The Speech of the Oh So Wise
Shout for Joy

Learning to Count

“We went through fire and and through water; but you brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Ps. 66:12)

Psalm 66 is one of thanksgiving, of God’s faithfulness not only to a particular person (“I will tell you what he has done for my soul”) but for a community of people (“he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man”). Just as all particular acts of faithfulness point back to the great deliverance of God’s people in the Exodus in the Old Testament, all particular acts of faithfulness in the present point back to Jesus, to his death and resurrection, and even further back to the Exodus. God has delivered and is delivering an exiled people from Egypt, from Babylon, from Rome, from America, from the bondage of sin. He is making a people for Himself.

In the meantime, though, there’s fire and water. James says “Count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Ja. 1:2). He doesn’t say it IS joy, much less that it is happy, which would be nonsense, but he says we count it as joy, meaning, I think, that we can look beyond the moment to what it produces.

I just wish there was an easier way to get there. For some folks, that kind of counting comes hard. You have to learn to count that way.

My mother, who had Parkinson’s Disease, pretty much laid in a bed in a nursing home for two years. She was a believer. She wasn’t angry or bitter. She didn’t take refuge in self-pity. At the same time, she wasn’t happy. I do not know how she did that. Maybe in her better moments she was able to count it all joy. Maybe being so near the door of eternity she could, at times, glimpse a life come. I hope to count like her and then be “brought [ ] out to rich fulfillment.”

The Psalmist here speaks of real trials, of being brought into the net, of having a crushing burden laid on his back, of the Lord letting men ride over his head, of all the things God let happen to him. And yet he still blesses God, “because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (v. 20).

Frederick Buechner says "I only know about myself — that often it’s in my own darkest times, or out of them somehow, has come a treasure, a glimpse of something beyond or deep at the heart of suffering." All to say suffering is universal and yet individual, unique to each person. God comes to each of us in His own way. To some of us He has more to teach.

The psalm is one of promise and challenge. Can we bless God when he lets us suffer? Will we trust His work in fire and water?