Thanking God in the Midst of Trouble
We don’t tend to think about thanking God with our whole heart when we are walking in the midst of trouble. Instead, we often cry out for help, pleading with the Lord to deliver us, change our circumstances, or save our loved ones. Of course, it is good and right to cry out to the Lord for deliverance, as many of the psalms teach us to do (see, for example, Pss. 20; 77; 88; 130). Yet, in the midst of trouble, we too often worry and fret instead of humbly trusting the Lord and giving Him thanks for His love and faithfulness. It’s both edifying and encouraging, then, that in Psalm 138 we learn that giving thanks to the Lord and walking in the midst of trouble not only can coexist, but should coexist.
The Lord’s Word
David’s particular circumstance isn’t identified in Psalm 138, but we know he’s in trouble (v. 7). It’s instructive, then, that he begins this psalm with thanksgiving, “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart” (v. 1). He chooses to abandon himself to thankful praise “before the gods” of this world, whether these gods are the dark forces behind false ideologies, or the pagan rulers that hold such ideologies. David bows to the one living and true God that has condescended to His people by way of covenant to “give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (v. 2).
Through the Lord’s covenantal love and faithfulness we learn that His name, or character, and His word, go hand in hand. For example, when He created the world He spoke and His creativity was displayed. Likewise, in redemption He spoke through Moses and His deliverance and power were revealed. God’s name and word go hand in hand in David’s life also. He knew the power of God’s name and His word in the midst of suffering because the Lord had answered his cry for help and strengthened his soul (Ps. 138:3).
David, as king of Israel, also understood the role that God’s people were to play in missions, “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth” (Ps. 138:4). From the beginning of redemptive history God’s plan and purposes have included His people reaching the nations for the sake of the gospel (see Gen. 12:1-3). Sadly, many rulers of the earth fail to acknowledge God, much less give Him thanks. There are only two kinds of kings in this world (Ps. 138:6). There are the lowly kings who humble themselves before the Lord and gratefully acknowledge His words and ways. And there are the haughty kings who promote themselves instead of exalting the Lord.
Christ has already come as King of kings, yet many failed to acknowledge Him as such. However, when He returns “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10). In the meantime, we live with the tension that the evil in this world often seems to be winning. This is where David’s words comfort us just as they would have comforted the exiles in Babylon. The Lord strengthens our souls by His steadfast love and faithfulness. He is always there when we call to Him because He regards the lowly in heart that turn to Him in distress and trust in His name and His word. Indeed, He too is lowly in heart and offers us rest, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).
The Lord’s Work
It is not only the Lord’s word, but also His work that David recognizes in this song. Because the Lord’s name and His word are intricately related to the work of His hands, David is confident that the Lord will not only preserve his life in the midst of trouble, but will also fulfill the purpose He has for David’s life, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life…The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me” (Ps. 138:7-8). What hope these words would have given God’s people, whether they were in exile, or had returned from exile to rebuild the temple and the city. In the midst of trouble, God’s preservation and purposes remain secure.
As exiles longing for Jesus’s return, this song resonates with our hearts as well. We also walk in the midst of trouble, yet the Lord’s word and His work reassure us of two things. First, He will preserve us. Our salvation is secure. Christ has delivered us from sin and death and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). Second, He will fulfill His purpose for us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28). The smaller stories of our lives are intricately related to the larger story of redemption. The Lord will not forsake the work of His hands. Indeed, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God created beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Therefore, let us cry out in the midst of trouble, “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart” (Ps. 138:1).
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.