Of Comfort, Mercy, and the Mighty Hand of God

Right this very moment, I have two dear friends walking through deeply painful times with their parents. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but as each of them face the very present reality of mortality and loss, I hurt with them. I wish I could do more– my words seem empty. Every night my daughter and I pray, and it is terrible and beautiful to watch her and listen to her sweet voice as she tries to grapple with the reality of death.

That a daughter could pray for her father to close his eyes and breathe out and wake up in heaven, my daughter cannot comprehend. Honestly, neither can I, but I can more than she can. She is so young, and death– even eternity in heaven– seems terrible and far away and unreal.

Today I read Psalm 139, and I found my eyes drawn again to this verse I underlined last year sometime:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

These words speak such comfort to me, as I think of my friends and their loved ones, tenderly held safe in the hands of a good God. As I think of my children, off at their school without me there to carefully control all the influences in their lives. As I think of my own crazy week and the calendar that seems full to bursting right now.

I am held safe.

But there have been times in my life when I have felt hemmed in by God, with His hand upon me, and it has not been a sweet, positive, comforting experience. Sometimes God hems us in and says you will not go any further down this road. Sometimes He keeps us stuck in what seem like pointless or painful places. We wonder if we are making any progress at all. Sometimes His hand is heavy upon us because of sin in our lives. David experienced this after his sin with Bathsheba–

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.   Selah

These times feel anything but comforting. They feel terrible, painful, and confusing. Sometimes we know exactly why we are under the hand of God, or why He is hemming us in, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just feel trapped and miserable. We cry out and it feels like no one answers, or we don’t get the answers we’d hoped for.

But I have learned– and undoubtedly will have many opportunities to keep learning– that God’s hand never rests on me for any reason other than my good. I have learned that to be hemmed in by God is always to be protected from what is harmful, even if it feels like I am being prevented from doing a good thing.

God’s ways are wise and merciful. He kept us trapped at Bible college and seminary for so much longer than I wanted to be there, with no way out. And you know what? We needed every one of those long years to bring us to a place where we could minister competently in the place where He has called us.

When I was a teenager, rebelling and traveling down a very deadly path, He hemmed me in and refused to let me keep going. I screamed at Him and raged against my parents, but looking back all I see in His hemming actions is mercy. Where would I be if I had gone down that road? I don’t know, but He did, and He wanted something better for me.

In David’s life, when God’s hand was heavy upon him, it was also an act of grace and mercy, because it brought David to repentance.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

My friend, wherever you are today, whether God’s hand feels like a loving Father’s tender hand rubbing a child’s back or like a hard hand of discipline, know this– you are dearly loved by the God whose hand is ever upon you. His hand is always a hand of mercy and grace. When He hems you in before and behind, it is always an act of protection and fierce Father-love. He will protect you from your enemies, even when your enemy is yourself.

This is the God who made you, who saw you and loved you before your mother even knew you were growing within her. Every part of you is precious to God, and He will do whatever it takes to bring you near and keep you safe, to comfort you and show you His mercy.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God . . . , casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

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