When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; and he brought me into a spacious place. (Psalm 118:5)
If you read the title of this post and immediately thought of the song “Sultans of Swing,” then you are either a young fan of classic rock or a not-so-young child of the 1970’s. Guess which one I am. Yes, I still remember the song blasting through the JBL speakers as I was tooling around in my ’71 Ford LTD convertible that summer before my senior year.
Maybe however, you read the title and thought of its literal meaning. Straits are a narrow passage between two large bodies of water—think Mackinac, Magellan, Gibraltar. Navigating these straits was historically a difficult proposition, no matter the circumstances. But sailing through these passages during turbulent times could be extremely dangerous or even catastrophic. Hence, sailors often found themselves in “dire straits,” long before any of us ever found them on MTV!
In Psalm 118 we discover a treasure trove of beautiful and oft-repeated verses. The very first refrain, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever!” is found in scripture over 40 times. (You might have even learned it as “God is good! All the time!”) Verse 14 is a quote from the song of Moses (Exodus 15:2) that is later used by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2). Verse 6 is quoted in Hebrews 13:6, and verses 22-23 appear five times in the New Testament, referring to Jesus himself: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Verses 26 and 27 even provide the backdrop for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:8-9).
But as beautiful and significant as Psalm 118 may be, I have found it to be particularly comforting when I am in those “dire straits” of life.
The psalmist wants everyone to know that God’s love “endures forever” because he has experienced it first-hand. He describes his own turbulent circumstances—the nations were surrounding him, swarming around him like bees and pushing him back until he was almost ready to fall (vs. 11-13). But in those very worst of times the Lord heard his cry, the Lord helped him, the Lord brought him through. “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; and he brought me into a spacious place” (vs. 5).
The language in verse 5 is poetic and evocative. The Hebrew word translated as “hard pressed” is metzar, which can mean “trouble or distress,” but it can also literally mean a “narrow passage” or “strait.” When the songwriter was in deep distress, the Lord brought him through the dire straits…the turbulent waters…and out again into a spacious place. The Lord is good, and his love endures forever. He is our strength, our salvation, and our song!
These days, we might be finding ourselves in some dire straits. Things seem “hard pressed” on every side—pandemics and politics, financial or family stress, uncertainty and unrest. We may feel like we are being “pushed back and about to fall,” but our good Lord is here to bring us through the metzar and into a better, spacious place. In fact, those narrow passages are actually part of our journey to the heart of God. They are “the gates of the righteous” through which we enter and give thanks (vs. 19-21). We can’t avoid the gate…the narrow passage…but we can enter it and come through it by the grace of God.
Jesus tells his disciples they must “enter through the narrow gate” if they hope to find that spacious place…to discover real, eternal life in Him (Matthew 7:13-14). In fact, he tells us in no uncertain terms, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9)
We can never be smart enough or good enough or strong enough to create for ourselves the kind of spacious place that our good God is preparing for us. But we can know the one true Gate that leads to real life. When we are hard pressed on every side, we can be confident and hopeful with Jesus by our side to get us through the dire straits. Don’t just pray for the struggles to end, pray for the Savior to come and meet you there! He is the Gate, he is the Way, he is the Living Water of life. Always stay thirsty for him.