Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Downcast: not happy, confident, or hopeful; (of eyes) looking downward¹
In recent weeks I have felt weighed down by some of the changes and challenges of life, the tears and trials of relationships. The word “downcast” seems to describe my soul quite well. I find I am often self-absorbed, immersed in my concerns and thoughts, and distracted from the goodness all around me. I feel as if I am actually walking through my days with the physical posture of a downcast head and heart.
I planned to take a break from my weekly blog post, but it struck me that what I am experiencing would not just be unique to me. All of us experience downcast souls at one time or another; I know I am not alone! So I decided to look up Bible passages that show us where we might lift our downcast eyes and souls to find our help. It is my prayer that this encouragement will bless those of you who are feeling as I am in these days.
When we are downcast, where does God invite us to lift our eyes and find help for our souls?
And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. (Exodus 16:10)
I have written of this verse before because it is one of my favorites, and it is the first one that came to my mind. As the Israelites wandered through the desert, they became very hungry- subsisting only on the morning bread and evening meat that came from God each day. They complained to Moses and Aaron, even wishing they could go back to slavery in Egypt. But when they turned from their past and looked toward the wilderness that lay ahead, it was there they saw “the glory of the Lord.”
In our days of trial, perhaps we would do well to also look toward our wilderness. We may long for the past because it seems comfortable and familiar and sure. But are there ways in which our past wasn’t good for us- or even held us captive- that we have temporarily forgotten in this strange new wilderness? When we are able to look ahead, when we fully face all that frightens or concerns us about the future, when we surrender our glorified past, and especially when we have nothing left but God, how clearly God’s glory can be revealed before us!
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward…” (Genesis 13:14 )
Earlier in this chapter we learn that the land Abram and Lot were sharing could not support all the flocks, herds and tents they owned. When they decided it was best to separate, Abram offered Lot his choice of the land. In doing so, Abram showed his generous love for others and his great trust in God. God then came to Abram, renewed the promise to give him many descendants, and reminded Abram that indeed the land was still his. Abram only needed to look in all directions to see the ways God would continue to bless him.
We would do well to respond to our trials in relationships with love and generosity, to remember God’s promises, and to look all around us for the endless possibilities God has in store for us. God’s power- and our potential- are boundless!
Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)
We would do well to stand outside under the night sky, to look upward to the stars, and to recognize the One who has created them all. We would do well to consider that the One who even calls each of them by name, the One who has not lost sight of a single star, is the same One who created us, who calls us by name, and who will never lose sight of us. We can trust that we are lovingly held in the hands of our Creator, no matter what lies ahead.
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)
We would do well to look to Jesus and to remember how he lived among us, how he experienced all the joys and trials that we experience, and how he endured the worst of the worst for us. Jesus’ life proves that we are loved, that he understands all of our heartaches and burdens, and especially that in all things we are promised resurrection.
So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.” (John 11:41)
Just before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he raises his eyes to God and thanks God for already having heard what he is about to say. God already knows our every heartache, our every longing, our every joy or sorrow. We would do well to raise our eyes to God in thankfulness, knowing that God already knows exactly what we need- even before we ask. God will bring us new life. God will bring us resurrection. We only need to look to God.
Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1b-2a)
This life IS a journey, isn’t it? We would do well to look to Jesus as we run this race, as we jump this hurdle, as we detour around this obstacle, as we climb each seemingly insurmountable mountain of trouble. Jesus will be our guide, showing us the way, perfecting us with every step, and completing what he has begun in us.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
“Dwell” is a different type of looking. This passage gives us another fruitful way to raise our eyes and souls, and to turn our focus on all that is righteous and good. Even in our trials, we can choose to live in the spirit of truth, honor, purity, loveliness, integrity, goodness, excellence, and praise-worthiness. To pursue these qualities will honor God and bring our true joy. (Even reading these words brings joy to my heart!) There is no better way to live, and our example will show others the incredible goodness of God.
The verse at the beginning of today’s thoughts is surrounded by other lovely verses that promise to restore our joy in trying times. We can hold fast to the promise that one day, God will turn our every trial into triumph. We only need to look to God, in whom we will find our hope, and our exceeding joy.
¹Definition of downcast from Merriam Webster’s English language learner’s definition
All Bible passages are the NRSV version, found at BibleGateway. com
Photo credit: Jim Wicker