(All bible quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version)
PSALM 13 TALK
OUT OF THE DEPTHS
(A WORD OF ADVICE FOR WHEN FEEL DOWN IN THE DUMPS)
David is the author of most of Psalms in both book one and two of the Psalms and he often wrote what is often called a “Individual Lament” and they all follow a similar 3-part pattern. They start with an address to God with some kind of concern or complaint, they then contain a prayer to God for help and they finish with a renewed faith in God that usually climaxes in exalted praise for God. David seems to have had this kind of roller coaster type emotional and spiritual journey and this has caused me to ask, did David suffer from some kind of mental or emotional illness usually called Depression?
My answer is, well certainly not what is called clinical depression, Saul his great enemy probably had that, no David suffered from the kind of depression we all suffer from some time or another. Feeling depressed when things go wrong in our lives. Things like illness, loss of job, loss of a friend or partner and especially when we mourn the death of a person we love. When we are Christians this feeling of depression can be even worse if we were not believers because we might start thinking like David often did that God was not listening to us and had even deserted us. However like David, if we exercise real faith in God we alone can know the love and peace only he can give if we trust in God and the promises he has given us in his word particularly through Christ.
One writer I found on the internet, a man named Rick Warren quoted Corrie ten Boon when she said, “Look within and be depressed, Look without and be distressed, Look to Jesus and be at rest”. Corrie came to this kind of faith of course in probably the most depressing of circumstances of all, a Nazi concentration camp during the second world war.
Why do Christians face all kinds of difficulties and dangers if they are connected to such a loving God?
The answer to that is both simple and complex. It’s simple if we answer another question, What’s God’s purpose for all of his followers? The answer to that is to make us more and more like Christ and then to bring us to glory and be with him forever (see 2 Cor. 4 : 16 – 18). The complex answer is how God chooses to do this and this is what we will discover as we look at this Psalm and some New Testament verses that follow it.
Psalm 3 can be divided in four sections :
1. THE FEELING OF BEING DESERTED (1-2)
2. THE PRAYER OF WANTING TO COME CLOSE TO GOD AGAIN (3-4)
3. THE SONG OF GOD’S UNFAILING LOVE (5 – 6)
Read Psalm 13
1. THE FEELING OF BEING DESERTED (1-2)
This short Psalm is a real roller coaster of emotions. David goes from the depths of despair of faith in verse one to the heights of joy and praise for God in verse 6. Verse one contains 4 “How long” questions similar to what we studied in Psalm 6. Each one of these questions strikes in my heart and mind much pain as I start to feel where David is coming from. His four questions to God are:
- How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
- How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?
- How long will my enemy triumph over me?
The question I’m sure you are asking right now in your head is, if David has faith in God and God is a God of love why is God allowing David to feel so depressed? Or Why is God allowing his enemies have so much power over him?
We are not told what or who these enemies are that David is suffering from. I would like to suggest four possibilities?
- Saul who chased David around the wilderness trying to kill him.
- His rebellious oldest son Absalom who sought to kill him later in his life.
- One of the many internal or external enemies of Israel David faced all his life?
- Some kind of illness or sickness that we know David had on many occasions?
As I said we simply do not know what enemy David is facing when he wrote this Psalm. However whatever enemy he was facing the question remains if he is man of faith why is God letting him go through such a difficult time.
This question comes about through some very real false teaching of our day. The most popular Gospel message by bible believing Christians today is called “The Prosperity Gospel”. This Gospel presents soundly the Salvation of Christ through the cross but infers that for those who turn to God through what Christ has done, good times and prosperity will follow. The teachers of this Gospel have many verses from the bible to back them up.
How then could this Gospel message be false?
Well the simple answer is it is not untrue it is more like half true. The fact is the bible does say we will have prosperity or will be better off if we turn to Christ in repentance and faith. However the full truth is it also teaches that this prosperity is spiritual, eternal life and along with the prosperity will come a new form of pain and difficulty.
