A Prayer During Affliction (Part Two)

Psalm 25:16-22

The living God is deeply interested in our lives. Though the Lord knows us fully, he invites us to open our lives to him in personal friendship. In these verses, we see that David in faith presented his requests to God

David started with his great spiritual need. He wanted to be sure of God’s favor. He wanted his sins to be taken away. It is too easy in our troubles to forget our sins. But David was spiritually wise, even if he had offended God greatly. (We are unsure when he wrote this psalm.) We have the assurance that God takes our sins away, because Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29). We depend on Christ alone and our sins are gone!

Affliction can come on us for a number of reasons, including our union with Christ in his sufferings, the glory of God, the fact that we live in a world cursed because of sin, and getting attacked in spiritual warfare. In addition, we may suffer discipline because of our personal sin (cf. Heb 12:4-13). In this psalm, David displayed an ongoing awareness of his need for forgiveness of his sin (25:7, 11, 18). To cry to God for our sins to be taken away is “the cry of a soul that is more sick of sin than of pain, and would sooner be forgiven than healed” (Spurgeon). Perhaps this is the deeply piercing sliver that is festering in your heart? Do you want prosperity more than spiritual cleansing? God wants your heart, but do you want God’s gifts more than God alone? Are you God-centered or self-centered?

David wanted God to “turn to” him. Picture two lovers in a quarrel. Can you see how while they are upset, they turn their backs to each other? Now David desired to see God’s face again. In reality, the source of any quarrel with God is always in ourselves. When our sins are confessed, there is nothing to prevent full fellowship with God.

David prayed for grace in his affliction. He sought God’s friendship in his loneliness (25:16). Feeling abandoned and lonely in is no new experience in this world. Sometimes, our dearest friends desert us, or merely move away, or we lose them through death. So, we turn to others, expecting them to feel our pain, but they don’t! The disappointment is extreme. The ache in the soul is painful and not easily mended.  This is when we must dare to draw near to God in fresh, new ways.

David needed to be freed from the anguish ensnaring him because of multiplied troubles of heart. There are seasons in life when troubles do not seem to end. One follows another in apparent endless succession. It is like body surfing and being tossed by the waves when the sea is rough. You are smacked by one wave and struggle to catch your breath before the next one pummels you. The current won’t seem to let you go, and you start to despair of escape! Then you need the Almighty God to lift you up!

He asked to be rescued from his many enemies (25:19-20). We live in an evil world where some people are bent on destroying others. The godly do not have to do anything against the ungodly; the mere existence of Christ’s followers is excuse enough for all sorts of hatred and malice. Persecution of Christians grows daily in our world. We should not be shocked, but we should pray seriously for God to deliver his people.

David prayed for God’s people (25:22). He remembered that he was not the only one in a difficult situation. Many of God’s people are in equal or greater distress than you and I may be currently in. This does not make our affliction less! That is not the point! We are not talking about some kind of trite “misery loves company”. No, we are talking about unselfishly remembering our union with others in Christ. “Sorrow had taught the psalmist sympathy, and given him communion with the tried people of God; he therefore remembers them in his prayers” (Spurgeon). “We are never to become so immersed in our own problems as to forget the needs of all God’s saints.” [Leupold] Why should you pray for other believers? They are God’s friends, and shouldn’t you be concerned about the friends of your best friend?

Knowing Christ brings us into a spiritual family, in which we no longer live for ourselves, but for God and one another. Show the Father’s compassion and reach out to one another today! Pray for one another daily.

Grace and peace, David

A Prayer During Affliction (Part One)

Psalm 25:16-22

We live in a world of troubles. As painful as it might be, think with me on this theme for a few moments. People suffer from fire, flood, storms and tropical storms, drought, landslides, earthquakes, and occasionally volcanic eruptions. Some people live in anguish because of disease or serious disabilities. Others find their lives in turmoil because of wars, terrorism, civil unrest like riots and looting, economic recessions, oppression by tyrants, or religious persecution. And still others suffer spiritually and emotionally through guilt, depression, betrayal, loneliness, anger, abuse, fear and disappointments. No one is exempt from affliction—no one.

The Bible talks much about afflicted people. “If you were to take out of the Scriptures all the stories that have to do with poor, afflicted men and women, what a very small book the Bible would become, especially if together with the stories you removed all the psalms of the sorrowful, all the promises for the distressed, and all the passages which belong to the children of grief! This Book, indeed, for the most part is made up of the annals of the poor and despised” (Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, p. 301). Think about how much of the Bible talks about a young man sold as a slave who suffers in prison in Egypt. And what of that baby boy, left to die in the river, and yet whose life is spared, only to lose forty years of his life in the wilderness, and then who spends most of his next forty listening to the bitter complaints of an ungrateful people. We read many chapters of a man who loses all his children and property, and then suffers from a dreadful disease, only to have his best friends accuse him unmercifully of being wicked. The Bible tells us of two widows, suffering in poverty and uncertain of their future. And have you read of a despised boy, left out in the fields to tend sheep? He becomes a hero, but then runs for his life for years, while having to care for other oppressed people. And we haven’t even begun to talk about a prophet whose only food came from ravens and a destitute widow, about women who longed for children, but who for long years were childless, or about a homeless teacher, who was mocked and eventually killed by those who hated him. And these are those favored by the God of heaven! Yes, it seems to me the Bible is a book for afflicted people and his plan for them. And listen to these words. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV).

