Steve Wiens is a gift to the blogging world. He is a pastor whose voice is a needed reminder of the power of vulnerability and authenticity. I'm lucky enough to live in the same city as him, and can tell you his real life presence is just as great as his online presence. I'm thrilled to have his words here as a guest post today.
If Psalm 55 were a blog post, the comments would be merciless. The writer might be reported to the police. But this wasn’t a blog post; it was a desperate prayer from a king who was at the end of his rope.
It begins with honesty: “Hear me and answer me. My thoughts upset me. I’m very troubled.”
Prayer is a time to bring to God what actually is, where you reveal the unvarnished reality of your life. And sometimes, the reality is: I’m not doing well. My thoughts upset me. I’m very troubled.
In this Psalm, it’s as if David sensed that God leaned in, paying close attention. This gives David freedom to be even more honest. It turns out his opening lines were a bit too edited.
In verses 4-5, David gets very real and very dark:
“I feel great pain deep down inside of me. The terrors of death are crushing me. Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me.”
If this were your friend, you’d be alarmed. You’d start offering ridiculous and unhelpful things just to stop the hemorrhaging. You’d start looking for the little button underneath the desk that calls in the experts.
In verses 6-7, David seems to be suicidal, or close to it.
“I wish I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest.”
We finally understand why he’s so low when we get to verses 8-12: Random sinners are ruining his city, destroying the peace and he doesn’t seem to be able to stop it. And we get to the hardest truth in verses 13-15:
“But it’s you, it’s someone like myself. It’s my companion, my close friend. We used to enjoy good friendship as we walked with the crowds at the house of God. Let death take my enemies by surprise. Let them be buried alive, because their hearts and homes are full of evil."
David is pouring out his desire for personal vindication because a close friend has betrayed him, and the pain is more than he can bear. It’s embarrassingly violent. Buried alive? How can someone pray that way?
And then in verses 16-18, it’s as if the fog clears. For a moment, David realizes that even if God answered that prayer – to let his enemies be buried alive – he needed something bigger.
“But I call out to God. And the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Even though many enemies are fighting against me, he brings me safely back from the battle.”
But then it turns dark again, beginning in verse 19 and through the end of Psalm 55. David goes from crying out to God, trusting God to do what is right, to once again praying for God to bring sinners down to the grave. No one can accuse David of holding back.
Then he ends with these five words:
“But I trust in you.”
How are we supposed to pray when we’re at the end of our rope? Here’s what I see in David’s prayer:
He’s not afraid to pour it all out, as ugly and vindictive as he actually feels. He doesn’t seem to be worried that God will edit him or tell him that praying for someone to be buried alive is perhaps a little over the top. This is bringing to God what actually is.
There are no pious clichés. It’s as if David doesn’t have time or energy for anything other than cold, stark reality. God can handle reality and we don’t have to hide behind the pretense that we believe something that we don’t.
He’s not demanding answers for why bad things happen. We can ask God anything, including the wonderful question why. But there comes a point in praying where we understand that no answer will suffice. David needs to know God is good, not why this tragedy happened. When we’re in this level of despair, answers don’t help, and God knows that.
Moses was good at praying desperate prayers as well. In Numbers 11:15, after complaining to God about how whiny the Israelites were, he prays this way:
“Is this how you are going to treat me? If you are pleased with me, just put me to death right now. Don’t let me live if I have to see myself destroyed anyway.”
I love that prayer: Kill me now, God. As a leader and a parent, I’ve prayed that prayer a thousand times.
Psalm 55 teaches us that we need to bring our ugly, unvarnished, unedited, desperate thoughts to the one place that is safe: God’s presence.
And the more we do that, the more it really will be true when we say this to God: “But I trust in you.”
I’m learning to embrace my actual life that actually exists in the actual universe. I’m a pastor and I love my congregation. It’s in the suburbs, where I live. I have three boys – Isaac, Ben, and Lige – little Jedi masters to whom I submit for learning the art of living as is. I’m married to a writer & poet; someone who knows how to make beautiful things and how to make things more beautiful. My blog is all about my journey in living as is instead of as if. And of course, it’s an invitation for you to join me on the adventure.
Add the link to your post about Psalm 55 below. Make sure to read someone else's post, too! Or join next week with a post on Psalm 56.