Today I heard a lady being interviewed on the radio about how she went through a very difficult and painful time in her life owing to her getting some kind of cancer. At one stage of her treatment she was given morpheme for pain relief and to her horror and her doctors horror she had a allergic reaction to it and almost died. She was not a Christian believer but she did talk about praying to a higher being for help. The interesting thing she did say was how this dark and terrible experience helped her. She spoke of how in science at school she had learnt that all human genes have two strands, this is called, the double helix structure and she now believes that there is a double helix structure to human experience. This means that all human beings are capable of both extreme pain and difficulty and extreme joy and success.
When a person is in rebellion to God they face lots of pain and difficulty as they are out of step with the one who created them. So it goes that when a person stops rebelling and turns in repentance and faith to God through Christ they are now in step with their creator and are now blessed by him.
However when a person is in rebellion to God and really under the control of The Devil they are not a threat to The Devils objectives. However when a person has crossed over to the other side, the side of God and the building up of his Kingdom they are a threat to the Devil and will be attacked by him.
This is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6 : 10 – 13,
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground”.
Another reason why Christians are not immune from pain and difficulty is the fact that they are like everyone else in this world they are living in a fallen world, fallen because through mankind sin has entered this world and God has judged it partly already and introduced death and decay as its punishment. We see this in passages like Genesis 3 : 17 – 19,
“17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
This means that even true believers face difficulties, sickness, pain and even physical death. The difference of course is that the Christian has two great benefits from pain and difficulty which are :
- Christians, like David in Psalm 13 have someone to turn to in the darker times of life.
They have access to the all powerful God of the universe through prayer and he loves us and longs to help us. We see this in a passage like Philippians 4 : 6 – 7,
“6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
- Christians face pain a difficulty for a different reason than the non believers. They face pain and difficulty to help mould their character for heaven.
Rick Warren put it this way, “God is more interested in your character than your comfort, God is more interested in making your life holy than making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness. You can focus on your purpose, or you can focus on your problems”.
This was such an important truth for Christians to understand that all of the four big New Testament writers had something to say about it. James, Peter, John and Paul all spoke of how God will use pain and difficulty in life to help us to grow in Christ.
Lets look at each one, first James, in James 1 : 2 – 4,
“ 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.
Peter puts its another way and makes the same point even stronger than James in
1 Peter 1 : 6 – 9,
“6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.
Note how Peter reinforces the double helix structure of human Christian experience, great pain and difficulty and great pleasure and joy. The fact is that in this life there are both but in the life to come Peter says there is only “inexpressible and glorious joy”. John addresses this great truth from a different angle when he writes in 1 John 3 : 2 – 3,
“2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure”.
This purifying process we read of hear is explained by Peter in the previous passage as coming from all kinds of trials, in short it is the process of making us holy as God is holy and in heaven we will be in God’s holy presence forever.
Finally Paul puts all of these thoughts and ideas together in Romans 5 : 1 – 5,
“ 1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but wealso rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us”.
This kind of teaching seems so foreign to our modern western cultural ears. So many preach today of good times and prosperity so much so that most modern Christians have to put on a mask of happiness and success when we go to church. Let me put it another way imagine if David showed up at your worship service next Sunday and got up and prayed out loud,
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Someone might be tempted to try and counsel David by saying, “come on Davy boy get your act together and start living a real life of faith by trusting in the Lord and having his joy in your life”.
Over 30 years ago when I was on my honeymoon my wife and I visited a little Baptist Church in Tasmania. During their small evening service they had a couple of their regular members get up and share some words of testimony. One young man shared that he was a carpenters apprentice and early in the week he became very uptight and upset by the constant ribbing his boss and other workers were giving him because of his Christian witness at work. He said he went home one night and cried himself to sleep in prayer to God. He shared that the next morning he had a new and stronger sense of courage and desire to continue his witness for Christ at work. He asked us to pray for him as the ribbing had not stopped but intensified. I was so struck by this honest and real sharing that when I got back to work as a Youth Pastor for a church I attempted to encourage this same kind of honest sharing in our evening Youth Church service. Everyone felt very uncomfortable at first but the value of us opening up to each other in honesty and real faith had amazing benefits for the depth of our fellowship together.
