Week of August 28

The Dark Room and the God Upon Whom We Lean

Read: Jeremiah 52; Psalm 143, 144; Revelation 1
“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.”
Psalm 143:8, ESV


The late Billy Graham, who enjoyed remarkable effectiveness throughout his nearly eight decades of ministry, once said, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’” The beginning to the end of Psalm 143 is a continuous appeal to God. The psalmist’s lament signals his desperate situation, and he cries out to the Lord for help. Have your ever been this desperate for God’s help? Let’s ask the Lord to help us to see our way through deep troubles.

Understanding the Bible Context

The genre of the psalm
The psalm is the last of what have been termed “Penitential Psalms” (Handbook; EBC). There are seven psalms in this category, and one is able to see quickly the confessional nature of the lament (cf. Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). Our writer opens with a prayer for God’s righteousness (vv. 1-2), then moves immediately into his lament (vv. 3-6). This is followed with several petitions (vv. 7-11). He then concludes the psalm with a prayer for God’s righteousness (v. 12). Got it? Let’s dig deeper into the psalm.
Despite the severity of trouble, one senses that God stands ready to bring forgiveness to the penitent one. Luther in fact called this psalm one of the “Pauline Psalms” because of its emphasis on the Lord’s grace and favor (cf. also Psalm 32; 51; and 130; EBC). The writer knows that he is not without fault or sin, and he acknowledges that no one is innocent in God’s sight (143:2). If you are like me, you identify quickly with this need for God’s forgiveness and mercy and are drawn powerfully to this psalm.
Putting words to our feelings
We may begin to see something of the importance of language in the psalm as an indicator of the type of worship that the man wants to give to God. Sometimes we lack the vocabulary that properly positions us in worship before the Lord. Notice the liturgical phrases that the psalmist uses: “hear my prayer,” “listen,” “my cry for mercy,” and “come to my relief” (i.e., answer me; see vv. 1-2 & 11-12). You and I may flip through our hymnals or scroll through our iTunes collections of Christian music to find songs that contain such phrases. We may hum those tunes and whisper those words in penitential worship because we know how unworthy we are (vs. 2). The point is to throw ourselves upon God’s “faithfulness” and “righteousness” (EBC; cf. Psalm 25 and the perfections of God).
Expressing our deep need of God
The following verses of lament help us to situate ourselves as people in deep need before the Lord. We do not know the initial circumstance, so the psalm is quite useful for universal application. At any rate, the psalmist is being hunted down, which has left him feeling isolated and in darkness (i.e. Sheol; EBC). He in fact feels like those who have been dead for a long time, meaning that God has abandoned him (vv. 3-6). He is discouraged and at the point of despair (v. 4).
It only gets worse as he reflects upon God’s past deeds. He remembers, mediates, and considers God’s act in creation and through the history of redemption (see 77:3-12). How he longs for the olden days! Counselors, pastors, and even parents who read this psalm may find it useful to help people to overcome great brokenness and find healing and forgiveness. Nevertheless, I am sure that you and I can identify with this sentiment too. So, how do we express our need to God?
The point:
Our complete reliance upon God’s unfailing love
Out of the depth of our despair we may call on the Lord for His speedy deliverance (v. 7; cf. 40:13; 69:17; 102:2). We know that if God hides His face, then we will be in dark hopelessness (cf. Numbers 6:24-26). In what I believe to be the single verse that touches me the most deeply, the psalmist calls upon the Lord to renew His “unfailing love” (hesed; our word for mercy and grace). I fail, but He doesn’t! My failure is like the darkest night, but His favor is like the morning light (cf. 30:5)! So, where do we go from here?
Our rescue from our adversaries and the ultimate adversary, the tempter, occurs when we trust the Lord with all our hearts (cf. vv. 9, 10). God always keeps His promises and will do the same for His people who abide in them. Willem VanGemeren writes, “Obedience here is an outgrowth of redemption, which itself is a work of God freely rendered to those who express faith in him. Obedience and sanctification grow out of a relationship of grace.”

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Have you ever been in a dark chamber where literally there was no light? I recall a time where I walked inside such room at a theme park. It was so dark that I lost all orientation and found myself reaching feebly and longingly for a wall that I could lean against to steady me. There have been spiritual moments in my life where I felt the same in my soul. It gave me great comfort and joy to reach out and find the Lord, upon whom I leaned.
Here is a spiritual way forward. There will be times in life when you feel as though humankind and God have all forsaken you (v. 3; cf. Lamentations 3:6; Psalm 88:6-9). You will reach a point of despair and fear that life itself will flee you (v. 4, “spirit faints within me”). To make matters worse, we call to mind better days when God was so very real and present in our lives (v. 5). So, we are to cry out to God in our need and petition Him for His aid.
Next, plead with God to “deliver” you from your enemies (v. 7a, 9). Then, like the psalmist, express your longing for God to renew His “unfailing love” (v. 8; Hebrew, hesed). And with one last lunge forward, reach ahead in trust (v. 8b, “trust”). Throw yourself forward in faith and fall into the Father’s sure hands (v. 11, “preserve”). Friends, drink in the truth of the psalmist’s words, refresh yourselves, then let’s look at a way to apply them directly to our lives today.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Consider taking a spiritual retreat. Take and divide this psalm into sections and pray through them as you walk through this day. If you are unable to take a retreat, then select a portion of the psalm that you will pray and meditate upon in one portion of your daily quiet time. Record the ways that God brings healing, forgiveness, and restoration into your life.

2. When parents become discouraged, children can sense it. Home can become an unsettling place at times. If we keep our relationships with God open and honest, however, and use this psalm for spiritual checkups, our families and children will benefit as much as we do.

When our children become discouraged, especially our teens, we can help them by using this psalm as a model for communicating with God when hard times and broken hearts come. Encourage them gently to speak, write, draw, dance, sing, or cry out their petitions to God. Give them space to seek God in creative ways that meet their needs. Remain available to listen, pray, and love them well. Write a note that includes this verse of hope:
“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.”
Psalm 143:8
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock