The Psalms: Living With God at the Center, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how reorienting the Psalms are in a secular world that has rejected God as authority and has placed Man at the center of our daily decision making process. We make decisions based on what seems best to us, what makes sense, and based on what we prefer. We make a million decisions a day based on our own desires and preferences and on how we can best promote and defend our own “way of life.” This is not a new thing. We have been doing this for the entire history of humanity. It just takes different forms in different generations.

 

In the Psalms, we see a massive reorientation take place every time Israel gathers for worship. They move away from focusing on themselves and the input that they get from the world around them and they refocus on God and His ways. They confess sin, worship God, and bring their lives to Him. They recognize that there is evil in the world and that they proclaim that they do not want to be a part of it, but rather, they want to find their refuge in God. They reorient away from a common, human-centered, worldly understanding of life to a God-centered perspective on reality. In a time when Christianity is being pushed further and further to the margins of Western culture, this daily reorientation is very much needed for God’s people. In the Psalms, we do not see an encouragement to win, get our way, or take over the world. We see a call to trust God and find our hope in Him even in the midst of difficulty and struggle. Especially there. And, then to rejoice in the Lord!

 

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, recently said that “What the heart desires most, the mind finds reasonable, the will finds doable, and the emotions find desirable.” So, it is incumbent upon us as Christians for our hearts to be shaped and formed to desire God more than sin, getting our way, or finding acceptance or our place in the world. When we reorient to Him, then everything else begins to fall into place in its proper order.

 

Eugene Peterson, the spiritual writer/theologian, has said, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue. It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in…the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest.”

So, how do we sustain the interest? How are our hearts cultivated, shaped, and formed into the kind of heart that seeks after God? It is through putting ourselves before God daily and letting Him shape our hearts and minds so that our actions reflect His worth and His will.

Peterson goes on to say, “Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience, and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms,” and, “The goal of reading the Word is to listen for the voice of the God who speaks.” So, with that before us, let’s go back to the Psalms to both join with the ancient People of God as they expressed themselves to God and listen to Him as He speaks to us, moving away from the perspective of the world back to God Himself.

 

The previous post explored Psalms 1 and 2. In this one, I’ll continue with Psalms 3 and 4.

 

Psalm 3. A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom, his son.

O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah (Psalm 3:1, 2 ESV)

The setting here is deep into David’s reign as king over Israel. His son Absalom, whom he loves dearly, has rebelled against him and declared himself king. Absalom was full of style and was handsome and was very impressive. When he began the rebellion against David at Hebron, all of Israel and Judah flocked to him. David only had Joab, his army commander, and his bodyguard and a small remant of army remain with him. David, who had “slain his ten thousands” and had been heralded as the victor over Goliath and the Lord’s Anointed, was on the run, being hunted like an animal by his own son and the people that he had ruled and who had once loved him. I am struck here by how fickle people are, how they are so quick to side with who is new and who seems most impressive at the time. In reality, people are constantly assessing what situation will benefit them the most and they make decisions based off of that.

For David, he cried out to God about the large number of enemies he had. He recognized that he was in a world at war and his enemies were all around him. He was not deceived that he was immune to attack or that he dwelt safely in the land.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah (Psalm 3:3, 4 ESV)

 

Even though David’s whole nation has turned against him and his own son is leading the rebellion, David looks to God. Things could not have been much worse for David. How could he deal with this betrayal? Everything was falling apart. But, he looked to God as his shield, his glory, and the lifter of his head. He cried out to God and God answered him. It was in the suffering and the betrayal that he met God as his deliverer and that he experienced God’s glory. We think of God’s glory as everything going well and victory and being loved and successful. But, in reality, it is in the midst of suffering and persecution and hardship that we are to cry out to God. The bad times are NOT signs that God has abandoned us. They are opportunities for God to reveal Himself to us in a deeper way so that we can really see Him as the God who brings light out of darkness. This is how God works in intervening in our sin and forgiving us and in lifting our head in the midst of our enemies.

