When I Am Afraid
Those of you who are my age and a bit older may remember a program on TV that was called Razzle Dazzle. The theme song of that show began like this, “Sunshine, lollypops and rainbows, everything that’s wonderful…” It was a happy song which emphasized happy thoughts.
A few years ago, there was a song that came out called, “Don’t worry, Be happy!” It too spoke of a carefree, happy life.
In the United States, the Declaration of Independence declared that the fundamental right of every individual was for “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It would be nice if life was like that, always happy, always contented, never anything going wrong, but it just isn’t. It was three years ago now that a devastating flood covered this area. Three years ago today, you could not have been sitting here. At this time of year, I hear a lot of people still talking about it. I have seen the pictures and I have come to realize just how much that event impacted this community.
Some of you or some people you know are facing illness that is making life very difficult. So much so that it takes up all your thoughts and changes your life.
Some of you have experienced losses that are irretrievable. You still are in pain over these losses. For some people at some times in life, everything goes just great, but most of us, if not all of us, will at some time in our life experience great difficulty. Whenever we do, it is a spiritual issue and causes us to have to deal with how God fits into our struggles and trials. How thankful I am that David has written the Psalms. In them, we find great comfort and guidance to deal with the spiritual issues which arise in the midst of our struggle and loss. This morning, I would like to examine Psalm 56 with you. Let us read it so that it is fresh in our minds.
I. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Psalm 56:1-2, 5,6.
A. David’s Trouble
The heading to this Psalm mentions that it was written by David at a time “when the Philistines had seized him in Gath.”
The story is taken from I Samuel 21. It occurs early in the time of David’s conflict with King Saul. Saul was jealous of David because he had come to realize that God favored David. He pursued David and wanted to kill him. Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s friend had just come to realize that his Father hated his best friend and had warned David to flee. David ran away with some of the men who were with him and went to Nob where Ahimelech was priest. He asked for food for his men and also for any weapons that there might be. The only weapon there was the sword of Goliath, whom David had killed. When one of Saul’s men saw David, he knew that he could not stay there and so he ran away to the place in which Saul was least likely to find him and that is to Gath, which is one of the Philistine cities. Interestingly, it was the city from which Goliath came. He was certainly safe from Saul here, but suddenly realized that he was not safe from the Philistines. They had recognized that this was David of whom it was said, “David has slain his ten thousands.”
Can you imagine how David must have felt? Wherever he went, he was not safe. In Israel, he was pursued by Saul. In Gath, he was watched by his enemies. Notice again the verses which describe what a terrible situation David was in and how he felt about it - “all day long they press their attack,” “many are attacking me,” “they are always plotting to harm me,” and “they watch my steps, eager to take my life.” What a precarious and painful situation David was in. It is in this difficult context in which David wrote this Psalm and expressed, not military strategy, not a plan of escape, but his relationship to God and how that relationship to God was a part of his current troubles.
B. Our Enemies
I don’t know about you, but I have never had to fight a Philistine and so we may wonder how this passage applies to us. There are two reasons why I believe this psalm has many good things to say to us.
The first is that Saul and an army or persecutors are not the only enemies we can have. I have often wondered how to read these passages that speak of enemies, and there are many of them in the Psalms. I have come to realize that we can apply this to whatever enemies we might have. The New Testament speaks about different kinds of enemies. It speaks of human enemies that persecute believers and the spiritual struggle expressed here would certainly fit in that case. But it also speaks about other enemies. It speaks about death as an enemy in I Corinthians 15:26. It speaks about Satan as an enemy in I Peter 5:8 and also many other passages. We can apply this to whatever or whoever is an enemy in our life.
The other reason is that no matter who or what the enemy is, the spiritual struggle is the same. Whether we are fighting Goliath, death or Satan, the things that David struggles with and finds hope in are the same for us.
What is the enemy that is attacking you today? What is the trouble that you are facing today which is overwhelming you and putting you in a difficult place? Let us listen together to what David had to say and be encouraged and helped by his struggle and faith.
The common thread between David’s situation and ours is that trouble is a spiritual issue. How do you deal with trouble? Do you deal with it on your own or do you deal with it in the presence of God? What encourages me most by this Psalm is the way in which David deals with his physical enemies first of all by going to God. Notice that the first words of David in the Psalm are “Be merciful to me, O God,…” His first response is not to complain about the trouble, but to go to God in prayer. Spurgeon says, “The more violent the attack of Satan the stronger our plea for deliverance.” How wonderful that when we are at the end of our rope, we can run to God in trust. This is what David did and as we read on in the Psalm, we begin to understand what this trust in God involved and how he did it.
A. When I Am Afraid
Last weekend Jonathan was together with some of the college and career in Winnipeg. We needed to know where he was because we needed to pick up the van and so he phoned us. When he came on the phone, his first words were, “I’m in the ditch and I hit a telephone pole.” For a brief moment, Carla’s reaction was a sinking feeling of fear until she heard the rest of them laughing in the background.
