“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Psalm 44:23-26).
Do you ever feel like David did during his time of trouble? Have you cried out to God in quiet desperation, feeling forgotten in the midst of your trouble? The Psalms remind us that these feelings are common to man, especially during long seasons of darkness. But God never forgets those He loves.
A few weeks ago, I was caring for my grandchildren when our four year old began wailing about something she was quite unhappy about. Finally, I carried her up to her bedroom in hopes she would calm down. Then I sat, just out of view, listening to her call out, “Graaaaandma!”
As I patiently waited to comfort this child, I suddenly sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my own heart. He reminded me through God’s Word that when I cry out out to Him, though I can’t see Him, He is right there with me. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth,” (Psalm 145:18). This was exactly the reminder I needed that day as our family endures a long season of trial and testing.
I’m so thankful that God included the Psalms in His authoritative Word, teaching us that it’s okay to voice our fears, confusion, questions, and sorrows to the One who knows us, loves us, and gave His life for us. Because He made us and knows our frame, He has compassion on our weakness and is patient with our cries. How truly amazing it is that the all-powerful, sovereign, all-knowing eternal God of the universe also cares deeply about our sufferings.
And yet, sometimes, even when we cry out to God with desperation, we don’t get the answers we hope for. Not only that, but there are times when we cry out to God for help, and things actually seem to get worse! So when the Psalms echo our own thoughts and emotions, we find encouragement.
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Psalm 13:1,2.
“For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?” Psalm 43:2.
God’s Ways are Not our Ways
While the Bible assures us that God is loving and good and will never leave us or forsake those who belong to Him; when we’re going through seemingly unending tumultuous times, we often grapple with the mystery of God’s ways.
- Is God really in control? (because my life and the world around me seems chaotic and confusing).
- Does God really care? (because what He’s allowing in my life feels very unloving)
- How can this be good for me? (because, while God mercifully gave me new life, right now all I feel is pain and loss).
- Will you hide your face from us forever? (because, right now, I am struggling to see your hand in what is happening to me and those I love).
These are common questions and feelings that our hearts often wrestle with during long seasons of hard circumstances. Believers can find themselves deeply perplexed when they are striving to walk closely with God, are regularly confessing sin and, at the same time, are experiencing strong attacks (with God’s permission) from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
J. I. Packer says; “Sooner or later, all the children of God undergo this treatment-it is part of the “chastening of the Lord” (Hebrews 12:5, echoing Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:11), to which He subjects every one of His children whom He loves.”
Packer goes on to remind believers that God’s aim is to grow us up from spiritual infancy to maturity. As we grow, we gradually become more sensitive to the indwelling sin that’s still in operation within us.
But along with that, we come to see that, not only is God’s enabling grace at work in our salvation, His empowering grace is also at work, helping us to overcome sin and transforming us into Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus, it’s important to understand what the Bible means by growing in grace.
The purpose of grace, Packer says, is to increasingly lead us into greater love, trust, delight, hope and obedience to God. We used to follow (with little resistance) the inclinations of our flesh but, as new creations in Christ, we’ve been given new desires to be holy. As we mature, we learn to rely upon God’s Word and prayer to gain victory over anything that hinders us from faithful obedience to Christ.
Of course, this doesn’t happen over night or, typically, in the way we expect. The God of all grace often carries out his purposes for our transformation through suffering of various kinds, something we try hard to avoid even when we long to be free of sin. Again, I find Packer to be helpful:
“Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to Himself. Not by shielding us from the assault of the world, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another: it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing home to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road.”1
Simply put, God wants us to learn to lean fully on Him because apart from Him we can do nothing! Yet sadly, when things are going according to our plan and life is good and comfortable, we are far more prone toward self-sufficiency and self-dependence, and far less inclined to lean heavily upon God’s grace.
The Scriptures counsel us to trust God and not lean on our own understanding but, for most of us, that doesn’t happen until until we get to the very end of our own resources. Not only that; we are pridefully prone to take credit for the strength, wisdom, and resources God has given us, even when we were not asking Him! And so, at times, God ordains trouble and tears to help us break free from the self-deception that can keep us from experiencing God’s mercy and grace.
