One good thing about so much cultural upheaval and increasingly darker shades of this present darkness, is that desires tend to be redefined and sanctified for the true believer.
Sometimes trouble runs so deep, it taps into a new “normal” of what we really want.
If you’ve had to suffer through watching your parents age, or pass, you know that in the process of suffering your desire for them can change from hoping to see them walk again, to wanting them to think clearly, to hearing them speak clearly, to seeing their eyes engage knowingly, giving way to wanting their relief eternally (should they know Christ). Of course, at this final stage, if we can push through folksy (mostly unbiblical views of “fishing hole” heaven) we know that their truest relief is their uttermost delight…seeing Christ, their Redeemer, face to face.
Isn’t this the greatest delight? Isn’t this the ultimate relief? Why, then, do we (often) wait until our potential of delighting in this world takes such a serious blow (through suffering) to long for eternal delight?
Psalm 20 and 21, many commentators believe, go together. One is the request (20), the other is praise for the answer (21). In Psalm 20, David requests that God deliver him and his people, even through apparent military victory. In Psalm 21, there is praise for God’s deliverance and a celebration of God’s righteous judgment, albeit attached to future realization (“you will” language). In all of this, David asks God to deliver (20) because God is faithful and strong. David then rejoices (21) that God has put His faithfulness and strength on display, which bolsters the faith to believe that there will be a day when God ultimately fulfills promises and will do so with such total strength that His victory will be total and consummate…not some last minute field goal.
In Psalms like 20 and 21, we see the attachment of temporal relief with eternal desire. So often in the moment we just want relief, but sometimes the suffering and despair are so deep that even a relief from circumstances isn’t enough. This happens because the suffering has been so total that it has helped reshape what we really, really desire.
At the beginning of our suffering, not knowing how desperate it may become or how long it will last (often connected), we just want relief. If the trouble runs deep enough it gets to the core of who you are. Your identity is touched. Eventually, your suffering so slams hope of home in this world, you start to want heaven…you want Christ.
May he grant you your heart ‘s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Here, David’s petition for deliverance shows a deft wisdom. His hope for the heart’s delight is tied to praise. His petition for praise gives boldness in praying for victory, because God’s glory is at stake. This only comes from connecting the temporal with the eternal. Now, sometimes we play “praise games” with God, using all the right words, but in the end, we just want to be delivered so that this world is more comfortably home. However, for David, this isn’t the case because in their deliverance (Psalm 21) they still look forward to the day when God has won every final battle, when praise will be forever.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
We know these verses. They made great lyrics to 80’s Christian rock, and they are difficult to misapply. When we see them in light of David’s petition and praise, we see that what (or who) we trust (practically speaking) to deliver us in present trouble is indicative of our ultimate desire and delight. See, David isn’t just using a metaphor, he’s at war. He’ll use chariots and horses, but it is God’s strength alone that can bring victory, both now and the future. Herein lies a key lesson for us…
We cannot expect to have a God-glorifying eternal hope if we temporarily trust in earthly means to relieve us of pain. Stop and think about your life for a moment. What trouble are you in? What are you spending your time, money, and intellectual energy on to relieve you of your trouble? How is your prayer life? Oh, don’t get me wrong. If you can, repair those chariots and feed those horses. However, see them as only instruments in the hands of the one alone who can deliver and fulfill your delights. What you delight in, in deliverance, will be what / who you delight in when you are delivered.
O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart ‘s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
David is quick to speak of his delight being satisfied. He goes on to list blessings, but he leaves them there…blessings. His glory, his delight, is in the Lord and His presence. That’s what deep trouble can do for us…change our delights from things of this world, to blessings from God, to, ultimately, God Himself.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
and their offspring from among the children of man.
Though they plan evil against you,
though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.
Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
Oh the confidence and assurance of God’s future victory! It’s so hard to see, much less feel, when it feels like the enemy is winning in culture, in our homes, in our sinful hearts. For those who are blessed (that’s right) to endure suffering they will have fresh eyes (by faith…see James 1) to rest, even rejoice, in the fact that God wins. He will be victorious over all of His enemies, and that victory will be so entirely complete that any semblance of evil will be eradicated by the beautiful, white hot illumination of His glory.
He will be exalted in strength THEN!
He is that strong now.
We will sing and praise THEN!
We should sing and praise now.
Let the trouble run deep. Let it run down to the very core of what’s left of our delights so that all that’s left is future hope. Then, and probably only then, will we have the present courage to pray for deliverance, and should God grant it we will praise like David praised…singing now, a song of hope to come.