Sinclair Ferguson writes of Dane Ortlund’s In the Lord I Take Refuge: 150 Daily Devotions through the Psalms: “The author whose Gentle and Lowly has helped so many to see Christ more clearly takes us gently by the hand to Jesus’s own devotional manual, the prayer book he loved, and the blueprint for his own life and ministry, and leads us to him all over again, day after day.”
Dane’s meditation on Psalm 42 below has been a great encouragement to me. I’d encourage you to go and read the psalm first, then the following.
The psalmist is deeply discouraged. He says to God that it feels as if all “your waves have gone over me” (v. 7). Some adversities are so great that they cannot be handled in the same way as some of the other, more minor disappointments and frustrations of life. This particular type of adversity passes a threshold that the garden-variety trials do not reach. Imagine wading out into the ocean. You begin to feel the waves coming against you. First your ankles, then your knees, and so on. As you continue further into the water, eventually a wave comes that cannot be out-jumped. It washes over you. You are now submerged and completely terrified.
What is someone who professes faith in Christ to do when the waves of life wash over him? Will his faith prove to be genuine? Or will he spurn Christ and rush toward the false harbors of this world?
At such a moment of trial, we are forced into one of two positions: either cynicism and coldness of heart or true depth with God. A spouse betrays. A habitual sin, left unchecked, blows up in our face. We are publicly shamed in some way that will haunt us as long as we live. A malignant, inoperable tumor. Profound disillusionment in some way. It feels like “a deadly wound in my bones” (v. 10).
When that moment comes, sent by the hand of a tender Father, will we believe what we have confessed about God to be true, or will we suspect him of deserting us? The two lines of professed-belief and heart-belief, to this point parallel, are suddenly forced either to overlap completely or to move further apart. We cannot go on as before. And why does this happen? Because God will not let us remain the people we would be as long as the waves reached only our waist.
But above all else, when life implodes, remember that his own dear Son went through the greatest nightmare himself, in our place. The tidal wave of judgement from God washed over Another so that it need never wash over us.