Editor’s note: This post is part one of two that looks at four responses to trouble in our lives and four reasons to trust God found in Psalm 27. These responses or instructions reveal the “how” to trust God when we have trouble. The first two responses are covered in this post, and the latter two responses can be found in part two.
In A View from the Zoo, Gary Richmond describes the birth of a giraffe:
The first thing to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Within seconds, he rolls to an upright position with his legs tucked under his body. From this position he considers the world for the first time and shakes off the last vestiges of the birthing fluid from his eyes and ears.
The mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a quick look. Then she positions herself directly over her calf. She waits for about a minute, and then she does the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long, pendulous leg outward and kicks her baby, so that it is sent sprawling head over heels.
When it doesn’t get up, the violent process is repeated over and over again. The struggle to rise is momentous. As the baby calf grows tired, the mother kicks it again to stimulate its efforts. …Finally, the calf stands for the first time on its wobbly legs. Then the mother giraffe does the most remarkable thing. She kicks it off its feet again. Why? She wants it to remember how it got up. In the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as possible in order to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild hunting dogs all enjoy young giraffes, and they’d get it, too, if the mother didn’t teach her calf to get up quickly and get with it.…1
There are days when you feel like you’ve been kicked like that newborn giraffe, aren’t there? There are various kinds of troubles in life that find us, though we don’t want them. We don’t seek them out, but they arrive, not knocking, but kicking down our front door, boldly intruding on our lives and tempting us to anxiety, worry, and depression.
We wish that troubles, trials, and difficulties were rare and unusual, but Scripture regularly reminds us of the reality and regularity of problems and trouble in life (e.g., Job 5:7; Ps 22:11; 25:17; Jer 20:18; Lam 2:11; Jn 16:33; 2 Tim 3:1-5a; 2 Tim 3:12-13; 1 Pet 4:12; 1 Thess 3:4).
When we have troubles, what is our source of help? How might we live as those who are “more than conquerors?” When our counselees are experiencing overwhelming grief, pain, and sadness how will we console and strengthen them? Psalm 27 provides an answer.
One Essential Truth: Trust in God
This Psalm was penned by David, and while we are not sure of the circumstances of the writing, the Greek translation of the Old Testament includes the words “before he was anointed” in the superscript. While those words aren’t part of the original text of the psalm, they suggest that the biblical editors believed this psalm was written before David was installed as king of Israel and while Saul was chasing and persecuting him (that scenario fits with vv. 2-3a). Regardless of the exact circumstances, it is clear that David is suffering difficulty. And at the same, he is confident in God. As he pens this song, he reminds every sufferer of one essential truth: When you have trouble, trust God.
Whether we are experiencing trouble or we are helping a counselee who is experiencing great distress and trial, the solution is to learn to trust God. Trouble does not preclude God’s power; God never fails or forsakes his people.
Psalm 27 presents four responses to trouble in our lives and four reasons to trust God. These responses or instructions reveal the how to trust God when we have trouble. This post looks at the first two responses.
1. A Confidence for Troubled Hearts: God is Strong
When we have trouble, we must first of all remember a truth about God — he is strong.
The truth directly addresses common temptations to fearful thinking when we face suffering (notice that in verse 1 David mentions the possibility of anxiousness by using two parallel terms: “fear” and “dread”). The sufferer might believe that because he is following God he will not have problems. Then when the problems arrive, he might be tempted to believe God has tricked him or been unfair to him. He might also believe that his problems are too severe for God — that God cannot overcome his trials. This false thinking leads to doubting the ability of God (consider these real life examples: Ps 78:14-20, 41-43; Mt 8:26). Or the sufferer might believe he has no need for God — that he is competent to overcome his problems.
The psalmist fights against these three misconceptions by remembering the character of God. He recognizes that when we are in trouble, our confidence is not in ourselves. His first godly inclination should be to meditate on the character of our strong God.
Notice how David refers to God. He is “my light” (v. 1). Interestingly, this is the only time in the Old Testament that God is directly called light (though he appears as light, e.g., Ex 13:21). This title is significant because of light’s function: It dispels the darkness (Gen 1:4; Ps 119:105). In our dark days, God illuminates our pathway to hope, rest, and peace.
