Joni Earickson Tada once said that “Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desparate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.” For the chronic sufferer heartache and desperation are at times very familiar friends. Chronic suffering that sees no light at the end of the tunnel has a way of wearing you down little by little. Eventually you look around and you don’t even recognize the life you are living. In fact sometimes it feels like your not really living at all. Chronic suffering might be in the form of a health problem, it could be a mental health issue or an emotionally painful situation that has continued for a long time. In Psalm 13 we discover that David had a period of time in his life where he was suffering for a very long time. We don’t know for sure the specifics of his problem, but for any of us who suffer chronically the words that he penned are surprisingly relatable even centuries later. Let’s take a look at how Davids experience can give us hope today.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
David’s pain had been going on for a long time and it appeared to him that God might just forget him forever. He had been dealing with his suffering by looking inward and taking counsel in his soul, and the counsel in his soul was sorrow all day long. Matthew Henry’s commentary notes that it’s not uncommon to contemplate our sorrows at night when we have time to stop and reflect but, ” in the daytime lighter griefs are diverted and dissipated by conversation and business.” David’s suffering was so severe that there was no relief from daytime distractions, he said that he had sorrow in his heart all the day. You may very well know what that is like. How it is to live a life that always has this “thing” hanging over your head like a dark cloud. David goes on to lament that his enemy is exalted over him. You may have similar feelings about certain people around you, or maybe you see the source of your suffering as your enemy. Either way, there are times when this “enemy” appears to be bigger than God. Even though we theologically know better, we start to believe that God is not in control of our circumstances, and we also wonder how long He will hide His face from us.
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
David revealed his desperation as he cried out to God in these two verses. He appealed to the relationship that he shared with God. You are my God, you are Lord of my life. He begged for Gods attention and asked God to give him a different view of his suffering. He thought he might die if he had to face one more day of it. When the road is long, we need to know that there is hope, but what do we do when we don’t feel hopeful? David asked God to lift up his eyes. He knew that if it was not Gods plan to change his circumstances, he would need Gods help to have faith through them. The hard truth is that sometimes our circumstances will not change, at least not in our time period. David knew the secret to finding hope in his long term suffering was to look up. Like Peter, when all we see is the storm around us, things get darker and darker until we look up into the face of our Lord. When is the last time you cried out to God in your suffering? Ask him to help you see his face in the middle of your personal storm of chronic suffering.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord,because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Finally, in these last two verses David did indeed begin to look up. He remembered the covenant love that God had for him. I have learned that the phrase steadfast love in verse 5 is hard to translate from the original Hebrew word hesed. A simple translation does not do it justice. This is a love that is loyal and full of mercy. We could never earn it , and it is not based on our merit . We are unfaithful children who are prone to wander, but God is steadfast and unmovable in his love. Willing to pursue us when needed, and holding fast to us when our life feels like it is falling apart. This is an unfathomably beautiful kind of love! Of course David understood the full meaning of the original word hesed, and it propelled him into immediate worship. He began to divert his focus from the inward counsel of his soul, and put his focus on the blessing of God’s covenant love for him. David’s pain was great and had lasted a long time. How could he ultimately come to the conclusion that God had dealt bountifully with him? Only because of God’s hesed love and the joy of his salvation. This is the way for Christians to find hope and to cope with their chronic pain and suffering. It won’t cure our struggle or take our pain away, but it will give us the hope we need to endure each day. Focusing on Gods steadfast love will put a song in our hearts even while our bodies ache. If you, like David, have been suffering for a long time, make Psalm 13 your prayer, look up, and meditate on God’s steadfast love for you.