DISTRESS AND CALAMITY

 

“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” ( Psalm 4:1)

The Book of Psalms is the finest collection of spiritual experiences ever compiled. Every aspect of the inner life of the child of God is therein depicted and appropriately expressed. It has been the treasure house of the saints throughout the ages, drawn upon in all the varying experiences of life to supply adequate expression for the emotions called forth in those who seek to follow the way of righteousness. No matter what our feelings may be—whether roused to adoration and praise or moved to contrition—there is found in the Psalms the perfect reflection of our mood and the exact language in which to express our emotion. How greatly are we blessed in having these treasures preserved for us!

Throughout the Psalms constant reference is made to the nearness of God, and to His readiness to help His children. This idea is expressed in various ways—God is a sun and a shield: He is a rock, a fortress, and a strong tower: our refuge and our strength and a present help in time of trouble: compassionate, like a father: a Shepherd who leads His flock by still waters to green pastures, and who protects them even when they pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

The quotation from the fourth Psalm at the heading of this Meditation suggests this same theme in a somewhat different aspect. David had experienced God’s comfort and protection in a time of special distress and difficulty, and he speaks of it as having “enlarged” him. This reaction of the Psalmist is worth a little analysis and thought. Tribulation and distress frequently have the effect of contracting our spiritual life: they make us feel small and insignificant: they cause us to retire within ourselves, and give scope for any “inferiority complex” we may possess to develop to its fullest extent. The Psalms reflect this emotional state perfectly:

“The waters are come in unto my soul. I am a worm and no man. I sink in deep mire where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me. I am as a man that hath no strength.”

David, however, had experienced an influence which had a countervailing effect upon this spiritual contraction produced by distress and calamity. “God hath enlarged me when I was in distress.” The nearness and availability of Divine help had caused this great contrast in spiritual outlook. Can we be participants in this same privilege which David enjoyed?

It may help us to a clearer understanding of the matter if we remind ourselves of an important principle of God’s dealing with His children recorded in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord . . . for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:5–6).

Divine discipline is thus laid down as an essential concomitant of Divine sonship. It cannot be evaded by the true children of God: “all are partakers.” The discipline of God is not pleasant to the natural man: it is not intended so to be.

The Apostle reminds us that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby.” A grievous sowing, but a rich and joyous harvest—such is the characteristic of the Divine discipline.

This lesson is not an easy one for us to learn. Of course we all accept it theoretically: but we so often deny it in practice, especially if we ourselves are the subjects of the Divine chastening. When distress and tribulation come upon us we are only too prone to murmur and questions:

  • “Why are we called upon to bear this?”
  • “What have we done to deserve this?”

We are still at the stage of spiritual development shown by the friends of Job, who could only see in the distress and tribulation which Job suffered, the inevitable punishment for Job’s transgression. Distress and tribulation are not necessarily the Divine punishment for iniquity: they may be the Divine discipline—grievous to bear, but fruitful in result if the subject thereof is rightly exercised thereby.

When we are able to see the matter in this perspective then there is the likelihood of our being “enlarged” in our distress. We feel we are no longer alone in our calamity—there is One with us able and willing to help us: anxious that we should rise to what is demanded of us. We are assured that He does not willingly afflict us: there is a purpose underlying the discipline, even our salvation. There is no room for any inferiority complex when God is with us to sustain us, and to bless us with His glorious reward if we endure His discipline. We are not alone in our wrestling with calamity or suffering in distress when we recognize that all the true sons of God have been similarly partakers thereof. And have we not the assurance of the help of our High Priest who in special measure endured the Divine discipline and was made perfect through suffering, and is ever ready to help us when we are being tried? Surely in such company and with such assistance we shall be “enlarged” in our distress and strengthened to endure to the end.

F Turner, 1943