Praying the Psalms: Psalm 17

Have you ever been so frustrated and so hurt that all you can do is pray? Psalm 17 is a prayer of lament from King David. David is being attacked unjustly by another individual and he cries out to God in hope. How should Christians respond when we are unjustly criticized or accused of wrong doing? Well, as we look at psalm 17, David’s prayer will  help us learn to pray in such situations. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-2 - David begins crying out to God in prayer, seeking his attention. David is again expressing personal suffering unjustly, accused by his enemies.  So, he cries out to God, the great arbiter of justice, to hear his plea and case. David comes before God to plea his case, because he trusts in the judgement and justice of God. God is not fooled by the deceitful lies and subtle twisting of tongues that so often dominates the judicial courts of humanity. God has no concern for popular consensus or opinion, rather God is a God of truth. David, knowing that he has been unjustly accused has confidence to go to God, the just judge, to get the account straight.

v. 3-5 - David then begins to plead his innocence before God. He tells God that he has tried his heart. God knows everything there is to know about David. Whether by day or by night, God has visited him and knows it all. David challenges God to examine him and he will find innocence. Though David is accused by others, he seeks God to have the final word. David's mouth has not transgressed. He has avoided the ways of the violent. His steps have held firm on the narrow path and have not slipped.

Now David's plea for innocence does not mean that David considered himself sinless, but rather David sees himself as seeking to live righteously under the law of God. The stones that his enemies are throwing at him for sin are unjust. There are no evidence for their accusations. David pleads his case as he has been examined by God and found innocence. The accusations have nothing to do with David's own life or character, but only from the malice of the enemies.

v. 6-9 - David then turns in this next stanza to pray and call out to God. He asks for God to incline his ear and hear his words.  He knows that God is a fitting refuge for him. God is a safe place to lean on in times of tribulation. He requests that God would protect him from his enemies. David knows that God is a safe place because God has his eye on him. Indeed David is the apple of his eye. David can safely reside in the shadow of God's wings. There is no safer place to be than in the arms of the living God. From those enemies that seek David harm and who surround him, God is a refuge for him.

v. 10-12 - David then begins to ponder on the malicious aggression of his enemies.  They have no pity; they only seek to devour. They are predators on the prowl. They surround like a pack of wolves, bent on bringing their prey to the ground. They are like lions lurking in the shrubs waiting to pounce and tear a part David's flesh.

Sometimes as Christians we will have enemies just like the ones David had. There is a hatred and an intention to destroy at any cost. As the church becomes increasingly marginalized in our country, we too will feel the deadly blood-thirst of our enemies as they plot our destruction. Sometimes following Christ, means making enemies, not because you are seeking to make them, but rather because following God runs contrary to the ways of the world. Therefore, men and women of evil and blindness begin to gather, lurk, and tear apart the people of God.

[Tweet "As the church becomes marginalized in our country, we feel the deadly blood-thirst of our enemies."]

v. 13-14 - Here, God is summoned for action. "Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!" This man who has such vicious hatred for David is to be taken out. David is crying out for deliverance from this man. Then the Psalm moves to some profound reflections on the nature of the wicked and the hope of the righteous. Men, who are like David's accuser, find hope only in this life. Though wicked men among us might be financially prosperous and wield great worldly success, that is the extent of their hope. Their portion is only in this life. Though they may have children, their riches cannot go with them to the grave. Their abundance is passed down to their children.

One of the great questions is the prosperity of the wicked? Why are so many wicked people so visibly prosperous while so many good and righteous people are in poverty? Well, David begins to look at things from God's perspective. Though the wicked might enjoy 70 years of wealth, comfort, and power, what is 70 years compared to 100 billion years? Even 100 billion is but a scratch on the surface to the unfathomable idea of eternity. David begins to recognize that his hope is not in a comfortable life now, but his hope is in a life to come.

v. 15 - David's confidence is found in God himself. He concludes his lament by reflecting on his true treasure. Though the wicked might have wealth and power, David’s hope is in the righteousness of God. Isn't that our hope as well? We don't need riches and we don't need comfort and we don't need fame. We need the righteousness of Jesus. We need God. And by the grace of God, His son is sent to liberate us from the bondage of sin and gift us with his righteousness! Our hope is not in this world, but in God himself.

