According to reliable data from the National Institute for Mental Health, 19% of American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one moment. Further, their studies reveal that over 30% of all American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives (see https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml for more information).
Count me as one of the 19%. I am in good company by the inclusion of this psalm in our Bibles (see also Psalm 77). Anxiety attacks have paralyzed me at times. Anxiety rules my life at times. When anxiety runs rampant it is difficult to think or act positively. Self-destructive behavior often results. Most anxiety sufferers don’t contemplate suicide, but from personal experience, I can state that anxiety often causes behaviors that almost certainly guarantee failure in the daily routines of life and in one’s ability to maintain healthy relationships with others.
The psalmist is desperate. Death seems only a breath away (vs 3). Defeat seems guaranteed (vs 4). Is there any hope? Can anxiety be overcome?
The writer expresses an ongoing trust in the faithfulness of the covenant God who has acted decisively in Israel’s past. Even in the depths of despair, the psalmist affirms their commitment to the assurance of deliverance. Instead of wallowing in self-pity the psalmist ‘sings’ to the LORD who has proven Himself by completing what He has begun.
I may never be totally free of anxiety. I may once again be stricken by an anxiety attack. God never fails. God always finishes what He begins. I will trust in God’s covenant loyalty.
Every news cycle (i.e. about 24 hours) brings another illustration of how that which is worthless is celebrated by humans. (Since it’s not college football season yet I can assure you that football wins by the college team of your choice is important and significant in some historical way.) Sports teams win and news coverage is extensive. Financial markets change and the news cycle thrives. Politicians make brilliant or not-so-brilliant statements, and the news cycle parses every word. Just this afternoon I received a news bulletin regarding an earthquake in the San Francisco, CA area. Shortly after that news another story regarding action the US House of Representatives took on prominence. I wonder what the next hour might bring?
Reading one day’s worth of news stories often reinforces the Psalmist’s plea in Psalm 12:1: “Help, Lord, for no faithful one remains; the loyal have disappeared from the human race.” The daily news by its very definition seeks to be sensational, provocative, and eye-catching. Loyalty, faithfulness are typically not eye-catching or provocative terms.
The psalmist responded by praying – “Help!” Too often our response to the rapidly changing news cycle is to complain, to criticize, to communicate our response. But prayer? Seriously?
Praying as a response reminds us that as self-important as we think we are, this world does not belong to us. In prayer, we acknowledge that what matters most is not what we think or say. In prayer, we are reminded that God’s Words are the only words that matter. His promise, expressed in His written word, is our best response to the celebration of worthlessness, that which is morally filthy.
More than once traveling between Roseburg and Winston I have felt the urge to just keep driving north or south and escaping the drudgery, the defeats, and the disturbances waiting for me. Prior to Absalom’s direct threat to his father David’s rule, there was a growing tension among the people of Israel. David’s friends urged him to flee before Absalom and his growing number of supporters confronted him. More than once David may have woken and wondered – why am I not simply running away?
David’s answer is expressed in the first exclamation: “I have taken refuge in the Lord. How can you say to me, “Escape to the mountain like a bird!” (Psalm 11:1, HCSB). To take refuge is the opposite of running. Taking refuge ‘in the Lord’ is not avoiding responsibility. Rather to ‘take refuge’ is to stand strong and accept responsibility.
None of us are immune from forces that aggressively seek to undermine our faith and hinder us from our God-given assignment. Enemies abound – often those of our own making! We ‘take refuge’ by remembering that though circumstances are challenging, God is still sovereign. ‘Taking refuge’ is standing firm knowing that success or failure is determined by God’s character of righteousness.
Escape is not the solution, as attractive as it sounds. No, the solution is deepening our trust. As a matter of fact, as David’s life demonstrates, it is through the drudgery, the defeats, and the disturbances that we discover God’s character.
