GETTING THE MESSAGE/Joy can be elusive in midst of hardships
C.S. Lewis wrote a book, Surprised by Joy, about his conversion to Christianity and the joy he found in knowing Christ. Joy can be an elusive thing in the midst of the hardships and trials in this world. In Psalm 30 David finds joy as he recounts a past deliverance by the Lord. So may we.
In verses 1-3 David remembers the depth of trouble he was in. He says to the Lord “you have drawn me up.” That word is used for drawing up water out of a well. David describes his position as being in a dark place like a dungeon, a pit, the abode of the dead.
It wasn’t only his physical life that was threatened; David felt a terrible, dark estrangement from the Lord. So he cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord “healed” him, a word often used for the conversion of a sinful, proud heart or the recovery from spiritual decline.
David’s deliverance was great, so his response of praise is great. He calls upon all the saints of the Lord to join him in praise to the Lord and to “give thanks to his holy name” (verse 4). Ingratitude will rob you of joy. It is the mark of vanity, and the Lord resists the proud. David humbled himself and saw the gracious hand of the Lord in his deliverance. David knew he did not deserve it.
In verses 5 and 6, David boasts of the Lord’s great patience and favor toward his people. David had sinned to provoke the Lord’s anger, but the anger’s mission was to restore David to blessed communion with the Lord. The Lord disciplines those he loves, and the Lord loved David.
There is a time for weeping and mourning. In David’s case it was appropriate for his condition. He had been reduced to low circumstances because of his vanity. He needed to be humbled. The gospel never really takes root in any heart except a heart broken over its own sin.
David’s deliverance was gracious, so the joy that came in the morning after the night of weeping was over the gracious love of the Lord. The joy in a Christian comes in knowing Christ for his dying love for you the sinner. All right obedience grows out of this root. David’s experience reminds us one gate is open, one ear always open to our prayer, no matter how dark the night is.
David remembers the cause of his trouble in verse 6: “I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.” Pride goes before the fall. Pride led the way to David’s great trouble. David recognizes now that it was the favor of the Lord that made him a great king. But at the time he credited his strong position to his own natural resourcefulness. When he surveyed his surrounding enemies, David saw himself in an invulnerable position due to his own strength.
But the Lord hid his face from David (verse 7). That is not the place you want to be. Prosperity in any form is not without its peril for the saints. Sin will use prosperity to draw our affections and sense of dependence away from the Lord to self-confidence. Jesus told his disciples, “You can do nothing apart from me.” Paul said, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Both statements are to be taken literally.
It was the grace of God that enabled David to see that his fall was from the Lord hiding his face. David responded by pleading for mercy (verses 8, 10). He argues that the Lord will be greater glorified if the Lord delivers David rather than if he allows David to die (verse 9). Many times in his life David faced death unafraid, but this wasn’t a good time to die right after acting so foolish and vain. He asks the Lord for help, and the Lord delivers him.
In verses 11-12 we see the joy in celebrating grace. David attributes all to the Lord: “You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” The Lord’s purposes are to glorify his name and make his redeemed people exceedingly joyful. The giver of redeemed life will himself be the support of that life in plenty and want.
David speaks of the joy of praising and giving thanks to God forever (verse 12). There is no joy like the joy of knowing the love of Christ. It is a joy that, once begun, will last forever.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.