Season 12 - Week 2
“Psalm 40: He comes through for me”
The last 18 months have had a strange impact on our perception of time. One the one hand, they have felt endless, particularly at times, when days have dragged, and weeks (or ten day periods of isolation!) felt like eternities. One study found 80% of people reported time passing more slowly in the middle of locked down periods - and this effect was strongest for those struggling with stress or isolation and loneliness.
At the same time however, the monotony of lockdown life has also meant that as we reflect back on this strange season, many people are reporting that it feels like time has somehow slipped away - over a year of life seeming to have passed strangely quickly. Your mind registered days by their variation - so when most look much like each other they blur together much more.
However you’ve felt time has passed, we’re at a point now of reflection on some very challenging months passed - and facing uncertainty about the months we’re facing. We have had to recognise our lack of control over so much for so long - and it seems we still can’t fully get back to a situation where we can completely know that our plans won’t need to be changed.
We are still waiting for things to truly get back to normal.
Psalm 40 was written by David as he too came out of a difficult season, reflecting on what he learned through that time. He too has had to wait for some time - in verse one he uses twice a hebrew word for waiting (effectively ‘in waiting I waited’!) to emphasise this time of waiting he’s come through.
And it has also clearly been one when he’s felt very much aware of his lack of control over the challenges he faces. Many of us, during the winter lockdowns at the start of this year will have endured walks through increasingly muddy local parks, fields or countryside, slipping and sliding and making frustratingly slow progress as a result. One memorable moment for our family was on Christmas day when, as we were unable to do what we had originally planned, we decided to head up to a local hill for a pre lunch walk. We’d failed to take account of the mud though, and climbing up the hill was a lot more tricky than we’d expected. We couldn’t take the route we’d planned to, had to take various diversions to avoid literal mudslides, and even in spite of that more than one person ended up face down in the mud at one point or more.
Sometimes things just can’t be in our control, and we have to manage the muddy, messy muddle of life whilst we wait for things to get better. In the uncertainties of this season here’s three things David wants to share with us that he has learned:
1. God reaches out to us.
In uncertain times, especially if you’re having to react to lots of changes or new ways of doing things, the level of demand on your mind is significantly increased. Sometimes that feels obvious - things feel very stressful if we are very busy or juggling lots of things or if things are emotionally distressing - but just as difficult can be times where you can’t do very much at all - when you face frustrations, the challenge of how to fill or pass time, or repeatedly attempting things that don’t go the way you hoped.
Perhaps the biggest challenge though, is the uncomfortable awareness of the limits of your ability to control things - to plan, to change things that are difficult, solve problems or resolve some of the issues you see so clearly affecting people you care about. Human psychology tells us that when we feel out of control - especially if we’re not able to prevent difficult things from happening - it can trigger despair - one of the most powerfully negative human emotional experiences. Despair is a suffocating, overwhelming sense of hopelessness, an awareness of our own powerlessness which triggers low mood and drains any motivation to do or try anything. It is an emotional quagmire, leaving us feeling like we’re stuck in misery mud, unable to do anything to get ourselves out. ving us struggling to feel any motivation or hope at all.
You know, sometimes when you’re caught in an emotional swamp you need someone to help you get out - and that’s why the language in the opening verses of this psalm is so beautiful. David tells us that in his trouble and waiting, God ‘inclined’ to him - a hebrew word which carries a sense of God both turning to him, even bending down into the depths in which he found himself - but also stretching out to help bridge that gap, reaching to him to lift him to somewhere better. The Passion Translation puts it like this : “he bent down and listened to my cry. He stooped down to lift me”
Are you having moments where you struggle with feeling despair? It can feel like its impossible to change anything or to find God in those moments - but maybe you don’t need to do as much work as you think. Maybe he is already reaching out to you and all you need to do is accept the help he is offering you.
Why not take a moment to pause and just sit in quiet. Ask yourself - how is God reaching out to me in this moment? Are there opportunities I am not taking, people, places or moments he’s offering out to me that might help, support or soothe me? What would it mean to take the hand he offers right now, in this moment, to allow myself to be lifted by him?
2. God is our security in times of uncertainty.
So - David says he was in the mud - actually literally he uses some pretty strong language to describe how he was feeling. He says he was in a dungeon - a pit, clearly somewhere that felt very dark. He uses a word that describes this overwhelming roar - of water or noise - bringing a real sense of how unbearable this was. And he speaks of that sticky. clay like mud which was sucking him down, a slippery slimy bog so hard to pull himself out of.
And God takes him from that place to find something so different - a rock, the ultimate security, a fixed solid firm place he can stand. In the midst of uncertainty he finds security in God - and it changes things completely.
What does it look like for you to find that security in God in this moment? David talks of finding a firm place to stand - and we can think of our times of connection with God as a bit like stepping stones across a stream or river. Especially when the river gets rough or the waters rise, you want to know where your next firm place to stand is. What is your rhythm of prayer, worship, lifting your eyes to God? Are there things you need to change in this moment - maybe you need those stepping stones closer together or easier to access in a tough time. Or maybe approaches that worked in less stressful, stretched times are less helpful now. Do you need to try something new, or accept some changes to how you lead yourself - and others - to meet with God?
3. God can break the power of a dark mood.
In the midst of so much that is shifting when we find something we can really rely on it changes everything.There is so much our world tells us to place our trust in - but that so often proves pretty flimsy - people, promises, political solutions - or just impossible to achieve like perfection or pleasing everyone all the time. But sometimes we have to be really intentional in repeatedly transferring our trust to God - reminding ourselves how flimsy the world’s promises are. The message translates David’s sage advice: “Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God, turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,” ignore what the world worships"
And Verse 3 describes so beautifully the impact on our mood - the general state of how we are feeling in a moment or situation. David says God changes the song that is in his mouth - bringing new thoughts to the surface of his mind, changing what his mind is preoccupied with. And there’s a sense of new hope dawning in his mind as the emotional darkness lifts.
When we place our hope and trust in less reliable things than God it triggers a lot of anxiety as we feel the need to constantly maintain or check on those things. And sometimes we don’t mean to live like those things are the most important - but the messages we’re bombarded with are so strong we find ourselves chasing them anyway. What are the worlds ‘sure things’ that you need to be deliberate about dropping? Can you take a moment to reflect, invite God to reveal to you - are there things you are living by that are just making you more anxious? Why not confess those things right now - hand them over to God and ask him to help you shift your balance to rest in him instead.
And to finish - David talks about singing a new song. Sometimes it helps us to focus and lift our mood and remind us of all these great truths to do just that. So before you head back to whatever your day has for you - take a moment to play, sing or watch a song of celebration and praise to God.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
4 Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
5 Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened—
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
8 I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, Lord,
as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.
11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protectme.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
14 May all who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
“The Lord is great!”
17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay.
How is God reaching out to me in this moment? Are there opportunities I am not taking, people, places or moments he’s offering out to me that might help, support or soothe me?
What would it mean to take the hand he offers right now, in this moment, to allow myself to be lifted by him?
What does it look like for me to find that security in God in this moment?
What is my rhythm of prayer, worship, lifting your eyes to God?
Are there things I am living by that are just making you more anxious?
O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness,
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust,
In Your protecting love,
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.