O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble…Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. (Psalm 79:1, 9)
“When the Going Gets Tough…”
You have almost certainly heard the old adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” As is true of so many clever sayings, it’s not clear who originally came up with the phrase. Some researchers say it was Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the father of President John F. Kennedy. Others trace the saying to several different football coaches in the 1950s, most notably Paul “Bear” Bryant. Still others point out the similarities to Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Whatever the source, the adage has achieved the status of common wisdom. It’s even featured (and “reinterpreted”) in the musical version of SpongeBob! (Listen if you want to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Here’s a question: how should we end the phrase, “When the going gets tough…?”
For those football coaches, they’d say, “toughen up…try harder…get going!” Our SpongeBob characters answer, “when the going gets tough, the tough get lost!” I even saw a bumper sticker suggest, “when the going gets tough…get shopping!” But how will we respond when our desperation is deep; when our problems are insurmountable; when we discover that none of those solutions can really take care of our pain?
In Psalm 79, the song writer Asaph is confronted with that kind of deep desperation and pain. The destruction of Jerusalem, the decimation of Asaph’s people and the desecration of God’s Temple by the Babylonians has left him helpless and hopeless. Asaph cries out in prayer, “O God…they have defiled your holy temple…they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble…they have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem.” (vs. 1-3) The going has gotten tough, what can we do? Resistance is futile, escape is impossible, simply coping with this kind of loss is unthinkable!
Asaph’s song offers a roadmap of what to do and where to go when the going gets tough.
His first response is to observe and lament his situation. It does no good whatsoever to ignore or deny the death and destruction all around him. Instead of running away, Asaph dives into his pain; instead of “toughening up” he acknowledges his helplessness before God.
“We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us. How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?” (vs. 4-5)
Next, Asaph decides to confess and appeal. He realizes that sin and judgment are ultimately what lie behind the pain and suffering of this world, and so he confesses the sins of the past (vs. 8). But Asaph also trusts that God is merciful, compassionate, and forgiving (vs. 8-9), and so he appeals to God to “help us…deliver us…forgive our sins” for God’s future glory and reputation.
Finally, faithfully confident of God’s love and mercy, Asaph offers God his praise and promise. “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation, we will proclaim your praise.” (vs. 13)
“When the going gets tough…” Asaph doesn’t simply try harder; he doesn’t look for easy escapes or convenient distractions; he looks to God. It is his faith and trust in a loving Savior—not in his own resilience or in some kind of coping mechanism—that gives Asaph hope. And it is that same hope that we can claim today.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” As Christians, “what lies within us” is no less than the loving, powerful Spirit of Almighty God. The mistakes and sins of our past are tiny matters indeed when we have found forgiveness and real life in Jesus Christ. And we can face the most desperate situations imaginable because that same Savior holds the future in his hands. As the apostle James declares boldly, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12). And the Apostle Paul enthusiastically agrees, assuring us,
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, 38)
So, do not be haunted and held back by the sins your past; don’t be afraid or anxious of the troubles that lie ahead. Instead, “when the going gets tough,” fix your eyes on Jesus. He is here…he is real…and he is good. In all of the deserts of your life, he is the Living Water that can satisfy your most desperate need. Always remember that, and always stay thirsty for Him!