June 27th, 2010

It’s never a bad thing to need God.

Psalm 63

June 27, 2010

The 91st Minute

Some lessons you have to learn over and over.  Here’s a lesson I learned again this week: I’m not 28 years old.  Oh…and I’m not a world class soccer player.

I spent most of the week at Johns River Valley Camp with a great bunch of kids.  A couple of times I had to slip away, including Wednesday during the day to take care of a broken mirror on the bus and check my e-mail.  My getaway just “happened” to coincide with the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Algeria.

I agonized through 91 minutes of a scoreless tie.  As the game went on we realized we were about to be eliminated, and we were desperate.  As we learned yesterday, we don’t always win when we’re desperate.

But on Wednesday, when Landon Donovan punched in the game’s only goal during “stoppage time” (after the standard 90 minutes had expired), I was ecstatic, clapping wildly at the restaurant only to realize I looked sort of foolish since no one else was actually watching.  I loved Donovan’s spontaneous slide to the corner after his goal and the subsequent pile of ecstatic players.

Later that evening, we played soccer at Johns River Valley Camp.  I scored my team’s first goal, and spontaneously slid on my belly to the corner of the field, imitating Landon Donovan.  This was not smart, for several reasons.  First, the World Cup fields are smoother than the Johns River field.  Second, Landon Donovan’s stomach is flatter than mine.  Third, nobody at the camp had seen the televised game, so nobody knew what I was trying to imitate and nobody piled on.  They just thought I was weird.  Fourth, I’m not 28.

David wrote Psalm 63 in the 91st minute.  He would see victory, but not yet.  When you don’t know if you will survive…when time is running out…when you are desperate…Psalm 63 is your psalm.

If you were here last week, you know the setting because it’s the same setting as Psalm 3.  David is on the run…again.  He is in the wilderness…again.  It is familiar territory because he ran from Saul for 30 years. He hid in the desert for three decades before he became king.

He never expected to be in the wilderness again.  He was, though.  And this time the one who chased him, who wanted to kill him, who wanted to preserve power was his own son, Absalom.

In Psalm 63, David turns life into worship.  He teaches us how to pray when you’re desperate.  Again.

I miss you (1-2)

David begins by saying, “O God, you are my God” (1).  Derek Kidner says this psalm “is not the groping of a stranger…but the eagerness of a friend” (Psalms 1-72, p. 224). 

David feels alone at this moment, but he still says, “You are my God.”  When I was at camp this week, I was away from my best friend.  And there were things that came up with the kids, especially some of the girls, where I needed and wanted Linda’s input.  I felt cut off from her, since there’s no cell phone service at the camp.  But I wasn’t angry at her for not being there – I just missed her.  I needed her. 

If the result of our desperation is to remind us we need God, that’s not a bad thing.

David gives us another mark of spiritual desperation in verse 1.  “Earnestly I seek (NIV – NLT has “search for”) you.”  The KJV has “early” instead of “earnestly.”  Both are good translations.

If you have followed the World Cup at all (as well as the qualifying games leading up to it), you know the U.S. had a pattern of giving up early goals.  Finally yesterday it caught up with them – giving up an early goal in the game and another early goal in the overtime period was too much to overcome.  It was as if we never played with desperation until late.

When you’re truly desperate, you’re desperate early.  You start the day with passion.  I don’t want to be a Sunday morning World Cup coach, but somehow we needed for our soccer players to be “earnest” and “early.”

For David in the desert, just being thirsty is enough metaphor for his longing for God.   My body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (1).

He vividly remembers what it was like to enjoy the good times.  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory” (2).  He built that sanctuary.  He brought the ark there.  He knows what it’s like to sit in that place and soak in God’s presence.  It’s a very different place than on the run in the desert.

Maybe this is a time in your life when you’re not desperate.  Maybe things are humming along pretty well.  Now is the time to invest yourself in personal and private worship.  There’s a huge difference between believers who have cultivated a life with God and those who haven’t when they face desperate times.  If God is a stranger to you and life deals an unfair blow, accusation follows.  “Where are you, God?  I thought you were supposed to look after me!”

But those who have seen him in the sanctuary and beheld his power and glory are much more able to say with peace and trust, “Lord, I miss you.”

I praise you (3-5)

David knows his need is God, not a change in his circumstances.  Can you say that?

What is it that makes you desperate right now?  Is it a financial need?  A relationship that is crumbling?  A diagnosis that has you frightened?  People often ask me to pray for them in those situations, and I’m glad to do so.  But our greatest need is not to fix the problem.  Our greatest need is God.  David knew that.

I think we often pray too specifically.  Our theology is basically that God wants me to be happy as much as I want to be happy, so our prayers are that God would take away our pain, make everything OK so we can be happy again.

Did you notice that David doesn’t pray for God to get him back to Jerusalem?  He doesn’t pray for Absalom’s downfall.  (He does acknowledge later in the psalm that those who do oppose God will face judgment.)  The typical American prayer would be, “Lord, help me go home.  Show my enemies how wrong they are.  Help me to survive this and get back to my throne.  Give me guidance and wisdom.”  There’s nothing wrong with those prayers, on one level.

