Read Psalm 62
I remember reading John Ortberg say somewhere that he intentionally will choose the longest line at the grocery store in order to force himself to learn patience. I also remember thinking at the time, “that is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”
I have since come to appreciate the merit in finding intentional habits that have the power to remind us we are not the center of the world. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and like all fruit it must be cultivated. This is especially true as we learn to find refuge in the Lord. And let’s face it, the grumbling and complaining we do about slow check-out lines sounds as ridiculous as ancient Israel grumbling and complaining about food in the wilderness just days after God led them out of Egypt. I’m not sure finding more things in life, like picking the longest grocery line, to teach us patience is necessary (life is pretty good at providing opportunities on its own) but cultivating patience is necessary.
This is my third installment on what it means for God to be our refuge. Psalm 34 invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and Psalm 28 directs us to turn to the Lord because “where else can we go?” Psalm 62 is a call to wait on the Lord for refuge, patiently and productively.
Psalm 62 begins:
For God alone my soul waits in silence; From him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation my fortress;
I shall not be greatly shaken. (1-2)
This same phrase is repeated almost verbatim in verse 5. There is one small but significant change. In verse 5 instead of declaring a present reality the Psalmist is now giving himself counsel. What began as a confident declaration “my soul waits in silence” (vs. 1) becomes a command, “O my soul, wait in silence” (vs. 5). Perhaps this is what the father meant in Mark 9 when he said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). It is easy to proclaim in general that God is our rock and our salvation and to sing such things with any number of contemporary songs or traditional hymns. It is another story when we actually need to put such trust in practice. We are typically living life in verse 5 rather than in verse 1.
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Ultimately waiting on the Lord is trusting in his providential care. The images of God as refuge, fortress and rock all assume that we have circumstances out of which we want to be rescued. Waiting means we are not going to get out of them as quickly as we desire. The question is always: Who do we believe is in control? We shake (vs. 2) because we know we are not. But if we are not, who is? Blind fate? The power of positive thinking?
The Heidelberg Catechism asks the question: “How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?”
The answer: “We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love.” It is a beautiful answer, full of truth. But, like many things it is easier said than done.
The writer of Psalm 62 believes this (vs. 1), he exhorts others to believe this (vs. 8) and yet he still has to remind himself of its truth (vs. 5). This is what growth looks like
The temptation of course is to take matters into our own hands. Waiting in confident trust is hard – just think of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. The promise to Abraham and Sarah was clear but twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a child when you’ve already waited your whole life and so they attempt to speed up the process. We do the same. Verses 9 and 10 list a couple of ways how:
9 Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion;
In the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery;
If riches increase, set not your heart on them.
First, we make the false assumption that others don’t need to be patient. The family that always looks healthy, happy and holy, the business that is always making money, the friend who’s hair is always perfect, the artsy neighbor who we assume leads some romantic life of sleeping in every morning and effortlessly creating in the studio a few hours a day – all of it is an illusion. Certainly the circumstances of some lives are more complicated or more viscerally tragic than others. But verse 9 levels the playing field – both those of high estate and those of low estate are the same. Comparison is deadly to productive patience because it almost always embitters us toward God and others. Even if the circumstances do change the psalm reminds us to not put our trust in that either – “if riches increase, set not your heart on them.”
Second, we compromise. Abraham and Sarah heard the promise. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. And then they compromised because it was taking a long time to have a child. Tragically instead of waiting on the Lord we put our trust in our own disobedience – extortion and robbery is what the Psalmist lists but we do it any number of ways. We are tired of being lonely and so we lower our standards on whom to date or marry. We trust our feelings more than we do the wise counsel of our church family. We distort God’s character, “God would want me to be happy,” instead of entering into the hard work of reconciling relationships.
Productive patience sounds like a contradiction. But in fact it is one of the hallmarks of faith. Productive patience isn’t passive resignation, its active trust. Katharina von Schlegel captures this well in her great hymn, Be Still My Soul.
Be still my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, you’re heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
In Gethsemane, Jesus faced circumstances that he clearly did not want to face – “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death…my Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39, 42). Jesus lives Psalm 62 in the fullest way possible. He “pours out his heart” (Ps. 62:8) in sorrow and at the same time he knows that “power” and “steadfast love” belong to God” (62:11-12). And so in confidence he says, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus perfectly trusted in his Father’s providential care.
Our patience comes from our union with Christ. We can be patient through the “thorny ways” of life because we know that Jesus bore “patiently the cross of grief and pain” on our behalf and yet was brought to a “joyful end.”