It would be difficult to process everything that has happened in the last six months alone; Christmas was not that long ago, yet we have seen rushes on the forecourts as we thought we might run out of fuel for the car! Never mind the rapid increase in Gas, rising costs of living, all then coupled with the energy shock that shows no signs of letting up. I think what we would all love at this point is simply some rest bite, that prices would level off for a while, and we could at least budget for a month. It is a worrying time, and everything adds to the stress of life and living; then, when we turn on the news, we are reminded of how far human depravity can stretch as we see the evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. I feel guilty for worrying about things when I compare what I have to the reality of life for so many people, not just in Ukraine but also across the world. We tell ourselves to wise up and get on with it. To be thankful for what we have and just enjoy each day. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, the worry reminds us of every encroaching on our day in the background, even if we choose to ignore it. These are worrying times, never mind the things we face as individuals, the trials of life, and human relationships’ stresses. These are worrying times, and we would be foolish people if we did not acknowledge that and how it makes us feel.
I have noticed in the last few years an increasing awareness of human emotions, primarily directed towards men. A recognition in some way that we are emotional people (even if we do not show them) is a good thing. We see add’s encouraging men to talk about their feelings and see such things as “Manly,” attempts to break down stereotypes and stigma that expressing feelings or sharing fears is something to be ashamed of. The Cultural bravado about burying feelings is slowly being chipped away by a healthy direction that teaches us all to be aware of what we are feeling and then respond to it. It is not just women who are emotional beings, but all of humanity.
For Christian, emotions can be hard to process in terms of our Faith; it can be hard to trust our feelings because we are aware that sometimes they are desires of the flesh and things contrary to the Kingdom of God. Yet, it would be foolish to ignore the simple truth that God made humanity and made us with all of our emotions – they are from him and for him. God gave each of us our emotions and the way we respond to them to help us live in the world and live for him, to help us walk the road ahead of us. Emotions are part of who we are and a gift from God. When we read the grand narrative of the Scriptures, it is hard not to experience the emotion of each occasion and, at times, God. It is hard not to see the overflow of Jesus’s heart when he responds to the need of each person who comes to him or the righteousness of his anger at the misuse of the temple. What is clear is that Jesus is an emotional person because he is a person, but he is not a person controlled by his emotions. As we read the grand narratives of his life, we see every aspect of what we feel: Joy in the company of those he loves, compassion for the suffering, good anger at injustice, weeping over the state of Jerusalem, Sorrow at the death of Lazarus, and worry in the Garden of Gethsemane about what is ahead. Our emotions are part of us. Thus, if we are wise in living for God and understanding the world, we must embrace them and respond to them. I love how CS Lewis quips, “Without the aid of trained emotions, the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.” 1
So if we are to be wise and fruitful disciples of God, if we are to embrace our emotional side and value the input they give us into our lives, what are we to do with them? We could frame the question by asking: How might we respond to our emotions in a way that increases our dependency on God and brings Glory to his name as we live for him? Today, our Psalm is an emotional Psalm as David bears his heart before God. Thus, Psalm 55 shows us one great thing to do with our emotions as we seek to understand them and process them – bring them to God. Specifically, to pray! If our feelings tell us something about the moment and context that we are in and facing, then this Psalm reminds us that the first step in response to the events and context we are in and the feelings that come with them is to bring them to God in Prayer. Why? Because such a movement helps us process what we are feeling and facing, and as we process it, it helps us frame everything in light of our knowledge of who God is and the truth of his reign. Prayer helps us remember our hope in all situations. Thus, as we pray to God for help, we do not forget that our help is in the name of the Lord. Psalm 55 is a perfect example of this as we see it unfold in three stages:
- An Honest Assessment of Feelings to God (1-8)
- Seeking Help from the Only Place help can be found (9-15)
- Renewed Assurance because of Whom We Pray to (16-23)
This Psalm reminds us that emotions are part of who we are and how we live in the world. Yet, it does not leave us as slaves to the whims of our feelings. Instead, it places those emotions and the reality of our lives in the context of a loving and sovereign God.
An Honest Assessment of Feelings to God (1-8)
David is in a desperate situation; it seems that he is praying from the Valley of the Shadow of death. Even if we are not aware of the exact situation, this Psalm is written in response to. David is desperate, the severity of his situation and the burden of his emotions captured in the first words of the Psalm as he begs God to hear him and not to ignore him; so severe is the distress that he is in that the reframe is repeated at the beginning of verse two as David begins to be honest about how his situation is making him feel: “my thoughts trouble me, and I am distraught.” Let us never fool ourselves that we cannot be honest with God, that he is beyond our prayers. instead, let us model David and bring both our situations and how they make us feel to God in honest Prayer.
David is then honest about the situation he is in: it is the words of those who oppose him and the threats they are making against him that are causing him such anguish. David seems to be fearful for his very life, worried that he might not make it to tomorrow because of the power and threats of his enemy. He feels helpless, which we can all relate to – hence he describes his heart as being in anguish as he has been wrapped in the pains of death. The weight of the moment is that everywhere he turns, he finds himself encountering fear and trembling; although he tries to get away from him, they will not leave him alone. The terror of death and all the horror that come with such worries have trapped David on every side, and there seems to be no rescue, no place to turn. Thus, David longs to be like a Dove and simply fly away from the situation he is in to a Place of Safety and be at rest. David, like all of us in moments of peril and distress, wants it all to end, that in a moment, he might make like a bird and leave it all behind and head to somewhere where no one will find him – the desert – and in that place of isolation find shelter from the storms that have been battering him.
