Spiritual Comfort Food From Psalm 103
By LESLIE STRADER
Mashed potatoes and gravy. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake. There’s a reason it’s called “comfort food.” We turn to this nostalgic nourishment (those are some of mine anyway!) when we seek relief from pain or stress or sorrow. There is a kind of soul-ease that comes when our bellies are full of food that is familiar and satisfying.
So it is with our hearts and the Word of God.
Fried chicken might be off the menu during this Lenten season of sacrifice. But Psalm 103 can serve as spiritual “comfort food” whenever our hearts feel empty and our souls unsettled. Israel’s greatest king penned a high, holy, and intimate view of the God who created and loves us. This is truth that fills and sustains.
King David’s words here challenge our tendency toward self-focus. The world assaults us with a constant, palatable stream of messages encouraging us to fixate on our inner strength and positive thinking, our ability to change our own lives and “take back our power.” As children of God, we know better. But like chocolate cake fresh out of the oven, in our weak moments, we can’t help but indulge in that sweet deception.
As we move into Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for Easter Sunday, a deep dive into Psalm 103 can help right our hearts. The first five verses clearly define what we can expect of ourselves and what we can expect of God.
He begins with a call to worship God from the depths of our being: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul and all that is within me. Bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (vv. 1-2)
The words accomplish two things: they set our minds and hearts in the right place, giving praise to the only One who is worthy of it. And they reveal something about our condition: we are forgetful even of wonderful things. We are easily distracted and move on way too fast. God has given us the ability to remember. And we must use that gift to “forget not” all that He has done for us in the past, so we know we can trust Him for whatever is to come.
Verses 3-5 set up a contrast between God and man; namely, God’s steadfastness and perfection and man’s frailty and finiteness. Note the verbs – the work of God – align with our human need and condition:
“who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
We sin. We get sick. We find ourselves in depths and darkness that we can’t crawl our way out of. We long for things that gratify our flesh even if they only temporarily take the edge off. In other words, the only thing we can count on is that we will always be in need of something we can’t provide for ourselves.
But the Lord? He forgives all our sin (v. 3). No matter how large or small, impulsive or besetting, even the sin of loving anything or everything else more than Him. And forgiveness is the foundation of everything He does for us.
He heals us completely (v. 3). Does this mean we won’t be diagnosed with cancer or break a bone or catch a cold? Or that when we do, we have His word that He will heal us or our loved one? Experience tells us that’s not true. We do know that when physical healing happens, it is from the hand of God alone. But the healing here refers to something deeper.
This is a disease of the soul that He heals. Our souls are born sick with fear, hate, greed, shame, jealousy, lust, anger, guilt, and doubt to name a few. The blood of Jesus transforms our heart and emotions; His grace breathes life into a soul deadened by the things of this world. This healing is something only God can do, and it is a need greater even than physical restoration.
He redeems our life (v. 4). We were slaves to sin, confined to a pit that only got deeper when we tried to dig our way out. But through His perfect, sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection to glory, Jesus set us free, and even more, made us children of the King. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
He crowns us with steadfast love and mercy (v. 4). What King has ever shared His throne? This is a picture of honor for the impoverished. He not only rescues us from death, He gives us dignity. Jesus Christ has justified us “by his grace” (so that) we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). And the crown of grace and mercy He bestows completely covers us, an everlasting treasure more valuable than any earthly riches we might accumulate.
And lastly, He satisfies our desires with good (v. 5). Does He always give us what we ask for? No. Does He always give us what we think we need? No. That’s not loving, and it wouldn’t ultimately satisfy. God gets to define what is “good.” And what is good for you may not be good for me. And what was good for me ten years ago may not be good for me now. God knows what’s best for us at every moment. And we can trust Him to provide it.
Whatever form “good” takes, He promises renewal and strength in it. Like a molting bird whose feathers renew multiple times over the course of its life, God promises renewal for us – in body and spirit, in joy and hope, all the days of our life.
In this season of Lent – and every season of life – Psalm 103 calls us to abandon all hope of self-sufficiency, reject the power of personal resolve, and trust not in your bootstraps or your bank account. Instead, cling like the helpless child you are to our everlasting, never-failing, all-loving Lord.
Our challenge is not to work harder or be better. Our challenge to rest in the truth that all we need is found in Christ alone. He loves pouring out His grace, mercy, goodness and loving-kindness, the riches of His glory and the immeasurable greatness of His power over us who believe. Whatever pain is behind us, whatever unknowns are before us, whatever comes our way this day or this year, Psalm 103 assures us that our sovereign God is in control. He loves us without condition. And He will be enough.
There is so much more in this psalm, so read it this season as a prayer. Ask the Lord to give you a long memory of the great things He has done for you. Ask Him to help you choose to trust that He will continue to show you His Father-heart’s compassion. Ask Him to give you faith to live as forgiven and free as you are. And when the truth and reality of who God is falls on you afresh, like David, you will have no other choice than to cry out, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul and all that is within me! Bless His holy name!”
Former Abilenian Leslie Strader is a freelance writer in Tyler