Journeying with David in a dry and waterless place

Reflections inspired by Psalm 63

 

 

Psalm 63

Reflections inspired by Psalm 63

Ihave found in David the son of Jesse a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ Thus does the Lord speak of one of the Bible’s best loved characters. (Acts 13:22; cf 1 Sam 13:14) What a title to be known by! David was a man who had a heart for the things that were on God’s heart, and God treasured, trusted and honoured him. That did not mean that life was easy for David, any more than it would be for the ‘Son of David,’ Jesus Himself. The wind blows strongly both for and against those who are chosen of God, bringing supreme blessings, but also serious buffetings.

It was second nature for this shepherd-boy-turned-legendary-king to seek the Lord’s face, and to share all he knew to be true about his God. In doing so became an inspiration to both his own generation and every generation of believers since. We find him such a rich model not only because we can identify with the flaws that marred his character, and which complicated and even compromised his pilgrimage, but also because he humbled himself before both men and God, as well as overcoming many challenges and hardships.

Just like David, we may often will find ourselves going through times when the landscape of our lives feels barren, bare and dry; and that for many different reasons, for there are different paths into the wilderness: not only our sinfulness and neglect, or the specific activities of Satan but even and beyond and behind all that the Lord from preparing us to walk in true faith and anointing in yet greater power.

Like Paul urging the believers at Philippi not to be discouraged because of what he was suffering in prison, or Corrie Ten Boom, who survived the depravities of Ravensbrook and was yet able to say that ‘no pit it is so deep that Jesus is not deeper yet,’ David’s deeply authentic voice resounds through the millennia, exhorting us to trust the Lord even at those times when our circumstances appear stymied and stunted. If we had to summarise David’s message in one phrase, how better than to hold up this all-encompassing verse? ‘Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.’ (1 Chron. 16:11)

On more than one occasion, David found himself passing through prolonged seasons when the landscape of his life felt bewilderingly bare and barren. Many and varied are the paths and the reasons that led him into writing many of his psalms in the way that he did, including this one: his own past recklessness, as well as the fact that he was driven into the wilderness by the opposition of human and spiritual opponents alike all going in to the mix.

Beyond and behind all the immediate crises he went through, however, it is wise to recall that whilst Mark describes the Holy Spirit as driving the Lord Jesus into the desert, Matthew speaks of Him leading Him into it. (Mk. 1:12; Matt. 4:1) The one does not exclude the other. The wilderness is where we are tested and prepared for greater power and anointing, with all its enhanced blessings, greater responsibilities and yet more rugged tests.

Whatever the path that takes us into our own deserts we can be sure of this: that even there – perhaps especially because we are there – God will be at work, training and preparing us. Earth is our home, our training ground, and our harvest field, and just as there are many areas of steppe land, tundra and literal desert on our planet, so too will many of us find a great variety of landscapes, including wilderness experiences, in the course of our pilgrimage.

It is not only outward circumstances that cause us to be acutely aware at times of living in ‘exile’ here on Earth. As particular disappointments come our way, and hopes are dashed, loved ones turn their backs on the Lord (and perhaps on us as well); as famine, fire and flood beset billions and creation itself reels and groans under humanity’s ever increasing demands and impositions, why be surprised when we feel the tension that Peter refers to when he speaks of our longing for the full outworking of our heavenly citizenship in our forever homeland. No wonder then that he encourages us to consider ourselves as strangers while we are on Earth! And just as we long for the Lord from day to day, so our deepest longing is to be with Him forever. (See 1 Peter 2:11, Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:19-20)

The Lord who ordains and orders our steps, and who takes delight in our journey finds ways to give us moments of profound and tender rest even when we are in the wilderness. It is all part of His process of leading us by His Spirit in paths of righteousness. (Ps. 37:23; 23: 2-3) In all our distress, our Father and Redeemer from of old is distressed, and His presence saves us. (Is. 63:10, 12, 14-16)

You are my God

It is night. David is sitting in the doorway of the improvised tent he has pitched in the Judean wilderness, looking out at what lies in front of him. The moon and the stars are illuminating a sweeping expanse of bare sand and rock, a drear, dry and waterless place, as different as can be from the green pastures and still waters of the sheepfolds of his youth.

David was a poet at heart, and he sees in the landscape a mirror to the highly challenging circumstances he found himself in, and the barren condition of his inmost heart and mind. His resilience is at an all-time low, his faith and courage stretched almost to breaking point.

Is this where it will all end for him? He recalls all the wonderful times he used to enjoy in the sanctuary of the Lord: the brightly coloured robes and fragrant incense, the words and music flowing together; a place where the only overshadow came from the cherubim of God, not from any dark power trying to snuff out his life. He craves again that all-encompassing sense of the Lord ‘s presence.

As he gazes, he remembers. There have been many times when the Lord has had to discipline Him severely, but never once has He failed to rescue him. David gathers his thoughts, stretches out his arms, and pours out his heart:

O God, You are my God.
Earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You.
My body yearns for You in this dry and weary land where there is no water.

I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and glory.

Because Your loving devotion is better than life, my lips will glorify You.
I will bless You as long as I live; in Your name I will lift my hands.

My soul is satisfied as with the richest of foods.

With joyful lips my mouth will praise You!

When I remember You on my bed,
I think of You through the watches of the night.
You are my help.
I will sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.

My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek my life to destroy it
will go into the depths of the earth.
They will fall to the power of the sword;
they will become a portion for jackals and foxes.

But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by Him will exult,
for the mouths of liars will be shut.

Many of us may never had had the opportunity to visit a true desert, nor known the joys and challenges of that intense aloneness – although a trek across Dartmoor, or up in the Highland mountains may go some way towards helping us to glimpse the alien and often harsh nature of the wilderness. To help us enter just a tiny way into this ‘otherness,’ we thought you might appreciate reading Psalm 63 in this rendering from the Orthodox Jewish Bible, with all its resonant, unfamiliar language.

Mizmor Dovid. When he was in the midbar Yehudah (of Judah).

O Elohim, Thou art Eli; early will I seek Thee; my nefesh (soul) thirsteth for Thee; my basar longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no mayim (water) is;

To see Thy oz (might, power) and Thy kavod (glory), as I have beheld Thee in the Kodesh (holy place, sanctuary, Mikdash).

Because Thy chesed (loving kindness and mercy) is better than chayyim (life itself), my lips shall praise Thee.

Thus will I bless Thee while I live; I will lift up my hands b’Shimcha (in Thy Name.)

My nefesh (soul) shall be satisfied as with chelev (fat) and deshen (abundance); and my mouth shall praise Thee with lips of joyful singing;

When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the ashmurot (night watches).

Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the tzel (shadow) of Thy wings will I sing with joy.

My nefesh followeth hard after Thee; Thy Yamin (Right Hand) upholdeth me.

But those that seek my nefesh, to destroy it, shall go into the abysses of ha’aretz.

They deliver him into the power of the cherev; they shall be a portion for jackals.

But HaMelech (the king) shall rejoice in Elohim (the Lord); every one that sweareth by Him shall glory; but the mouth of them that speak sheker shall be stopped.

If you find after reading the psalm in this version that you would like to explore more of the Hebrew psalms in this way, why not start here and move forwards or backwards through the psalter?

The music that undergirds this track includes a piece written for us by Geth Griffiths to accompany our prayers. It is played by Shirley Richards, Helen Rees, (violins), Chian Lewis Lim (viola) Jo Garcia, Anna Fraser (cello) with Fontane Liang on the harp, and Geth Griffiths himself on double bass.

The second piece you will hear is a setting of Pomaluśku_Józefie (Slowly, Józef, slowly), a traditional Polish Christmas carol, with the solo violin superbly played by Shirley Richards.

In a dry and waterless place

Removed from all the comforts of the palace and thrust into the desert as a result of Absalom’s deadly rebellion and the very real threat that it posed him, David had to come to terms with suddenly finding himself obliged to flee from Jerusalem. He who had been all powerful just minutes before was now powerless and dependent on others.

No wonder, as he dove deeper into the wilderness, that thoughts piled in to plague him with stabbing fears that the Lord had left him, and that his sins had finally caught up with him. This particular psalm may not specifically suggest that, though others do.

