Deep Pain, Deep Redemption - Psalm 130

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
yes, I am counting on him.
I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
more than sentries long for the dawn,
yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
from every kind of sin.
-Psalm 130

I have been writing a series on the songs of ascent, as they are most commonly called.  I call them the songs of the steps.  In the Hebrew, we get the idea of  degrees and the NLT, calls them pilgrim songs.

Some Bible teachers have noted that the fifteen songs are grouped into five sets of three.  Psalm 130 is in the middle of the fourth set, which has to do with going deeper, and that results in God transforming our pain into Christ-likeness.

Psalm 130 opens with, "out of the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help.  Hear my cry, O Lord.  Pay attention to my prayer." We have the picture of a person, trapped in a dark pit, with no hope, unless someone rescues them.  Jonah prayed a prayer like this, when he was in the belly of the whale.

The NLT gives us or adds the word despair here, because the translators want you to know the meaning of the phrase.  The Hebrew idea of the depths is not a happy place, but the dark place of death and the grave.

Dark, hopeless, despair may come upon us.  Our deep despair may be a hundred things.  Our cry is just, "help!"  Then we cry for God to pay attention, because it feels like he has looked away, and lost track of us.  To get in the place where you say to God, "are you hearing me?", means that we are in despair.  We feel like we are in a hole or a tunnel or somehow in the dark or down low.  If we feel the need to say, "is anybody up there?", to God, it isn't that we have bad theology or are immature, but that we feel something that does not feel good.  We are disoriented.

What is interesting is that this is a lesson we learn in mid-life.  Mid-life does not have to be age 40 or 50.  What I mean by mid-life is in your life, after some time has past.  That could mean sooner or later, depending on your desire for spiritual growth.

I believe that at some point, we get a new revelation that we need God more than we thought we did.  We need God to go down, deeper into us.  We have learned about sinking our roots deeper into Christ.  But now we learn that our salvation is kind of shallow and God wants to deepen it.  We have things like grace, hope, faith, and love working in our lives, but God wants to deepen all of these.

When we sing, "amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me", do we really see our wretchedness outside of Christ?  There is a place, where we see our personal wretchedness, and our need of deep redemption, deep healing, and deep and life-long salvation as a process.

When we discover wretchedness in our lives that we were in denial of, we invite God into that place, to redeem us.  The promise is that if you go deep into despair, that God will go with you, redeeming your pain with his covenant love (steadfast love, Ps. 130:7, ESV).  That is good news.  How great is our salvation!

The path to maturity is the path of suffering.  If Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered, then we will too.  If he builds his church and we work with him, he needs us to have his servant-hood in us, so that he can use us to help people get into the same process of Christ-likeness that we are in.

As the sun is faithful to rise every morning, God is faithful to redeem us and save us, all the way into and through the most ugly parts of our inner selves.  As you go forward and receive a blessed life, it is God's doing, to let you see that you have not arrived.  You are no finished being formed into Christ (Gal. 4:19).

If you want to be a minister who has a gift to build up the body of his church, then he takes that seriously and will be developing you, so that he can use you to build up others, just as he builds (Eph. 4:11-13).  There is a saying, that, "what is does to you, he does through you".  Everything God has brought you through, gives you moral authority to help others get through that same thing and grow up into Christ.

This was the eleventh step, in the songs of ascents or degrees, of Psalms 120-134.  Let's review the previous ten, with step eleven at the end:

  1. We learn to call upon God and that God saves us and answers prayers.
  2. We learn that God is our guardian, watching over us.
  3. We learn to be worshipers, desiring God.
  4. We choose to humble ourselves as servants as we ask for mercy.
  5. We cultivate seeing God's workings in our lives, then sharing the stories.
  6. We learn to live a life of trusting the Lord, that brings security.
  7. We discover that there is more or we have lost something and ask God for it and learn to release the grief of our hope differed, through tears and we persevere in our walk towards God, with weeping as we walk, and experience astonishing joy from God. 
  8. We learn to trust God to build everything, and we labor under God in building, learning to enjoy finding rest, and becoming aware of the gift of and responsibility  of raising children for God.
  9. We learn that the result of a life of revering God and walking with him is fruitfulness, which means children: your own or spiritual, or metaphorical; and having grandchildren is the end result of a blessed life.
  10. We learn that suffering is part of the faith walk towards God.  God uses suffering to grow us up into Christ-likeness.  This may surprise us after we have done so well, 'going wide', in learning to walk with God, cultivating a rich relationship with him, and learning to enjoy the blessings.  After learning to 'go wide' with God, having an enlarged 'God life', we begin to learn to 'go deep'.
  11. We are surprised to learn, after we have been walking with God for some time, that God has more redemptive work that he wants to do in us.  We discover deep places where we want God.  God in turn redeems us in those deep places with his unfailing, steadfast, covenant love; and we are made more like Christ.