Trusting the Lord with my Impossible Situation
Out of Your Impossible Situation
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.
Blessed is the man
who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, O Lord, my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
Then I said, "Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, 0 my God;
your law is within my heart."
Tony Chain, thirty-seven, and J. R. Hounchell, thirty-nine, went hunting the first day of duck season, September 1, 1981. They were in an area called Duck Flats northeast of Anchorage. Hours before, ten feet of tidal water had covered the gully where they now beached their boat. As they began their trudge through thick mud, Tony's left wader stuck fast. He yanked sharply against the ooze—but suddenly both feet were stuck. He tried to pitch forward, sideways. With each effort he sank deeper into the thick, gray glop.
Tony's chilling cry startled his hunting companion: "Quicksand! Help me, J. R.!" The two men had been hunting together for fifteen years. They both knew about Alaska's loose glacial silt—like quicksand. Formed by grains as small as talcum powder, the sand looks like common mud—but is far deadlier.
Gingerly stepping toward his friend, holding out the belt from his trousers, J. R. tried to help. Then he felt the surface become spongy beneath him. If he got caught, both of them would drown. He ran for help, knowing that time was against them. Alaskan tides are among the fastest rising and most dangerous in the world. In less than four hours, the water would sweep across the flats, rising at a rate of one foot every twelve minutes.
J. R. was able to get through to Elmendorf Air Force Base, where a special rescue team scrambled to the site of the sinking man. But when the two Air Force rescuers tried to help Tony, they began to sink, too. One rescuer sank up to his thighs and the other rescuer had to rescue him. Everything they did seemed to worsen the situation.
Next, they passed a paddle seat attached to a helicopter and slipped the strap beneath Tony's arms. As the helicopter tried to hoist him up, Tony signaled frantically, his eyes wide with pain. The helicopter pilot knew that a similar rescue attempt some time ago had torn the victim in two at the waist.
The only possibility was to decrease the distance between Tony and the chopper, so that he could be pulled more slowly from the mud. That meant hovering directly overhead. The pilot lowered the helicopter to thirty, twenty, then ten feet, seven . . . six feet above the muck. Tony yelled, "No lower, no lower!" At this point a gust of wind could have blown the copter down and broken his back.
By 1:45 p.m. the mud was up to Tony's armpits. The tide could come in at almost any time. Suddenly, there was a slight movement upward. Little by little, Tony felt the waders slip off his legs and disappear into the bog as he was pulled free at last—just in the nick of time. (Reader's Digest, August 1986, pp. 115F.)
God Rescues Us from Impossible Situations
Like Tony Chain, the psalmist found himself in great difficulty. But unlike Tony, the psalmist's troubles seemed to be beyond even the greatest human effort. His own efforts only proved the final futility of the problem. But God intervened, and the psalmist responded to that intervention with a fresh sense of praise and a new demonstration of obedience.
By asking God alone to act, you can find a way out of your difficult situation. No matter how impossible things seem, you can come back to God.
The psalmist's words present a memorable picture of human helplessness: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire." The words picture a deep pit where even deeper waters resound from a horrible cavern further below. Such pits were used as dungeons (Jer. 38:6), pitfalls for wild beasts (Ps. 7:15), or even as a grave (Ps. 28:1). The words could also refer to a horrible pit of desolation, a roaring, resounding pit of spiritual tumult. The noise could be that of water at the bottom of the pit. Or the noise could refer to the screams of soldiers, their armor crashing and clanging as they plunged into its depths.
We can imagine that the bottom of the pit was a muck of filthy mire. The more the psalmist struggled to get out, the deeper he sank into the bog. Such places were found at the bottom of disused cisterns in the Holy Land. Jeremiah had known the experience of being placed in just such a place as this while he was a prisoner of conscience for his preaching. The depth, the noise, and the sinking slime all add up to an unforgettable picture of an impossible situation.
What kind of experience led the psalmist to express himself this way? It may have been a military defeat, the opposition of wicked people, sickness, or the impossible situation created by personal sin in his life. We do not know—and perhaps that is best. Not knowing the cause, we can identify our own impossible situation with the psalmist's.
