Sunday, November 3, 2019 Brad Barrett
David’s Psalms: Mirror of the Soul
Week 3—Cast Your Burdens—Psalm 55
All of us at some point in our lives will encounter a severe trial, and have before us an opportunity to pray to God… OR… to ignore him.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, knows what it’s like to suffer, and then to pray.
In the last hour before Jesus’ arrest, mock trial, and torture:
Mark 14:33–35 ESV … he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
Facing the great evil of both Jews and Romans intent on killing him, as well as the weight of the world’s sins that would be placed on his back, Jesus prayed in his agony and distress.
I find it remarkable that Jesus actually prayed that, if possible, he could escape this severest trial any human had ever encountered. This trial—taking the world’s sin on his own back—was the only reason he came to earth. His entire earthly life was pointing to this moment. Yet he asks his Father, “If it’s possible, let me escape this moment.”
And the author of Hebrews tells us,
Hebrews 5:7 ESV In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Jesus Christ, the Creator of the world, our Savior….. understands suffering and agony. And he showed us how to cast burdens in prayer…. upon our heavenly Father.
We are in Week 3 of a six-week series on the Psalms written by David. These psalms have such a variety. Some have a theme dominated by praise and thanksgiving. Others have a theme of penitence. Crying out for forgiveness. Some have a theme of seeking justice, calling on God to judge people.
A high percentage of them have a theme of lament. Expressing sorrow and pain and distress.
Today we will focus on a Psalm where David is encountering an enemy who is violently opposed to him and causing great havoc not only toward him but in the whole city.
Crimes of violence and oppression and fraud are tearing up the people of God.
David is in agony and distress. First, he needs help in his own soul from his fears and the horrors around him. Second, he wants justice. He wants God to do something to those who are causing great harm.
As we read this Psalm—Psalm 55—many of us will discover that we relate to David. As we endure heavy trials—or even everyday small trials— I hope that David’s words can become our words. His prayer can become our prayer…. That in the end, we will find God’s sustaining power.
So as a review… In my study of the Psalms in general (not just David’s psalms), I have run into a regular theme. That theme is prayer. For many, many centuries, the Psalms have been like a prayer book. First, to the people of Israel. And then to the church.
Psalms are a prayer book to express our wide-ranging emotions to God. Our joys. Praises. Thanksgivings. Fears. Anger. Confusion. Prayers to help us be honest with God.
It seems to me that there is no situation or emotion we can experience that is not reflected somewhere in the Psalms. The Psalms are like a mirror to our souls. When we read them and pray them, we find they reflect back and we see ourselves in them.
One author said,
“Immersing ourselves in the Psalms and turning them into prayers teaches our hearts the ‘grammar’ of prayer.”
The Psalm give us language to pray. The end result is to know God more intimately, trust him more deeply in truth, and line up the beliefs and emotions with him.
Read Psalm 55 [page 475]
As we read the first eight verses, look for the drama. David’s emotions. They are not difficult to find.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;
8 I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”
David has written out for us his prayer of anguish.
Look at his words that express such deep distress.
- Lord, hear my prayer. My plea for mercy. Answer me.
- I am restless in my complaint.
- I moan
- The enemy drops trouble upon me.
- In anger they bear a grudge against me.
- My heart is in anguish.
- The terrors of death have fallen upon me.
- Fear and trembling come upon me.
- Horror overwhelms me.
- I wish I was like a bird that could fly away from all this trouble and find rest.
- I wish I could find shelter from the raging winds of this hurricane I am caught in.
David is experiencing no small trial. (We will find out in a few minutes more about the trial.)
I have had many trials, as you have. But I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this much agony.
But somehow, in his horror and agony, he found the strength to talk to God about it. All his anguish and fear and terror and moaning. He tells it all to God. He begs God to mercifully hear his prayer and rescue him.
What is remarkable is how much of David’s life was spent facing some terrible trials.
- Fighting enemy armies many times.
- Running for his life when King Saul, his own father-in-law, wanted to kill him unjustly. This went on for years.
- Facing his own horrific sin of adultery and murder, and then dealing with the aftermath.
- Then years later, his own son Absalom betrayed him, and David once more ran for his life.
Throughout his life, David knew pain, some of it brought on by his own sins. Life brought many “hits” on David’s life.
