Why So Downcast, O My Soul?

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Matthew 26:31-35:

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’[c]

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:69-75

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

How heartbreaking is this story? I read this in my devotions tonight and I couldn’t move on from it. Peter’s story cuts so strongly because it connects with me just a little too strongly, like an odor that conjures distant memories you thought were vaulted away. How many times have you been in Peter’s place? Do you find yourself at times, like me, making promises to God as if you’re the one with the strength to sustain yourself? “Jesus, I will never deny you,” or, “I’ll never explode at my family again,” or “I’ll never fall into temptation with lust again,” or “Jesus, I’m done with slandering loved ones behind their backs, never again,” or “I’ll never do anything to completely ruin my reputation, credibility, and testimony!” You see, Peter’s response to Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal was not “Jesus, is it really so? Is there any way I can avoid this? What must I do to stay on guard? Pray for me that I might not fall into temptation, please. I don’t want to betray you, but it sickens me to hear this news, for I know I am capable of everything you say.” No, his response is self-sufficiency: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” It’s a great sentiment, but it’s not grounded in the right place (or more accurately, the right person).

This self-sufficiency builds him up for failure, like a kindergarten boy who builds a Lego tower with pride, only to have it knocked to pieces by the bully he wasn’t paying attention to. Peter is not a man known for his restraint, caution, or cool-headedness. So, that night, when Jesus was captured, Peter’s mind got completely distracted from the betrayal warning as he tried to cut off a guard’s ear to protect Jesus. After that, Peter was probably running around trying to find any way he could to rescue Jesus, but to no avail. Now, Jesus is being tried and mocked by an infuriated mob of religious hypocrites, with no one there on his side. Peter likely saw the treatment and was scared to get himself involved in the mockery, torture, and the likely beatings and suffering he would endure. Suddenly, his promise of “Even if I must die with you” was exposed for the bravado it was, nothing more than high talk among friends. “Jesus, you know I got your back no matter what happens.” But now, Peter is faced with the “no matter what,” and he’s in such a petrified state that even the threat of a young servant girl connecting him with Jesus seems horrifying. How did he get to this moment?

Does that resonate with you? Maybe you’ve fallen and you find yourself saying, “God, I was finished with anger/lust/slander/discontentment/bitterness/jealousy, but now it has me completely entangled and I can’t see any way out! How did I get here? I was so determined, so convinced that I was strong enough to never get ensnared by that one again!” You hear the rooster crowing loudly, and he seems to be crowing right in your ear. The look of Jesus’ piercing gaze is burned into your mind, so that you’re unable to avoid the grip no matter where you turn your eyes. You go out and weep bitterly.

“God, why do I even bother any more? I’ve disappointed you with this so many times. I feel like it’s not even worth fighting anymore, because every time I get determined to overcome it, I just get defeated and demoralized by it again. Over and over, I’ve tried swimming against this current, but I’m exhausted and I’m further back from where I started. I just can’t deal with it anymore. No more promises, no more commitments, no more swimming, no more fighting. I’m done.”

Self-sufficiency is completely destroyed, leaving you broken. But that’s just the place you need to be so God can lift you up. I think God allowed Peter to be humbled so that he would be prepared for the work he was going to do in him. A good horse needs to be broken before he can be trained and useful. A good Christian needs to be broken for the same reason. We can’t pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, we need God to be merciful to us and pull us up from the pit.

Psalm 42:5-11

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

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