Sunday, 12 July 2020

Rejoice from the Darkest Place - Psalm 57 and Philippians 4

In these times anxiety levels for most of us are raised. Some are typically more anxious than others, but right now even the calmest are experiencing anxiety. Today we are going to look at Psalm 57 to help us through.

In verse 1 the psalmist calls on God - calling for mercy. It is a deep cry, expressed in verse 2. We soon see why: verse 4 talks of being in midst of lions and ravenous beast, hostile circumstances and people who have bite, expressing in terms of spears and swords! The psalmist is in a place of desperation, of feeling trapped. Verse 6 writes of a net, bringing them low.

So clearly the psalmist is not in a good place - it is perfectly reasonable for them to feel anxious about going out!

But see also words and phrases woven in to the desperation. Verse 1 calls for mercy, the writer taking refuge in God, coming under the shadow of God's wings and protection. The cry in verse 2 is to the God who vindicates, and in verse 3 the God who sends from heaven and saves. This verse is a statement of God's faithfulness. So the writer sets this as a backdrop, a bigger reality, to the cry of desperation.

In verse 6, back in the reality of their plight, talking of the enemy spreading a net, there is a sense of upturn: the enemy has fallen into their own pit. You can almost hear the psalmist call out 'Ha - serves them right'!

Verse 7 the writer declares their heart to be steadfast, coming to God for protection. Then more - they will sing and make music. A self-call to wake up their soul (kind of giving themselves a slap on the face): now find some instruments and make some music! The momentum is now building - this is not to be a private sing-along to YouTube, for in verse 9 the writer goes public. Declaring among the nations is now the deal.

The reason for this is in verse 10: God's love is great, it reaches to the heavens, His faithfulness to the skies. The writer's praise is not baseless - it is based on the reality of God who is faithful.

Looking again at these threads: the cry of desperation with the statements about God and the call to praise we see 3 key aspects. There is honesty - they are not in denial or playing down their situation. They are happy to say 'life sucks'! Yet there is also clear decision: they will call on God, put themselves under God's protection, they will go on to praise and make their own worship declaring publicly about God.

For the third aspect, notice something else in this psalm we have not yet covered: verses 5 and 11. This aspect is outburst:
Be exalted O God, above the heavens, your glory be over all the earth
Its like the psalmist suddenly has a rush of praise-adrenalin! Yet note that this first outburst is in verse 5: right in the middle of the pit of despair. This comes from both the honesty and the decision - being real with God and deciding to be in His care.

Now what about us, in our anxiety-inducing times, our own dark place? Turn now to Paul's letter to the Philippians. He writes in chapter 4 verses 6 and 7: "Do not be anxious ... but in every situation by prayer, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God", and continues "the peace of God will guard your heart".

This seems to be the same ingredients. Paul writes 'in every situation' - which reflects the honesty.  Yes there are there are situations in which we will be anxious. Yet he writes 'do not be anxious' - calling us also to decision: we have to decide to turn our energy expended on anxiety to prayer.

Of course Paul is not simply writing 'Do not be anxious' full stop: we know that you can't say 'do not be anxious' and then someone will magically stop being anxious - that clearly doesn't work! Instead Paul writes 'Do not be anxious - turn to prayer/petition with thanksgiving'. There is a solid reason to decide a different course - the love, care and faithfulness of God.

Now note the context of these verse from Paul. In verse 4 he writes 'Rejoice', and notes in verse 10 that he himself had rejoiced greatly. Chapter 3 starts with 'Rejoice'. The instruction 'turn anxiety to prayer' is surrounded by outburst - outbursts of Paul rejoicing even in his own circumstances. Remember that Paul was most likely writing this while a prisoner!

The result of this honesty, decision and outburst is the peace of God guarding your heart, acting like a shield, or even a force-field around you.

So in our own situations, our own dark places of lockdown right now, let us do our own exercise. Let us not be in denial, but be honest about where we are at. Yet let us also make a decision, to be in the love and faithfulness of God. Let us express our own praise, even be ready to declare it. And don't be afraid to exclaim an outburst or two as well!

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