Finding Refuge in Prayer (Psalm 142)


In 1505 having studied law for a few months and just been bestowed with his Masters, Martin decided to leave the City of Erfurt and head home to see his family; A journey north of about 90KM. Unfortunately, on the return leg of his holiday, Martin himself was stuck in the middle of a violent thunderstorm in the middle of nowhere. A storm that made him think God had unleashed the heavens to punish him for a life that had ignored God.

History tells us that as Martin stumbled about for shelter, he cried out to God for Mercy in the form of a Simple Prayer: “Spare me, and I will become a monk.” What Happened? God kept his end of the deal, and Martin Luther kept his. He would go on to devote his life to God through serving in his church.

I wonder what we do when we find ourselves in a hopeless or stressful situation? We all turn to something that we hope will help us or give us hope. We might turn to exercise, food, friends, family or even alcohol. Yet, while all those things might dull the pain and stress we are feeling for a few moments, they are fleeting relief to the hopelessness we feel.

So what must we do? Our passage tells us that we must follow the example of so many of the Saints who have gone before us. They who knew that their only hope was God! Martin Luther turned to the Lord in prayer, grew in trust of God and turned his life over to the Lord. Yet, what he did was only modelled on many before him. Today, we see the prayer of one of those, King David, who learned what it was to trust and hope in God.

Context: In the Darkness Where Are You Lord?

When we think about biblical characters, we can heroise them; literally, make them more superhero than human. Especially men like King David, who we often see as one close to God and loved by God (1 Sam 13:14). We remember the great stories of his life, without the greater sin in the humanness of Davids life. He was someone who experienced all of life: the hopelessness of despair, the isolation of being cut, as well as the mountain tops. Yes, David was one after Gods own heart; yet, he was also one who chased his own heart and bore the effects of his sin. Yet, in his sin, he always (unlike some of us) returned to the hope of Life – God. He knew that his sins might be many but Gods mercy was more.

We forget that when David wrote words about walking through the valley of the Shadow of death, he had! Psalm 142 is not a sexy Psalm, as it reflects on a dark time in Davids life as he laments and turns to the Lord for help amid the darkness of a Desolate Cave. Additionally, he is fearful for his life and knows he has no hope but God. David is on the run, lacking resources and the support of people. Thus, alone and dejected, he turns to God in prayer. Matthew Henry sums up this Psalm well: “This psalm is a prayer, the substance of which David offered up to God when he was forced by Saul to take shelter in a cave, and which he afterwards penned in this form.” 1 The question? Where do we turn to? Today let us follow the example of King David, learning to turn to the Lord as we think about this cry for help (which every prayer is).

Passage: Psalm 142:1-7 NIV

I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. 2 I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me. 4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

5 I cry to you, LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 6 Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. 7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

A Right Posture of Prayer Lament (1-2)

“Are you okay?” is something we are asked and ask every day, and we tend to give the same answer: “I am not too bad, thanks.” Then someone we know sees right through us to our natural mood? How do they do it? Because they know how to read us beyond our words: our body language and posture communicates the truth beyond what we speak. Our posture will communicate the reality of our hearts even if we are unwilling to let our words match them.

When communicating with people, it can take us a while to be honest with ourselves and them. True honesty comes when our posture and words match up. When that actually happens, it is the best thing for us as individuals because we are able, to be honest about whatever it is we are facing; yet, honesty is hard. However, there is one person with who we can be completely honest because they already know everything we are going, to be honest about and are going through before we have the words to summarise the experience – God.

David has been on the run from Saul and is feeling the weariness of life, overwhelmed by the strength of his enemies and the lacklustre of his friends Alone and dejected, David finally turns to the one who is constant amid the strains of life – Yahweh. David turns to the Lord in honest lament and prayer, displaying for us what is the proper posture for coming before God: and it is not one of the body but heart. This is nothing new but simply the teaching of the Bible that we always approach the Lord in humility of heart. One author sums it up as he writes, “the Bible emphasises the posture of the heart. Whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down, the important thing is that your heart is bowed in submission to the lordship of Christ…. True Christianity is concerned with the heart…. True prayer is characterised by an attitude of humility before God-not the physical posture of the person praying.” 2 It is this humility of heart that we see in the prayer of David before the Lord, as he is praising God and seeks Mercy from the perils he faces.

