Troubles Do Not Have the Last Word
George Matheson was born in Glasgow, the eldest of eight children. He had only partial vision as a boy. By the age of twenty he was completely blind. When his fiancée learnt he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him she could not go through life with a blind man. He never married.
He was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learnt Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies. Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at the Glasgow Academy, University of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland Seminary.
When he was forty years old, something bittersweet happened. His sister married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship – it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote one of the most popular and best loved hymns of the Christian church – ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. ‘This came,’ he wrote, ‘like a dayspring from on high.’
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
Troubles are part of life. Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles, David and all the people of God. In each of the passages for today we read about lots of troubles. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully articulates, troubles do not have the last word.
1. Restored after many troubles
Psalm 71:19-24God does not promise you an easy path. Life at times can be extremely hard. The psalmist has seen ‘troubles, many and bitter’ (v.20). His troubles, pressures and worries were not occasional or trivial. They were numerous and serious. He gives you a model of how to respond in these circumstances.
- Keep trusting
It is easy to trust God when things are going well. The challenge is to keep trusting in the midst of troubles. The psalmist does not stop believing in the goodness of God: ‘Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?’ (v.19).
- Keep hoping
Your troubles will not last forever. In the midst of troubles, there is hope: ‘You will restoremy life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honour and comfort me once again’ (vv.20b–21). God will use your troubles for good. He will shape your character through them. As a result he will increase your honour. He will comfort you through them so that you can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).
- Keep worshipping
Keep on praising God in spite of the troubles: ‘I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed’ (Psalm 71:22–23). The presence of God in worship brings us peace and solace, especially in difficult times.
Lord, thank you that though I may see troubles many and bitter, you promise to restore my life again. I praise you for your faithfulness. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – ‘I, whom you have redeemed.’
2. Rescued from all his troubles
Acts 6:1-7:19There is sometimes a temptation to idealise the life of the early church – as if they were the perfect church and had no problems at all. We need to read the idyllic picture of the church in Acts 2 alongside the events of Acts 6 and, of course, not forget all the troubles of Paul in his letters. The early church had plenty of troubles. Do not be surprised by any of the following in the church today:
Good leaders pick their battles carefully. They do not get involved in everything, but they do take responsibility for everything. The apostles faced a justified complaint that ‘widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food’ (Acts 6:1). Yet they needed to concentrate on their main task: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (v.4). The solution lay (as it does so often) in effective delegation.
The apostles dealt with the issue by setting aside a group of people who would ‘wait on tables’ (v.2). They chose people ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (v.3). As a result they kept their focus and ‘the word of God spread’, and the number of disciples increased dramatically (v.7). Good leaders delegate and release others into their God-given gifts and ministries.
A group of opponents of the church ‘stirred up the people’ (v.12) and ‘produced false witnesses’ (v.13). They twisted Stephen’s words and said, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law’ (vv.13).
- Fear of change
Some of the opposition came from a fear of change. They said, ‘We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us’ (v.14).
They found they could not keep their eyes off Stephen, whose ‘face was like the face of an angel’ (v.15). He gave his defence. He recited the history of the people of God and cited the parts of history that were particularly relevant to his own situation. He said of Joseph, ‘God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom…’ (7:9–10), just as God was clearly giving Stephen wisdom (see 6:10).
Stephen’s own rescue came only in martyrdom. He ‘saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (7:55), and Stephen was rescued for all eternity.
Lord, help me not to be put off by troubles but rather, like Stephen, to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. May we see the word of God spread and the numbers of your followers increase more and more each day.
3. Refreshed in the midst of troubles
2 Samuel 15:13-16:14David’s own son Absalom has turned against him, and David is told that the ‘hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom’ (15:13). This must have been devastating news. David, a great man of God, a king for God’s people and a ‘type’ of Christ (indeed, an ancestor of Christ), faced many troubles in his life. If you face these kinds of troubles in your life, do not be surprised by them or think that you have done something wrong. Sometimes troubles come simply because you are doing something right.
We see just how upset David was. He ‘continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot’ (v.30). All the people were also ‘weeping as they went up’ (v.30). Indeed, ‘the whole countryside wept aloud’ (v.23).
Not only did David’s own son turn against him but Mephibosheth was also disloyal to him even though David had gone out of his way to help him. He stayed in Jerusalem because he thought, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom’ (16:3). Disloyalty is always so disappointing.
Shimei shouted insults, threw rocks and cursed David. David does not seek revenge. Rather, he chooses to leave the matter in God’s hands (vv.11–12).
David ‘and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted’ (v.14). We often say that we are ‘exhausted’. However, we probably don’t know the meaning of the word. When we read of what David went through it is not surprising that he was genuinely ‘exhausted’.
The Christian life is never without troubles, tears, sadness and disappointments. However, what distinguishes the people of God is their relationship with God.
In the midst of all his troubles, David prays, ‘O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness’ (15:31). His prayer is answered – but not in the way he expects. Ahithophel gives good advice, but it is rejected. So God answered the spirit of the prayer (see 2 Samuel 17:14).
In the midst of his exhaustion, David ‘refreshed himself’ (16:14). As The Message puts it: ‘There they rested and were revived’ (v.14). Sometimes you just need to take a break and rest to be revived and refreshed physically, spiritually and emotionally. We are not told how David did this exactly. However, if the psalms are anything to go by, we know it was through his close relationship with God that he found refreshment.
No doubt David was emotionally refreshed by the loyalty of his friends Zadok (15:24 onwards), Hushai (v.37), Ziba (16:1–4) and Ittai, who said to him, ‘Wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be’ (15:21).
Lord, thank you that there is no trouble that this life can bring from which you do not rescue me, ultimately with eternal life in your presence. Thank you that, in the middle of my troubles, I can pray to you and be refreshed by the presence of God (Act 3:19).
(Source: Bible in One Year)