But it’s not how David prays.  He prays with praise. 

God’s love, he says, is “better than life” (3).  I’m not sure our culture sees anything as better than life.  Paul echoed David’s thought when he said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). 

His praise is physical.  It includes lips (3), hands (4), and songs (5).  When I saw that goal by Landon Donovan on Wednesday, I needed to make some kind of physical response.  The Bible uses a lot of action verbs to describe praise – kneel, stand, bow, lift hands, write, speak, sing, shout…the one thing you can’t do is sit there.

God satisfies him, David says, like “the richest of foods” (5).  In Hebrew this reads literally, “fat and fatness.”  What’s your favorite food – the junk food you love that you shouldn’t?  I was around some picky eaters this week at camp, like my buddy Ethan.  There were entire meals he would eat almost nothing.  But the day they served French Fries?  He dumped the whole bowl on his plate – about four times.  For me, “the riches of foods” would be DQ Blizzard – Georgia Mud Fudge. 

I’m guessing out there in the desert there weren’t many French Fries or DQ Blizzards.  But David’s praise led him to ponder God as if he were sitting down to a banquet.

As I witnessed the drama of some of my Junior High girls this week, I was glad I was able to see the larger picture.  For them at this time of life, everything is large.  Every problem feels insurmountable.  I know better.  They’re just going through a phase that is a necessary part of growing up.  Praise helps us see the larger picture.

I cling to you (6-8)

Reality sets in as David continues in verse 6.  He’s still in the desert.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep as well when I’m away from home.  I can picture David looking at whatever his version of a clock was all through the night.  The Israelites divided the night into three “watches” – from sunset until about 10 PM, from 10 PM to 2 AM, and from 2 AM to sunrise.

The details are not as relevant as our simply identifying with David when we have those fitful nights because of desperation or loneliness.  We drift off to sleep or at least close our eyes and then are so disappointed only an hour has passed – or maybe just a few minutes.  That’s what David is describing in verse 6.

When he should be sleeping and instead he’s fitful, he turns life into worship.  What does he think about?  Verse 7 tells us.

I like how the NLT phrases this:  I think how much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings.”

A baby bird instinctively nestles under its mother’s wings when it feels threatened by a storm.  I haven’t witnessed that as much lately but I did see it with our little puppy on Friday when two pastoral puppies met.  Pastor Paul and Molly brought over their dog, Gracie, for Jeni to watch during the mission trip. 

Now there’s not much to Gracie except a little meat and a lot of hair.  She doesn’t intimidate much of anyone.  Except Tucker, Jeni’s puppy.  When Tucker tried to play with Gracie’s bear, Gracie scowled and yelped and leaped at Tucker.  He retreated to Linda or Jeni or me or whoever was there so we could shelter him from the big mean girl dog.

David wants that kind of image in your mind as you think about how to pray when you’re desperate.  “God, I’m just safer when I’m with you.”

I love verse 8 – “My soul clings to you” (NIV) or “I follow close to you” (NLT).  It’s the word used in describing the first marriage in Gen. 2:24, “A man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife.”  It’s Ruth holding on to her mother-in-law: “Don’t make me leave you; where you go I will go” (Ruth 1:14, paraphrase).

“God, I’m holding on to you for all I’m worth.”  We had one camper this week who was homesick and one of the ways she found comfort was just getting a hug from Pastor Bob – the closest substitute she could find for Mom and Dad.  She wanted to be held.  David finds that kind of comfort in the Lord. 

I trust you (9-11)

As David closes the psalm, he expresses his confidence that God’s love is also just.  Notice he’s not going to take justice into his own hands, but he believes God will do the right thing at the end.

Those who seek his life will themselves wind up dead (9).  Their bodies will be food for wild animals (10).  One of the greatest fears in the ancient world was to die without a proper burial.

But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced” (11).  David’s reference to himself as king not only gives us the time frame (that this is during his flight from Absalom, not Saul), but reaffirms and reasserts his calling and his trust.

This, again, is the prayer that emerges from the heart of one who is friends with God.  “I don’t understand, Lord, but I’m yours.  I trust you.”

Alternatives to David’s Prayer

So how do you pray when you are desperate?  God, I miss you.  I praise you. I cling to you.  I trust you.

You may think these prayer responses are simple and automatic.  The Bible gives many examples of those who respond differently.  I have been reading about many of them in the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles.

When King Joram in Israel faced an impossible situation, he said, “Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33)

When Jezebel was hot on the heels of Elijah, he sat down, depressed, and said aloud, “I’m so alone I just want to die” (1 Kings 19:4).

There are many alternative ways to pray when we are desperate. You and I have used them.

But there are also wonderful examples in the Bible of those who clung to the Lord because they had seen David’s example, and we’re reading about them in through-the-Bible reading.

Abijah faced an army of rebellious former allies and declared, “As for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him….God is with us; he is our leader” (2 Chronicles 13:10, 12).

Jehoshaphat was threatened by a vast army of hostile neighbors and prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Will you be another one who, when you get desperate in the 91st minute, prays like David?  “God, I miss you.  I praise you.  I cling to you.  I trust you.”  Amen.

Leave a Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.