Distant. Apart. A ways off. Detached. Withdrawn. Remote. How many times have I asked God, “why do You stand so far away?” Why do You hide in times of trouble?” Perhaps it’s just the way I’m wired, maybe it’s the habits of mind I’ve acquired. The Psalmist asks the question and yet in the same prayer, the writer acknowledges, “But You Yourself have seen trouble and grief, observing it in order to take the matter into Your hands. The helpless entrusts himself to You; You are a helper of the fatherless.” (Psalm 10:14, HCSB).
Two images capture my attention. First, God ‘takes matters into His own hands.’ In my striving to lessen the distance I feel from God, He has taken the initiative by implanting in me His Holy Spirit. He offers Himself to me without reservation. Second, God is a ‘helper’ of the fatherless (see also Psalm 68:53, 82:3, 146:9). A father plays many roles in life. Provider, protector, peace-maker (I had two siblings while growing up and my parents adopted a child when I turned 20), and pattern. Many of those around us have never truly experienced a father. To those, and even for those whose earthly fathers were godly men, God offers Himself in the role of father.
Yes, there are days, weeks, and months when the wicked – defined in biblical Hebrew as one who threatens and takes life, one who disrupts the community – seem to push us farther and farther from God. In those moments when God seems distant take advantage of the truth – God is present at every moment in your life, and God will be for you all you need Him to be.
“For the oppressed will not always be forgotten; the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever.” (Psalm 9:18, HCSB)
Summer sunshine, warm weather, clear skies may cover darkness, coldness, and clouded lives. Everything looks wonderful on the exterior, but many experience oppression and affliction. Exploitation occurs whether the sun shines or not. Pain is inflicted even under sunny skies. The season of darkness can appear to be endless even as others enjoy the bright, warm, and clear days of summer.
Often the only thread enabling some to survive is the hope affirmed by this psalmist. God’s people have always existed among nations that are hostile to the plan and purposes of God. Hope exists not because God’s people have within them any strength. Hope exists because God is, because God has revealed Himself, because He has proven Himself again and again.
Even in the brilliance of summer days, hope is a commodity necessary for life. God remembers, God promises, and God does act.
Eugene Peterson’s translation renders vs 4 like this: “Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” (Psalm 8:4, The Message). Why indeed would God – described by the psalmist as the One who has created this world in which we live – even give us a thought? Humans are insignificant in size compared to celestial objects like the moon, the sun, and the starts. Indeed, compared to other created beings humans are height and weight challenged.
Yet only humans were created ‘in the image of God’ (see Genesis 1:26-28). Only humans were created that we might have a relationship with God. The rest of creation can and does honor God by its very existence. Humans, however, honor and praise God with words, with deeds, and with obedience.
Why does God bother? He bothers because our praise – in word and deed – reflects His magnificence and His majesty.
People my age and older remember ‘Camelot.’ The administration of President John F. Kennedy was a watershed era in American history. The shattering of that era with his assassination in 1963 still lingers in our memory.
Perhaps people in Israel felt that way about the reign of David – an unprecedented era of wonderfulness. The superscription of Psalm 7 mentions Cush, who is not identified anywhere else in Scripture, who, as a Benjamite, opposed David. Saul, the first anointed king of Israel was from the tribe of Benjamin. David had enemies, particularly from among the family of the king whom he replaced.
When confronted with enemies our first instinct is to fight back, to counter-attack. For every biting remark, we have at our disposal a host of words and phrases we want to use. We often spend hours daydreaming schemes so that we can retaliate.
As king, David had tools at his disposal to counter-attack the family of Saul. Instead, David found refuge in the power of God and the promise of God. David had waited nearly ten years between being anointed as king by the prophet Samuel and actually claiming the throne. During those years he was threatened by Saul and on several occasions almost killed by Saul. Instead of taking advantage of opportunities granted, David chose to wait, trusting that God would do as He promised.
David’s victories, beginning with his killing of Goliath and continuing throughout his career as Saul’s commander and through his own reign were reminders of God’s constant presence in David’s life..
often immobilize us with fear. Our adversary is not ashamed to use those who live around us – even those who may be closest to us – to destroy us.
Are we confident enough in what we know about God’s nature to trust Him when attacked?