On Monday, I skimmed through all 75 of David’s psalms, and about ½ of them have some element of trials and distress, usually associated with a human enemy (which we will find out in a minute is the situation David is dealing with in Psalm 55).
That is a remarkable statistic. About one half of his prayers (his psalms) connect to severe trials.
Some of you have gone through great trials of anguish and distress of various kinds.
You read David’s emotions, and you can relate. You say, “Amen!” Trials of great suffering. Abuse. Betrayal by someone you trusted. Life-threatening disease. Divorce. Death in the family.
Intense trials can lead us into anguish, distress, fear, trembling, even horror. We wish we were a bird to fly away to a place of peace and safety. We wish we had a safe house to hide from the hurricane outside.
God has given us—through this inspired book—a record of prayers by one of the most godly men in history. Those prayers have been permanently recorded for us.
What will we do with them? How can they help us?
Now we get into a fascinating portion of David’s prayer. And we will wonder as followers of Christ, “What do I do with this prayer?”
9 Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.
12 For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
14 We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.
15 Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.
David’s former intimate friend, now his fierce enemy, is not just your everyday, annoying person. Like the neighbor who is annoying. Or the co-worker who is full of himself and likes to argue.
This former friend is stirring up violence and strife in Jerusalem. He is leading people into sin and trouble day and night.
He is oppressing people. He is committing fraud in the marketplace—the business world.
In our culture, this man ought to go to prison… for a long time. So this is a very serious situation.
And it’s important to remember, David is the King. He is the one charged by God to bring justice to the nation, enforcing laws and keeping peace. His role is like the Judicial and Executive Branches of government. He is God’s Supreme Court Justice. And he is the Governor or President: to protect the nation and to honor God’s name. This is a very important distinction.
Because the situation is very serious, David’s prayer is very serious.
Vs. 9 he prays that God would destroy and divide their tongues. Perhaps he is thinking here of God’s judgment in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel. The Lord “divided their tongues,” i.e., divided their language so that they would be split apart and their arrogant plans would be thwarted.
Vs. 15 He utters a severe prayer, that death would overcome them, and that they would go down alive to Sheol, the place of the dead.
It seems apparent to me that David has in mind the story with Moses and 3 rebellious leaders in Israel in Numbers 16. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were fighting against Moses and trying to take over the leadership of Israel.
Numbers 16:31-33 “And as soon as Moses had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”
Their crimes — which amounted to treason against God — resulted in a severe judgment. The earth literally opened up, they fell into the crevice, and the earth closed back up again.
The severity of the situation David is facing is not unlike that, and his prayer is for judgment like that.
What makes it far more painful for David is (in Vs. 12-14) that this man used to be his friend. Or at least David thought they were friends. A close companion. They walked in life together concerning the things of God.
Not only has this friend betrayed David, he is now wreaking havoc among God’s people. Violence. Fraud. Oppression.
No wonder David uses words in vs. 1-8 like “restless in my complaint,” “moaning,” “trouble,” “anguish,” “terrors of death,” “fear and trembling,” and “horror.”
Perhaps some of you can relate somewhat to David’s agony. Life hits us hard at times. Some of you have been betrayed or abandoned in some way, like David’s friend did. Such a betrayal is utterly baffling and unsettling. Our trust in and love for people is shaken.
Not long ago, an old friend was telling me of one of their adult children who will hardly speak to them. That is immensely painful for a parent.
Some years ago, my wife and I experienced a betrayal of sorts from an extended family member. Our oldest daughter was only a year old. This family member was trying to come clean from drug and alcohol abuse, so we offered to help him. We invited him to stay with us for a couple of months to get back on his feet.
Month 1 went well. Month 2 a few things happened that we wondered about. Month 3 it all fell apart. The stress level grew dramatically.
He stole from us. He stayed out many nights doing something—drugs or alcohol. Our relationship got strained, especially after he forged a check from my checkbook to get cash.
I confronted him with it, and it didn’t go well. He was enraged with me, and near violence. And since he was quite a bit bigger than me, I don’t like to think about how my face would have been mangled.
So at the end of three months, he ends up in jail. (That’s another story.) We visited him in jail—the Hamilton County Jail in Webster City. He told us he had been so angry with us that he almost burned our house down in his rage. But the only reason he didn’t burn it down was because he didn’t want to harm our 1-year old daughter, his niece.
