Last year, before I set out on my journey round the world, I did a bit of research on the first aid supplies I ought to bring with me. After all, at some points I would be pretty far off the beaten path and pretty far from emergency care. I found all kinds of recommendations and put together a little kit to carry with me. It wasn’t much, but it was only ever meant to tide me over in the event of some kind of a problem. As it happens, I didn’t need more than a bandaid for a blister, didn’t have as much as a sniffle all year long, and the only thing even close to an emergency, a broken arm, happened close to a hospital in a developed country with socialized (i.e. free) health care. Still, there was value and comfort in being prepared.
A little container with pills and bandaids isn’t the only kind of first aid kit I keep close at hand. I have learned I need to be even better prepared for spiritual emergencies when they arise. And they do. As I struggle through some ongoing health problems and simply journey through life in a broken world, I find those emergencies arise on a regular basis. I expect you’ve encountered them too, those times when you’re burdened by sorrow or perhaps even overwhelmed by it.
I know I’m going through one of these times when it seems borderline impossible to open the Bible in the morning according to my regular routine, to find a passage, to focus my eyes on the words, to hold my mind steady long enough to read them, and to engage my mind and heart to the degree I gain even the least comfort or benefit from them. At the same time I find it hard to pray. It’s like the words just aren’t there and won’t come. Yet I know that these are the things I need most—to continue to hear from God and speak to God even in my sorrow.
This is where I’ve learned it’s important to have a spiritual first aid kid, of sorts. Let me tell how how I stock mine.
Psalms Set to Music
I keep a playlist of psalms set to music. I specify psalms rather than hymns or worship songs because psalms are more directly the actual words of God. On days I can’t read the Bible with any feeling or meaning, I can listen to other people sing Scripture to me. Psalm 23 is always a deep source of comfort and challenge, as are Psalms 126, 130, and 139. Connor Quigley has put together an impressive list of a cappella psalms here that have proven their worth again and again.
I also rely on pre-written prayers. You’ve probably heard of The Valley of Vision, and while I can’t say I rely on it to the degree some do, it is still a great collection of prayers that each of us can pray on our own when we need others to say the words for us. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes some beautiful prayers; Chad Van Dixhoorn has shared some prayers here; Scotty Smith has published Everyday Prayers and Every Season Prayers; Crossway just shared 4 here. Perhaps even better, you may want to write out your own prayers in times of joy and set them aside to pray in times of sorrow. And, of course, learn how to pray Scripture from Donald Whitney.
A Comforting Book
I keep a book nearby that I know never fails to bring me words of comfort. Recently, it has been A Book of Comfort for Those in Sickness by P.B. Power. And while it’s intended primarily for those struggling with chronic illness, it contains comfort applicable to other circumstances as well. I have a number of passages highlighted and, in difficult times, love to read and ponder them.
- “Very often, we have to hunt for our blessings to find them. They are none the worse for that; unless the violet be the worse for having to be looked for amid the leaves. In sickness, little mercies are as sweet and as really great to you, as very great things are to other people in health.”
- “If I believe in God, I comfort myself in the assurance that I have the lot that is best for me.”
- “Your trial cannot be longer than the lasting power of God’s faithfulness, and mercy, and patience, and power. He will be true to you all through it. His patience will not be exhausted, his power will not come short. You will never be left without God. He will be all your tomorrows, even as he is in your today, and has been in all your yesterdays.”
- “I must believe that infinite wisdom has been at work to give me the thing best for me. Why it is best for me I know not; enough that, if it comes from God, it must be so.”
- “There are two ways of meeting the unknown–either by not thinking about it at all, or by thinking and leaving it all to God.”
Besides a comforting book, a challenging book also has its place—Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening comes to mind and is never far from me.
Of course I also keep a playlist of favorite Christian songs. This may include the psalms I referenced earlier, but goes farther by including hymns and worship songs that are not as literally based on the Words of the Bible. These are songs that rarely fail to speak to me and to cheer me, whether I simply listen or whether I sing along—“Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners,” “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven,” “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” and so on.
Then, of course, there is the inestimable value of a godly spouse and good friend to whom I can appeal in difficult times with a simple, “Please tell me something that’s true” or “Please pray for me.” In difficult times, I sometimes have to rely on the faith of others, to siphon from them confidence, joy, or hope.
As I journey round the world, I know I need to carry a medical first aid kit with me. As I journey through this life, I know I need the spiritual equivalent. It has served me well and, I trust, will continue to as I plod on in this great pilgrimage.