We love it when the water of life is flowing freely through us, when praise flows and prayer is just a sheer joy. But how do we cope when, for either a short or a long time, our ‘water levels’ seem to recede and, like David, we find ourselves in a dry and waterless place? When seeking the Lord feels dull, and our circumstances so cramping and constricting that it feels as though all the life is being squeezed out of us?

But this is where David could draw on years of experiencing the goodness of the Lord, and he tells us that his soul – his whole being, with all its desires and longings – thirsts and even pines for the Lord. When Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, He wasn’t talking about our regular desire for a cup of tea or a glass of water; real thirst, desert thirst, is all-consuming. It’s overwhelming! (Matt. 5:6)

Which of us has not known what it is to ache for something or someone we have lost, when all our senses are, as it were, out on stalks, and our hearts are reaching out constantly for what we can no longer find or hold? I have devoted a section in  Vale of Tears to such pining.

All of us have an inherent hunger and thirst to love and be loved: to belong. David knew that the God who made him is Himself the place of our belonging. In amongst the rhythms and busyness of life, as well in the midst of our specific challenges and losses, may we remember to fix our eyes and hearts on Him – even if the power of our pining appears for the time being to obscure and all but blot out the very thing we long for most: the active awareness of His sweetness and presence.

At times like these, we are more aware of the Lord’s absence than His presence, and even the thought of finding our joy in the Lord, and ‘riding in triumph on the heights of the land,’ as Isaiah puts it, seems a remote prospect. (cf Is. 58:14)

In this waterless wilderness, a place of inner strife as well as outward hunger, thirsty and exhausted, David reached out beyond his own plight and deliberately ‘hooked’ himself into the Lord’s goodness by meditating on Him and clinging to Him, remembering all the help He had sent from His sanctuary.

When we choose praise over despair, our worship becomes the crook that keeps us looking to the Shepherd. Our confidence grows as we remember how He has led and watched over us in the past, however far away He may feel now. Praise glorifies the Lord and is such an offence in the devil’s nostrils that it messes up his snares.

Praise You, Father God. Nothing and no one else can ever satisfy my soul. No one else can deliver me over and over again from all that threatens and hangs over me.

You have invited me to feast and drink at Your table – and there is such deep companionship there. But right now, I am so parched for You that my tongue and my body are black in the searing dryness. Keep me from slaking my thirst on things that fritter the time away and merely serve to fuel the desires of my flesh. I want to cultivate the minutes to seek You, Lord, and to escape the downward pull of my fears, the disquieting thoughts that make me focus on the dangers.

It is good to take time out for the things we enjoy, and to make space for rest and refreshment – it is very much part of the way that God has made us to be. But which of us has not known times of spiritual dryness distracting us into frittering too much time and energy into things that in reality are little more than empty, broken cisterns that can do nothing to facilitate the flow of His living water? (Jer. 2:13)

Even when our preoccupations with other things and people make it hard for the Lord to manifest Himself directly to our souls, He continues to woo us. Whether by overruling of our circumstances, through cords of human kindness or through specific rebukes and warnings, He continues to remind us that He is there, waiting for us to humble ourselves and to yield ourselves afresh to Him.

So when we find ourselves well and truly in wilderness territory, may our hearts be sufficiently eager and resolved to remain hunger and thirsty for His presence, His leading, His coming. Sooner or later we will drink again from the spring of living water.

Wrap yourself in light, Lord God. Show Yourself greater than these pressures. Come in the gentleness of Your presence, in signs and visions that impart the stirrings of fresh hope, and bring whispers of Your love, for it is those who hunger and thirst to be right with You who You promise to bless.

Music
Megan Topper’s beautiful Dorian Theme is played for us by Jane Horsfall (harp), Megan herself (flute), Shirley Richards (violin), Nick Evans-Pugh (viola) and Corinne Frost (cello).

In time of peril

Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

We have no idea how long David spent in the desert on this occasion. How many nights did he spend out in the wilderness, at risk from animals and his foes alike? Yet, David found ways to strengthen himself in the Lord, even under the onslaught of devastating betrayal and attack. In his youth it had been from King Saul, and it had been from raiders at Ziklag, when even his own people were speaking of stoning him, and then there was this dreadful time when his own son led a full-scale rebellion against him. But always, David turned to the Lord. (1 Sam. 23:14; 30:6; 2 Sam. 15:23)

When pangs of despair press in hard on every side, mere knowledge about God is never going to help us; we must cry out to Him and thrust our way upwards through the darkness to come before the throne of God: “Bring me through, Lord. Open the way. Make it possible. Don’t abandon the work of your hands!”

The Lord is no stranger to the desert. The ark of His presence hung suspended from poles as the Levites carried it through the wilderness, and His tent was pitched right in the middle of the Israelite camp each night. (1. Chron. 15:15; Num. 2:1) Seen and worshipped, or unseen and apparently absent, God does not abandon His children when they find themselves in barren wastes as different as can be from the Garden of Eden that He originally intended for them.

He was powerfully present with David in his various times in the midbar wilderness, even as He was with Jesus, during His extended sojourn praying and fasting in the wilderness of Sinai, where wild animals threatened, satan tempted and angels kept watch.

Peter Richards, Thomas, Susanne and Julia Herzog improvised this extraordinarily expressive piece of music during a gathering in Berlin recently. Because it seemed to us to resonate with pain, we named it ‘Wasserturm,’ after the nearby water tower where many who dared to oppose the Nazi were incarcerated and tortured. May both the words and music speak to many profoundly difficult circumstances in our own lives – and also serve to release our spirits to flow in prayer on behalf of people who are undergoing situations of extreme peril all around the world.

Seeking God at night

Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

For so many people, the night, with its thoughts and longings, can be a time when fears and concerns bombard the mind. But the darkness is as light to the Lord, and darkness cannot remain where the Lord Himself is – and as David discovered the wakeful, ‘dread-full’ hours are precisely those we can spend with Him, and thereby avoid giving way to fears and dark thoughts.

For just as Psalm 74:16 declares that, ‘The day is Yours; Yours also the night,’ so the middle of Psalm 63 brings us a verse specifically for night owls: ‘On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night.’ (v. 6) We find an echo of this is middle of Psalm 119, too, where the psalmist declared that he got up in the middle of the night to give the Lord thanks, to consider His ways, to affirm that He alone was his portion, and to promise to obey His words. (Ps. 119:57-62)

Right at the beginning of Psalm 63, however, when David speaks of seeking the Lord earnestly and yearningly, many translations include the fact that he was seeking the Lord very early in the day – for that concept is present in the Hebrew word shachar, (pronounced shaa-hhaa-r). There are many verses in Scripture that make this association between seeking God and doing so early in the day. (e.g., Psalm 57:8, 130:6; Proverbs 1:28, 7:15, 8:17)

Here was someone who knew and lived out the truth of the Teacher taught in Proverbs 8:17 as he spoke about the Lord as Wisdom. “I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me.” The Lord sees and values the love and diligence that causes so many of us to rise early to seek Him, and He delights to share precious insights that we might not be able to receive once the events of the day are fully under way.

There is such mutuality in the process David describes, as he sets himself to sing in the shadow of the lord’s clinging and cleaving to Him with all his heart – and the Lord responds by upholding His servant with His strong right hand. What a profound double embrace this speaks of, in which we hold and and are upheld.

Thirst and satisfaction follow each other as surely as day follows the night hours, however long they may feel. The blessedness and beauty of seeking God is that we are sure of being heard, because His love never falters nor fails, as He finds ways to restore our re-pose.

May we be no more reluctant to cry out to God than a young bird is to cry out for its food. Our heavenly Father loves to hear His children calling out to Him by day and by night. The more we seek Him, the more inclined He will be to remove barriers that are blocking our path and to move on our behalf, as well as to resist and rebuke those who are acting haughtily against us.

May we be alert in our spirits to know when the Lord is inviting, summoning us even to get up to seek Him – and when it is perfectly alright to turn over and enjoy a few hours more sleep.

