A Believer With Problems Prays
Reading 1: 2Sam.15:11-16
Reading 2: 2Sam.16:5-14
Some people seem to imagine that a true believer is going to live a trouble-free life. His faith will, they think, keep him safe and out of harm's way acting as some kind of "Get out jail free" card. I'm not sure where such an idea comes from but it certainly doesn't result from a serious reading of the Bible.
If I were to ask you to cite some examples of Biblical heroes who lived this kind of trouble free life then I think you would be very hard pressed to find with a name.
You would not be able to cite Jesus as an example would you? Of all the men most likely to succeed if the quality of one's spiritual life was the determining factor, Jesus was that man. And yet did anyone know sorrow quite like this man? He was rejected by his own people, betrayed by one close follower and then denied by another before being abandoned by all. He was unjustly accused, wrongly condemned and then scourged and crucifiied.
No, believers do suffer and they do find themselves in difficult circumstances and we need to know what to do when it happens to us.
This is an important matter and if our thinking is wrong here it can cause us real heartache when things apparently begin to go wrong. Going through troubles and difficulties is not a pleasant or comfortable experience but we will make the whole thing far worse for ourselves if we fondly imagine that such troubles are simply not the lot of believers. For when those troubles do come we will be tempted to doubt our faith or to doubt God or both and thus be deprived of the very help our faith needs!
This evening we will look at an example taken from the life of King David. At a time of very grave danger David did not lose sight of his God nor did he call into question the reality of his faith but he prayed and in praying left us a good example of what we might do when we find ourselves in trouble.
David's Perilous Situation
Psalm 3 is the first of the psalms that has a header which explains the circumstances for which the psalm was composed. We read some of the account earlier.
David, despite his many many failings, is described in the Bible as being a man after God's own heart (1Sam.13:14) that is he knew his God and he loved his God. David was glad to be able to sing that the LORD was his shepherd.
There can be no doubt about it – David was a believer, his faith was real, it was genuine. David was an Old Testament Christian! But that fact certainly didn't mean he was immune from problems because we find him here right in the middle of a very serious one.
David was the King of Israel. He had been God's anointed King for many years and for most of that time he had been very popular. But in more recent times one of his sons, Absalom, fancied taking over himself. Gradually Absalom developed his own personal support base "stealing the hearts of the men of Israel". With many men already siding with him and with his support continuing to grow, the time came for Absalom to make his move. He launched his coup d'état: he wanted to oust his father and take the throne for himself.
David had to act quickly in order to escape. He fled Jerusalem to avoid falling into Absalom's hands. He got away just in time. Now David had to find somewhere safe where he could regroup. There were after all men who remained loyal to him.
On his way to find a refuge in the countryside David was exposed to the taunts and the insults of some of the disgruntled members of the nation. Shimei (2Sam.16:5-13) in particular was highly vocal in his criticisms of the deposed king. He rained curses and insults down upon David and cried out that he was getting his come-uppance for the wrongs he had done in the past and that he could not expect any help from the LORD because it was the LORD who had turned against him.
David is in a bad place and Shimei's words must have been like the twist of a knife in an already painful wound. He limps off with his few followers and arrived at the Jordan river worn out – how his emotions were worn and how his spirit was troubled.
That is the background to the psalm. David's difficulties are real not imaginary; the circumstances are highly unfavourable; everything seems stacked against him! How will he respond?
This Believer Prays
David responds by praying. And he prays to a God he knows and loves and trusts. He prays to the LORD.
David was a child of God and belonged to God's family and as such he knew he had the right to pray. More than that David knew that he had the right to expect God to honour the terms of the Covenant to which God had committed himself. By this Covenant God had pledged to show steadfast love towards his people and so David appeals again and again in the short psalm to God using as he does so his Covenant name – the LORD. David uses this name 6 times in just 8 verses.
In order to pray as David did you too must be a member of God's family and know yourself to be in a true faith relationship with him. David is not crying out into the darkness desperately hoping that there might be someone out there who might be able to help him. No, David might be in a dark place buit he is crying out to a God he knows, to a real God who is there and who has already committed himself to David.
David knew this LORD to be his shepherd, the One who would lead him, provide for him and protect him from danger. We know the Christian name of this shepherd – it is Jesus the Good Shepherd and he can be our shepherd too.
So David doesn't panic as he prays nor does he shut his eyes trying to pretend that things aren't as bad as they really are. Instead he tells his God, the God he knows, all about it.
He tells the LORD about the many enemies who are ranged against him. He tells him too that there are those who are trying to tell him that he can't possibly expect anything more from God – they are trying to stop him trusting in God (and when trials come the whispers are likely to come to you too: it's not worth trusting God, it's no good trusting God…). David shows us the best way of countering such remarks – he goes to God himself about them!
And then he pauses – that I think is the best way to understand that little word "selah". Just stop for a moment and think about it!
What are this critics really saying? Are they really trying to suggest that the LORD is no longer the God of steadfast love and that he is prepared to give up on his own? How can there be such a change in the LORD? Impossible! Impossible too for Jesus to abandon his own – impossible for him to give up on me if I have come to belong to him.
Or are the critics trying to suggest that my many foes are too numerous for him and that he can't deliver? Well their understanding of God might be so small but the LORD is my God and he knows no limit in the exercise of his sovereign power!
