Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? Psalm 118:5-6
Whenever I read this verse it takes me back to a sermon I heard umpteen years ago. There used to be this thing about having three points all beginning with the same letter. The sermon outline was “The call, The cause and The consequence.”
So say what you like about artificial sermon structures or the dangers of over-alliteration, I can give testimony here and now that if you want to put a truth into peoples’ minds, the old three-point same letter routine certainly has staying power!
And since I can remember the outline, I have a pretty shrewd idea of the content too. The “call” in this case is my call; it’s a” turning to the Lord”. The cause of the call is evidently “my distress” and the consequence of the call is that the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
And whilst I still remember the framework of a sermon spoken to me as a child –I was probably about ten– I also remember the reality of the experience. It’s an experience that everyone has, sooner or later, and is explained succinctly in that word “distress.”
No one likes distress, and I guess advertising agencies make millions each year promoting the illusion of a distress-free existence. Whatever the issue, on a scale running from “tired hair” (low) to inner peace (high), we are promised a solution if only we buy their product.
The psalmist here (and the Bible en passant) offers an alternative therapy. If you’re in a tight spot, God offers a broad place; if you’re feeling threatened and intimidated, God offers to be on your side; if you feel overwhelmed with fear, God offers you the assurance of his presence.
Just a little while before (approximately) hearing the sermon, I had some issues with bullying at school. For some reason, I found it very difficult to tell my parents, and so it became a solitary distress. I can still remember the acuteness of the fear that took hold of me in certain areas of the school (the bus stop by the gate, the outside toilets). One day my brother noticed something, spoke to me about it and quietly made it his business to linger with me in those areas as best he could. The problem stopped.
All it took was the assurance of the presence of someone stronger than I…. I called out in my distress. He heard and answered. He brought me into a safe place.
Last week a close friend of mine lost a beloved nephew to suicide. He was 23. How my heart aches for those who are in distress and find no one to answer their heart’s call.
God is here. If you can only reach for Him.