God’s Word nourishes our hearts like nothing else can. Its pages declare the good news that Christ redeemed us from sin, gave us new life through the Spirit, and renamed us as God’s beloved children. When we’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we reach out and grasp our Bibles, feasting on the promises that He has kept and will fulfill.
Though we know where to find hope, we don’t always know how to use Scripture, especially when trying to comfort someone who’s suffering. Craving easy and immediate answers, we cherry-pick verses that appear to resolve the problem. As much as this approach seems helpful, it actually reaps trouble. When we pluck verses from their context and plaster them like Band-Aids over difficult situations, we risk mishandling Scripture and further injuring a wounded soul.
Whenever we open the Bible, we need to honor its divine inception and intent. By examining the context of the verse, evaluating how we’re using it, and considering the life and work of Christ, we can better divide the Word and convey His love.
What’s Good in Context
Let’s look at a classic verse that could be taken out of context and applied problematically to a specific trial.
Psalm 84:11 proclaims an amazing promise:
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
This psalm is exalting the tabernacle, the tented sanctuary where God fulfilled His promise to live among His people and be their God (Ex. 29:45). Expressing His longing to visit the Israelites’ house of worship, the psalmist gushes over the beauty of the Lord’s dwelling place, a refuge for birds and pilgrims alike.
If we extract verse 11 without paying attention to the psalm’s main theme, we miss the point the psalmist and, ultimately, the Lord are making. The primary “good thing” in this psalm is going to the tabernacle. Those who journey there are blessed because they get to appear before the living God in Zion.
We know from other passages of Scripture that when we delight in God, He gives us the desires of our hearts (Ps. 37:4), which means a closer relationship with Him. We also enjoy blessed assurance that He is with us and will never forsake us (Deut. 31:6). So as we look at Psalm 84:11 in its context and in reference to other biblical truths, we can conclude that God will not withhold Himself from those who walk uprightly. As Paul testifies in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The Wrong Focus
Psalm 84:11 seems like a good candidate for Scripture that would encourage those who feel God is denying them a blessing or refusing to answer their prayers. If a friend is struggling, we could point to the verse and say, “See this! God promises He doesn’t withhold good. So that good thing you want must not be good for you right now.”
The problem here is that this application editorializes God’s Word. Rather than highlighting what’s “good” according to this passage—worshiping God in His presence—it focuses on whatever things the person wants but doesn’t have. It also makes a value judgment regarding the thing being withheld, and it can cause the person to question if God is withholding something because they’re not walking uprightly, as though God is refusing the blessing to punish their sin.
As with other verses that can sound like platitudes, we don’t mean harm when we cite Psalm 84:11. In one sense, what we’re saying is true. God, in His sovereignty and kindness, works all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). So if He is choosing not to bestow a longed-for blessing now or ever, He has good reasons for it. We know He is continuing the work He started in us, conforming us to Christ and preparing us for eternal glory with Him. But we can’t know every reason He allows people to suffer unfulfilled desires. We can’t erase disappointment by devaluing good gifts.
Telling someone what they want isn’t good for them isn’t bearing with them in love. It cuts them. God-given desires for things like marriage and children and health are good. They’re not best or ultimate; only Christ fulfills our deepest needs. They can point us to our greatest joy, as well as drive us to our knees, lamenting like David, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
Our Ultimate Example
As we consider how to talk with someone who’s grieving an unfulfilled desire, we can look in Scripture at our perfect model of truth and grace.
Jesus didn’t rebuke the bleeding woman for touching his cloak. He didn’t tell the lame beggar that the ability to walk wasn’t good for him. Instead, He asked a question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). When the disciples wondered whose sin caused a man’s blindness, He answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3). Time and again, Jesus posed gentle yet insightful questions to hurting people, urging them to think about what their hearts truly desired and drawing their attention to His Father in heaven.
Jesus’ ministry on earth revealed the goal of godly comfort: encourage the sufferer to worship in the midst of pain. God gets the glory whether He chooses to fulfill their desires or not. Knowing that He is with us and for us, we can bless the Lord, even through tears.
Communicating Truth with Love
In light of this wisdom about comforting others, should we never mention Psalm 84:11 to someone yearning for a gift from God? Depending on the relationship and circumstance, we might encounter opportunities to talk about the message of Psalm 84 in a gracious way.
Here are a few questions to help guide if and how you have that conversation:
- Is the person a believer?
- Do you know them well enough to dive into tender topics?
- Consider the timing. Are they fresh off a loss, or has some time passed? Are you meeting for coffee, or did you just bump into each other at the store?
- Have you invested in their grief, listen to their cries, and provided physical support?
- Are you reminding them of God’s faithfulness and presence in their lives?
- Are you trusting the Spirit to convict them as he knows best or relying on your own ability to change them?
- Are you belittling the good thing they want or emphasizing the better thing they have—Christ himself?
Jesus’ death and resurrection brought those who were far off near to the throne of God. Because of His finished work, we have this blood-sealed promise that God doesn’t withhold Himself from us.
That’s the best comfort we could ever give someone who’s suffering. As we bear with them, let’s immerse ourselves in the heart of Psalm 84 and join the psalmist’s praise: “O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (v. 12).