Yes, God cares about the afflicted, and he invites us to draw very near to him in our suffering. He is so desirous of our approach that in his word, he even gives us the words to say to him in our anguish of heart. Let us, therefore, listen to this prayer with an understanding of God’s great compassion for us.

In this song, we hear an intensely personal approach to God. The psalmist David had meditated upon his friendship with God; now he acted upon it. We must know how to interact with God as his friend. David referred to himself some seventeen times in these verses! Notice the first-person pronouns I, me and my. After exalting God in worship, he boldly spoke as a friend in need. He or she who worships well can fellowship well. David expected God to be personally interested in his troubles. He was not of the opinion that we must only pray for God’s concerns or the needs of others. But having put God first, David was not ashamed to present his neediness to God. He knew that in this unequal friendship, he could depend upon God’s real awareness of and deep compassion for him. If this doesn’t convince you, meditate on Christ’s revelation of God’s compassion (cf. Matthew 9:36).

David used two pleas to persuade God to act for his benefit. He pleaded his trust in God (25:20-21). Notice the phrase “in you” (cf. 25:2-3, 5). Faith is a God-focused activity. It is consciously relying on the all-powerful God to be directly and personally involved in one’s life. It is looking out of oneself to God. He pleaded his miserable condition (25:16-18). Notice the words he piles up in this appeal: “lonely… afflicted… troubles… anguish… affliction… distress.”  But notice what David understood. He knew that he did not need to instruct God about what to do for him. He only wanted God to “look upon my affliction” and he was confident of help. Why is this enough? He knew the character of the God that he relied on (cf. Exodus 3:5-8).

Grace and peace, David

How Long?

DSCN0051Psalm 13:1-6

Every believer needs to know what to do for his or her own basic spiritual care. None of us go to the doctor every time we have a physical ache or pain. In the same way we all need to know what to do for the spiritual ailments we suffer. This psalm, like others such as Psalms 6, 42-43, 88, and130, talk about the problem of spiritual depression. Psalm 13 presents a believer, David, who struggled in a condition of desertion. What is desertion? It is the state in which God, for wise reasons, hides the smile on his face from his believing child for a while. During this time the believer does not enjoy his usual comfort in God. We are not told when this happened in David’s life. Surely he went through many experiences where these words would have described his condition.

First, we hear David’s complaints (13:1-2). A wise friend listens to their friend’s symptoms. Note the extreme misery David was in, and how intensely he desired deliverance. He complained that God had forgotten him (13:1). His emotions were overruling his mind. In his words he denied what he knew so well. Can an all-knowing God in covenant with his people forget them? Meditate on Isaiah 49:13-16. Affliction had changed David’ s outlook. Where was the psalmist of Psalm 23 at this point? He painted a worst case scenario: “forever?” Observe how dark his thoughts became. You and I are liable to lose patience in our afflictions. We want everything yesterday, and this can cause additional complicating problems.

David complained that God was hiding his face (13:1). Is there a slight improvement here? Or a decline? First, he thought God had forgotten him. Now he looks at God as actively withdrawing from fellowship with him. God may hide his face for various reasons. Discipline for sin is one cause (Hebrews 12:5-13).

  • Discipline for neglect of obedience to God’s purposes. The Lord desires us to follow him, and yet we become side-tracked from doing good works.
  • Discipline for a false self-confidence. We assume that we can do that Christian life in our own strength.
  • Discipline for grieving the Holy Spirit.

When we feel that God is far off, we might benefit from self-examination. Compare your walk with the Lord to that set forth in the Bible. But avoid over-introspection, which can cause similar problems.

David complained about his internal struggle (13:2). Hard thoughts that denied God’s love and promises were striving for the mastery of his mind. The battle brought weariness upon him. At least David is seeking to control his thoughts. He wrestled with them. This is better than letting your inner person run wild. Every action to take charge of your thoughts is a positive step. Take every one of your thoughts captive for Christ. Refresh your thinking with the knowledge of the greatness and grace of God.

Another villain tried to cut him down: sorrow. We can reach a point where we refuse to be comforted. It is remarkable the arguments that a human heart can raise against its own comfort. What do you do then? Go to God your Father (Read 2 Cor 1).

