Loving discipline, Psalm 6

In difficult and distressing times, Christians long to be freed from this body of death and translated to glory. In Psalm 6 David cries to God during a time of intense physical and emotional distress. David acknowledges suffering as discipline when he implores the Lord (Psalm 6:1, ESV):

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
   nor discipline me in your wrath.

We know from Proverbs 3:11-12 and Hebrews 12:4-6 that the Lord disciplines those he loves as a father disciplines a dearly loved child. The first verse of Psalm 6 demonstrates David’s understanding that God uses struggle to refine his children’s faith. David prays that his struggles may not originate in God’s anger, but in his love.

When Israel sinned and turned from God, he punished them by sending wasting disease or plundering enemies. Yet Job, who was a righteous man, suffered huge losses. Struggles can be the direct result of our own sin or part of God’s punishment for a specific sin. But they often are the refining fires God’s uses to incinerate the dross and purify the gold of our faith. If we’re in the middle of an intense struggle, how can we tell if God disciplines us because he is angry over our sin or because he loves us?

Troubles should always bring us to our knees in humble self-examination and genuine repentance. No one is free from sin and life’s struggles provide an opportunity to recognize and repent from that sin. We especially need to recognize our sin when our struggle is the direct result of it. Too many people deceive themselves with self-righteous conceit.

But those who humble themselves in true repentance can take heart. Job was depressed and longed for death, yet God did not rebuke him. He rebuked Job’s “friends” who falsely accused him of sin, but not Job. If we truly repent of our sin, we can be assured that God allows life’s trials our of his love for us.

The following two verses show that David’s struggle was emotional and spiritual as well as physical (2-3, ESV):

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
   But you, O LORD—how long?

David languished; both his bones and soul were troubled. In physical weakness or emotional distress, our faith falters. We feel overburdened to the point of death and are assailed by doubts. The struggle seems too long and we cry for relief.

Yet how can we praise and serve God from the grave? David asks that same question (4-5, ESV):    

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
   save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
   in Sheol who will give you praise?

By telling God about his steadfast love and the grave’s silence, David reminds himself of these two inconvertible facts. Trite as it may sound, David knows that God loves him and has a plan for his life. David knows that God’s love never fails, and he knows that he has more work to do for God while he lives. But he is so weary!

I am weary with my moaning;
   every night I flood my bed with tears;
   I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
   it grows weak because of all my foes (6-7, ESV).

Do you toss and turn during the long watches of the night? Does your pillow grow damp with your tears? Does grief overwhelm you? Do enemies surround you? Do your senses and strength fade? David and countless other believers throughout history have felt the same way.

But David ends his prayer with a rousing confirmation of God’s deliverance. 

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
   for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
   the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
   they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment (8-10, ESV).

With confidence that God has already heard his prayer, David grows bold. He commands those who work evil to depart from him. He doesn’t make this demand in his own strength, but in the firm conviction that God has heard and accepts his prayer. David’s struggles may seem to linger, but his enemies will be routed and put to shame in a moment.

Take heart! God hears the prayers of those who recognize their sin and truly repent from it. You may be weak. Sleep may elude you. Tears may fall continually. But God hears your cries. And he does more than listen; he acts. Before you finish your prayer, he already orchestrates events leading to your enemies’ reversal and sudden shame.

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