From the humility of heart, David then models for us an excellent way to pray (similarity the “Lord’s prayer” in structure) First in adoration: acknowledging God as Lord and our only hope in all things; and then in honestly, confessing before God his peril and situation. Matthew henry captures the humility, honesty and benefit of this structure as he sums up the first two verses:

”Let no men of the first rank think it any diminution or disparagement to them, when they are in affliction, to cry to God, and to cry like children to their parents when anything frightens them. David poured out his complaint, which denotes a free and full complaint; he was copious and particular in it. His heart was as full of his grievances as it could hold, but he made himself easy by pouring them out before the Lord”3

The Effects of Life (3-4)

We now know from King David the proper posture of prayer; now we see what we can bring to God in prayer – everything. When the world wearies us, and our spirit fails us, there is one on whom we depend; Yahweh, he who will watch over our way. David trusted the goodness of the Lord despite the circumstances that he finds himself in, walking a road with traps buried by his enemies, alone and lacking the company of friends and the cares of loved ones:

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.”

So what is it that David brings before the Lord? Life! All the fears and frustrations of his life at that moment, precisely that fading hope in the promise of God over his life (being anointed for Kingship) because of the strength of his enemies; Additionally, he tells God he is lonely and tired in this journey of faithfulness. Davids prayer is basically:” Lord, life sucks at the minute, but I trust You!” David is honest about his situation and hopeful for the future because he knows that greater than any circumstance is the one who is sovereign overall.

Today, we have all journeyed on a bumpy road, our individual and collective weariness summed up in one word – covid. Today, we might ourselves speak Davids words: “My Spirit grows weary, and I have no refuge.” Perhaps our weariness is nothing to do with Covid. It might be the weight of lots of little things wearing us down! Maybe contra to that life is good for us now, and we have nothing to complain about! Yet, regardless the lesson is the same: take it to the Lord honestly in prayer and thanksgiving, even the most mundane facets of our lives because we have a God who knows all and cares. David was honest, and it helped him remain faithful to God on the road he was called to walk, even when it seemed foolish.

John Calvin beautifully captures the personal emotional benefit because when there was nowhere to turn, he found somewhere to turn; John Calvin captures it beautifully as he writes: “He tells us still more clearly…. That he disburdened his cares unto God. To pour out one’s thoughts and tell over his afflictions implies the reverse of those perplexing anxieties which men brood over inwardly to their own distress, and by which they torture themselves, and are chafed by their afflictions rather than led to God…. In short, we are left to infer that while he did not give way before men to loud and senseless lamentations, neither did he suffer himself to be tormented with inward and suppressed cares, but made known his griefs with unsuspecting confidence to the Lord.4

The Only Relief (5-7a)

In his prayer, David showed us the approach of the humble heart and how delightfully honest we can be with God. Now, this Psalms shows us that in all situations, there is only one hope – God. So amid the storms that are battering David as he walks this road (of life) alone and exhausted, David knows there is only one he can shelter safely – the presence of God.

In verse five, David expands his mercy request to God to be one of providence: specifically, men have let him down in providing no refuge. He trusts that God will delight in being his shelter. God is consistent and can be trusted where men fail us and let us down. David found no refuge in the people in his life, yet, he found it in God. The Psalmist declares to all who will hear that in a perilous world, God is our refuge, portion and strength, and we have nothing to fear. Matthew Henry puts it beautifully when he ponders, “what danger need we fear if God is our refuge, or what wants if he is our portion? Heaven, which alone deserves to be called the land of the living, will be to all believers both a refuge and a portion.” 5

This second section (5-7) repeats the same reframe that starts the Psalm, emphasising both the needs that David is praying for and his confidence in the one he is praying to!6 “David was confident that God would show up in his life in some way as the safe haven from the storm,” 7David trusted that God will be his protection (shelter) and providence (mercy) in every situation. Thus, regardless of what he was facing, he turns to God in prayer and, in so doing, finds relief. The question is, what are we turning to for hope in place of God? Today, let us renew our trust and confidence in the goodness and providence of God, knowing that whatever we are going through that God is working in it and through it for His Glory and our good. David had hope (in God) that found expression in his prayer “even when there was no basis for it in his current circumstances” 8 because as John Calvin wonderfully sums up “, Faith enabled him to rise higher, and to conclude, contrary to the judgment of the flesh, that his welfare was secure in the hand of God” 9

David knows that God is his only hope, that he (and all humanity) are like the Levites who depended on the providence of God and should know that in their living God will be their blessing now and inheritance to come (5b).10 This final section brings the whole Psalm together as David again pleads for the Mercy of God to deliver him from his persecutors who are too strong for him and to rescue him for his prison, which is too great for him to escape on his own strength.

