Paul Jergan’s bend in the road came in the middle of the night, May 1, 2001, when he was jolted from bed by the ringing of the phone. Half-asleep, groping in the darkness for the phone, he muttered a groggy “hello.” A half-second later he was fully alert. It was the emergency room of a distant hospital. Paul’s son, Travis, a university student in another state, was in critical condition from alcohol poisoning. This was just the beginning of a prolonged nightmare of substance abuse, rehab, and parental anguish.
Julie Thompson’s bend in the road began with the discovery of a lump. For James P. Colepepper, it was a visit from police officers who told him his “identity” had been stolen and his credit cards used to finance an illegal operation. For Todd, it was the news that his company was filing for bankruptcy and laying off its employees.
At such times, we feel we’re at one of life’s dead ends; but for Christians, these are only bends in the road, disruptive moments sent to develop our faith and to prove God’s faithfulness. As Helen Steiner Rice put it:
But God has a much wider vision and He knows that it’s only a bend . . .
When I came to a bend in the road of my life, the writings of King David helped me regain my bearings. We can learn to handle our twisting pathway by studying this man’s life and reading his soul-searching Psalms. David teaches us that our God is there with us in the midst of our trials and in the center of our pain. He comforts, guides, teaches, and sustains us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we needn’t fear, for He is with us.
1. Think Differently About Hard Times
David’s Psalms help us think differently about our tribulations—and about our triumphant Lord. Robert C. McQuilkin, founder of Columbia International University, once gave a message on Psalm 23, telling his listeners that many of our problems are the result of thinking, “The Lord is my Shepherd, but I have this or that problem.” McQuilkin went on to say that we should frame it differently: “I have this or that problem, but the Lord is my shepherd.”
When we face trials, we need to remember who God is. Sometimes we get so focused on our trials, we forget to focus on Him. He has promised to care for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep in green pastures and by still waters, restoring our souls, anointing our wounds with His oil, filling our cups to overflowing. He’s the keeper of our lives, and His goodness and mercy follow us all our days.
2. Pray Earnestly in Hard Times
David also teaches us to pray earnestly. In Psalm 18, he recounted the harrowing experience of being pursued by King Saul and the Israeli army. In verse 6, he explained how he survived the experience: In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears.
The young fugitive went on to say that when God came to help him, it seemed that the earth shook and the hills quaked, for the Lord of heaven and earth was on a divine mission to answer his prayers.
In his book Men in Midlife Crisis, Pastor Jim Conway discusses the struggles he faced when he found himself in a full-blown midlife crisis. Everyone had advice for him, both his friends and the experts who sent him books. But the more he listened to these voices, the more discouraged he felt. Finally he found Psalm 18. Following the psalmist’s example, he cried to the Lord, praying earnestly, beseeching God for help.
Gradually Jim felt the God of all grace drawing him from many waters and delivering him from the strong enemy (verses 16-17). His optimism returned, the clouds parted, and he realized that the lessons he had learned would enrich his ministry for the rest of his life.
If you’re facing a bend in your life right now, think of it as an opportunity to cry out to God. Perhaps this is an opportunity for God to deepen your spiritual life and take you further into His pavilion of prayer than you’ve ever been before. Read Psalm 18, and visualize God shaking the earth to help you. He wants to turn your problems into prayers, and your prayers into praise, even as we read in verse 46: The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.
3. Wait Patiently in Hard Times
When we come to a bend in the road, we also have to yield the right-of-way to God, letting Him take the lead and waiting patiently for Him to work things out. He knows what’s around the corner, and He knows at what speed the curve should be taken. As David said in Psalm 31:14-15: But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand; deliver me . . . .
Shortly after George W. Truett, thirty years old, had been named pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, some of his men took him quail hunting. Among them was Jim Arnold, the city’s chief of police. Near the end of the hunting trip, a terrible accident occurred. Truett accidentally shot Captain Arnold in the right leg. The following Sunday, Arnold died. All Dallas was stunned and Truett was devastated. He paced the floor day and night, unable to eat or sleep, muttering, “I will never preach again. I could never again stand in the pulpit.”
Finally one of the great verses of King David came to mind—Psalm 31:15: My times are in Your hand. David wrote those words during a period of unbearable pain in his own life, and they resonated with the young preacher. That night Truett vividly dreamed of Jesus standing by his bed. The Lord said, “Be not afraid. You are my man from now on.” Later the dream came again, then a third time. At length it was announced that Truett was returning to the pulpit. Churches across Dallas dismissed services and gathered at First Baptist in support.
“When Brother Truett came into the pulpit,” a member later said, “he looked terrible, his face drawn, his eyes sad. He remained silent for a long moment. You could have heard a pin drop. When he began, somehow he sounded different. His voice! I shall never forget his voice that morning.” Truett remained at the First Baptist Church until his death in 1944. During his tenure, membership increased from 700 to over 7000, with a total of 19,531 new members received and over 5000 baptisms recorded.
Surrender your trial to God and wait on Him who holds our times in His hands. How often David told us to be of good courage and wait on the Lord (see Psalm 27:14, for example). As Fanny Crosby put it:
And let thy faith lean trustingly on Him who cares for thee;
And though the clouds hang drearily upon the brow of night,
Yet in the morning joy will come, and fill thy soul with light.
4. Praise Joyfully Despite Hard Times
The psalmist’s writings also teach us to praise joyfully, to be triumphant despite current circumstances, knowing that God reigns and heaven rules. Listen to what David said in Psalm 34:1: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Notice the words at all times and continually.
Verse 5 goes on to say: They looked to Him and were radiant.
Someone said that the Christian should always have two books near at hand—the Bible and a hymnbook. King David didn’t have a hymnbook, so he wrote his own. It is our book of Psalms, and in it we learn to praise the Lord when our pathways are straight and clear and when they aren’t. It’s impossible for Satan to remain in a room filled with worship or in a heart filled with praise and singing.
Are you facing a bend in the road today? Remember the shepherd boy, David. He faced one bend after another, and he left a lot of signposts for us to follow in the Psalms. Follow his example, and learn to think differently, pray earnestly, wait patiently, and praise joyfully.