Discouragement also came because he felt like he had been beaten (13:2). The seeming triumph of our enemy is a terrible experience. No one likes to lose to their rival in sports. No one likes for one’s personal rival to show them up. Far worse is the experience of apparent defeat by the enemy of human souls. We must remember that our spiritual life is complicated by the spiritual foes who seek our destruction. Each of us has enough serious difficulty with our own flesh. But there is an external as well as an internal warfare. As the old hymn says, “For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe.” In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan painted the sad picture of Christian’s journey through the Valley of Humiliation. There is no escape from these trials, even when we try to walk close to our Lord and Savior. Many situations will cause every follower of Jesus to cry out, “How long?” In your unhappy experiences, learn to cry out, “How long, Lord?” It is far too easy to think of our difficulties rather than to fix our thoughts on our God, who deeply cares for us. Keep the Lord God in your thoughts. He is light (1 John 1:5) and can brighten the darkest places of your soul.

Grace and peace, David

An Awesome Question

IMG_0903Mark 15:34

Charles Wesley wrote the following words of a famous hymn: “’Tis mystery all! Th’ Immortal dies! Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!” And to know the full wonder of the cross is beyond our human abilities also. Who can comprehend the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross? Even if we cannot understand, we may at least worship. As Wesley continued: “’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.” Yes, we on earth should adore, for it was for sinners like you and me that the Christ suffered, bled and died.

In this article we will consider one of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross. Of the seven, one is a statement, another is a word of pardon, two are exclamations, and two are prayers to his Father in heaven. But the one written in our text for tonight is an awesome question, an inquiry into the holy wisdom of God: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (Which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’” [All quotes are from the NIV.]

Let us seek to understand the question. By understanding, I mean understanding in the sense of gaining the full Biblical significance of the words. We cannot comprehend fully, for there is mystery here. God has not revealed its depths to us. We should notice how Jesus spoke these words. He “cried out in a loud voice.” Surely we should catch some of the intensity of the moment. The words reveal both extremity of his pain, and the earnestness of his spirit. In other words, these words reveal something of the “suffering of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). It is to this we now turn.

The question itself has three parts. First, is the repeated “my God”. This is the cry of the suffering one calling on his God (Psalm 22:1). Christ Jesus retained his confidence in the Father. Even when at his lowest, he still called on the Holy One as his God. How this precisely relates to his being “forsaken” is a question not answered by the Scriptures, and thus beyond our ability to answer. There is mystery here. Second is the horrible word “forsaken.” What does this mean? Two texts shed more light on this event. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Whatever he suffered includes the stark reality of becoming “a curse for us.” He bore the curse of God that we deserved. Think for a moment about the fearful nature of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. The horror of this curse, we followers of Christ cannot know; and glory to God, because of the Lord Jesus, we never will! When he suffered he redeemed us from the curse of the law. This cry of anguish shows something of its meaning for the Redeemer. Surely he took up our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:4,10). Think deeply on the words “stricken, smitten, afflicted, crush and cause him to suffer.” Whatever these words mean, they tell us of the turning aside of the wrath of God. In Christ’s death, God’s wrath was satisfied, and his holy righteousness honored. We should all exclaim, “Thank you, Lord Jesus!”

Third is the pronoun “Me.” Who said these words? They were said by the One in whom the Father had eternally delighted. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24). The One of whom the Father had always approved said these words. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

A poem by E.B. Browning says: Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken. It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!” It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation, that, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation. [My emphasis]

The Holy Spirit in the Bible answers the Son’s question. With all reverence, we should know the answer of God’s word to the Son’s inquiry. First, it was the purpose of God. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23).  Two concerns are included in God’s purpose: the glory of God’s name. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rm 11:36); and the salvation of God’s people, The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39). Why was Christ forsaken? It was the purpose of God.

Why did God determine to act this way? It was because of the love of God. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). Both of these texts tell of his immeasurable love to guilty, ungodly rebels. Why was Christ forsaken? It was the love of God for his people.

But why did a loving Father deliver his beloved Son over to the death of the cross? Why did he not merely forgive the sins of his people by an act of will, without sending his dearly loved Son to death on Calvary? The justice of God required this event. Christ was bearing our sins. So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28). He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). God’s wrath against sin had to be satisfied. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). Why was Christ forsaken? It was God satisfying his own justice.

Was Christ in agreement with this purpose of God? Did he die willingly for his people? Yes, the Lord Christ loved his church, his sheep. And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:2, 25). See also John 10:14-18. Why was Christ forsaken? It was because Jesus loved us and wanted to save us!

So then, since Christ was forsaken of God, let us think about the value of our salvation. We were rescued at great cost, the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Son of God. Since Christ was forsaken of God, his chosen people can be sure they will never be forsaken. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Grace and peace, David