O Lord, do not rebuke or punish me in Your anger,Nor discipline me in Your wrath. Have mercy on me and be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am weak (faint, frail);Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed and anguished. My soul [as well as my body] is greatly dismayed.But as for You, O Lord—how long [until You act on my behalf]? Return, O Lord, rescue my soul;Save me because of Your [unfailing] steadfast love and mercy. For in death there is no mention of You;In Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead) who will praise You and give You thanks? I am weary with my groaning;Every night I soak my bed with tears,I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye grows dim with grief;It grows old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you who do evil,For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication [my plea for grace];The Lord receives my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly horrified;Let them turn back, let them suddenly be ashamed [of what they have done].
An older and godly saint in the church came to me deeply distressed. He has lost all assurance of salvation and felt under the judgement of God. No observable or known sin marked his life, yet he felt totally cast off from the Lord.
Psalm 6 describes such an experience in David. It is one of the seven penitential psalms. In this psalm David feels faint, in agony and anguish, worn out from groaning and weeping, full of sorrow, and surrounded by those who seek his destruction. But worse is the prospect of God adding His own judgement to David’s grief. “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.”
In the final verses of Psalm 6, David exudes assurance that the Lord has heard his weeping and has accepted his prayer.
The elderly Christian who came to me with such depression experienced the same. One day the dark cloud lifted- by the grace and mercy of God.
We hear often that we should trust our heart and our conscience, but I think most of us know from experience that both frequently lead us down the wrong path. While I’m thankful for the advice and counsel from wise godly people, even they often miss the mark. Thankfully we aren’t having to solely rely on these to find our way for God has given to us the Holy Spirit to provide us with truth and to guide us in the right way.
“But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future]. He will glorify honor Me, because He (the Holy Spirit) will take from what is Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Because of this I said that He [the Spirit] will take from what is Mine and will reveal it to you.”
There will be those occasions when our hearts condemn us. In Psalm 6 David describes such a time in his life and George Wood tells us of the person who felt condemned with no obvious reason. We must remember that our old sin nature doesn’t want to let go and sometimes uses our past failures to move us to believe that we’re never going to make it as a Christian. Scripture tells us that Satan stands by to condemn and accuse us even before God. That’s the story of Job. But again God gives us help.
“whenever our heart convicts us [in guilt]; for God is greater than our heart and He knows all things [nothing is hidden from Him because we are in His hands]. By this we will know [without any doubt] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart and quiet our conscience before Him Beloved, if our heart does not convict us [of guilt], we have confidence [complete assurance and boldness] before God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask because we [carefully and consistently] keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight [habitually seeking to follow His plan for us].”
1 John 3:20-22
We can trust the Holy Spirit who searches our hearts and convicts us of sin and if He isn’t convicting us of sin- when He does it’s specific and never some vague feeling- then we can trust that our relationship with God is still there.
We don’t know the specifics of this moment in David’s life. We don’t know if it was because he had sinned or whether he was just in a place of despair. Both of these places seem to last forever and we ask God in those moments, “How long O Lord?” It seems that the times of blessing fly by and the times of distress crawl.
Charles Spurgeon said, “God has measured the crosses of all His children: Israel in Egypt, 430 years; Joseph in prison, 3 years; Judah in Babylon, 70 years. But He alone knows the duration, and that’s why we ask Him, ‘How long?’ With the passing of time the cross does not become more comfortable.”
Whatever has caused this distress in David’s life, at this moment he feels weak, dismayed, and surrounded by his enemies. At this point we read of no joy or laughter. Instead we read of weeping and mourning and utter despair. David is terrified that God will not answer him before he passes from this life and fears that he will be forgotten in death. George Wood says, “And indeed if it were not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the transfer of His life to us, death would forever silence our worship, shatter our plans, and cut us off from God.”
As we read David’s words we find that added to his own failures is the despair caused by his enemies. His soul trouble has not been completely self-inflicted after all. Others contributed to it as well. We will find that to be true as well. Often when we are struggling, those around us, intentionally or unintentionally add to our torment. If we are already condemning ourselves it doesn’t take much from others to break our spirits completely.
Thankfully the psalm doesn’t end here with the sorrow and lament but beginning in verse 8 a change begins to dawn. We are not told what caused such a change of heart, but I’d like to think that this was the point of Holy Spirit intervention. I say that because I’ve experienced it in my own life. There have been times when nothing externally changed but somehow in my heart and spirit, change occurred and the Holy Spirit lifted me from despair to faith. He will do the same for you!
George Wood says, “Many desire easy solutions to their dilemmas. They are prey to the elixir: ‘Take these three truths, and you will be all better again.’”
It’s true that when we sin we need to repent, we need to strive to have right attitudes and practical wisdom and abundant faith is important, but our solution doesn’t lie in self-effort but rather in throwing ourselves on the mercy and unfailing love of God.
If you’re in soul trouble? Follow David’s example: Talk with God through the long hours of pain. Rest on the promise of Christ- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Christ doesn’t tell us how we will be comforted. He just tells us we will.
George Wood says, “Because of Jesus you know more about God than David did. You have an Intercessor in your heart, the Holy Spirit, and an Intercessor in heaven at the very right hand of God, Jesus Christ. Take heart today. God has an answer for your ‘How long?’”
Dr. John Thompson