This last year’s been the hardest I can remember in my life.
As most of you know, it began with Mum being diagnosed with bowel cancer. She went downhill quickly and died in February.
And, I guess I’ve spent most of this year getting over the shock of it. I’ve wept A LITTLE, but I haven’t felt PARTICULARLY emotional. The best way I can describe it is that I’ve felt FLAT. And DRY. And PUZZLED about what God’s plan is. And why.
I’ve struggled TO PRAY. And, for the most part, much of what I read in THE BIBLE has sounded pretty empty.
But one book that’s stood out has been Psalms. When mum was in hospital, she had dozens and dozens of people visit, or write cards, or send flowers. And there were lots more sent to Dad at the funeral, and in the weeks after.
And almost without exception when someone quoted a Bible verse, it was from Psalms.
And there’s been lots of people I’ve met who’ve had a similar experience – that Psalms have been a real comfort in tough times when nothing much else seems to help.
Why Psalms? What’s so different about them?
Most of the Psalms we sing, or know, are the HAPPY ONES. The joyful ones. “Sing unto the LORD a new song”. Praise the Lord. Give thanks. The earth is the Lord’s.
But if you actually DO A COUNT, they’re in the minority. The reality is there are more LAMENTS than any other sort of Psalm. Laments are songs of grieving. Of tears. Prayers that God would change an awful situation.
Listen to how a few of them begin;
Psalm 3. O LORD HOW MANY ARE MY FOES.
Psalm 4. Answer me O God, give me RELIEF from my enemies.
Psalm 5. Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my SIGHING.
I could go on and on.
So, what’s so comforting about THESE sorts of Psalms.
I think part of the answer is that Psalms doesn’t give us many answers. It’s more about EMOTIONS. And when you’re grieving, you don’t want to hear someone’s quick know-it-all answer. You want to know that they LISTEN. And that they’re WEEPING TOO. And that’s something Psalms can do like few other parts of the Bible.
Let me read part of a quote from Carl Trueman. It’s also printed in the Bible study booklets. And it’s too good to keep only to those of you who do the studies.
“A diet of unremittingly jolly hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party – (which is) disastrous in a world of broken individuals… Indeed, the BIBLICAL portraits of believers give no room to such a notion… Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair – and joy, when it manifests itself, is very different from that found in so much of our modern Western Christianity. IN THE PSALMS, GOD HAS GIVEN THE CHURCH A LANGUAGE WHICH ALLOWS IT TO EXPRESS EVEN THE DEEPEST AGONIES OF THE HUMAN SOUL IN THE CONTEXT OF WORSHIP…
In other words, life IS hard. There IS pain, and despair, and frustration, and disappointment. Even for Christians. Maybe even ESPECIALLY for Christians.
And if we refuse to talk about it. If we refuse to tell God how we feel, we’re only setting ourselves up for a fall. And we sell God short. And we help NO ONE.
Trueman goes on to describe what a steady diet of the Psalms can do for us.
Let us all learn once again to lament. Read the psalms over and over until you have the language necessary to lay your heart before God in lamentation. If you do this, you will have the resources to cope with your own periods of suffering, despair and heartbreak, and to keep worshipping and trusting through even the blackest of times; you will also develop a greater understanding of fellow Christians whose agonies of, say, bereavement, depression, or despair, sometimes make it difficult for them to sing ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’ with gusto every Sunday morning.
And so, that’s what we’re going to be doing for the next couple of months. Learning how to pour out our hearts to God. I’m guessing it’s not going to be EASY. But I’m hoping it’s going to be valuable, and worthwhile.
I’m praying that our understanding of God and his purposes will be deepened. And our experience of his wisdom and comfort and love will intensify. And that we’ll grow in love and understanding and support for each other.
And Psalm 6 is a good place to start. ANOTHER lament.
The title tells us it’s written by King David. It’s a sparse poem. David’s very economical in his use of words. There’s hardly a word wasted.
And there’s a lot about HIS SITUATION we can’t really work out. What’s the PROBLEM? We need to do a lot of reading between the lines.
Look at v2 and 3 for example. David’s FAINT, or WEAK, or PINING AWAY…. He wants to be HEALED. His BONES are in agony. His SOUL in anguish…. He’s OVERWHELMED.
Is it PHYSICAL ILLNESS? Or emotional sickness like DEPRESSION. Or perhaps it’s both? Is the physical causing the mental? Or are they just poetic descriptions for some other problem?
And then down in v7, his eyes are weak with sorrow BECAUSE OF HIS FOES. And in v10, ALL HIS ENEMIES will be ashamed and disgraced.
Is he being persecuted? Has he been betrayed by friends. Or under attack from foes.
And then there’s v1.
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
Is David suffering because GOD’S punishing him? Angry with him? Or are there OTHER causes. WHATEVER it is, he’s really doing it TOUGH. He can barely cope. He’s overwhelmed. In v6, he spends the whole night WEEPING.
