READ : Psalm 55:1-23
What do you do when you’re upset, worried, really bothered by something? When life has got you down, how can you get up again? Listen to some advice from a man who learned about the best way to deal with stress.
More than 1600 years ago a Christian teacher named Athanasius put his finger on the genius of the book of Psalms when he said this: “Most of scripture speaks to us, but the Psalms speak for us.” That’s the quality that makes these songs so precious to the family of God. In this book we find echos of our own experiences of faith and life – both the good ones and the bad. The Psalms serve up the heart-cries of people who knew and loved God, and weren’t afraid of telling him whatever they happened to be feeling. This book has songs for every season of life, prayers for every mood. Some of the Psalms bubble over with praise, love and thanksgiving for the sheer goodness of God. Others pour out the pain and questioning of people who want to trust in God, but who’ve been hurt so terribly by life they aren’t sure they know how.
Psalm 55 is one of these latter kind of songs. It’s definitely not one of the bubbling-over-with-thanks Psalms. This Psalm was written to express feelings of betrayal and hurt. It was written by someone who was fearful, and terribly worried about what was going to happen to him next. It helps us when we need to put into words the feeling that life has us by the throat, and God seems to be so far away.
DAZED, HURT AND CONFUSED
“God, listen to my prayer.
Pay attention to my cry for help.
Hear me and answer me.
My thoughts upset me. I’m very troubled. . . .
I feel great pain deep down inside me.
The terrors of death are crushing me.
Fear and trembling have taken hold of me.
Panic has overpowered me.
I said, “I wish I had wings like a dove!
Then I would fly away and be at rest.
I would escape to a place far away. . . .
far away from the winds and storms I’m facing.”
(vv. 1-8, NIrV)
Those are the words of a man who is dazed, hurt, confused by the trouble and loss that have befallen him. Turmoil and restlessness race through this Psalm from one end to the other. Its writer has more mood swings than a temperamental two year old.
But his basic experience seems to have been one of betrayal (vv. 12-14, 20-21). He talks about a faithful friend who has turned against him. If this Psalm was written by David, as a note attached to it says, it may have come from the time when his son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to steal the kingdom from him. David’s close friend and counselor Ahithophel turned against him and went over to the side of the rebels. Suddenly it seemed as if the whole world had rejected David, and he was likely to lose everything – his kingdom, his family, his palace, and his life.
Among the swirling emotions expressed in this Psalm are confusion, rejection, panic, rage, grief. David wonders where God is, and why he doesn’t seem to answer his prayers (vv. 1-3). He wishes that he had a bird’s wing, so he could escape all his troubles, fly away and find rest and peace. He feels trapped in his suffering. It all seemed so unreal, as if this couldn’t be happening to him. He just wanted to go to sleep and wake up and discover that it was all a bad dream (vv. 4-8). He feels disillusionment. Having been betrayed himself, David now looks at the whole world differently. Life no longer seems as good as it once did, or people as innocent. He now sees treachery and deceit wherever he looks. He no longer finds himself able to trust anyone (vv. 9-11). And added to it all, David feels this terrible burning anger against those who have hurt him. He is thirsty for vengeance. He wants his enemies to suffer. He wants to see them die, and not just die, but die in agony and terror (v. 15). He hopes that the earth swallows them up. Psalm 55 isn’t very pretty, but it is very honest.
A MOMENTOUS CHOICE
You know, when something similar has happened to you, you face a big decision. When you have been afflicted with trouble the way David was, you face a real choice. The most important question is not whether we will experience grief – or loss, or betrayal, or suffering – because most of us will somewhere along the line. It’s not even whether we’ll feel like David did: confused, angry, worried. We probably will do that too.
No, the really important question is how will you respond to those feelings when they come? What will you do when you have them? Will you sulk, and nurse your rage, feeding yourself with thoughts of revenge? Will you entertain hatred for those who’ve hurt you, cultivate it like a garden, until it bears bitter fruit throughout your whole life? Some do that. Will you dwell on your pain, until it defines who you are? Will you focus on your loss or your mistreatment so that eventually you become emotionally crippled, a permanent victim of whatever has happened to you? Some people do that. Will you let your worry and anxiety keep tearing at you, destroying all peace, robbing you of hope, so fearful about future suffering or future loss that you can hardly function? Some people do that as well. Or will you shift your resentment to God, and decide that he’s the one to blame? Will you conclude that because of what happened, you can no longer believe in a God who is righteous and good? I’m afraid that some do that too.