Yet, no such escape exists; there is no rescue coming, no easy route out of the valley he is in. He cannot simply escape, yet David shows us a movement that allows him to find rescue and peace amid the storms. He knows he cannot escape the perils that face him, but he knows there is one whom he can give them to and trust amid it all. David finds shelter, peace and rest in a different place – not with the wings of a dove but under the shelter of the Lord’s wings. He knows there is only one to whom he can turn for what his heart long for – rescue and peace – God. Regardless of the perils and strains of life or how they make us feel, there is only one place to bring it all. In the next section, David shows us that movement as he seeks to help the only place that help can be found.
Seeking Help from the Only Place help can be found (9-15)
As dreams of escape fade, prayers for help rise. David knows there is only one person who can help him through what is going on, his Heavenly Father; thus, with the same urgency of expressing his feelings, he asks God to act. As his enemies’ words were causing his stress and anxiety, David asks that God might confuse their tongue, speech and ability to communicate. What makes the situation worse for David is that this threat comes not from enemies who hate him but from within his own circles. Those who were once close to him, on whom he depended, are now the very ones speaking ill against him and threatening his life. It would seem that from these verses that, David could be writing around the time that Saul turned against him, and he found himself fleeing and feeling utterly alone. His enemies are crawling over the city walls day and night looking for him; thus, even in a place that is meant to represent Safety is a place of great danger, there “destructive forces are at work and threats and lies lie on every street.” (11-12)
No wonder David longs for the desert, the Safety of being alone and being able to breathe out because he fears every person and does not know who he can trust because those most trusted have turned against him. It is anxiety that we can all relate to in some way; we might not have lost trust in our loved ones, but we have all had moments and seasons in life when we have felt utterly alone, that there would be no one who would understand what we are going through, what it is we are facing. David used to enjoy the truest of friendship with the One who opposes him; they were so close that they worshipped the Lord in his temple together. He alone has no human place left to turn – but he has somewhere to turn, so turn he did.
Renewed Assurance because of Whom We Pray to (16-23)
We have been journeying through the Psalms as models of Prayer and how to approach God. Here, in a literal Dark valley, David has shown us the value of our emotions and using them to assess our situation and inform our prayers as he moves from feeling to bringing. That is feeling anxious about all that surrounds him and then bringing it to God in Prayer. As we have journeyed the Psalms, I do not know if you have noticed a similar movement where fears and frustrations soon give way to assurance, rest, and true peace. So it is in the movement of Prayer when our emotions, anxieties and fears are placed in the proper context – before almighty God. It is almost as if in Prayer, David is renewed in his memory that no matter how significant the problems he faces are, the God on whom he depends is greater. This Psalm is no different as here in this final section, the movement of David is complete: he has expressed his anxieties, his sorrow at the loss of relationships of those who oppose him, and he has sought help from the only place from which it can come. In this process of honesty, seeking and trusting, he arrives at his final destination – assurance. As he seeks the intervention of God, he is assured of the rescue of God as he reminds himself that it is the Lord who will save him (16) and hear him when no one else is listening (17); that while others might wage war against them and intend him to harm it is the Lord who will rescue him unharmed even when the forces against him are significant (18). Why? Because the Lord is Greater.
Even as David reflects on the distress the change in his relationships has brought him: he finds assurance and comfort in the unchanging nature of God, he who has been enthroned from old and does not change. It is not just the nature of God that brings David comfort; it is his relationship with Him as David knows God will act. He trusts Gods above all and rests in that trust as he struggles to come to terms with those who have violated his faith, he knows there is value in the words of God, who keeps his promises in comparison to the folly of his enemies whose words might be smooth like butter, and more comforting than oil yet behind them is a heart set on war and distraction. The terms may be sweet, but they are like a drawn sworn set upon David.
The peril David has faced and his honesty about his emotions and anxieties in Prayer have reminded him of the beauty of that which he has in God. Regardless of the state of his world or the world there is a place of eternal rest and assurance for those who seek the unchanging One. A place that is not accessed through effort or merit but by the beauty of Faith along the road of Grace. That Faith and Grace we encounter through our relationship with Jesus Christ as we trust him above all the worries of our day. As we centre whatever it is that brings worry or strain against the victory of the cross as a reminder of our most excellent assurance – God loves us and is always in control. Thus, amid whatever it is we are going through: whether a time of great joy and celebration or the most challenging season, we do as David instructs all who read this Psalm to do:
“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” – Psalm 55:22 NIV
David still faces excellent threats, he is still unsure who he can trust, but through Prayer, he has been reminded of the greatest goodness and beauty of a life that trusts in and walks with God; thus he is confident that God will sustain those who trust in Him; whereas in light of eternity the wicked will be brought down; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out the time they think is theirs because they will face the justice of God. They will face judgment, but David will do what his Prayer has renewed in him in this situation and all seasons – he will trust the Lord. Thus, a Psalm that starts with distress and anxiety ends with confidence and trust in God because regardless of the situation, God can be trusted.
What are we to do then? Simple model our prayers on that of David; honesty about our situation and feelings, seeking the greater rescue of God and resting in the assurance that even when it seems contrary to logic, God can be trusted and will act. We are to cast all our cares on the Lord and allow Him to sustain us on the road ahead as we declare our trust in him over anything in the world.
Today may God be our rest, rescue, peace, sustenance, guide and assurance and hope as we trust him and live lives in the power of the Holy Spirit that displays that trust through our hope in Christs’ Victory on the Cross. Today let us cast all our cares on him, whose burden is easy, and yoke is light. Amen.
- CS Lewis – The Abolition of Man ↩