Life has a way of taking us for a ride. Tension builds between husband and wife. Parents and children fail to see eye to eye. What seems like a minor illness turns into something life threatening. When these situations arise, it can feel like the walls are closing in and there is no hope of relief on the horizon. That pretty much sums up life at our house for the last few months. My adult children are feeling the financial pressure of trying to move out and establish their own lives. Just this morning my daughter asked if she could bounce some ideas off me as she desperately tries to come up with creative solutions to her current situation. Our son is planning a wedding near the end of this year, bills are weighing heavily, and the paycheck just does not seem to stretch. For me, I have been struggling through my husband’s TDY. Since he left, we have had issues with the water heater, router, and AC unit. It never fails that we have added issues while my husband is away and, when coupled with our unique situations, we are all reeling from the stress.
No matter what the situation may be, there always seems to be an answer in God’s Word. Today as I was reading Psalm 135, I had to just stop, pause a moment, and take in all that this Psalm had to offer. It begins with a call to his servants to praise his name “for that is pleasant” (NIV Ps 135.3). When life begins to heat up and the pressure mounts, the first thing I think of is not to praise God, but to try to find solutions on my own. To be quite honest, God is normally the last person I think of when life begins to feel overwhelming; however, praise is something that should be pleasant and alluring, not just another demand placed on our already taxed lives. In fact, it should be our first inclination, no matter the situation, for all that he has done.
After the initial call to praise, the Psalmist gives several reasons why his people should engage in joyful praise. Through his interactions with Israel, God has proven himself to be sovereign over the affairs of creation. He has proven himself much more powerful than vain idols through his signs and wonders in Egypt. He demonstrated his powes over the creation by parting the waters of the Red Sea. As he led his children into the promised land, he demonstrated his power over the nations as he went before the Israelites and gave their enemies over into their hands. This was the generation that saw God fulfill the promise made years before to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No longer were his people oppressed and enslaved, instead they had been led to a land flowing with milk and honey to live in houses they did not build and eat from vineyards they did not plant. God is truly Jehovah-Jireh.
As I read through this psalm, I was struck by verses 8-12. In these verses it states that:
“He struck down the first born of Egypt,
the first born of men and animals.
He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt,
against Pharaoh and all his servants.
He struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings-
Sihon king of the Amorites,
Og king of Bashan
and all the kings of Canaan-
and he gave their land as an inheritance,
an inheritance to his people Israel.”
If God accomplished all of this, why do we tend to feel overwhelmed in trying circumstances? Why do we continually feel hopeless and lost? The reason, as I thought about it, is that we fail to see the world through eyes of faith, instead we see it though eyes of flesh. Jesus does not promise his followers an easy life. He tells his disciples “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (NIV Mt 16.24). The writers of the Synoptic Gospels viewed the cross as an expression of radical discipleship that required suffering and sometimes even martyrdom (Ryken 184). The Psalmist expresses a similar lament when he states that the “Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants” (NIV Ps 135.14). This implies that those who follow God will need vindication and compassion for their situation on earth is dire (Longman 444). Luke also indicates that the taking up of the cross should be a daily occurrence, meaning that anyone who wants to follow Christ must be prepared to suffer, even unto death (Ryken 184). Through the example of the cross, Jesus demonstrates what it means to be obedient and committed to serving God no matter what his calling may be (Ryken 184). This means that to be a disciple of Christ is to be called to self-denial and suffering (Ryken 184).
When approached from the perspective of the cross, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and alone in suffering. It feels like life will never be joyful and it becomes so much harder to remain faithful to call that implies handing over our lives for God to do with has he pleases; however, this is not the sum total of existence as a child of God. We have been called to victory. We have been called to live a joyous life free from worry, doubt, and fear. While Scripture may say that being a disciple of Christ will cost us everything, it also promises us a sweet release from fear. God promises us that he:
“…will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone” (NIV Deut 32.36).
Through the prophet Isaiah he promises that:
“No weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and this is their vindication from me” (NIV Is 54.17).
Finally, we see from Jesus’ earthly ministry that as he looked upon the crowds of people pressing in on him, he was moved with compassion because “…they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (NIV Mt 9.36).
This is the message that the Psalmist is communicating to Israel. God is a great God. He sits above all other gods and is able to move the heavens, the earth, and the seas (NIV Ps 135.5-6). He is a great warrior who was able to strike down the majesty of Egypt and defeat the kings of Canaan (NIV Ps 135.8-12). Yes, the psalmist implies that the people of God will be living in dire straits; however, he is also confident that God has the power to defeat anything that stands against his beloved and deliver them into peace (Longman 444). In fact, Jesus tells us just that. Before he was to be betrayed, he tells his disciples to be ready, for in the world they will be guaranteed to have trouble, but that they should take heart because he had overcome the world (NIV Jn 16.33). This is the truth that leads Paul to declare to the Corinthians that:
“…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (NIV 2 Co 12.10).
Like Paul, we should not allow the difficulties of everyday life to threaten, overwhelm, or steal away our joy. We should acknowledge that Jesus does not promise a life of ease and comfort, instead he warns that life will be filled with hardships and persecutions. Yet, this should not be cause for despair, for we have a God that paid the ultimate price to release us from the pain of life in this fallen world and calls us to claim the victory he won on Calvary. Remember, Jesus declares that whomever he sets free is free indeed (NIV Jn 8.36)!
Longman, Tremper III. Tyndall Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms. Downers Grove: IVP. 2014. Print.
Ryken, Leland. Ed. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove: IVP. 1998. Print.