In a time of terrible trouble, what have you asked God to do for you?
Threshold Choirs are groups that sing at the bedsides of seriously ill people, many of whom are in the final stages of life. In groups of two or three, members of these choirs sing in homes, hospitals and hospices, offering songs and hymns ranging from “Ave Maria” to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Such songs are soothing to people on the threshold between life and death. Frequently, as the singing begins, the patient’s heartbeat steadies and their breathing becomes less labored. These songs are a comforting and healing gift to people facing death, bringing them a sense of peace.
The Book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the people of Israel, and it include many selections that are songs of comfort, healing and hope. The psalms take the pain of life very seriously, but offer a focus on God that can help us to deal with our difficulties.
In the early verses of Psalm 40, the writer was in terrible trouble, perhaps even in the final stages of life. But when he put his hope in the LORD, he says that God “leaned down to me; he listened to my cry for help. He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock (Psalm 40:1-2).
In the most desperate circumstances, God comes to us, listens to us, lifts us and stabilizes us. This is true when we move from illness to healing, and also when we move from life to everlasting life. Comfort and peace can come at every stage of life, when we put our hope in the Lord. God can put “a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God. Many people will learn of this and be amazed; they will trust the LORD” (verse 3).
Although Christians today don’t tend to sing straight out of the Book of Psalms, we have hymnbooks that contain songs about sin, death, social ills, pain, and personal troubles. But as serious as these topics are, most hymns are written in the vocabulary of comfort, healing, hope and peace.
Consider the well-known hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” It speaks of deep waters, rivers of sorrow, and fiery trials, similar to the hardship and challenges experienced by the writer of Psalm 40. But the hymn then offers God’s response: “that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”
The proof of God’s care is seen most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God sent Jesus into the mud and filth of human life to lift us up and put us on solid ground. That is why “How Firm a Foundation” says, “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes.” In every threshold situation, God and Jesus are available to rescue us and give us peace.
Lord, in times of trouble, give me comfort, healing, hope and peace. Amen.