The Cry of the Sorrowful
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace."
We know no more of David's circumstances when he wrote this Psalm, than what we find in the Psalm itself; but it seems plain that he was in great trouble, arising from two causes: he was very ill, and he had bitter enemies.
He was very ill. "I am faint," he says: "my bones are in agony," that is, with pain. His nights were sleepless; nights of weeping and of groaning. Life itself was in danger, for he speaks of death as that in which his illness might end.
But this was not all. There were those about him who hated him. He had bitter enemies, ungodly men who desired his ruin. This troubled him greatly. "My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes." Thus he was weak and ill and low--sick in body and sad and anxious in mind.
What did he do? Just what all the sad and suffering should do. He prayed. He drew near to God and told Him all:
all that tried his body,
all that troubled his soul,
his wearisome nights,
his tears and groans,
his anxious thoughts.
Ah! What could he have done--if he could not have prayed? And what can any believer do in trouble, without prayer? If we were to be told some day that there must be no more prayer--it would be the saddest news that ever we heard. What could the poor, the sick, the sorrowful, the sinful--do then? What could they do, if they could not pray? Where would they find help, if they might no longer seek it of God?
Thank God, we never can hear such news. God does hear prayer and will hear prayer. The time will never come when they who have been used to pray, will find that they may pray no more. "O You who hear prayer!" (Psalm 65:2). Thus the Psalmist addressed God; and thus we shall always be able to address Him.
David lays his sickness before God, and prays to be healed. All sicknesses are subject to God. They cannot come without God's permission--and they cannot stay when He bids them go. It is right for us to take medicine and to go by the doctor's advice--but it rests with God whether the sick shall get well or not. He works by means--but unless He blesses the means, they are all in vain. We may pray to God to make us well, for life and health are blessings given to us by Him and to be used to His glory. Thus David cried to God: "For in death there is no remembrance of You: in the grave who shall give You thanks?" Yet it does not always please God that the sick should recover. Death must come at some time. God knows best when and how it shall be. In all such prayers, therefore, we should give ourselves up to God and desire that His holy will may be done. We may pray for pain to be eased and life to be prolonged. But we should add, "Nevertheless, not my will but may Your will be done!" Our prayer will certainly be heard, and it will be answered in the very best way. Even the prayer itself will bring comfort.
David prayed also for help against his enemies--wicked men who hated and opposed him and who were plotting against him perhaps more than ever, now that sickness was upon him. The thought of them disturbed and harassed him, and therefore he laid it before God.
It is to be hoped that we have no such enemies. May God forgive them and turn them, if we have.
But have we no spiritual enemy? There is one who is always plotting against our souls, and besides him we have our own evil hearts and the temptations of the world. These are real enemies, never ceasing to work against us and to hinder our salvation. Wherever we are--still we find them; even in a sick room they are not far off.
Sometimes they trouble us greatly. Evil thoughts arise in the heart, wrong inclinations seem strong within us, and the grievous power of sin is felt. To one who loves God, this is more distressing than even bodily pain. We should pray earnestly at such times. In God's Name, we should bid these enemies of our soul to depart. No evil thought must be indulged for a moment. The tempter must be resisted in the strength of God. "Resist the devil--and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
We have every encouragement. God will hear our prayer. In pain of body, in long sickness, in sleepless nights and wearisome days, in the assaults of Satan, in the struggle with evil thoughts--He will hear us and help us.
No sooner had David prayed, than he was heard. In the very same Psalm in which he cries to the Lord, he is able to say, "The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer."
Faith should realize this at all times. Whenever we pray, humbly and heartily, in the Name of Jesus, then we should believe that God certainly hears us, that our prayer has even now found acceptance. Oh, the comfort of believing that prayer is heard!
"The Lord has heard my supplication." Then, even if pain and sickness still continue, and temptation and trial do not cease at once--yet all will be well, for the Lord has heard me. He will not let me be overwhelmed. He will try me no longer than is for my good. He will send me what is best. I will trust, and not be afraid.
Yet David, it is plain, felt that he had deserved his afflictions. "O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger, neither chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord . . . Oh save me for Your mercies' sake."
In the same way, who can say, whatever his sufferings may be, "This is more than I have deserved"? Alas! If God were to deal with us as we have deserved--where would we be? But "the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). Though we have sinned--yet He will forgive. Though we have deserved nothing but His displeasure--yet He will show us His favor. For Jesus has died for us. His precious blood has been shed to make atonement for our sins. He is our peace. And for His sake--sinners are forgiven, accepted, and blessed. We have no other plea to use, but this will prevail. In His Name we may humbly--yet confidently, draw near to God, and say, "Return, O Lord, deliver my soul! Oh, save me for Your mercy's sake!"