David did not hold back in the opening verses of this Psalm and either should we. Don’t fall for the false mask of everything is OK in my life if it isn’t as God wants to hear prayers that come from our heart not from the point of view of how we think others will think well of us. He knows that as human beings we experience the double helix of human experience, the capacity for great pain and sorrow as well as the capacity for great pleasure and joy.
In fact God knows that we cannot appreciate the great highs of joy unless we have also known the great lows of sorrow and pain.
As Paul writes in Romans 8 : 28,
“28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love himwhobeen called according to his purpose”.
- 2. THE PRAYER OF WANTING TO COME CLOSE TO GOD AGAIN (3-4)
The words of David don’t get any easier to come to terms to than the first two verses we have just looked at. Lets read them again,
“ 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall”.
As I have already said David would not go down well in most of our churches today if he turned up talking or praying like this. The masks we put on each Sunday for church are very dangerous. When I was in bible college I stayed one holiday in a fiends flat who I was studied at Bible College with. My friend was away on a trip somewhere so I had his room in the flat. My friend had a flat mate who was a young Frenchman who had recently become a Christian. He attended a local Baptist Church so I decided to go along with him for the couple of weeks I was there. The young Frenchman was dating the daughter of a highly respected Deacon of the church. To my horror this young man shared with me that his girlfriends father at home was a women basher. He had a violent temper and beat up his wife and children. However in Church on Sunday he presented to everyone he was a fine upstanding Christian who had a loving family and was powering to heaven together. The mask of respectability was paper thin and I advised this young man to speak privately to the chief pastor of this church about this mans problem.
Masks might fool other people but they cannot fool God and David in these verses is asking God for very real help for a very real problem. He speaks of “giving light to his eyes”. This expression, for the ancient Hebrew meant saving him from death as we see in the incident in 1 Samuel 14 : 25 – 30, where Saul’s son, Jonathan unwittingly eats when his father had forbid anyone to eat to the battle day was over.
“25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.” 29 Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”
Saul had forgotten the military fact of life that a army marches on its stomach. But notice how Jonathan describes how he felt revived, “See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey” Jonathan was revived by the honey, if he hadn’t eaten he would have become we unwell and eventually this would lead to death via starvation. David seems to be speaking of sickness here when he asks, “O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death”.
Sometimes we to will get very sick and we to in such times must go to God I prayer and ask for his healing hand of help. For most of us, one day God’s answer to this prayer will be no as today I am calling you home to heaven to spend eternity with me where there is “no more crying or pain” Rev. 21 : 4.
A few years ago our church lost a wonderful senior Christian man who headed up our work amongst seniors in our Church. Trevor died of cancer in his late 70’s and just after he died the doctor said to his wife, “I wish you would have given me permission to revive him as I could have brought him back”. Trevor’s wife said “why would he want to come back from a place were there is no more sickness and pain and where he is with our Lord forever”.
David doesn’t want to die at this point in his life for one very real reason he doesn’t wont to give his and God’s enemies the chance to say, ““I have overcome him” and then, ‘my foes will rejoice when I fall”. To David God’s honor was always the most important factor in his life and so it should be in ours.
- 3. THE SONG OF GOD’S UNFAILING LOVE (5 – 6)
David has sunk pretty low in this Psalm so far, he has plumb the depths of despair he has gone down to the pit of pain and suffering or at least he has felt he has. I have felt depressed on many occasions but when I have heard a friend who has suffered very deep depression like David seems to have experienced I realize so far in life my depression has been very real but minor in comparison.
I remember one Christian brother sharing with me what deep depression is like and he spoke of the feeling of being trapped in a dark tunnel with no sign of light and escape, like falling into a deep dark hole with no feeling of ever reaching the bottom. I have not felt that but some Christians have had that kind of experience.
