYI: 61:2]. “From the ends of the earth I cry to You, O Lord.” In other words, I’m really at the end of my rope, but I haven’t stopped praying and that is the ultimate version of trust and confidence.
Kathy: One of the things that I read somewhere when I was so sick last year that made such a difference and it’s really captured in the Psalms is, someone said, so often what we want is the gift of God’s hand rather than the glory of God’s face. And that’s what sort of propelled me to say, “I want Your face. I mean, I’m not asking You to fix this. I’m not asking you to heal this. I’m not. I mean, I would like it, you know, if You are willing, make me whole, but I really want Your face. That’s the only way I can get through this, give me Your face.”
Jim: Yeah, you know, when you look at this life, there’s so much trouble and you know, people dying, people breaking up, their marriages ending and usually one spouse is being caught off guard in that process, a lot of pain. And yet, God tends to see the big picture.
Jim: He tends to know that our days are numbered. He knows the day. When you look from His perspective and you think of the trials and the difficulty that we have in this life, how do we get a better handle on the fact that we’re not gonna live forever. We do come to an end and that the best thing we can do is seek Him and know Him and trust Him. It’s as if we ignore that aspect, like, as if we’re gonna live forever and we don’t get serious with God, even within the Christian community.
Tim: Yeah, actually, you know, we have Psalm 16 and Psalm 17 and you might say, the biblical understanding of resurrection and afterlife gets more and more clear and concrete as the New Testament, as you get into the New Testament.
Nevertheless, the Old Testament talks about, “When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing Your face.” “In Your face is fullness of joy.” It says, “joy upon joy.” It says, you know, that actually I think the Hebrew is it’s doubled. It’s like, “In My face is joy upon joys.” “And in the right hand is pleasures forevermore.” So, you have these places at the end of say, Psalm 16, 17 that say, in spite of everything, there’s joy in Your presence and I’m on my way to that and I can hold out—
Tim: –until I get there. But then there is, by the way, Psalm 39, Psalm 88 that end in total darkness. Two Psalms end in complete darkness, no note of hope at the end. And that’s God’s way of saying in the Psalms, darkness can last a long time, so be ready for that.
John: Ah, I appreciate what you’re saying, because I think I’ve come to the realization, even though I’ve been a believer for a long time, that I’ve gone to the Scripture to find out how I’m supposed to live. And what you’ve captured here about the Psalms is, you go to the Psalms to find out who God is, not what He requires of you. And there are all sorts of—
John: –unanswered questions. I mean, the Psalms don’t always end, as you’re saying, on a happy note. But if we have confidence in who He is, then we can land on a dark note, know that He is going to be there at that moment and that kinda carries us through.
Kathy: You’re referring to something that I call “a tipping point,” which I know is stolen from Malcolm Gladwell, but (Laughter)—
John: I’m sure he’d—
Kathy: –using it a different—
John: –be honored—
Kathy: –way, yes.
John: –for you to use it that way.
Kathy: So, I’m using it in a different way. I think there’s a point in every Christian’s life if they really are a genuine believer, where they have to come to a time where they say, the big issue is settled. I’m not … this circumstance, any circumstance, the next circumstance is not gonna make me question God’s love or His wisdom or His goodness or His kindness. Those things are settled in my mind.
And the new circumstance that comes up, a death, an illness, a tragedy, a financial reversal is not gonna make me say, “Well, God, where are You? If You really exist, how come this happened?” You will say, “I hate this. I don’t want this. This is horrible, but God, You are still God. You are still in charge. You are still present with me, “that there’s a tipping point, like the Continental Divide out in—
Kathy: –you know, where—
Kathy:–you guys are–
Kathy: –where the drop of water goes down the other side of the mountain, rather than back flowing into all kinds of doubts about God’s character. That’s a settled issue. God’s character has been settled and no circumstance is gonna shake that. You’ll be shaken; you’ll feel terrible, but God’s character is not gonna be called into question anymore.
