Vs 1 “From the depths of despair O Lord, I call for your help.”
Have you ever been lost? Out on the road, a few wrong turns, nothing quite like it looks on the map and you pull up at a junction with four signs pointing in four opposite directions and you do not know which one to take.
You’ve probably heard the story of the traveller who pulled up next to some locals, wound down his car window and said “Can you tell me how to get to ……?”
And the local wise-guy who said helpfully, “Well if I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here!”
Trouble is we don’t always have control of where we are. It may have been our optimism that we were headed in the right direction, it may have been a mistake reading the map or listening to whoever ‘knew’ the best way to where we were going. It may even have been those road works where the route was closed, resulting in having to make an unexpected detour that threw all our careful planning out. The end result was, we were not where we expected to be, we were not where we were supposed to be and now we find we do not even recognise where we are.
It would be easy if we could go back and start again. We can't, we are where we are. But if we don’t even know where we are, how can we possibly know what we have to do to get back on track. I mean we know where we should be…… but how do we make the connection, draw the line between here and there, if we can’t tell where ‘here’ is.
To set a course you need to know to know two things; where you are and where your destination is. So before asking the Lord ‘where am I supposed to be going?’ We should ask ‘Where exactly am I?’ It may be that the answer to that question reveals that we are even more lost than we thought, with further to travel to get back on track than we hoped, but we need to know. Otherwise we will keep travelling round and round using up time and energy but changing nothing.
David did not know how to get to where he needed to be. But he did know where he was. He was in the abyss. He was located in the depths, and it was from that deep, dark place that he cried. “I’m here Lord – in the depths – that’s where I AM…..HELP ME FROM HERE!”
Can God help me from here?
We struggle with the concept of grace. Not surprisingly, since it is alien to human nature. In human relationships you give something to get something. Nothing is given freely, it has to be earned. You must pay for it, deserve it, be entitled to it, do something to achieve it. But God does it differently. Grace – or at least one major feature of grace – is about God doing good things just because he does good things. He doesn’t do it because it’s been earned, he does it just because it is good. It’s his nature to behave well. To give when it is not earned, or even ‘necessary’. To love before being loved. To return a kind act for an unkind one. To forgive repeatedly and to stick with you to the end. He does it because it is in his character. This is who he is!
Even when we become a Christian and learn about God’s great forgiving love, about his constant patience and kindness, we still carry this sneaking suspicion that it will only be there for us so long as we do the right thing, stay in the right place, somehow do something – however limited - to ‘deserve’ this relationship and all that goes with it. And every time we fail or fall we see another reason why God can’t help us. We hear of what he is doing for someone else, we read about what he has done for others in the bible and we can see reasons why God would do something for them. But we believe ourselves disqualified from that help by what we are, what we have done – or not done. Our lives, our history become reasons not to expect the help of God.
Like many another problem in our relationship with God this is down to bad theology. And before you yawn, you should understand that everything in life is about theology. History – individual history, national history, our planet’s history, is the written record of how we have lived. And how we live is entirely governed by what we believe. And what we believe is governed by – guess what? – theology! If we believe that help cannot come where we are, we will not expect it. If we do not expect it we will not watch for it. If we do not watch for it we will miss it when it comes. We may not at this time have enough confidence in God to believe that help will come. But we have to believe that it could.
So what do we do? We cannot easily change how we think and feel, but we must. We need a new way of thinking and a new way of feeling. One that is determined by what is true, not by what appears to be true. Not that God expects us to pretend things are other than they are - far from it. This is not about positive thinking or looking on the bright side. Sometimes there is no bright side. But there is all the difference in the world between looking at the situation in which we find ourselves and saying “This is grim and bleak and I don’t see how it can end”. And looking at or God and saying “I’m too far down, I’ve left it too late, I am not the sort of person He can do this for” or any of a thousand such expressions which stand between us and the help we need.
David was under no illusion about the seriousness of his predicament. But he did not believe his desperate plight was a reason for God not to come. Sometimes it is why we are where we are that is the problem for us. We believe that it is our fault. We have brought ourselves to this terrible place. And we may even be right. But far from this being a reason for God to stay away, this is the greatest reason of all for God to come. When we cry for his mercy it is precisely because mercy is just what we need. If grace can be described as God giving us what we don’t deserve, then mercy can be described as God not giving us what we do deserve. It is precisely because we do not deserve God’s help that we need it most! And not deserving it is exactly the criteria on which mercy is given. You don’t offer mercy to someone who is entitled to help. You give them what they deserve, you give them justice. But for a man who has no right, no claim, no expectation and no entitlement, why this is what mercy is!
Nothing in what we are, or in where we are, constitutes a reason for God not to come and help us. So if we looking for reasons not to expect God’s help we will have to look elsewhere. Jesus specifically said “I didn’t come to call the righteous……but sinners….” And when challenged about the company he kept he replied “It’s the sick who need the doctor – not the healthy!” What sort of health service would it be if every time you were sick and went to your doctor he were to turn round and say “Sorry, can’t help you at the moment – you’re sick you know! But if you can go away and get over this thing, I’ll be very pleased to see you when you are well again”. What would be the point? It’s because you are sick you need him now. And it’s because you are where you are and who you are that you need Jesus now. He is never going to say “Come back when you are better”. Or “I’ll see you when you have recovered”. No, he says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
David sometimes found himself in dark places because other people put him there. He was chased from his home, his wife married off to someone else. He had a contract put out on his life. His could not look after his family and took them live abroad so they might be safe. He lived in caves, constantly moving around to escape detection and arrest. And it was the grace of God that kept him: that eventually brought him and his family safely through.
Sometimes he found himself in dark places because of what he had done. His actions brought disaster into his own life and worse yet, into the life of his family. Others suffered because of his wrongdoing. Yet he was still God’s man. He was still loved by God and God brought something incredibly good even out of the bad. At such times it was not grace, but mercy that he needed. The Bible declares that God is a God of mercy, and mercy brought David and his family through.
What we can’t do, grace will do. And what grace can’t do mercy will do. Between grace and mercy there is nothing God cannot do for anyone. On this God has a perfect record. He isn’t going to lose it with you!
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW
Read more articles by Brian C. Thompson or search for articles on the same topic or others.