There’s a small verse, tucked away at the end of Psalm 138 that has always captured my attention. The Psalmist sings,
“The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
What do you hear as you read this aloud?
I’m struck by the bold confidence that the writer begins with. He is certain that amidst the volatile nature of a changing world – God will fulfil His purpose for him. Whatever promises God has proclaimed, whatever hopes God has whispered to this person – they are confident that they will come to pass.
He then bursts into a spontaneous outbreak of worship, shouting out that the enduring, covenantal love of this God continues on forever.
This writer knows that kings will come and go. Empires will rise and fall. Wealth will transfer like the unpredictable Wall Street charts.
And yet the hesed, the never-quitting love of this God will be a constant. It is the first-principle. It is what all else can be grounded on. God has created out of love, and continues to be driven by love.
But then this final phrase. While the cymbal clash of praise is still resounding, there is this whisper that comes from the quiet place we’ve all known.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
At first glance, this writing almost seems schizophrenic. Why is this writer fluctuating from confidence, to praise, to doubt – in the space of three lines? Surely this is not a model of faith?
And yet, in my most honest moments, I recognise that this is so often my journey of faith. I, too, can display acts of trust and faithfulness that surprise me. And then, often within this security of confidence, I can suddenly doubt all that seemed so true, whispering “If you’re out there…” moments after exclaiming “Hallelujah!”
Rather than being an outlying case of a mentally strained individual, I see this verse as one of the most honest and universal calls of those who are following Jesus.
We believe, we praise, and we doubt. Sometimes, paradoxically, all at the same time.
It reminds me of the man, coming to Jesus with his epileptic son. Stop there, for a second.
Isn’t it amazing that we can rush on through this story, without pausing to hold the weight of it? Have I ever thought of this man’s life? The hope and joy at his son’s birth. The fear and confusion at the sight of his son’s first seizure. The anger at the injustice. The desire to take this burden off his child. The hope that he had been healed when it had been a long time between seizures. The despair when they came again.
This man – carrying this story, with this emotion churning away in his flesh and blood – comes to Jesus. He has heard stories of healing – he is hopeful. And yet – he has no doubt been disappointed before. Perhaps he has gone to other religious figures. Maybe he’s taken the boy to the local religious gathering for prayer.
Jesus speaks to him, saying, “All things are possible for one who believes!”
And this hurting hopeful man cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
So much of life is lived in this place. I believe. Help my unbelief.
I can sing The Creed, and also be asking God to help me with my doubts. I can be speaking at a youth event or church about faith, and be unsure that I’m doing what God wants me to do. I can pray for a friend, when I’m desperately awaiting a prayer to be answered – unsure if God will answer it.
And I love that God includes this prayer in the His prayer book. He tells us it’s OK – no, he encourages us – to pray this prayer. To say – in one breath – “God you’ll do what you’re going to do, I believe it – please don’t abandon me, please do it.”
Because that’s what He asks us to do. I don’t think God delights in our doubt and unbelief. I don’t think he wants us to be doubting – He’d probably prefer it if we could omit that last line.
But He does delight when His children come to Him. Over and above our faith or doubt, He joys in our love. And it’s love – bold and divine love – when we can sing, whisper or pray to the object of our desire – “I’m doubtful in you, please help me.”
Love surpasses cognition. It can transcend reason. And although we see only dimly – sometimes because the clouds of life have darkened our view – it is love when we can cling to the rock in whom we both love and doubt.
And, so often, we discover that this is the rock who clings back.