May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
The Psalm simply assumes that there will be trouble in life. As we think about that just now, there is nothing strange about it. We all know what comes – sickness, accidents, financial losses, career failures, relationship failures, the increasing infirmities of age – we all know about all of those things. So what is strange about this Psalm? What can it teach us?
For starters, maybe this: although we know that there will be “days of trouble” in life, do we really look at life as a battle that can be won or lost and do we really credit the notion – and let’s even leave out the idea of divine intervention for the moment – that there are certain troubles that we may be saved from.
In other words, how tempted are we to look at life – not as we reflect on it in this moment of meditation, but as we live and make decisions, day by day – as simply a long, downhill slide that we cannot do much about?
It’s true that sickness and infirmity and finally physical death will come to us all, but how much of sickness and infirmity and other kinds of loss might be avoided altogether if we in fact conducted our lives as if they were a battle – as if there really was something to be gained, as if there were losses that were not inevitable, that might be avoided?
I guess the easiest example available for making my point here is how we treat our bodies. I keep hearing that obesity and diabetes are at all-time highs. Both of these conditions create horrible problems for the person afflicted. Not only that, but they create all kinds of problems for those who surround them. Finally, these two conditions multiply – and I mean multiply – the load on our health-care system. Is it too much to say that if people would watch their diets and exercise regularly that our health-care crisis would abate? Insurance premiums would diminish? Relationships would improve? Households would prosper financially?
All those things are true. All of them could happen. And none of that is beyond our doing – beyond our ability to make a decision and stay with it.
And yet, so many people ignore these things. Do they act as if life is not a battle? As if, rather than a struggle that can be won or lost, a place where ground might really be gained and kept, that it is all just one long, slow downhill slide and that the only thing we can do is enjoy little indulgences, day by day?
Who believes that good decisions, daily discipline in matters of health and finance, will actually pay dividends? Not only in terms of money, but in terms of ability to enjoy life and to carry on joyful and fulfilling relationships? That the battle fought wisely and vigorously, day by day, may end in lifelong victories?
The psalmist here may be talking about physical, military battle – he does speak of “chariots and horses” – but the psalm, if it is to have any meaning at all for most of us – must have more general application than that. It must mean that life itself is a battle. It must mean that there are parts of life that may be won or lost.
The psalm teaches that our hope is in God. We may prevail only in His strength, only with His guidance, only in His grace. But we will not prevail – we will not bow and seek Him – if we do not see life as a battle, if we have not the first notion that we might, given His help, actually win, actually thrive and flourish, actually prevail.