Sunday, February 24, 2008
Running for his life seems to be a theme of David’s in the Psalms we’ve been studying at my church during this Lenten season. So far we’ve heard sermons on Psalms 59, 56, 34, 52, 54, 7 and 57. All of them have at least this in common: David is in trouble. Consider these quotes from the titles (NIV):
“When Saul had sent men to watch David's house in order to kill him.”
“When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.”
“When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.”
“When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’” (This man “Doeg” then murdered David’s allies and their families.)
“When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’” (Another betrayal.)
“Concerning Cush, a Benjamite.” (We don’t know what this “Cush” did to David, but from David’s words in Psalms 7 it is clearly very bad.)
“When he had fled from Saul into the cave.” (Imagine being “the Lord’s anointed,” yet having to hide in caves.)
We have seven preachers in a weekly rotation at our church, and those wise men have offered many excellent life lessons from David’s experiences. For example, although David has God’s promise that he will be the king, as a private citizen David never takes justice into his own hands by attacking Saul, because he knows that would be usurping God’s authority. Instead, David waits on God’s justice, in God’s time. The message is for us is to do the same. Justice is not our job; it is God’s. Wait for it.
A few other things our preachers have not mentioned keep leaping off the page at me:
First, one word for Christians who believe being "anointed" by the Holy Spirit means an easy life: nonsense. Look at all the years David had to live on the run, harassed and threatened by a powerful enemy, forced to live with strangers, cowering in caves. We have no promise whatsoever that the Jesus Way will be comfortable or easy, no promise of earthly rewards, no reason to assume we will get any blessings in this life except the only one that matters: peace with God. On the contrary, the Jesus Way leads to some kind of a cross for every one of us.
I also noticed David usually begins these kinds of Psalms with pleas for mercy and help against his enemies. He then follows with a proclamation of his own righteousness. His bold ability to tell God, “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness” is a little startling to me, since I am always conscious that “all have sinned and fall short,” and I see the sin in myself most of all. But I have begun to find comfort in David’s example, because upon reflection I realize he is right to proclaim his innocence.
Here's the thing: I have accepted the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cross, and that means God no longer sees me as a sinner. Like David, I am now guilt-free, or “righteous” in God’s sight. David’s Psalms inspire me to remember this when I approach the Lord in prayer. I used to come as a prodigal son, a beggar on my knees. Now, thanks to David’s example, I have learned to stand before the Lord with confidence, knowing I will be received with a proud father’s unconditional love. I sense a much stronger connection with my Father when I go to Him this way.
I’ve noticed something else. David starts these Psalms with pleas for mercy and professions of innocence, often calling upon God to defend him from his enemies, then, at some point in almost all of these Psalms, one way or another he behaves as if God has already answered his prayer. Consider (NIV):
For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalms 56:13)
I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints. (Psalms 52:9)
I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes. (Psalms 54:6-7)
I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalms 7:17)
They spread a net for my feet — I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path
but they have fallen into it themselves. (Psalms 57:6)
In all of these cases David assumes—even as he’s asking—that his request has already been granted. He begins by asking for things to be given in the future, and ends by saying things like, “you have delivered me,” and “I will praise you forever for what you have done.” At first I read those kinds of words and thought, “But God hasn’t done it yet!” Then I realized this is the complete assurance of a man who knows he is his Father’s righteous son. Obviously, I can’t live rebelliously and expect this kind of confidence, but if I love the Lord with all of my heart and soul and mind as David did, when I ask, I too will receive.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Matthew 7:7-10 NIV)
So does Jesus mean I can ask for a new car and I will get it? Again, that's nonsense! When I love myself first, I will want certain things, even if I don't need them, even if they are ultimately bad for me. I will believe some fool of a preacher when he speaks of God's "anointing" as if it's guaranteed to lead to earthly gain. But when I love the Lord with all my heart and soul and mind, I will want different things. God’s desires become my deepest hope as well, including whatever cross He has for me to bear. Does this mean I must resign myself to endless suffering, a cross to bear that leaves me miserable? Not at all! I must and will accept whatever may come in this life, but because God loves me completely, whatever He has planned is what is best for me in the long run, even if it's hard to bear right now.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." (Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV)
David, as the Lord’s anointed king, knew God wanted him to take command of Israel after Saul was no longer king. Secure in that assurance, David could afford to celebrate God’s plan many years before it came about. Although he was still living in caves like a hunted animal, David was so certain of his Father’s love he praised God for the future as if it was the present. In the same way, I know if I begin my prayers as David did, begging for the very things God wants for me, for my neighbors and for the world, I can end my prayers in praise and thanksgiving, because the perfect things I have requested are as good as done.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 7:51 AM
Labels: The Jesus Way