Examen
As David made it his regular practice to ponder and meditate as he lay on his bed, he made himself available to all God wanted to talk to him about. Certainly, there are favours to be granted and needs to be met that only a king can grant. But how could he do this now when he was here, under the desert stars and a long way from all he was accustomed to have at his command, and when everything had been stripped away from him? The Lord had some serious housekeeping to do in his heart, reminding him of people he had been unfair to and causing others to stand before his mind’s eyes. So thoroughgoing can this process be that all too many are reluctant to open their hearts to such honest reflection for fear lest they be taken to the cleaners!

But deep down do we not want to be clean? Was the Lord not, in reality, answering the prayers that David himself had prayed in such places as these verses in Psalm 139: ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ (Ps. 139:23-24) And does He not do similar such things in our own lives in answer to our prayers?

If we will only consent to pray with such honesty, we will find such unspeakable tenderness as well as crystal clear clarity when the Lord – as opposed to our own condemnation-clouded conscience confronts us with our wrongdoing. Then, just as it takes a deliberate decision to set ourselves to do household tasks we may have been putting off, so we must do whatever it takes to get our hearts right again with God and others. This is a right and proper expenditure of our energy – and who knows all the benefits that will come from doing so, as the Lord shows us things that are on His heart for us to do, and of people He wants us to get in to contact with, and perhaps to apologise to.

Is this not the very reason why Jesus came. He longs to cleanse us and make us righteous. Painful though it is to face up to our uncleanness and unbelief, it is only so that we might be set free to live the life that He made us for, to do the unique works He has prepared for us to do, and to walk alongside those He has designed us to partner with in the gospel. (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:5)

These are the decisions that make it possible for the Lord to direct a fresh flow of ideas and understandings to come out way, that make sense of things we are going through, or seeking to do, along with sharper ways of proceeding with some course of action. And all because we were prepared to ‘Arise, and cry out in the night watches,’ and to be willing to ‘pour out our hearts like water before the presence of the Lord.’ As Jeremiah would one day urge people to do at a time of national catastrophe, ‘lift up your hands to Him for the lives of our children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.’ (Lamentations 2:19) Are we not surrounded by people who are starved of the word of God and who lack the spiritual resources to cope with what they are going through in life?

There are plaguing thoughts that can strike us at any time of day or night – but which of us has not known times when the troubles of the day hound us far into the night hours, when dark and dreary fears come knocking at the door, multiplying concerns, magnifying them in our minds?

Lord, be with all wakeful souls, especially those who are tossing and writhing through anxiety or illness, or because they find themselves caught up in some intense spiritual battle.

Bring them the relief of the first rays of dawn, and the awareness that You are the God of the breakthrough. Grant them strength to ward off the ogres of the night, and to turn groaning into prayerful sowing, that will lead in time to great reaping and rejoicing.

David was no stranger to nightmare-ish terrors, but for him, the night hours were an opportunity to stir and marshal his spiritual defences, and to thrust his way into the Lord’s presence:

For so many of us the night is a time to reflect and to pray;

A time to know ourselves held in the loving presence of God;

A time to give thanks;

A time to revisit the effect that our actions have had on others – but to ponder the ways in which we have received His wisdom, or whether we have set it aside and gone our own way;

A time to come in humility, and to seek His mercy and forgiveness;

A time to resolve to trust the Lord despite our fears and failings;

A time to offer Him our strengths and abilities, and for some of us to be immensely creative.

The day is Yours, Lord: Yours also the night.

You established the sun and the moon,

You made both summer and winter,

You set all the boundaries of the earth in place.

And it is You who open up new springs and streams,
and it is also You who allows some of the rivers we have depended on in the past to dry up.

To You I cry, Lord. Remember the promises that You have given me – they are my only hope!

Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge, wherever I go,
my whole pilgrimage long.

You are my portion, LORD; I have promised to obey your words. I have always done so.

With all my heart I have sought Your face and entreated Your favour;
be gracious to me according to Your promise.

I have considered my ways and turned my steps to follow after You.
I will not forget all that You have shown me.

Rise up therefore, O God, and champion Your cause;
defend the poor and needy,
and do not let the oppressed be overcome and put to shame;
let them praise Your name with songs of deliverance.

Be my Rock of Refuge

Lord, You heard all those bold declarations I made last night. But another day has trekked past and I am weary. I am more exhausted than I was yesterday, Lord. It feels like the end of my journey.

I am wide awake because You have thrown me aside.

You have broken my strength in midcourse. It feels as though You have shortened my days.

Don’t take me away in the middle of my life, Lord.

You endure through all the generations, and my times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who are persecuting me.

Shine Your face upon Your servant. Save me in Your steadfast love.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries. I can hear them whispering; there is terror on every side.

They are scheming together against me; they’re plotting to take my life.

I’m doing my best to seek refuge in You, Lord. Keep me from being put to shame.
In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me quickly.

Blessed indeed are those the Lord chooses and brings near to dwell in His courts! He wants us to be at home in His presence – not least in the ability to be still in His presence.

The NASB translates the first verse of Psalm 65, ‘There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God.’ The Legacy Standard Bible puts it thus: ‘To You, there will be silence and praise in Zion, O God,’ while the Amplified renders it, ‘To You belongs silence [the submissive wonder of reverence], and [it bursts into] praise in Zion, O God.’ (AMP)

From time the time the Lord’s presence is just too strong and glorious for words. At other times, when situations press down heavily upon us, we can find no words to express our groaning. In that sense, at least, the challenges David faced is one we may not be unfamiliar with: to let these silences be filled with reminders of who the Lord is, and of what He has done, and even to trust for what He will yet do, rather than allowing fearful thoughts and recollections of our past sins and failures to overwhelm us.

In the Beginning

Everything in life is changing and transitory . . . except the Lord, who is from everlasting to everlasting. He remains the same, and His years will never end. (Ps. 102:27 NIV). This beautiful and powerful song is based on verses 18 and 27 of Psalm 102, and celebrates the wonderful truth that before our world came into existence, God already was.

He is the ‘Ancient of Days’ and He, like His Son Jesus, are the same yesterday, today and forever. May the Lord root this glorious truth ever deeper in our hearts – and let it be written (and sung!) in the generations to come, so that a people not yet created may praise Him.

This arrangement of Huw’s song, by Justin Coldstream, is sung by Megan Topper, accompanied by Justin Coldstream (keyboard), Francis Cummings, Philippa Barton, Christiane Mueller, Jo Garcia (strings), Anthony Thompson (trumpet), Peter Richards (French horn).

(Song Copyright Huw Humphreys 1990)

When Life is hanging like a thread

In ancient Israel, devout Jews would often don sackcloth in exchange for their regular clothes during times of special loss or need. If you have ever run your hand over a piece of hessian, you can imagine how abrasive and uncomfortable such garments would be to wear! Some Jews went so far as to rub ashes on their head, or even to sit in an ash pile. These outward signs of mortification signified a profound self-abasement in the midst of feelings of the utmost desolation, the physical discomfort goading and sharpening their prayers. I can’t help wondering if we have not lost something powerful and precious by discarding such practices today . . .

Putting on sackcloth to pray was certainly a habit that David himself was familiar with, even to the point of using it to help him pray for those who opposed him, and enduring the mocking that ensued. (Ps. 35:13, 69:11) On another occasion, we find him ‘lying in sackcloth on the ground’ as he pleads for the life of the child he had unlawfully fathered through Bathsheba. (2 Sam. 12:16)

In the face of Absalom’s sudden onslaught, it is highly unlikely that David would have taken his sackcloth robes with him as he fled to the wilderness.

Nevertheless, it was a situation that called for urgent prayer – and a time when he must surely have found himself questioning some of the choices and decisions he had taken over the years.

If any of us are inclined to think of God as far away and distant when we find ourselves in such wilderness times, the Scriptures repeatedly reveal a God who sees and knows every single thing that happens, both in our hearts and in the world around us. It’s challenging and inspiring to look at the psalms that immediate precede and follow Psalm 63. Time again we find them urging us fervently to ‘Trust in the Lord at all times.’ No wonder, because there is no occasion in life when we don’t need to trust Him, and the battle for such trust is played out in the mind-field of our hearts and minds, as the enemy attempts to first sow and then nurture seeds of doubt.

Jeremiah puts this so powerfully:

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD
and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.