Jim: Right, no human attitude will change—
Jim: –that either.
Jim: It’s truth. Tim, so often in the Scripture and we’ve talked about it, the Lord seems to be disappointing our expectations, that we have an expectation that if we do these things then the Lord will do these things.
Jim: And it doesn’t happen and we get discouraged.
Jim: How do the Psalms speak to that?
Tim: Well, partly I’ll say something, but I’d like Kathy to say something. Sometimes God disappoints us because our relationship to him is too transactional. You would not be excited if, Jim, if you had all these friends around you and then you lost your job and suddenly, those friends really weren’t very interested in seeing you and you suddenly realize, they didn’t love you for you; they loved you for the benefits. And to a great degree, we really don’t love God. We tend to love Him for the benefits. And sometimes what God is doing by disappointing us is, getting us to love Him for Himself, if we recognize that that’s what we need to do.
Kathy: Or I found that very clear in my experience of suffering, that what I cried out for was, “God, if You are willing, make me whole,” you know. And I wasn’t being made whole. I was still sick. I was still having all kinds of issues medically.
But after a while I began to think, okay, well, I guess I can put up with this and not being healed, if You will only be with me and assure me, like the woman who touched Jesus in the crowd when He was on His way to raise Jairus’s daughter and He turned and He looked at her and said, “Your faith has made you well.” I said, “Just look at me. Just assure me that You are here. If I have you, the fact that I don’t have the healing or the changed circumstances.”
I mean, so often what we want from God is not God to change me, but God to change my circumstances. And what God’s plan is, is to change me, not to change my circumstances so I don’t have to change, but to change my relationship to Him, so that it is all that I really want.
Jim: Well, and at that core, I think the human response is, how did I displease You that I didn’t receive what I was hoping to receive?
Kathy: Well, that betrays a real misunderstanding of the way faith operates, because if you think that you have to behave a certain way in order for God to love you a certain way, in order to have Him give you certain things, then you have not understood what imputed righteousness is, that Jesus has already taken everything about you that’s wrong, all that you’ve done to disappoint God and borne it on the Cross and when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.
Now is He gonna deny Jesus anything? No, He’s only gonna give Jesus the best of the best and He only has the best of the best for us. But we often don’t recognize it, because we’re so focused on things. Fix this financially situation. Fix this medical situation. We have such limited tunnel vision that we’re not looking at the big picture. He’s trying to suit our souls for eternity.
Jim: It’s truth. Tim, let me ask you this. For the person and we receive mail and phone calls from men and women who are married to an unbelieving spouse. When you look at praying together as we’ve talked about and reading the Psalms together and deepening your relationship, what would you say to that person that is living in that space where they’ve become a believer, but their spouse has not? And where do they find that spiritual intimacy?
Tim: Well, the Psalms are the best way I know to not just know about God, but to know God, I mean, not just to believe in Him in general, but to draw near to Him, sense His closeness. And actually, if God opens your heart and you find faith and your spouse does not, at least for that period of time in which you believe and your spouse doesn’t, there’s a new challenge of loneliness there, which is a real burden, a real burden.
It doesn’t mean that salvation’s not worth it, but very often, salvation brings a cost and in the case of being saved, finding salvation and having your spouse not come along with you, there’s a real cost there and the cost is a feeling of spiritual loneliness. My best friend or the person I love the most in the world doesn’t share this part of my life with me and that creates loneliness. Prayer’s the only way to compensate for that. I mean, see the point is, I actually, my wife believes, but I really won’t be a good spouse to her unless Jesus is my ultimate Friend and Spouse.
In other words, I actually can’t love even my believing spouse well unless Jesus Christ, in a sense, is my ultimate Spouse, that His love is more important to me than even Kathy’s, otherwise I won’t love her well. And the same thing happens if you have an unbelieving spouse, you’ve really got to draw near. It not only compensates for the sense of loneliness, but it makes you a person who can love your spouse better.
