After the very positive and encouraging message that comes through in Psalm 1 concerning the “way of the righteous”, i.e. “whatever he does prospers”, and then the similarly positive message of Psalm 2 concerning the “One enthroned in heaven” and the great truth that He has “installed” His “Anointed One” as King over the nations, then the following 5 psalms could come as a bit of a surprise. In fact, they are all basically Lament Psalms, or Psalms of Disorientation, where the psalmist is praying to God concerning the difficult times he is having.
As I’m sure you know, life can be tough. Just ask Asia Bibi (see previous Post). Maybe not all the time, but certainly all people everywhere have experienced pain, loss, despair in one way or another. So, what message do these psalms have that makes them still relevant for us today. Simply this, that in the midst of these times of disorientation, there is always hope because God is the One who cares and makes all the difference.
Easy to forget, maybe, but the Psalms are (mostly) just conversations between a person and God. They are prayers, and often prayers that recognize that if God does not respond, then all is lost. But the message that comes through is that the person praying has little doubt about God’s ability and his desire to respond to his prayer, even if He is taking His time. And in the midst of the chaos this brings a peace of mind, a spiritual rest that is beyond explanation. In fact, Paul calls this, “the peace of God which transcends all understanding.” (Phil 4:7)
In Bill Hybel’s book, “The Power of a Whisper – Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond.” (Zondervan 2010), his basic message is that our God is a Divine Communicator desiring a close relationship with his people. Bill speaks of his own experience:
“I can look back on my spiritual life thus far and see two distinct eras. The first era was defined by me thinking of God in non-relational ways…I thought of him as a distant businessman…the CEO of the universe…During that era, Christianity was nothing more to me than a compilation of theoretical ideas about God…My faith system could be whittled down to a simple rule that I hoped would keep my nose clean: Do not disturb the CEO…
The second of my spiritual eras has been marked by a far different understanding of Christianity than the first…I discovered what God was really like, I discovered a deity who couldn’t have been more different that the CEO-type I had dreamed up. I began to understand that God was near to me, and that a relationship with me was on his mind… Scripture declares that our faith is relational – God listens when we speak through prayer, and we are to listen when he speaks through his whispers.”
And so to Psalm 4. Commentators suggest it is connected to the same situation as Psalm 3 (Absalom’s rebellion).
The psalmist begins with God. Always a good place to begin. He says, “God, you’re my righteousness, my Champion Defender.” (4:1) But then moves quickly into his problem and asks the question which is perplexing him: “Why aren’t you answering me when I cry for help?”
Again, he is not doubting God’s ability or willingness, just his timing, for he then reminds himself and others, “May we never forget that the Lord works wonders for every one of his chosen lovers. And this is how I know that he will answer my every prayer.” (4:3)
Is he just an optimist? It doesn’t seem so. Rather he has lived his life long enough, as a “lover” of God to have heard the stories and experienced the faithfulness of God not only in his own life, but in the lives of others.
And so, despite the frustration of his enemies attacks, and needing to endure as he waits for God to answer his prayers, he is full of an unexplainable joy and peace, that even enables him to “lay down in peace and sleep comes at once.” (4:8)
Listen to the expression of this joy and peace in the midst of “distress”:
“The intense pleasure you give me
Surpasses the gladness of harvest time,
Even more than when the harvesters gaze upon their ripened grain,
And when their new wine overflows.
…no matter what happens
I will live unafraid!” (4:7-8)
Father, above all else you are a relational God. Speaking, listening, loving, caring, providing, saving those who will respond to you in faith. So, open my eyes that I may see wonderful truths in your word. Open my ears to hear your gentle whispers. Open my heart to respond in obedience to all that you reveal. Open my mouth to proclaim the wonders and the blessings of the Gospel. In Jesus Name. Amen.