11th March 2016
This prayer begins, "I am laid low in the dust". It's OK to tell God just how awful you feel. It's OK to tell God you feel like death, you've had enough, you don't think you can keep going, you'd rather be dead. In fact, if that's how you feel, it's really important to tell God about it. God is big enough to take it. He won't be shocked. In fact, He already knows.
And God's probably the only person who can help. When David wrote this, I suspect he'd tried all the human solutions, and he still felt like death. I can't prove that, but so often we try everything else: all our plans, all our strength, all our persuasiveness, all our friends, all our money ? before we tell God just how dreadful our life feels.
If you've never reached this stage then I'm very happy for you. But many of us have. I have. And God heard my prayer.
David then says, "preserve my life according to your word". He knew that only God could preserve his life. And he knew that God could do it. And he knew that God had promised to do it. I don't know which specific word David was thinking of. Maybe it was a scripture, maybe it was a prophecy, maybe David was thinking of the totality of scripture that had been written up to that point. But God can do anything. God loves His people. God answers prayers. The Bible's full of those truths.
David then said, "I recounted my ways and you answered me". David told God about his life, and his choices, where he'd been, what he'd done, what he regrets, how he hurts, what he longs for, what he thinks about. Again, it's important to tell God about your life, your inner life - your secret life - as well as the life the rest of us see. Again, God is big enough to take it. Again, He won't be shocked; He already knows.
Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message, translates this as, "When I told my story, you responded". I think that's absolutely right. When David gave God all of his story, then God came and healed his life. I've heard it said that God can mend your broken heart, but you have to give Him all the pieces. It's OK to do that. You can trust God with everything you feel, everything that's happened to you, all your disappointments, all your temptations, all your hurt, all your loneliness, all your mistakes, all your sin. Give it all to God, and he will mend your heart.
This can take some time. At first, we can't even remember all of our story. Some things happened a long time ago. Some things are too painful to remember. But as we tell our story to God, as we give Him our emotions, including our feelings about what happened to us, he heals our memories. Sometimes we remember other things, that we'd long forgotten or suppressed, and then we can give them to Him as well. Spend time with God. Let Him heal your hurts. Tell him your story.
Next, David says, "teach me your decrees. Let me understand the teaching of your precepts". He understood the apparent paradox that, one the one hand, all the healing and help we need comes from God, and one the other hand, living wisely is better than living foolishly. David cried out for God to move miraculously in his life, and also for wisdom to live in such a way that he wouldn't need the miraculous so much in the future. That's OK, isn't it? It's OK for David to acknowledge, and for me to teach, that God wants to intervene in our lives and heal whatever's broken. But it's also OK to teach that God wants to intervene in our minds and make us wise, and help us to make good choices.
David says, "then I will meditate on your wonders". I think he means that the more we understand the Bible, and conform our minds and our lives to Biblical teaching, the more we appreciate creation, and grace, and miracles. We begin to see God in everything.
In more or less a repeat of verse 1, David says, "My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word." We can reach the point when we've just run out of energy. We've got nothing left to fight with. We know we should worship God, and witness to his goodness, and live a good Christian life, but we're worn out. We've got nothing left. Depression, or sickness, or oppression by other people, has made us weary to the bone. There's nothing left. All we can pray is, "Lord, strengthen me according to your word." And He will. As Isaiah 40:31 says, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
It's OK to tell God you're so battered, so tired, so fed up, that you just can't keep going. It's OK to ask for His strength, because you've got no strength left.
David asks God, "Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law." I don't think he means, "Keep me from lying". I think he means, "Keep me safe from deception". The Message says, "Barricade the road that goes Nowhere; grace me with your clear revelation".
When we feel worn out just trying to stay alive and do the right thing, when we come to the end of our own energy, it's so easy to be deceived, to think that the easy path must be the only one we can take. The narrow way is just too difficult. But David knew his own heart, his own weakness, and he prayed earnestly to God to be kept on the right track. "Lord, don't let me wander off into sin and deception. Don't let me be fooled into doubting you. Lord have mercy on me, and keep me faithful. Help me to stay on the road of truth." We all have to pray that sometime.
David says, "I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, Lord; do not let me be put to shame." We can get so low that there's a real fear that we'll let God down, we'll bring shame to our Lord, that the end of our life of faith will be worse than its beginning. So David cries out to God, ?I've tried to live right, and look where it's got me! I'm really scared that I'm going to walk away from you, into a life of sin and degradation. I know the comfort of sin is an illusion, but I so feel like giving it a try. Help me, Lord?. Surely, God will answer a prayer like that.
When we're in this state of spiritual exhaustion, and perhaps physical or mental or emotional exhaustion, it's no good trying to do better. It's no good redoubling our efforts, because we're exhausted. Twice nothing is still nothing. But we can offer to God what feels like our last prayer, our last breath, and say, "Lord, do not let me be put to shame!" Surely God will come to us when we have no strength of our own, and give us His strength.
Finally, David says, ?I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free?.
This is the great Christian truth, even when it really doesn't feel like it. God has set our hearts free, and because our hearts are free, we can run in the path of Gods commands. We're free to be righteous, free to love, free to forgive. But freedom's not much use if your body, or your heart, is broken down. We can reach the place where we want to do good, and we're free to do good, but we don't have the strength to do good. I've been in places where I didn't have the strength to pray, or read the Bible. I've been in places where giving myself a good talking to made o difference whatsoever. But I gave God my broken heart, and he mended it. I gave him my exhaustion, and He filled me with his Spirit. I gave Him my confusion and he gave me his wisdom, His clarity.
The Message translates the last sentence of this prayer like this, "I'll run the course you lay out for me if you'll just show me how".
When we acknowledge all of our exhaustion, all of our pain, all of our confusion, all of our sin, all of our bewilderment to God, He will lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death. Because our heavenly Father loves us.