Kathy: On a really, really practical level, that was on a wonderfully “exalted” level, but on a really practical level, we’ve heard stories just the last two days of a number of people in that situation that they’re a believer and they have an unbelieving spouse, where they’ve used this book because it’s so unthreatening. It’s so easy to—
Tim: Oh, to get their—
Kathy: –to just—
Tim: –spouse as a devotional–
Kathy:–to get their spouse, to say–
Tim: –to read it.
Kathy: –you know, “Could you just do this? See whether you want to, you know, read this? It’s just easy. It’s just a little piece of Scripture and a little thought and a really little prayer” and it’s bite-sized. It’s not threatening. It’s not like, “Read this book of theology that’s gonna try and convince you.” But because of the way it’s been written, with our understanding of Jesus’ [being] present in all the Psalms, it talks about Jesus over and over and over again and His sacrifice and His imputed righteousness. So, you’re getting the Gospel. It’s not just about the Psalms. You’re getting the Gospel on every single page and it’s under the radar, so to speak.
Jim: Right, it seeps in.
Kathy: Right, it’s not like saying, “Here, read, you know, this book about telling you why you should be a Christian,” and say, “This is the Psalms, you know. How unthreatening, you know, Psalm 23, everybody knows that.” And we’ve heard of a couple of cases where unbelieving spouses are reading along and really finding it very compelling.
Jim: We touched on it. You talked about journaling, but you, as I looked at it, you’re talking about journaling with a purpose and you use the terms “adore,” “admit,” and “aspire.” Fill me in on that. I like the attributes of this and I think it’s a practice I really will attempt to engage, ’cause I like what it means, but tell us what it means.
Tim: Well, “adore” mean you take a look at a verse. You could take a look at an idea and you say—
Kathy: Any verse, not just the Psalms.
Tim: –any verse, any idea, well, yeah, you have to isolate some nuggets to do this. You have to not just read Psalm 1 and ask these three questions about Psalm 1. Generally you can take a look at a nugget and you say, “How does this help me adore God?” Secondly, how does this help me see my sin? And thirdly, how does this lead me to ask for something?
So, if you would take a look at a place where it says, “He delights.” It’s Psalm 1. “He delights in the law of God and on His law he meditates day and night.” I can say, “I adore You, Lord, that You’ve spoken. That You’ve written in the Word, that I don’t have to guess about You. You’ve spoken to me in Your Word.”
I can confess my sin. I don’t meditate on the law of God day and night. I’m actually not spending enough time in the Word. That’s my confession. And what I aspire to, I said, “Lord, give me the discipline, not only to read Your Word like I should, but also open it up. When I read, open it up to me, you know. “Let me behold wondrous things in Thy law.” That’s Psalm 119.
So, there I’ve just adore[d]. I took one idea, one verse and I did adore; I did you know, confess, you know, admit and aspire and I meditate on it. And actually, weirdly enough, it’s a meditation on the verse that talks about meditation, but that’s how it works.
And I got the idea, by the way, from Martin Luther’s famous letter on a simple way to pray. He suggests using those three things in order to understand, you know, meditate on a verse.
Jim: And it sounds simple, but even explain mediation, do you think about that throughout the day? You just try to remember and think of what it means to you?
Tim: Yeah, meditation is a kind of bridge hybrid. It’s not exactly Bible reading. It’s not exactly prayer. In Bible reading, you’re kind of thinking, getting the information. In prayer, you’re talking right to God. But in meditation, you’re sort of thinking about something “Godwardly.” You’re thinking about things and trying to keep God into the equation.
Jim: Kind of mulling it over.
Tim: Yeah, mulling it over.
Kathy: Right, filling your mind. Most people think meditation is something where you empty your mind and try to just—
Kathy: –have no [thoughts]. I mean, that’s a non [Christian meditation].
Tim: This is Christian meditation, not Eastern meditation.
Kathy: [Not] Eastern meditation.
Jim: When you look at the pain expressed in Psalms, I hear certain expressions, people that are suffering for whatever reason. They’ll hear, “Well, what do You want from me, Go?” How does He answer that?
