Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to all of us: sickness, tragedy, loss, grief, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on, and day after day we feel like we are alone in a hot, dry desert.
Psalm 30 was written by David as looked back on times of suffering (even to the point of being near death), and he remembered how God intervened to rescue him.
I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
The psalm was written for the whole faith community (David wanted it to be sung at the dedication of the temple – which was not even built until after he died). But here he challenges all of God’s people to join in the praise:
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
And haven’t we all felt what David says next?
When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
It’s easy to feel secure when things are going well. But when God doesn’t seem to be responding, we probably feel as David did. Even in his dismay, David kept praying:
To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”
Then, the joyful conclusion, as David acknowledges that God meets us in our need and turns our suffering into joy:
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. – Psalm 30
If you are suffering now, I pray this psalm will be an encouragement to you. God uses times of struggle to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do.
Think about Moses who spent forty years in the desert tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades wandering through the desert, learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus spent forty days alone in the desert fasting and praying before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan.
Suffering and trials tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. At exactly the right time (always a longer wait than we’d like), God reaches down, touches our souls, and feeds us with food that will satisfy: Refreshment for the spirit until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the desert into a more abundant life.
The place of suffering is a place of growth and, yes, blessing. If you are struggling today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.
“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Someday people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde