Trusting God Through Discouragement (Meditation on Psalm 119:81-82)
“My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
In the eleventh stanza of Psalm 119 (sub headed by the Hebrew letter “Kaph”), the Psalmist’s tone becomes one of lament, as he reflects on what appears to be a prolonged season of trial and suffering. While he has addressed his affliction throughout the previous ten stanzas, he has also quickly recalled in each case the goodness of God as it is demonstrated in His testimonies. In this stanza, however, his discouragement is evident as he struggles to understand what God is doing.
Beginning with verse 81, the Psalmist expresses his deep longing for God’s “salvation.” The Hebrew word for “longs” here is “kalah,” meaning “to consume, to fail, to exhaust, to waste away.” The Hebrew word for “salvation” here is “tsuah,” meaning “victory, deliverance, a rescue from earthly enemies” rather than God’s salvation of justification by grace through repentance and faith. The Psalmist’s very soul is being sapped of strength as he waits for God’s deliverance from his circumstances. Yet because he knows God’s character through abiding in His testimonies, he is able to remind himself it is in God’s word alone that he will find hope – not in the absence of trials. In verse 82, the Psalmist laments that he has yet to see the fulfillment of what God has promised. Other translations of this verse emphasize the length of time the Psalmist has spent looking for God’s promise: “My eyes fail, looking for your promise” (NIV); “My eyes grow weary looking for what you have promised” (CSB). It’s as though he has been looking toward the horizon for a glimpse of God’s activity in his affliction and his eyes are feeling the strain of his fixed gaze.
While the verses of this stanza spend more time than others focusing on the Psalmist’s lament and uncertainty about what God is doing, (spoiler alert!) he will again return to the truths he has clung to as a way to combat his weariness. He will choose to cast off his discouragement rather than allow it to shape how he views God. This is our challenge, as well.
In prolonged seasons of trial it can become easy to grow weary. In our discouragement we can begin to wonder if our prayers are being heard. We can drift into complaining and negativity that, if left unchecked, can give way to a distorted view of God. When discouragement becomes the lens through which we view our lives, we might even question if God can be trusted for His promises. It is then that we must, as the Psalmist does throughout Psalm 119, combat our feelings of hopelessness with the truth of God’s Word, particularly as it declares His trustworthiness.
In his book, “Trusting God,” the late author Jerry Bridges reminds us, “Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.” In practical terms, this means that when adversity threatens to hijack our faith, we must remind ourselves of who God Is and who we are as His beloved by meditating on and abiding in His Word.
Here are three truths to ponder about why we can trust God when we don’t know what He’s doing:
1) He is completely Sovereign. As Creator of all things, God rules over all things (Colossians 1:16-17) and has given purpose to all things (Isaiah 46:9-10). Lamentations 3:37 says, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord commanded it?” Nothing happens that He is unaware of and nothing takes Him by surprise. We can trust that there is purpose behind our suffering, even if we cannot see it. He will be glorified and we will be sanctified (progressively conformed to Christ’s likeness) for having faithfully endured trials, trusting that His purposes are being accomplished (James 1:4, Proverbs 19:21).
2) His wisdom is infinite. God, as Sovereign Creator, possesses all knowledge – He is, in fact, the origin of all knowledge. In her book, “None Like Him,” Jen Wilkin expounds on this truth: “The truism, ‘You learn something new every day’ does not apply to him at all. He has not learned one new thing ever. Unbound by time, God knows all things past, present, and future, as well as things existing outside of time. And he never forgets, because he is everywhere, fully present.” If wisdom is knowledge applied, it follows that God’s wisdom has no rival. In our seasons of trial, we can trust that God’s wisdom in allowing suffering to enter our lives trumps our limited understanding of what He is doing in them. He graciously gives us the wisdom we need to endure through His Word (Proverbs 2:6-7) and does not withhold it when we ask Him for wisdom in faith (James 1:5-8). Ultimately, there will be things we will never know or comprehend (Deuteronomy 29:29, Romans 11:33) but we can trust that in His sovereignty and infinite wisdom, He will guide us through adversity (Proverbs 3:5-6).
3) He loves us with His perfect love. Lamentation 3:22-26 proclaims these beautiful truths we can cling to: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” The word for “salvation” in this passage is the same Hebrew word used in Psalm 119:81. We can trust that God’s covenant faithfulness, as made manifest in His steadfast love, is ours as His children. It is important to note that His covenant is not established based on human faithfulness, but on His own. In the same way, God’s sovereign mercy is made manifest in the new covenant through Christ’s finished work on the cross to atone for our sins, not through our best attempts to keep His law. This is where His perfect love is most evident (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-10, John 3:16). Romans 8:31-39 reminds us that because of His covenant love for us, God is forus, He gave His Son up for us, Christ intercedes for us, and NOTHING can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When our faith is waning, we must confess our struggle to Him (Mark 9:24) and ask Him for the grace to trust Him as we should (2 Corinthians 12:9). We may not feel like trusting God in our affliction, but we can choose to trust Him based on what we know to be true about Him. We cannot, however, know what is true unless we abide in His Word, through which His sovereignty, wisdom, and perfect love are revealed. Then we can rejoice, as David did in Psalm 9:9-10:
“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”