Pastor John, we get emails often from people who are essentially asking, “Is there any hope for me after I have sinned in a really stupid way, and am now paying the price for my foolish choices?” What would you say to someone in that situation?
Psalm 107 has been a huge encouragement to me over the years in my own wrestling with a sense of failure at times and wondering, Is there a future for ministry? Or even of faith?
Love that Endures Forever
And probably as much as any other psalm, Psalm 107 has been the one that has made it possible for me to reach out and rescue, I think, some folks who feel like there is just no hope for them — they have sinned too many times, or they have sinned in too horrible a way for God to have any future for them. So let me just share with you — or the folks who might be in that condition — what I meditated on yesterday.
I was reading through the Psalms again and came to Psalm 107 which begins, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” And that’s the refrain that comes again and again. The psalm ends, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” So it begins and ends with “the steadfast love of the Lord.” And then there are these four stories or these four stanzas where it repeats, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. . . . Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” So four times you read that very same pair of verses.
Deep Sin, Abundant Hope
But what makes it so amazingly encouraging is that the situations in which people cry out to God are the very kinds of situations that people get themselves into now and feel hopeless, which is why the psalm is so hopeful.
“They are in the midst of affliction, because they have been fools. And yet they cried to the Lord in their trouble.”
Here is one example: “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and irons for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High” (Psalm 107:10–11). And I can just hear hundreds of people saying, “I have spurned God’s counsel. I knew what was right, and I threw it away.” And that is exactly what these people are doing, and so you tend to say, “Well, there is no hope for them.” And the next thing you read is, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Or later on it says, “Some were fools through sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17–18).
So these are people who, because they have acted so stupidly, have got AIDS or they have wrecked their minds with mind-altering drugs or they have gotten some kind of kidney failure because of excessive alcohol or their lungs are shot from sixty years of two packs of cigarettes every day, and they feel like God owes me nothing, there is just no hope for me at all. And that is exactly these folks’ situation. They don’t even want to eat anymore. They are at the gates of death. They are in the midst of affliction because they have been fools. And yet, they cried to the Lord in their trouble. He delivered them from all their distresses, and therefore, the hope that this psalm brings to people who feel like there is just no hope is incredible.
God Lifts Up the Upright
You get to the end of the psalm and it says, “he turns rivers into a desert” (verse 33) — that’s bad. And, “he turns a desert into pools of water” (verse 35) — that’s good. Then it says, “he pours contempt on princes” (verse 40) — that’s bad. And, “he raises up the needy out of affliction” (verse 41). And I think the point is, God is free to come down here and do whatever he has to do, whether it is hard things or easy things, good things or bad things. God is going to do these things for the sake of lifting up the upright.
The psalm ends with, “The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth. Whoever is wise — and this is what I say, Tony, to whoever is listening — let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 107:42–43).