“My heart within me is desolate” (verse 4) (other translations use ‘appalled’ or ‘dismayed’)
There is something that I wish I had been told when I was a relatively new and young Christian. I understood about Jesus being the Son of God, I knew about the cross and resurrection and believed that God’s Spirit was present in/with me as a Christian, a follower/brother of Jesus etc etc. Somewhere, though, I had got the idea that if you are a Christian, if you have faith, then everything will always be OK – or at least that you will always feel OK. It followed that if I felt low, sad, depressed, upset etc, then I was not a proper Christian or perhaps not really a Christian at all. Now, that is nonsense, of course. People of God do get upset, sad or lonely from time to time. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept; in Gethsemane his heart was breaking. Even when Jesus was in the boat with them, his disciples were afraid when a storm blew up. A few minutes with the Old Testament with the likes of Job or some of the Psalms of lamentation should quickly show the same thing.
I have learned that desolation, feeling upset, sad, dismayed or the like, is part of the Christian walk with God. If your heart is set to follow what is right and good, you want God’s just and merciful kingdom to come, it is your intention to do his will; then, when something goes against that, it hurts. If you do something you believe to be wrong, your conscience will hurt; if you see an injustice, it will move you; if someone you love dies you may weep like Jesus did. Mind you, if your heart is not with God, you can feel desolate just because you are not getting your own way.
Then there is the opposite: consolation. That is the sense that every thing is right, in proper order, going well, at peace. If your heart is set on God’s will and his kingdom it will be when your life is in harmony with his will. Those moments are precious and a gift from God to be enjoyed – they are not a right to be demanded of him.
In psalm 143 I think the Psalmist shows that they understand this. They feel like they are in darkness and their spirits are low – but they remember what God has done in the past and therefore have confidence to tell him like it is and to pray for help.
The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, but that does not mean we shall always feel happy. It might mean that we feel secure because we can trust God to walk with us in both the good and in the bad times. And because he loves all his children, we can be sure that he is with us whether it feels like it or not.
A prayer from “Common Worship”
Gracious Father, you gave up your Son out of love for the world. Lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion, that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect, Lent 5)