So of course when a person comes out of that kind of depressive state they must feel a most wonderful sense of light and renewal. David in verses 5 and 6 expresses something of that feeling.
“ 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me”.
David does what all of must do when we get depressed. Besides going to God in honest real prayer he remembers who this God is and what he is like. He remembers that the God of the bible is a God of Love and mercy.
In Psalm 6 verse 4 David declares, “Turn, O Lord and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love”.
David knew God’s mercy and love first hand particularly when he had sinned so badly, sleeping with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, adultery and then having Uriah killed in battle when Bathsheba has a child to David, Murder. Yes David commits the two big ones, adultery and murder and yet once he is found out through the Prophet Nathan he turns to God in repentance and faith. David’s appeal to God in Psalm 51 his great prayer for forgiveness starts and is based on these words, Psalm 51 : 1,
“1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions”.
Again David remembers the Love of God in the depths of his despair, “5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. This act of remembering triggers a great release in David and in a flash he rises from the depths of despair to the heights of hope and joy. At a recent evangelistic program I attended one man at the table I helped lead could not understand why something that happened 2000 years ago could have any relevance and value for him today. If Jesus was just a totally ordinary good but powerless human than his death would be of no value to even the people of his day. Also I pointed out that if Jesus was who he claimed he was, God come in the flesh and he simply just died then also this death ever so noble also had no currency for our day. However Jesus Christ the only son of God came into this world from heaven and became man like us and gave his life in the suffering of death by crucifixion and three days later rose from the dead to pronounce victory of death and devil and made a way for everyone who believes in him to go to heaven.
If what I have just said is true than his death and resurrection has relevance to anyone who has lived including us today. By the end of the program this man realized that Jesus did have relevance for his life today and said he would now consider a bit more seriously what that might mean for his life. I am praying that he will see the great love of God for himself and turn to Christ as his Saviour and Lord.
This is the love of God as Paul put it so well in Romans 5 : 6 – 11,
“ 6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”.
With those words we to can join with David and say, “my heart rejoices in your salvation”
You see even in our times of great weakness we can rejoice in God as Paul says at the end of the passage where he speaks of the “Thorn in the flesh”, 2 Cor. 12 : 8 – 10,
“8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
We will look at this passage a little further in the second section of this study. At this stage I would like to say that even if we suffer some kind of ongoing problem that leads us to depression than we must hold onto the great love of God and grace and realize like Paul that so far as our salvation and Christian walk is concerned, “when I am weak, then I am strong”. Or as the old Gospel song I love to sing says, “I am weak but thou art strong Jesus keep me from all wrong, I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk dear Lord close to thee”.
Finally in the last verse, as I have just done as well, David breaks out in song,
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me”.
We often forget that the Psalms are simply ancient songs, the songs of David and many other great word and music composers of the old Hebrew people.
Music has been described as the emotion of the soul. Certainly music is a emotional medium so much so some Christian groups in the past and present have shunned away from it, even declaring it a deception of the devil.
This of course has no currency in a right understanding of the bible, it is riddled with music and God’s people in both Old and New Testament times were really into music of faith and the heart.
Listen again to Paul in Ephesians 5 : 19 – 20,
“19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
People with deep feelings and beliefs naturally turn to song or music to express this but note Paul says that our music should be God honoring and always in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Some extreme Christian groups ban any form of musical instrument but this flies in the face of Old Testament music which used a great number of different musical instruments and would have been both load and lively at times.
I remember speaking to a older Christian believer once who quoted to me Psalm 100 verse 1, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD”, King James version and went on to say note it does not say tuneful but joyful. You see he was tone def and could not sing in tune and yet he could still join with others and sing the praises of his God and King.
Finally David claims that God’s love causes him to sing and I think a better exposition of this concept is David’s words in Psalm 30 : 4 – 12,
“4 Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. 6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” 7 O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.8 To you, O LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: 9 “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? 10 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.”11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever”.
So far as music and depression is concerned, a whole art form of music is based on it, “The Blues”, so for those old blues singers they found therapy in singing out their deep feelings of depression. For the Christian like David we should, “sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me”.