They are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought;
their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

But “cursed is the one who trusts in mere humans,
who rely on human strength and on others;
who have turned their hearts away from the LORD and stopped trusting in Him.

They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future. (see Jer. 17:5-8)

This overwhelming contrast between those who trust and those who do not is one of the clearest red-flag warnings in the whole of the Scriptures. It is set in the context of the Lord reminding people just how deceitful the heart really is, and how only He can fully understand it as He searches people’s our hearts and minds, and rewards accordingly. (Jer. 17:9-10)

The Lord really does see and know. The risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus commands John to write to the churches of Ephesus and Philadelphia, saying ‘I know,’ and ‘I know that . . .’

Thank You, Lord, that there is absolutely nothing that You do not see or know.

Thank You that You are the God who enables us to endure, as well as the God of the breakthrough, and so I pray as David and Jeremiah must have done: Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the One I praise.

Thank You that You bless and fill those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and make good use of everything that we go through and that we give You; for It’s only when I cease questing and thirsting for You that I start to shrivel. Let this be the refrain of my heart, Lord God, so that I can hear the promise of Your answering touch: “I am with you and will save you.” (Matt. 5:6; Jer. 17:14, 30:11)

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. (Ps. 63:7)

My flesh and my heart are failing me in this desert place, Lord. My own son, whom I fathered and raised, has turned against me – and many are abandoning me and flocking to his standard. (See 2 Sam. 16:11)

I should have taken a stand when I could and should have done. I used to take it for granted that when my foes advanced against me to devour me, it would be them who would stumble and fall, but now everything is hanging by a thread. Is this the bitter harvest that I must reap? I have failed You in so many ways and let so many down. Am I still to be counted among the righteous?

I ask You to forgive me for the many times when I have taken advantage of my position and abused the people You entrusted to my care. I weep and grieve and weep for all the people I have hurt.

Have pity on my plight. Here I am, betrayed by the one I love, and in turn betraying the trust of those who love me, because I cannot turn away from my own flesh and blood, or bear to see him pay the full penalty for his folly.

Thank You for every single companion who has stayed faithfully with me. Thank You for all the provision they are making for me, and their willingness even to lay down their lives for me.

One thing You have spoken, two things I have heard: power belongs to You, O God, and with You is unfailing love, You reward everyone according to what they have done. If You were to mark my faults and record my sins, what hope would I have?

Chastise me. Let a righteous man smite and rebuke me – it is a kindness, and I will receive it, and learn from it. (See Ps. 141:4-5)

Look upon this host that has taken hold of my dwelling; let Your angel armies camp around the city that You have chosen and deliver it. Have You not promised that when Your faithful ones pass through any troubles – many troubles – that You will not forsake them, and that Your righteous ones will dwell in the land forever?

Though Your waves and breakers have swept over me, and the cords of death entangle me, I will call on Your name to bring me safely through this wilderness. Do not abandon the work of Your hands, for You are the One I praise. (Ps. 116:1-4)

Have You not always found a way to rescue me from every evil attack? Keep me clinging and cleaving to You, for You are the stronghold of my life, and there is none other that I should fear? (Ps. 27:2-3)

With You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered. (Ps. 130:4) So I will keep on seeking You until You come and shower Your righteousness on this dry and waterless land. (Hos. 10:22)

I lay my many needs before You, and watch and wait to see what You will do about them. (Ps. 5:3) For You are my light and my salvation and the strength of my life, and in this day of trouble, I know that You will hide me in the shelter of Your tent, and set me high upon a rock. (Ps. 27:1,12-13, Ps. 90:2)

You are training my hands for battle, and arming me with strength, and Your right hand enables me to bend a bow of bronze. It is Your help alone that will sustain me and rescue me.

Make straight the path beneath my feet, and restore to me the joy of my salvation.

Whom have I in Heaven but You, Lord? Earth has nothing I desire besides You. With all my heart I love You, and I thank You because You are still hearing my voice. I will praise you among the nations, and declare the praises of Your name.

For this I know, that when I finally awake, You will be with me still, and I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I know that You will come and will not delay, and all will be so utterly different in the world You usher in. I shall be more than satisfied because I will see Your face and be with You forever, for You always were, You always are, and You always will be the holy, mighty, magnificent God.

Bring us through the darkness, Lord

It is not until the last three verses of Psalm 63 that David hints at what he has really been up against, and speaks of the dreadful fate awaiting those who are seeking his life:

Those who want to kill him will be destroyed and go down to the depths of the earth, while he – along with all who trust in the Lord – will rejoice in God. But the mouths of liars will be shut, stopped and silenced. (Adapted from Ps. 63:9-11)

In this presentation we have been following the line that most commentators take, that Psalm 63 was written at a time when David was facing an immediate threat to his life from his own son. As if that were not bad enough, his friend and trusted counsellor, Ahithophel played a key role in the plot against him.

The wisdom that comes from above is pure and peaceable, (Eph. 4:17-22; Col. 3:5-15) yet somehow David’s faithful companion suffered in such a way as to bring about a complete change of heart. The reason is not hard to fathom; it lies in his family tree, where we discover that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather! (See 2 Sam. 23:34 and 2 Sam. 11:3) Although the Lord forgave David his sin, Ahithophel did not – and the Lord Himself had warned David that his lust and subsequent loss of self-control had let loose a sword into his family line that would continue to work with devastating consequences throughout the generations to come.

Resentment consumed David’s one-time advisor, to the point where he hated David as passionately as he had once served him. And like many a Judas in the generations since, Ahithophel paid the ultimate price for turning against the Lord’s anointed, and took his own life. His fate is a desperately sad illustration of the truth of James’ words that ‘the anger of man does not bring about the purposes of God.’ (Jas. 1:20) Satan likes nothing better than to sink his teeth into someone who has the potential to thwart and destroy the work of God.

Had Absalom taken Ahithophel’s strategic advice, his coup would surely have succeeded – and so much would have been lost, not only in David’s own land and time but right across the world and into the present day. But God . . . Once again, He intervened to save the day and to bring about His purposes: Absalom took against Ahithophel’s strategic advice, and David was restored to his kingdom. But oh, what a price was paid in terms of the number of lives lost!

You specifically warned, Lord, that liars would be excluded from Your heavenly city, along with those who are idolaters, unbelieving, immoral, or cowardly. They will spend eternity rueing the lies they chose to spin, and the mercy, truth and saving faith that they spurned. (Rev. 21:8)

You hate the words of those who manipulate and distort truth, for they can lead only to mistrust and the destruction of true companionship. (Pr. 6:16-19) Just as a flattering mouth works ruin, so lying tongues pursue only their own interests, with no thought or concern for the wellbeing of those they are deceiving. This is the work of malice and hatred. And is not hatred akin to murder? Sin crouches at the door of both liar and murderer alike, and bars them from entering Your eternal Kingdom. (Proverbs 26:28, 1 John 3:15; 1 John 4:20)

‘The mouths of liars will be silenced,’ writes David. In Hebrew, the word is yis·sā·ḵêr, meaning ‘stopped’ or ‘shut up.’ The Lord will vindicate those who have been lied against, and will find ways to prove the liar wrong. (See, for instance, Job 5:16 and Ps.107:42) As David warned at the end of Psalm 63, ‘those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of earth.’

Forgive us, Lord, for every foothold that we permit envy and bitterness, malice and lies to gain in our hearts, strangling love and fostering hatred. Forgive us for every time when we yield to their pressure, and act in an ungodly way, even to the point of lying, because it feels easier than telling the truth. Forgive us, too, for any occasion when we actively seek to manipulate or even deceive in our eagerness to see someone taken down a peg or two or be ‘taught a lesson.’ Lord, have mercy on us. Make us single-minded about ridding ourselves of such baleful tendencies.

Lord God, Righteous Judge, Your indignation toward those who conceive evil and are pregnant with mischief is as fiery today as it has ever been. If they do not repent, they will fall into the holes that they have dug for others, and find the lies that they have told coming boomeranging back upon their own heads. (Ps. 7:11-16m, cf Ps. 64)

Oh Lord God, this would have been my fate too, for I was Your enemy until Your saving grace rescued me. (Rom. 5:10, Eph. 2:1-10) You atoned on the cross for my lies and careless words, as well as for my other waywardness, and my sin is removed as far as the east is from the west.