 

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Psalm 3:5, 6 ESV)

 

Even though David was being hunted like an animal by his own son and his countrymen, when he committed himself to the Lord and cried out to God as his shield and protection, he was able to lie down and sleep. He had peace. His rest was in the Lord and not in what he saw going on in the world around him. Things could not have been worse! But, God sustained him. He refused to be afraid of the thousands and thousands who were all around him and were hunting him down. His hope was in the Lord. This is a remarkable reorientation AWAY from the progress report that we get from the world regarding what reality is and TO the true story of God and what He is doing in the world and in our lives. It takes spiritual eyes to see God at work in the midst of our enemies. So, David prays, cries out to God, and entrusts himself to Him.

Arise, O Lord ! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Selah (Psalm 3:7, 8 ESV)

David cries out to God again. Continually. He recognizes that God is the One who strikes the wicked and defends him. There ARE wicked people out there. There ARE enemies of God who exist. And, they war against God’s people. But, instead of worrying, giving in to fear, being overwhelmed, or fighting our own battles in our own strength, David is an example of someone who cries out to God for deliverance, finds his rest in Him, and keeps on crying out to God for salvation. David recognizes that salvation belongs to God and to no one else. He asks for blessing from the Lord for himself and the people. He is NOT looking to the people for blessing, but only to God.

All of this is key when we live in a culture that has turned against God and His ways and seeks to persecute the people of God for trusting in Him alone and not looking to the world for our identity and refuge. We must recognize that there are wicked people in the world who are enemies of God and who are not interested in following Him. What is our response to be? Fear? Fighting in our own strength? None of that. God calls us to trust Him and to pray. To seek Him. To be found in Him. To delight in Him and to rest in Him. To make God our refuge and shield and to continue to cry to Him for deliverance. When we are facing hardship or struggle, we can praise God because we know that this is a chance to meet God and to rely on Him more.

Psalm 4.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

 

David cries out to God again. He says that God is the source of his righteousness. David does not look to himself or his good works. He only looks to God for rightstanding and for justification. He says that God has given him relief from distress before, so he comes to Him again and asks for more! This is the continual posture of the one who is dependent upon God. We often look to God to fix the situation so we can go on with our lives and enjoy peace and prosperity. God gives us relief, but often the circumstances do not change. So, we go to Him again and again and again for relief, comfort, and strength in the midst of difficult circumstances, persecution, and oppression. We so often think that answered prayers mean that the circumstances change. But, here, we see a picture of God answering prayer by granting His presence, mercy, comfort, and relief while the circumstances do not necessarily improve.

 

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:2, 3 ESV)

 

David is still being attacked by men who “love vain words and seek after lies.” He is still surrounded by enemies, but perhaps of a different sort than Absalom and his armies. How does he respond to this? He reminds his enemies (and himself, I think) that the Lord has set him apart for Himself. He finds his hope in the fact that he can pray and God hears him.

 

This is a massive reorientation AWAY from the world’s perspective that looks at power, beauty, strength, popularity, what is new, and whether or not you are leading the majority. David’s refuge is not found in any of those things. Rather, he takes comfort in the fact that he can pray and God hears. The very fact that he can have an audience with the living God about what is going on is his comfort and assurance. He isn’t even talking about changed circumstances or prayers being answered. He is comforted by the fact that he is set apart from God and the he can enter God’s presence and “call to him.”

 

Is that how we see things? It would be if we could see rightly. Just being able to cry out to the God who has set us apart for Himself should give us comfort in the midst of our enemies.

 

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4, 5 ESV)

 

We often talk about righteous anger and how we can be angry, but not sin. This is true. The Bible says so. But, it is very hard to be angry and not sin – or at least to be angry for very long. Being angry comes from feeling betrayed or out of control or not getting your way. It can come from other sources too, but the result is often that we act in ways that we shouldn’t. So, David tells us to “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” In other words, when anger arises, be quiet. Ponder. Be silent. Worship correctly. Put your trust in God. Only God can soothe the angry heart and if you don’t go to Him right away with it, be quiet, and let God deal with your heart as you worship Him, you are sure to sin.