That was rather alarming news. It shook us up for awhile.
We all will at times face very stressful trials at the hands of other people. We can relate—at least somewhat—with David’s anguish in vs. 1-8.
But then we read vs. 9-15—David’s prayer for justice, even death. And we wonder– can or should a Christian ever pray like this?
And how should a Christian pray in times of injustice… when great evil is occurring?
It is not a simple, one-line answer. We’ll look at that more in a few minutes.
For now, let’s continue reading. We are at a turning point in the psalm.
16 But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
18 He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.
19 God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, because they do not change and do not fear God.
At the start of the psalm (vs. 1-2), David is pleading, “Lord, hear my prayer.” Now in vs. 16-17, he is saying, “The Lord has heard me.”
All day long—evening, morning, and noon—he prays. He complains and moans. And he knows God hears him. He has persevered in desperate, emotional prayer until the Lord ministered to his soul.
This progression of faith seems like the process we would expect in prayer: to go from less confidence to more.
Then in vs. 18, David seems to be speaking of both a physical and spiritual deliverance. He is confident God will deliver him
Seldom do we have human enemies who actually want to bring physical harm to us, though this does happen. And it certainly happens frequently to Christians in parts of the world.
But all of us have a spiritual enemy, the devil, who wants to bring us great harm. And God will deliver us and protect our souls.
For believers in Christ under the New Covenant, we don’t have guarantee that we will in the physical (e.g., escape from health problems and persecution), but we do have assurance that our souls will be watched out for.
20 My companion [this former friend] stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant.
21 His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.
David’s former friend is a hypocrite of the worst kind: he is smooth in his speech, yet he seeks war.
Now in vs. 22, David draws to a beautiful conclusion. And he gives the people some instruction.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
Cast your burden. Throw your burden onto God. And when you do, he promises that he can and will sustain you in your agony. In your fear and trembling. In your horror. He won’t permit the righteous to be moved. To be shaken.
The promise is not that God will carry the burden for us or even take the trial away.
The promise is that he will sustain us. He will hold us up. He will hold us fast.
He will uphold and stabilize us, to secure our hearts, to strengthen our faith.
It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christ follower:
Philippians 1:6 ESV And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Cast your burden on the Lord. Fear not. He will hold us fast.
David’s final words in vs. 23:
23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.
God is a holy, righteous, all-knowing Judge. He will deal with all sin one way or another.
His judgment will be either enacted upon every person for his/her own sins…. OR,
His judgment will be placed on the back of the Holy, Innocent Son of God through our faith in his blood.
No sin will escape judgment. We won’t always see justice on earth, even for great evil. But some day, all injustices will be dealt with.
And the last sentence is beautiful and comforting and inspiring. “But I will trust in you.”
Simply stated, at the end of all things David has been through—the anguish, horror, fear, trembling—the wondering if God even hears his prayers—David in the end trusts the Lord.
He pours out his heart to God in the midst of his anguish. And God ministers to him. Helps him. Comforts him. Answers him.
What do we take from all this?
What do we take from all this?? What can we learn from the inspired prayer of this great man of God, David?
Learn to pray by using Psalm 55.
Use the Psalms as a template for prayer. And when you’re enduring great hardship, learn how and what to pray by uttering the Psalms.
I suggest actually reading through Psalm 55 and others like it. Read it aloud and say “Amen” to what you agree with. Similar emotions you have. If David’s words aren’t quite the right expression, paraphrase it.
The point is, talk to the Lord.
As an example, look at the beginning of the Psalm.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
I will put this in my own words: “Lord, I wonder if you hear me. I wonder if I’m talking to the air. Help me. Hear me. I’m desperate.” I have often said things like that.
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
“Lord, I am in anguish. I am afraid. Even terrified. I can hardly pray. I’m overwhelmed.” Again, I have often said things like that.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
How many times have I prayed something like this. “Lord, I want to run away. I want to quit my job. I want to move far away. I need peace and rest.”
If you’ve never been in a place in life where you’ve thought such things, you will eventually. One of the greatest men of God ever to live felt that way.
Use the Psalms to pray.
When you are in distress… when you need to pour out your heart to God… find a Psalm like Psalm 55. There are dozens like it.
God has given them to us to instruct us and to teach us how to pray. He wants to hear from us. He wants to help us.
