You know how you cry out to God for help when you’re in a fix? Well I do anyway. And I guess that prayer that says ‘Lord please help me now and I promise I’ll believe in you forever’ is one prayed by many of us at various times over the years. Well, I was thinking about this clip from the movie Captain Phillips, which I want to use in a couple of days.
And it put me in mind of some of the psalms that David wrote when he was in trouble. You know the ones, Psalm 3 is a great example. His own son Absalom has turned on him and has raised an army so big that David has to flee from the city he founded. At some point David prayed these lines, and later recorded them:
1 O LORD, I have so many enemies; so many are against me.
2 So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!”
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts my head high.
4 I cried out to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy mountain.
7 Arise, O LORD! Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Like Captain Phillips, David is in a fix. He is under attack from a desperate enemy and he must use all his courage and initiative and ingenuity to get out of it. And along the way David calls out to God. It often seems like this with David. There is no separation between him using his own skills, and also then crediting God with his salvation from danger. Earlier in his life, when he lived as a vagabond for years, on the run from king Saul, he often had to use his wits to stay alive. And he often prayed for God’s help along the way. Then afterwards, he would look back and thank God for his deliverance. Deliverance which also involved David using his own courage and strength. Like us now really. We pray for God’s help and we do what we can. And the two seem to be inextricably linked.
As I was thinking on these psalms, (which we often don’t recite in church because – ‘Hey! Surely it’s unBiblical to pray for God to slap our enemies in the face’) it made me wonder whether those psalms that begin with statements of God’s power and greatness, then move onto a cry for help, are actually really about those anguished cries for help. The way we turn to God when we’re in a fix. The way we focus on God a little more closely when we really, really need his help. So that the parts of the psalms we often cut from our worship, are the very purpose of the psalm. Like us, David looks up to God, and reminds himself that God is powerful and caring, and having done that he gets to the point. Which is basically… HELLLPPPP!!!!!! I’m still waiting for the worship songs that feature lines like these from psalm 59:
6 They come at night, snarling like vicious dogs as they prowl the streets.
7 Listen to the filth that comes from their mouths, the piercing swords that fly from their lips. “Who can hurt us?” they sneer.
This kind of prayer might well have slipped from Captain Phillips’ lips at some point in his incredibly terrifying story. David prayed this psalm when he was fleeing from the soldiers king Saul had sent to ambush him whilst he was in bed with his new wife Michal. In that case it was her ingenuity, as well as God’s deliverance, that got him away free.
I can’t help thinking that I might have a more rounded faith if these ‘difficult bits of the Bible’ – the gutsy cries of anguish and terror and pain – were part of our corporate worship. It’s surely only me that’s embarrassed about these soul-baring pleas, not God. What do you think? I close with these lines from the book of Job, chapter 10. Would the words from this Victor Meldrew kind of prayer fit the tune of All Things Bright and Beautiful? Probably take bit of tweaking… And though we may or may not echo Job’s sentiments here, there are probably lots of bad days when we feel like life has lost the plot. When Bruce Almighty’s life fell apart and he spilled his guts before God it led him into a much more honest relationship with the Almighty. They got to know each much better. Just a thought…
1 “I am disgusted with my life. Let me complain freely. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. 2 I will say to God, ‘Don’t simply condemn me – tell me the charge you are bringing against me. 3 What do you gain by oppressing me? Why do you reject me, the work of your own hands, while sending joy and prosperity to the wicked?”