Christians are not free from pain in this life. Pop theology may try to tell us that with enough faith, we won’t face heartache or feel crushed by sin and its effects. But the Bible disagrees. The truth is that it is not possible to always live at high tide. The waters inevitably recede, and sometimes we must retreat to the harbor and wait on God to bring the tide back in.
Psalm 6, one of the seven penitential psalms (along with Pss. 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143), shows us David at a low-tide moment—at a point of languishing and self-inflicted trouble. It shows us that not only are stressed-out, trouble-filled times normal in the life of God’s people on account of our and others’ sin, but also that God always holds out the promise of relief to all who trust in Him.
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Stuck in Despair
Notice that David does not begin Psalm 6 by trying to sell himself to God, by trying to make himself out to be something that he isn’t. He admits right up front, “I am languishing” (v. 2). He knows there’s no sense in trying to put on a brave face for God, for He searches us, knows us, and can discern our thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:1–2).
David continues in verse 2, “My bones are troubled.” The NIV reads, “My bones are in agony.” No specific sin is mentioned, but we can infer from verse 1 that David has his own iniquity in mind.
Have your bones ever ached over sin because you saw that you were not living before God as you ought? To David, the weight of living a lie before God and pretending before his fellow man is crushing. Whatever the specific offense, his “soul … is greatly troubled” (v. 3).
Being stuck at low tide, in the mire either of our own sin or of sins against us, saps our energy. We no longer have the spiritual vitality we once did. Dark clouds come like shadows over our faith. What was once devotion becomes dread. What we used to enjoy we merely endure. It’s all an indication of a spiritual malady, a deadness that creeps over us.
It is not possible to always live at high tide. The waters inevitably recede, and sometimes we must retreat to the harbor and wait on God to bring the tide back in.
Such feelings are like weeds in a garden. They begin sporadically, then begin to multiply, and eventually take hold. On the day you first spot them sprouting, you may look at them and just smile. But when the garden is overgrown, you will look at them and feel completely overwhelmed. When he wrote Psalm 6, the condition of David’s soul was overgrown. He didn’t attend to his weeds on the spot, and he was left to despair. No wonder, then, that David says, “I am weary with my moaning” (v. 6), that his weeping has deluged his bed with tears (v. 6), and that his eye “wastes away because of grief” (v. 7).
Like David here, it is perfectly normal for us to be overwhelmed by the seriousness of our sin. But hope for a higher tide, for a flourishing garden, remains.
Freed at the Cross
Notice first, in verse 1, that David does not respond to his agony by saying, “Lord, please do not discipline me.” He doesn’t try to shirk his guilt. He is fully aware of his need for reproof. Yet David also knows that he can count on God to have mercy and rebuke him not in anger (v. 1) but in His steadfast love (v. 4). David can even pray, “Be gracious to me, O LORD” (v. 2).
Grace is what we all need, especially in troubled times. If we got what we deserved, we’d be in trouble. If we tried to relieve ourselves of our burdens, we couldn’t do it. Therefore, it is to God alone that we look for mercy, praying, “Grant me relief from what I deserve.”
And God looks down from heaven, He considers the cross, and He sees His Son. And in looking to His Son, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24), He grants mercy to penitent, repentant sinners. And since Christ bore the punishment for our sins, He does not then come to punish us a second time. Christ bore all the punishment. Christ bore all the pain. Christ paid all the penalty.
When we are confronted with what we really are—“guilty, vile, and helpless” —we look away to the one who has become our surety: to Christ alone.
If we are trying to make our way through life doing penance for our sins, trying to improve our standing with God by our own accord, then we reveal that we have never truly understood the sacrifice and the display of God’s mercy at Calvary. It is the height of presumption to think we could ever pay, or even begin to chip away at, our debt of sin. So when we are confronted with what we really are—“guilty, vile, and helpless”1—we look away to the one who has become our surety: to Christ alone.
The Lord Hears
The cross is ultimately the source of the deliverance for which David pleads (Ps. 6:4, 8–10). There on the cross is mercy without measure. At the cross, God cancels the record of our sins and shames our enemies (Col. 2:14–15). Yes, Christ’s cross confronts us with our guilt and brings us to our knees, but the grace and mercy God lavishes on us there also stands us to our feet. The God who encounters our hardened hearts is the same God who grants us repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) and liberates our lips to praise Him.
Christ’s cross confronts us with our guilt and brings us to our knees, but the grace and mercy God lavishes on us there also stands us to our feet.
Because of Christ, God hears all our weeping and despair (Ps. 6:8)—and if we have come to know and love His mercy, then we can claim with David, “The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer” (v. 9). No matter how low we are, how guilty we feel, or how bruised and battered at the hands of others we are, God can turn our mourning into dancing and clothe us with gladness (Ps. 30:11).
God doesn’t guarantee that the tide will come rushing back as soon as we cry out to Him, but hope is never far for those who trust in Him.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Stressed Out or Straightened Out?” by Alistair Begg.
1 P. P. Bliss, “‘Man of Sorrows,’ What a Name” (1875).