Psalm 66:8-12 “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”
Take a moment to think about all your favorite stories, movies, or TV shows in which nothing ever goes wrong. There are no disasters or tragedies. Everyone always gets along all the time. No one makes any mistakes. No one is ever in danger, ever in pain, ever embarrassed. Can you think of any? I can’t. Whether it is drama or comedy, there has to be some sort of tension to make the story work.
Real life is similar. As hard as we may try to make sure that nothing ever goes wrong, it is filled with drama, trouble, and tension. Only now it doesn’t simply serve to make life more interesting. It makes it a little scary. Most stories and shows have a happy ending. Reality doesn’t always work that way.
If you back up a few verses, it seems that Psalm 66 has the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea in mind. When it speaks of “preserving our life” and “keeping our feet from slipping,” it is clear that something hasn’t been going smoothly. Now here’s the shocking thing: Not only did our God know about it and fail to stop it. Sometimes he was the one behind it! “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water…”
“You did this, God,” the psalmist says. “You brought us into prison.” Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel trapped? You size up the situation, look at your alternatives, and none of them seem very good? I can quit my job at a time when jobs in my field are scarce and face bankruptcy and starvation. Or I can keep showing up for work that is slowly robbing me of my sanity, raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels, driving me to an early grave. I can skip the chemotherapy, let the cancer take its course, and leave my children fatherless or motherless. Or I can take the poison, suffer through months of misery, and maybe leave my children fatherless or motherless in the end anyway.
“You put me in this prison,” the psalmist says. “You laid this burden on my back, or at least you let the bad guys ride all over my head.” Why? Why would my Lord do such a thing? “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.” Precious metals come from metal ores that have a lot of worthless garbage mixed in with the silver or the gold. It’s all good for nothing until you drop it into a blast furnace, turn the heat up to a couple of thousand degrees, and burn out all the impurities.
Sons and daughters of God come from raw material that has a lot of worthless sin mixed in, not the least of which is the pride that makes us think that we are gifted enough and good enough to get by on our own. It is dangerous to deny it. It will bite you if you do. We might as well own up to it. God intends to refine us, to burn that pride out of us by bringing us to situations that bring us to our knees. He leads us to that place where we can do no more for ourselves. All we can do is cry out, “Lord, help me!” Here is the test: Will we despair and give up? Will we get mad at God and turn away from him? Or will we trust him?
His salvation is waiting. “…but you brought us to a place of abundance.” When the Lord first leads a person to faith, he works in a similar way, doesn’t he? He leads us to feel the heavy burden of our guilt. He brings us to see that our sin is bigger than us. It’s crushing weight brings us to the place where we see there is nothing left for us to do. “Lord, help me!” And then he brings us to the cross, where we find an abundance of grace, more love and forgiveness than we ever thought possible. He doesn’t just help us with the heavy load. At the cross, Jesus removes it entirely and carries it himself. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In leading us to repentance and faith, he brings us to a place of abundance.
The testing God sends after we come to faith brings us to a similar place of abundance. In stripping us of our self-dependence, and teaching us to depend on him, the Lord is drawing us closer to himself. He is showing us, truly, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” He is building in us the humble character and patient endurance that is appropriate for people who call themselves God’s sons and daughters. Even if the testing kills us, literally, he is only taking us home to the abundance of heaven. We have every reason to praise the God who preserves his people even though he may be testing us at any given moment.