My Dear Shepherds,
One Sunday long ago, after a sermon meant to encourage, a couple who had recently lost their lovely, 25-year-old daughter, their only child, came by me in the line at the door. The wife’s grief took the shape of anger and in a low voice she said, “It … doesn’t … work.”
How do we help our people who have been beaten and left half dead in the dust? At first, we listen. We don’t want to be like Job’s friends, so we let people grieve or storm, question or hide. But in God’s good time we are called to bandage their souls, pouring on oil and wine, and give them a safe place to recover.
The Lord equips his shepherds with his own love and his Spirit for such times. He has also placed in our hands and hearts his Word. Our challenge is to use God’s Word wisely and well, never reducing Scripture to platitudes.
In the fourth section of that great meditation on Scripture, Psalm 119, spiritual medics like us see how to apply the bandages, the oil and wine of the Word to the wounds of those we stoop to help. There are seven prayers in these verses 25-32, all of them asking God’s help to internalize Scripture.
I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. (Ps. 119:25-26)
Sometimes, broken people angrily accuse God of failing them. But there’s no healing in that. Rather, we (or the person we’re helping) tell God our account, our internal narrative, and then we pray that he’d tell us how to think and what to do.
Verse 27 continues, “I will meditate on your wondrous acts.” In Scripture God’s miracles are usually nested in stories of trouble—Joseph rejected by his brothers, Israel in the wilderness, Jesus in the garden, or Paul wounded by his thorn. Pastors help their people find themselves in these stories and then reframe their narratives by praying for God’s help in applying his precepts.
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. (vv. 28-29)
Sorrowing people, crushed and defeated people, are sitting ducks for another mugging. Bright neon signs lure the wounded from the path of righteousness to “deceitful ways” that promise quick relief, however foolish or fleeting. God’s Word, which we bring to them in preaching, personal counseling, and prayer, warns them away from those treacherous off-ramps and guides them to the safety and healing of God’s grace and truth.
I’ve heard that the couple who suffered such great grief eventually found their footing again. At some point, in some way, they told the Lord, as we all must:
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. (v. 30)
The saint who began these eight verses “laid low in the dust” can finally say,
I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. (v. 33)
My pastor friend, Dave, treasures this verse. “I love that the real liberty isn’t the freedom to do what I want,” he said, “but the freedom to want what I ought.”
We come upon our people broken by the side of the road. We lift them with all manner of Scripture, wrapped in prayers, till they can run again, their faces raised to the sun and their arms thrown wide, in the path paved with God’s good Word.
Be ye glad!