Editor’s note: If you haven’t yet, make sure you read Part 1 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.
In the first post, we looked at the opening verses of Psalm 63. We saw how David found himself in the wilderness, both physically and spiritually, and in the midst of that he longed for 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.
The 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.
David’s Satisfaction with God: the Soul at Rest (vv. 5-7)
Despite his spiritual dryness and the persecution he received from the hand of his son, David said in verse 5, “my soul is satisfied with marrow and fatness.” God is as satisfying to David as the richest and most luxurious foods. David knew what it was to eat good food. He was the king. Whatever foods he desired, he could have. And in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty, David said, “God, I am more satisfied with You than my body is on the best of foods.” And because of that he offered “praises with joyful lips” (v. 5b). He is not reticent to praise. He gave affirmation of God’s worthiness to be worshipped because his lips were naturally happy in God.
When are you most prone to being anxious and worried? For many of us, it’s the middle of the night. We crawl into bed at the beginning of the night and we just lie there — eyes open, hearts racing — because we can’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Or, we wake up after a couple of hours of sleep and our minds begin churning with potential and real problems. David had problems and he woke up in the middle of the night when the watchmen were calling out the times of the night. But notice what he intentionally thought about during those “night watches” (v. 6b): “I remember You … I meditate on You.” When David got into bed, he was consumed with one thought — the thought of God. Even in his despair, his mind was fixated on the Godness of God. He remembered God — the character of God and the nature of God. And he meditated, pondered, rehearsed, muttered and spoke the truths of God. Throughout the night, he was captivated by the thought of God and his character and work. (You might also consider other similar passages like Ps 1:2; 4:4; 16:7; 17:3; 30:5; 42:8; 77:2, 6; 119:55, 148.)
Why? Why would David do this in the middle of the night? This is not natural. David meditated on God because, “You have been my help.” David may be in a trial, but as he reflects on God he remembered the past and how God had always been a help to him (cf. 30:10; 37:40). David looked to the past and saw God’s faithfulness and grace and that stimulated him to rest and trust God for the future. He isn’t anxious because he knows the character of God.
As he continued to rest in God at night he declared, “in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.” David pictured God as a protective mother bird protecting her chicks. There is safety in the arms of God. And because he is protected, even when in desperate situations, David can then sing with joy. If we are honest, verses like this and Acts 16:23-25 confound us. How could David, and then Paul and Silas sing praise songs? Because God was their protector, nothing their persecutors could do could ultimately harm them. And that is exactly what David is saying. “God is my protection and God is my God. I am in Him. So I am satisfied.”
When we are anxious (in the middle of the night) it is often because we don’t have something we think we need or we are fearful of losing something we have. But David is at rest because he has everything he needs (God) and he knows he cannot lose what he has with God. He said in verse five that he was satisfied with God. He was content. One of the things that anxiety reveals is that we are discontent and unhappy with what we have received; we believe that we should have something better or different and that we can improve on what God has given us. If we want out of despair, we will learn to recite the character and works of God and remind ourselves that what he has given us — whatever he has given us — is good and for our good.
Even when we are in difficulty and darkness, if we have God, we have enough. To have God and nothing else is to have everything (Josh 13:33; 2 Pet 1:3). The question is whether we really believe that. If we do, we will have rest and peace.
In the final verses, David offers one last stage to refreshing his dry soul.
David’s Trust in God: the Soul Alive (vv. 8-11)
Verse eight is my favorite verse in the psalm — here we have a description of the relationship between David and God. He “clings to God” and God’s “right hand upholds [him].” He is bonded and even welded to God. He has adhered inseparably to God. In verses 1-4 he says he wants God, then in vv. 5-7 he says he is satisfied with what God does. And because those things are true, he says he holds onto God. He will not let go of God.
But there is another reality conjoined to his adherence to God: As he holds onto God, he finds that “Your right hand upholds me.” The reference to God’s right hand is a reference to God’s power. As most people are right-handed, that hand is their dominant and stronger hand. So a reference to God’s right hand is to emphasize the infinite sustaining power of God. One writer has suggested, “Man’s effort is met by God’s care.”
Yet let’s not ignore something obvious here: David is finite and God is infinite; so when David says, “I’m clinging and You are holding,” who is really doing the work? When my girls were little they would come to me and say with outstretched arms and declare, “I hold you, Daddy.” So I’d pick them up and we’d cuddle and they’d repeat their saying — “I hold you.” Right. They were holding me, but no one watching was confused about who was really holding whom. And no one should be confused about who holds whom when we talk about holding onto God. He is our keeper. He is our protector. He sustains. He holds us. (He keeps us alive on earth and then he keeps us alive in eternity.)
There’s one final thing David had to resolve. He was pursuing God, but Absalom was also still pursuing him. So what about Absalom? What should David think about him and his friends? He asserted that, “they will go into the depths of the earth” (v. 9), which is an idiom for Sheol and death. “They may be trying to take my life, but they are not infinite and they will die too.” Even more, when David says “they will be delivered over … they will be a prey for foxes” he meant that they will meet a just end. God will righteously destroy the unrighteous and vindicate the righteous. God doesn’t ignore unrighteousness. He will be just in his dealings with the ungodly (Ps 75:7-8; 37:7-11). When that happens, “the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped.” That is, David’s enemies may prosper for a time, but their success is not ultimate or final. God will have the final say and he will stop them.
So David concludes by saying that he, “the king, will rejoice in God” (v. 11). He will be happy in God because he trusted God to take care of him in his circumstance. God is good and God is trustworthy.
This entire psalm is a reminder that the way out of trouble and distress is not always finding a way of escape from the trouble itself; if you will notice, at the end of this psalm David was still being pursued by Absalom. His situation hadn’t changed. But he no longer despaired because he learned to trust God. David discovered that the way out is the way up — turning to God by desiring him, being satisfied with him, and by trusting him.
It sounds trite to say this, but if your soul is in distress today (and if it isn’t, it likely will be in the future), what you need is not out of your trouble, but what you need is to want God more than anything else. You and I need to desire him more than we desire healing for our homes or financial relief or physical rest or pleasurable ease. That is our hope in our dark moments of life. And when we cling to that hope, we will be able to serve and minister to others who have need. We will be able to teach and train and disciple and counsel out of our weakness, experiencing the sufficient grace of God in that weakness.
Can I remind you of one last thing about this psalm? Remember that nowhere in this psalm did David ask God for anything. He did not ask for relief or removal from the problem. Rather, he made declarations of what he would do in pursuing God and his fellowship. That is a lesson for us. Sometimes the way out of despair is not some remarkable act of God, but rather a simple persevering devotion to and desire for God and his fellowship. If you are suffering discouragement and despair, it’s okay to ask God for help, but as you do that, also cultivate a longing for and satisfaction in God. Is your soul in distress? Has your well run dry? Go to the only One who has living water that will satisfy your thirsty soul.
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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