What's your gut reaction to disappointments? Difficulties? Disasters? I am not trying to trap you, or beat you up, I just want you to be honest with yourself for a minute.
Let me be honest with you: chaos, perceived chaos, stresses me out. When I have to make a difficult decision, some kind of wisdom call, between two good options, I get quite stressed. I can't not make a decision. I find it quite hard to sleep on it. I need to know the right decision, the best decision, immediately. Where shall we live? What school should we send our kids to?. What car should we buy? Which energy supplier?
Not just with decisions, this is true with disappointments too. Something doesn't work out well, things don't fall in line, as I planned. We don't get our first place school. Exam results are lower than we thought. After a long time of waiting and praying, the answer is 'no.' I also need to resolve the disappointment. I need to find the second best option, the right resolution, the best resolution, immediately.
Decisions, disappointments, and difficulties too. I need to solve the difficulty. I need to work out how to deal with the health issue. Financial issue. Relationship issue. I need to find the right solution, the best solution, immediately.
Not just difficulties, but with disasters too. Someone passes away unexpectedly. Can't find a job. I drop everything to try and work to overcome the disaster. Working night and day to find a job, sending out job proposals. I can't deal with the chaos. The perceived chaos.
When you are faced with decisions, disappointments, difficulties or disasters, what is your gut reaction? I have been reflecting the last couple of weeks while preparing this sermon and I need to be honest, it isn't dependence. It isn't dependence on God – and so this psalm has been teaching me to be more dependent on God.
So the next time you find yourself with decisions, where to live, what job to choose, or reacting to a disappointment, not getting the results you wanted, not working through a difficulty or disaster this psalm encourages us to be dependent on God. Throughout Scripture, we know as Christians that we must be dependent on God, that's always the best thing to do. Dependence on God is always the best first step when facing decisions, disappointments, difficulties or disasters.
This should be our gut reaction. To call out, to cry out to God for mercy. I have been struck recently that this is not true of me. This is not my natural instinct. It's not my gut reaction. But Psalm 57 has helped me become more dependent, and I hope it will help us all develop better gut reactions to decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters that descend on our life.
In our psalm today, David is in a disastrous situation. Life is dismal for David. He has been fleeing from King Saul and his army, who are hunting to kill David and his men. David is in a dark, damp cave. Destruction is at his door. Danger is all around. He is faced with a difficult decision, devastating disappointment, depressing difficulties and disaster all around. What is his reaction? It is Psalm57:1 'be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me'. Prayerful dependence on God.
This is the same reaction we see from David over and over again, and particularly in the two psalms before this one, 55 and 56. This is his gut reaction. These three psalms follow a similar pattern: The enemies are coming (56:2-3; 57:4); calamity is coming (55:12, 57:2), and David asks God to be gracious … to have mercy. They are psalms where David is in immediate danger and he calls out for God's help. This is why it is important to read psalms in context. They are not thrown together in a random order; the psalms before and after give clarity and context to each other. Without even looking at the words that he speaks, he is already a wonderful model for us, isn't he? This is his gut reaction: dependent prayer.
Do we instinctively cry out to God when life is difficult, when we feel we are in a dismal situation, when life feels dark and disappointing? This psalm encourages us to do that.
Prayerful dependence in the midst of despair (verses 1-5)
Just like in Psalm 55 and 56, the psalmist David cries out in the midst of a violent attack (verses 2 and 4), but the difference here, in Psalm 57, compared with the other two psalms is that David spends much more time speaking in detail about God coming to rescue, and how he is going to do that.
Verse 3 – he will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! Our God is a God who saves. He is a powerful God who can overcome all his enemies. David is God's anointed one, his chosen one, his Messiah and will keep him alive to accomplish his purposes. The enemy is not a pampered poodle, but a fiery beast, a lion. A ferocious, intimidating, growling, roaring lion. This is a terrifying image, predatory, violent. King Saul and his army are hunting to kill. They are talking and looking forward to hurting David and causing him pain ... planning and plotting.
The context tells us that Saul and his army are literally outside. David is in the deepest, darkest parts of the caves, waiting for his destruction. It's enough to make most people give up, but he cries out, verse 2. God will save me, verse 3. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness. This is because David knew that God had promised to keep him safe. That God would fulfil his promises through David's offspring. David is trusting in the promises of God.
So despite the reality of the situation, David exalts God in verse 5. David isn't alone in the cave. He has some men with him. This group of men know David is being hunted. They know they are trapped in the cave. You need to wonder, what were they thinking? What they were saying to David in the depths of the dark damp cave?
Excuse me, David, are you sure God is with you? David, who wasn't a king at this point, didn't look like God had blessed him and had promised to look after him. David. Why do you trust God? This Psalm is David's response to questions like this.
David's words are the words of faith. The words of those that trust in God. It is at the time of decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters that faith erupts and speaks out. Prayerful dependence. What does he say? 'Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!' Doesn't look like God is doing that in the depths of the cave, does it?
Prayerful dependence after deliverance (verses 6-11)
Somethings happens between verses 5 and 6. God delivers David. We see that in 1 Samuel 24, when Saul enters the cave where David and his men were hiding, but then God delivers him while he is still in the cave. He was delivered from Saul's destructive plans while he was still in the cave.
