When times are hard, your job is difficult, or the market is in freefall, your feelings are often the first casualty. You feel sad, discouraged or even in despair. A gloom descends on your emotions causing you to carry a heaviness in your soul.
Don’t underestimate the power of emotion. All kinds of factors can lead you to play them down; male machismo, stiff upper lip, hormone variables, church teaching and cultural conditions will conspire to tell you of the fleeting, unreliable and secondary nature of your feelings. Certain therapeutic approaches will advocate thinking and actions as a way to master the tyranny of feelings.
It is undoubtedly true that feelings tend to follow thoughts and actions, emerging as they do from previous deliberate decisions, but feelings are the way you experience yourself and are like a personal pool in which you swim.
David has been swimming with sorrow, confusion and abandonment as his unpleasant companions. Circumstances have conspired to put him under pressure and his mind has been overwhelmed by his senses – he just feels rotten.
If you’re there at the moment you will know the daily challenge to keep going and face up to responsibilities which won’t subside. Your work may be draining but you have to go on.
Something, however, is stirring in David’s make-up. He is beginning to focus on the past in order to find some resources for the present and future. A thought has crossed his mind; he wonders whether God has ever let him down, failed or stopped loving him; he considers whether he has ever been abandoned or deserted in the past. Here David is giving you the beginnings of a way back. He moves his mind away from his rotten feelings and focuses on God’s track record. Despite his experience of sorrow he can recognize the reliability of his God.
In this perplexing moment, he makes a decision to force himself to trust in the unfailing love of God. It is a trust in spite of, not because of, his current state. He simply chooses, perhaps through gritted teeth, to trust; all the more remarkable because he has no crucified rescuer to prove to him that this God is serious about commitment.
In the space of two lines of verse, David makes his second big call: he decides to celebrate the rescue habit of God. He tells his heart to rejoice, not in his own circumstances, but in the saving character of God.
When your world closes in on you, your job becomes a chore or the financial crunch becomes personal you may like to consider David’s two decisions here. He chooses to trust and decides to rejoice. Neither of these is in keeping with how he feels, and no doubt he is having a major battle with himself.
But there is one inconspicuous feature of David’s behaviour which is easy to miss: his language implies a state of trust and rejoicing. He doesn’t just introduce them as if they have gone away. He brings them back to the front of his mind. Maybe because David had a habit of trusting and rejoicing in his God, he also had the courage and liberty to ask searching questions and throw his darkest doubts into the poem. It’s the same ability which was demonstrated by his spiritual son who said “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” in the middle of a life of total connection with his Father.
David had no way of knowing that this successor to his throne was also going to be the method of his own rescue. He had to take it on trust.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
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