So as David falls into the deep sleep of death, when he wakes he will be satisfied with likeness of God. We have this hope too. No matter what enemies might attack us, those made righteous by Christ set their hope on the life to come. Our reward is not temporal treasures, but the eternal and satisfying treasure of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer Guide

  • What enemies are attacking you? Call out to God for help.
  • Ask God to help trust him as you refuge.
  • Ask God for strength and protection from the lions.
  • Trust in God’s wisdom in confronting and subduing your enemies.
  • Regardless of what happens, ask God to help you to find hope in Christ, not in this world.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 13

Forgotten. We all have moments when we feel like God has abandoned us. Each of us will face dark days, when it seems like the present sufferings are unceasing. We take one punch after another and we long to collapse. Psalm 13 is a classic example of a psalm of lament. Psalms of lament are all over the psalter. Lament simply means complaint. The idea of lament can sound very uncomfortable to Christians today, because it can appear like a lack of faith and trust in God. In so many ways when crisis hits, we feel the pressure to put on plastic smiles and act like everything is ok. Is complaining against the Lord and expressing frustration appropriate for people of faith? Is there any room for lament in the Christian life? As we examine Psalm 13, I think we will discover the answer. IMG_0500

Commentary

v. 1-2 - The psalm begins with questions. Each question begins with the phrase "How long?” The question itself is not one necessarily looking for an informative answer, but David is expressing his anguish and feelings. David is laying his soul bare before God. He feels forgotten and that God has hid his face. He is in sorrow as his enemies exalt over him.

David's prayer is both bold and refreshing. Often we think that God is unable to handle our emotions, our grieving, and our sadness. David's prayer breathes true authenticity into our plastic and superficial Christianity. Yet, David expresses in these pounding questions his feelings of abandonment at God's apparent indifference to his circumstances. There are situations that we face that lead us to ask questions just like David. When our spouse continues to battle cancer for years we pray, "How long, O LORD?" When we experience the heartbreak of a wayward child rejecting Christ we weep, "How long, O LORD?" When we are laid off from our job and the bills are piling up we cry, "How long, O LORD?" When we stand over the casket of our child through the sorrow we whisper, "How long, O LORD?"

This broken world is filled with hardship and sorrows. In times of great sadness we can feel that the Lord is not near or that maybe he has forgotten. We feel abandoned and isolated as we are paralyzed by depression and anxiety. When we feel this way should we just ignore it? When we walk into the church should we hide our sorrow with a insincere glibness? I suggest not. Rather, we should follow the pattern that David lays out for us in this psalm. We should get on our needs and express our heartache and brokenness before the Lord. God knows how we are thinking and feeling better than we know ourselves. There is no emotion you can express to him in words that he does not already know.

As we will see in this Psalm, the expression of lament leads to healing, comfort, and ultimately worship. When we burry our emotions in a sea of fabricated pretense, we do not allow the Almighty to restore us with his presence. Like David we must go before God in prayer. It is often through prayer that God teaches us in his presence and renews us. When we hide our emotions and frustrations with God we rob ourselves of healing and God of his glory as he moves us from lament to praise.

v. 3-4 - David begins making petitions towards God. He asks the Lord for his attention, to consider him and answer him. He is asking the Lord to intervene in his depression. He feels so low he could die. He begs the Lord to lift up his eyes  and to help him in his moment of desperation. He prays for deliverance from his enemies which are causing him to be shaken with fear.

