What to do when life goes to pieces.
However shattered your present is, yours is a God who is with you in the middle of it.
This article was originally written for 1517.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the last year hasn’t gone according to anyone’s plans. And I don’t have to rehash all the sordid details — we’ve lived it. We’ve all experienced some level of devastation in the last handful of months as we’ve collectively witnessed life going off the rails. The world as we know it seems to be falling apart. All the remaining beautiful bits of our lives seem to be disintegrating right in front of us — and not just because of a virus. Whether it’s the betrayal of a loved one, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of opportunities, the rallying cry of the last year has been the shared experience of life going to pieces.
What do you do when that happens?
What hope do you have when life goes to pieces?
Where do you turn when life seems to unravel?
Fortunately for you and me, God’s word is teeming with example after example of people who have experienced the same thing. People just like us. And there’s no better example of this than the man responsible for composing more than half of the Psalter, King David.
A gut-wrenching song.
David was intimately aware of what it was like to have life go to pieces. This is especially true if you consider the lines of Psalm 3, a gloriously gut-wrenching psalm written in the wake of the tumult surrounding David’s son, Absalom. This crisis is the proverbial last straw in a string of crises and scandals that have caused David’s family to crack.
Absalom and David’s tension boils over into outright conflict, with Absalom concocting a “strong conspiracy” to overthrow his father’s monarchy and assume Israel’s throne (2 Sam. 15:10–12). Absalom succeeds in turning “the hearts of the men of Israel” against their king, causing David to escape for his life (2 Sam. 15:13–14) and to run from the very throne which God had promised he would sit on forever (2 Sam. 7:12–16).
David knew what it meant to have life crumble, to watch as life fell to pieces. We’re told David fled to the Mount of Olives to weep, to worship, and to pray (2 Sam. 15:30). The words of Psalm 3 are the words of a desperate king clinging to the last scrap of hope he had. And it’s precisely this prayer of David as his life was cracking that serves as a boundless source of encouragement for those moments when life goes to pieces.
A great enemy.
David opens his psalm acknowledging the truth of his condition. “Lord, how my foes increase!” he cries. “There are many who attack me. Many say about me, “There is no help for him in God” (Ps. 3:1–2). As Israel’s king flees for his life like a fugitive of his own kingdom, he’s further demoralized as those who were loyal to him turn their back on him (2 Sam. 15:6, 12, 31). Some of David’s closest confidants conspire against him. It must have felt as though his enemies were multiplying in droves. Such is the implication of his lament, “Lord, how my foes increase!” “I’m surrounded, attacked on all sides!” “There’s no limit to those who are against me!”
This pitiable state is made even more so by the berating words of those who opposed him. “Many say about me, ‘There is no help for him in God.’” Those whose hearts were stolen by Absalom had become convinced that David had lost all favor with God. And who could argue with them considering how checkered David’s past was? I imagine David hearing those words — “there is no help for you in God” — and actually believing them. This is why he pauses; he “Selahs” on that point.
“Is there help for me in God?”
“Has God abandoned me?”
“Am I helpless, friendless, hopeless?”
Maybe you can identify with these words, too. Perhaps the events of the last several months have made it seem as though you’re surrounded, entirely encompassed by opposition. Disorder and disagreements abound to make it seem as though there are “many” that are out to get us. If David’s cries resonate with you, good. That puts you in good company — the company of the desperate. The Bible is a book for the desperate. That is its target audience. Recognizing our desperation readies us to hear the consolation that only God’s Word can offer.
A greater God.
In direct response to those who were taunting him that God was “no help for him,” that he was alone, forsaken, helpless — David professes that God hadn’t abandoned him. “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain” (Ps. 3:3–4). God hadn’t forsaken him or forgotten him. Just the opposite was true. God was actively protecting him, caring for him.
Even though David was surrounded by a multitude of enemies, he was enveloped by something far greater: the Lord’s protection. Such is what the word “shield” implies: not merely a defense in front, but defense all around. “You’re a shield around me,” David sings. The Lord himself is an all-surrounding shield and an all-encompassing protection with no chink or vulnerability. Every angle is protected. Every weakness is covered.
