You are my hope; O Lord God, you are my trust and the source of my confidence from my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you….Now we have great confidence in God through Christ. (Psalm 71:5-6; 2 Cor 3:4)
This continues our series commenting on Scriptures selected by Elisabeth Elliot. My comments sometimes recall her radio teaching, writing, and example over the years. If you missed them, you can read What God Is to Me: Elisabeth Elliot (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
Older Man’s Psalm is Helpful to All
Psalm 71 is the prayer of an elderly man threatened by enemies. In addition to asking the Lord for help, he makes this wonderful affirmation of lifelong reliance on God in the verses above. The psalmist is a mature man of faith who responds to troubles by trusting the Lord, pleading for assistance, expressing confidence that God will answer him, and ending the Psalm with praise.
It reminds me of Charles Simeon (1759-1836). He retired after fifty-four years as pastor at one church, and he still awakened early to light his own fire and spend time alone with God in Bible study and prayer. A friend asked why he didn’t take it easy in his later years. Simeon replied, “What? Shall I not now run with all my might when the winning-post is in sight?” He understood our duty: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”1 We can never quit following Jesus.
Psalm 71 also reminds us of Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015). She treasured this Scripture when she was young and, by God’s grace, she never slacked off serving Christ. She was raised in a Christian family and came to rely on Jesus alone for salvation from childhood. Elisabeth learned to lean on the Lord from an early age and she was upheld by Him through her sunset years. Elliot stopped giving speeches in 2004 when her health declined and she suffered from dementia. Her third husband, Lars Gren, said that Elisabeth handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her two husbands. She accepted hard things, knowing they were no surprise to God and that He made no mistakes. Elisabeth would rather not have experienced these painful things, but she accepted and received them, depending on and gladly obeying Christ to the end.
Psalm 71 echoes part of Psalm 22, “From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”2 Elisabeth relied on the Lord because of His unchanging character, as revealed in the Scriptures, and because she experienced His kind dealings with her over the decades. She knew that Jesus is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.3 Her circumstances changed, but she was confident that Christ’s character never falters.
Elisabeth learned not to evaluate who the Lord is according to life’s ups and downs. She was not tossed back and forth by the waves, not blown here and there by the winds. Elisabeth knew that we live in the middle of God’s story as His dearly loved children, unable to see the ending or make complete sense of all the parts of His plan. So in her limited understanding, she remembered the trustworthiness of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. She trusted Christ and did the next right thing as He commanded in His word. And she urged us to live this way.4
Isaiah the prophet said, “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”5 The prophecy is supremely fulfilled in Jesus Christ as He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing that the cruel cross awaited Him.6 And Isaiah also encourages all God’s people to entrust ourselves to God and follow Him. The Lord will come to our aid; He will not let our enemies triumph over us, even when the worst things happen. God said to Ezekiel, “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them….”7 Here is the good kind of hard headed-ness. Firm, committed, single-minded, and determined to follow Christ, no matter how many times we stumble. God preserves His people, so that we can persevere in faith, hanging on to Him no matter what. Elisabeth quoted and heartily agreed with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised….Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”8
When Jesus’ followers hope, trust, and put our confidence in Him, He strengthens us and give us His peace. God helps us face any situation and be content because He gives us the victory through Christ our Lord. The Savior died in our place and rose from the grave as Conqueror and He makes us more than conquerors through Him. Now neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love….Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from God’s love that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.9
Prayer: Father, thank you for your faithfulness. Help us to be faithful to you until death. When we are weak, you are strong. The world, the flesh, and the devil scheme to hinder us from following Jesus. But we rejoice that we are already on the winning side with Christ our Leader. You never give up on us; help us not to give up on you. Give us your grace, mercy, and peace today so that we will not cave in to discouragement, deception, and doubt. Help us honor you in all our ways. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Notes: 1 James 1:12. 2 Psalm 22:10-11. 3 Ex 34:6-7. 4 Some of these thoughts helped by “How to Trust God in Painful Circumstances” by Patreeya Prasertvit of Cru. 5 Isaiah 50:7. 6 Luke 9:51. 7 Ezek 3:9. 8 Job 1:20; 13:15. 9 Rom 8:37–39.