I have loved the book of Psalms since my first year in boarding school. It was then I discovered what a treasure trove of emotion is found in its pages. I’ve heard from more than one source that the Psalms encompass all human emotions, and I am inclined to believe it. It certainly gave expression to the anguish of a thirteen-year-old who found herself homesick, lonely, and in need of much comfort. Today is no different. As an old lady I still find myself endeared to a book in which so much heart revealing is done before the Creator. If David can speak so frankly about the many struggles he is experiencing, then I can too. I have always been one to feel things very deeply. I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person. I joke about keeping a running list of public places in which I have cried, but I laugh as readily. I love fiercely and I can hang onto bitterness like a champ. This aspect of my personality exasperated my earthly father. I often felt his disapproval in my youth when I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. So to have the example of the Psalms – this laying open the heart before God, without fearing disapproval – it’s a concept I have grown to love.
Lately I have been camped in Psalm 39. A friend referred me to verse 13 a few months ago: “Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” It kind of made my head spin a bit. Did David really just ask God to back off so he could smile one more time before he died? I think I might have prayed that a time or two myself.
Most of the time, the Psalms petition for God to shine his face upon us. This is the symbol of God’s blessing. It reflects the look of tender mercy that a loving father bestows on his beloved child. But it also means that God is paying attention to us. I am reminded of a quote from Hind’s Feet on High Places, “Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible – terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.”
And Hebrews 12:7 “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful: nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
So God’s blessing, having His face shine upon us, means that we are being sanctified. We are being conformed to the image of His Son. It is a good thing.
But I have been there in that place that David speaks of in Psalm 39. I’ve been in verses 1-3 trying to hold my peace and keep a muzzle on my mouth while the wicked prosper around me. I have felt the fire burning in my heart until I have to speak (and generally regret it). I have considered the frailty of life, and taken comfort in the brevity of it as in verses 4-6. I have reminded myself as in verses 7-9 that my only hope is in the Lord and that I need him to deliver me from my own transgressions and those of the fools with which I share the world. And I know what it is to hold my tongue and accept the difficulties of this world as being from the kind hand of my great Redeemer. And I know, how I know! the weariness that makes David say in verse 10, “Remove your plague from me: I am consumed by the blow of your hand.” I have existed in the last few verses of this Psalm so many times that it feels as comfortable as an old sweater.
Oh how weary I get of this life sometimes. I want to be found faithful. I want to be sanctified. I want to hold nothing so dear as to be like my Savior. But please, dear Lord, understand me when I say I need a moment’s peace to catch my breath. Please understand that I can’t take the brightness of Your perfection on my sinful heart any more today. Just look away for a minute and let me breathe!
Does He understand? Can He possibly fathom what it feels like? Truth be known, as long as I have been a Christian, I still resemble David more than Christ. David was terribly flawed. And so am I. Can an incarnate God, who knew no sin, truly understand the weight of this life on my shoulders?
Yes! The Christ who spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan understands weariness and hunger and temptation more than I have known. The Christ who was betrayed by one who was in his inner circle understands. The Christ who was never without someone wanting something from him understands. The Christ who was constantly challenged and accused and plotted against understands. The Christ whose closest friends couldn’t even stay awake and pray with him as the hour of his crucifixion drew near understands. The sinless Christ who bore the punishment for my sins understands. He who saw the face of God turn away from him on the cross understands loss in ways I never will.
Hebrews 4:14-16: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus did the same thing as David, you know. He went to his Father and poured his heart out. In Matthew 26 starting at verse 46, the scene is laid out for us. Jesus takes his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and he tells them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch with me.” (which we know they didn’t – they fell asleep). And then he went off by himself, fell on his face, and prayed. He prayed that God would not make him go through this terrible ordeal. Let that sink in a minute. He was so sad he thought he would die, and he asked God to think of some other way to accomplish His will. He did not want to face the wrath of God.
And then Jesus said, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
These words are not at the end of Psalm 39. David, like me, could not get past his own sorrow at the moment to see the big picture. We just want it to stop, at any cost. But Jesus, our Great Shepherd, saw beyond his present sorrows to the glory yet to come. He laid down his life for his sheep. Let me not lose sight of this. Let me remember whose image it is that I am being brought to bear. My Great High Priest. He knows my every sorrow. He knows, to depths I cannot fathom, the difficulties and temptations of this world. And He bore up under them for my sake. If I never accomplish any other part of his image, let me learn this one thing: not as I will, but as You will, my great Creator and King.
I am thankful for David. I am thankful for the transparency we see in the Psalms. I am thankful for the example of pouring out my heart to God. I am thankful for Psalm 39 that ends with this pitiful prayer that God would look away so that I might smile again before I die. Because, my life on this earth has not been easy, and I like to know it’s alright to tell God about it. But praise be to the Father who provided for us One who was willing to say, “not as I will, but as you will”. Praise be to my gentle Shepherd, who laid down his life for me. Praise be to the Holy Spirit, who when I am weak in my resolve, and beg him to back off on the whole Sanctification thing, loves me enough to not heed my request.