In this season of Advent, we are walking through different genres of the Psalms to encounter the hope of Emmanuel—God with us. The Psalms are Hebrew poems and songs that articulate a wide range of human emotion and serve different purposes in Scripture: praising God in his faithfulness, expressing deep fear and desperation, and remembering and reciting the Lord’s salvation and his provision throughout Israel’s history. Just as Jewish people meditated on and learned from the Psalms, the collection of songs is instructive for us, as modern readers.
Last week we looked at a psalm of lament. As we look at Psalm 131 this week we will be focusing on what it looks like to be a creature full of so many varying and complex emotions, and yet choose to trust in the Lord.
Psalm 131 may often be overlooked due to its brevity, but a long reading and time given to meditation opens to the reader wisdom to deal with our complexity of emotions. It was most likely written when David was being slandered and pursued with murderous intent by the jealous and paranoid King Saul and his men. David justly had much to complain about. But, as a picture of Christ to us, King David knew where to go with his temptation to clamor, and how to strengthen himself to trust in the Lord (1 Sam. 23:16).
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” (vs. 1)
Oftentimes we can treat our suffering as if we are solving for “x.” If I could just figure out what I did, what they did, what I should avoid next time, then this suffering wouldn’t have happened. In this way, we treat our suffering as a form of works-righteousness. But David knew that the secret things of God’s plan are often for God alone to know (Deut. 29:29). This is why David could approach his trials with humility.
Humility is needful with faith and trust, even when we know he is all-powerful over what happens in our lives. In commenting on David’s humility, Lydia Brownback says, “Because he was humble, gaps in his understanding didn’t undo him.”
Due to a recent asthma attack brought on by croup, my husband and I woke in the middle of the night in a flurry of terror as we realized an ambulance was needed to help our son make it through this common illness alive. Those four or five minutes I stood at our curb desperate to see the lights of an ambulance, I was shaking and praying, asking with each of my own breaths that God would make a way for Ari to breathe. To date, these are some of the most terrifying memories of my life. Hours later, sitting beside him in the E.R. as they gave him shots to keep his airways open, I remember God gently reminding me: “You are not in control of him. I am.”
In the following days, the temptation to grow angry at God seemed constantly around the corner: But … I followed all the diets the doctors prescribed! We even took the medicine when we didn’t want to! Why is this happening?! Will I always feel wrapped in fear? Quite honestly, I didn’t sleep for several nights out of concern that I wouldn’t hear my son if he was suffocating. Then I got up all-too-early one morning because of sleeplessness to do dishes and listened to the book of Ephesians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:1–6)
Paul’s words about the Lord’s unshakeable plan served as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and my lack of it in this situation. It was like a quick, smart discipline from a loving parent to an erring child. I certainly didn’t have all the answers to the details of every day of my child’s life, complete with the hows and whys of his sickness, but being graciously put in my place, I knew my family was not only in the hands of an all-powerful God, but a wise, loving, good Ruler. He authored my salvation before I could do a thing about it. Likewise, he has authored every day of my loved ones’ lives. Just like David, I no longer needed to demand answers. I was quieted and calmed in the midst of fear.
“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (vs. 2)
And, like David exhorted Israel to trust, God has since used this event in my life to allow me to encourage others in their ever-present fears. The comfort borne from gaining a bigger picture of God in his sovereignty has provided nourishment for others who have needed strengthening in their trials.
“O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (vs. 3)
If you find you’ve failed to trust in the midst of your suffering and are fighting God’s foreknowledge, then, fearing him, look to Christ for your righteousness. Indeed, he is our greatest hope in tumultuous circumstances. In the hours before his own death, Jesus himself pleaded with the Lord to take away the cross from before him. If we are hidden in Christ, then his prayer of trust in the Father is credited to us: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
May our great joy in suffering come from the knowledge that we serve an awesome God, one who holds all things together by his power (Col. 1:17). He alone is able to work all things— death, feelings of being a castaway, loneliness, fears, all the negative effects of sin—together for the good of those who love and trust in him (Rom. 8:28). May the Sovereign Lord indeed be your source of strength (Hab. 3:19)!
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