 

Ephesians 4:26-27 and 30-32 explores this further: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil …. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t give an opportunity (some translations say “foothold” to the devil. Anger opens us up to all kinds of temptations and gives Satan a place in our lives where he can operate. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. When we are angry or engaging in coarse talk, we push out the controlling, comforting influence of the Holy Spirit was WE take control and assert ourselves.

 

Then, it says, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you…” We are to put away all anger. So, how can we have it and then be told to put it away. It is a real emotion. It comes up in our hearts. But, we are to put it away. We are to get rid of it as quickly as we can. Before the sun goes down. By being silent and pondering in our hearts God’s ways and worshiping and putting our trust in the Lord.

 

The world thrives on anger and rage and malice and bitterness. Revenge and Retribution. It is what it trafficks in as it tries to regain control and make things work in its own way. But, we are not to be that way. We are to trust God. We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The fact that Jesus fully took God’s wrath for us and fully forgave us of our sin demonstrates that we are to receive that and then treat others the same way. When we respond to others in anger and speak to people that way, we are sinning and putting upon them the wrath that Jesus bore on the cross. We do damage to people.

 

When we are angry, the only thing that we are supposed to do is sit on our beds, be quiet, worship God, and put our trust in the Lord as we put the anger away. God is the only one allowed to ACT in “righteous anger” because He is the only one who knows what to do perfectly.


There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord !” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:6, 7 ESV)

 

Charles Spurgeon, in his commentary on the Psalms entitled The Treasury of David, says about verse 6:


There were many, even among David’s own followers, who wanted to see rather than to believe. Alas! this is the tendency of us all! Even the regenerate sometimes groan after the sense and sight of prosperity, and are sad when darkness covers all good from view. As for worldlings, this is their unceasing cry.

Who will shew us any good? Never satisfied, their gaping mouths are turned in every direction, their empty hearts are ready to drink in any fine delusion which impostors may invent; and when these fail, they soon yield to despair, and declare that there is no good thing in either heaven or earth. The true believer is a man of a very different mould. His face is not downward like the beasts’, but upward like the angels’. He drinks not from the muddy pools of Mammon, but from the fountain of life above. The light of God’s countenance is enough for him. This is his riches, his honour, his health, his ambition, his ease. Give him this, and he will ask no more. This is joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Oh, for more of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that our fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ may be constant and abiding!

We so badly want success, prosperity, safety, and security that we will do anything that we can to get it and turn against anyone that we feel threatens us. We will look to God for what we need and if He doesn’t provide what we think we should have, then we question Him too. This perspective is hard-wired into us. We are consistent graspers after pleasure and satisfaction and so much of our motivation to know God and follow Him is the hope that things will turn out well for us in the fleshly sense. But, David says that there is something greater about God. Something deeper than “when their grain and wine abound.” God puts more joy in our hearts than those who have everything that they want. God’s joy is unshakable and pure and sincere and it lasts. God is our refuge and our trust and these other things that we want and seek do not compare to Him.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8 ESV)

Instead of worrying about the lies of wicked men or being angry or longing for the provisions and pleasures that others have and questioning God, David will be in peace. Shalom. He will know that everything is right between he and God and in the world because God is his righteousness. He will sleep the sleep of one who is secure in the Lord for God makes him dwell in safety. Not his resources or strength or reputation or provision. But, it is God who makes him dwell in safety.

We should recognize that David gives this praise to God in the midst of conflict. It is often not when things are going well that we really understand who God is, but when we face opposition and difficulty that we cry out to God and cling to Him in a deeper way. And, then the God who causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28) causes light to shine out of darkness and life to come forth from death.

The Psalms provide a relief for us where we can see what it looks like for God to be the refuge of those who are in trouble, persecuted, and who are suffering – in other words, the common condition of humanity as sin does its work throughout time, space, and history. We see that we meet Jesus most in suffering because that is where in weakness we find Him to be strong and where He turns everything around. This is Luther’s Theology of the Cross compared to the world’sTheology of Glory and it shows up everywhere in Scripture. In reality, it is the only complete way to see Scripture and the world that we find ourselves placed in.

 

 

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