Psalm 39 is a Psalm of Lament:
But instead of ending with a resolve to trust God
in the midst of suffering, it ends:
Look away from me,
that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!
Photo by Gerard
Tim Keller, in the message you will hear this week, says that this psalm used to trouble him. But then he read what Derek Kidner wrote and it ministered to him deeply in a place he needed to be reached:
The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to His understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.
Recently our own Rebecca, who handles the administrative side of my ministry, and Christy, who often travels with me (and is trying to tutor me in technical aspects of my computer) came to Wisconsin for a “working vacation.” Shortly after Rebecca arrived, she learned her sister-in-law committed suicide. Her sister-in-law knew Jesus, yet had tried many times to take her life. Is she with Him now? Yes, we are confident. God is merciful to His desperate children, even, as Luther confirmed, when they take their lives in those times of desperation. We must pray against suicide, for it is an act that reaches back from the grave, piercing the hearts of those left behind. And though it is hard to understand, it is one of those “sins of the fathers” that research shows is often repeated by children and by children’s children.
Yet still, God is merciful. Suicide it is not the unforgiveable sin.
I came into Rebecca’s room the next morning and found her in tears. She said she had been trying to lament, but first found herself fearful to really lament. She realized then that the Lord was showing her that He was not like her earthly father, who was so critical. If she had lamented to her earthly dad, he would have been unkind or distanced himself emotionally. God wants our honest expressions. He can take it. He wants honesty as He wants intimacy. God knows how men speak when they are desperate. God led Rebecca to Lamentations and helped her express her great sorrow. He understood her desperate heart.
He is the friend of sinners, a friend who cares, who understands our weakness, who was desperate Himself. When He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” it was because for that time, when He was bearing our sins, He was forsaken. He was forsaken so we will never be. God has received Rebecca’s sister-in-law into His arms. And He came to Rebecca and comforted her. Even the timing of bring her to this quiet spot in Wisconsin was a gift from God for quiet, for healing, for experiencing Him.
During the week, Rebecca wanted us to watch Ragamuffin, the new movie on the life of Rich Mullins. Though a low budget film, and at times a little cheesy, I recommend it. I think the director did a great job in capturing the essence of this man, how he understood and communicated so well that God loves the ragamuffin, God loves the outcast, In a few weeks I’ll have a few discussion questions for those who desire and have time to watch it. Here’s the trailer of Ragamuffin, and I’d like you to particularly note Brennan Manning’s words to Rich at the end of the trailer:
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Read Psalm 39:13 and then comment on Kidner’s quote: God knows how men speak when they are desperate.
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study:
To prepare your heart, sing along with Matthew Smith’s rendition of Jesus, What a Friend of Sinners
Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.
Psalm 38 is a “penitential psalm,” and Psalm 39 is a psalm of lament. What ties them together is a sense of desperation — the first for sin, and the second for circumstances. In a penitential psalm, because of your sense of the Lord’s holiness and realization of your sinfulness, you may feel desperate, as Peter did when He realized who Jesus was after a miracle. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” In Psalm 38 it is David who is desperate, and yet behind David we can glimpse the suffering Messiah. The suffering has many layers: sin, disease, being forsaken by friends. It reminds me of Job, and of the GREATER JOB. The first Job was relatively innocent, but the GREATER JOB was completely innocent.
3. Read Psalm 38 out loud to yourself.
A. What images of desperation do you see?
B. What glimpses of the suffering Messiah do you see behind David?
C. What resolve do you see in verse 15?
D. What does David do in verse 16?
E. What plea is given in verses 21-22?
F. How is this plea similar to Christ’s words on the cross?
4. It is right, when we suffer, to confess sin, for our hearts are sinful. Sin indeed can lead to consequences, yet not all suffering is a direct result of sin. But in this psalm we see many layers — a desperate man who is both confessing sin and pleading for mercy from his circumstances. Take this psalm and pray it for your own life, using also the resolve you see in verse 15.
Prepare your heart today with this:
5. Read Psalm 39 aloud.
A. What phrases and pictures of lament stand out to you?
B. What prayer does he make in verses 12-13? Why is this startling?
C. What does this teach you about God’s heart for the desperate?
Though I myself have not suffered from clinical depression, my husband and my biological children have. My heart so went out to them during these times — often their thoughts did not seem reasonable to me, and I could not help them, could not fix a situation that in my mind wasn’t even real. The feelings of love and empathy I had for them at those times are only a drop in the great ocean of God’s love for His desperate children.
6. The only other psalm of lament that ends like this, and on which you will hear the Keller sermon, is Heman’s cry of darkness, Psalm 88. Look at how it ends.
7. If you are feeling desperation, use Psalm 39 to pray for yourself. If someone you love is feeling desperate, use this psalm to pray for them.
Thursday-Friday: Free Keller Sermon: Heman’s Cry of Darkness
8. Listen to the Sermon and share your notes or comments: Link
9. What’s your take-a-way and why?