3 NEW TESTAMENT INSIGHT PASSAGES
Note : We have seen through Psalm 13 how David became deeply depressed by the trials and tribulations of his life as he faced God’s enemies. We have also seen how David in the final two verses of that Psalm came to a new understanding of the love of God in the face of such trials and tribulations. In the following three New Testament passages below we will look at how God uses trials and tribulations in our lives to make us more like Christ and therefore, I pray, come to a better understanding of how we to can become more faithful and thankful to God even in our daily struggles of faith and service for him.
- How Jesus wants us to live so we can be blessed Matthew 5 : 3 – 12
For those who preach the prosperity Gospel a passage like Matthew 5 : 3 – 12 rightly understood is a bit of problem as here Jesus says that so far as he is concerned prosperity belongs to those who give up human measures of success and prosperity and take on often the opposites.
I want to make three observations from this passage.
1. To Give up is to Take up
All the way through this passage Jesus speaks is giving up, Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are those who are persecuted. Jesus does not wont his followers to go the way of this world and what he really wants of us is best summed up in the words of Matthew 6 : 33,
“33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.
The problem with the faulty Prosperity Gospel message is that it is like a Christian having his cake and eating it to. To Jesus to take up we must give up. Instead of what we want being our motivation it should be what God wants, seeking his kingdom first.
- What are the qualities of those who put Jesus first in their lives?
This passage does not set down a easy road for Christians to follow. Putting Jesus first will reveal the following qualities in a person :
- Poor in Spirit – humility / not self seeking
- Mourning – Sense of loss for our old lives
- Meekness – again humility
- Hunger and thirst for Righteousness – Holy Living
- Merciful – Forgiving
- Peacemakers – Lovers of solving conflict instead of creating it
- Wiliness to be persecuted – Active in Christian witness
This last point has a fleshing out in two more verses.
- The role of problems and difficulties in the Christian life.
Jesus is setting out here a difficult and often dangerous way to live as what he wants all his followers to engage in. This means that often the Christian life is not comfortable or easy and yet it is still the best way to live. The ultimate benefits are amazing, the very Kingdom of heaven. The point Jesus is making is that for the Christian the goal of life is not found in this life but in the life to come in heaven. As Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 2 : 9 – 12,
“ 9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”
- Paul thorn in the flesh and what it teaches us about problems and
difficulties in our lives 2 Corinthians 12 : 7 – 10
This passage will give those who teach a prosperity Gospel lots of headaches. Even those who teach that God will answer our prayers for healing with healing if we have enough faith will also have problems with this passage. To bring home the great things this passage has to say to us I have decided on drawing three observations from it.
- God allows us to get sick and have some kind of physical problems to help us.
Paul says in verse 7, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me”.
Paul has just spoke of a unusual and incredible vision of heaven he has had and then goes on to say that God allowed him to get some kind of physical ailment he calls “a thorn in my flesh” to keep him humble and trusting God. Paul speaks later of the good this ailment did for him, namely he learnt that, “God’s grace is sufficient” and better still “God’s power is made perfect in weakness”. These truths of God are major things for a Christian to learn and in fact only through the trials of life can these truths be really realized. God knows best and it is not that he deserts us in difficulty but is in there with us to help us through it. Jesus had this to say to his followers who are going through difficult times,
Matthew 11 : 28 – 30,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So we have learnt from Psalm 13 that even if God allows us to become very depressed and sink very low, through real faith in God often expressed in desperate prayer God is with us and can and will lift us up. In Paul’s case not by taking the physical ailment away from us but helping us endure it and find the peace and help of God as we go through it.
- Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is no
Many speak of the healing power of prayer and quote many verses that seem to indicate if we pray believing hard enough with lots of faith in God we will be healed. As much as God does answer prayer for healing with a yes he also answers prayer for healing and anything else with a very real no. How can I make such a claim?
Well have a look at verse 8 and 9 in this passage,
“8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.
