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Home School of Suffering Handling God's Discipline - Psalm 39

Handling God's Discipline - Psalm 39

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Psalm 39

Handling God's Discipline Psalm 39

Mostly life is pretty hard, but sometimes it seems unbearably hard. Sometimes I feel as if I stumble from one difficult or painful situation to the next with no let up.

I know that he disciplines me because I am his child. I accept that even though I may not like it. But sometimes God’s discipline seems severe and heavy-handed and unending.  Sometimes it feels as if everything in life is a discipline and there is no enjoyment.

Psalm 39 explores this very theme of the crushing severity of God in disciplining his sinful servant David. It is a confronting Psalm because David speaks plainly about the complete misery of his life, mouthing of at God with real anger and bitterness.

And there is no happy ending. David’s misery is as great at the end as at the start, yet David manages to grab onto some solid points to enable him to cope with God’s discipline.

Let’s look at the text as David struggles to handle “the misery of life” (1-6). From the first sentence, it is obvious that David is stirred up about his situation in life.

Unlike Psalm 38 , David is not responding to a particular situation of illness. Rather he is thinking about the circumstances of his life in general. It would appear that David felt his life was just one long string of painful situations with no relief from the Lord.

And David was not happy with God’s unrelenting discipline, Verses 10 and 13. But he was still determined to try and keep a lid on things, verse 1 David resolved not to complain openly against God’s discipline, because he knew that would only give unbelievers around him an opportunity to mock God.

David’s loyalty and sense is to be commended. If we didn’t learn anything else from this Psalm, this would be a good lesson in itself. One of the worst things we can do is whinge about God’s goodness and care in front of unbelievers. Yet some Christians do.

We don’t have to complain against God directly, complaining about the situations we are in often has the same effect. Because we give unbelievers an opportunity to say things like, “I thought he was a Christian who trusts God” or “If that’s what God is like, then I want no part of him.”
But notice also in verse 2, something else was happening for David. There were good things that he might have said while he was struggling but didn’t. Perhaps he was so annoyed at God’s treatment that he was playing tit for tat. If God treats me bad, then I’m not going to say anything good about him.

Anyway, David couldn’t keep his resolution. There’s an encouragement for all of us who have made resolutions before the Lord and were unable to keep them. Eventually his growing anger and resentment at God’s dealing with him got the better of him and, verses 4-6, David finally bursts and blurts out his concerns to God.

Commentators disagree about verses 4-6. The majority has concluded that the content of David’s outburst to God is not recorded and that these verses are a positive request for teaching from David.

But it’s more reasonable to take verses 4-6 as his angry and bitter outburst against God. And it’s more human and real for us because it goes like this. “Lord I didn’t want to say this in public because it is going to sound so awful, but you need to know just how annoyed am at you deep down inside.”

Verse 4. Lord can you tell me how long before I die? I want to know how many more years of misery I have left. Since life is so horrible and painful, then the sooner it’s over the better. So what is it Lord another 5 years or 10 years of suffering and discipline from your hand?

Verses 5-6 are a further bitter complaint. It’s as if David is saying, What is the point of life anyway? Life is so short, and I am so small in the overall scheme of things. And life is so uncertain that I don’t ever know if will get to enjoy the things I have worked so hard for before I disappear like a puff of steam.

If this interpretation is right, then it is pretty blunt stuff that David serves up to the Lord. What’s the point of it all, is really what David is saying. I don’t understand why given that life is so short and uncertain anyway, it also has to be miserable under your constant heavy hand of discipline.

Friends, allow me to offer you some encouragement by way of application. The encouragement is to feel free to be brutally honest with God. David’s angry and bitter outburst to God was not wrong, in fact going to the Lord was the right thing to do.

The fact is that from time to time we secretly feel like David felt. Life crowds in on us and we feel it is so heavy and awful and sometimes even feel as if there is no enjoyment in life at all.

But making all this worse, some Christians think they could or should never speak so honestly to God about it with a view to understanding what is happening. But David’s model to us is to go before the Lord and spread out your concerns before him and ask him to help you understand what is going on in your life.

Moving on, the tone of the psalm changes in verse 7 and becomes more positive revealing David’s fixed points in his ongoing misery (7-13).

It seems as if David, having got all his pent up emotion out, now settles down and regains a grasp of some basics that enable him to press on, even though his circumstances show no sign of changing or being relieved.

Verse 7, he reminds himself that knowing whom is more important than why. It is as if David asks, verse 7, “Where does all this leave me? Where do I go from here?” He concludes that the only way forward is to trust the Lord, simply because he is the Lord.

