Because our joy and gladness come from our Lord more than from specific answers to our prayers. Because we love his salvation and experience his goodness again and again as a result of it. He is always writing new chapters, new stories, giving us fresh reasons to declare his steadfast love and faithfulness. And as we wait through trials in a God-honoring way, rejoicing and praising through the pain and heartache, those around us learn more about the God who is righteous, merciful, and good.
I’ve never met anyone who likes to wait. And yet we spend most of our lives doing exactly that.
Sometimes, waiting is just inconvenient. We wait for Uber rides, phone calls, sales, vacations, and doctor’s appointments. We wait in grocery-store lines or for packages to arrive. From our toddler years, we’ve waited, year after year, for Christmas morning.
At other times, waiting involves genuine struggle. We wait for relief from chronic pain, financial stress, or fractured relationships. We yearn for changes in our leaders, our workplaces, our schools, and our hearts. Currently, everyone is waiting for a pandemic to end. And we know all creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).
So, when I considered recently what psalm I wish every Christian knew by heart, I immediately thought of Psalm 40. It begins, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Who doesn’t find it challenging to wait patiently? But the words of God, here in this psalm, can help us do just that — and more.
My Painful Season of Waiting
Psalm 40 became uniquely personal to me in the mid-90s when I went through a dark season of depression, panic attacks, and hopelessness. I asked myself repeatedly, Will this ever end?
After nearly three years of waiting and crying out to God, I finally did get my life back. A better life, actually. And it seemed God had inspired David to write the opening verses of Psalm 40 just for me:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1–3)
David’s lack of specifics about his trial are a gift because we can apply his words to whatever our situation happens to be. In my case, “the pit of destruction” and “miry bog” God delivered me from were the result of sinful desires for self-exaltation and control. God delivers us from pits and bogs even when they’re of our own making and design.
Ever since then, the opening verses of Psalm 40 have been a recurring refrain for me, bringing hope in the midst of my failures and weakness.
More Than Can Be Told
Psalm 40 gives us invaluable counsel, not just to sit and wait quietly, but to go further and vocalize our praise to God as we wait. It models the exact opposite of a half-hearted, polite, formalistic, introspective response to God’s worthiness and works. Consider what David says:
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)
As he reflects on the divine rescue he’s experienced, David gets caught up in the reality, immensity, and inexhaustibility of God’s goodness. Wondrous deeds. Incomparable thoughts. He recognizes God is always working out his plans for us, even when we can’t see them. And he can’t keep it to himself.
It’s hard to miss David’s commitment to declaring his thoughts about God so that others can hear them:
- “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).
- “I will proclaim and tell of them” (Psalm 40:5).
- “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation. . . . I have not restrained my lips” (Psalm 40:9).
- “I have not hidden. . . . I have spoken. . . . I have not concealed” (Psalm 40:10).
These verses challenge and serve me when I’m tempted to complain about my current situation or silently endure it. Just recently, anxious thoughts about an unresolved situation began to weigh me down. In the midst of my self-focus, I said out loud, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us.” It instantly changed my perspective and lifted my spirit.
Waiting for God to act isn’t a time to grumble, but a fresh opportunity to remember that God will not restrain his mercy from us (Psalm 40:11). Even when the kids are disobeying again, when you’ve missed another deadline, and when the world seems against you. God’s wondrous deeds can never be recounted often enough, because they are more than can be told.
Waiting on Waiting
If the psalm ended at verse 11, we could tie a neat bow on it. David has been delivered from his past trial and exuberant praise is gushing forth. The waiting is over! Time to celebrate!
But the verses that follow paint a more realistic picture — one that’s often more familiar.
For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me! (Psalm 40:12–13)
David celebrates his past deliverance in the midst of needing to be delivered again. His words and actions confront our tendency to think that once God has brought us through a season of waiting, we won’t have to wait for something else.