Three times Paul prayed for healing, was his faith faulty? Did he give up on God and his faith in him?
No Paul knew that sometimes God answers our prayers with a no and instead of loosing faith in God Paul gains more faith. He goes as far as saying he boasts of his weakness and Christ’s power on him. When I was a young teenager Christian I remember reading the books of Joni Eareckson Tada who as a young women dived into shallow water and became a Quadriplegic and as a Christian battled with people who said she did not receive God’s healing to be able to walk again because she lacked faith in God. Joni went on to learn the same kind of thing as Paul that God could use her in her weakness far more than if she was healed and could walk again. Joni has written many books and spoken to many people throughout the world. Her latest book is called, “Making sense of Suffering”.
- We should always qualify our requests to God with the words or at least the sentiment of not what I will, but what you will.
As Christians we are all followers of The Lord Jesus Christ. What he did and said should be our lead. He had much to say about prayer and how to pray. In his instruction on how his disciples should pray he tells us to say, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. In the garden of Gethsemane the night before his death Jesus prayed for the terrible cup of suffering to be taken away from him but qualified this prayer with the words recorded in Marks Gospel of Mark 14 : 36,
“Yet not what I will, but what you will”
Jesus humanly faced a time of terrible agonizing suffering both physically and spiritually and he naturally fought the horror of it and prayed to his Father to take it from him. However Jesus knew that he was sent to this world to go to the cross to make a way for us to heaven. Only as the suffering servant of God could Jesus become our saviour and go on to be glorified by God through the resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Even though Paul does not say the words, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” when he prays for the thorn of the flesh to be taken from him the sentiment of how he accepts God’s answer of no and the suffering to continue in him. Listen again to how and why he accepts he will not be healed, 2 Cor. 12 : 8 – 10,
“8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
Some argue this is an unusual case and not the norm but I would like to argue that there are no unusual cases but rather all of God’s answers to each individual prayer is unique and as we will see from our final New Testament passage always for our and God’s ultimate good purposes.
3. The ultimate purposes of God for the true believer Romans 8 : 28 – 39
I have had a lot of criticism in this study of those who I call teach a form of “Prosperity Gospel” and those who teach that real prayers of faith will always lead to God saying yes and giving us exactly what we ask him for. I want to say that in the final analysis I actually feel sorry for those who teach and believe what I see is a distortion of what the bible teaches. I feel sorry for they are actually missing out on some of the most wonderful truths of the Christian life. They are missing out because when God says no, sometimes to their prayer requests they usually face even more suffering and anguish than they should have.
In Romans 8 : 28 – 39 Paul gives us some of the most comforting teaching on the role of suffering and difficulty in the Christian life. He offers to those who and faith trust in the love of God through Christ wonderful help even in times of great problems and difficulties. Let me point out three great truths from this outstanding passage.
1. God works all things for good for those who love him.
This is a remarkable statement and can be only fully realized by faith and seen to be true on the other side of life in Heaven. The famous 19th century English Bishop J.C Ryle went to church one Sunday morning after he sat with his dear wife as she died in agony of cancer. It is said that he stood at the prayer desk of the church where the large bible sat and wept. He then held up the bookmark with some words of the bible written in a tapestry form. He held it up the wrong side around showing to the congregation the mated unreadable stitches of the bibles words and said something like what happened to my wife last night seems like this, it made no sense. He then said but on the other side of this life in heaven it looks like this and he turned the bookmark around to reveal the words, “God is Love”. J.C Ryle could only speak like this because he knew the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8 : 28,
“28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose”.
