Psalm 57 – a Prayer of Distress

For every Christian there may come a time when the God you trusted put you into some circumstances that were quite unpleasant and you didn’t have a clue as to why He was doing it. David had been there. In fact he wrote Psalm 57 out of the depths of just such an experience. When he was a teenager, David had been anointed as king to replace the disobedient King Saul. Then he slew the giant Goliath and was thrust into instant national fame. But King Saul’s jealous rage sent David running for his life. He spent the better part of his twenties dodging Saul’s repeated attempts on his life.

He wrote this psalm when he fled from Saul and ended up hiding in a cave. Even with lights, I wouldn’t want to live in a cave, especially if there was a hostile army outside seeking to kill me! If I were holed up in a cave, hiding from a madman and his army, and if God had promised me something that didn’t seem to be coming true, about the last thing I would be doing would be writing praise songs. Yet, here is David, singing in the cave! And he’s not singing the blues! He’s exalting the Lord! He has something to teach us about how we are to think and act in those times when we’re holed up in a cave, when God’s promises don’t seem true.

David must have wondered, “God, why are you allowing this to happen to me? You anointed me as king; I didn’t choose the job. Why don’t you remove Saul and put me in office?” But Psalm 57 shows us that David understood something deeper. Although, he may not have realized why God was allowing him to suffer, he did understand what God wanted from him in his suffering. David understood that to ask the question “Why?” in the midst of suffering is to ask the wrong question. The proper question to ask is, “God, what do you want from my life in the midst of this trial and as a result of this trial?” And the answer is almost always a, “God wants to be glorified.” That’s the theme of Psalm 57

God’s glory should be our aim at all times, but especially in a time of trial.

What does it mean to glorify God? The Hebrew word (kabod) has the idea of weight, heaviness, worthiness, reputation, honour. It was used  to describe a man of substance or weight.” When kabod was applied to God, it referred to His intrinsic worth. It means that God is worthy of all honour because of who He is, a God who is perfect in all of His attributes and ways.

How do we do glorify God in the midst of suffering? David shows us two ways:

First God is glorified as we trust Him in our trials.

Although the word “trust” doesn’t occur in verses 16, it is the main idea. Trusting in the Lord has come to be viewed as nice, but totally useless, advice for someone who is in a trial. But it is not useless; it is some of the most practical and sound counsel we can follow when we’re in a difficult situation. So we need to understand what it means to trust the Lord.

David describes his trust as taking refuge in God. He uses the picture of baby chicks which take refuge under their mother’s wings when a predator threatens them. They are entrusting their lives to their mother’s protection. We are to entrust ourselves to God, depending upon Him to protect us.

We do not rely on human merit. “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me.” God’s grace or mercy refers to His undeserved favour. It’s one of the most difficult concepts for our proud hearts to grasp We often think God owes us something if we have been “good” reading our Bible praying or attending church. That’s not trusting in God alone. That’s trusting in human merit. The only way to approach God is through grace.

We do not rely on human means. Here David is, hiding in a cave. Yet he didn’t see the cave as his refuge, but God. He saw beyond the cave to the Lord. The point is, David hid in the cave, but he didn’t trust in the cave, but in the Lord. At one point David had an opportunity to kill Saul as he hid in the depths of the cave but he refrained much to his men’s dismay. David trusted that the Lord would remove Saul without his help. But trust also needs prayer. Prayer is the language of trust. This psalm is primarily a prayer. Trust means going to God in prayer and that way God gets the glory.

Trust also means seeing God as greater than our problems.

David describes his situation in poetic language in this psalm. It’s as though he is surrounded by lions or fire-breathing dragons or those whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. They’re out to get David, he’s outnumbered, and it just seems like a matter of time until he is caught in their net. Yet in the midst of his problems, David realizes that God is bigger than his problems! Sometimes it takes intense trials to get us to look to the Lord and discover how trustworthy He is.

If you see God as bigger than your problems, then you can trust Him and He will get the glory. Trust involves relying on God alone; going to Him in prayer; and, seeing Him as bigger than our problems.

But David shows us a second way God can be glorified in our trials.

God is glorified as we praise Him in our trials

Praise is not our natural response in a time of trial. Our natural response is to complain and get angry at God, or to get depressed. But even though David’s enemy had fixed a net to catch him David had fixed his heart to praise God. The repeated affirmations show that it was a matter of deliberate choice.  Sometimes you need to praise God when you don’t feel like it. But praising God is a matter of obedience, and the test of obedience isn’t when you feel like obeying, but when you don’t.

