This is a psalm that describes the sort of abrupt transition that many experience in the course of life, when the boundary between one season and another is crossed, whether in stages or all of a sudden. Some find themselves plunged into change as the result of some outward event, such as a fire, flood, or an accident, or through the onset of a physical ailment; others as the result of a redundancy or retirement, or in the aftermath of some bereavement or other loss.
Whatever the trigger for the transition, it is not at all unusual for there to be considerable grief and disorientation when something that had been very precious and, indeed, very much God-given, appears to be lost or diminished.
Still harder are those times when we feel as though we have lost even the awareness of the Lord’s clear and loving presence. If the Lord is not pointing out anything in particular that we have done that has caused Him to feel at a distance – or indeed to indicate that this change is primarily the result of enemy activity – then it may well be that we are being privileged to experience something that some of the most godly souls who have ever lived have found themselves having to navigate: a dark night of the soul.
This is a time when the Lord trains us by His seeming absence to live more fully than ever in His eternal presence.
The emotions involved in this process can be so intense, because so much that brings joy, meaning and familiarity to life is stripped away. Even the most trusting may find themselves wondering what has happened to God’s purposes for their lives, and whether they will ever see the goodness of the Lord again in the land of the living.
No surprise that we feel our helplessness acutely as we find ourselves having to adjust to altered circumstances and warding off the ceaseless buffetings. Of this we can be certain: His eye is never more upon us than when we may be least aware of it!
Although I originally wrote these words with individuals in mind, I am coming to realise that they also address the ‘disconcert and the disconnect’ that so many in the British Isles are feeling at this time. Whether you would go as far as Tom McTague, who wrote a well-reasoned but emotive article in The Atlantic called ‘How Britain falls apart,’ https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/01/will-britain-survive/621095/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-global-en-GB, it feels all the more pertinent to harness the themes and emotions that this powerful piece of music evokes in order to pray for the future of these lands – where government, economy and monarchy alike find themselves embroiled in torrid, tussling and tormenting torrents of uncertainty, in which, for many, there is profound loss.
May this heartfelt piece serve to help you, then, to face and overcome your own times of challenge and affliction. And may each one of us, like the psalmists of old, set our hope in the Lord, no matter what menacing waves and storms we may find battering our craft. The Lord, whose way is in the whirlwind as well as green pastures, is with us in this as in every other season.
Transcript of the words
Of Robert, the servant of the LORD, who sang this song within a cloud of unknowing, following a sixth nerve palsy, which affected both his sight and his balance, so that he could neither see clearly nor stand steadily. To the tune, The Song of my Heart.
O God you are my God, right earnestly do I seek You!
Draw out the treasures that You’ve invested in me,
Even those treasures that can only be found only in the darkness.
If Paul was right when he declared
that it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom,
then I must have the courage to pray
that You will forge and even batter my heart
until I am truly sea and heaven worthy.
These are choppy waters Lord;
there are mighty rollers towering over me, tossing and plunging my craft this way and that,
and I’m fighting to tame the helm as the waves thud and pound my boat. (Rom. 8:18; 1 Thess. 5:16)
So many memories are surging through my mind,
of sweeter, easier journeys when seeking You seemed so much simpler.
But have I not besought You to take me deeper with You, no matter what that might entail?
Is this Your way of answering that bold petition?
Lord, there are no lights or landmarks here to navigate my way through these turbulent waters;
the very tides and currents seem driven from their regular paths, like the sun from the Arctic night.
I set my heart to still keep seeking and rejoicing until my whole being becomes a living prayer –
and I can say with the saints of old,
‘I know You can deliver me, but even if You don’t, my heart is still Yours.’
Rogue waves have left me stripped bare,
but I bring You, Lord, the little I have left;
take and receive it as though it were some great offering,
and make of it all that You can.
It’s hard to press on through the pall of these daunting ailments, Lord,
when it feels as though fierce demons are riding each crest,
poised to pound and crush my craft.
But Your Spirit-breath is soughing through the rigging,
strengthening my heart’s desire to overcome and come through the storm.
I’ve been used to being the one who steers the ship,
but now it’s out of my control,
and I am stranded in the stern
watching much-loved rhythms and routines being ripped away,
and left to wrestle with the dis-concert.
Yet somewhere in these wilds,
so far from sight of land, Your presence must reside –
and where Your presence is, there too must lie Your purposes.
God of life and hope,
pilot the ship of my life to Your own greater glory,
Since hope is truly the anchor of my soul,
empower this ship to withstand the relentless shuddering.
Steer me safe through these foaming seas
that are quite unknown to me,
but well seen and charted in Heaven’s compass room.
This is the courage I have in approaching You, Lord Jesus:
that if I ask for anything according to Your will,
You hear the cry of my heart.
And if I know that You hear me,
then I know too that whatever I ask will be granted –
however that answer may transpire. (1 John 5:14-15)
My head is spinning and I’m fretting deep inside,
but what else can I do but to entrust myself afresh to Your care,
and press on across this measureless expanse?
You’ve turned my life upside down and swept so much away,
but though the night is dark and my progress stalled,
all my sighs and longings still rise before Your throne
and Your eye is on Your child. (Psalm 38:9)
So this I call to mind in my distress:
that the voice of the Lord is brooding over these tossing waves –
that same voice and loving hand that fashioned softer, sweeter days.
And though my flesh and body fail,
my soul ever yearns for You at night
and in the morning my spirit longs for You. (Is. 26:9, Ps. 63:1)
You’ve spread dark clouds beneath Your feet, Lord,
so that I can no longer see Your footprints;
but I am trusting that Your path leads through the sea,
Yes, through these mighty, rushing waves.
But now my path has taken me to the mouth of Mariana,
deepest of all the ocean trenches,
and I’m fighting the fear of plunging into the abyss
and failing to reach my journey’s end,
All the more do I cry out therefore:
‘Part the heavens and come down!’ (Ps. 18:9; 77:19)
Now at last that the waves are subsiding,
I find myself becalmed in the doldrums
and enshrouded in fog –
and in the monotony of this featureless seascape,
there’s only too much time to brood and ruminate.
My failures increase my contrition,
and check and temper my pride,
but in no way do they diminish You,
or leave You enshrouded in gloom.
Help me to adjust my vision to embrace this narrow place,
when even the merest task feels like a mountainous mast to climb;
And where no mighty call or revelation surges through my soul,
help me to welcome the challenge of this enforced laying down,
as You apply Your rasp to encrusted limpet barnacles. (Isaiah 1:25)
What You’ve accomplished will stand forever, Lord Jesus;
so cleanse and restore me,
as I trim my sails to catch the breath of Your mercy flow.
I say ‘yes’ to this refining work,
and refuse to abandon the quest You’ve placed within my heart.
Hear my yearning, reward my searching!
Command the wind and waves to obey Your bidding,
and find new ways to prosper Your work
as I surrender myself afresh to Your leading.