What do you do when you are so distraught and overwhelmed in your soul that you literally are holding on the wall to keep from falling to the floor into a heap of discouragement? How do you steady yourself when you are so stressed your whole body is shaking? How to keep from screaming at the top of your longs with frustration when you feel fear and anxiety rushing over your whole mind and body? What about when you haven’t slept for days and you are too embarrassed to get help, but too fearful not to ask for a relief? David, the shepherd king of Israel, one whose heart beat in time with God’s own heart’s rhythm understood this and more. He often writes about it in the Psalms, but I have recently rediscovered one of his most painful songs the Holy Spirit gave him.
When I read Psalm 143, I hear a full-throated agony gurgling from David’s soul. He is distraught because “the enemy has persecuted my soul, he has smitten my life down to the ground; he has made me to dwell in darkness like those who are long dead.” (vs. 2) We know historically that David had many external enemies; but like us, David’s worst enemy was his own selfish heart. While we do not know the particular enemy David is addressing contextually, we may apply this to the enemy of sin and temptation, agreeing with the Psalmist that continually, we are persecuted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. They win far too often and then in our conviction and guilt we echo with David, “Therefore, my spirit is overwhelmed within me and my heart within me is in shock.” Too often, when we are fully depressed we tend to look to the external circumstances and various people who have victimized us. Truly those who are victimized by sinners (enemies) resonate with the Psalm, and thus they ought to take comfort from the Spirit’s poetry. Yet in the personal application I am considering in this Psalm, where the enemy is within me, I am equally discouraged knowing not only am I a victim, but I am the offender too.
What do we do when we are overwhelmed, even by our own failings? David says that this is how he dealt with such feelings. “I remember thee days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. I stretch forth hands unto thee” If we were examining this Psalm more closely we would notice that the stanzas are arranged with progressive lines. Where does David see the solution to the weariness, stress, and fear that any enemy produces within him? It begins with marking (remembering) the old days, a remembrance that although our spirit is overwhelmed, an honest perspective is that it has not always been like this. Days of sorrow and days of blessing both characterize our lives, although it often seems like the sorrow outnumbers the blessing. But in his look back, not only does he mark the old days, he mulls (meditates) them over and realizes God’s work in those days. “Based upon God’s track record, he is always up to something good,” he ponders. But David is not done yet, for next he muses – literally, he utters within himself- that these works of God in the old days clearly are marked by the intricate design and handiwork of a loving God. He has done these works with his own hands. The word “muse” in the Hebrew reminds us of one talking to himself. David engages in a conversation with himself about God’s sovereign and tender working of all things well. And then in final desperation, having marked the old days, meditate upon God’s involvement, thus uttering God’s sustaining work of his own hands, what else is there to do but to “stretch forth my hands unto You”? This is the euphemism for urgent prayer. Now he falls before Jehovah with his hands reaching out longing for the presence, providence and deliverance of his sovereign God. If we were to continue on, we would see that the second half of this Psalm provides content to the prayer as he stretches forth his hands–basically be near me and save me from the enemy.
Bringing this application then to us in our modern age, how do we deal with debilitating grief, sorrow and remorse over losing to the enemies of the flesh that plague us? Many typically start with self-justification and blame of others, then this moves on to regret and self-loathing, followed by several emails and phone calls to those who will listen to us and tell us everything is going to be okay. And finally, sometimes a vague post on social media in order to gain the sympathetic ear and the morale boost our co-dependent soul craves. Whereas, getting help from spiritual counselors is always a great idea (Prov. 24:6), allowing others to help carry the burden is commanded (Gal. 6:1), and confiding in a close friend is not bad (Prov. 27:6); our first duty as God’s children is to go to our high and holy Father. To go with our hands stretched out in supplication and faith, pleading with him to be near and to deliver us speedily because “my soul thirsts after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah”
May God give us hearts when overwhelmed and shocked with grief that look to Him in urgent prayer as our first course of action, rather than the last acquiescence of the independent heart.