When a difficulty comes, our natural reaction is to be filled with fears or with tears. What happens to us so often in that context is that we think that because we are overwhelmed by fears and tears, we don’t have faith. The first thing I want us to notice is that faith is not mutually exclusive of fears and tears. The text mentions fears. David says, “when I am afraid.” Later, in verse 8, he speaks about his tears. We make a big mistake when we ignore, submerge, deny or bury our fears and tears. I am so thankful that David acknowledged his fears and his tears. The beginning of a trust relationship with God is not to deny, but rather to declare our fears before God. It is an arrogant self sufficiency which denies that we are afraid or that we are sad. When we deny our feelings, we are saying that either, we don’t have a problem, or that it isn’t anything that we can’t handle.
David does not deny his fear. He does not say, because of God I have no fear. Rather, he says, “when I am afraid…” So the first step of a healthy relationship to God in the midst of trouble is to acknowledge the presence of the trouble and to accept and own the depth of feeling about that trouble. The first step in sorrow is to let the tears flow. The first step in worry is to voice your fears. I don’t like fears or tears, but they are part of life and denying them is not healthy.
The second step, however, is to go to God with them. When we are at the end of our rope, when tears and anxiety are our only companion, then we need to go to God and throw ourselves upon Him. We need to take our tears and cry them in his presence. We need to take our fears and cast them all upon Him. That is the beginning of trust.
Spurgeon says, “It is a blessed fear which drives us to trust.” And in another place he says, “To trust when there is no cause for fear, is but the name of faith, but to be reliant upon God when occasions for alarm are abundant and pressing is the conquering faith of God’s elect.”
I am so thankful that fears and trust are not mutually exclusive. We do not have to remove our fears by our effort, but we do have to put our trust in God and He will remove our fears. If we continue to fear, it is not a sign that we lack trust, only that we have not yet run to God with sufficient hopelessness. As long as we fear, we are still thinking that we can solve it. When we know we can’t solve it, we must run to God. Can we trust Him enough to run to Him?
B. What Can Man Do To Me?
How do we come to the place where we can run to God and trust Him completely?
This is a Psalm and so we should look at it as a song. The chorus of the Psalm is found in verses 3,4 and then again in verses 10,11.
In both of these choruses, he asks the question, “what can man do to me?” The answer to that is, “quite a lot actually.” David was nearly skewered by Saul once already. The king of Gath had reason to put David to death and had David not feigned madness and then escaped he would probably have done so. David was fully aware of what man could do to him. This is the point at which we often stumble in our struggle with trusting God. We focus on what man can do to us. I know that many times, I have been overcome with worry because I knew that people, situations, or other enemies could easily do things to me that I didn’t want done.
But David asks this question in the context of first having declared his trust in God. The way that this is written, puts a completely different spin on it. When compared to the presence and power of God, this becomes a totally different question. “What can man do to me” when I am in the hands of God who cares for me. What can man do to me when I am in the hands of the creator of the universe? With such a perspective, trust becomes not only possible, but the only reasonable answer. When such a perspective is fully embraced, then fears melt away and tears are wiped away.
As we read the Psalm, we may think that of course David could trust in God. He had defeated Goliath, he would become king of Israel and eventually overcome Saul. Of course it was easy for David to have such a fear overcoming trust in God. We may even feel that way about others and may think, “just trust in God, he will look after you.” But, when the trouble is ours and the tears are ours and the fears are ours, then the situation is different. When we are in the middle of the trouble, then we are not so confident and our ability to trust in God as the one who has all power and compassion is much more difficult.
How can we throw ourselves in trust on God when we are so overwhelmed with struggles? This is easier said than done. What helps us do it?
C. In God’s Whose Word I Praise
As we read the choruses in this Psalm, we may be puzzled by the phrase, “God, whose word I praise…” which is repeated in Vs. 4, 10. Why does David suddenly introduce the Word of God into this discussion?
I believe he does so because it is the Word of God and the study of that Word that helps us trust in God. The word of God contains so many things which help us place our trust in God.
First of all, the Word of God contains the promises of God. It contains promises of his care and his love. It contains promises of his holiness and faithfulness. It contains promises that even the hairs of our head are numbered.
Furthermore, the Word of God contains all the stories of how God has fulfilled his promises in the past. When we read the Bible and read what God has done in the past for his people, we learn that not only does God make promises, but he keeps those promises.
This is why it is so important to spend time studying God’s word every day. If we think that we will have a strong trust in God just because we went to Sunday School or because we will seek Him when we are in trouble, we are mistaken. It is when we regularly fill our hearts and minds with the truth of God and the promises of God that will make us able to recall and know these promises when a crisis comes.
My challenge to all of us, those in the midst of a trial and those who haven’t a care in the world is to take your Bible and read through it marking every passage that has a promise. In doing so, we need to make sure that the promise is meant for us. There are some promises which were for the people of Israel, or for others and which do not extend to us now. But there are many promises, especially in the New Testament, which are wonderful and which are for us. We need to fill our minds with God’s promises and when we do, then trust will be much more possible in the time of crisis.
