Theme: Resting in God’s Sovereignty
In this week’s lessons, we learn how great suffering should turn us toward God, and then cause our prayers to also include God’s work in the lives of others.
Scripture: Psalm 102:1-28
Verse 12 is the important turning point of the psalm, so much so that Martin Luther said, “Everything that has gone before looks to this verse.”1 Yes, and everything that follows builds on it also. In the previous verses the psalmist has described his frail and wasting condition. He is like smoke that vanishes. Ah, but he has a God who is not at all like that! His is the eternal, immutable God, and it is God whom he is trusting: “But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever, your renown endures through all generations.”
These words could have been said bitterly, of course. They could mean, “Look at you. You are sitting in eternal, unshakable splendor while I, whom you should be caring for and could help, if you wanted to, am wasting away and will soon die miserably and be gone forever. Why are you treating me like this?” They could be demanding. They could mean, “You are powerful. You are able to heal me. It’s my right to be healed. I claim healing in Jesus’ name.” They are none of these things. They are simply a turning to God when everything else has given way.
This is a lesson that Christians today need to learn. Claiming a right to health or anything else may seem spiritual. It may be described as a proof of strong faith by faith healers. But it is not spiritual at all. It is actually a proof of worldliness or secular thinking in the church. Roy Clements, a Baptist pastor in Cambridge, England, has written a book on the psalms in which he has a helpful treatment of Psalm 102, emphasizing the contrast between the way people today think about health and the attitude of the psalmist. We are preoccupied with health issues, because we are preoccupied with ourselves, Clements says. Nearly every article that appears in the New England Journal of Medicine becomes immediate front-page news. Every dietary quirk gets attention. Exercise routines proliferate. We think we have a right to live forever. So when the church gets into demands for healing, as many churches have, what is this but the invasion of Christianity by the world’s way of thinking?2
Do not misunderstand. God is the source of all good, including good health. God can heal—and does, though not as frequently as the faith-healers claim and certainly not on demand. When we are sick we can ask God to heal us. We should. But perfect health is not a right, and ill health is often as much a gift from God as wholeness.
Do you see how different it was with the author of this psalm? He is praying. He is laying his wasted condition before God. But his words are spiritual, because they are focused on God and express full confidence in the Almighty. In other words, the psalmist has reminded himself that God is sovereign. Therefore, what happens in his life is no accident. It has been given to him by God; so, regardless of what happens to him, he will anchor himself in God’s eternity and go on from there. G. Campbell Morgan had it right when he said wisely, “There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the heart in suffering, or inspire the spirit with courage in days of danger and difficulty, than the sense of the eternity of God.”3
1Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 11, First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126, ed. Hilton C. Oswald (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1976), p. 313.
2Roy Clements, Songs of Experience: Midnight and Dawn through the Eyes of the Psalmists (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1993), pp. 92-96.
3G. Campbell Morgan, Notes on the Psalms (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1947), p. 189.
What is significant about verse 12? How is God characterized?
Why is the claim to the right to good health a worldly response?
How can ill health be a gift from God?
Reflection: How do you pray when you suffer? Do you at times in some way accuse God of unfairness or indifference? Do you make demands of him to align with your wishes? Or do you submit to his will, asking for his help to humbly trust him and to carry you through the experience, knowing that he is both sovereign and good?