A Mouth Filled with Praise
Confronting despair with an indomitable hope
“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.” (Psalm 71:20–21)
Few things have the potential to cloud the heart more than troubles and calamities. When disaster strikes, when hopes are deferred, when pain continues unabated, or distress weighs upon the soul, it’s easy to become blind to the rest of the world. Duties toward God and neighbour can quickly be consumed by the pressures of the moment. In the furnace of affliction, our whole world, if we’re not careful, can become reduced to our own private interior pain. In such times, we need the glorious light of Scripture to illumine our darkness.
The psalmist here is no stranger to suffering. As he says openly in verse 20, the Lord has caused him to see “many troubles and calamities” throughout the course of his life. Earlier he spoke of enemies that were presently harassing him from every side, cruel and unjust men who “seek my hurt” (v. 13). Under such circumstances, it would be natural for the psalmist to retreat into a kind of survival state, a self-absorbed frame of mind focused solely on alleviating his present troubles.
But this is the very thing he does not do.
Instead, the psalmist turns his heart to the Lord — his “rock of refuge, to which I may continually come” (v. 3 )— and disciplines his emotions in the rhythms of faith: he praises rather than laments, worships rather than complains, glories in the works of God rather than wallow in the mire of self-pity. In myriad ways he trains his heart to consider the nature of his God and King and then offers determined and focused praise:
“I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day” (vv. 7–8).
The psalmist, in other words, is a living rebuke to all who would let despair gain the upper hand. Yes, the valley is dark. But that’s no excuse for protracted naval gazing. What we need most in the midst of trouble is not to think more of ourselves, but more of our God. We need to recall His “righteous acts” and “deeds of salvation” (v. 15), His “faithfulness” (v. 22), “righteous help” (v. 24), and “wondrous deeds” (v. 17). Only when these are the themes that occupy the meditation of our hearts are we ready to face troubles and calamities — because then we will face them in faith.
And, yes, to be sure, there is a place for lament. There is a place for tears, dust, and ashes. But we should remember that even in those times God’s design is that we rely not on ourselves but on Him who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9). Even then His purpose is to break us out of our self-preoccupation and stewing and cast our wandering devotion back upon Himself.
So learn that lesson quick, Christian. And give thanks to the God of resurrection, who will one day raise you up through Christ and comfort you again (v. 21).