A Prayer When Life is Hard

Trials, Psalm 5, Prayer

One of the things that make the Psalms so appealing is their honesty. In a world where too many people (including believers) present themselves as having everything all together, it is wonderful to hear the honest cries and petitions you find in the Psalms.

Psalm 5 is attributed to David. Some suggest that it could not have been David who actually composed the prayer because of the mention of the Temple in verse 7 since the Temple was not built until the time of Solomon who was King after David. However, the Hebrew word in the title actually refers to “House”. In other words the author came to God’s house (which could have been the Tabernacle, the predecessor of the Temple). Consequently, I’m assuming David actually wrote the Psalm.

There are five Strophes or sections in this Psalm. Three speak to God and two speak about the enemy or the problem the author was facing. I think in the Psalm we find some practical help for the times when life is hard.

Life Brings Hurt

As David begins this Psalm it is obvious that he is a wounded warrior. The wound is not physical; it is a wound of the heart. People have wounded him with their words and in doing so have betrayed him. Listen to the cry for help

O Lord, hear me as I pray;

pay attention to my groaning.

Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,

for I pray to no one but you.

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.

Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

If you look ahead to verse nine we see some of the reasons David is groaning,

My enemies cannot speak a truthful word.

Their deepest desire is to destroy others.

Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.

Their tongues are filled with flattery (or lies).

Surely you have been hurt by the words someone else has said about you. Many of us can recall those hurtful words so vividly they seem fresh even years later. Lies, distortion, gossip, innuendo, sharing secrets, and downright propaganda do great damage. Such words can ruin a reputation; they can stress or destroy a home; and they can divide close friends for a long time.

David describes their talk as foul, like the stench from an open grave and a decaying corpse. Can you feel the hurt?

The important thing for us is to notice how David handles the hurt. Instead of responding in violence, he turned to the Lord. We don’t see him whining to others (which does not necessarily mean he didn’t). He does not write a letter to the editor of the Jerusalem times taking the person to task. He does not even call a news conference to defend himself. He takes the matter to the Lord in prayer.

Notice some things about the way David prays,

  1. He is honest. There is no pretending of piety here. David is hurting and he comes to God groaning in the agony of his pain. I think we miss this sometimes in our own prayer times. We work so hard to “sound spiritual” that we end up pretending rather than simply being honest with God. People are intimidated by prayer (especially public prayer) because they are afraid they won’t “do it right”. The Lord is not interested in us “doing it right”, He wants us to come to Him humbly, honestly and confidently. Sometimes we may communicate through our words, sometimes through a song, sometime through our tears, sometimes through our silence.
  2. David prayed urgently and expectantly. Look at the times he says “Listen”. Think about a husband and wife and one says to the other, “You are not listening to me.” Why do they say that? It is because they have something they really want/need to communicate that is not getting through. David is engaged. He wants to connect with the Lord. It’s not that he thinks God isn’t listening. His words display the urgency of what he is saying. David wants God to know that he comes to Him with the desire not only to speak but to hear. We are told that he “waited expectantly”. He expected God to hear and to answer in some manner. Here is a good test for us: Do we pray with any sense of urgency? Do we really believe God can and will answer our prayers or are we merely speaking to ourselves or worse, just fulfilling a religious duty?

Listen to Spurgeon’s graphic picture

Prayer without fervency is like hunting with a dead dog[1]

3. David prayed regularly. We are told that he came to the Lord each morning. Do you sense David wrestling with this issue before the Lord? If his experience was even close to mine he had to work through his feelings slowly and deliberately. This was a matter of prayer for a while (we don’t know how long). David came back day after day. He came back every morning and worked things through with the Lord.

The key to the development of any deep relationship is the investment of quality time. If we want to have a good relationship with God we must nurture that relationship regularly through speaking with God in prayer and listening to God through His Word.

David continued to turn to the Lord reverently but persistently. He knew where his hope and answer was found.

The Problem of Sin is Real

The next words of David sound harsh but they aren’t,

 O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness;

you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.

Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence,

for you hate all who do evil.

You will destroy those who tell lies.

The Lord detests murderers and deceivers. (NLT)

I know these words sound harsh. You might even hear some people say, “I could never a follow a God who will not “tolerate the sins of the wicked and detests murderers and deceivers.”

Let me ask you a question: Do you hate cancer? Do you hate Alzheimer’s disease? Do you hate heart disease, Leukemia, diabetes, Muscular Dystrophy…. ? You do if you have see the effects of these diseases in the life of someone you know. You hate the way the disease destroys people you love and care about. God hates sin in the same way and for the same reasons.

C.S. Lewis has it right,

If the Jew curses more bitterly than the Pagans, this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well a to the victim (Reflection on the Psalms p. 30)

In other words you can’t truly love others if you don’t also hate what destroys them. God cannot be a loving God if He doesn’t also hate that (those) which destroy others.

Do you see why this is so important? When bad things happen in our lives we tend to act as if God doesn’t care. We wonder why He is unmoved by our pain and our suffering. This is when we must remind ourselves of the truth of God’s character. No matter what it feels like . . . God is not indifferent to our hurt. He does not ignore injustice. He is not soft on sin.