Yes, J.C. Ryle is right in this life we might never see the truth of these words in some situations of our lives but by faith we can claim them and find comfort in them and in Heaven see the truth of them. So much good has come out of Christian suffering I could go on and on with example after example that proves the truth of these words. But let me give you just one, the famous story of Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries. Jim Elliot was an evangelical Christian missionary to Ecuador who, along with four others, was killed while attempting to evangelize the Waodani people through efforts known as Operation Auca. It said that this tribe of native people not only killed the missionaries but ate them as well. After her husband’s death, Elisabeth Elliot and other missionaries began working among the Auca Indians, where they continued evangelical work. The very natives who killed and ate her husband became followers of Christ and Elisabeth Elliott was able to use the brave faith and love of her husband to help these natives come into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jim Elliot’s story has been told through books and in talks to many people and it has helped them to have faith in Christ and has inspired others to commit themselves to missionary service. Yes God used death and suffering to bring about good. Should we be so surprised of this?
Let’s read what the writer to the Hebrews has to say about this, Hebrews 2 : 9,
“9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.
- God has planned from the beginning that we who believe will be justified and glorified.
The words that follow Romans 8 : 28 in verses 29 and 30 have caused many Christians great difficulty and sometimes dispute. I feel this is simply the work of the Devil as he does not want Christians being united and enjoying the comfort and assurance of our Salvation in God. May I suggest we simply read these words with the eye of faith and accept them like a child without trying to use our fault human reasoning capacities to workout how this is possible. Let me read these words like that now,
Romans 8 : 29 – 30
“29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”.
Weh! Can you believe that, humanly speaking no, but God, through Paul declares that our Salvation was planned back at the beginning of time and therefore no one can stop it from happening, it is assured and true. God is eternal, all powerful and all knowing and nothing takes him by surprise, even our Salvation in Christ.
- Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ
Finally Paul completes this amazing passage with some simply sublime words of faith. Romans 8 : 31 – 39,
“31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
David like many of us suffered times of depression and pain and Paul also pulls no punches as well telling us in a number of places how he also suffered because of his faith in Christ. Yet Paul is saying in this passage that even in those difficult times he knew that Christ loved him and of course that knowledge always lifted him above the trials and tribulations of life. Just like David Paul could say, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.
- How can we face and come through times of great difficulty that might make us very depressed
We have learnt that Depression of some kind is part of life for everyone including the true believer in Christ. In fact because of our faith in Christ we might face even more trials and tribulations because of such things as persecutions etc. All of the New Testament writers acknowledged this and considered a good thing not a bad thing. Paul and Peter tell us to rejoice in our sufferings and James says consider trials of faith and life as pure joy. Why do they say that?
The answer to this comes I our et application of what we have learnt in this study
2 What the role or place of problems ad difficulties is I the Christian life.
All of the great New Testament writers teach that trials or suffering produces good things and in fact we would not learn many of the things God wants us to learn if we did not go through suffering or trials. Peter says that it is our faith that grows or is made stronger when we come through trials with the help of God. This is the major difference between a Christian and a non believer a Christian has God to turn to in difficult times while a o believer has no greater power to turn to then that which is found in humanity itself. I have seen a fellow Christian brother and sister have one of the two reactions to time of suffering. One church elder I once knew who saw his wife die of cancer turned on God and said, “if you allow this to happen to my wife God and did not answer my prayers for her healing than I want nothing to do with you”, he walked out on God and the Church and never came back. However I have known or heard of lots more who have turned to God in their time of suffering and proved the loving power of God to help them through it.
This is what Peter was suggesting in his word on the role of trials or suffering in the Christians life, 1 Peter 1 : 7,
7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
In a sense we would never really know how genuine and strong our faith is unto it is tested and proven true and also made stronger by the whole experience as well.
In Psalm 13 David describes a roller coaster ride of emotion from the pit of despair he rises to the hight of faith and joy. This is not the unusual experience of the true believer but the very real God given way of the journey of faith in Christ. Not that Christians don’t ever suffer but rather in the face of suffering they have a great comforter and helper to turn to who as Paul says makes us, more than conquerors through him who loved us”
Based on Jude 24 – 25
Father in heaven we thank you that you alone are able to keep us from falling away from you when we face all kinds of problems and difficulties in life. But you alone can and will present us in the end in your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. This is because you have saved us through your Son, Jesus Christ who is your glory, power and supreme authority for now and ever more Amen