Reach out now I pray to release those I have hurt and stymied through the corrupting and hellish fire that my tongue has given birth to. Thank You Lord.
(Jas. 3:6; Ps. 102:12)

Dear Lord, forgive us when we resist someone or something in a situation where You are at work, and we are too blind to see it because they do their work in a different way. Probe deeper, too, and see if we really have forgiven those who have hindered or even betrayed us – or those whom we love. We want to forgive from my heart, because You warn that we cannot know full forgiveness ourselves so long as we harbour the time bomb of unforgiveness. (Matt. 18:35)

Let no unforgiveness obstruct and impede the flow of Your Spirit in our hearts. We know that Your fire will test the quality of our words and work, and we no more want blockages to be found in my heart than we would welcome them in the pipes and drains that take the waste from our homes. (1 Cor 3:10-15)

A table in the wilderness

Wildernesses come in many different forms. The Sahara is as different as can be from the vast polar ice sheets of Antarctica, but in their own way they are both types of desert. A desert is defined as a region which receives less moisture than it loses, and geographers tell us that they account for about a third of the Earth’s land mass.

Metaphorically, it often feels as though we are plunged into a wilderness experience when things go wrong and our supplies of ‘water’ dry up. Illness, loss of employment, pressures at home or at work, relationship breakdowns, retirement, bereavements and so on – there are almost too many possibilities to suggest. Some come about by our own fault, while others are the consequence of circumstances, and others again are quite definitely attributable to direct demonic interference. All, however, are likely to affecting our inward flow adversely, to cause us to feel as though we have been left high and dry in some parched and waterless land.

But is the Lord any the less Lord of steppe and frozen tundra than He is of the softly-flowing brook and meadows of David’s childhood years, immortalised in Psalm 23?

Finding ourselves in a wilderness of one sort or another can leave us inclined to pine nostalgically for those times when we have seen the Lord so clearly in His sanctuary, and known Him move powerfully. We long to be back into that place where we delighted in the sense of His presence, His ready provision meeting our needs. Whatever the origin of the wildernesses – yes, even those we have brought on ourselves by our own recklessness or neglect – the invitation to come into His sanctuary remains wide open to us. Beyond each wilderness lies a spacious place.

Jesus, take us deeper into Your stream – streams of living water, even when hope has all but run dry and the riverbed is parched and cracked. Come quickly, come deeply, come true. May we never settle for a wilderness outlook when what is really happening is that we are simply passing through a Valley of Baca, and must do our best to turn it into a place of spring and pools, rather than assuming that this is where we will remain forever. (Ps 84:6)

‘My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,’ David declared in verse 5 of Psalm 63. Beyond his thirst lay a feast. We may have to sow long and deep and painfully, but our longings will be rewarded. May the Lord help us to continue to sow in righteousness and break up our unploughed ground so that He can come and shower righteousness upon us, and we can reap the fruit of loving devotion.

There are days when the soil is unyielding, and progress feels impossible. But the day will come when our faith is rewarded, our longings fulfilled and our soul is satisfied ‘as with a rich feast.’

There in the wilderness, with enemies pressing in close at hand, David chose to find ways to strengthen himself in the Lord, as he has done so many times before, no matter what the dangers facing him or the fate awaiting him.

Humbly aware that he had brought many of these troubles upon himself, but wholeheartedly seeking God’s deliverance and deep down hopeful that the Shepherd King would once more deliver him and bring him back to the quiet waters and green pastures he knew and loved so much.

Sometimes, You move in lightning power to bring about the breakthrough; rather as in tropical lands after the rains have fallen, when the baked and barren earth blossoms overnight into rich meadows ablaze with flowers, and dry river beds tumbling with cascades of sparkling, vitalising water.

At other times you bring about some all-important change and the transformation so subtly that we are barely even aware of it at the time, as the seeds we have sown silently push through their way through the dark soil and quietly uncurl into all that God intends them to be. Slow and silent or fast and thunderous, let emptiness becomes fullness, and neediness plenty!

Therefore we say with David, ‘I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, O mighty and faithful God, because You have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy, but have redeemed me, and have set my feet in a broad place.’ (From Ps. 31)

I will seek Your face continually

The very fact that the Psalm 63 begins by using two different titles to invoke God’s name gives us confidence and encouragement to take some particular aspect of His character and to make it our focus as we press in to approach the God of gods.

O Lord, You are my God;

Elohim, the supreme God, the exceeding One, the very great One, the One who judges.

You are Eli, Yahweh, the powerful, strong, Almighty One, our Tower of Strength.

You have both the power and the willingness to help those who call on Your name, and I have known such a profound and continual sense of Your presence accompanying me, and how grateful I am!

But now, Lord, how I ache to know it again here in this waterless place, where dark shadows loom over my life.

You are My God. You. Are. My. God. I belong to You. I have taken hold of the hope set before me, and it is a firm and secure anchor for my soul. (cf Heb. 6:18-20)

I have seen You in the sanctuary, and beheld Your power and Your glory. I long to conform to You because You love me, and the more I see and understand of You, the more I want to be like You.

You have chosen me, and called me to come to You. And having called me, You have given me right standing with You. And more still, having given me right standing, You have given me Your own glory.

Oh my God, how I love You! I will sing to You, I will sing praise to You and tell of all Your wonderful acts. I will look to You and to Your strength, and I will seek Your face continually.’ Wrap yourself in light, Lord God. Show Yourself greater than the surroundings. Come in the gentleness of Your presence, in signs and visions that impart the stirrings of fresh hope, and bring whispers of Your love, for it is those who hunger and thirst to be right with You who You promise to bless.

(Rom. 8: 28-30, adapted; 1 Chron. 16:9, 11)

Heal me Lord, and I shall be healed

Psalm 63 is such a rousing and uplifting psalm that we might be tempted to skip over the extreme crisis that occasioned it, which is only mentioned towards the end. We have gone a long way beyond taking a strictly exegetical verse by verse approach in these reflections in order to explore more of the way in which David responded to a very real threat to his life, and the deep distress that could have so easily have overwhelmed him.

As we know, he faced huge trials at every stage of his life: external ones, for sure, as wave after wave of devastating reverses came his way (along with unparalleled opportunities), but also internal ones, causing him to wrestle with both the challenges that faced him, and his own shortcomings. His perseverance and persistence in seeking the Lord in and through each tossing wave gave birth to so many of his psalms. All of us have surely found time and again just what a precious resource they are when we lack the words to express our own turmoil, and need to draw on the authority that they impart. What a debt we owe to this poet-warrior-king, and father of the nation!

We are pondering here something of the accumulative toll that repeated shocks had taken on David’s hitherto resilient heart – most especially the impact that his son Absalom’s revolt had on him, causing him to have to flee for his life into the wilderness. But instead of despairing, David deliberately turns to worship.

We have set the words to the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s stunning Fourth String Quartet – for here is a composer who likewise suffered many deeply upsetting hindrances and relational challenges in his life. Together with his deafness, these seriously affected his mental and emotional state. But he too, like David, continued to find ways to set down on manuscript paper the vast span of his magnificent musical mind so that we might all benefit.

My mind is being torn this way and that, Lord. Both the attacks that have been on me, and also the thoughts that are in my mind, fear in my thinking process. I know that if my mind is barricaded by suspense and anxiety, Father, I won’t be able to follow Your still small voice.

No wonder You so often say, ‘Fear not,’ through Your prophets, Lord. You are teaching us to walk and, just like any father, You have to remove Your supporting hand sometimes so that we can discover that we can go further and do more than we thought we could. You are not dismayed by our stumbles. You stand right alongside us, even if we find it hard to recognise what You are doing. And Lord, is it not true that our enemies lose ground when we remain intent on doing Your will?

Oh Lord, my circumstances are devastating, and my emotions are desolate. Satan, the adversary, the accuser is pushing in to overwhelm my defences and to destroy my trust. I refuse to give in. I will keep on obeying, keep on pressing in, keep on clinging to You, Lord, with my heart fixed on You, even though it feels as though there is a veil stretched across the skies, which my prayers can’t penetrate through. For I know that, if I keep on keeping faith, Heaven will win great battles and Your Kingdom will take ground, and the enemy will fall limp, and take himself away, right off stage.

