My Senior Pastor informed me on Saturday that I’d be the one preaching the next day. He’d come down with a gastro-style bug and there was no way he could make it. A few quick and desperate prayers were offered, but, after looking over old sermons, I couldn’t find peace. What kept tugging at me was the fact that it had been a heavy week in our world. There was no way I couldn’t mention the massacre in Christchurch or the sentencing of a Cardinal.
Thankfully Scripture speaks into all situations and I found myself drawn to Psalm 142—a Psalm that speaks of God as our refuge and rescuer in whom we can hope and trust despite tragedy. And, as the late-night outline formed, it was this truth I spoke into the next morning.
In Psalm 142 we are immediately struck by the way David expresses his feelings to God—feelings that those closely affected by last week’s events no doubt share. David, on the run from King Saul, is hiding in a cave trying to avoid being killed (see 1 Samuel 22; 24). The opening verses read:
I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
David calls out to God in a way that resonates with anyone in deep pain and distress: “I cry out,” “I pour out,” “I lift up my voice,” “I tell of my trouble”—words pleading to be heard while trapped and alone. David’s prayer to God is that he will be heard amidst deep distress, grief, and pain. His is the same kind of distress we saw on Friday; the kind of distress victims of abuse feel; the kind of distress that comes from the loss of a family member, or a child, or a marriage. The call to God becomes a cry, and the cry becomes a groan as we realise it is too hard to express ourselves.
David calls out to God in a way that resonates with anyone in deep pain and distress. The call to God becomes a cry, and the cry becomes a groan as we realise it is too hard to express ourselves.
Thankfully, when we are at a loss for words, the Spirit of God intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 reminds us that …
…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
It is a great encouragement to know we have an advocate who, in our inability to pray and form meaningful words, does so on our behalf. We worship a God who hears these prayers, these cries, and these groans while we wander in pain and distress.
David continues, describing the situation he finds himself in.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
So he is all alone in his distress. It seems as if no one cares. No one is there to bring comfort; no one to help. He is trapped in his anguish and despair.
As tragedies unfold in the lives of individuals and communities—including these most recent incidents—those affected feel the solitude of their sadness. Their distress makes it seem like no one else cares. There is a lack of comfort for those who are victims of such atrocities. There is the feeling of being alone.
Yet we know that God is a God of comfort—a refuge and strength in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). God comforts those who are suffering, those who are in pain, those who are in great distress. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
As people who walk alongside others and their broken lives, the least we can do is express love for our neighbour. If nothing else, we lift up prayers for the pained and the grieving. We reach out to those who are hurting. And we act as a reminder that there are people who care, and that there is a God who cares for them too.
As David turns his thoughts to God he is reminded that the Almighty is indeed his portion, his refuge and shelter. He says,
I cry to you, Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.
Despite his predicament; despite what seems to be nothing but loss, he trusts in God—and so challenges us to also trust that God will rescue us despite our distress, our agony, our pain.
As it happened, the movie ‘Sully’ was on TV on Saturday night. The movie tells the story of the pilots who successfully landed a commercial airplane on the Hudson River in New York. And it depicted a very calm, prepared, and composed captain in the cockpit. Yet, behind those doors were the crew and the passengers increasingly worried, anxious, and distressed.
How good it is to know that we worship a God who knows the way (v3), who knows what he is doing, even when we worry he doesn’t. God has enacted a rescue plan for the world from ages past. We are called to trust in him, despite our distress and brokenness. He will rescue the world. Indeed, he has rescued the world.
This rescue plan of God comes through a weak looking cross. It is a plan for all people, for the whole planet. And it is a rescue plan that will bring us to a perfected creation. In Revelation 21:3-5 we are reminded that this rescue plan will bring comfort and relief for humanity.
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)
The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.
Through Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)