God doesn’t give us a map marking every stop along the road of His providence, and the Bible is not a divine GPS.
We have the big picture of our lives–following Christ to our eventual destination in glory–but the day-to-day events aren’t so clear. We rely on His guidance for our decisions, but the Word doesn’t lay out what we should do in every situation.
Nor do we wake up in the morning with the Lord telling us, “So here’s what’s going to happen today…” Only God knows the end from the beginning. He surprises us with blessings, yet rarely warns us when tragedies are around the corner. We can suddenly find ourselves in a place of suffering we never expected.
Have you been in these places? Are you in any of them right now–wrestling with anxiety, struggling to survive despair?
Does it comfort you to know that, not only are these “places” described in Scripture, but the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ, has traveled through each one during His earthly journey?
THE DARK PIT
“He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.” -Psalm 40:2
“I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength….
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.” -Psalm 88:4, 6
Can you think of a scarier place to be than a deep, dark pit, with no way out? You can see the light above you, but it’s too far, unattainable. Who wouldn’t feel some sense of hopelessness?
In fact, the Word often refers to the pit as a place of death and punishment, and even where the wicked go when they die! But when the saints, like these two psalmists, say that they’ve found themselves “in the pit,” they’re using the word hyperbolically–yet it seems true of their experience.
Even as Christians, we can be so overwhelmed with suffering and trapped in despondency that we cry out, “Lord, deliver me from this pit!”Sometimes the cause is physical illness, or enemies biting at our heels, but other times it’s a mysterious, inner grief that torments us day and night:
“Despondency of spirit under the sense of God’s withdrawings, and prevailing doubts and fears about the eternal state, are indeed a horrible pit and miry clay, and have been so to many a dear child of God.” -Matthew Henry, commenting on Psalm 40:2
We can feel the Lord has gone and left us, abandoned us with no help in sight. But praise be to God, that our feelings and experiences aren’t the whole truth. Though He hide His face for a season, He is always with us.
Somehow we must realize that it is God Himself who holds the pit. Even there, we are in His hands. Even there, we are safe–as safe as Christ, who voluntarily went to the pit, while He died on the cross and lay in darkness in the grave. Like Him, we will be delivered.
“Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.” -Psalm 88:7
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.” -Psalm 42:7
“Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
I am weary with my crying;
My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.” -Psalm 69:1-3
I remember a few times when I was trapped under the powerful tug of the ocean. The water pulled me under the waves, and I found myself, breathless, struggling to get to my feet. Fear filled me as I realized just how weak and helpless I really was. In those moments, a prayer can escape your heart before you even have the words to express it: Help me, God.
Do you ever feel this way, in a metaphorical sense, in seasons of great suffering? Like Jonah, cast out of a ship and thrown into a stormy sea, we don’t always believe that there’s a fish waiting to swallow us and save us from drowning. All seems lost.
One of the most difficult truths is that Lord Himself is responsible for the waves that flood over us. But this reality can also be a source of hope and comfort. God is still sovereign even in the moments when our lives and hearts seem completely out of control. And if God, the Creator, promises that all things work together for our good, who is there to contradict Him or stay His hand? Surely even He can use the waves and billows for our good.
Ultimately, these psalms speak of Christ, who, though utterly innocent, drowned under the wrath of God. Jonah got the belly of the fish, but Jesus got the grave. No stormy seas of depression and anxiety could ever compare to the depths of grief He took upon Himself for us.
But it was through the most tragic event in history–the Author of Life Himself tasting death–that the greatest gift for a fallen, wicked humanity became possible. For it was by Christ’s suffering that He became the captain of our salvation, and “brought many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” -Psalm 23:4
“I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the valleys.” -Song of Solomon 2:1
It doesn’t matter how smart, spiritual, rich, talented, or healthy we are–at the end of the day, we are all sheep. Easily deceived, liable to go astray, and in need of our Shepherd.
What happens when the Shepherd doesn’t keep us in the pastures, but takes us through some very difficult, very dark valleys? Is He still good? Will He still protect us?
It’s easy to praise God when the cancer is healed, the pain goes away, the car heading in our direction doesn’t hit us… but what about when the shadow of death falls, and there’s no avoiding it now?
By faith, we trust that the One who crossed the River of Death Himself is with us when we reach its banks–with us to guide us, with us to comfort us, with us to bring us safely home to glory.
And even in those days when physical death is not on the horizon, but our spirits are so crushed by despair that we feel like we’re already dead–that we crave the peace of death–Jesus also knows all about that valley, has been there before, and will be with us, no matter what. The Good Shepherd never leaves His sheep.
THE ROCK, THE LIGHT, AND THE LILY
Our hope in the midst of the pits, crashing waves, and dark valleys of our lives is not that we will somehow avoid them. Remember, God hasn’t given us a roadmap with detours around our places of suffering.
Instead, we have the Rock–steady and sure, firmly grounded and never shaken. The world has its pebbles: “Everything happens for a reason.” “Things will get better, don’t worry.” “Just try to be happy.” But they could never hold us up. On the true Rock, our feet could never find a safer place to stand.
We have the Light–always pushing out the darkness, relieving our fears, guiding our paths until we reach the eternally-lit glory awaiting us.
And we have the Lily–the beautiful Flower of the valley, the surprising sweetness of His presence in the midst of our tears, the prize that makes our journey into the depths worth every moment.
Dear sister, we have Jesus. When you’re anxious and despairing, cry out to Him. Recall to mind who He is; dwell upon His beauty. Marvel that the King of glory would come and suffer so much pain in His life for our sakes, and now He even suffers along with us. He is the Head, and we are His body–He experiences all our infirmities and takes part in all our joys.
Let’s turn our eyes away from this temporary life, so full of mystery, and fix our eyes on what we know–our final destination–in perfect glory with God, a place with no death, no sea, no darkness, no tears… where every moment is lived in praise and rejoicing… because we’re with our Savior. Because we’re pilgrims no longer. Because we’re finally home in Him.
“Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” -Psalm 73:23-26