I bless You, Lord God, for when I was beset like a city under siege, You showed me Your steadfast love in wonderful ways. When I said in my alarm, “I am driven far from Your sight,” You heard me.

How abundant is your goodness that You have laid up for those who fear You, and accomplished for all who take refuge in You! You hide us from human plots in the shelter of your presence; You hold us safe under Your shelter from contentious tongues. I will be strong. I will let my heart take courage, because I wait for You. (Adapted from Psalm 31 and Hebrews 6:18-20)

So even though I am here in the desert, Lord, far from the sanctuary that I love, I’m bringing my thank offerings to You. And, Lord, I’m placing all my senses at Your disposal. I’m asking You to shape and sharpen them, to increase my awareness of You, and of what You would have me do from one moment to the next, even though there are so many foes aligned against me.

Let my patient endurance not fail, Lord, for after I have done Your will, I will receive all that You have promised. For You are our hope, Lord, and all who forsake You will be put to shame. Their names will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.

A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed. And I will sing of all that You have done, and I’ll know joy because I’m Yours. I’ll know joy because there is no greater prize than the gift of Your peace. There’s no greater joy than to praise You in song, to behold Your glory and to experience Your power!

The Lord is our Treasure

Have you come across the books written by Merlin Carothers? He poignantly urges the Body of Christ to deliberately keep praising the Lord even while we are still going through the mill and caught up in the swirl of tempestuous attacks. It takes courage to worship in the storm, but when we are able to do so, we affirm our belief that He is sovereign and able. Praise is thus both a most precious resource and a powerful weapon against negative forces and emotions – and this is what David does, even in the desert place.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the opening verses of Psalm 63 in The Message provides the starting point for this reflection, which we have set to the second movement of Sophia Dussek’s lovely Harp Sonata in C minor, played beautifully for us here by Fontane Liang.

I know that when I seek You with all my heart, and with all my senses, I will find You. Here I am in the place of worship. My eyes are open; I’m drinking in Your strength and Your glory, and thanking You that the way You see things is so different to the way I see them now.

My lips will brim with praise like fountains. Instead of grumbling and complaining, I will bless You every time I take a breath.

I lift my arms to praise You, Lord. Like a banner, I will wave them before You. All I have celebrates You, and my very soul feasts and is satisfied. Psalm 63:1-4 (The Message)

I love You, Lord my God, with all my heart, will all my soul, with all my mind and with all my strength. (Mk. 12:30) This is the treasure that I carry always with me.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Many of us have been taught to spread our investments across many fields, but Jesus commended the merchant who sold all he had to buy just the one amazing pearl. How great is the treasure that we carry with us at all times, because He carries us!

All our roots and sources are in Him. And this treasure of abiding in His sanctuary is the very means by which He leads us outwards to attempt all that He has in mind for us.

David had spent so many seasons in wildernesses of one kind or another, that he had learned the secret of being content with little and with plenty and how to drink from God’s ‘river of delights’ and just how vast and precious the Lord’s plans and purposes were for him.

Father, where we are tempted to store up treasures on earth, forgive us. Help us to seek those treasures that You have in store for us in Heaven, where neither moth nor thief can rob or ruin.
(Ps. 36:8; Hos. 1:10; Jer. 33:22)

Getting to Grips with our Tests and Trials of Faith

Learning to worship and be content in all circumstances is not something that comes easily to most of us. When we have endured many stern and bruising challenges, it can be hard to grasp hold of serenity and contentment. But having found them – or, more probably, having rediscovered them – knowing when to rest in their peace, and when (and how) to resist that which is not right, is a matter of both experience and discernment. (Compare Luke 3:14, 1 Tim. 6:8 and Heb. 13:5 with James 4:7 and 1 Pet. 5:9)

One thing is for certain, all who are eager to move in the power of God will inevitably find themselves going through many tests and trials, just as David did – however much smaller our own may be.

As the Jewish sage Joshua ben Sirach reminds us,

My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.

Set your heart right and be steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.

Cling to Him and do not depart,
so that your last days may be prosperous.

Accept whatever befalls you,
and in times of humiliation be patient.

For gold is tested in the fire,
and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust in Him, and He will help you;
make your ways straight, and hope in Him.

You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy;
do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in Him,
and your reward will not be lost. (Sirach 2:1-8 NRSV)

The Scriptures remind us so often that we are not able ultimately to control events, and that we are not meant to be self-reliant but rather rooted and grounded in God – especially when inevitable tests come our way. It is so helpful to remember that, when the devil is tempting us, the Lord is often using the occasion to test and try our soul, so that we might ‘come forth as gold.’ (Job 23:10, 1 Pet. 1:7)

When the Lord formed His chosen land of Israel, He made it to be dependent on the regular arrival of the spring and autumn rains – unlike countries such as Egypt, whose geography permitted them to develop an extensive system of canals to irrigate their crops. We do well to take to heart James’ reminder:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (Jas. 4:13-16)

Those of us who have a very high view of just how wonderfully and carefully the Lord has made and designed our lives, may feel inclined to balk somewhat at the thought that they are only a ‘mist’ that soon disappears – but does the thought that He would take such great care over such a ‘little’ thing not magnify His love and greatness still more? His thoughts and ways are so, so much higher than ours!

Powerful though many people and institutions are by earthly standards, how can a mere mist or cloud ultimately decide what is going to happen?

May the Lord grant us to hold these truths in tension: on the one hand to know just how precious we are to the Lord who leads and fathers us, and who has many things He intends for us to fulfil, and on the other, to yield all that we are, and all that we seek to do to Him who alone knows what tomorrow may bring.

Lord God, how our enemy delights to lay all manner of snares against us, and attacks of every type – especially when he thinks he has got us on his own in some out of the way desert place.

But I know that the One who baptises me with the refreshing water of life is the same One who baptises me with refining fire. So You will have Your purposes even when the winds whip and the storms surge around me.

You have made the wilderness to be a place of testing and refining, and You have allowed so many dear and precious things to be taken away from me. My flesh rises up and says, ‘No more, Lord!’ but my life is not my own. It is not sustained by bread alone, but by feasting on Your Word, by doing all I can to be obedient to Your will. (Jn. 4:34)

And then, even catastrophes become opportunities to renew my dependence on You and to see You break through. And though I encounter hardships and burdens that feel far beyond my ability to bear, even to the point of feeling myself under sentence of death – I will trust in You, because You raise the dead.

My enemies surround me on every side, and in the name of the Lord, I cut them off. (Ps. 118:11) You have chastened me severely, but You will not give me over to death. (Ps. 118:18). You will challenge areas of complacency and duplicity in my heart, but please don’t stop until You accomplish all that is on Your heart.

Where I falter and fail, please give me the time and opportunity to try again, so that I can respond and grow in more godly ways.

I know, Lord, that even this threshing wind that is winnowing my soul has had its role to play, just as grain must be ground to make the bread that we eat. (Is. 28:28-29) For when the devil is tempting me, at the same time You are testing me, and permitting my soul to be tried.

My hope is in You and in Your power to deliver me. Thank You for the grace that comes because others pray for me. You have delivered me from so many deadly perils, and You will deliver me again. I trust myself into Your caring, careful hands, and say ‘Be glorified Lord, in this trial of faith.’ (Adapted from 2 Cor. 1:8-11)

In Acts 10:38 we read of Peter telling Cornelius that ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and that He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.’ What a perfect summary of His ministry! Is this not what we are called to, too, as we seek to point people to His saving grace, and to demonstrate the power of His kingdom ministry?

