I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV).
“I love Jesus with all my heart, Leeann. I really do. But I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Tom had come a long way from our first meeting when he lived in a tent and struggled with an addiction that started in his early teens. By the day of his confession of faith and fear, he had been through recovery (more than once) and was a year or so into living a relatively stable life.
“I love Jesus…but I’m not going to make it.” His addiction overwhelmed him, and he came to tell me, his pastor and friend, the truth of his reality.
I was a young and dumb church planter of about three years at the time. (Confession: ten years later, I don’t feel so young, but I’m sure I know even less than I thought I did back then.) I had been trained since childhood to believe that faith in Jesus immediately fixed everything, even something as hard to kick as a heroin addiction. I would learn later that it can take as many as seven visits to rehab for the healing of recovery to stick in a person’s life. Seven times!
In that moment, in my naivete, I couldn’t think of the “right” words to share with my friend who was losing his fight for freedom. “If you’re not going to make it, then go down fighting,” was all I could say.
Down he went. First a relapse and a return to homelessness. Then an arrest. He was in the “pit.”
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire” (vv. 1-2).
If it were written for today, Psalm 40 might read, “I held on, and I struggled, and then I held on some more.”
Have you ever been in the pit? It’s the place where all hope seems lost. It’s the place where it feels like desperately fought for freedom will never come. I think our modern understanding of the word “patiently” in verse 1 distracts us from the psalmist’s urgency. “Slimy pit” also translates to “pit of death” or “pit of destruction,” concepts that give us more insight into what the psalmists meant by waiting. Sometimes waiting for God can be very hard work. If it were written for today, this psalm might read, “I held on, and I struggled, and then I held on some more.”
Tom’s admission that he would soon be at the mercy of his addiction again was a declaration akin to the psalmist’s need for rescue. In that moment neither of us knew what to do next. Thank God we didn’t need to know. In the years since, I have come to understand that even when those of us on the outside of Tom’s journey couldn’t see it, God was already at work within him, his companion through all the ups and downs.
Eventually, God set Tom’s feet on solid rock. From that place, he grew to be the contractor he wanted to be, using his skills to bring order and beauty to worn-out, rundown spaces and telling his story to anyone who would listen.
Honestly, I know even less now about how God brings life and hope to situations where all seems lost. But I know it happens. I’m a witness. If you (or someone you know) is in the pit, keep holding on. It might take a long time, but eventually, God will lead you to solid rock.