For Christ's Crown and Covenant

The I AM’s of the Psalms: Wrestling with Life in a Fallen World

Many Christians are deeply familiar with Jesus’ seven “I AM” statements found in John’s Gospel: “I AM the bread of life” (6:48); “I AM the light of the world” (8:12); “I AM the door of the sheep” (10:7); “I AM the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I AM the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I AM the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6); “I AM the true vine” (15:1).

These wonderful truths about our Saviour have adorned our living room walls, our refrigerator doors, our morning coffee mugs — even our cars’ bumpers! We cannot be reminded enough of these great statements, in which Jesus identifies Himself as the ultimate provider of all that we broken and sinful human beings could ever need. He truly is our Good Shepherd, and in Him we lack nothing (Psalm 23:1) — more than this, in the eloquent words of the old Authorized Version (KJV), our cups gushingly “runneth over” (v. 5).

But we find another set of “I AM” statements in the book of Psalms — a set of “I AM” statements that are perhaps less familiar to many Christians, and less likely to adorn our living room walls, refrigerator doors, and coffee mugs. We might call these the “I AM” statements of the people of God, as they wrestle with life in this fallen world. As they are confronted with the pervasive influence of sin — both remaining sin in their own hearts and the overflow of sin in the lives of others. In short, these are the “I AM” statements of those on their way to the Celestial City — the Church Militant — fighting enemies far more intimidating and powerful than even the mighty Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites — all combined! For the apostle Paul reminds us, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). And the Psalms do not gloss over the harsh realities that attend this holy wrestling.

A mere sampling of the Psalter’s emphasis on these realities, as they press in upon the people of God in this world — given in the form of “I AM” epithets — is remarkably comprehensive: “I am weak” (Psalm 6:2); “I am desolate and afflicted” (25:16); “I am in trouble” (31:9); “I am feeble and severely broken” (38:8); “I am ready to fall” (38:17); “I am poor and needy” (40:17); “I am restless in my complaint” (55:2); “I am weary with my crying” (69:3); “I am full of heaviness” (69:20); “I am poor and sorrowful” (69:29); “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (77:4); “I am counted as those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength” (88:4); “I am distraught” (88:15); “I am a stranger in the earth” (119:19); “I am small and despised” (119:141); “I am brought very low” (142:6).

What a sobering — yet realistic — picture of our lives in this fallen world! As the apostle Paul puts it (quoting Psalm 44:22!): “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:36). So do we just throw our hands up in the air and say ‘The road to heaven is hard and harsh. Just buckle down and ride it out’? Absolutely not! For the apostle Paul goes on to say: “Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 37)! That’s right — MORE THAN CONQUERORS!

Notice that Paul does not say despite all these things’. Paul does not say ‘Even though we have to go through all these things, nevertheless, in the end we will be more than conquerors’. As true as that may be, the apostle has something far more comforting in mind. What Paul is saying is that it is out of the very matrix of these things — these things that threaten to destroy our happiness, our hope, our very lives themselves — it is in and through and by these things that God grabs hold of us and gives us the triumphant victory. It is “all these things” that God uses to demonstrate His own love and faithfulness in “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). And He gives us that sure and certain victory “through Him who loved us” — the great “I AM” Himself — Jesus Christ.

And we cannot overlook Paul’s emphasis upon God’s own LOVE for us in Christ. The apostle could have said ‘through Him who saved us’. Paul could have said ‘through Him who forgave us’. Paul could have said ‘through Him who reconciled us to Himself. These statements are all gloriously true! But Paul puts the emphasis on God’s LOVE. Because it is out of that LOVE — poured out upon us abundantly in Jesus Christ — that all our blessings flow. God saved us, forgave us, reconciled us to Himself because He LOVED us. This is why Paul could cry out in triumphant exclamation: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And this reality is to take hold of your own heart when you find yourself battling in the trenches of the “I AM’s” of the Psalms.

You need to say: ‘When I am weak’; ‘When I am desolate and afflicted’; ‘When I am in trouble’; ‘When I am ready to fall’; ‘When I am weary with my crying’; ‘When I am so troubled that I cannot speak’; ‘When I am distraught’; ‘When I am brought very low …’‘I will come to the One who says “I AM the bread of life”; “I AM the light of the world”; “I AM the door of the sheep”; “I AM the good shepherd”; “I AM the resurrection and the life”; “I AM the way, the truth, and the life”; “I AM the true vine.” You need to come to the One who says to your soul, “I AM your salvation” (Psalm 35:3). A salvation that flows out of the love of God in Jesus Christ — a love that was proven and demonstrated on the cross of Calvary. A love that traces back to the counsels of eternity. A love that will have no end. A love that absolutely nothing in all creation will be able to separate God’s elect from — in this life and the glory to come.

So the next time you find yourself wrestling with the sobering — yet realistic — “I Am’s” of life in this fallen world, remind yourself that in all these things you are more than a conqueror through Him who loved you. Let the “I Am’s” of the Psalms drive you to the great I AM Himself. And learn to rest in His love. Learn to rest in the firm persuasion “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

*All Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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