Through the ocean of emotions David is experiencing, he begins to ask God for help. Simply coming to God in lament is a sign of great faith. David is not lamenting to grumble in superiority towards God, rather he is lamenting because he is so dependent on God. His attitude is not disrespectful towards God, but he is incredibly honest with his thoughts and feelings. David in asking the Lord to address his depression is already beginning the process of healing. In that simple act of asking God for help, David is admitting that he is insufficient for this pit he has found himself. His prayer in these verses is an expression of trust in the God who can help him and deliver him.

v. 5-6 - As David is lamenting, and as he comes to God in prayer something begins to happen. As David lays himself bare  before the presence of God in prayer, God doesn't change David's circumstances, but he does change David. As we look at the final two verses the tone is remarkably different from the repetitious "How longs" in which this Psalm began. David in the presence of God is filled with resolve and confidence as he is renewed by God.

Now, instead of doubting God's presence in his life, David has turned to trust. His heart is no longer filled with sorrow, but now his heart is rejoicing in God's salvation. He has moved from complaint to praise. What explains this change? Well here we see the pattern of lament as laid on the Scripture. Biblical lament has a flow to it. Lament moves from complaint to praise. The process of lament changes the lamenter. As a man or woman comes before God in anxiety, that simple act of faith begins to change the person. It is not always immediate or even within the same day. Sometimes this process may be stretched for weeks or months, but when we go to the presence of God in our trouble, our sorrow will turn to joy.  Though our circumstances may not change, our rigorous prayer expresses a dependence on God in which God gives us a joyful contentment regardless of our present circumstances. In a similar way the apostle Paul in Philippians says something similar when writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7)

This is key for us to understand the Christian life. When we bring our anxiety to the Lord in prayer, that simple act of trust changes us as we express dependence on a God who knows all and is able to help. Even though the cancer may not go away and though our child remains in the casket, God by grace gives us a peace and a joyful contentment even in the pain.  As David says, he rejoices because God has dealt bountifully with me. Certainly God has dealt bountifully with every Christian. For in Christ, we have been given salvation from sin and death and are promised victory when he returns. The inheritance and glory waiting for us when we cross from life to death far outweighs our present sufferings, no matter how great they may be. As Paul writes, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17).

Though God doesn't always promise us answers to our questions and though he may be silent on how long we must endure our present sorrow, we can trust that in our lamenting God gives us a supernatural trust to those who come before him in tears. And though we may cry out in our agony, "How long, O LORD?", we must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Behold I am coming soon." (Rev 22:7)

Prayer Guide

  • What emotions and frustrations are you having with the Lord? Express them to him.
  • Ask the Lord to help you in your situation and to help you find trust in him through our sorrow.
  • Ask the Lord to give you joy and peace in light of the Gospel promises he has given you.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 7

The faithful of the Lord are often unfairly criticized by the wicked. In fact, Jesus tells us to expect persecution. The persecution that may befall a Christian is not only physical but also verbal. Christians are often slandered, misunderstood, and attacked by the main stream secular culture. As orthodox Christianity becomes a minority culture in the West, it is easy to fall victim to our times and believe that we are the first to ever receive this sort of mistreatment and verbal attacks from our culture. This is certainly not the case. God's people have always been attacked, not only since Jesus' day but even since David's.  The occasion of this Psalm is not fully known, but what we do know is that a man of Cush, a Bejaminite from the tribe of the former King Saul, slanders David.  Psalm 7 is a psalm of lament that can help us pray to God when we are attacked, criticized unfairly, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  It also addresses God’s justice towards the wicked and the need for repentance.

Commentary

v. 1-2 - David begins his prayer with a cry for refuge in God. He comes to God in desperate need. He is concerned and distressed from his enemies who are attacking him. He feels like a prey, where the mountainous lion of his enemies seek to rip his soul apart. David, at a place of desperation, seeks a place of protection in God. He looks to God alone to be his refuge.

v. 3-5 - In these next few verses David pleads with God on behalf of his innocence. David is not stating that he is sinless or perfect, but rather in this situation he is confronted with he believes he has done no wrong. He even ask God that if he has done something wrong such as repaying his friend with evil or plundering his enemy without cause, that he deserves to be pursued and overtaken by his enemies. Yet, David sees himself as blameless in this personal attack. The criticism he is facing from his critics are unfounded, unjust, and without cause.