The next time you’re going through a difficult trial and you’re depressed or overwhelmed, follow David’s lead and set your heart to praise God. Get out a hymn book or put on some praise music and focus on the Lord by singing to Him.

It is important that you focus your praise on God’s loyal love and faithfulness in a time of trial, because you will be tempted to think, “If God loves me, why is this happening to me?” But David’s voice comes singing from the cave, “O God… let Your glory be over all the earth.”

It’s important not just that our individual worship, but also that our corporate worship be a vigorous testimony of God’s glory. If someone who doesn’t know God comes into our midst, they should be able to tell from our praise that we worship a great God who is loving and faithful.

What is your focus or aim in life, especially in a time of trial? If your aim is your own happiness, to escape as quickly as you can from your pain, you are living for the wrong thing. That’s what those in the world live for. If your aim is to glorify and exalt God by trusting and praising Him even in the midst of trials, you’ve found God’s purpose for your life. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If you’ll focus on that purpose, He will give you a song even from the cave! Amen

Introduction to the Psalms

On the 18th June we started a series in the Psalms at our 9.30am service which will run through June, July and August, excluding the Family Praise services.  Each week we’ll consider one Psalm;  we’ll seek to explore its content and theme, and reflect on what it teaches us.

Now over these few weeks we won’t be able to do justice to all 150 Psalms, we just can’t fit them in…… and so right at the start of this series can I encourage you to do some summer reading.  I’ve worked out that if you were to read 2 Psalms each day, maybe one in the morning and one in the evening, starting today, the 18th of June,  you’d finish by the first week of September.  And so I’d really recommend giving it a go.  Just read them through, think them through, pray them through and allow them to dwell with you this summer.

Revd Emma

Now by way of introduction, on one level we don’t know a huge amount about the exact historical or geographical or cultural circumstance of each of the 150 Psalms. 

We don’t know their exact background, nor do we know who wrote each one.  David is the named author, but many are anonymous.  May will have been written by someone else.

Over hundreds of years many different bible scholars have tried to group and classify the psalms in lots of different ways. Some have tried to classify the psalms based on their content. Some psalms are celebratory in nature….and were almost certainly hymns of praise used by God’s people to worship him. These psalms are full of praise, encouraging the nations, the peoples to give God glory for his goodness, faithfulness and love. 

Some of the psalms are laments. They express the psalmist’s response to God in a situation of need or affliction. These psalms may contain complaint, or a cry for help, a confession of wrongdoing, or a call for vengeance. 

Other psalms are full of thanksgiving, expressing thanks to God for some specific act of deliverance that the psalmist has experienced. They also act as a witness, a testimony to the saving work of God.

Other scholars recognise more subtle differences in the Psalms…… 

I particularly like a guy called Walter Brueggemann. He categorises the psalms in three groups which reflect a pattern or rhythm of life.  So firstly Brueggemann describes some Psalms as orientation psalms – these are times when everything makes sense in life, when all is good and happy. 

Then there are psalms which he identifies as dis-orientation times, when life is hard or difficult, times when we feel like we have fallen in a pit or our world is collapsing around us.

And finally he identifies psalms of re-orientation – times when we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit and we are in a new place, full of gratitude and awareness about our lives and our God.

Now I guess in many ways it doesn’t matter too much how we classify or sort the psalms – in many ways it could be argued we don’t need to. The important thing is to recognise that the Psalms are beautiful, powerful, prayers and poetry. They are a bit like a photo album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience. 

  • The Psalms address God with frankness and urgency. They give to us a voice to our inner turmoil, our inner thoughts. 
  • They teach us to talk to God about life’s deepest needs and longings with childlike vulnerability and spontaneity. 
  • They immerse us in a spiritual life that is a passionate struggle to love and to know that we are loved by God. 
  • The psalms give us a biblical mirror to help us discover ourselves and reflect on our relationship to God.
  • The Psalms, I believe, teach us to pray. 
  • The Psalms aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘polite’ or theologically correct.
  • The psalms offer us the gift of expression; powerful words and images which allow us to express our heartfelt cries to God.   
  • Our fears, our hopes, our joy, our anger, our longing, our gratitude, our doubt and our worship….all find expression in the psalms.
  • The Psalms also give us the ability, perhaps the courage, to acknowledge our vulnerability and our dependence on God. They allow us to recognise that God is God, and we are his children. That God is infinite, and we are finite.
  • The Psalms encourage, urge us, and inspire us to come to God as we are, in honesty, in courage, in celebration – to delve deeper and experience a greater depth of God’s presence and reality in our lives.

Read the sermons by using the links on this page…