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Christian Union: The Magazine
December 10, 2021

A Yale Student's Reflection on Seeking God Consistently

By Shi Wen Yeo, Yale ’23

Editor’s note: The following article was reprinted with permission from The Yale Logos, a student-led Christian Journal.

One of my favorite parts about Sunday mornings is walking into church and smelling the musty pews gently speckled with the mid-morning sun, and seeing the rows upon rows of pews, pews that are  usually littered with hymnals and psalters. I have been doing some reflection on this recently. What does it mean that hymnals or psalters are usually distributed as separate books as opposed to the rest of the Bible?

Chiang Mai, Thailand. 30 March 2021. The Book of Psalms the Holy Bible, King James version.

Over the summer when Covid hit, it turned my life around. Quite literally, I was seized from the warm, genial environment of Yale and the beginnings of spring, and thrust back into tough family situations and the hot, unforgiving tropics. Some nights I would turn in my sleep and lament the abrupt conclusion to my first year, thinking about all that I had lost. I wanted to cling to Scripture, I really did. But the motivation to pick up the Bible simply eluded me. I felt listless and lost, and unsure where to even start. It seemed that the chaos of my life was louder than any Bible verse that was trying to speak to me. 

One challenge that did, however, get me to restart the process of working through Scripture was a friend’s tempting proposition. “Hear me out,” he said: “Let’s just read one psalm a day.” This was originally, of course, meant as a countdown of sorts to the fall semester where we both expected things to return to relative normalcy. I thought about it for a few days. It did not seem like a particularly difficult task, not particularly ambitious. Sure, the psalms were a bit long in places. But on the whole, it seemed like a manageable undertaking. And more importantly, it seemed like a good way to count down, to make the days go by faster. 

Starting out through the psalms, I was struck with a multitude of different feelings, each at different points. One of the first feelings I remember having is one of smallness. In Psalm 8, the psalmist writes: 

“When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You have set in place,
what is mankind that You are mindful of them,
human beings that You care for them?”

These are simple verses that one might even find on the back of a gift mug, but to me they were an important reminder of how vast and great God is! And how small we are, as humans. Especially as an English major, one of the most immediate joys of re-encountering the psalms was the sheer beauty of their poetry. The richness of Hebrew poetry available in the psalms is truly astonishing, and unpacking the nuances of the verse and the cadence of the meter made me marvel at how intricate and precious the psalms are as a literary treasure. 

Sometimes, the psalms gave me feelings of great strength. In Psalm 73, the psalmist writes: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you/My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” There is actually a song that I love, in Korean, which sings these exact same words (the version exists in English too: “God is the Strength of my Heart”). I remember singing these words in youth group in high school. Singing and praying through them again somewhere in the middle of this Covid-stricken summer was a wholly different experience. I was reminded powerfully of the enduring nature of God’s provision. 

At times, the psalms were a little difficult to understand. I had clung to and loved Psalm 23 for as long as I can remember. But I don’t think I had ever been truly forced to confront what it means that the psalmist says to God, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Rather than being a kind of petty repudiation, a deeper reading revealed that the true intent of this line was to show the sheer magnitude of the eventual triumph of Christians over temptation and sin. This was just one of the many other nuances that I learnt from revisiting psalms that I thought I knew too well. Tools such as the Septuagint and interlinear Bibles available online were a great help in the process. 

Some days, I read the psalms before I went to bed and they gave me nights of sleeplessness. I was bewildered and unwilling to believe Psalm 137 when it said “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” Who would be so cruel as to do such a thing to babies? At each turn, the psalms invited me to challenge my own assumptions and question my own feelings of outrage. My immediate response of outrage eclipsed a deeper, more thoughtful consideration of the sheer magnitude of sin that God was railing against.

The Book of Psalms is one of the books, I concluded at the end of this voyage through them, that needs to be read, savoured, re-read. One day per psalm was often not enough for me to linger on each word, look up terms that were unfamiliar, and pray over the words. I found myself asking the Lord for the wisdom and clarity of mind to truly believe in the words that I was reading, to make the prayers of the psalmist my own. Especially in a university environment where the overwhelming tendency is to speed through readings and over-intellectualise everything, this exercise in purposefully slowing down, and using the Bible as a devotional tool brought me closer to this particular function of Scripture. And it turned out to be a lifeboat in a tumultuous summer, full of uncertainties, reminding me that God is always near.

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