How Can I Avoid Suffering and Other Lies I Have Chosen to Believe – Psalm 34:15-22

If I am being honest, I love a good checklist. A clear path lined out for me, revealing what was right to do and what to avoid. I want to know deep in my soul that if I get the boxes checked off in proper order and complete all items before the deadline, all will go well and be pleasant. I would also like this to be true for those I love.

However, it is a lie. One I have loved and circled back to my whole life. It is the worst kind of a lie because it is antithetical to the Gospel. It places a good outcome within my reach if I only tried harder and got everything done correctly. When a negative situation arrives, like an unwelcome houseguest, it sends me searching to find out who is to blame. Who didn’t check all those boxes or complete the necessary steps? Was a deadline missed?

Assigning Blame

Assigning blame creates comfortable distance and an element of perceived control. If I forget to pay the electric bill, it makes sense that my electricity will be cut-off. It is no longer random. It is within my control to prevent that negative outcome from happening again.

This is the life that I want. The one where I can exert control over all outcomes and carefully sidestep suffering or affliction for me and those I love. But that kind of life is an illusion.

When suffering and affliction arrive and unpack a suitcase in my guest room intending to stay long term, and eviction is beyond my power, what can I do?  

How can I remain fully present when suffering and affliction keep company with those I love?

In this final section of Psalm 34:15-22, David reminds me to remember what is true about the LORD.

15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
(Psalm 34:15-16 ESV)

The Lord’s Presence

The LORD sees and hears our suffering. He does not turn away or become weary of hearing our cries.

Because the LORD is fully present in suffering situations, He can help me do this too. He is there with my loved one in the hospital, in surgery, in a counseling session, and in all of the places of brokenness and isolation.

I am not required to solve the problem and/or offer endless advice to fill the awkward spaces between me and those I love who are suffering. Being willing to offer the ministry of presence is enough and very likely infinitely more helpful than my own handy solutions.

The LORD also knows about those who choose to do evil, and He is bringing justice. The LORD carries the burden of bringing justice to wrongdoers. In the middle of suffering, I don’t have to assign blame or seek out the wrongdoers. This burden of justice is not mine to carry.  

17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:17-18 ESV)

Verses 17 and 18 remind me that the Lord hears my cries and delivers me out of my troubles. The LORD promises to be near the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit. Grief and suffering will come my way.

What do I deserve?

The prosperity gospel has permeated so much of Christian culture. A sense of entitlement has settled in and become part of daily life. I am encouraged to believe I deserve my best life now, but I don’t.

Suffering in this life is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. I will have my heart broken and my spirit crushed in this troubled world. When I do, the LORD promises to be near to me. He promises His comforting presence, not an escape.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
(Psalm 34:19-21 ESV)

What does deliverance look like?

The righteous will be delivered, but it might look different from what I expect. Perhaps deliverance looks more like a delay in my schedule because God doesn’t want me to miss out on something He has been keeping for me till I am ready. Or deliverance might be the loss of something I loved because the LORD knows what I need and loves me too much to let me keep something that will damage me.

While there will be deliverance for the righteous, there will also be many afflictions. Sometimes that seems more than I can bear because it is. I will continue to need the LORD to carry me through.

22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
(Psalm 34:22 ESV)

The promise of redemption works as a life jacket and gives me hope. I may find myself on the open sea, in a small boat, in the middle of a large storm, yet He renews, redeems, and provides refuge by holding me tight.

A Prayer for a Sufferer

Lord, when a season of suffering and affliction weighs me down, help me to seek you and your refuge first. Help me avoid the trap of assigning blame. Help me to be willing to sit in my own suffering or to sit with those who need me to be willing to show up and keep company with them. Still my tongue from offering advice, when it is merely designed to fill the awkward space. Help me to see the ways you are offering me deliverance, even when it is not what I expect. Thank you that you are near and hear my cries. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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