How would you respond if you were in constant fear for your life, abandoned by everyone you thought were loyal to you, and were stuck hiding in a cave? How do you respond when the storms of life come? Maybe you aren’t in fear for your life, but you might have just received some really bad news. Or maybe you have been asking God to deliver you from a particular trial for a number of years and he seems to be answering the opposite of what you are praying for. Does it cause you to abandon your hope in God?
Psalm 57 is really a tale of two responses—or more specifically a tale of the right response. David spends much of the psalm recounting the troubles all around him. Not only is he physically in danger, but his own soul is in torment (vs. 4). David could have gone either way in this circumstance. He could have either given up in despair, or he could glorify God in the midst of tremendous suffering. In today’s society (and throughout history) no one would have blamed him for giving up on God. But he remains steadfast. In the midst of all of it he offers pleading prayers to God to deliver from his enemies and trial, yet he also expresses hope in God’s deliverance. He could pray because he knew the character of God, but he could also hope because he knew the character of God.
But he does something even more amazing. He begs God to exalt himself in the trial, and then he worships (vs. 5, 7-11). Oh, how often is that not my response to my own suffering or trial! Here David is running for his life from Saul, and he looks to God and his glory. Suffering has a way of making everything very self-focused. Often the pain of suffering (whether physical or emotional) makes it very difficult to do anything outside of ourselves. It also makes us more easily tempted to sin, especially sin in selfishness. It takes a degree of intentionality, and a tremendous work of grace, to not be all about yourself when everything else around you is falling apart. But often that is what God is doing in our suffering. He is chiseling us and stripping us of the things that keep us from seeing him. While the temptation to be self-focused may be strong, the suffering can be the means of purging that desire. When we beg him to get glory in our suffering we are growing through our suffering.
But notice that David didn’t pretend like nothing was happening to him. He didn’t have a peppy “praise God and everything is fine” answer. Rather, he acknowledged the overwhelming nature of his suffering and then looked to the only one who could help him—God.
We all have a choice in our suffering. We can either choose to look only to ourselves and our circumstances, or we can look to God and worship him. When Job lost everything and was in tremendous pain and sorrow the first thing he did (after weeping) was worship. Looking to God and glorifying his name, even when our heart is breaking, has a way of moving our attention and affection away from ourselves and towards the only One who can satisfy us in the midst of our pain. It doesn’t diminish the sorrow of suffering, but it gives us perspective. It gives us hope that there is a God in heaven who knows the outcome of everything we face, even when we cannot see. And we can trust him because he is good.
We can worship in the bad times, and the good times, not because of the merit of our circumstances but because of the merit of another. God is good and always does good for us. He is the one we worship, not our circumstances. This is why countless hurting people throughout the years have been able to worship, even with tears streaming down their faces. They know and trust that God always has our best interests in mind and that he has never forgotten us, even when it feels like it.
So I want to be like David, and the saints of old, who beg God to glorify himself in their suffering and then worship him in the midst of their pain.