Friday, December 30, 2011

Psalm 56 – Walking In The Light Of Life

“My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

~Psalm 56:12-13 (NRSV)

To understand this 13-verse Psalm we necessarily travel back into the history of the chosen nation, Israel—to a time when David was circumscribed by the Philistines at Gath. Yet, we gain forlornly picturesque glimpses into the emotional state of this man of God simply by reading the Psalm in quiet reflection.

In wavering throughout, splitting praise with complaint, we feel the turmoil of a man struggling to exercise faith in the midst of a despicable enemy.

But, as is the feature of David’s laments, the second half of the Psalm—once the complaints have been spilled—is full of hope-bridled faith in the faithfulness of God to deliver him.

The following features are visible as we read into this text:

The Mercy Of God In Distress

Verses 1-2 detail the complaint at its source; the deep distress in David’s soul is brought about by the experience, metaphorically, of the enemy “trampling” all over him. And though this is a complaint, it is wrought by faith that David knows mercy comes from nowhere but the Lord.

He seeks a double portion of such divine mercy.

Saul was attacking David from the high position of the throne of Israel, yet the Lord would respond from a much higher position still than any mortal might attack from. This is a great encouragement, in David’s words, recognising God’s inimitable gracious mercy: “What can a mere mortal do to me?” (Verse 11b)

Brash Praise – The Feature Of Initial Prayer

As we read verses 3-4 we find something very reminiscent from our own prayer; we most easily present a stoic prayer of confidence in God before the inevitable doubts begin to surface. That is David, here. He knows the words to say and he acts in a way to think better about the problems before him.

But, as we know, such prayers don’t always work so well—the fears swarm and make their way into our consciousness, eventually. Then we’re weakened by the truth.

In this we find a feature of many of the lament Psalms: there is both premature and mature praise; the former occurring early in the psalmist’s lament and the latter occurring by the time God works into the psalmist’s heart—by intimacy of true prayer.

Honest Complaint Precedes True Praise

David’s complaint hasn’t concluded in the first two verses. Perhaps a more honest and more thoughtful mood continues to build within him in verses 5-6, which lead quickly to a consequent pleading in the earnestness of hope.

Our prayers are the same; falsity—the hankering of bravado—is removed the longer we enter into communion with the Lord. Intimacy with God cannot be nurtured by five and ten second prayer; if we really have need we spend the time. Only via time taken to build our felt intimacy with God will we find the conviction of honesty that precedes true praise.

Only when time is taken in our prayer closet will we find the words that allude to the meaning within our hearts and confusion in our minds.

There Is Nothing Like The Felt Intimacy Of The Lord

A wondrous thing occurs for the psalmist, David, in verses 8-11. True familiarity and congruence with the Divine, from the mind to the heart, is felt from within him.

Who, truly, keeps record of our tossing and turning or our tears? Only the Lord does that.

The psalmist feels the care of God in venturing frank utterances of faith, even beyond reason, for fear may continue to swarm. But intimacy with the Lord allays fear.

Finally, The Light Of Life Made Visible

Those in the faith, by their practice of faith, always and ever more a practical thing, do not surrender their faith for fear easily. Though there may be instances of giving up, when anxiety exceeds the personal capacity to bear, an underpinning faith, combining with the carrying hands of God beneath us, sees us through.

The psalmist has vowed to render thank offerings to the Lord; and such behaviour is not simply a distraction from the enemy, but faith in full glow.

The light of life is the walk of faith before our God, perhaps not because of, but in spite of the harshest of conditions. Intimacy with the Lord counters our fear.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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