The Goodness of God in Deferring Deliverance

Gary Wilkerson

Allowing Our Troubles to Bring Him Glory

In the span of a mere ten verses, David expressed all the pains of life. Psalm 6 contains a revealing glimpse into the agonies that our spiritual ancestor endured all at one time, sufferings that would stretch any person beyond their limits. We see David struggled with sin, endured physical sickness, cried out with an anguished soul, faced threatening enemies and looked death squarely in the face.

There is rarely a season in our lives when we aren’t subjected to an attack from the enemy. The psalms give compassionate voice to our pain and hope to our spirits. What surprises me about Psalm 6 is just how much David suffered at one time. In one eighteen-word passage, he detailed many of those sufferings. “I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled” (Psalm 6:2-3, ESV). In this prayer, David sought hope for deliverance from haunting sins, bodily pain, psychological torment and literal enemies. Mostly, he sought reconciliation with God. It was a lot to ask for, but despite his utterly broken state, David knew the healing and restoring nature of the Lord.

David clearly expected to face God’s wrath. He opened with a plea, “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath” (Psalm 6:1). As he suffered, he regretted all of his past transgressions. He knew he deserved God’s wrath, yet still he pleaded, “O Lord—how long?” (Psalm 6:3). In other words, “How long will wickedness have dominion over me? How long until I break free? How long do I have to suffer from my sinful past? I’m downcast, troubled, discouraged and fearful, and my body is wasting away. God, how long will you wait to deliver me from this death?”

David also lived in perpetual fear. He bargained with God, “In death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Psalm 6:5). His nagging fear of death is commonly known as existential dread. Simply put, David’s life was as heavy as it gets.

With a snap of his finger, God could have put an end to every major problem David faced, but he didn’t.

No one who suffers wants to hear that God is using their troubles to work a greater purpose. Paul made it clear, however, that our ongoing trials produce more fruit than might come forth from an instantaneous deliverance. “Endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:4). In short, discipleship takes place in every discipline that comes our way.

In this stage of David’s life, God was clearly deferring his servant’s deliverance. The Lord desired something greater for David than any of the king’s successes could have won. Indeed, for every follower of Jesus, this kind of painful deferral is where the rubber meets the road. We know that God is good, yet that doesn’t mean we’ll always see deliverance from our trials. It is a simple fact that some troubles won’t be resolved on this side of heaven.

So, why even ask for deliverance if God might defer it? Let me be clear that it is never wrong to desire that God would deliver us. Yet David’s life shows us that God may have a deeper work in mind for us. In David’s case, that deeper work had to do with fear.

David was acutely conscious of his sins, and he knew that God judges with righteous judgment and that no sin escapes him. Both Testaments speak clearly of God’s wrath, declaring that his blessings and his warnings go hand in hand. David knew this and trembled.

This may sound depressing to you, but the fact is we can’t rejoice in the full victory of the cross without seeing the depth of our sin for what it is. Paul referred to this as he spoke of the coming judgment. “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6-8).

David knew that God was more than a Lord over quiet streams and peaceful waters; he was also a God of wrathful indignation. David had seen what happened to Saul, the previous king whose unrepented sins brought him continual torment. David might have thought, “Maybe my awful sins have made me unworthy of God’s forgiveness. Maybe I’ll lose the kingdom the way Saul did.”

In another psalm, David prayed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). This wasn’t just a fearful confession; underneath, David was saying something deeply personal. He recognized that his sin was relational, that he had violated his intimate relationship with the Lord.

David wanted more than anything to be restored to God because he valued that intimacy above all else. He continued praying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:10-11).

We must take a high view of God’s judgment because it is what defeats death, ending it completely.

Concerning this judgment, we are told, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15).

The figure here who treads the winepress of God’s wrath and fury – the one with a sword emerging from his mouth – is none other than Jesus. The prophet Isaiah was astonished to see such a wrathful image of the coming Messiah. Yet the Lord declared to him, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath” (Isaiah 63:3). Simply put, there is a side to the Lord’s nature that brings righteous judgment.

A bewildered Isaiah asked, “Who is this…?” (Isaiah 63:1). Many in the church today ask the same question, arguing, “God can’t possibly be a wrathful judge. Those days are over. God is love.” They don’t understand that the Lord’s justice and righteous judgment are meant for our benefit. Jesus made clear how and why he comes to judge. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:21).

David grasped this as he wrote, “Rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath” (Psalm 6:1). He was acknowledging God’s just nature. He also drew on God’s merciful nature and unwavering love. “Deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 6:4). David was saying, “I understand your anger, O Lord. I know that if you rebuke me, I’m lost. Save me, Father, as only you can.”

Christ revealed a powerful truth about God’s wrath in the Garden of Gethsemane.

On the night before he was arrested, Jesus prayed, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28).

Who wouldn’t ask for deliverance at such a time? Even Jesus desired it, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). What was this cup that Jesus mentioned? It was the cup of God’s wrath, filled with all the sin of humankind. Christ knew he was about to go to the cross where he would bear God’s wrath over those sins.

Despite his request for deliverance, Jesus famously added, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Christ knew at his crucial moment the significance of holding all sin and death in his hands. Without his sacrifice at the cross, there would be no remedy, hope, redemption, deliverance or salvation, only judgment and death.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Our Savior accepted great suffering for the kingdom’s sake. Likewise, as we suffer, may we be conformed to Christ’s image, knowing that the path the Father has given us is all to his eternal glory.

David saw the Old Testament pointing the way to the cross of Christ.

Despite knowing he deserved judgment, David knew the liberating power of God’s everlasting mercies. His heart leaped in joyful praise at the thought. “Save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 6:4). Indeed, even before being delivered, David testified, “The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment” (Psalm 6:8-10).

What a moment for David as well as for us. Like him, we have anguished moments of shame and fear, doubting God’s love. We teeter on the edge of hope, wondering if we face the death of all that is precious to us. Such moments come to us all.

Friend, that moment is our discipline into mature faith. It is then we discover there is no longer condemnation but forgiveness, restoration and, yes, power. We still repent, yet we also give thanks, rejoicing that the Lord hears the sound of our weeping. He sets us free onto holy ground because he bore the wrath for us and his victory is total. Hallelujah!