But David the psalmist has a better way. In his distress, and despite his anguish, his experience of betrayal, his fears and his worries, he makes a momentous choice. He chooses to put his trust in God. “But as for me,” he declares to God in the Psalm’s concluding verse, “I trust in you” (v. 23). He decides that God is still worthy of being believed in and depended upon. He affirms that God is still capable of saving him. He concludes that God is big enough and strong enough to handle his troubles, come what may. So David chooses to place himself once again consciously and quietly in the hands of God.
In doing so, David makes a further critical choice. He decides to let go of his anger and his hate, his apprehension and fear, and to turn all those things over to God as well. Listen to this marvelous piece of advice in verse 22: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (niv). This is wise counsel indeed: “Turn your worries over to the Lord. He will keep you going” (v. 22, NIrV). If you decide to put your self in God’s hands, he will bring you through.
What does it really mean to do this? If you’re struggling with some kind of heavy emotional baggage, how do you turn that over to God? Exactly what sort of steps do you take in order to cast your cares on the Lord?
I don’t claim to have a quick or easy formula for getting rid of these kinds of burdens, things like anger, or fear, or worry, but I do think there are specific steps we can take. Let me suggest a few of them.
- Let your troubled time be a time when you consciously try to draw closer to God. That doesn’t happen automatically, you know, whenever you’re facing some kind of suffering or affliction. In fact, for some, just the opposite occurs. Suffering causes them to fall away from God or to turn against him, to turn their backs toward him. It all depends on what you most want. If you really want to find God’s presence and know his comfort, then you will have both those things. If you choose to seek the Lord when you are in trouble, you’ll discover that he’s there with you. But if you harden your heart against him, then you’ll find no help or comfort whatsoever.
- Let your troubled time also be a time when you test God’s promises. “He will sustain you,” our Psalm declares. “The Lord will never let you down.” My mother died when I was three years old. My father was a pastor, and eventually the time came when he had to return to the pulpit to preach once more. He chose an interesting title for his first sermon after my mother’s death. Some months before he had been window shopping in front of a bookstore, where a particular book title caught his eye. It was called Formulas for Stress and Strain. At first glance my father thought it was a book of popular psychology, but on closer examination he discovered it was an engineering textbook. It had been written for use in building bridges! That’s the title Dad used for his sermon – Formulas for Stress and Strain. He applied it to the promises of God. The Lord has promised to sustain us in trouble, to give us peace even in hard circumstances as we put our faith in him. This isn’t just wishful thinking. It is faith that endures despite disappointments and setbacks. Those promises of God, those formulas for the stresses and strains of life, aren’t pious platitudes or religious clich?s. They are the voice of proven experience, the testimonies of people who have tried them out in times of suffering and found that they hold true.
- Let your troubled time be a time when you really live your faith in God. I’m afraid that for many of us, faith is like a pilot’s parachute. We may stow it somewhere in the cockpit, but we hope we never have to rely on it. We hope that our bank account or our education or our family or our doctor will see us through. But faith only works when it’s used, and sometimes we must be forced into using it. God puts us into a situation where we have to trust him because we have no alternative. It’s hard to say that God is good when life is bad. It isn’t easy to commit yourself to the Lord when he has let you suffer. But that is the very time when your faith will grow the most, and when God is most glorified as you put your trust in him. When you lose what is most dear and precious – father, mother, husband, wife, child, friends, health, possessions, life itself – then if you can say to the Lord what Jacob said as he wrestled with him in the stream: “I will not let you go”; well, that’s real, God-honoring faith!
- Finally, let your troubled time be a time when you open yourself to God’s love. Even more important than loving God is being loved by God. The apostle Peter quotes the 22nd verse of Psalm 55 in his first letter: “Cast all your cares on him.” But instead of finishing the verse with a promise, as David does, Peter finishes with a reason: “because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). You see, the best reason for trusting in God is that he cares about us; it’s really that simple.
God loves us, and because he loves us God will do right by us. The God who is in control of the world, who oversees all the details of our lives, who does not let a hair fall from our heads without his express permission, has a heart of love for us. He has promised to make everything work together for our good in the end. That is why we can trust him.
So turn your cares over to him, and the Lord will take good care of you.