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(Click or hover over the above Scripture reference link to read the passage.)
Man. If someone who is struggling and suffering ever needed Scripture to relate to, they only have to look to the Psalms! Psalm 6 continues the prevalent theme of the first five psalms of crying out to God for mercy in the midst of suffering. I’ve read through the psalms countless times, but taking this methodical approach through them to write these devotionals is having a profound effect on me. I’m not sure I have ever noticed how strong the theme of suffering is, and we are only six psalms in! This only makes it even more astounding that Western Christianity has gravitated toward the unbiblical teaching that God will make everything go right for you if you follow him. I don’t mean to write the same thing in each of these devotionals if you are following along each day, I just can’t get away from these themes that God has put in BOLD, ITALICS, ALL CAPS, WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!… and yet we have still missed them.
We have missed them corporately in the types of sermons we preach and worship songs we sing.
And tragically, we have missed them personally. Creating a faith that is formed by the melted down glass of false promises God never made to us. A faith that shatters when this glass sculpture falls from its pedestal of unbiblical teaching and hits the cold, hard ground of reality. Of cancer. Of a miscarriage. Of genocide.
I am not making light of these tragedies. Nor am I belittling though whose faith has been rocked or abandoned because of them. But if a biblical theology of suffering were taught in our churches instead of the false promises of comfort and prosperity, we may not see as many converts, but I sincerely believe we wouldn’t see so many leave their faith.
Have mercy on me, Lord…
for I am faint…
my bones are in agony…
My soul is in deep anguish…
How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me…
save me because of your unfailing love…
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping…
and drench my couch with tears…
My eyes grow weak with sorrow…
How long, Lord, how long?
So many of us can relate to this prayer! And this psalm would have been sung in worship services. I want you to picture a gathering of Jews singing these words in Hebrew. It would sound like a funeral, not like a rock concert.
This is not a psalm (it is the Shema Yisrael, Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21; Numbers 15:37–41), but you can give a little taste of the flavor and emotion behind the tradition of Hebrew prayer songs:
I’m not saying our church services and life with Christ need to be drab and dreary, but we must be equipped for a world of suffering with a faith that can handle suffering. Knowing we can cry out like this to God who loves us. That he can handle our pain and anger and complete exhaustion. That we have hope in him!
It’s easy to look at verses 8-10 as if they clean up and put a neat bow of comfort and prosperity on the first 7 verses of gut-wrenching pain. That as long as you have “this type of faith,” God will clean up your suffering too. But that would be missing so many layers of this psalm and biblical history.
For one, the psalmist doesn’t tell us that God does deliver him from this pain. He is praying and proclaiming his faith in God hearing his prayer. His faith is that God will deliver him. But when we look at the history of the Jewish people, we know this was seldom the case. And if David wrote this psalm, we know that his life was filled with turmoil. Once one enemy was defeated, another rose up. His own son tried killing him! David’s life arc is one of constant stress, anguish, and pain, marked by some highlight reel victories that God used him as a tool for. And even if the psalmist did receive immediate deliverance after writing this, the countless others throughout Jewish history that prayed and sung this did not, which is why they were praying it in the first place! They had to continue praying it because their suffering continued. Why else would you need to pray a psalm like this? In the same way, we need to continue praying it because our suffering is going to continue as well. We live in a fallen world, broken by sin. God has conquered sin, but the ultimate and final death of sin and all its effects is still to come when Jesus returns.
Jesus hits the nail on the head in John 16:33:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”NEW LIVING TRANSLATION
Jesus words read just like one of the many psalms that embraces suffering. He is gritty and honest about the suffering that will come in this world, yet he boldly proclaims the truth of God’s power and might over this suffering and over the sin that holds this world captive. The psalmists then turn us toward this God to worship him, even if all else is falling apart around us.
We don’t know why the suffering continues, but we have a God who has suffered more than any human ever could. He came to this earth 100% human and 100% God to suffer and die on a wooden Roman cross, holding the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders. This is the God we pray to in the midst of our suffering.
And by all means, cry out to God to relieve your suffering! The psalmists certainly do. But don’t create a formula for prayer that the Bible never does. This formula usually looks like this:
Suffering + Prayer to end suffering = Suffering ends! (God is good and he loves you)
That formula shatters any time the suffering continues.
The only formula the psalms give us is:
Suffering + Prayer to end suffering + Worship + Rest + Joy + the Promise that God loves you and shows you mercy …
Did you notice it’s not a formula? It doesn’t have an equal sign. The product of this equation is a mature follower of Jesus. That’s about all we know for sure… that our suffering produces maturity (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4).
Next time you are suffering, remember that Jesus suffered too. And that he is with you in your suffering. Remember that you can pray Psalm 6 with all of your emotions and God can handle it. Remember that we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, so let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
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