We too must expect that we will face a belligerent and hostile culture often without cause. There are those who will have an inexplicable hatred towards Jesus’ followers. Like David, we may very well feel confronted by enemies who have no just accusation towards us, yet they bubble over in boiling hatred towards us.

v. 6-11 - Now that David has plead for his own righteousness in this situation he is facing, he appeals to God justice to urge him to do something about the situation he is facing. He asks God to arise in his anger to execute his fury on his enemies and to bring the swift hammer of justice upon them. God is a just God who is holy and blameless. David pleads with God on account of his own character, asking him to act in defense of his justice.  Although justice is attribute of God we tend to minimize in our modern world, David took great joy in the justice of God, appealing to it in his desperate situation.

The Lord judges the people. There is no human being that escapes the judgement of God. No matter how much we may think we are in control of our own lives, all of us will one day stand before God to give an account of our lives. Our actions will be laid bear before us; things that are hidden and secret as well as things that are public and well known to all. God sees and knows everything about us including our actual motives and intentions of our heart. As David says God is the one "who test the minds and hearts" (7:9).  This sort of vulnerability can be frightening or paralyzing to us. We tend to be experts at hiding our sin not only from others, but from ourselves. Yet, when we stand before God in his holiness and splendor the light of his righteousness will leave us naked and exposed.

Yet, David doesn't seem to be overwhelmed in anxiety over the judgement of God, rather he seems to be confident. In fact, he urges God to come and judge him according to his righteousness and integrity.  Does this mean that David thinks of himself as able to save himself with his good deeds? No not at all. In v. 10 he tells us that God "saves the upright in heart".  The Bible from Genesis to Revelation teaches us that we are justified by faith. We are saved by placing our faith and trust in Jesus as savior and Lord of our lives.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus came to stand under the crushing weight of God's wrathful judgement of our sins while gifting us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. This means that the Christian has great confidence in our salvation. The judgement we will one day face before God is not a frightening reality for the Christian. As we stand before God we stand knowing that it is only because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus that we will be saved.  Yet, the righteousness of Jesus turns us into righteous people. As we live the Christian life we grow in the gifted righteousness of Jesus like a toddler trying to put on his daddy's shoes.  We possess righteousness completely and totally, but God's grace sanctifies us and causes us to grow in righteousness.  This is why David has such confidence. Those who are pure in heart and who turn from their sins and trust in God by faith will be saved from the coming judgement.

v. 12-16 - Yet, there are those who do not repent from sin. David makes it clear what comes to those who practice evil. "If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword" (7:12). The sword of God's wrath will come upon the evil. The bow of God is bent and pointed at his enemies, only waiting to release the arrow towards sinners. God is a warrior prepared for battle and his deadly weapons are ready.  For those who refuse to repent and turn to Jesus, the full and terrifying wrath of God is ready to be unleashed in hell.

Those who practice evil always will have it returned to them. The wicked man is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.  The wicked dig their own graves. As they sin they dig a hole only for it to be the cause of their own destruction. The mischief they cause returns to them. Sin has consequences, not only when it comes to eternity but also in this life. Sin doesn't stay secret. No matter how much we may try to cover our tracks our sins finds us. Sin is at its core destructive and those who zealously and unrepentantly live in sin will find themselves not only enslaved to it but destroyed by it.

v. 17 - David concludes his psalm giving thanks to God on behalf of his righteousness.  The fact that God is a just God who punished sinners is a good thing. No matter what great evil we are victim too, we know that God will settle accounts.  Justice is coming if not in this life, then before the judgement seat of God.  As a result, even though we may be facing great persecution from evil people, we have a confident hope in the justice of God to administer righteousness accordingly.  The fact that God is holy and just towards sinners is a catalyst for hope and worship.

Prayer Guide

  • Who is attacking you unjustly and unfairly? Share with God your struggle.
  • Ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal any sin in you in this crises your facing.
  • Call out to God for justice on the earth
  • Praise God for his justice on the earth
  • Thank God that he saves the upright in heart. Thank him for your savior Jesus.
  • Pray for those who have yet to repent and turn to Jesus that God would save them from their sins.