The Agonizing Soul
Paul Tautges has served Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as pastor since 1992. He is also an adjunct professor of biblical counseling and conference speaker. Paul has authored eight books including Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, The Discipline of Mercy, and Brass Heavens. He is also the editor of the popular Help! discipleship counseling booklet series (24 titles). Paul is a NANC Fellow and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his wife Karen are the parents of ten children. Paul blogs regularly at counselingoneanother.com.
- 2013 May 07
Psalm 13 is one of the most heart-wrenchingly honest prayers in the Bible. Here is a soul in anguish. Here is a follower of God who wrestles day-in and day-out with what God is doing in his life. He feels abandoned by God, overtaken by grief, and pummeled by the enemy of his soul. Yet as he learns to submit every thought and fear to the Lord, in prayer, ultimately he resolves to choose the path of joy.
“How long, O Lord?” is this man’s repetitive cry. How long will you forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will sorrow fill my heart? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Here is honest lament---godly complaining to God.
The sons of Korah experienced the same soul agony and also brought their lament to God. “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground” (Ps 44:23-25).
But far from being sinful these cries of the soul are acts of faith. For it is the Lord to whom they turn. They run to God, not from God. Yes, they struggle to trust God’s wisdom, but their cries are, in reality, cries of confession of need. They are cries of submission, not of anger. In the agony of their soul they knew where to turn. “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Ps 44:26).
First, the psalmist pleas for the assurance that God cares, that He indeed sees him in his affliction. “Consider,” i.e. look, gaze, pay attention. That is the cry of the agonized soul. Again, his cry is an act of faith. It is the “Lord, my God” to whom he pleas. By faith, he believes God does hear his groaning (C.f. Exod 2:24).
Second, he needs hope. In his affliction, he has used up all of his resources and his eyes have darkened with despair. Therefore, he pleas “enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” It is for the brightness to return to his eyes---which hope alone can give---that he asks for from God.
The turning point comes when his faith, which has given him only enough strength to cry out to God, leads to three resolutions of heart and mind.
- He resolves to trust. “I have trusted in your steadfast love” (v. 5). By faith, he determines to rest upon the Lord’s covenant love for him as one of God’s people.
- He resolves to rejoice. “[M]y heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” It is God’s salvation, not the psalmist’s own assurance of it, which will ultimately strengthen his soul. Yes, there is wonderful comfort that comes from our own personal assurance that we are saved. But it is not his personal experience that will be his rock in this storm. No, it is the objective reality of God as the God of salvation that he chooses to focus upon.
- He resolves to praise. “I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” This is so significant! He chooses to praise the God whom he knows is ultimately sovereign over the circumstances of his life. Even in his time of affliction he consciously remembers how bountifully the Lord has dealt with him---not only in “the good times,” but even in this time when his soul is crushed.
Where is our focus in our times of trial? Whatever the trial, let us learn from the stark honesty of the psalmist. Let us bring our complaints to God, in faith, trusting His wisdom and goodness. The steadfast love of the Lord never fails. Let us trust Him.