In the book of Habakkuk God explained to Habakkuk that the “just will live by faith”. Habakkuk was frustrated by what was happening and God’s message was pretty simple: “Trust Me!”  God explained that evil would not be ignored; wrong would not go unpunished.

We don’t have to worry that wrong will triumph. It will not. God’s holiness will not tolerate evil. But that raises a problem doesn’t it? If God does not tolerate evil and we are sinful, how can we be saved?

We Can Maintain Confident Hope

Listen to the wonderful words that follow,

Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house;

I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe.

Lead me in the right path, O Lord,

or my enemies will conquer me.

Make your way plain for me to follow.

David understood that he can come into God’s presence only because of God’s unfailing love. David knew that it was only by God’s mercy that he was able to worship at all.

This is something we all need to see. No matter how vile our attacker, we would be no different if it had not been for the grace and love of God. If He had not rescued us we would the ones inflicting pain rather than receiving it.

Notice that David doesn’t make his first request until verse 8. It is a prayer of humility. David recognizes his own weakness. He bows before the Lord and asks Him to direct His path so that he does not fall into the ways of the wicked. David is not simply praying that he would be protected from the wicked, He is praying that he will not become like the wicked.  He is asking God to help him keep focused on what is right instead of resorting to methods that are destructive and wrong.

As you look at your life do you see, as I do, the tendency to mirror the wickedness of those who hurt us? We respond in kind. Angry words come in response to angry words. Exaggeration follows exaggeration. In the times of hurt we often see the remnants of our sinful nature resurrect with a troubling force. Anytime we find ourselves hurt by another we must pray that the Lord will keep us from responding in kind. We must put the matter in His hands rather than try to rectify the problem ourselves. Is that easy? Not on your life. Is it best? Undoubtedly. Do we really trust God enough to let Him have our pain and also entrust Him with our own vindication before others? To wait on the Lord rather than respond to those who attack is not weakness; it is the deepest kind of faith.

On the Other Side of Pain is Victory

The last two sections are a contrast. In the first we read,

10 O God, declare them guilty.

Let them be caught in their own traps.

Drive them away because of their many sins,

for they have rebelled against you.

David is praying for God to be true to His nature. David wants wrong to be dealt with so God’s Kingdom might advance and God’s glory might be magnified. This isn’t about revenge; it is about right and wrong. Sin destroys and the only way to get rid of that destruction is to destroy it.

It is very similar to cancer. The only way to help someone get healthy is to destroy the cancer. The cancer is destroyed by radiation, chemotherapy or by surgery. It doesn’t’ help to “be nicer” to the cancer. You wouldn’t say, “Well cancer should be entitled to do what cancer does.”  No! You have to destroy it.

David understands that all sinful behavior is ultimately rebellion, not against me, but against the Lord! It is God’s honor that is at stake, not mine. David sees the bigger picture. He is beginning to pray not for his glory but for the Lord’s glory.

Imagine praying today, “Lord, as I look around the world I see people recklessly engaging in evil. They pay you no regard. Some honor you with their lips and act as if you will be fooled by their “game”. They praise your name but they live like the Devil. They say the right words when they are in church but they victimize others during the week. O Lord, rise up and restore the honor of your name! Silence the critics! Show yourself holy! Rise to the defense of your people!”

Is such a prayer selfish? Is it mean? No, it is passionately seeking the glory of God.

David concludes by looking at those who put their trust in God’s promise and His love.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

let them sing joyful praises forever.

Spread your protection over them,

that all who love your name may be filled with joy.

12 For you bless the godly, O Lord;

you surround them with your shield of love.

Remember where David started. He was groaning, weak and bruised. This is not how he ends the Psalm! He ends it triumphantly. David affirms what he knows to be true even in the midst of the trial. He knows that God will protect, He will bless, He will surround us with His shield of love.

As we look at the Psalms we will see the same phenomena again and again. The Psalmist begins in distress but ends renewing his faith. The reason is that when we stop looking at the trial and begin looking at our Lord, our perspective changes. We realize that life is bigger than this moment. Even though we feel pain at present, that will not always be the case. God is here and He is not silent . . . even if it feels like it at the time.

Helen Lemmel wrote these wonderful words of comfort that express this thought perfectly,

O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free!

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;

Believe Him, and all will be well:

Then go to a world that is dying,

His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

So now it is up to us. Did you enter this place today nicked up because of what others have said and done? Were you hurt, angry, and filled with a desire to strike back? There is a better way: focus on Jesus. Gain perspective.

Be honest about your pain. Remember that even though you deserved His wrath He has shown you love. Bow down before Him in worship. Acknowledge your own sin. Remind yourself of His character. And then, instead of focusing on the hurt, work hard to focus instead on God’s faithfulness. You might need to do this (maybe even reading this Psalm) every day for a week, a month, or more. Our confidence is this: if you will continue to turn your eyes on Jesus the scars, the pain, the frustration and the hurt will begin to dim. We will instead find that we begin to be filled with God’s peace, love, and joy. It may not seem possible now but I think David would tell us that it is true. If we look at the face of Jesus the smile of our Savior can erase everything and anything the world can throw at us.

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The treasury of David, Volume 1: Psalms 1-26 (46). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Scripture:

Psalm 5