Where is your place of absolute impossibility? Is it a relationship? You never meant it to become what it has become, but now there is nothing you can do about it. Is it a habit? At first it seemed harmless, superficial, nonthreatening. You thought you could stop at any time you desired. But now, like Tony in the quicksand, you are trapped. Is it a bitterness, a gnawing thing within you that sours all of life and makes every day heavy with the desire for revenge? Is it a past failure, a sin, a lapse you thought was impossible for you? Now the horizon of every day hangs heavy with the sense that you have crushed something that can never be repaired, broken something that can never be mended. Is it a loss, a loss so profound that life has lost all significance and you really have no desire to go on?
Suddenly God moves into the difficulty and the entire situation changes. From the bottom of a pit, the psalmist is elevated to the safety of a rocky cliff. Sinking in the instability of the bog, he suddenly finds sure footing on stable ground. God not only gave him present safety but also future stability. Immersed in a threat that would have ended life, the future opened before him. It all happened so suddenly—because of the intervention of God.
Another example, this time from the animal world, shows how God makes provision for stability in the most difficult circumstances. In bold defiance of gravity, the mountain goats that live from the Northwest United States through Canada into Alaska demonstrate incredible stability in the most difficult of terrains. They leap surefootedly from mountain ledge to mountain ledge, scampering around steep, rugged mountainsides with the utmost confidence. Unusually flexible, the two toes of the goat's hoof can spread apart wider than the hoof is long to distribute the animal's grip. Or they can draw together to grasp a knob of rock. The goat also has a rough, pliable traction pad on the bottom of each toe which makes them skid-resistant on ice. Dewclaws projecting from the rear of the ankles provide additional traction on steep, downhill routes.
Just as God makes provision in the animal world for creatures to stand with stability in the most difficult of terrain, He will surely make provision for His redeemed children to stand in the most difficult spiritual circumstances. He can and will stabilize you in the midst of insuperable difficulty.
The Bible includes many stories describing how God dealt with impossible situations. We believe these stories. We believe that God gave Abraham a baby when the old man was ninety-nine and his wife Sarah was almost as old. We believe that God used an eighty-year-old, tongue-tied shepherd to pull off the Exodus. We believe that God marched a ragtag army of Hebrew slaves around Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. We believe a teen-age boy killed a giant with a stone, and a handful of fishermen turned the world upside down with the message of Christ. We believe that the God of the Bible could do all this.
And what is more, we believe that God can do this today for others, even for our friends. If a friend came to you with the confession of some great failure, you would pray for him or her, and offer the reminder that God can rescue His people from anything.
We believe all this—as long as it is in the Bible or happening to somebody else. But Psalm 40 means that God can deal with the impossibility of your life!
How do you make this happen? The secret is in verse 1: "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry." There is an emphatic repetition in the original language: "I waited, yea, I waited." The resounding of the words indicates a total reliance on God alone to extricate him. This also suggests an exclusive waiting on God: "I simply waited; I did nothing but wait." You must deliberately and exclusively wait on the intervention of the Lord. The opposite of waiting on God is to fret, be angry, and to take things into your own hands (Ps. 37:7).
God may place you in an impossible situation where only a divine act can deliver you. But the promise is that God will hear and respond to those who ask for His help. The image is that of one leaning forward to catch a faint or distant sound. The God of the cosmos hears and intervenes for those who cry to Him.
We've heard stories of how waiting has saved people from impossible situations here on earth. For example, there's the story of Barry Beck, a thirty-four-year-old geology professor and a veteran of caving, who led a group from the Georgia Southwestern College Outdoor Club on an expedition to Anderson Springs Cave in the Appalachians of northern Georgia. By 4:30 on Saturday afternoon they had been in the cave five hours, following an underground stream that was nearly a mile beneath Pigeon Mountain. Suddenly the stream began to rise. Where water had been dripping from the walls, it suddenly came gushing out like water from fire hoses. What they did not know was that the hardest rain to hit the mountain in fifty years had created tons of water pressure on top of the cave.