The specific kind of light that God gives his follower is “my salvation” (v. 1). We hear that word and often think “eternal salvation,” but it also refers to temporal salvation (v. 9; Ps 3:7-8; 13:5; 25:5; Isa 60:1-2). God cares about our life here, and he is capable of preserving our life here and in eternity. Whether we are here or there, we are safe.
To affirm that truth, David adds that God “is the defense of my life” (v. 1b). That is, God is a “stronghold, a protected place of refuge” (cf. 18:21; 28:8; 31:2, 4). Where do you seek protection, safety, refuge, and solace? When we are fearful, we will go anywhere but to the Lord for help. But David goes to the Lord because the Lord doesn’t just give defense, he is the defense. David is going to the One who is his intimate companion and who by nature is light, salvation, and refuge.
The attacks against David were real: they came from “evildoers” (v. 2) who were seeking to “devour my flesh” (v. 2). But David reminds himself and the other singers of this song that “they stumbled and fell” (v. 2b). Their attacks were real and severe, but their end was certain. So David asks two rhetorical questions and makes two positive affirmations.
The questions he asks are both in verse 1 — “whom shall I fear?” and “whom shall I dread?” And because he has remembered the strength and the care of God, his understood assertion is, “No one!” Rather, he says, “my heart will not fear,” and “I will be confident.” To be confident in God is to place himself on the ground before God. He rests in God who is an unwavering rock and fortress of defense.
And this is the key to this opening section (vv. 1-3). David says, “I will be confident [in God].” And that offers encouragement for our counselees. When they are suffering from the actions of others, where is their confidence? The inclination of the flesh is to trust in our own abilities. We do well to remind them that it does not matter what anyone might do, there is no cause for fear. Our confidence is in God. When trouble comes, start with God, not the problem. When we are afraid, it is not because of magnitude of problem, but the “smallness” of “our” God. Like David, God’s faithful people have always started with his character as the basis of their trust and rest (e.g., Rom 8:38-39; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 1:12). If someone’s heart is troubled by trials and difficulties, help them cultivate genuine confidence and trust in God. He is (infinitely) strong. It is his nature to be our defender. Help them rest in him (alone).
2. A Quest for Troubled Hearts: Seek God
In addition to remembering the character of God, the troubled individual must also do something — he must seek God. This instruction is significant because when we have trouble, our tendency like Adam and Jonah is to run from God, or like Peter walking (and then quickly sinking) on the water, we are prone to forget God. But the psalmist is fixed on God.
Notice that David says, “one thing…” (v. 4). This verse, which is the theological center of the psalm, is among the most single-minded purpose statements in the Old Testament, and it serves as a reminder that the best answer to disquieting fear is a preoccupation with God.
David said he wanted to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (v. 4). This request doesn’t mean he wants to literally live in the Tabernacle. It doesn’t even mean he wants to immediately go to Heaven. It means that David wants to live permanently in God’s presence and be in fellowship with him — David is preoccupied with God (cf. 26:8) and wants God’s unending fellowship.
Notice also that David asks, but he also seeks — “that I shall seek.” He is on an unending quest (“all the days of my life”) for God. From the day of his request and into eternity, David wants God. His eternal preoccupation will be with God, so his current preoccupation is also with God (cf. Ps 15:1; 23:4ff).
One of the things David is looking for is “to behold the beauty of the Lord.” Beauty is an expression of God’s goodness to his people. He wants to discover afresh God’s grace & mercy (2 Pet 3:18). He is going to behold, take a long, lingering gaze at the grace of God.
Is there any advantage to pursuing God and meditating on his character and delighting in his worship? Why should we pursue and seek God? Because, David says, God will conceal me (v. 5a), he will hide me (v. 5b), he will lift me up on a rock in victory (v. 5c), and he will lift up my head (v. 6a). Those phrases all indicate that God gives security and safety and protection and shelter for his people. He will give victory and he will remove shame. This is no guarantee that the believer will always be restored to health and never suffer harm, but it is a reminder that whether it is now or in eternity, he can trust God to provide for him. When God’s people go to him, they will have all the provision and protection they need.
Instead of following the fleshly inclination to run from God, the believer must intentionally run to God and embrace him in fellowship. When we have problems, it creates desires within us. But at the heart of those desires (often, to have the problem resolved or removed) is a desire for God. Our thirst is a thirst for God. Quench your God-sized thirst with God.
- Richmond, Gary. A View from the Zoo. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987.
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.
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