Despite the dismal circumstances, David’s spirit is uplifted because his God was greater than anything or anyone who opposed him. What’s even more uplifting, however, is that this great God was listening. David’s God heard him. “I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me” (Ps. 3:4). Such is what enlivened and concretized David’s hope. The creator of all things, the one who is outside of space and time, the one who spoke and worlds were formed, listens to those who cry for his help.
God hears you. He’s always listening. Unlike your child, God doesn’t have “selective hearing.” “He answers me” is suggestive of constant listening. God’s ear is attentive to those who are desperate. His ear is bent to hear the cries of his children. And as we cry, we’re greeted with a voice that reminds us, “I am greater.” Yours is a God who is big enough and strong enough to protect you from whatever you might face. But he’s also a God who’s tender enough to “lift up your head.”
A peace that’s secure.
With the assurance that his God was greater than any turmoil he could face, David is furnished with a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” How else could you explain these words? “I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of thousands of people who have taken their stand against me on every side” (Ps. 3:5–6). In the heat of perhaps David’s lowest, most agonizing moment, he sleeps. He is at rest. At peace. Why? Because the Lord sustains him.
I don’t have to tell you about the sleep that’s been lost this past year. This is why David’s words are so stunning. In the middle of a life that was fraying at the seams, the Lord himself was his support. Even amid the most intense betrayal imaginable, David sleeps. He rests his head on the shoulder of the Almighty. He reclines on the greatness of his God. And so can we.
Our God is no different than David’s. He is still actively protecting and preserving each of our days, each of our steps. There’s nothing you and I endure of which he’s not aware. There’s nothing you and I experience with which he’s unfamiliar. The Lord of all is our all-encompassing protector. He’s greater than anything we could ever face — or are facing right now. The size of David’s enemies hadn’t diminished, yet David sings, “I will not be afraid of thousands of people who have taken their stand against me on every side” (Ps. 3:6). And it’s not as though he had found some inner resolve or had mustered some extra reserve of “superheroic faith.” David’s confidence is found in who his God is (Ps. 3:7–8). As H. A. Ironside says:
It is a great thing to be able to say, it is not a question now of my ability to stand against the foe; it is not a question of my ability to weather this trouble, my ability to overcome my enemies; but I am putting the whole thing into the hands of God, and He stands between me and the foe. (28)
This is the good news. Ours is a God who stands in the gap for us, who enters our tattered world to take action on our behalf, and who not only encourages peace but establishes peace by the promise of his word and the sacrifice of himself. This image of a violent God serves to remind us of the type of God we have. He’s our Father. He defends those he loves. He intervenes for the sake of his children. He defangs all our enemies. He breaks the jaw of those who jeer. Whatever the adversary might say has no power over you. The enemy’s taunts are false. There is help for us in God. And only this God can save. Only this God can put the pieces back together. Only this God can lift up our heads and fill us with his peace.
The peace that God promises to you and me through his word is the peace of knowing that no matter what, God isn’t leaving. “With the Christian,” Ironside continues, “whatever the ‘haps’ are, if everything he has counted on goes to pieces, it does not make any difference. God is not going to pieces. God is there just the same, and so the soul can rest in Him” (31).
Whatever is causing your life to go to pieces doesn’t define you. Your identity isn’t wrapped up in the shattered bits leftover from whatever calamitous event has fundamentally altered your present (and future). Who you are is secure forever in the great tender loving care of God; in this one who is the lifter up of your head; in this one who tenderly protects those he loves and powerfully saves those in trouble; in this one who is always there and never leaves; in this one who doesn’t go to pieces, even if (when) life does; in this one who promises, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
However shattered your present is, yours is a God who is with you in the middle of it. He is never not with you. There’s no circumstance in life imaginable in which God is absent. He’s right there with us, in the ashes, sitting on the broken shards with us, as we pick up the pieces. He’s always there. He’s never left. And he never will.
H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1952).