Editor’s note: Make sure you check back next week for Part 2 of this post!
These two posts are the fourth installment in the series “Songs of the Heart” by Terry Enns, a collection of studies on the Psalms and Biblical Counseling. Other titles in this series include “One Thing” – Parts 1 and 2; “Joy Comes in the Morning;” and “I Will Confess” Parts 1 & 2.
Many years ago — in what was probably one of the last great adventures my brother and I had before I got married — we went on a day hike in the Cleveland National Forest in California. We didn’t make plans that were too extensive; after all it was only a day hike. We knew the day would be warm, so we took a couple of canteens and a couple oranges. We didn’t plan on being in the sun, or being out all day.
We got to the trailhead at a reasonable time and planned to pick up a trail map. But there were no maps. “Well, that’s okay,” we reasoned. “The trail appears to be marked pretty well.” So we took a good look at the permanent map on the board at the trailhead (this was long before smartphones), fixed the route in our minds, noted the length, and figured how long it should take us.
And we set out.
Initially everything was fine and we enjoyed each other’s company, talking and laughing, enjoying the leisurely walk. And then we noticed that the trail started to get less distinct. So we began paying more attention to where we were going. And then we came out of the tree line and we were in full sun. And the day wasn’t just warm; it was hot. And the trail markers weren’t just indistinct — they were gone. And we each had a canteen of water and one orange. But when I took a sip of my canteen water, there was soap. Someone had washed out our new canteens with dish soap and they hadn’t been rinsed properly. So there we were in the heat, lost, with canteens of soapy water, and one orange for each of us.
The more we walked the more lost we seemed to be and the hotter and more tired we were. So I reached again for my canteen. My brother cautioned me, “Take small sips — you don’t know when we might be found.” I knew he was right. But I drained my canteen anyway. I had never been so thirsty before (or since). On we trudged. Soon our canteens were both empty and our oranges were gone.
Well, you know the story has a happy ending because I’m writing this. Eventually we came across a road, and realized it as the road we had traveled to the trailhead. We were way off course and well down the mountainside. The only way out was up, in the heat, with no water and or oranges. But in God’s grace, a man came along in a pickup and he gave us a ride up the mountain to our car. As we rode up to the car, we both thought and said, “There’s no way we would have made it on our own.”
That day has become a picture for me of spiritual life. There are times when we get off the trail. What do you do when you are parched with spiritual thirst and your well of spiritual resources runs dry? And there is no brother to give you his water? And there is no truck to give you a lift up the mountain? What do you do? What do you do when circumstances derail you spiritually and yet people still expect a certain measure of “spirituality” from you?
In the Dark Moments of Life
In a Psalm based on one of the dark moments of his life, David tells us his response when his spiritual well ran dry. The superscript tells us that the psalm was written when David was in the wilderness of Judah. It could be that it happened when he was running from Saul, but since it appears that he has already assumed the throne as King of Israel (vv. 5, 11) it is more likely that this psalm came from the circumstance of running from his son Absalom who was attempting to usurp the throne from David. Second Samuel 15:1-16:23 gives us the account; not only was David afraid for his physical life, he was perplexed about his spiritual life. In his hasty retreat, David was confronted by a Benjamite follower of Saul named Shimei who continually threw stones and dust and cursed David and his servants. “Let me cut off his head,” suggested David’s servant Abishai. “No,” responded David, “If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, ‘Curse David,’ then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” (16:10). David, like Job, was clueless as to why these events were happening, and was open to the suggestion that perhaps they were coming from the hand of God for some unknown reason. And his desire was to submit himself to God’s work, regardless of the personal cost to him.
This psalm then recounts how David processed and thought about his spiritually dry circumstances. As you read, notice that there is no request in this psalm. The psalmists usually have some request of God in their sorrows and laments; but here David only tells God what he will do in response to what he believes about God. That observation provides instruction for us — when we are in darkness and difficulty, we should respond in worshipful commitment to God. When counselees and disciples are dependent on us and we are spiritually weak and hurting, how will we minister to them? The example and commitment of David provides instruction for us about how to serve others when we are weak.
David’s Desire for God: the Soul in Distress (vv. 1-4)
In the first two verses of Psalm 63, David delineated his desperate situation. He was physically in the wilderness and hungry and thirsty, which made him think of his parched soul. He was also in a spiritual wilderness. We know that because he said to the Lord, “My soul thirsts for you.” He was completely dry and fatigued from his spiritual thirst. Even more, he also added, “My flesh yearns for you.” He was so weary, his body was about to pass out. Notice that in these two phrases he refers to both body and soul — “my whole being — every part of me — seeks you, Lord.”
He sought the Lord with the totality of his being because he was living in an arid land — a “dry and weary land.” And David said that was the condition of his soul — his situation with Absalom caused him to despair. His own son wanted him dead (and was working to kill him); what could be worse? The situation left him feeling distant from God and alone.
It wasn’t always this way for David — notice he also said, “I have seen You…” (v. 2). He likely means that his regular worship of God in the Tabernacle is all in the past. He has seen God; but the implication is that he doesn’t see him now. David felt alone and deserted. He was looking for God and it seems God couldn’t be found.
Maybe you feel like David. Or maybe like Jeremiah who said, “My strength and my hope have perished from the Lord” (Lam 3:18), or Elijah (1 Kings 19:3-4). If you feel alone and despairing, you are not alone. Other men of God have as well. But that is not a permission slip to stay in despair. And that is not an excuse to not minister to others who are in need. There is sufficiency for your soul and for you to minister to the souls of others when you are insufficient.
Notice also David’s dedicated response (vv. 3-4). Actually, his response begins not in v. 3, but in v. 1 where he said, “O God, you are my God.” With that phrase he acknowledges the Godhead of God. In his despair and before his despair is completed, David affirmed that God alone is powerful. And with that phrase he also acknowledged that not only is God God, but God is his God. There is intimacy between David and God and David affirmed that the situation had not changed that reality. In the uncertainty of his outcome, he understood that God still cared for him.
And because God is God and his God, David said, “I shall seek you earnestly.” He was eager to find God. He was diligent and quick to look for God. Why? Because God is God. David’s priority was God. This is the essence of what Jesus also said in Matthew 6:33 — “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”
David continued with that theme in verses 3 and 4 — “Your lovingkindness is better than life.” This is the OT word to refer to God’s grace. And David said of that grace, “it’s better than life.” He would rather have God’s loyalty and grace than anything life has to offer and even more than life itself. It is better to be dead and have God’s loyalty than alive without God’s loyalty. And if God’s love is better than life,
“it is better than all that life in this world offers. This means that what satisfies are not the gifts of God, but the glory of God — the glory of his love, the glory of his power, the glory of his wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” [John Piper].
In fact, because it is better to have God’s grace than even life, David said he will praise God (v. 3b). He will praise God by blessing him “as long as I live” (v. 4). David promised to affirm God’s goodness in every season of his life. Even if he would have more trouble, he promised to bless and honor God. He would also praise God by lifting up his hands in God’s name (v. 4), which likely is David’s commitment to pray. God’s name is the source of David’s hope and trust and he would continue to pray because of God’s sufficiency for him.
This opening section of the psalm is remarkable, isn’t it? David’s own response to trouble reminds us that we must act in a particular way, even if our soul is not inclined in that direction. Our flesh will sometimes entice us to ignore God or question God or to give up on God. Fight that inclination and even (especially) when you are distressed — cultivate a desire for God. Desiring God in your weakness is not a natural inclination, but it is your only hope out of despair.
In the next post we will evaluate David’s response to God in the remainder of the Psalm.
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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