Psalm 40: In the Pit, Remember

Because I am a writer, part of my job is to study the craft, sharpen my skills, practice, practice, practice. Someone once suggested that Psalm 40 is “the writer’s psalm”, a passage to combat writer’s block, fatigue, burnout, fear of failure, discouragement, lack of courage—everything that writers face in their writing lives.

I’d suggest that it’s also the mother’s psalm, the retiree’s psalm, the factory worker’s psalm, the administrator’s psalm, the bookkeeper’s psalm, the social worker’s psalm, the student’s psalm, the truck driver’s psalm …

David writes for all of us whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. He was, like us, one who trusted in God, who believed and received God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. He was also one who sometimes landed in the mud at the bottom of the pit of despair.

Jeremiah 38 tells the story about the prophet who is doing exactly what God tells him to do, yet he is thrown into a cistern and left to die, because those who don’t like what he’s saying want to silence him. At the bottom of the pit, Jeremiah sinks into mud and will soon starve, unless rescue comes quickly.

And sometimes we’re thrown into the pit and we start sinking into the mud of despair, the mire of discouragement, the muck of … what? Fatigue? Low self-esteem? Guilt? Loneliness? Worry? Temptations? Fill in that last word yourself. What is it that drags you down, holds you captive, and keeps you from walking on solid ground and singing new songs?

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the LORD.

Although the writer puts this in the past tense, not all of the muck and mud and mire is behind him. If you read the entire chapter, you’ll see him crying for help yet again. Rescue me! I’ve lost courage! I can’t find my way out!

It’s as though he begins writing to remind himself of what God has done in the past, remembering that God can — and will — pull him out of the pit.

A lesson for us. A lesson for me. God has pulled me out of the mud so many times when I could not free myself, when I could see no escape, when all I could do was cry, “Help! I’m sinking!”  I’m guessing He has rescued you, too. He hears our cries. His love for us is never forgetful or absent.

Not only does He pull us out, He sets our feet on solid ground, steadies us as we go onward, and gifts us with a new song of praise. Out of our times in the pit come new strengths and new thankfulness.

These three verses remind me to remember. Remember what my Lord has done in my life. When I’m in the mud at the bottom of the pit, I must remember. Cry for help and rescue, yes. But do not lose heart, because I know that He hears, He rescues. And then He strengthens and renews!

He brings good things from our hard places, not only for us, but also for others. Many will be amazed. Many will know that only the LORD could have done this. Many will put their trust in Him, too.

I hope when people look at my life they know that only God could do what has been done, what is being done. I do know this—when you share with me stories of your hard times and rescues, you encourage me, my faith is strengthened, I am reminded —

If God is for us, who can be against us ?

Scripture: Psalm 40:1-3 (NLT); Romans 8:31 (NIV)

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