God is our only hope in all things! David knew this and wants us to know it today: whatever we find ourselves facing, we must turn to God for Mercy and in thanks. David’s pleas with God to act (in Mercy) and shows the right response to such an act: not relief, not a party, or even to rest; no, the proper response to the providence of God in the life of a believer is to praise God for his mercy and goodness. If we are truly children of God whose hearts belong to Christ then we will not forget to praise God in response to what he has done for us. This is the cycle of the Christian life: seeing God in every situation and praising God for what he is doing in every situation, even when it does not make sense.

Conclusion: That Others May See Him (7b)

Luther lived as a nominal Christian, yet one day when he had nowhere else to turn. He turned to God (in prayer) and had his life turned around by God. Today, the Psalmist has reminded us about the beauty of who God is and how he can be trusted above all the things of the world. Amid the darkness of the deep cave, wearied by life and feeling the isolation of his situation David has taught us both how to approach God (with humility of heart and in honesty) and that we can approach God in every situation. Today let us not be fearful; let us know that in Christ we have one who has lived this life and felt all the perils and pains of the human experience. Yet, more beautifully and powerfully in Christ we have one who is all powerful and sovereign over all experiences so we can trust him.

Our Great Prison: God’s Great Mercy

David found himself in the most perilous of situations: facing an enemy far greater than he could comprehend alone, he knew that his only hope was God. Thus, he confessed his sin and entrusted himself to God. We must do the same in every situation. Yet, there is one common situation that’s affects all of humanity, trapping us all in unbreakable prison – our sin. Today, we must be sure that in this alone we have turned to God for mercy. Our sin is greater than the darkness of any cave and imprisons us in death; however, we have hope because of Jesus. He who by his life and death made mercy possible for all who will call upon his name. Today, let us make sure we are those who look to God and seek his mercy because we are those who praise him for what he has already done on Calvary.

“Prayer is the prime source of comfort and courage in times of persecution. But for the Christian it is an occasion for solemn reminder that vengeance belongs to God, not to man. And it is an experience of maximum meaning only when it inspires forgiveness.”11

God At Work Through Us In Prayer: People Gathered

The end of verse seven is easy to miss; however, it is a powerful reminder of what God does in and through his people. As we walk this road of life and find ourselves in a dark valley, when we turn to God in prayer and we begin to display our trust in Him. How? By seeing whatever we face in comparison to the Supreme Glory and Sovereignty of God; and, as we remember that we have already received infinite-mercy-and-grace through the saving work of Christ on the Cross, then we are transformed into the image and likeness of Christ – he who trusted God in every situation – and our lives are orientated to the Glory of God because we love God and want to live for him. Hence, prayer and thankfulness become natural for us in every situation because of the work of the Holy Spirit. When this bares effect on us it also has an effect on people around us: As God works in his Children (the righteous) more Children of God will then gather again around us! Why? Because of when God’s goodness is seen at work people want to know about it. What a beautiful image for the follower of Christ knowing that as God is working in our life he is working through our lives to reveal himself to others. A reminder of the beauty of faithfulness in the normality of life, that as we look to God people will see him in us.

Today, let us be a people who trust God like David in every circumstance and then pray like David acknowledging Gods Glory and being honest before him, then like David let us walk this road of life stumbling faithfully by the Holy Spirits direction so that God might use us to display his goodness and love in Christ to the world. As one commentator concludes on this passage, “God says He will use all things for the good of those who are His (Rom. 8:28)” so let us trust him to do so in our lives today and in the ages to come.12

  1. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 945). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  3. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 945). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  4. Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 5, p. 245). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  5. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 945). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  6. Harman, A. (2011). Psalms: A Mentor Commentary (Vol. 1–2, p. 977). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
  7. Futato, M. D. (2009). The Book of Psalms. In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (p. 421). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
  8. Futato, M. D. (2009). The Book of Psalms. In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (p. 421). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
  9. (Calvin 1979:182, writing on Ps 13). Futato, M. D. (2009). The Book of Psalms. In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (p. 421). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
  10. For this reason, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance like his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God told him.
    Christian Standard Bible. (2020). (Dt 10:9). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  11. Dilday, R. H., Jr., & Kennedy, J. H. (1972). Psalms. In H. F. Paschall & H. H. Hobbs (Eds.), The teacher’s Bible commentary (p. 353). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
  12. Excerpt From
    Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind
    Charles R Swindoll
    This material may be protected by copyright.

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