Tuesday 26 February 2013

Pain Relief

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?
Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 6:1-4

The Psalms supply vivid reminders that our walk of faith will see moments – sometimes long moments – when we suffer in various ways. If that was the case for David, the Lord’s ‘anointed’, it will be no less true for us. Indeed, for many, his description will feel all too real – a combination of physical pain, inner emotional turmoil, and fear about the future; maybe, like David, we are even facing death, threat and opposition, or a sense of God’s displeasure.

Wonderfully, though, the Psalms also give us a voice with which to cry out to God, perhaps even helping us move from anguish to a sense of assurance.

So it is that David cries out for mercy, turning to God in his suffering, asking for healing. He appeals to God save him ‘because of your unfailing love’, reminding God of his covenant commitment to his people. In his time of discipline, he cries for God’s mercy; and in his time of distress, he pleads for God’s love. And he expresses the confidence that this will give way to deliverance – ‘The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer’ (6:9).

Apparently, nothing has changed the circumstances by the end of the Psalm, but he is certain that the prayer has been heard, which brings a measure of much-needed relief and hope. It has been the experience of many Christians that this confidence and peace comes about inexplicably at some point in prayer. We turn to the Lord, and that in itself leads to an assurance that we have been heard, and that he will answer.

And it’s no surprise that in the New Testament, Jesus seems to take the words of this Psalm on his lips, when he says – as he faces the cross – that his soul is in anguish (Matthew 26:38). Yet he makes his way there, for you and for me, so that we might receive the ultimate mercy and love and hope about which the Psalm speaks.

Where do we go for mercy we don’t deserve, for faithful love when all else fails, and for hope of deliverance? In God alone, and in Christ alone.

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