Psalm 40:1-4a — I waited patiently upon the Lord, who stooped to me and heard my cry. The Lord lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a high cliff, making my footing sure. The Lord has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord. Happy are they who trust in the Lord!
The Lord lifted me, it says, out of the desolate pit and the miry clay. Some translations say out of the ‘pit of despair’ and out of the ‘muck and the mire.’ Have you ever been there, in that ‘desolate pit,’ or, as we might say these days, ‘in the pits‘ or ‘down in the dumps?’ I think everyone knows the feeling. We all know what the Psalmist is talking about. Most of us do spend some time, or a lot of time, down in that desolate pit. But ‘the Lord has lifted me out,’ it says, and maybe you have also been lifted out. I know I have been lifted out a time or two. And maybe you have not yet been lifted out, and are in that pit right now. But no matter where you are, or how much time you are down in that muck and mire, the Lord will, in His own time, lift you out. Verse one: “I waited patiently upon the Lord, who stooped to me and heard my cry… and lifted me out.”
This crying out to God from the pit of despair is a common theme in the Psalms. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” says Psalm 130. “My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near to the grave,” are some of the first words of Psalm 88, and the closing words are “my companions and friends have all been taken from me, and now the darkness is my closest friend.” “I cannot escape the grief,” the Psalmist also says, “I have no strength, day and night I cry to you, why have you rejected me, Lord?” And Psalm 22 begins with some words of deep despair that Jesus himself called to mind and spoke while hanging in agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If the Bible did not acknowledge this side of life, which we all do experience, it would not be a book worth believing in. But the Bible does describe this pit of despair, and it tells stories about people of great faith who also faced deep disappointment and knew what it was to be stuck in the muck and mire of the desolate pit. Job 14:1 describes quite well a truth we all recognize when it says, “Man born of woman gets only a few days, and they are full of trouble.” The Bible’s appeal comes not only in its wonderful offer of grace and mercy, but also in this realistic understanding of life.
The Imitation of Christ is a little devotional book written in the 15th century by a monk named Thomas a Kempis. It includes a chapter called ‘Thoughts on the Misery of Man,’ and there a Kempis has this to say: “Miserable you are, wherever you be, or wherever you turn, unless you turn to God. So why be so dismayed when things do not happen as you wish and desire? Is there anyone who has everything as he wishes? No, there is no one in the world, be he Pope or King, who does not suffer trial and anguish.” That’s just life, says the Psalmist and Job and Thomas a Kempis. And anyone who thinks they are going to live without misery will most certainly suffer the misery of disappointment, and suffer it often.
I have been quoting from people who lived 500 to 3000 years ago, and we have certainly come a long way since then. Life is, in many ways, a lot easier nowadays. But we haven’t yet solved any of our biggest problems, and this life can still be pretty miserable, and I heard the same kind of thoughts expressed in a song written a few years ago. It is a country song by Darryl Worley (if you can imagine that, a country song about misery). It’s called “Sounds Like Life to Me.” Here are some of the words (paraphrased a bit):
I got a call last night from an old friend’s wife, she said ‘I hate to bother you– but Johnny Ray is drinking again and been gone all afternoon.’
I know my buddy so I drove to Skully’s and I found him at the bar. I said ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’
And he said, ‘I don’t know where to start. Sarah’s old car is about to fall apart and the washer quit last week. We had to put momma in the nursing home and the baby’s cutting teeth. And I didn’t get much work this week and I got bills to pay.’
So I said to him, ‘I know this ain’t what you wanna hear, but it’s what I’m gonna say. To hear you talk you’d think you were caught up in some tragedy, but it just sounds like life to me. It’s just a common case of everyday reality. Man, I know its tough, but you gotta suck it up, It sounds like life to me.’
Well, his face turned red and he shook his head and he said, ‘You don’t understand, Three kids and a wife depend on me and I’m just one man. To top it off I just found out that Sarah’s two months late.’
And so I said “Bartender, set us up a round, we need to celebrate… Sounds like life to me, plain old destiny, the only thing for certain is uncertainty. you gotta hold on tight and just enjoy the ride and get used to the unpredictability. It sounds like life to me.”
For the video of Darly Worley’s Sounds Like Life to Me go to:
(this meditation will be concluded tomorrow…)
Psalm 130:1-2 — Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Job 14:1-2 — Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.
Psalm 40:1-2 — I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows the depths of loneliness and the dark hours of the absence of human sympathy and friendliness: help me to pass the weary hours of the night and the heavy hours of the day, as you did, and know that you are with me, as your Father was with you; lift up my heart to full communion with you; strengthen me for my duty; keep me constant to my trust, and let me know that however dark or desolate the hour, I am not alone, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are my comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
—Army and Navy Service Book (1940’s)