“My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” Psalm 119:28 [ESV]
As I was meditating on part of Psalm 119 recently, verse 28 (above) resonated deeply within my heart. We have no way of knowing with certainty the specific source of the Psalmist’s sorrow in this text. Though some speculate about the specifics, I wonder if perhaps the source was divinely concealed to allow each of us to more easily relate and apply the wisdom contained to our unique grief and sorrows.
The Psalmist describes the effect of his deep grief and sorrow as causing his soul to both cling to the dust (vs 26) and melt away within Him. It is his response to this crushing sorrow that ministered to my wounded soul. He doesn’t plead with God to remedy the source of the sorrow or remove the sorrow itself, he instead asks God to strengthen him. His request in response to his crippling sorrow seems to indicate he has no expectation of its removal. He has accepted his soul melting sorrow is ongoing and he knows the only answer is strength to bear up under it.
Some sorrows won’t go away.
Some sorrows won’t go away. For those who don’t know the weight of life altering sorrow, this is an uncomfortable thought. Some refuse to accept it as truth, and in their ignorance will chide the wounded around them saying they simply need to “move on” or “let go” of their sorrow. In the context of child loss, I’m not certain what people actually mean when they say we must move forward or let go. The very reason the pain and great sorrow exist is because I am moving forward in life without my child. I am still getting out of bed each day and prayerfully striving to live a fruitful life, but in the midst of that each day bears the deep sting of living this life without Sarah.
Accepting that the pain and sorrow will persist does not equate to giving up, defeat, failure or hopelessness, and it is certainly not sin. Recognizing that in this life we are permanently marked by grief makes us completely aware of our utter dependence on God. Like the Psalmist, we realize we are incapable of one more breath, one more step, one more task, one more interaction or one more conversation apart from His gracious sustaining provision of strength to endure and persevere. The recognition of the permanence of our brokenness causes us to cry out with absolute desperation, “Strengthen me according to your word!”
I believe the Psalmist was talking about a weight of sorrow of this magnitude when he prayed for strength rather than healing or deliverance. Some soul melting sorrows won’t go away. For these sorrows the answer is not continually pleading for healing or removal of the sorrow. The answer is the prayer the Psalmist prayed, “Strengthen me according to your word.” Strength to endure and persevere, that is the answer.
He is the source of our strength.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments He tells us time and time again that He will strengthen us, that He alone is the source of our strength to endure and persevere. We cry out to Him for strength because He promises to strengthen us.
‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10 [NASB]
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 [NASB]
“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil [one.]” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 [NASB]
He strengthens us through His Word.
Knowledge and understanding of His character and the revelations and promises of His Word play an integral role in strengthening us. It is imperative that we humbly and prayerfully dig into the Word of God for our equipping to endure and persevere, steadfast and immovable. The entirety of Psalm 119 is the Psalmist’s repeated declaration of His desperation for and dependence upon the Word of God as an anchor for his soul in both good times and bad.
My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times. (20)
This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me. (50)
I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O LORD, And comfort myself. (52)
If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, For by them You have revived me. I am Yours, save me; For I have sought Your precepts. (92-94)
I opened my mouth wide and panted, For I longed for Your commandments. (131)
Your testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live. (144)…
My soul keeps Your testimonies, And I love them exceedingly (167)
Over the past year His Word has sustained and strengthened me in countless ways, many recorded here in this blog, but below are just a few of the ways presently most prominent in my mind.
I am strengthened by knowing pain, sorrow and grief are to be expected.
I am strengthened in my sorrow by the reminders in His Word that my pain and grief are to be expected in this fallen world. We are repeatedly implored to endure, persevere, and be steadfast, all of which would be unnecessary if believers were to be free of pain, trials, tribulation and suffering. To the contrary we are clearly warned that we will endure all of these.
What a detriment we are to new believers and wounded believers specifically if we somehow teach or imply to them that a life of faith will be one of health, wealth and prosperity. In so doing we render them rootless. I am reminded of the danger of this in the parable of the seed. Christ says of the seed on the rocky ground, “the ones who, when when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:16b-17).
“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 [NASB]
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; [we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 [NASB]
“To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, [even] until now.” 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 [NASB]
I am strengthened by knowing Jesus understands and intercedes for me.
We have a Great High Priest who truly knows our every pain, temptation and struggle. When no one else can possibly know or understand, He does. He was tempted in every way as we are and yet did not sin, and now our gracious, compassionate Savior lives to intercede for us.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16 [NASB]
“but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:24-25 [NASB]
I am strengthened by knowing that Joy and Sorrow can and do coexist.
Some have the flawed idea that the ongoing presence of pain and sorrow eliminates the possibility of joy and peace, and prevents gratitude, praise and worship. I am strengthened by God’s Word which clearly testifies otherwise. The apostle Paul is the one who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to the church at Phillipi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). And yet Paul also states in his letter to the Romans, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Rom 9:1-2). Joy and Sorrow coexisting. In the midst of deepest pain, peace, joy, contentment, praise and worship can all exist simultaneously.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 [NASB]
I am strengthened by the Hope of eternity.
Not only am I strengthened by the Hope of eternity itself, I am strengthened by knowing it is good and right to long for eternity. We are repeatedly reminded in scripture that this life is but a wisp, a vapor, a flower here today and gone tomorrow. We can confidently lift our eyes from our temporal pain and struggles to fix them on the Hope of eternity. In so doing we are strengthened to live urgently, expectantly and fruitfully in anticipation of His coming.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if [I am] to live [on] in the flesh, this [will mean] fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both [directions,] having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for [that] is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,” Philippians 1:21-25 [NASB]
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” James 5:7-8 [NASB]
I am strengthened by the transparent testimonies of persevering saints in scripture.
I am regularly and profoundly impacted and strengthened by the countless candid testimonies of those who have gone before us in Scripture. Job, David, Jeremiah, Peter and Paul, among others, have been great witnesses to me, encouraging and strengthening me to persevere through this valley.
Some sorrows won’t go away, but He who is faithful will graciously strengthen us to persevere through His indwelling Spirit and the power of His Word. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6 [NASB]
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:1-5 [NASB]