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Praising God in Tough Times

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Psalm 56

1 Sam. 21:10-15  (Background study)


A. Illus.: Two weeks ago I was sitting in a worship planning meeting. I was

nursing a tall cup of Starbucks coffee. I noticed what was written on the back of her cup. It says, “The

Way I See It #247” and then I saw these words: “Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength

and help?” We were at that moment planning this service with the theme, “God is our protector,” so I

picked up the cup and slid the sleeve away to read the rest. “As cognitive beings, why would we ask

something that may well be a figment of our imagination for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves

for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to

endure. – Bill Scheel, Starbucks customer from London, Ontario. He describes himself as a ‘modern day

nobody.’” It was odd, reading that as we planned a service to worship God for the help he gives us. I’m

surprised Bill Scheel hasn’t learned this yet, but there are times in life when you can “search inside

ourselves for the power to overcome,” and not find any help at all! Just ask David.

B. David was between the proverbial rock and a hard place! The story is in 1 Sam 21:10-15. He was on the

run from King Saul, who saw David as a threat to his crown. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

were closing in on David when he found himself looking down from a mountain bluff on the coastal

plains of Philistia and the town of Gath. He couldn’t go back, because the king’s men were closing in.

Ahead of him were the Philistines—Israel’s archenemies. So with what one writer called “the courage

of despair” he walked into Gath. I suspect he was hoping they wouldn’t recognize him, or maybe the

Philistines would figure if he was running from Saul, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But

whatever he thought would happen, things went south fast.

You may not remember that Gath was the hometown of Goliath—the giant David had killed. And if

that’s not bad enough, David had just begged a weapon from Israel’s priest—the only weapon he had—

the sword of Goliath. Very distinctive, I assume, not to mention big! So here’s David, walking into

Goliath’s hometown, carrying Goliath’s sword, and in v.11, “the servants of Achish [the king of Gath]

said to him [the king], ‘Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their

dances: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”?’” So they thought David was

already king when he was actually on the run from the king. And if that wasn’t bad enough, those “tens

of thousands” David had killed were Philistines.

So David is standing alone in Goliath’s hometown with Goliath’s sword, surrounded by Philistines,

and out beyond the Philistines was the waiting army of Saul. David was in the bull’s eye! V.12 says,

“David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.” Very much afraid.

What do you think, Mr. Bill Scheel, coffee cup philosopher? Do you think David should “search

inside himself for the power to overcome”?

You wonder what goes through someone’s mind in a time like that! Well, actually, we know what

went through David’s mind. He prayed, and later he wrote down for Israel just what it was he prayed.

And God delivered him in a weird way: vv.13-15... That was clever, to be sure, but it had to be

humiliating, too, for a warrior like David. And when they kicked him out of Gath, it wasn’t like his

troubles were over. But the next verse says, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” 22:1

C. I bet you know what it is like to feel trapped; to be caught between a rock and a hard place; to be the

bull’s eye. You know what it is like to be “very much afraid,” don’t you? When we are very much

afraid the most practical, urgent thing we can do is to pray—and to pray well. Ps. 56 is our

template for how to pray in such times. Turn there and notice the inscription... Let’s add this prayer-song

to our repertoire. We’re going to need it!


A. The first thing we need to get straight if we’re going to pray psalms like this is who our enemy is.

David’s enemies weren’t generic bad guys. God had promised David that he would be the father of a

royal dynasty over Israel that would reign forever. God was pinning all his future plans for his people on

this man and his descendants. Ultimately, God’s salvation would come through the Jesus, “son of


David”. So those trying to kill David threatened the eternal purposes and the absolute promises of God.

They were Enemies with a capital E.

Jesus faced the same threats as David, and as followers of Jesus, so will we. Our Enemies (capital E)

aren’t just people who make our lives difficult. They are those who would rob us of our royal privileges

and promises given us in Christ. Your real enemies are not the bully at work or school, nor a bill

collector or an obnoxious relative. In fact, Paul says our enemies aren’t ultimately flesh and blood at all,

but the agents and authorities of Satan. Satan moves in behind those difficult people and circumstances

in your life to try to rob you of your royal prerogatives—your joy, your peace of heart, your confidence

of forgiveness, your hope of heaven, your effectiveness as a servant of Jesus. When you sense that your

Christian privileges are being threatened, when you find yourself wondering about the promises God has

made you, then you have met your Enemy with a capital E. And that Enemy is the focus of your prayers.

That is the Enemy you put in God’s gun sights.

B. Spell out to God the threat you face. That’s what David did in vv.1-2, 5-7... David tells God in vivid

terms that his enemies were hard upon him, that they were relentless and out to kill him. If that wasn’t

bad enough, they were slanderers who “twist my words.” Saul had told his men that David wanted to

kill him, but it wasn’t true. What a helpless feeling! Condemned by a lie! And yet there is more, for they

conspired and lurked.

Our Enemy is no less dangerous or threatening. Peter wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your

enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Prayer is where we sort out with God the threats we are facing. Prayer is where we find an attentive

and kind ear. We do not need to be stoic in our trials. Tell God what it is like to be in your shoes. We put

our Enemy before God like a target. That’s what David is praying in v.7...

C. Invoke God’s anger (v.7). God has a temper. It is never rash, never vindictive, and God is never a loose

cannon. But God does get angry when the ungodly attack his beloved people. So David boldly asks God

to bring down the nation that is threatening God’s anointed king.

