I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: ‘What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.’
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothe meme with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
When I went to university, I knew that I would be going to seminary afterwards; I knew what my future looked like for the next 7 or 8 years – depending on the program direction and placements I chose to do in seminary. Now, to be clear, I’m abundantly aware that many people don’t have that sort of clarity at the beginning of their university education. And, to be sure, my route to university was circuitous and not standard. For a period I was sure I would end up joining the Canadian Military because I didn’t have any particular direction in life but knew that I needed discipline and structure – either a career direction and the education required or a commanding officer would provide that for me.
It was at this point that God started changing my life and I started recognizing his voice for what it was – and what it would mean for my future.
Long story short: I ended up at Redeemer University to study history and philosophy. I studied history and philosophy because a mentor told me that pastors need to see where we’ve come from in order to follow God where we are going, and I needed to be equipped to handle the questions of life and faith in a context of unbelief, lost belief, and an increasing rise of secular paganism – he was right. And I excelled as a student of history and philosophy. For the first time in my life I loved school and essays and reading.
Every class I took, philosophy discussion club I joined, and book I read confirmed God’s direction for my life. Likewise, as the goal of seminary and graduate level studies approached I knew it was right. What’s more, I knew exactly where that was going to be. You see, I had three major influences on my life and in the discernment of my call into ministry: Rev. Howard McPhee, the pastor of the church I grew up in – he would probably never know it, but his theocentric and strongly doxological preaching pierced my stubborn teenage angst and wanderlust; Rev. Paul VandenBrink, the youth pastor (and now church planter) through whom God spoke most clearly and from whom I discovered a love of the substitutionary gospel of Jesus; and the third, again, probably unknown to him, Rev. Dr. Mike Goheen, whose Intro to Religion class at Redeemer watered the love of the Scriptures as the grand unifying narrative of all human history that I still carry with me… each of these influential men in my life graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.
And without a doubt, that is where I was going to seminary after I graduated Redeemer University in 2007.
To confirm what I already knew – and to show how amazing the school was to my then fiancée, Rachel – I organized a school visit early in my final year at Redeemer. Four of us drove down together for a long weekend from Hamilton: Rachel, myself, and two friends. The whole way down I was excited and imagining what life in Philly was going to be like as a newlywed. Even as we drove up to the campus I remember seeing Machen Hall, originally a school building – now the current location of the Admin offices – thinking, “This is the place for me” because of the historic architecture and the legacy of the school founder J. Gresham Machen and his fight against protestant liberalism of early 20th century Princeton University.
It all seemed so perfectly fit and placed.
Until it wasn’t.
In the hours and day that followed the sense that this wasn’t right; that this wasn’t the school for me; that I didn’t belong kept growing. With each passing hour I was growing more and more unsettled.
If you ask Rachel about her experience she will add that with each passing hour she was getting more and more afraid because she was feeling exactly the same as me – but didn’t know I was feeling that way, and because I was so convinced that this was “supposed” be what was next, she was afraid of what the next three or four years of her life were going to be like. Honestly, totally reasonable given the circumstances.
After that trip, on the way home and over the next week, we both talked about how it didn’t feel right; like that wasn’t supposed to be the place that God wanted us.
And while I knew in my heart that was true, in my mind I had so guaranteed the future that I felt lost. I felt like God has mislead me; like he had placed a desire so thoroughly in me and then pulled it out from under me.
The surety of my world and my future began to crumble. I was dismayed.
When the Psalmist writes: “When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm.” (vs. 6-7) I can identify with that. It is how I felt and thought in those university years about my future. Everything was clear; my direction was fixed. I knew God’s call (or so I thought) and I followed willingly. I was convinced and unshaken.
Until I wasn’t.
And so, the Psalmist says, “when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” (vs. 7b) It seemed as though God had hidden his face and I felt that. Confusion turned to frustration, turned to anger, and – I confess – turned to apathy. I thought, “Why give me such a strong desire, God, only to not give me a way through to it; a way to make it come about and happen.”
In the years since, I’ve come to learn that a particular idolatry affected my desire. I wasn’t interested in that seminary because I heard God calling me there: I was interested in that seminary because those particular men where intellectual giants in my life and I coveted their intellect. I idolized their knowledge and the apparent status I thought it brought them. My desire wasn’t purely for God or obedience to his call, it was for my own glory – or what I perceived was the route to increasing my glory.
The Psalmists asks, “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?” (vs. 9) My pride had to be silenced. I needed the clarity of a pit of unknowing in order to see a truth I was blind to. I had to learn how to pray, “Lord, be my help” (vs. 10b) – and actually mean it. “God shakes our confidence in our earthly life so that we can yearn for our heavenly life, where our joy is truly unshakable and where our wailing will be turned into dancing.”
Years later, at my ordination service to become a Minister of the Word, Rev. Paul VandenBrink would preach on John 3:30, where John the Baptist says of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” I’m still striving to live into, and out of, that calling.
Lord, I want to exalt you as the Psalmist does. If I need to go down to the pit to see the truth of how I don’t, take me there. Let me go willingly – or not – because you are worthy, you are greater, and gaining you is worth losing my pride. If my desires are not for you, help me to see that and lead me in the way everlasting. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
 Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus, 55.