D. Don’t Let Them Escape
A few years ago, I was with a man who had had a stroke. Some days, he struggled to walk and to speak and it was an intense spiritual struggle for him. One of the questions he asked me several times was, “why did this happen to me?” The implication is that there is something wrong, something unjust about this situation. Our reaction may be that we want to deny that injustice, but the reality is that there is something wrong. There certainly was something wrong with David’s situation. Should God’s anointed king, Saul, treat David so? It was wrong. How do we continue to trust God when it just isn’t right?
There is one verse in this Psalm which deals with that issue. In 56:7 David prays, “on no account let them escape.” In this he is recognizing that it isn’t right and is bringing this injustice to the attention of God. He did not expect to understand the injustice, but he simply trusted God that He would deal with it in the right way.
We can do the same. Instead of railing against God, we need to present our feelings of injustice to Him and trust that He will do right. The New Testament promises that he will. Often for us, the injustice is that of death. Why is death taking me, why is death in the way? We need to remember what it says in I Corinthians 15:25 that the last enemy to be overcome will be death. Trust in God involves recognizing that things aren’t right and accepting that in the end, God will make them right.
E. Count My Tears
Although we may know that we ought to trust God in everything, yet it is so difficult. We tell ourselves, “trust” but we still cry. We tell ourselves, “God will deal with it” but we still worry.
I find it a comfort to recognize that the Psalmist shared this struggle. In the middle of the psalm, he pours out his heart to God. In verse 8 he says, “record my lament, list my tears- are they not in your record?” A better translation for “lament” is “wanderings” and those of you who have KJV do in fact have that translation. David was wandering from place to place, fleeing from Saul, fleeing from Gath. His life was filled with instability and terror. In this verse, he asks God to take note of his wanderings. He asks God to count his tears and record the difficulty of his experience.
Apparently there are such things as tear bottles. It seems that at one time, when someone was going through a particularly difficult trial, friends would come with a tear bottle and collect the tears of the suffering one as a memorial of the trial. Perhaps this is the background of this line in the Psalm. What this verse conveys is the assurance that God is fully aware of just how hard it is for us. He knows every tear we have shed, every anxious thought we have entertained. He is fully aware of just how hard it is for us.
How comforting to know that not only does God invite us to trust Him, but he also cares about the depth of our suffering and discouragement.
F. God Is For Me
When we are filled with a depth of anguish that we cannot handle, and as we acknowledge the depth of our sorrow, we are invited to throw our trust on God. In verse 9, in NIV, the expression is that when the enemies are defeated, then David will know that God is for him. I prefer the KJV translation here as well. It says that the knowledge that God is for him is the reason that he is able to hope that the enemies will be turned back. David is writing this in the midst of trouble and so I think that the interpretation that this is a reason for hope is a much better interpretation.
When we realize that His Word is filled with promises and the fulfillment of those promises, and when we experience his deliverance, and when we realize that God will eventually make things right and when we see that He cares about every tear we shed, then we can say with confidence, “I know that God is for me.” It is in this hope that we can indeed rest in God fully and find peace even in the midst of the most violent squall.
As New Testament believers, we have this hope repeated in Romans 8:31 where it says, “If God is for us who can be against us.” Romans 8:31
III. Don’t Forget To Say Thanks
When you as parents are teaching your children, you sometimes prompt them with the right response. If grandma gives a candy to your toddler, you may say, “what do you say?” If your toddler says, “More candy” you might make another attempt at teaching them to say “thank-you.”
But children are not the only ones who need to be reminded to say thanks. When 10 men who had leprosy were healed by Jesus, he was surprised that only one came back to say “thank-you.”
The Psalm speaks of the obligation of thanksgiving which is upon us as we experience God’s help. David says, “I will present my thank offerings to you.” At this time, he is still in the midst of trouble, but he is still able to speak about future thanksgiving. So sure is he that he will one day give thanks that he speaks of God’s deliverance as already past.
We too need to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. There is always some reason to give thanks. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in everything. When we experience God’s deliverance, we must give thanks. But even before we experience deliverance, we can maintain a thankful attitude to God for past deliverances and for the hope of deliverance that comes even to our present situation. Thanksgiving in the midst of trial is an act of trusting God.
Can we give thanks to God? Will we thank Him?
Spurgeon says, “in this short Psalm, we have climbed from the ravenous jaws of the enemy into the light of Jehovah’s presence, a path which only faith can tread.”
As I have sought to be a pastor to people, I have often been frustrated with my inability to help them. I want to fix things and when I sit in the presence of a hopeless situation, I still wish there were things I could do for them. Slowly, I am learning that I can’t fix them and I am becoming more and more comfortable to simply enter into such situations and point to the only one for whom no situation is impossible.
I don’t know all of the trials that you are facing. I believe that in any and every difficulty, we can and must run to God. I encourage you in complete honesty to pour out your heart to Him. He has the power, the compassion and the desire to meet you in your need. He may bring a glorious deliverance. He may sustain you while you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Whatever your situation, I am sure that God will do what is right and I encourage you to run to him in trust.