We can and should pray against the Devil and his human agents in this world. We can pray that they

are brought to their knees by grace and become disciples of Jesus, but if they will not, we can pray that

they will be stopped in their wicked plots.

“O God,” you might pray, “in all the turmoil at work I know the Enemy is trying to ruin my

testimony as a Christian. Do not let him get away with it. And those who mock me for refusing to lie on

our invoices, be my defender. Stop them, because lying makes you angry as surely as it does me.”


It sounds so simple when David says in v.3, “When I am afraid I will trust in you.” But it isn’t simple. Fear

doesn’t back off easily. But I’ll tell you this, the tide begins to turn when we resolve to trust God. The

moment you decide that trusting God is the one thing you must do, somehow, that is the moment that your

future changes.

You’ll notice that in the psalm these verses of resolve are repeated almost verbatim in two places, like

the chorus of a song. I suspect some of that is the artistry of a poet, but it also teaches us that this is the kind

of prayer we have to pray more than once before we come to a place of peace. As you pray, your heart will

change. Let’s look more closely at just what David prayed for, because he climbs a kind of “ladder of

prayer” [Maclaren] to bolster his faith. First...

A. Praise God for his word. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise” (v.4,10).

David knew the Scriptures, and he brought scripture to mind when he was afraid. Reading, quoting and

singing Scripture will absolutely strengthen your ability to trust God. You know how heart patients take

glycerin pills if their hearts start acting up. When that happens to us spiritually, we take Scripture. When

you are afraid, take up your Bible. Scripture changes your heart by giving you strong doses of truth. So,

read, and praise God for what you’ve read. Repeat as often as needed.

B. Rest assured that God records your tears as prayers (v.8). Apparently David, the warrior, had wept in his

fear and desperation. He’d sobbed helplessly before God. I have cried like that, and so have you. But it

is when everything seems so futile, when we seem so helpless, that God is banking our tears. Alexander


Maclaren observed, “The worst of all sorrows is a wasted sorrow.” God makes sure our sorrows aren’t

wasted. The KJV put it, “put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” The point isn’t

just that God is sympathetic, (“There, there. Go ahead and cry. Let it all out.”) The point is that our

tears are tallied and recorded in the ledgers of God as holy petitions.

C. Rest assured that God is absolutely sovereign over your enemies (v.7, 9a). Remember what happened to

David. The king of Gath shooed him out of his sight (“What do I need with another madman around

here!”) Was that because David was such a great actor? Is it because feigning insanity is a sure-fire “Get

Out of Jail Free” card? No. It was because David “called for help” and God turned his enemies back,

and David didn’t even need Goliath’s sword! We have no enemies whom our God cannot control; whom

God cannot manipulate. Don’t let all that bluster and muscle deceive you. Trust in your mighty God.

You have no enemy, not even Satan, who can stand against your God.

D. And added to all those trust-builders there is this in v.9: “God is for me.” That may be the most

wonderful line in this psalm. “God is for me.” And if David could see that, think how much more clear

that truth is to us who know Jesus. Paul put it this way in Rom. 8:28-39...

SUMMARY: Our capacity to trust God has to be built up when we’re afraid. Fear is not a sin, and you do not

need to feel guilty when you are afraid. But neither are we to stay frozen in our fear. There is no command,

no assurance, more common in the Bible that this: “Do not be afraid.” To build your trust, go through these

same assurances that David used in this psalm.


Vv.12-13 sound as if the trouble has passed; and that all is well. But these words are part of the psalm David

composed “when the Philistines had seized him at Gath.” Alexander Maclaren wrote, “In the midst of

trouble we can fling ourselves into the future, or rather draw the future into the present... It is safe to

reckon on tomorrow when we reckon on God.

A. Go ahead and plan on a celebration service (v.12). A foxhole prayer is, “God, get me out of this, and I’ll

serve you from now on.” David had prayed a sanctified foxhole prayer: “God, when you get me out of

this, I will lead a worship service in your honor.” So here in our prayer we are simply praying, even

while still surrounded by trouble, “Lord, when this is all behind me, I will celebrate your deliverance

just as I have promised.” Think of it! You can pray like that!

V.13 has an important A-B-B-A structure to notice. There are four lines. The first and fourth lines

match, and the second and third lines match, bringing out two parallel aspects of God’s deliverance.

Listen to v.13... The first two lines say what God would do, and the second two lines, what that would

mean for the future.

B. God’s deliverance runs deep. He delivers us from death and from stumbling.

1. From death. There are countless stories of God’s deliverance from trouble, just in this room. But

thanks to God’s deliverance, even when we die, we don’t die! “O death, where is your sting? O

grave, where is your victory?”

2. From stumbling. Illus.: Did you see that picture from the Miss Universe Pageant this past week. It

seems that Miss USA fell on the runway. Caught her heel in the hem of her gown and fell. O, she

looked so miserable. All she had been through to get to that moment and she fell. I don’t want to

come through some terrible situation in one piece but flat on my face before God because of sin.

God not only gets us through life’s threats, he gets us through without sinning, if we put our trust in


C. God’s deliverance keeps on paying dividends. The last two lines begin with “that”. They are the results

of God’s deliverance that go on.

1. I can walk before God without shame or fear. And God covers me. He has my back.

2. I walk before God in the light of life. God’s life shines. In heaven we won’t need sun or moon

because God’s life will light that place. When God gives us life, that life in us shines. That’s why

Jesus said in John 8:12, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of

life.” It’s like we have glowsticks in our pockets! There will not be fewer dark valleys or sinister

enemies, but our light will be bright and our steps sure.

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