Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
- Psalm 107:19
Psalm 107 has always been one of my favorites. It is a psalm that is kind of set up like a book with an introduction, four chapters, and then a conclusion. And it covers just about any kind of struggle you could have in life. "The introduction begins: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever." And then we are reminded that we, as those who have been gathered by God, are called to proclaim God's good works and be thankful. The psalm then tells four little dramatic stories about the people of God.
The first story is about people who "wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them." When they cry to God for help, God leads them to a town that they can live in. The psalmist proclaims that God "satisfies the thirsty, and fills the hungry with good things."
The second story is about some who "sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons." They had turned away from God's counsel and ways, and " their hearts were bowed down with hard labour; they fell down, with no one to help." When they cry to God for help, God "brings them out of darkness and gloom, and breaks their bonds asunder." The psalmist proclaims that God "shatters the doors of bronze and breaks in two the iron bars."
The third story is about a group that is afflicted due to their rebellion and sins. They "abhorred all manner of food and drew near to death's door." When they cry to God for help, God "sends forth his word and heals them and saves them from the grave." The psalmist proclaims that it is important that they should "offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy."
The fourth story is about seafarers who "plied the deep waters." They behold all the wonders of God out there - and they also experience some pretty scary storms as they travel the depths. "When a stormy wind arose, which tossed high the waves of the sea, they mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; their hearts melted because of their peril. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits' end." But then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress. And God stills the storm to a whisper and quiets the waves of the sea, and in the resulting calm, they get back to harbor again. The psalmist exhorts them to exalt God in the congregation - to praise God among the wise elders.
I love how these four chapters cover so many of life's situations. I can relate to them all, because there have been times when I've felt like I'm wandering around in a desert - or when I've been feeling that the weight of the world is on my shoulders and there is no one to help - or when I've turned away from what I know is good for me and harmed myself in the process - and when in the course of following God I've witnessed God's power in ways that are both awesome and ways that are terrifying. And in all these times and seasons, when I have called on God for help, God has delivered me from my distress. Maybe it hasn't been in the way I expected. Maybe it wasn't the timetable I'd wanted or the way I'd wanted my deliverance to look, but God has always put me back on my feet and given me the ability to yet again praise God in the assembly.
The conclusion of this psalm declares that God has the ability and power both to turn deserts into water springs - and also to make flowing springs into a desert. Sometimes life brings wonderful springs, sometimes deserts. But there is no situation - no place - where God is not. There are troubles of all kinds in this life, and it's sometimes hard to understand why. But as we go through all the many ups and downs, God is always right there waiting for us to cry out to God for help and to trust in God's way, not our own. God always stands ready to deliver us from our distress.