Third Sunday in Lent
This psalm is very nearly divided right down the middle. It is a psalm that expresses deep confidence in God and in God’s ways, but it is also a psalm that admits, quite boldly, that not all is well all the time. Sometimes things go horribly wrong. David did not title this psalm, but he might very well have labeled it, “Both of me in there at the same time.” It is not that he is schizophrenic at all, it is just that sometimes what he knows in his heart to be true about God isn’t always in evidence in his everyday life. In other words, David can have bold confidence that God is watching over him and protecting him, and taking care of him, but he can also be quite afraid that God is not paying him much attention. If we are a human being, we have all felt like this. We do not always have bold confidence in God.
David begins his psalm with practically a shout. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” These are words of praise, they are words of adoration, they are words of deep confidence in God that proclaim that nothing can rattle him, that nothing has the power to undo him. And just to make sure that he is truly confident in that bold statement, he comes up with a few things that might have the potential to rattle him or to shake him, or to test his confidence. And so he mentions evildoers and adversaries and foes. In David’s day enemies were real. Enemies were the kinds of people, if given half the chance, would have been instrumental in helping David to give up his pesky practice of breathing. Very few of us have enemies who intend to kill us, but most of us have enemies who want to make our lives miserable, and who delight in it. These people are true evildoers. And yet in the midst of all of the very real threats from adversaries and foes, David says, meh, I’m not really worried, they’re all gonna stumble and fall before they get to me. And, in case you ask, not even the threat of a war is going to shake my confidence. Even if I wake up tomorrow morning, and a whole army is encamped against me, I’m not going to be afraid. Tell you what, faithful readers, what really gets my heart moving is not the threat of evildoers, or adversaries, or foes, or even the prospect of war, but rather, what gets my heart moving is the opportunity to get myself into the house of worship. It is worship that stirs my soul. I love worship. I want to live in God’s presence at all times. I want to learn, and to inquire about the faith. I want to behold the beauty of the Lord, and all of this beauty and glory will certainly throw everything else in my life into perspective…Even those pesky old enemies who want to help me to stop breathing, will pale into insignificance when my heart soars with shouts of joy and songs of praise. I will sing and make melody to the Lord forever! “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
It is almost as if verse seven begins a completely different psalm. And what’s different about it is that the bold confidence has gone away, but the enemies have not. They are still there, breathing the same awful threats and uttering the same hateful promises to help David give up his pesky little habit of breathing.
So where has Mr. Braveheart gone to? Why, suddenly, has the confidence dried up? Has David had a change of heart? Does he no longer believe that the Lord is the stronghold of his life?
Not really. This second half of the psalm merely proclaims a slightly different truth. Like the two sides of a coin, this side of the psalm reminds us all that what we know to be true about God, what we proclaim boldly to be true about God, Isn’t always in evidence at every moment of our lives, and David is confident enough in his Lord to acknowledge and admit this. Sometimes, in spite of our confidence, we can be afraid. We can be very afraid.
David begins, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!” This is not the kind of prayer that we pray when all is well. This is the kind of prayer that we pray when we are afraid. it is a heartfelt plea for God to show up, for God to listen to our troubles. This is the kind of prayer that wonders, out loud, are you with me, God; are you as close to me as I need you to be? Answer me, please!
And the prayer goes on, and the struggle continues. In verse eight David says, I’m looking for you God, but I don’t see you. I want to see you, but I feel like you are hiding from me. This is not good. How can you be hiding when you know that I am desperately seeking you?
And then, David becomes introspective. If God cannot be found, then perhaps the fault is mine. Perhaps God is angry at me. Have I sinned? Of course I have. “Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!”
And here is where it becomes very important for us and for David to remind ourselves about what we know to be true about God. If there is one of us here this morning who has never felt abandoned or forsaken by God, I want to meet you. Like David, we know full well in our hearts that while it is quite possible for God to become quite angry with us, it is also quite impossible for God to abandon or to forsake us. This is a truth that our confident souls know well. But for those times when we are afraid or when we are lacking in confidence, it can feel for all of the world that God has stepped aside, that God is taking a break from us, and that God has indeed cast us off. If, however, David feels free to express these feelings, then we also ought to have the liberty to do the same. For in each of us, as there was in David, there is a bold side of us that has genuine confidence in God, and there is a small, frightened child inside of us who sometimes fearfully imagines the worst. And it is Psalms such as this one that can help us to find our way back to the healing place of confidence.
That is, of course, David’s personal goal as he writes this psalm. And so he prays, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Like all of us, David leads a life that has its ups and downs, and its highs and lows, its times of confidence and its times of fear. And he knows that the more that he understands the ways of God, the more that he understands how God works, the more that he will understand how his own life works. He knows that by imitating the ways of God, that his own ways, or his own path will be more level. And so he prays that he will be a teachable person, and that God will be his teacher.
But there is still the problem of his enemies. His enemies have a plan. They have a will. They want to destroy his life, and ultimately they intend to kill him. I guess I don’t need to say much about enemies. We all have them; they may be a tad more subtle than they were in David’s day, but their goal is the same. And that is to destroy us by the use of lies and sometimes even with violence.
But it is the violent breath of his enemies that stirs David to deeper hope in God. Even if the enemies succeed in removing his breath, he will still hope in God, for his hope goes beyond his grave. He says, quite prophetically, and quite profoundly, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of of the Lord in the land of the living.” That’s hope. That’s confidence. That’s the David that we met in the first half of the psalm. That’s the person that we need to be.
But until then, there are these words that we all need to hold on to: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” Amen.