“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This refrain echoes four different times in this Psalm. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” This was the God they served and the people of Israel experienced it over and over and over again. They found themselves in all kinds of trouble, most of which was of their own making. Each time they fell headlong into the mess and from the perspective of the moment, it looked like they were going to be goners.
But then they cried to the Lord. Think about how crazy and wonderful this is. They did something to break their relationship with the Lord. This was the relationship He initiated and sustained. He reached out to them and blessed them and they turned from it. They kicked Him to the curb–this known source of blessing–in favor of something they had been warned over and over again would be a curse to them. And it was. Every time.
It was from this place that they cried out to the Lord. Perhaps we should say they had the audacity to cry out to the Lord. Put yourself in His shoes for a minute. When you have reached out to someone and lifted them up out of a mess in some way, at great expense to yourself, how are you going to respond when they reject everything you have done for them in favor of the same mess out of which you lifted them? How are you going to respond when they hit the bottom again and cry out to you for help?
Better yet, what would you say if you were on the outside looking into such a situation about the person who was being cried out to by the sap who has gotten himself down again? You would say, “Don’t bother helping him again. He threw it away the first time; he’s just going to throw it away again. Why bother wasting the time and resources a second time (much less a third or fourth)?”
And, in a lot of circumstances, this would be the right instinct. When someone has determined to put themselves in a mess, simply giving them a handout over and over again won’t do them or you any good. Tough love with firm accountability is the way to go. But even when the person’s repentance is totally genuine and helping is the right thing to do, most of us are only going to stand being burned so many times before we throw up our hands and throw in the towel.
But then we step back and look at what the Lord did for Israel. The refrain appears four times in the Psalm, but it really happened dozens of times throughout their history. And He took them back every time. When they turned to Him seeking His help with hearts of repentance, He lifted them up out of their mess without fail. By almost any definition this would be considered insanity, but with God we know this is grace. This is who He is.
So what? Come on, now. Make the connection. If He did this then, and if His character hasn’t changed, then how do you think He is going to behave toward us when we crawl back into our mess for the umpteenth time?
When we turn to Him with a heart set on repentance, He will open His arms and receive us just as He did Israel all those many times. There is no mess too deep for Him to draw us out of if we will reach out to Him. There is no sin too great. There is no distance too far for Him to bring us back. We only need turn and reach out. It matters not how many times we’ve gone before (although, we must be careful: repetition here can lead to callousness of heart which can make bringing ourselves to a place of real repentance more and more difficult), if we turn and seek Him with a humble, repentant heart, He will deliver us from our distress. He will receive us and either shield us from the full weight of the consequences of our actions or, more often, help us endure them.
If you are in a place of brokenness and sin, regardless of how many times you’ve been there before, cry out to the Lord. Turn back to Him. Turn to Him for the very first time. Let Him deliver you from the distress. He did it faithfully then. Jesus came to declare that He will do it faithfully now. Open yourself up and receive.