He still cannot understand why God seems to be dealing with him with such crushing severity, but his anchor through it all is that he knows the God who is making it happen. That enables him to press on and hold his life experience in tension.

Verse 10, he feels God is being heavy-handed and is at times resentful and confused. But, verse 11, he knows God’s dealings are always for correction and redirection and training in righteousness. So he can trust God even though he can’t understand him.

Friends, it is precisely the same for us in those times when the pain of life overwhelms us. We cannot always understand what God is doing in our lives and why he is doing it. At such times our only comfort lies in confidence in the fact that God disciplines us as Children and, therefore, for our ultimate good.

Verse 8, he reminds himself of the complicating factor of his sinfulness. I think David recognises that his sinful responses to God’s dealings actually make the situation worse in his mind. Perhaps he is thinking specifically of his festering anger and bitterness that led to his outburst in the previous verses.

Perhaps David recognises that he made the situation worse by thinking of himself as a victim of God’s random punishment, rather than a wayward child that needed some pretty heavy-handed discipline before he would learn the lesson God intended.

Again, verse 8, often all whingeing and complaining before unbelievers achieves is to leave himself open to more unpleasant circumstances as unbelievers then ridicule him because of what he said about the God he is supposed to trust and serve and love.

So David begs that the Lord might deliver him from such a sinful and painful course of action in the face of his ongoing pain and suffering.

Friends, how true is this of us? We so easily develop a victim syndrome that makes us wallow in self-pity. In our minds we conclude that we are the victims of God’s indiscriminate punishment, that we certainly do not deserve.

At times we even go as far as to think that God is some sort of a sadist who enjoys hurting us, and whose only purpose is to make us miserable. It’s just like how teenage children always think they are victims of parental cruelty and injustice rather than thinking they really needed a heavy hand because they refused to listen any other way.

We need to ask the Lord to forgive us for this and help us avoid doing it in the future.

Verse 10-11, he reminds himself of the Lord’s purpose in his suffering. In Psalm 38 David recognised that suffering for God’s special people was always corrective and not ultimately destructive.

But look at verse 11. Not only does God make his correction felt to expose sin in his children and turn them away from it. But it has the extra effect of weaning his children away from trusting in earthly things. David has now come to see clearly that things in this life he previously thought were precious and lasting are really as worthless as a moth eaten garment that has no beauty left in it.

Perhaps it is in the light of this new understanding that David writes verse 10. Perhaps he is saying that he has finally learned the lesson God intended and therefore God can ease up on him.

Friends, as C.S. Lewis writes, sometimes we leave God little alterative but to be severe with us, because we refuse to find our happiness and security in him and insist on finding it in things the world offers us.

Verses 12-13 He comforts himself with the reality of God’s special care of his people. As David draws this poem to a close, there is no easing of his circumstances. Verse 12, his tears are still flowing. Life continues to be miserable for him. Therefore, his point of comfort is very interesting. He learns the lesson of history.

He finds comfort in the notion of being a stranger or pilgrim in this life. Like all God’s people before him, the circumstances of life leave David feeling as if he has no fixed abode in this world. He cannot feel easy and relaxed in a world where misery and instability and everything temporary confronts him.

But feeling like a stranger or alien or pilgrim opened up new possibility of comfort because he knew that God had promised special care for such people. In fact it was enshrined in the law of Israel.

David comforted himself with the fact that while God’s care and concern may not always be evident or visible in circumstances of life, it is always real and always true and always secure.

And tied to this is the implied thought that a real home lies somewhere else and that one day the pilgrim will be home where he can relax and enjoy life.

Friends let me finish by taking you to Hebrews 12:1-13 . The Christians were facing relentless persecution and death from the government, scorn from their Jewish family members because they had turned to Christ, and general ridicule as neighbours and workmates scorned Christ and the gospel.

Its not hard to imagine they were feeling crushed and confused by God’s dealings with them. What hope is offered them? Verse 1, life is described as an endurance race. It will be full of pain and reqire real effort.

But press on because Jesus knows better than anybody else what it is to be crushed, quite literally, under God’s severe hand. So he is our model and our reference point. Go to him when life seems unbearable and God’s dealings are impossible to understand, because he knows what you are feeling.

And remember that God character is working in your life for good. He is committed to care for you in the very best way, including heavy-handeddiscipline when that is necessary for our good.

Friends with that perspective we can enjoy the subdued confidence and security shown by David. There is no cheering and clapping and pretence that life is wonderful when it isn’t, like some would pressure us today.

But as we look to Christ knowing he knows how we feel, knowing he is working for our good always and knowing that really he is our home where tears and awfulness and pain will one day be no more, should enable us to press on tomorrow.



Last Updated on Thursday, 11 November 2010 09:37  

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