There was an occasion when Jesus’ disciples were personal witnesses to the fact that God is able to ‘still the roaring of the seas.’ (Ps. 65:7; 89:9) With absolute authority, Jesus rebuked the wind and commanded the waves, “Silence! Be still!” – literally, ‘be muzzled!’ (Mk. 4:39)

When the ‘roar’ first of Saul’s anger and then Absalom’s rebellion came storming against him, it was to the Lord that David turned, there to find the strength and succour he needed. ‘Jehovah Ezer’ (God our help) does not merely ‘look on’ our crises moments, as if He were no more than a passive observer: He is a very present help in trouble, and utterly prepared to send whatever intervention and provision is called for. (Ps. 46:1)

Even if we feel as though we have plummeted to the very depths, and are being tested beyond what we can endure, the Lord still wants us to trust Him, for ‘though He has made us see troubles, many and bitter, He will restore us to life again. From the depths of the earth, He will again bring us up’. (See Ps. 71:20)

A Prayer for Prodigals

Some of the hardest tests of all to endure are those that involve our children and others who we love dearly. Whether as a result of what they are going through, or on account of their poor choices, we can be left reeling, as though a sword has pierced our very soul. (cf. Lk. 2:35) And when this is because they have turned their backs on the Lord, and are indifferent, or even hostile, to the things of God, how profound the pain can be – and how passionately we long for them to turn back so that the Lord can have His way in their lives.

How David’s heart ached after Absalom, whose act of mutinous betrayed jeopardised not only his own life, but threatened the whole purpose of God for the future of Israel. How he yearned to see Absalom humble himself and renounce his demonically inspired rebellion.

In this track, we identify with David’s distraught father heart in praying for loved ones, whose future we know and care about so much. We have set this prayer to two beautiful pieces of music that friends have written. The stunning first piece, by Francis Cummings, is in the Celtic tradition, and takes its name from an Irish Gaelic word that evokes a calm and gentle peace: Síocháin (pronounced she-ukh-awn).

The second piece, by Justin Coldstream, is a tender improvisation, which we have called Inheritance, for we are looking forward to the day when our children and loved ones reach out to receive the new birth that the Lord is offering them: ‘a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, and which is kept in Heaven for those who, through faith, are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’ (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

We are moving on to do something rather different. We are going to imagine David praying for the Lord to rescue his son Absalom from the full consequences of the lethal rebellion that he had been mounting for a long time, and that David had been neglecting for far too long. We can take this cri de coeur to heart and make it our own prayer for those in our own immediate circles of family and friends to be inscribed on the Father’s palm – and not to lose heart when they seem far from showing any interest in seeking Him.

So whether you are from a family whose members are walking in lock-step with Jesus already, or you feel very much on your own in all this, join us in spirit in this steep contest for many loved ones to become aware again of eternal matters, and no longer allow their hearts to stray along a path that can only lead them further away from all that is good and Godly. (Luke 18:1f, Luke 11:11-13).

Lord, I have grown so weary of the fight to remain hopeful that my child will ever change and confess Your name. My lips no longer flow with the stories of Your grace and wonder I once shared with him, because he is too busy about his own concerns, and no longer desires to be with You. I am crying out to You to do what I cannot do.

I remember how the patriarchs Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph blessed their children to be what You had in mind for them to be, and blessed them believing that You would carry out Your purposes for them, though their dreams must have felt a far-off thing.

Hear this cry to bring low all that hinders this flow, so that they can reach the row that You had always intended them to occupy in Your eternal Kingdom.

How can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the son of her womb? Even if she could forget, You will not, Lord God. Write his name on the palms of Your hands. May all my children come running back to You, Lord. Great and glorious God, see off the destroyers and wreckers who have laid waste to their lives. (Is. 49:15-17)

On my knees in this closet of prayer I present my requests before You, confident that You will hear my heart beyond the words themselves. Surround our children with Your favour as with a shield, and make their way straight again; keep them from having to endure the pain and shame of woefully dire straits. (See the whole of Psalm 5 in this respect)

All my mighty men are telling that I’m being over soft on Absalom: that I should see him rather as a deadly foe, and run him through before he does the same to us.

Yet is he not flesh of my flesh and born of my blood?

So how can I refrain from praying that he may yet be spared the full consequence of all that he has done in his prolonged and foolish scheming to win the hearts and minds of those who were once so happy to live under my fathering? (cf 2 Sam. 19:13)(2)

Oh God, I repent. Forgive me. Have mercy on my beloved child. Without You, he is heading into a vile and vicious void. Bring him into the virtue and victory of Your truth.(1)

But know for sure, my son, that if you turn your back and refuse to seek His face, the Lord will raise others up who will be more faithful sons and servants, those who will be truly willing on the day of battle to fight and win great victories of faith for Heaven’s Kingdom.

O my Father, hear these words I humbly offer,
not for ease that prayer shall be,
but for strength that he may ever
live his life courageously,
and that You will be at the other end, deep within his heart of hearts.

Lord, constrain his reckless madness,
in his wanderings be their guide;
through endeavour, failure and many dangers,
Father, please be at his side.(3)

Father, these are no mere mouthings into empty air, in a world devoid of Your care, but rather You take and transform them into fully formed phrases whose intentions You can answer as they rise before Your throne. All knowing, All mighty One, come this day and advance Your kingdom in some special way.

May there yet come a time when dear ones inherit the blessing of these prayers, and take them to heart and understand all that You have been, and want to be for them. May they glimpse the power and beauty that You can yet achieve in them to be salt and light in the world, and so make it a that much better place.

To one and all, I cry aloud: from one end of the land to another, may so many more turn to You, Lord Jesus, and see Your victory in the land of the living.

Footnotes

(1) I was inspired for this section to look up words beginning with the letter V in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of both NT words, as well as his Old Testament counterpart.

Vines is such a great resource – praise God for the man who laboured first to compile it, and then for those who have made it available online. Be blessed exploring it!

(2) When David boldly declared at the end of the psalm that, ‘the mouths of liars be silenced,’ (Ps. 63:11) he was affirming the profound truth that those who seek to destroy the life of God’s people will themselves be destroyed, unless they turn and claim the blood of the Lamb. To praise and build people up is godly, but to win people’s hearts to his mutinous cause, as Absalom had done by means of calculated flattery, is another matter altogether.

If David had rolled over and fled the country, and Absalom’s revolt had succeeded, it would have seriously forestalled so much of what God had in mind for the millennia to come. All that Absalom had done had been noted in Heaven – just as He is very aware of the damage being caused by those with an Absalom spirit in the Body of Christ today. May the Lord alert His people to be on their guard against this pernicious threat.

See this important short booklet The Absalom Spirit: Unmasking the Malignant Imposter to explore the dangers and perils posed by what has become known as The Absalom Spirit

(3) Adapted from the hymn, Father, hear the prayer we offer

Create in me a clean heart, O God

Jesus declared boldly that ‘The meek with inherit the Earth.’ (Matt. 5:5) But who are the meek? It is not primarily people who have a particularly ‘docile’ nature whom Jesus is talking about here, but rather those who have deliberately humbled themselves before the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and asked Him to be Lord of their lives. Consciously and contritely, they have acknowledged their need of His cleansing and restoration – and in His love and mercy, God has noted and welcomed their reaching out to Him, and made them part of His eternal Kingdom.

This lovely song, written by Francis Cummings and sung by Linda Entwistle, brings together twin themes: David’s plea of repentance in Psalm 51 following his moral lapse with Bathsheba, and that great thirst for the Lord, which we have been exploring in Psalm 63. May these qualities of profound repentance on the one hand, and spiritual thirst and desire on the other, be the ongoing stamp and hallmark of our lives – and, in time, of the many ‘prodigals’ we are praying for too.

In the shadow of His wings

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. (Ps. 63:7)

What a blessing it is when, having been caught up in a prolonged and challenging series of trials and tribulations, there come times of deep peace and settledness, when we sense the Lord as it were, spreading His wings over us.

Were the Scriptures speaking only metaphorically when several of them refer to the Lord as having wings? Moses tells how He spread His wings to catch the people of Israel, and then to carry them. (Deut. 32:11) Boaz commends Ruth for taking refuge under the wings of the God of Israel, (Ruth 2:12) and the poet who penned Psalm 91 reiterates that those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will find refuge under His wings. (Ps. 91:1,4)

Our friend, the poetess Laurie Klein writes that ‘we live in the shadow of God’s wingdom.’ I love that thought! I wonder what the phrase ‘the shadow of His wings’ speaks of to you?

