Should We Ask God To Get Us Out Of Tough Spots?

I’ve heard it said before that we should never pray for God to deliver us from suffering or tough situations, but that we should pray he would give us the strength to make it through them. I’ve also heard it said that God is more interested in what he is producing through our pain than he is in getting us out of our pain.

There is some truth in both of these statements as well as untruth. God does work in suffering to bring about character transformation and perseverance. He is interested in helping us through it. He does not promise rescue from it. However, these truths must be balanced with a counter-truth: God is a Deliver. A Savior by nature rescues.

Deliverance language is prominent throughout Scripture. Take the Psalms for example. More than 65 times the Psalmist uses this language. Psalm 107 is the quintessential deliverance psalm. This refrain structures the entire Psalm occurring 5 times (Ps 107:6, 13, 19, 20, 28). “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”

Crying to the Lord for rescue is not only welcomed, it is prescribed. It is one avenue Scripture gives us for engaging our suffering. The Psalm is clear. God hears our cries and God acts upon them. Deliverance is connected to crying out.

In fact, it could be argued that the history of Israel pivots on the cries of God’s people. The Exodus is a clear example of this reality (Ex 2:23, 3:7-9). Israel cries. God delivers. We should never underestimate the ear of God. Cries move him.

This should encourage us to cry to him in our pain. It should push us to challenge the “overly spiritual” notion that God is not interested in removing us from our pain or taking our pain from us. He is a Deliverer. We must acknowledge the mystery in his sovereignty and the other biblical truths regarding pain. He does not always remove us from it or it from us.

Nevertheless, the biblical model we find in the Psalms is to cry with all our might for deliverance. We would do well to take the words of the Psalmist as our own. “Look on my affliction and deliver me” (Ps 119:153).

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Unseen Footprints

For the singer of Psalm 77, comfort is a stranger. His is a season of sorrow and spiritual fatigue. I value the authenticity of this Psalm. I also appreciate the key elements that make up  the movement of the Psalm. The singer moves from cries to questions to remembrance. This is a movement we can learn from.

Cries


“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (1-4).

A hoarse voice, weary arms, bloodshot eyes, and a tired soul…this is what godliness looks like in this text. This man is pursuing God and even his own pain will not stop him. Charles Spurgeon captures the faith underneath the cry to God.

“Asaph did not run to man but to the Lord, and to him he went, not with studied, stately, stilted words, but with a cry, the natural, unaffected, unfeigned expression of pain. He used his voice also, for though vocal utterance is not necessary to the life of prayer, it often seems forced upon us by the energy of our desires. Sometimes the soul feels compelled to use the voice, for thus it finds a freer vent for its agony. It is a comfort to hear the alarm bell ringing when the house is invaded by thieves.”

Note also the Psalmist’s transparency as he describes his feelings about God. The thought of God causes pain to well up within him. All consideration of God evokes moaning and fainting. This is a hard place, but a very real place. There are seasons where God and distress are uncomfortably intertwined. I resonate with Spurgeon’s comment on this dynamic.

“He who is the wellspring of delight to faith becomes an object of dread to the psalmist’s distracted heart. Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!”

Questions


“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (7-9).

Cries give way to questions. The character of these inquiries speaks to the depth of the covenant relationship that exists between God and the Psalmist. The Singer knows that he can engage God with honesty and that his God welcomes hard questions. His questions are all focused on the faithfulness of God. He wants to know if God has forgotten himself and his promises. Has God lost track of his own character? Have his promises slipped his mind? The Psalmist is wondering…

Remembrance


“Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (11-12)…Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (19).

Everything changes when the Psalmist quiets his voice, lowers his hands, and focuses his memory. This text turns on remembrance. With remembrance comes hope. The Psalmist is clearly recalling the Red Sea deliverance that followed the mass exodus from Egypt. He remembers how the Egyptians had the Israelites backed up against the wall…hedged in at the Red Sea with no visible sign of escape. He brings to mind the parting of the waters and the pathway through a hopeless situation. Note his insightful statement, “your footprints were unseen.”

It is the “unseen” activity of God in a hopeless situation that brings the Psalmist hope.  God’s indiscernible “footprints”…this causes his heart to take courage. His situation feels dire, dark, and without hope. But he recognizes that God excels at showing up in these scenarios. He has done it again and again throughout salvation history. He strolls through a mass of water and welcomes his people to walk in his invisible footsteps. The Psalmist is confident that God has not ceased to lead this way even though he is unaware of it…this brings him great encouragement and will do the same for us.

Forgiveness and Redemption

As was noted in the last post, the New Testament utilizes images to explore the contours of God’s saving work. In this post we explore yet another image that overlaps with forgiveness. That theme is redemption. In Pauline thought forgiveness and redemption are closely linked. Consider these two texts.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

In both passages redemption is equated with forgiveness. Redemption in the New Testament contains the idea of rescue and ransom. Through redemption God pays the necessary price that accomplishes our deliverance. Forgiveness then is a vital part of the way God rescues us from sin and condemnation. Without forgiveness there is no redemption.

Seeds, Plants, Trees, and the Love of God

Genesis 1:11

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.”

Luther’s Commentary
“This peculiar care of God over us and for us even before we were created, may be contemplated rightly and with great benefit to our souls, but all conjectures, reasonings and arguments upon the great subject of the creation are uncertain and fruitless. The same care for us is manifest in his spiritual gifts. For long before we are converted to faith Christ, our Redeemer, rose and ascended above, and is now in the house of his Father preparing mansions for us; that when we arrive there we may find heaven furnished with everything that can complete our joy. Adam therefore not yet created was much less able to think of his future good than even we are, for he as yet had no existence at all. Whereas we continually hear all these things from the Word of God, as promised to us. Let us look at this first creation of the world therefore as a type and figure of the world to come, and thereby let us learn the exceeding goodness of God, who thus benefits, blesses and enriches us, even before we are capable of thinking for ourselves. This solicitude, care, liberality and beneficence of God, both for our present and future life, are matters more becoming us to contemplate and admire than it is to enter upon speculations and conjectures as to the reason why God began to ornament the earth on the third day. Let these observations suffice concerning the work of the third day in which a house was built and furnished for man.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 1699-1709).