Verse 6: they set a net for my steps, my soul was bowed down (i.e. he almost gave up). They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Ha! Justice. But more than this, David says, it was God's salvation. God's deliverance.
Verse 7: David is so happy he wants to sing and make music. David is going to tell the nations how great God is! Because this is a God that the other nations need to hear about. A God who delivers. A God who keeps his promises.
David ends up ever more deeply in worship of God – the loving-kindness and faithfulness he hoped to be sent to him in verse 3 now fills all creation. David speaks of God's steadfast love. His covenant promise that he will be God to his people, forever.
David finishes writing this psalm after he has been delivered, but while he is still in the cave surrounded by Saul's army. God changes Saul's heart after he sees that David didn't kill Saul when he had the chance. If you remember the story, David just cuts a piece of his clothes off, then as Saul walks away David calls out to him from in the cave. This is the reason that David can then repeat 'Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!' Because he has seen that God has delivered him.
How do we pray this prayer, as Christians? See, as Christians we come after Jesus' death and resurrection, unlike David who came before.
Verse 6 is a picture of the cross. There has been a great reversal here in the psalm, where David's enemies are trapped in their own nets and trapped in their own holes.
Jesus died on the cross, and it looked like that was the end for God's people. Our Saviour died. But it was on the cross that there was another reversal. The penalty of sin was paid for at the cross, so we don't have to suffer the consequences of sin. God's enemies thought God's Saviour was defeated, but this is how we came to save all those that trust in him.
Throughout these three psalms over the last few weeks we have seen that David's gut reaction is to depend on God. Jesus throughout the Gospels, including the Gospel reading we had today [Matthew 26.36-46], also depends on God the Father.
David was not steadfast in heart his whole life: he murdered, and committed adultery. But it is only Jesus who remained fully steadfast in his heart. It was only Jesus who modelled perfect dependence despite disappointments, difficulties and disasters. We also saw Peter, the outspoken and bold disciple, deny Jesus three times, unable to be completely steadfast in heart. We also know that this is true of us too. We struggle to be completely steadfast in dependence on God. It's only Jesus that is able to be completely steadfast in heart.
Do we need to be like David, or even better, like Jesus and to have a gut reaction that is perfect dependence on God? If we can't, can we honestly pray the psalm that says in verse 7 'my heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.'? I don't think any of us can say that apart from Christ.
But as Christians, we enjoy the wonderful news of grace. Our salvation is not dependent on our steadfast heart. Thank goodness. Our salvation is dependent on Jesus' steadfast heart, which was steadfast all the way to the cross. As we saw in the Gospel reading, even in his last hours, Jesus was completely steadfast and dependent on God the Father in prayer.
However, we are still encouraged to follow this model of dependence. When we are faced with decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters … we don't instinctively depend on God. That's not our gut reaction. But that's the lesson from this psalm today. To be more dependent in prayer.
Let's think through how this applies
Decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters come. How do we respond?
Let me suggest a few ways that we might respond.
1. Ignore: we pull up Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, switch on the news, maybe even take a nap. We don't want to think about it. All that thinking takes effort. This issue is going to need a lot of thinking. Not now thanks. Ignoring.
2. Solve it: we tell ourselves when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. We are going to use all our might, resources, and energy to solve this thing. I am not sleeping or resting until this is solved.
3. In complete desperation: we ask someone else to help us.
Personally, my gut reaction is to do a bit of all three. But that's not what David models, that's not how Jesus prayed. That's not the example we are to follow.
Let me offer a very basic solution. Pray, then ignore. Pray, then solve it. Pray, then ask someone else. It's this prayerful dependence when facing decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters that we are to follow. It might be the right thing to ignore a decision, to put it off. It might be the right thing to address it straight away. But we also need to have the gut reaction of prayer.
Let's get a bit more practical. Let's write things down. Get a prayer book. Write things down.
There have been lots of studies recently that says writing things down helps us memorise them. We are more likely to pray for something if we write it down. Get Prayer Mate on your phone. Second best in my opinion, but whatever helps.
Developing this a bit further…
For most of us, our situations are not actually as terrifyingly horrible as we see in the psalm. Just sometimes a bit of a disappointment, a bit of a difficulty, a bit of a 'disaster.' In those situations too, the message is the same - call out to God. God, be merciful. Provide me with a decent job, so I can provide for my family. God be merciful. Provide me with decent health, so I can work, feel useful and enjoy your creation and the other many benefits that good health brings. God be merciful, help me find somewhere to live, somewhere we can settle.
Because as Christians, we often feel guilty about asking for middle class standards of living, don't we? Should we feel guilty asking God for these things? Should we just be praying for the Gospel? Should we just be praying for the nations to see God's glory? Should we be just praying that God frees Christians like Peter Ajak from an unjust legal system in South Sudan? Is it okay to pray for a better job? A nicer place to live? Fulfilling relationships and deep friendships?
Of course we can pray to God about anything we want. God wants us to come to him in prayer. He wants us to have the instinct of David that we pray to God. Not just ignore. Not just to solve it ourselves. Not just to ask other people. Pray.
So, this week, decisions, disappointments, difficulties and disasters will come. How are we going to respond? Dependent prayer despite disappointments, difficulties and disasters.
Heavenly Father, help us to depend on you, despite decisions, disappointments, difficulties or disasters that come up. Help us to learn to depend more and more on you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.