The great Elizabethan poet and preacher John Donne once wrote that Psalm 63 contained ‘the spirit of the whole Book of Psalms – and the spirit and soul of the whole psalm is contracted into just one verse – verse 7:

‘For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings where I am always protected, I sing for joy.’

O Lord, show us what it means to live under the shadow of Your wing. For as our soul presses ever closer to You, cleaving to You, You cleave to us, and Your right hand upholds us. It really is a double embrace.

But as Corrie Ten Boom reminds us, it is dark under the wings of God. Like the storm-that cock sings out at his cheeriest in stormy weather, David set his heart to keep praising You even before his circumstances had changed. Right down in the depths of his soul, Your love and truth were at work in response to the yearning in his heart, and You kept ministering to David, reminding him of Your tender care, and restoring his hope and trust whenever it began to flag.

O my soul, don’t be discouraged! Don’t be upset! Expect God to act! He is your help. He is your God. In the day of trouble, He will keep you safe in His shelter.

O my soul, go in under the shadow of God’s wing, for there you will yet find rest and restoration in the love that will not let you go. He is the One who watches over your comings in and your goings out, by day and by night, and He keeps you from all harm.

Do you remember the words of this lovely song written by David Hadden and Bob Silvester?

Living under the shadow of His wing we find security.

Standing in His presence we will bring our worship, worship, worship to the King.

Bowed in adoration at His feet, we dwell in harmony;

voices joined together that repeat, “Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb.”

Heart to heart embracing in His love reveals His purity.

Soaring in my spirit like a dove: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”

Throughout his life, David had clung to the Lord, and trusted that His strong right arm would continue to uphold him – a process he sums up in these beautifully reassuring words: ‘For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.’ (Ps. 63:7)

How are we to understand what David writes about the fate of his enemies?

Those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin.
They will go down into the depths of the earth.
They will die by the sword and become the food of jackals.
. . . The mouths of liars will be stopped. (Ps. 63:9-11)

The final three verses of Psalm 63 may make many of us feel uncomfortable, for this is where we find David, even while he is in the full flow of a paean of praise, apparently celebrating the downfall of those who hate him.

Whilst such euphoric songs of victory are entirely to be expected from the lips of those who have escaped a mortal danger, there are many passages in the Old Testament that seem to be at odds with Jesus’ radical teaching. How does Deborah’s song, ‘Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera!’ for instance, fit alongside Jesus’ command to not only forgive those who persecute us, but even to bless, pray, love and look for ways to do good to them? (Jdg. 5:31; Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27,35)

On closer inspection the gap is perhaps not so great as we might have thought. When the opportunity arose to take revenge and destroy his personal enemies, David quite deliberately chose not to do so: first by not doing away with Saul when he had him entirely at his mercy, (1 Sam. 24:3-6) and then in his plea for his commanders to be gentle with Absalom, despite the fact that the young man was even then marshalling his troops to wage war against his father. (2 Sam. 18:5) These are not the choices of a man whose heart is afire with understandable anger and desire for lawful reprisal.

It makes it easier for us to take these verses as indicative of the spiritual realities that are going in the heavenly places, and to use them to pray for the Lord to execute His judgement amidst demonic powers that are at work in situations. God fully intends us to make full use of many of the verses of Scripture in spiritual warfare, harnessing many of the ‘challenging’ verses we come across to address the spirit powers behind the turmoil, rather than aiming them ‘at’ other people. Then indeed we enter into the reality that lies behind these verses in Psalm 149:6-9:

May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them—
this is the glory of all His faithful people.

David fully recognised that destruction will befall those who oppose him, because it is he alone who God appointed to be king over Israel. Such judgement has to happen because God is righteous and holy, and those who hate and destroy without cause have no right to seize throne from which God has called him to rule and reign.

David deeply mourned the loss of his son Absalom, despite the immense damage he had done. At the same time he, and we alike also have to recognise that there will be no place in God’s holy city or, indeed, under the Messiah’s rule on Earth for those who choose lies over truth, and murder over true love. (Rev. 21:8) The biblical prophets and other authors are uncompromisingly clear about this.(4)

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are not far away in spirit from David’s own prayers and understanding: ‘Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven; deliver us from evil . . .’ What a day it will be when we are finally set free from every threat of destruction and death, when there will be no more enemies, and we will be free to sing and praise our God with joyful lips and an unburdened heart! (See also Ps. 63: 3,5,7,11)

Footnote

(4) See, for instance, the sections on Judgment and Justice (unsparing) of God in Thompson’s Bible Studies.

See also this brief discourse on How should Christians respond to the imprecatory Psalms?

Afterword: And so we continue thirsty for God’s power and presence

Many of us are no doubt in the habit of drawing up checklists before setting out on major trips. On a spiritual plane, it is worth checking, too, what we are carrying in our hearts, and where they are tended. Are we thirsty for the Lord’s presence and purposes, or for something more self-centred?

Just as certain desires and ways of thinking slake our spiritual thirst, others fuel unhelpful desires that our flesh is only too keen to indulge. Rather than frittering time away, may we cultivate the minutes to seek the Lord and so escape the downward pull of disquieting thoughts on the one hand, and distracting desires on the other.

Isn’t that what it means to thirst, long and even pine for the Lord in the way that David has been speaking of? ‘Thirst,’ ‘long’ ‘pine:’ these are strong and powerful verbs, especially for those of us who take regular supplies of water for granted, and who know next to nothing of the immense suffering that real thirst entails. David, however, knew the reality of living in places completely devoid of water, and made the link between the arid sense of loss when the Lord appears to be absent, and the refreshing vitality of His presence. (See also 2 Samuel 16:2; 2 Samuel 17:29)

Lord, we pray today that You will provide water for all who find themselves in dry places, whether literal, emotional or spiritual.

Be with the millions who are obliged to trudge great distances to find even meagre supplies of water. Be with those, too, who are battling through times of intense inward and outward pressures. Draw them and us to that place of abiding in You that David sang of, whereby we know ourselves to safe in the shadow of Your wings.

There in that place of abiding may we rest and reset in the love that holds us – and then step out again from that secure place to do what we must do from day to day, and to grow in our capacity to love others, and to affirm and build them up. To be able to recognise, too, that life is not so much an obstacle course to be navigated as a gift lovingly and thoughtfully given to us to make the most of for You.

The more we seek to ‘conduct ourselves in holiness and goodness,’ as Peter reminds us, the more we hasten the day of Christ’s return. (2 Pet. 3:10-12) As we draw this series to a close, let’s read the Psalm together again one final time, as interpreted by the NLT editors, together with occasional phrases from the CEV, along with many of the tremendous truths that David declares in Psalm 145.

We have set this reading to a lovely piece by Jane Horsfall called Adonai, that she plays for us here on the Celtic harp.

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for You.

My soul thirsts for You;
my whole body longs for You
in this parched and weary land,
as I would long for a stream in a scorching desert.

I have seen Your power and Your glory in Your sanctuary, the place of worship. 

Your love means more than life to me, and I praise You.

I will praise You as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to You in prayer.

 You satisfy me more than the richest feast.

    I will praise You with songs of joy.

I lie awake thinking of You,
meditating on You throughout the night.

Because You are my helper I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.

I stay close to You, and Your powerful arm supports me.

Those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin and end up in the ground.

They will die by the swords and wild dogs will eat them.

But the king will rejoice in God.

    All who swear to tell the truth will praise Him,
while liars will be silenced.

No one can measure Your greatness.

Let everyone share the story of Your wonderful goodness and sing with joy about Your righteousness.

You are merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

You are good to everyone, and shower compassion on all Your creation.

All of your works will thank You, LORD, and your faithful followers will praise You.

They will speak of the glory of Your kingdom; they will give examples of Your power.

They will tell about Your mighty deeds and the majesty and glory of Your reign.

For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.

You always keep Your promises and You are gracious in all You do.

You help the fallen and lift those bent beneath their loads.

The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it.

You are righteous in everything You do; You are filled with kindness.

You are close to all who call on You, yes to all who call on You in truth.

You grant the desires of those who fear You; You hear their cries for help and rescue them.

You protect all those who love You, but You destroy the wicked.

We will praise the Lord. Let everyone on earth bless Your holy name forever and ever!