Douglas F. Kelly, one of my professors from seminary and my predecessor in teaching systematic theology here at RTS–Charlotte, would often tell us of a priority he built into his ministry. He told us students that when he was in pastoral ministry, he would notice how often individuals who were neglecting corporate worship and the ministry of the Word would come to him asking for counseling. So, he set a condition. He’d agree to meet for counseling only after those requesting it attended three straight Sundays of services, morning and evening, for corporate worship is the primary place where the Word is preached and the Spirit ministers. What he found after those three weeks was that often those who thought they needed counseling no longer needed it. (Of course, he made exceptions to this condition for emergencies and extreme cases.)
Worship is the first and strongest tonic for our souls when we are distressed, because it is there that we meet the mercy of God on His people and meditate on His eternal perfections as we praise Him, pray, and hear His Word.
What Psalm 102 presents to us as the process from moving from overwhelmed to overcomer is the process of looking to God in worship.
The Difference Knowing God Makes
Having meditated on God’s eternity and His plan for His people throughout the generations, the psalmist can take his feelings of life slipping through his fingers confidently to God, and that is what he does in Psalm 102:23–28. He finishes with soaring, eloquent words, which are a plea to the One who endures throughout all generations.
These words highlight God’s original work in founding the earth. The heavens may appear permanent, but they, too, must be contrasted with the permanence of God. They will wear out. The people of God find their security, then, not in the passing things of this world, but in the eternal God who created this world.
What’s more, as we learn in the New Testament, we are married to God, in Jesus Christ our bridegroom, for eternity. With respect to our union with Him, divorce is not in God’s vocabulary. We are Christ’s bride, which means if He is forever, we are forever in His loving gaze.
If there were no God, indeed we would be locked into the vortex of this passing world and its woes; but since there is a God and since He is merciful, relief can be found in being established by Him: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (v. 28).
We must learn to be totally silent before God if we are to realize our utter dependence on Him. Sometimes God will bring great distress into our lives in order to demonstrate that to us, as He does here for the psalmist. Yet, look at the confidence the psalmist has once he knows who His God is. Consider the confidence we can have, knowing everything is assured for us in union with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do we know who our God is? Do we know we can bring all our cares to Him? Do you know He is more than sufficient, both in His eternal power, and in His condescending mercy, to meet us where we are, in our woes, and lift up our chin to see who He is, what He has done for His people, and so therefore provide solidity to our lives?
A Biblical View of Emotions
It often appears that we live in a time of emotional anarchy, with nothing to hem in or provide shape for our amorphous emotions. People have forgotten what to do with them. Social media testifies to this by the minute.
In this chaotic atmosphere, we actually lose the handles, the contours, the wisdom that would enable us to know true sorrow or true joy. It is for this reason that I annually assign Augustine’s Confessions to my seminary students. I think more than any other Christian author, Augustine models a biblical view of emotions—a view that acknowledges a true range to the feelings we experience in the Christian life.
I believe Augustine does this insofar as he was immersed in the Psalms. Augustine had learned emotional maturity, a godly emotional life, from the psalmists. We see such emotional maturity in Psalm 102. In the midst of great distress, there is not a reckless binge, an irresponsible gush fest, nor hopeless foreboding.
There is a fierce honesty and candor, yes, but it is ultimately thrown onto God. The Psalms teach us to always throw ourselves and our circumstances onto God—and find in Him and His ways the balm for our souls.