Express your pain and anger… to God.
Express your pain… to God. Express your anger and outrage over the sins of others and over injustices… to God. I emphasize: express them TO GOD.
First, your feelings are real. In times of injustice, our feelings of anger are real. The Lord is a God of justice…. And we are made in his image. So it is normal and natural to feel anger towards evil and injustice. Why stuff those feelings? They won’t go away by themselves.
Second, God already knows what you’re thinking. Why not tell him? Do you really think you will surprise him, like he will say, “Oh my, I had no idea you are so angry!”
It may feel wrong to be so angry before the Lord. I say, if David prayed like this, it’s safe for me. Because when we pray, we are walking by faith, and that is a good thing.
Still we may hesitate to pray so bluntly. We may think, “Well, I need sanitize my prayers. I need to get cleaned up BEFORE I go to God. Get rid of all my fears and anger and even my rage… do it myself. THEN go to God.” Wrong! Take it to God. If you are enraged over an injustice, tell the Lord. Read David’s words to help you process.
So we express our anger and outrage to God.
But what should we actually ask God to do in times of hurt and injustice?
Should we ever pray like David, “Cast them down alive into Sheol”?
My summary: it’s not a simple answer.
Let me say that I don’t ever recall praying that. I have felt that way before, and I have told God how I feel. But I haven’t ever prayed those words.
Now I do think there are some differences generally in how today in Christ we pray for justice compared to David’s words. The most severe prayers are reserved for the most severe situations.
For example, Jesus repeatedly blasted the Pharisees for their hard hearted hypocrisy and arrogant teaching.
Paul had harsh words in Galatians 1 for any who preaches a false gospel. He said, “Let them be accursed!” Let them be damned!
Or if someone is violent and bringing great harm to others, the intensity of my prayers will increase. I pray the violence will stop, one way or another.
At the same time, Jesus told us in Matthew 5 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
The Apostle Paul told us in Romans 12 to not take personal vengeance. God will deal with everyone. In the end, he will work in perfect justice.
Read my handout in your bulletin to get a breadth of Scriptures on the topic of justice. These Scriptures can shape how and what we pray. And they can help us to know what to think about David’s prayers for justice.
But again, let me say that as a minimum, if you feel enraged and want vengeance, tell God about it. If you’re thinking isn’t right, he’ll straighten you out. It is a safe place to go to God.
Let me give you a simple, rather pathetic example of expressing anger to God over real or perceived injustices. It’s rather funny to me now. The story has no comparison to the magnitude of David’s situation, but it will illustrate.
I was angry with Annette a while ago. I don’t remember many details, not even what I was angry about. I had three options:
- Vent to her. Spew (vomit) all over her with my words. Not so good.
- Stuff it. Push it down. Ignore it. Eventually it would give way like a pressure cooker that has to vent steam.
- Talk to God about it. I did this. I started, “Lord, I am so angry right now. Blah blah blah.” I don’t think my prayer lasted more than 30 seconds before the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my own sin. Something like, “Brad, you are not so perfect yourself.”
I got the point, and I found myself sighing, saying in prayer, “Yes, Lord, you’re right. I have my own sins and problems. I’m sorry.” And after that, in that instance, I was humbled and my anger was gone. There was nothing left to be angry about. God had straightened me out.
When we, by faith, vent our raw, unsanitized emotions to the Lord, he hears us. If our thinking isn’t right, he will straighten us out if we listen.
With the help of the Psalms, we can learn to vent our pain and anger…. To God, to the One who will sustain us and hold us fast.
Remember and trust
Remember David’s desperation. Remember David’s faith. Remember God’s deliverance.
When you cry out to the Lord like David… in your agony and pain and fear and trembling and horror…
…when you cast your burden on the Lord…you will find God’s sustaining power. He won’t let you fall. He will sustain your soul.
In the beginning of the Psalm, David wasn’t confident God even heard him. “Hear me, God. Don’t ignore my request.” David then unloaded his burden. He poured out his heart of anguish and fear and distress. All of his dark and terrifying emotion. We have no idea how long he did this. Hours? Days? Maybe weeks? “Evening and morning and noon he cried aloud, and the Lord heard his voice.”
When we persevere in prayer and cry out to the Lord like David, our conclusion can be, “But I will trust in you.”