08 October 2010

Sigh of Despair, Song of Triumph

by Phil Johnson

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
salm 13 is a fascinating look into a side of David's prayer life we can all easily relate to. This man after God's own heart pours his soul out in frustration, fear, and ultimately faith as he struggles through the ordeal of tribulation.

The psalm is first of all a great prayer. There's nothing typical about it; in fact, it shatters our presuppositions about what really "spiritual" praying is like. But a close look shows it is in perfect harmony with how Jesus taught us to pray. Brevity and honesty—two qualities sadly missing from most of our prayers—stand out as its hallmarks.

More than a lesson about prayer, however, this psalm is a model response for those of us going through deep trials. David wrote it in anguish over the apparent success of an unrelenting enemy. We don't know which enemy—it might have been Saul, the renegade king, who chased David like an outlaw; or it could have been the Philistines, who as a nation epitomized all that God hates.

Imagine David's frustration, seeing enemies like that prosper while it seemed God was hiding His face from him! If we're honest, we have to admit that we understand David's inner turmoil in the opening cry of this psalm all too well.

But that initial, desperate groan is only the beginning of the story. In the six brief verses of Psalm 13, David moves from doubt to deliverance, teaching us the sublime and emancipating principle that victory depends chiefly on how we look at our trials.

The Inward Look
At first David looks inside himself, and sees only his own sorrow (vv. 1-2a). See how many times in these early verses he uses the first-person pronouns: "I," "me," "my," "my soul," "my enemy," "my heart." He's questioning God, wallowing in his own defeat, wondering why God seems to be hiding His face.

Was God hiding His face? Of course not! David was merely looking in the wrong place.

There's a serious danger in the wrong kind of inward look. Healthy introspection, the kind that leads to confession of sin and the humble brokenness of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:3-5, is critical to our spiritual survival. But looming in the face of those who look within themselves is a monstrous peril: a morbid preoccupation with our own inadequacies that breeds depression and debilitates us spiritually.

The difference between the two kinds of self-reflection is not so subtle. A wholesome look inside becomes hurtful when we begin looking within ourselves for a solution to the problems we find there. The solution doesn't reside in us; we must look elsewhere.

The Outward Look
David turns his focus from within and begins to look around (vv. 2b-4). Now all he sees are his surroundings. What a different David this is from the young shepherd who strode confidently into the presence of the mighty Goliath with no armor and only a few pebbles for weapons! Pay careful heed to the lesson: one great victory does not ensure future triumph.

This time David is fearful. We can sense his trembling, as he grapples with a paralyzing dread that this trial might ultimately kill him (v. 3).

I've felt that way, too, and in trials of much less consequence than David's. Such fear is the inevitable result of looking at circumstances and hoping some kind of help will come through them.

But deliverance doesn't come through circumstances, either.

The Upward Look
Finally, in verses 5 and 6, David looks to the Lord, and there he sees his salvation. Compare this passage to verses 1 and 2. "Me . . .I . . .mine" has given way to "thy mercy . . . thy salvation . . . the Lord."

Thus what in the beginning sounded like a dismal wail of unbelief becomes an exhilarating hymn of faith. What's the difference? The trial has not changed—but David's point of view has. Now his eyes are clearly directed upward.

Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8)—that goes for deliverance from trials as well as salvation from sin. No other truth emerges from everywhere in Scripture so definitively. If we look around or within—or anywhere but to God—for a way of escape, we are condemned to disappointment and ultimate failure.

It is God who provides the way of escape—not out of our trials, but rather through them. He enables us to bear testing, not avoid it (1 Cor. 10:13). And He uses our tribulations to accomplish His wonderful purpose in us (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:3-4).

Thus God works all things—including our hardest testings—together for our good. That's the ultimate victory, and it's how even in our darkest hour of trials, we can fix our eyes on Him and say confidently with David, "He hath dealt bountifully with me" (v. 6).

Phil's signature


Eddie Eddings said...

Heavenly music (the Psalms) that brings harmony to the soul! Thanks, Phil, for the exposition. It was needed this morning.
(I also got a chuckle from the "Chick" tract)

thomas4881 said...

So we can share in his holiness.

Stefan Ewing said...

Thank you.

It's good to see something from you again, Pastor Phil, and more devotionals (if I can call it that) are always, always welcome from all three of you.

Praise God, our Rock and Redeemer, for salvation comes from Him.

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1b)

Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

Several (well-timed) lessons here for me Phil... thanks.

Kay said...

Truly a breath of fresh air, Phil, thank you

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

We have such limited sight, don't we? Think about when we get to heaven, God's presence will be everywhere for us to gaze upon, and we will be filled to capacity. We will never escape His all pervasive holiness and goodness, so we will never self-destruct. Our eyes will be upon Jesus forever; what a vision that will be. Can we even imagine?

I love posts like this, Phil. Awesome.

Thomas Louw said...

I don’t think this will get the comments flying in but, it’s true wholesome and uplifting.
It’s an oasis of encouragement and rest.
Let’s do Ps 119 next.

Anonymous said...

I needed this post this morning, for so many reasons.

Thanks Phil.

The Bible Christian said...

Very edifying and encouraging... I really need to share this with friends who are going through some really tough trials. Thank You

David Rudd said...

Well said, Phil.

although the header graphic lead me to believe you were going to post about Jack Chick...

DJP said...

What a good study and reflection. Thanks.

Becky Schell said...

Thanks for this clear analysis of where our focus needs to be during trials, Phil.

I too enjoyed the Chickesque graphic.

Lynda O said...

Thank you for this post, Phil. A good devotional thought and encouragement such as this is always needed.

Cathy M. said...

I'm thankful to God for this explanation of His word. He hath dealt bountifully with me,too.

Terry Rayburn said...


Speaking of trials, how's your back doing?

Good post! It's only good for those readers who have trials, though :)


David Mohler said...

I love it when these kind of articles appear here.

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joel said...

The word of God is sooo sweet!

Thanks, Phil

James R. Polk said...

Imagine David's frustration, seeing enemies like that prosper while it seemed God was hiding His face from him! If we're honest, we have to admit that we understand David's inner turmoil in the opening cry of this psalm all too well.

I'll be honest. I can relate to King David's frustration. I have to wonder how the disciples of men like Joel Osteen deal with a Psalm like this.

Thanks for posting it.

Solameanie said...

I needed this today in the wake of my stepfather's passing last Sunday (along with the previous six months and subsequent days). A good reminder. I'm making a copy for my mother to read also.

Halcyon said...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I would love to see a Pyromaniacs Chick Track.

Good words from the Word, Phil. Hope you're back is doing well.

Sonja said...

Thanks Phil! We really needed this.

Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen! Well said.