Trouble happens. Whether we like it or not, this is one of those undeniable truths of life on planet earth. Storms come, literally and figuratively. Whole communities get wiped out by wildfires, loved ones get sick and eventually pass away, our babies grow up and move away, political scandals abound. It would be easy, so very easy, to get disheartened by such things. But, God. In the middle of all this turmoil and sadness and grief, we can have hope. We can have peace. We can cast our eyes beyond our circumstances and onto the God who loves us. Lately I’ve been doing a slow stroll through the book of Psalms. Today I’ll be sharing some thoughts and observations from the reading of Psalm 5.
Psalm 5 NIV selected verses
2) Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
The day after I read this Psalm my family was to attend a very important meeting. We had prepared as best we knew how. Still, we were nervous and frustrated about things far beyond our control, and honestly, more than a little scared. I believe that our times of greatest desperation can work for our good when they drive us to the feet of the Father. When I have no idea where to turn, Jesus is the best place to start. As I read David’s words, I knew that he knew the despondency I was feeling (and then some). He needed help. He needed his Father.
It’s interesting to me that here David addresses God as “my King.” David, of course, had been anointed as king but had not yet assumed that role. Maybe, like me, he knew what a real dork he was on the inside. David knew the real king in Israel would always be Yahweh, regardless of which man was declared leader. It was to Him that David cried out for help.
That word “cry” got my attention as well. That word carries a connotation of desperation. It’s more than simply stating a need or request. There is an unmistakable intensity behind the words: “I need help and I need it NOW!”
3) In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
One of the things that gets my day off to a great start is to kiss Jeff good morning. On days when one of us is away or working, I feel the weight of that absence. I also like to have a few minutes of quiet, dedicated time with God in the mornings. It sets the tone for the rest of my day. Now I must admit that there are days, sometimes weeks, when my Quiet Time becomes an activity to be checked off the day’s agenda. I show up but I’m not fully engaged. But that’s another topic for another day. Meeting with my Father in the morning changes the trajectory of my entire day. His Word speaks truth into my heart. I may not be, but God is always, always fully engaged in our conversation (aka prayer). He hears the words I speak and the ones I don’t know how to express. I can rest secure in the knowledge that He has heard me and that He is at work – often behind the scenes in ways I could never imagine. I wait expectantly for Him to move. This does not mean that I get everything that I want when I want it. Actually, that’s almost never happened. But what I do get is what I need. And it’s better, so much better.
7-8) But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies – make your way straight before me.
Since this verse begins with a “but”, we can know that something significant was stated in verses 4-6. In this case David talks about wicked, arrogant, bloodthirsty, and deceitful men. We want to make a point of not being like these people because God detests and destroys them. We do not want to be an enemy of God!
Just look at the perspective here. David is allowed to enter into the presence of a holy God, not because he is such a wonderful guy, but because God has graciously allowed him in. Notice how David’s respect and affection are reflected the words he uses to refer to his Father: “Your great love”, “Your house”, “Your holy temple”, “Your righteousness”, “Your way”. David is clearly acknowledging the supremacy of the Father. Notice, too, David’s response to that: “In reverence I bow.” He then asks God to lead him and make His way straight before him. To me, this says, “You are God and I am not. Please show me which way to go. I’ll follow Your lead.” In this exchange, it is clear that God is the authority, the source of wisdom and strength. Too many times I approach God in prayer like I’m the coach giving instructions to my star quarterback: “All right, Lord, here’s what we’re gonna do. Now get out there and make it happen!” How arrogant of me! I forget that I’m just the waterboy.
I can lean hard on the goodness of God, but it is important – essential – that I continually check my own heart.
11-12) But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Here’s another “but” so we know what the previous verses dealt with those malicious, lying people, calling their throats “open graves”, and entreating God to banish them for their rebellion against Him.
In these verses I see three snapshots of progressive intimacy with God:
First, He is our refuge. This is like a city set apart from the dangerous territory that surrounds it. Inside its walls I can let my guard down. Not only that, I can sing for joy. Trouble and those previously mentioned evil people still exist, but here I am completely safe.
Second, He is our protection. The city has a King. The city is safe because of the authority and provision of the King. Because I love Him, I can rejoice. This is what our times of corporate worship are designed for – to clap and dance and sing, giving honor to the One we love.
Third, we are blessed. This is where things get really good. We are inside the walls of a city, protected by the King, and we have the honor of a personal relationship with Him. We are surrounded with His favor as a shield. Read that again: we are surrounded with His favor as a shield. Eventually we will have to face whatever lies outside the walls of the city. We can’t carry its walls with us everywhere we go, but the Lord of Hosts goes with us. We can stand secure behind His shield. The flaming arrows may come our way but His shield is impenetrable, and it surrounds us on all sides – protecting from the threats we expect and the ones that totally catch us off guard. We are safe. We are blessed.
If I could add one element of caution here, it would be not to assume that we in all ways and in every circumstance understand the mind of God. He is mighty and holy and wise far beyond our ability to understand – or to manipulate. We do not get to tell Him what to do and how things should go. Reading a psalm, even one as encouraging as this, does not mean that we can claim it as our own at all times and in all situations. God has purposes and methods that we will never fully comprehend. Difficulties will come into all of our lives. Being a Christ follower in no way suggests that we will never have troubles and that life will be all rainbows and unicorns.
What we do have in the middle of life’s struggles is Hope. Remember that important meeting my family had to attend? Nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – went like we expected. In fact, we ended up rearranging our schedules and driving several hours for a meeting that never took place. Talk about frustrating! But there is always more to the story. While we waited, we were able to have a conversation with one person, who then connected us to a second person. Had the meeting proceeded as planned, we would not have had that conversation and we never would have met the second person, who is an absolute game-changer in our particular situation. One of the things I’m learning about God is that He is always at work in our lives, in the things we see and the things we don’t. He has orchestrated events that are pretty much the opposite of what I expect to happen, yet in the end I see that this is actually the most perfect way for things to go.
As Christ followers, we are continually surrounded by the shield of His favor. The thing is, we can’t stand ten feet away and expect a shield to protect us. In order to be protected by someone’s shield, we have to get close. Really close. That, I believe, reflects what God wants most from us – our devoted trust and dependence, our willing response to His deep, deep love. The arrows will come our way, but they are no match for our King.
Photo credit: thehopeanchor.co.uk (Bodium castle)