The spelunkers made their way back upstream to a large cavern and climbed to a ledge about forty feet above the rising water. Their teeth chattering, their limbs jerking, they knew of the possibility of hypothermia, shock, and coma. Finally, Beck found a sort of den under the cave roof. To keep warm, they stacked themselves in like cord wood. Then there was nothing they could do but wait in the pit and listen to the roar of the rushing water. Their situation seemed impossible—until a scuba diver made his way up the roaring underground river thirty hours after their ordeal began. They had to wait; they had no other choice. (Reader's Digest, July 1980, pp. 55-58)
Similarly, God sometimes makes us wait for His intervention. Psalm 46 records a situation where God's people needed His help, but He did not intervene until the last moment: "God will help her at the break of day" (verse 5). After waiting throughout the night for divine help, the people were about to give up. At the peep of dawn, the last possible moment before their enemy invaded, God demonstrated His power to rescue.
Sometimes God waits until we and everyone around us clearly see that our only hope is His intervention. God also waits because there is a renewal of our strength in the process of waiting. "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isa. 40:31). Literally, those who wait on God "exchange" their weakness for strength. When we are spent, tired, and exhausted we need to exchange our spentness for His power. We feel like a flat tire. We wait on God. He fills us with Himself again. In the act of waiting, there is an exchange of our emptiness for His fullness.
Responding Appropriately to God's Delivery
How do we respond when God rescues us from an impossible situation? We can respond first with fresh praise to God: "He put a new song in my mouth." How long has it been since you have praised God with a new song?
God had done such a dramatic new thing in the psalmist's life that none of the old psalms would do. He wrote a new victory hymn celebrating God's recent deliverance in his life. The emphasis rests on the new quality of the song, not just its recent composition. The phrase may suggest constantly new songs, each one succeeding the other as daily new material offers itself for praise. Or the word may suggest newness in the sense of being always fresh and full of life. The believer lives constantly with that sense of newness: a new name (Rev. 2:17), new commandment (John 13:34), new covenant (Heb. 8:8), new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2), new man (Eph. 2:15).
God can bring fresh praise out of both tragedy and glory, as illustrated by this story about a favorite hymn. Luther Bridgers began preaching at age seventeen while he was a student at Asbury College in Kentucky. He was a young Methodist minister of unusual zeal and evangelism. In 1910 the future looked bright for the twenty-six-year-old preacher, who by then had a young wife and three children. The Bridgers family was visiting Mrs. Bridgers's parents at Harrodsburg, Kentucky. After the family retired for the night, a neighbor noticed flames coming from the house. He roused Mrs. Bridgers's parents and Luther, but the rest of the family members were beyond reach. The young pastor lost his wife and children.
In the awful days of sorrow that followed, Luther remembered that God offered songs of comfort in the night (Ps. 42:8), and would never forsake him. It was during this period that Luther wrote the words and music that we sing so many times: "There's within my heart a melody / Jesus whispers sweet and low / fear not, I am with thee, peace be still; in all of life's ebb and flow." In the fourth stanza he referred to his own experience: "Tho sometimes he leads through waters deep / trials fall across the way. . . ."
In the darkest night, in the depths of despair, God gave an inward song to Luther Bridgers that blesses millions. Out of a pit of grief came a song of blessing.
Part of the reason for the psalmist's new song was the impact of God's intervention on those who observed his life: "Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord" (Ps. 40:3). God's act will compel the attention of bystanders to the power of God. Does anything in your life do that?
You can also respond with a new obedience when God rescues you from impossible situations. When the psalmist struggled with how to express gratitude toward such a delivering God, he weighed all of the outward religious rituals of his day. Animal sacrifices, meal offerings of fine flour, burnt offerings indicating total dedication, and sin offerings propitiating God all presented themselves as possible ways to indicate gratitude. But God does not want ritual; He wants reality. He desires us to be in harmony with Him rather than perform ceremonies for Him.
The psalmist expresses that he has heard God: "my ears you have pierced." This unusual phrase meant that God had broken through at a new level of speaking to the inward person. The result of that is an immediate sense of obedience to the will of God: "Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come.' " These are the characteristic words of a servant who comes immediately to do the will of the master.
When will we learn that God wants obedience and reality above all else? Everything else is ritual. The only real response to God's intervention in your life is to hear and obey. When you do so, you will have a fresh song for God to sing tomorrow and every day.
When you come back to God, He meets you at your point of impossibility.
Homesick for God.