Dr. David Powlison died on Friday, June 7, 2019. If you don’t recognize his name, he left behind a trove of books, articles, and lectures on the Christian life for you to learn and apply. Dr. Powlison was the Executive Director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), a faculty member at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Senior Editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. You can find a summary of his life HERE.
Tributes to Powlison abound in the blogosphere—all worthy of your time. I mention him because I was reading his book, God’s Grace in your Suffering (2016), on the day he died. Immediately his words came through with greater ethos. The book is an exposition of the hymn, How Firm a Foundation, with each chapter applying a stanza to personal suffering in this life. Through the song, Powlison emphasizes God speaking to you, “God’s voice speaks deeper than what hurts, brighter than what is dark, more enduring than what is lost, truer than what has happened.”
If you are hurting, the song and the book will help. It will encourage and comfort you. Read it; sing it; believe it.
How Firm a Foundation Lyrics
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Fear not, I am with you, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
My grace,all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
“Suffering is both the acid test and the catalyst. It reveals and forms faith. It also exposes and destroys counterfeit faith.”
“You must cast your cares on God, who cares for you, because you’re helpless in yourself (1 Pet. 5:7). Your cares are bigger than you. You are under pressure. You are vulnerable, and you know it. You are burdened about matters you cannot control or fix. Life is hard. You feel crushed, careworn, threatened. You come as a refugee, not boasting of your assets, but bringing your cares. And your Father cares for you. He is strong and good.”
“It’s not pleasant to need help. But it’s sheer joy to find help.”
“As troubles settle in, they claim your thought life, conversations, emotions, future, faith. They occupy wakeful hours at night. If you fall asleep, they wake up with you first thing in the morning. Dismay well covers a whole range of temptations—tendencies from troubled to unglued, from disappointed to hopeless, from worried to panicky, from frustrated to enraged.”
“The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow. Those rivers sweep many good things away. Your deepest distress is deeply distressing. But the God who loves you is Master of your significant sorrow. He calls you to go through even this hard thing. Though woe feels impossible, though woe devastates earthly hopes, God sets a boundary (but not where we would set it).”
“The emotions of Psalm 31 express how faith trusts in the midst of danger and anguish. The emotions of faith run the gamut from fear to courage, from sorrow to joy, from hate to love, from neediness to gratitude.”
“Many psalms capture this tension between our proclivity to sin and our fidelity to our Redeemer from sin.”
“The most remarkable good things that the planet has ever seen or will ever see can only come out in the context of suffering. We will look first at courageous endurance and then at wise love. The refiner’s fire brings forth gold out of affliction.”
“Your entire life is a holy experiment as God’s hands shape you into the image of his Son.”
“Much of how we grow is a matter of slow-forming habits—the accretion of new patterns of thinking, attitude, and response. Much of our growth happens subliminally, the way a child grows.”
“We twenty-first-century people are hasty folk. We like things to happen fast. We want problems to have quick solutions so we can move on to something else. But God has made our souls to work on agricultural time and child-rearing time.”
“If you have “leaned for repose” on Jesus, you will live. Repose here does not mean a restful state of peace and tranquility. It’s the old original meaning: to rely entirely, to depend, to actively place the weight of your life on Jesus. Put your entire faith, confidence, and trust in him.”
“The hymn writer knows our vulnerability to dismay. I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. If you’ve ever sung this hymn with your brothers and sisters, these last lines come out fiercely triumphant.”
Pastor Michael Wilburn
Immanuel Baptist Richmond