Monday, March 3, 2014

Desperate Dependence (Psalm 69)

“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69:1–3, ESV)

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” This is a commonly used phrase that seems to be used to support extreme responses in the face of extreme circumstances. The origins of this might go back to Hippocrates who was a physician living 400 years before the birth of Christ. In “Aphorisms” he wrote, "For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure….” While medically there might be a need to take more extreme measures than otherwise might have been sought when the life of the individual is at risk, this phrase has been extended to a support a form of moral relativism which supports taking actions that would normally be considered unacceptable and even unconscionable and/or unlawful. It seems to say that it all rests on us, and we must do what we can to bring it about.

But is this really how the Christian is supposed to live? In psalm 69 we find David crying out to God in desperation in the face of his enemies. According to these words in verses 1 through 3 and the rest of the psalm David saw no escape and he was crying out to God for deliverance. I don’t know about you, but I can really relate to the cry of David these verses. There are times when I don’t see any possible solution to the situation facing me, and this after trying to poke in every corner in an effort to find an escape or an immediate answer. We have this phrase, “in over our heads,” and I think David is admitting that he is in one of those over his head times, where not only is he struggling to keep his head above water, but the very ground under him is collapsing and he feels himself sinking even deeper. And as we read from these verses this was not a momentary thing, but one of an extended duration wherein he had grown extremely tired of crying out for help even to the point of him becoming almost unable to utter another word and his eyes unable to see any hope. And this was true even in relation to God. This was David’s heartfelt condition and the place from where he started this psalm.

But as it is with a number of the psalms of David (and others) when he came to God in the midst of a great struggle, the story did not end there. In the verses which follow we find David bringing his struggle under God’s wise and attentive watch care and His strong and powerful hands. In verse 5, he speaks about God’s knowledge of his mistakes and his foolish actions with, “O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” (Psalm 69:5, ESV) And he follows it with a prayer that his situation would not have caused others to stumble before God. Even in his proper insistence that people turn to God it has given cause for others to sit in the gates of the city and mock him.

But David remains persistent in turning his eyes to God in prayer and resting in God’s hands for deliverance in His proper time. In verse 13 he continues, “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.” (Psalm 69:13, ESV) And then he repeats the cry of verses 1-3, “Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.” (Psalm 69:14–15, ESV)

While David had just acknowledged that God would move in His time to act for David’s salvation, David again cries out to God for deliverance and even speedy deliverance at that, for he saw his situation as truly desperate. “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies!” (Psalm 69:16–18, ESV)

And so the psalm continues as David reflects on the desperate nature of his situation and God who was his savior, forgiver, and deliverer. As the psalm draws to a close David’s eyes have regained hope even in the midst of the miry muck. While his head may have still have been barely above water, he committed to singing praises with every breath he had.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” (Psalm 69:30–36, ESV)

Tough times press us in every way, and there are so many things which we encounter in our lives that push us up to what seems to be the very last moment when short of some extreme intervention the whole of our existence might collapse around us. These are truly desperate times, but they are also times when rather than taking desperate measures we should rather cry out to our God in our desperation and plead to Him for His deliverance. While we don’t know what form it might take, we do know that He is near and that He will indeed act. While we may not see the answer at the moment we deem most necessary, we know that He knows exactly when it is best. And we also know that He will give us strength to endure until that time.

In this I am mindful of the end of Genesis and the beginning of Joshua, were Joshua was repeatedly told to be strong and courageous, even very courageous. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, ESV)

Another unknown to us psalmist wrote, “A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)

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