- Only when we see our desperate need for grace will we lean into it.
- Only when our own strength is spent will we find His strength sufficient.
- Only when we look back can we see how God answered our prayers in ways we never anticipated;
- loosening our tight grip on this world’s pleasures,
- breaking our stubborn resistance to His will,
- deepening our intimacy with Christ,
- giving us greater anticipation for our eternal hope.
“On the day I called, You answered me; my strength of soul, you increased“ Psalm 138:3.
The Gospel is what holds us fast as we wait for God to redeem every shoot of pain, each sinking of our aching hearts, every anxious breath, each tear shed from sorrow and loss, and every besetting sin that continues to plague us.
God promises to restore the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25) for all who put their hope and trust in Him. In the meantime, Psalm 44 gives us a track to run on when our way seems confusing and filled with uncertainty. It helps us remember (as David did in Psalm 42 & 43), to hope in God with confidence that we will praise Him again. Thus, when our emotions are acting like a runaway train:
- We rehearse the good works God has done (v.1-3).
- We go back to the Gospel and remember God’s story of redemption. We praise Jesus Christ for saving us from the eternal wrath we deserve.
- We remember God’s faithfulness in the past (v. 4-8).
- We acknowledge God’s mercy to sinful man, specifically remembering the countless ways He has personally provided, protected, and blessed us.
- We honestly voice our complaints and questions to God (Psalm 42-44).
- Freshly reminded that, though once God’s enemy, we are now his beloved children; we can express our fears and sorrows, appealing to our Father’s steadfast love and mercy.
- We reaffirm our faith and devotion to God (44:17-22).
- Acknowledging God’s goodness and sovereignty over our lives, we commit to wait patiently and expectantly for Him to redeem our losses because of His steadfast love .
- Girded up by God’s Word and prayer, we persevere by faith.
After my grand daughter’s cries had changed from rebellious to broken, I immediately went in and held her close. As her arms went around my neck I comforted her, assuring her of my love. Finally, after I had wiped her tears away, she ran off to play.
Isn’t that a glimpse of our relationship with God?
- Although He loves us beyond our comprehension; He allows us to cry and experience hard things we can’t make sense of.
- He comforts us, while training us to trust and obey Him.
- Although He knows we can’t understand all the glorious things He is doing in and for us through our darkest hours, He trusts us to trust Him because of our relationship with Him.
- He reminds us, when we can’t see anything good that can come from our suffering, of the salvation Christ purchased for us through His sacrificial life and death on the Cross.
Wounded to be Healed
Even when trials leave us despairing (2 Corinthians 1: 8-10) that we have received the sentence of death; God’s adopted children can stand confidently upon His promises, trusting that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench,” Isaiah 42:3.
Puritan Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) wisely reminds us that when it is God’s intention to use men, He usually empties them of themselves and makes them nothing, before He will use them in any great services.
In the same way, Peter assures us that; “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast,” 1 Peter 5:10.
In the meantime we wait and trust, fighting fear just as the children of Israel needed to when it appeared that, having being delivered by God out of Egypt, they might now die at the hand of Pharaoh’s army.
Isn’t that the way we feel at times? God miraculously saves us but then we find ourselves in circumstances that leave us disoriented and questioning God’s goodness and power. It is then we need to hear the same truth that Moses spoke to Israel:
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD which He will work for you today. The LORD will fight for you; you have only to be still,” Exodus 14:14.
As we trust the Lord to fight for us, and wait patiently for full redemption; will you join me in surrendering any fears, doubts, misplaced expectations, or disappointments you are holding onto out of a stubborn resistance to God’s way and will?
Oh, how He loves you and me! Sisters, whatever your circumstances, let us fix our eyes on that glorious moment when we shall be caught up in the Lord’s embrace and wrap our arms around His neck. On that day, as He wipes away every tear from our eyes, we will get our first glimpse of the eternal weight of glory He has prepared for us, unspeakable joy in the never ending presence of Christ.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, (Isa. 40:5).
Until that day, thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,
1 Knowing God, Packer, p. 250