Psalm 40 has always been one of my favorite psalms, having learned it as its beautiful words have been set to music in various styles. I think a part of why it strikes such a chord for me, and for the many who chose to set it to music is its universality in scope.
We all can relate with being the one waiting, hope, praying for God to reveal God’s self. We all go through times that we wait and long for God to stretch down Her hands like a mother lifting us up when we feel we have fallen beyond our strength to rise. Many of us know what it is to feel emotionally and physically spent, if not broken altogether, longing for God to use His healing presence upon us to mend what is broken in our lives and soul. And most of us know what it is for that wait to be long, hard, and hopeless.
The psalmist’s words come on the other side of that waiting. She or he has experienced the waiting, longing, and uncertainty. Yes, the psalmist knows that. But the psalmist also knows what it is to see God finally slowly begin to blow through like a gentle healing breeze in a way they can sense, ultimately to grow into a gale force wind of healing, liberation, peace, or transformation.
Their example is a good reminder for you and me. God does not promise to prevent every crisis or disaster we face. “In this world, there will be trouble” is a promise Jesus gave us in the Gospels that we can take to the bank. But he also promises us “I have overcome the world” and “I will be with you always, even to the end”. We can know that even we feel forsaken and forgotten, the living God who broke through in the Psalmist’s life can and will break through in our lives. We can trust that no matter who broken things become, our God is able to fit the pieces back together into an even more beautiful masterpiece.
My wife (who is also a preacher) often tells a story she heard as a little girl. There was a man who was a wealthy king in a land whose greatest treasure was one enormous, beautiful, irreplaceable gem-stone. The king kept it in a locked room, but it was known throughout all the lands and gave the kingdom a great reputation throughout all the lands. Regularly the king would visit this room, polish the stone, and inspect it.
One day, the king did this and to his horror found a giant crack had appeared right through the middle of the gem-stone. Aghast, he called all the jewelers and gem-workers to inspect. All said they had no idea how this precious gem had broken. All said it was ruined, unfixable. All save one man.
This man said “given the time, I can make this gem ever better than before”.
Grasping onto that thin thread of hope, the king gave it to the gem worker, waiting for its repair. The gem worker said he would contact the king when the needed repair work was done. The king waited. And waited. And waited. Months passed. Finally the king, accompanied by soldiers, stormed into the gem-workers workshop demanding he bring out the gem.
The gem-worker brought the finished work under a sheet to the king’s palace, with the whole country gathered around to witness the unveiling.
“Show me how you have fixed our national treasure”, the king asked.
Nodding, the man lifted the sheet. Every waited, and gasped in horror as they saw that, though expertly polished, the gem still had a crack, in fact now an even larger one.
The king’s face turned beet red. Furious, he raged. “I give you months to fix it. You said it would be even better than before. But, look – you’ve even made the crack worse”.
“No,” the gem-worked said, “His majesty is not seeing it fully. Watch”. The gem-worker began to slowly trace the crack. As he did so, one by one people began to gasp as they realized what the gem-worker had done. What looked at first like an artless crack was in fact the intricate carving of a beautiful bouquet of roses.
As the king’s jaw dropped, the gem-worker said, “I told you not that I would get rid of the crack. All the other gem-workers in the country agreed that was impossible. You cannot undo what is done. But I did tell you I would fix it by making it more majestic than before, which I have. I used the crack to carve into the stone these flowers. Now our country not only has the largest gem found in the world, but the most beautiful – the one with flowers in its heart”.
When I think of how God works with us as God did with the Psalmist, I think of this story. For reasons I cannot comprehend and may never understand til I see Jesus face to face in glory, God is not always able to prevent or undo painful things in our lives. Yet like the gem-worker, if we let God can stay by our side the whole time using the cracks the pain produce to carve beauty into our hearts and into our lives, transforming tragedy into transformation.
This experience leads the psalmist to praise God, to grope for how to best worship. She or he tells their story, considers songs and sacrifice. Somehow though they sense God’s whisper in their now beautified soul, telling them it is not sacrifice God wants but for them to find themselves in the story of the book, the story of God’s saving, transforming, liberating work in this world so full of brokenness. God desirs them to cooperate with God in that work in their daily life.
This reminds me that we should take time to thank God for the many ways God works in our life. But thanks must go beyond words. It must extend into becoming ones committed to being partners with God in this work of sitting down with those whose hearts have been broken and helping them finding mending, even if that mending does not remove the cracks but turn them into sources of deeper beauty.
Let it be so.