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  • Blaine Moore

Suffering In Exile

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Today's text is two whole chapters in the English Bible: Psalms 42 & 43. They actually belong together, but somewhere along the road of history they were separated, probably for liturgical purposes. But it doesn't matter because their content and meaning remain the same. We will consider them in one fell swoop. It's an easy read, so jump right in there and then we'll have a look at four purposes for suffering in the life of the believer.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One[d] with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

8 By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. 2 You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? 3 Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

These words are a lament, a sorrowful song, the deeply emotional complaint of a man in exile. He is far from not only the place of worship, but he also feels distant from the object of his worship. His soul is athirst, and yet he drowns. This is a psalm of suffering.

Let's look briefly at how suffering reveals the heart, how suffering refines the heart, how suffering preserves the heart, and how suffering is contained within the Providence of God.

First, suffering reveals the heart. When we are hard pressed, when the lights have grown dim, when our spirits are flat and the heavens seem like brass, the true disposition of our heart is revealed. In Psalms 42 & 43 this man in exile cries out to God in spite of his situation because he knows in his bones that God is his only hope. His cry is gut-wrenching and real. He’s dying of thirst but drowning – forgotten and lost. And the Lord brings him to this place to reveal what is in his heart: not a fist raised to the sky, but a shattered soul that cries out to God.

Second, suffering refines the heart. Until a precious metal like gold is put through the fire, the impurities remain unseen. The process of refining is intense, but it separates the impurities from the gold. Suffering, exile, time in the spiritual desert – they refine us. Our faith is worth even more than gold, but endures a similar refining process: 1 Peter 1:6-7 tells us, "n all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The process is painful, but the product is beautiful.

Third, suffering preserves the heart. We see from 1 Peter 1:7 that trials have a specific purpose, and that purpose is driven by the Providence of God. So, one of the ways God enables us to endure and persevere is by leading us into and through trials. If perseverance were up to us, if remaining in the faith was our responsibility alone, not a one of us would make it. In James 1 we read, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."

Consider for a minute the strength and endurance that has been built into your life because of the difficult times the Lord has brought you through and even put you through. He is making you stronger, He is teaching you to endure. God in his mercy makes sure his people endure because endurance isn’t something we possess naturally. The only way to learn endurance is by enduring, and because the Lord intends for his sheep to not be lost, he lets them pass through trials and spend time in exile. Remember that even in the valley of the shadow “goodness and mercy will follow me ALL the days of my life.

Finally, any suffering or exile the true Christian experiences is contained within the wise Providence of God. Times of suffering like this are contained with the sovereignty of God. In other words, they come from His hand.

“All your waves and breakers…why have you forgotten me…how long O Lord.”

Sometimes the Lord withdraws his felt presence for our good, and sometimes the pressure and the heat are from his hand. Remember Job, who said “shall we accept good from the Lord’s hand, and not evil?” This is not evil in the sense of something sinful or wicked, but simply difficult and gnarly circumstances. The question is: Is God sovereign or is he not?

For the believer, the promise of Romans 8:28 brings clarity and confidence to all of life because it speaks of ALL things having purpose. And that’s not just putting a band-aid on a broken bone. That’s reality, and it gives us hope when we're suffering in exile.

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