The fight of faith is not a static one. Unfortunately, our faith ebbs and flows. It is important to learn that it is not the strength of our faith that saves but it is the strength of the object of our faith that saves. Christ’s righteousness is counted to us, it is not our faith that is counted as righteous. Justification is not based on our fight of faith. The fight of faith flows out of an ever present, never changing declaration of God that we are not only forgiven but righteous on the basis of the finished work of Christ, received by faith alone. But the faith that justifies is never alone. Justification (Romans 5) leads to Sanctification (Romans 6). These “twin graces”, as Calvin said, cannot be separated. The nature of the new birth necessitates a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). This new birth is as radical as the raising of Lazarus from the grave (John 11); a person going from being a hater of God’s glory to a lover of God’s glory (Eph 2:1-10). Spiritual affections must necessarily accompany a conversion. A lack of affections shows we are not in Christ.
These affections must come but we must take an honest look at the nature of our Christian experience. These affections are veiled, at times. We become spiritually dry. Obedience and joy more naturally flow out at some times then others. We can see our soul becoming parched. This can happen because of sin. It is possible for a believer to displease God by sin (1 Chronicles 2:17) and to grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30). God disciplines (never condemning) his children so that they will treasure Him even more (Heb 12:6). Sometimes God deserts his children or at least gives the sense of it. God removes His “assisting grace” though never suspending his saving or sustaining grace. Physical problems may account for these melancholic times. A chemical imbalance in the brain is not less serious that an imbalance in the white blood cell count. Any one of these problems, often a mix of them all, can account for a lack of joy in God at times. I want to take a brief look at three Psalms to see how the Psalmists fight for joy in God by applying the promises of God to their lives. The gospel is at the center of this fight. The Spirit has inspired these accounts to point us to the sufficiency of Christ even in the times. O God, incline us to your testimonies!
Psalm 40: Stuck in a Pit
God is “wonderfully vague” in this passage. David never tells us exactly what this pit of destruction was. John Piper wonderfully summarizes a pit as:“Anything that causes a sense of helplessness and desperation and threatens to ruin life/faith or take it away.” David is recounting his time in “the pit” and relishing in the faithfulness of God in those times. They are common. The Christian life is not often so triumphant as we make it seem. It is, however, joyful. David saw that the miry bog he was in would not be permanent. He was given a “new song” (v. 3). But the muck and the mire was real. His feet were not secure, or at least they didn’t feel that way. In times of dryness our feelings often fail us. David was always secure because God is the one holding him up. Believer, remember that your positionally in Christ as a justified son never fluctuates. But our senses of that position can get fuzzy experientially. God restored David. David did not become passive. It is ultimately the grace of God that pierces the darkness with light. But David waits patiently and cries out to the Lord (v.1). David looked patiently to his deliverer, content in Christ but longing to have the joy of his salvation. God’s purpose in the pit is our holiness, and our holiness is our greatest avenue to happiness. God did this for David to praise him anew. David was delivered to enjoy God more and in doing so magnifying the worth of Christ so that many will see and put their fear in the Lord (v.3). Believe that God has your best in mind; his glory displayed in your enjoyment of Him.
Psalm 42: A Panting Deer
Do you pant after God? It is possible that you do not, but what a fearful place for a Christian to be. Hopefully we do thirst for God. The psalmist says that “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you.” This is the cry of a thirsty Christian, one who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good, a partaker in the Bread of Life and the Living Water that never runs out. Yet they do no enjoy the bread as they once did. They know that nothing else satisfies. It is God who has justified us that satisfies our hearts. It hurts to see in your members another law that does not long for God to be magnified in our lives. The psalmist is downcast and in turmoil. All around his soul has given way but his God is still there and he just wants to exult in Him again. Take comfort, Saint, that you thirst for the living God. The evidence of faith is often the fight of faith. If your soul pants for the “living God” you can expect you are in a graceful state. Dead men don’t thirst. But is not okay to not enjoy God rightly. Christ has enjoyed God on our behalf but we have been saved to enjoy God increasingly.
So what do we do when we are not joying in God as we ought? The psalmist gives things to do while we wait for God to restore us. First, we recount God’s past faithfulness. We don’t need a new revelation but for the Spirit to apply the gospel grace that we once cherished so much afresh. Christ is still the answer. The psalmist recounts his past joy when he would go to the temple with the masses in praise of God. He remembers how we used to be satisfied about God. He is waiting for that day to return. Until then, he remembers that it happened. Christian, call to mind the times you have enjoyed God the greatest. The time will again come, if not today, tomorrow, or in this life then in eternity forever. Second, we preach to ourselves. The psalmist talks to himself asking “What are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God!” The psalmist speaks to his fleeting feelings, instructing them with gospel truth. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said this about talking to yourself:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
Lloyd Jones points us to the same place that the psalmist does: the gospel. Our hope is objective. Our subjective grasp on it shutters but the truth is never effected. We must take ourselves by the collar and give ourselves the gospel. The truth is that Christ took the wrath of God due us, rose again and has credited us righteous in Christ. That is the truth and it is cause for great joy. Preach this to yourself. Forget what you feel! Fight to feel rightly in light of the truth of the Bible.
Finally, we come to a psalm of Asaph. This is a saint in deep trouble within his soul. The wicked seem to be winning. All of life is upside down. But then we come to Psalm 73 verses 25 and 26. In his deep anguish, Asaph looks to heaven where his master is at. It is in this deep sorrow that he sees that the only thing he has in God. What a hallmark of the Christian faith! We have been promised one reward: Christ. We get God. The gospel overcomes our sin and God’s wrath towards us so that we might glorify God by enjoying Him forever. “Whom have I in heaven but you?,” proclaims Asaph and ,”and there is nothing else on earth I desire beside you.” Know that your trials are purposed by God to bring us to a deeper satisfaction is God himself. The Lord often takes us by the hand through refining fire to deepen our joy in Christ. I’m sure Asaph loved other things. But nothing compared to his joy in Christ, the source of all other pleasures. God is all he wants and needs. Let your despair move you to deep worship. Your treasure is Christ! Verse 26 says that Asaph’s heart and flesh are failing. The original does not say “might.” His heart and his flesh are failing and how often do ours as well. Our bodies are nearly as fickle as our hearts. But we have a rock (v.26). Christ keeps us when we lose all else. Christ is our strong rock precisely because he is our portion. Everything around his soul has given way but Jesus is all his hope and stay.
Christian, we all have times where we are down cast and our joy is waning. Use gospel means to fight for joy while you wait for God to do what only he can. See that our justification does not ride on our ability to feel joy but that our sanctification comes by fighting for joy. Your heart is deceitful and your feelings lie to you. Trust God, trust His Word. Defy yourself! The gospel is ever outside of you. Let that rule your subjective life and know that all things work for you good (Ro 8:28); both your joy and God’s glory.