Good News for Sufferers

adapted from Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness

“I’m praying through Psalm 69 for you.”

I received this text from a friend during an intense point in my life. My dad—a dear support to me as a single mom—now lay in the ICU on a ventilator at the teaching hospital two cities away. Between my second and third cancer surgery, he nearly died after doctors punctured his lung and nicked a vein during a heart procedure. On top of that, I was scheduled to begin five weeks of daily radiation following my mastectomy the Monday after he landed in the intensive care unit. The multiple layers of weight—my dad on a ventilator, cancer in my lymph node, stress from my divorce— along with all the sorrows, fears, and responsibilities that came with each, pressed me down. Yet, despite the weights, I had no choice but to move forward. The medical pressures of life for either my dad or myself would not wait on me to feel emotionally stable to face them.

When my friend sent me that text, I was confused about what psalm she was referencing. Though I had read through the Bible many times, Psalm 69 was not on my radar. It has now become precious to me, a balm to my soul with language to bring directly to God in prayer. When I didn’t know how to verbalize my prayers to God under the weight of the pressures of this season in my life, God reminded me through this psalm that He hadn’t left me as an orphan to figure it out on my own.

David prays …

Save me, God,
for the water has risen to my neck.
I have sunk in deep mud, and there is no footing;
I have come into deep water,
and a flood sweeps over me.
I am weary from my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.

One of the gifts God gives us in Psalm 69 is the way David articulates his dark emotions. He had sunk deep in his circumstances and emotions, and he could not find a foothold. He was floundering, feeling that he was about to drown. He was running out of tears, not because the sorrow has eased but because his body could not physically sustain his sorrow anymore.

Though the specific causes and circumstances around David’s suffering are different from ours, in verses 13-18 he used language that calls to the struggle I have faced in my suffering again and again.

13  But as for me, Lord,
my prayer to you is for a time of favor.
In your abundant, faithful love, God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
14  Rescue me from the miry mud; don’t let me sink.
Let me be rescued from those who hate me
and from the deep water.
15  Don’t let the floodwaters sweep over me
or the deep swallow me up;
don’t let the Pit close its mouth over me.
16  Answer me, Lord,
for your faithful love is good.
In keeping with your abundant compassion,
turn to me.
17  Don’t hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress.
Answer me quickly!
18  Come near to me and redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies.

When my friend first drew my attention to this psalm, I was drawn again and again to David’s prayer for “a time of favor.” It hit a nerve for me. Despite pastoral counsel and the encouragement of friends, I have often struggled with the feeling that I am out of favor with God. Is this the reason that I sit under the weight of seemingly unfair trials? Has God removed His favor from me? Did I ever have it to begin with? Those questions reflect the core emotional burden I have felt, second guessing every decision I’ve made, self-chastising for the most minor perceived shortcomings. I’ve certainly made mistakes along my journey, but did I bring all of this on myself? Suffering does this to earnest believers. What did I do wrong to get myself in this situation? How did I get out of God’s favor, and more importantly, how do I get back into it?

In Psalm 69, the Scriptures meet us with this deep emotional burden, our longing for respite, even blessing, a time of favor with God.

The Hebrew word for favor is ratsown, derived from ratsah, which means to be pleased with or to have satisfied a debt.1 In other places in Scripture, the same phrase for time of favor is translated an acceptable time. It is a phrase used in Messianic prophecies, such as Isaiah 49.

This is what the Lord says:

I will answer you in a time of favor,
and I will help you in the day of salvation.

saying to the prisoners: Come out,
and to those who are in darkness: Show yourselves.
They will feed along the pathways,
and their pastures will be on all the barren heights.
10  They will not hunger or thirst,
the scorching heat or sun will not strike them;
for their compassionate one will guide them,
and lead them to springs.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul gives us the clarity we need when he quotes this language from Isaiah 49 in his letter to the church at Corinth.

See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! 2 Cor. 6:2

What does this word ratsown or favor indicate? What was David longing for that we now have in Christ?

“A masculine noun meaning pleasure, delight, desire, will, favor, acceptance. … When attributed to God, the term expresses the divine goodwill which He extends to humanity as He sees fit2 …”

The New Testament teaches that we are now in a time of God’s favor and acceptance. How did God see fit to extend to us this divine good will? He extended it through Christ! The time of favor and good will is upon all who believe in Christ, the Apostle Paul declares. Jesus came at the acceptable time, and He ushered in a time of favor for all who believe in Him.

How does this favor break into the long season of suffering you find yourself in? How does it break into mine? It starts by removing condemnation.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus …

Romans 8:1

As I said, I’ve struggled with shame and self-condemnation again and again throughout my trials. Surely there must have been something more I could have done to avoid my divorce or my cancer diagnosis. What signs did I miss? What balls did I drop? But though there can be natural consequences to our bad choices, we also know Christ has fully satisfied our debt to God. David cried out in agony in Psalm 69:4, “Though I did not steal, I must repay.” But Jesus turned the score around. He repaid our debt. He fulfilled Psalm 69:4, paying back what we have stolen. The result, as Isaiah 49:8-9 poetically portrays, is restoration of our desolate places and an invitation to come out of the dark shadows and show ourselves in the light. If I missed a sign as my marriage failed, Christ read it for me. If I dropped a ball with my physical health, Christ picked it up. I rightly confess my sins, for I have not walked any path in my life in perfect obedience. But I also put away self-condemnation, for Christ has paid any condemnation for me and offers me peace in its place.

Hope that Anchors

This time of favor we have in Christ gives us hope that anchors us in the middle of long trials.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

The prosperity gospel disappoints sufferers. But we have something different through Christ, a hope that will not disappoint us, that will not let us down. There is something about our access to God through Christ and the peace we have with Him as a result that will see us through, that will not leave us hanging. That will not disappoint.

In verses 13-18, David cries …

Answer me with your sure salvation …

Rescue me from the miry mud …

Come near to me …

Redeem me …

Ransom me …

If you have been a believer for any length of time, you recognize these spiritually loaded words, right?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, … Romans 1:16

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Colossians 1:13

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, … Titus 2:14

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

Save. Rescue. Redeem. Ransom. You know who redeemed David, and you know who ransoms you. You know who turned toward us, and you know who answered both David and us with a sure salvation. Most of all, believers know who paid the debt they did not owe. The One given vinegar for His thirst (v. 21) on the cross has done all of this for us, and that is the truth that serves like a hydraulic lift under our feet when we are sinking in the mire, a lift that slowly but surely raises us back up.

The problem for those in the midst of long seasons of suffering, is that, while Scripture says we are rescued and redeemed by Christ, our circumstances don’t reinforce that truth right now. My feet still seem to be sinking in the miry mud. I am waiting for rescue from the weights upon me, not celebrating that they have already been lifted. I’m thankful for the language of Christ in Hebrews 2 that captures this seeming disconnect.

… For in subjecting everything to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. As it is, we do not yet see everything subjected to him. Hebrews 2:8

Suffering friend, though you do not yet see everything made right, you are not out of favor with God. Cling to the hope that you are, in Christ, in full favor with God. We live in the tension between what we already know to be true in Christ, that He puts away all of our tears and rights all wrongs, and the reality of life in a fallen world. Though we have not yet seen Jesus’s kingship fully realized in our world, His promise to us is that we will not ultimately be disappointed by our faith in Him. His kingdom will fully come, and He is a very good King.

1 Keyword study bible p. 2029

2 keyword study bible p. 2029

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