Tim: Well, I think the answer to that is, He wants you to stay with Him, even if there’s no answer. I mean, you know, the book of Job, at the very [end], God never gives Job an answer, even when He actually shows up. He just says, “Look at Me. Look who I am. Do you know this, do you know that? How would you know these things?”
I think faithfulness to God when there are no answers is probably the thing you’re supposed to come up with. In fact, I was thinking, Psalm 39 is one of those Psalms that ends in darkness. There’s no note of trust. And one of the most wonderful things that I ever read is in Derek Kidner’s commentary on the book of Psalms. He writes this about that Psalm, Psalm 39. He says, “The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to His understanding. He knows how men speak when they’re desperate.”
And the idea is, the fact that God puts Psalm 39 in the Bible is a Psalm that ends with despair. That man never gets any kind of answer, yet he stays praying to the end, is not only a way for me to see that God understands. You know, He doesn’t say, “What a terrible Psalm. Why didn’t it end in triumph and trust?” He puts the Psalm in there to say, “I know how you talk when you’re desperate and just don’t leave Me. Just stay with Me.”
By the way, when the darkness is over, which eventually it is over, you realize you’ve gotten a lot stronger because of it. But just staying faithful to God when there’s no answer is the thing you’re supposed to do.
Kathy: This isn’t[a] Psalm, but when you ask what does God want of me, I asked that question of myself so much in this last year of the difficult circumstances. At one point, I was in a taxi on my way to the doctor and this was about a week or two after the New York marathon had been run and obviously, somebody had screwed up, because there was a big bulletin board that had a pair of running shoes on it that probably was meant to be up when the runners all came over the Queensbury bridge, which is the route that they take, ’cause there it was as I was going over the Queensbury bridge. Of course, the runners were long gone. They were two weeks long gone.
But here’s this Bible verse, Hebrews 12:1-2, “For the joy set before Him, He ran the race with perseverance.” And I thought, okay, that’s what you want. You want me to run with perseverance, ’cause there’s a joy ahead and to remember that there is a joy ahead, maybe not in this lifetime, but this lifetime’s pretty short, so that’s okay.
Jim: Tim, often when you look at the Psalms, some of them and they’re kinda pointing to David’s vengeance, that desire to get back at his enemy—
Jim: –and it seems inconsistent with the Gospels and what we know of God today. What do you think of that idea where there’s a lot of vengeance and anger being expressed?
Tim: Well, here’s two answers to that. No. 1, when David talks about it, when David says, “Lord, help me to go out there and you know, do justice and put down the oppressor, just remember David’s a king and David is acting as a civil magistrate oughta act. You might look at that and say, “Well, David’s just tryin’ to take vengeance.” No, if you want just government, if you want government that’s not corrupt and that punishes people who break the law, then those Psalms actually are God’s testimony to say, we want justice in government, ’cause he’s speaking not as an individual there. He’s speaking as a king.
Tim: And it is his job to go out there and punish lawbreakers.
Tim: But there’s other Psalms that talk about, like Psalm 137, where it talks about the Babylonians came in and you know, they destroy our infants and you know, Lord, you know, avenge us. We read that. We forget something. We live in a very, very—
Kathy: –stable, comfortable.
Tim: –safe, stable, comfortable place. Let me tell you an interesting quick story. There’s a man who works in our building here, in our apartment building, who is from a part of the world where there’s lots and lots of violence and injustice.
And he’s a Christian and I asked him, you know, what are his favorite Psalms and he says, “Psalm 109 is one of my favorite Psalms.” And I said, “Psalm 109? You mean, all about vengeance and breaking the teeth of the oppressor and all that?” And he says, “Yeah.”
And I realized afterwards, as a white American, I have trouble relating to those Psalms and I’m a little embarrassed about them, but I realized that there’s people in other parts of the world that, that gives hope to, that someday God’s going to make everything right and He’s really gonna bring in justice.