No God the LORD hasn't given up on me!
If others have their views David has his concerning the LORD God and he takes into account past experience!
In prayer David reminds the LORD of just how he has acted towards David in the past. And as he does so the name "LORD" is emphasized.
How has God dealt with David in the past?
Well, as David reflects on God he focuses upon three areas where God has worked in order to do him good: the LORD has brought him defence, honour and joy!
v.3 "you are a shield about me" – what David has in mind here is a complete defensive shield and not some small device of limited usefulness. He has in mind something more like a defensive force-field that completely surrounds and protects him. With such a God providing such a protection small wonder that David has been safe in the past – surely he can have confidence that the unchanging God will continue to look after him.
v.3 "my glory" – all of David's honour is down to the LORD indeed is the LORD himself. David knew that he was no self-made man he was utterly dependent upon God but what a One on whom to depend! David declares that it is the LORD who has made him who he is!
v.3 "the lifter of my head" – When we're down in the dumps or depressed we walk looking at the ground. When we're ashamed or embarrassed by what we've done we look away and shuffle our feet. Left to our own devices we've much to be ashamed of, much to be sad about but the LORD transforms us! He lifts us heads – he gives us joy and takes away our guilt and shame.
David reflects on what the LORD has done for him already. He adds that he has prayed in the past too and God has acted.
v.4 "I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill."
Just think about all that, he says with another "selah" If the LORD God has done all that for me in the past does it seem at all likely that he'll abandon me now? Isn't all this past blessing an excellent reason for being confident about the future too?
Some of the Effects of Faith-full Praying
David's situation is still the same – the threat from Absalom and his followers remains as a red alert – but David is at peace!
He had left Jerusalem in a hurry and headed off into the countryside and quite possibly had to spend the night in the open air. It didn't seem an ideal way to prepare for a good night's sleep – you know how difficult it can be to drop off when you mind is racing with anxious thoughts and David had plenty to worry about humanly speaking.
But he has focused upon the LORD in prayer, his LORD. He has told him what is going on, he has reminded him of how he had treated him in the past and so the matter is out of David's control. He has expressed his trust in his Lord and will go on trusting him now. And the LORD gives him sleep, good refreshing sleep. And all the while David sleeps the LORD sustains him and keeps watch over him:
v.5 "I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me."
Sleep is such a blessing and how we struggle if we don't enjoy a good night's sleep! There are of course different kinds of sleep – there is for example the sleep of death a total insensitivity to the realities of the spiritual world but I'm not talking about that here but rather the sleep that speaks of peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin, I'm talking about that peace of God that surpasses all our understanding and yet which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil.4:7). The psalms speak of such sleep as a gracious gift the LORD gives to his own:
Ps.4:8 "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety."
Ps.127:2 " for he (the LORD) gives to his beloved sleep."
David doesn't attribute the calm he enjoys to anything he can do himself or to anything that those friends who have remained loyal to him might be able to do – it's all due to his God!
Peace is not the only blessing that David enjoys either. Refreshed and sustained as he is by the LORD his faith is strengthened and he is ready to face his foes however many they might turn out to be!
We sometimes say that "one plus God makes a majority" The Bible puts it perhaps a little differently but with exactly the same intent:
Ps.18:29 "For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall."
But David does not allow the renewed peace he enjoys or his revitalized faith to lead him into a prayerless complacency – the situation is still fraught with danger and he prays earnestly for the divine intervention he needs so desperately.
Do you see how lively David's praying is? He wants God to wake up, to get up and to be active. The activity he wants to see is described in vivid terms too – he wants God to intervene in such a way that his enemies will be rendered ineffective, or might we even say toothless?
v.8 "Salvation belongs to the LORD"
David simply refuses to listen to those who would discourage him and depress him. What do they know anyway? They have been trying to tell him he has no reason to expect any help from the LORD but he knows something else. Salvation is not in their hands to deliver or withhold as they will – no, it is in the LORD's hands, his LORD's hands; it is in the hands of the faithful covenant keeping God who is his shepherd!!
David refuses to be dictated to by circumstances and he refuses to accept deductions from those circumstances that run counter to a good theology.
And as David closes his prayer he is no longer focusing upon his own immediate personal interests – why should he any more as they are kept in very safe hands – no, he prays for others, he prays for God's people.
Don't you just see how good it is to pray like this! How appropriate it all is! How God-honouring!
Let me simply summarize and apply some of what we have been looking at and address it to our own lives.
Troubles will come our way as Christians – they are no automatic sign of God's displeasure and certainly no sign of God's abandonment of us. (But remember that the NT perspective is that our enemies are not primarily those of other people but rather of those forces of spiritual wickedness that lie behind the efforts of others.)
Yet when troubles do come don't be surprised if you hear accusations (whether from others or from within) that you have no hope left in God.
Just as David had the right to pray you who believe in Jesus Christ have the right to pray and to expect to be heard. God still knows and loves his own.
Call to mind past blessings – don't minimize them and learn to draw the right conclusions from them. As he has blessed in the past expect more blessings to come.
You may well be strengthened and granted an unusual peace even before deliverance comes – but don't stop praying.
Reaffirm your confidence in him and your determination to live by faith not by sight.
Pray for others too.