But the SPECIFICS are a bit hard to work it out. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough description to pin it down.
But in the end I don’t think it matters. In fact, that might be the point. By being so general and non-specific, we can ALL apply it. To whatever situation we’re in.
After all, it’s his EMOTIONS AND REACTIONS David spells out. Not the specifics of his situation. He tells us exactly how he’s FEELING. And so, WHATEVER causes US to feel like that, we can relate. And LEARN from it.
2. David’s response
So, how does David respond?
a. Show mercy and love, not anger and wrath (1-4)
First up, he PRAYS. He prays that God would show him MERCY AND LOVE, rather than ANGER AND WRATH. That’s verses 1-4.
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your ANGER or discipline me in your WRATH. 2 Be MERCIFUL to me, LORD, for I am faint;
And then, down to the end of v4.
save me because of your UNFAILING LOVE.
Whatever his situation, he’s feeling God’s hand heavy upon him. And he wants some relief. “Turn, O LORD, and DELIVER me.” He wants God to intrude into his situation, to be true to his character and his promises. And to ACT.
Deal with me according to your MERCY because I’m WEAK. Deal with me according to your unfailing LOVE because I NEED RESCUING.
How long? (3b)
And then, in the second half of v3 David adds the question, “How long, O LORD?” When? When will you start SHOWING me your love and mercy?
It’s the sort of question of God that appears over and over again in the Bible. 14 times just in Psalms alone. So it must be okay for us to ASK. “How long, O LORD?”
On the surface, it sounds like a complaint. A LACK of faith. But I think there’s a DIFFERENT way of thinking about it. That it’s actually coming from a position of TRUST. Because, even though David’s overwhelmed by his pain, and he can’t see an end in sight, he knows that GOD’S the one who CAN see the end. Who knows WHY he’s suffering. And who can bring it to an end.
David’s asking the question, “How LONG?” of the one who was there in the beginning, who brought everything into existence with a word. And who’ll bring the created world to an END with a word. The one who can see history spread out before him like a rug.
He’s asking the question about TIME to the one for whom a day is like a thousand years. To the one who causes the planets to orbit the sun, who brings about the seasons – the Father of the heavenly lights, who doesn’t change like shifting shadows.
He asks the question “How long O LORD?” of the ONLY one who can change his situation. “Turn O LORD, and DELIVER me. SAVE me”.
And we can do the same. Ask our questions in FAITH of the ONLY one who has the ANSWERS. Who HAS a purpose. And he HAS a timeline.
David’s DESPERATE to know how much longer he’s got to stick it out. He’s OVERWHELMED. Barely able to keep his head above water. Look at v6.
6 I am WORN OUT from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
It’s like the parents I saw a few weeks ago on “A Current Affair”. Their child had some sort of emotional disorder, and he was completely out-of-control. And they were AT THEIR WITS END/ coping. The child had severe behavioural difficulties. He never slept. He flew into violent rages. He smashed things. He never gave his parents a moment’s peace.
And the parents, in tears, were describing how they HATED their child. And how they wanted to give him up for adoption. How they’d thought of KILLING him. And how they couldn’t get anyone to LISTEN. Or anyone to HELP.
And the DARK TUNNEL of their life seemed like it would never end.
And it was the same for David. In the darkness of night, everything weighs down on him. He floods his bed with tears. He can’t see any light. Any HOPE. It’s not just night ON THE CLOCK. It’s night time EMOTIONALLY TOO.
2. The great reversal (8-10)
But then we come to verse 8. And it seems like MORNING HAS BROKEN. Light has dawned. The sun has risen. And it’s daytime again.
That’s the time on the CLOCK. But it’s also daytime psychologically too. Emotionally. It’s light instead of dark.
There’s a great reversal. And David changes from looking at himself. To looking around him. From despair and being overwhelmed. To hope and confidence. From the defensive to the OFFensive. Look at v8.
8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed and DISMAYED;
they will TURN BACK in sudden disgrace.
It’s the GREAT REVERSAL because in v4 he’d asked for GOD to TURN BACK and deliver. But here in v10, he’s looking forward to HIS ENEMIES turning back in disgrace.
When GOD turns and delivers, then HIS ENEMIES will be TURNED AROUND – from pride and victory to disgrace and defeat.
And it’s the GREAT REVERSAL because in v3 it was HIS soul that was DISTURBED, or in anguish. But NOW, in v10, he’s looking forward to his ENEMIES being dismayed, or in anguish. It’s the same word.
The great reversal from ONE side being overwhelmed. To the OTHER.
So what’s changed? The morning’s come. But what’s brought about the great reversal? Is it a change of SITUATION, or simply a change of ATTITUDE? Has God actually answered his prayer? Or has something changed in David himself?
It’s important to look at what David actually SAYS that God’s done. In v8, the LORD HAS heard my weeping. In 9, he HAS heard my cry or mercy. He ACCEPTS my prayer.