And I also realized that when I read those Psalms, even though that’s not my experience, it connects me with those parts of the world. It actually helps me remember what it’s like to be a victim of injustice. It gives me a sympathy for other people in the rest of the world. And that’s one of the ways in which the Psalms just changes me.
Kathy: Miroslav Volf is a Croatian theologian and he said something about that, didn’t he? He was talking about how the land that he grew up in has been torn by war and atrocity and he understands perfectly those Psalms crying for vengeance, because he says, “If God is gonna take up the sword—
Tim: Then I don’t have to.
Kathy: –and justice, then I don’t have to. That’s the only basis on which we can say, “I don’t have to go kill your village ’cause you killed my village—
Kathy: –because God is going to deal with it.”
Tim: That’s right.
Jim: Well, and it’s that hope that God will straighten that out at some point. We don’t take it–
Jim: — into our own strength to do it.
Jim: And that’s what allows us to fulfill the New Testament. This has been an incredible conversation and Tim and Kathy Keller, authors of the book, The Songs of Jesus and it is a wonderful devotional for couples or even individuals or even for parents to share with their kids. You can use it in all kinds of settings, but I think the challenge right now is for you as a married couple to do this together. Thanks for bein with us.
Tim: Thank you.
Kathy: Oh, you’re so welcome.
John: I trust that you’ve been inspired to deepen your spiritual life by digging into the book of Psalms and this concludes the second part of a conversation with Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy.
Jim: You know, John, today’s program highlighted our desire to strengthen you spiritually and hopefully, as a couple. That’s the goal here there’s some great research, when couples are praying together, reading the Word together, you know, that divorce rate is really nil. It’s a small number of people who terminate that relationship.
And it’s important to us. It’s one of our core objectives here at Focus to strengthen youmarriage and we want to be there for you when you’re experiencing a crisis and it can happen. We’re not perfect people. We don’t have perfect marriages. One listener recently shared this story with us. She wrote, “My marriage suffered deeply because of infidelity. Divorce papers were filed and my husband had moved in with another woman. Our family was torn apart, but I continued to pray and read your posts and articles. When everyone else tried to tell me that I was better without him, you were there constantly reminding me that putting our family and our marriage back together should be the goal. I am happy to say that my husband has moved home. The divorce was dismissed and our kids are doing great. We celebrated 15 years of marriage in June. We’re a living testimony that God restores, forgives and nothing is impossible with Him. Thank you Focus on the Family for providing hope and inspiration and doing so through God’s Word.”
Wow! That is the bottom line. When you give, you share in a part of these stories and if you’re able today, would you help us save more marriages? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re currently experiencing a little bit of a summer shortfall and we need your help. Today when you make a donation of any amount, your gift is going to be doubled dollar for dollar, thanks to some generous friends who want to make this fun. So, please make your donation today and turn that $40 gift into an $80 gift.
John: Donate online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And when you get in touch, request a CD of this two-part conversation so you can listen again, perhaps use it as a refresher and request your copy of The Songs of Jesus, this terrific devotional which can help strengthen your faith and your relationship with each other. You’ll learn how to approach God with a full range of emotion just as the psalmist did. And when you generous donate today, a gift of any amount to support the work here of Focus on the Family, we’ll send a copy of The Songs of Jesus to you as our way of enriching your spiritual faith and saying thanks for your partnership.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I’m John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time, as you’ll hear practical ways to teach your kids virtues in the home.
Mrs. Courtney DeFeo: So, what about random acts of kindness in our own home? Can we sneak into dad’s work bag and can we leave him notes and candy and just say, “We’re thinking of you.” Or you know, can we go to mom and take a chore off her plate and just say, “We noticed that your plate is completely full, so the kids and I unloaded the dishwasher for you and we left a note just saying, ‘We love you and we appreciate your work.’”
End of Excerpt
John: We look forward to a great conversation with Courtney DeFeo on the next “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly, as we once again, help your family thrive.