As we live the Christian life, or as we seek to help others live the Christian life, we will constantly battle with the overpowering magnitude of the visible realm. Life comes at us with trials, temptations, struggles, complexities, problems, and more. And it doesn’t help to simply preach nice thoughts to ourselves or to others. When life is overwhelming, then what we need is more than information, we need the transformation that can come from being mentored by Scripture. Let me give an example.
In Psalm 57 we are told that David was on the run from Saul, in the cave. Perhaps this was the cave of Adullam at the start of 1 Samuel 22, which comes after the loneliest chapter of David’s life. Or perhaps it is the cave where Saul came close in 1 Samuel 24. Either way, David has been anointed, has achieved notoriety by defeating Goliath, but is now on the run with an increasingly mad Saul pursuing him to kill him. I have never been anointed the king of Israel, and I imagine you haven’t either. Actually, I’ve never had to hide in a cave or had a mad king trying to end my life. However, this three thousand year old Psalm resonates with me and with many of us.
We do know what it is to have an enemy of our souls who comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy. We do know what it is like to have humans opposing us and making life difficult at work, or at church, or even at home. We do know what is like to feel discouraged, downhearted and even depressed in the face of various trials. So we are not where David was, but in a way, we feel like it.
That is the beauty of the Psalms. Even though our circumstances are so different, often we will find the Psalm writer putting his words right on top of our feelings. In the case of Psalm 57 we have the actual historical situation that David was in. More often the Psalms keep their specific historical situation in the shadows, allowing their words and images to resonate directly with our struggles in life.
So whether you are spending some time in the Psalm yourself, or preparing to preach it to others, think about these 11 verses as a mentoring experience. In effect through God’s Word we get to time travel three thousand years to sit in a cave with Dave and hear him processing his frightening situation.
In the first half of the Psalm he cries out to God in light of his situation:
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples me. Selah.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. (vv1-4)
Then comes a refrain he will repeat later:
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (v5)
Let’s notice a few details here, lessons for us from David in distress.
1. In distress he cried out to God. That seems obvious, but how often we don’t cry out! How easily troubles prompt me to get my head down and press on through the day. How easily I try to get resourceful and seek to handle the difficulties of life. Not David, he lifts up his head and cries out to God with specific requests and transparent awareness of his plight.
2. David knew that God’s purpose for his life meant there was hope in this time of trial. Yes, he was anointed to be king, so there was a sense of a guaranteed future. And I have not been anointed to be a king. However, if God has a plan and purpose for my life and for yours, which He does, then the current trial will not wipe us out before our time. We can have confidence for deliverance because until God’s plan for us is complete, then our life here isn’t. That doesn’t lead to arrogance or over-confidence. It does lead to prayers like this one in the midst of trials.
3. David knew that God would participate in his situation. Specifically, he declared that great theme of the Old Testament – that God is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. God is a God who makes promises and keeps them. He is a God whose loyal love is toward his people in a loyal way. Does that sound repetitive? That’s because it is. God’s steadfast loyal love is reinforced with the word for his faithfulness. God’s loyal love is loyal to you and to me!
4. The bottom line of David’s cry for help is faith-filled. You might naturally expect a “So save me!” or “Bottom line, Lord, defeat my enemy!” But instead his bottom line is totally different – he wants God to be exalted and his glory to shine forth everywhere!
In the second half of the Psalm, David moves from crying for help to singing in praise:
They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!
Awake my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds. (vv6-10)
And then the refrain once again:
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (v11)
Let me add one more lesson to learn from David here before we leave him in the cave.
5. David changes the order of experience. So often we assume that our problem leads to our prayer, which leads to God’s provision and then we will praise. But David inverts this order slightly. Yes, our problem can and should lead us to pray. But then David praises in anticipation of future provision of deliverance. That is a big difference. Do we only praise with hindsight? Do we only worship God when we have seen Him do something special? Honestly, how is that a life of faith? David leads the way for us in this. Our prayer to God is an inclination of our hearts in trust toward Him. As our hearts look to God, we can know that He is bigger than the biggest trial we face, and therefore we can also praise by faith … before we see any answer to our prayer.
This Psalm, like many others, is filled with this lesson for us. Our God is bigger than every problem and challenge we face. So by faith we incline our hearts to God in prayer. And, by faith we can incline our hearts to God in gratitude, in praise, in song … before we see how He will answer. That is the life that Dave in the cave invites us into as he mentors us through this Psalm. And honestly, it is a life I want to live in the coming year. A life with my heart inclined toward the great God of steadfast love and faithfulness, a life where my prayer points my heart to a God whose character and greatness stir my heart to trust, to gratitude, to praise and to song. God is to be exalted! We want his glory to be over all the earth!