That’s all things that God has ALREADY DONE.
But has he ANSWERED? Has he given David what he wants? It doesn’t say so! Just that he’s HEARD David. ACCEPTED his prayer.
And then look at v10. All my enemies WILL be ashamed. They WILL turn back in sudden disgrace. It hasn’t HAPPENED yet. David’s confident that God’s HEARD him. And that he WILL answer him. BUT NOTHING’S CHANGED YET. Just David’s ATTITUDE. Morning’s come, and David’s confidence is restored.
He’s still waiting for God’s rescue. But he’s trusting God for it. And living in the light of where God’s put him.
And I know a number of you are in the same situation as David. At your wit’s end. Despairing. Overwhelmed by your situation. Pleading with God HOW LONG?
But are you in the NIGHT? Or have you come to see the morning light? Knowing that God has HEARD YOU. That he’s accepted your prayer. And looking to him in faith for a solution? Even if you can’t see it YET.
It WILL come. God IS faithful. You CAN trust him!
3. The Same but not the same
But perhaps that all seems a little unsatisfactory. How can you be so sure, you might ask. Where’s the evidence in Ps 6?
I think it’s fair to say that Ps 6 is NOT the whole picture. There’s lots we share in COMMON with David– following God DOESN’T mean a bed of roses. And God hears our prayers just the same.
But there’s also DIFFERENCES. Because we get a much clearer picture of God THIS SIDE of the cross. Because knowing Christ brings a new level of intimacy with God, understanding of his plans, and experience of his comfort. When we suffer like David did.
And one of the passages that helps us DO that is 2 Cor 1 (p816). Flip over there with me because we’re going to spend a few minutes looking at it.
Let’s begin at v8. And I want you to notice how similar Paul’s situation was to David’s.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the HARDSHIPS WE SUFFERED in the province of Asia. We were UNDER GREAT PRESSURE, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we DESPAIRED even of life. 9 Indeed, IN OUR HEARTS WE FELT THE SENTENCE OF DEATH.
There’s the same emotion. The same sense of being overwhelmed. But there’s also a confidence about WHO GOD IS. And WHAT HE’S DOING. Look there in v3 at the title Paul’s able to use of God – while he’s in the midst of despairing of life itself. “The FATHER OF COMPASSION, and the GOD OF ALL COMFORT, who comforts us in all our troubles.”.
That’s extraordinary! It’s a wonderful description to use of God. ESPECIALLY with all that Paul went through in his life.
And notice that God’s ANSWER isn’t always to rescue from the despair. But to COMFORT in the MIDST of despair.
And maybe that’s the way God’s going to answer YOUR prayer. At least in the short-term.
But what makes Paul so sure about God’s actions and purposes? He’s got an advantage that David DIDN’T have. It’s to do with Jesus. Look there in v5.
5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also THROUGH CHRIST OUR COMFORT OVERFLOWS.
What did Paul mean by that? The first thing he’s saying is that suffering is the standard path for Christians. When we FOLLOW Jesus, we should expect the same as he suffered.
But what’s more, it’s also through Jesus that our COMFORT overflows. How does THAT work? How does God bring us comfort through Jesus?
Because it’s through Jesus that we can have a relationship with God. Through Jesus, God’s wrath is turned away and we become his friends. Through Jesus we receive the gift of the HS – the down-payment guaranteeing our inheritance. It’s through Jesus that we understand the depth of the love that God has for us.
All wonderful sources of comfort when we’re overwhelmed by our sufferings.
And it’s as we dwell on the LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS that we understand that God’s purposes often come about THROUGH suffering – just like his purposes in the cross.
And we get to see some of God’s purposes in suffering here in 2 Cor 1. Let me finish by listing a few of them;
Why might God WANT you to suffer? We’ve already seen a couple of them;
Verse 4. God’s will is for you to suffer, so he can COMFORT you.
Also Verse 4. God’s will is for you to suffer so that when God comforts you. You can comfort OTHERS with the same comfort God’s given you. The baton relay of comfort.
Verse 6. As we’re obedient in proclaiming the gospel, and suffer as a result, other people hear and respond and BECOME CHRISTIANS. And so they are comforted TOO. Your suffering can lead to SALVATION in others.
Verse 9. God’s will is for you to suffer to teach you to rely on God. To STOP relying on yourself. To stop looking AROUND, and start looking UP. And to hand over your life to the one who CAN change things.
Verse 11. God’s will is for you to suffer So that others can PRAY for you. And then give thanks when God delivers you. And so we can ALL be encouraged.
Five reasons why God might be leading you through your particular situation. Through your dark tunnel.
So be encouraged. God HAS got things in control. So stop your crying. The night is over. The dawn has come. For the LORD HAS heard your weeping. 9 The LORD HAS heard your cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. 10 All your enemies WILL be ashamed and dismayed;