The Hard Things
There are things in life that are hard.
They come to everyone. Suffering is part of our experience as humans. It comes because of sickness, or death or loss of a job, or family pain. But sometimes the hard things come because of other people, and what they do to us.
Psalm 55 is one of many psalms that models praying about the hard things. There are a lot of psalms that do this.
The Psalms can be like the blues. The blues grew out of the deep south in the 1860’s by African-Americans who knew terrible hardship. Slavery and injustice had ground them down, and the blues were songs that expressed the pain of the struggle black people knew on a daily basis.
The late R & B and blues singer Etta James said, “When I’m singing the blues, I’m singing life.” Well, when you sing/read the Psalms, you are singing life.
In Psalm 55, David is deeply troubled. He is distraught because he is being talked about. Isn’t it maddening when you know others are talking about you and not in a flattering way? They are talking you down. Your reputation is attacked. You face hostile relationships. You are threatened.
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. (vv.4-5)
It’s bad. It’s so bad he wishes he could just escape. He wishes he had wings like a dove so he could fly away and not have to face any of this anguish. Maybe that is why God did not give us wings, because we would always be flying away, trying to escape the adversity that causes us such pain.
David sings the blues about violence and strife that he sees in his city. But what makes David’s pain especially sharp is that a close friend has become an enemy. This former friend is attacking him. This was a friend who David used to worship with in the house of God. It says, “with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God.” (v.14)
I think some of my most painful experiences have been people I knew, loved, trusted, enjoyed friendship, and they turned against me. Sometimes they gossiped about me behind my back. Sometimes they accused me unfairly.
Have you ever had a close friend turn against you? The Psalms have words for this experience. The Psalms have words for the tough experiences of betrayal, rejection, and being treated unfairly.
I especially think of those who have experienced the pain of divorce, conflict with a close family member, or had a lifelong, close friend cut them off. Here is someone who was your intimate partner. Sometimes it happens in churches, where people we prayed with, worshipped with, and knew as brothers and sisters go from being friends to people who don’t want to have anything to do with us.
David’s experience was that his friend spoke one way, but did something else altogether. His talk was smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. And David felt betrayed.
There is a long tradition of Jewish rabbis of interpreting Scripture, and part of that tradition says David wrote this psalm in response to being betrayed by Achithophel. We read about this in 2 Samuel 13. Achithophel was one of David’s closest and wisest counselors. When Achithophel spoke it was as if the Lord himself was speaking. He led David in the right way and always could be counted upon for good guidance. David trusted him. Relied on him. Believed him.
But when David’s son Absalom led a revolt against David, driving David into a cave where he was isolated, alone, and in trouble, Achithophel turned against David and supported Absalom.
And so David writes in this psalm, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend…” Ps. 55:12,13
Jesus experienced this very thing. Judas had speech that was smooth as butter, but his heart was set on war.
This is a psalm for tough times – when relationships go awry, when people are hurting us, and we wish we could just fly away.
But Psalm 55 affirms that since we don’t have wings and can’t just fly away and escape from life’s troubles, we have to bring it all to God.
I’m going to highlight three places in this psalm where our encounter with God brings us hope and strength.
1.) In vv. 16-19 it says, “As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.”
There are people who can make life miserable and there are situations that make life tough, but in those times we call to God and he will save us. It may be a fight but the Lord will be with us.
That last sentence about God bringing us out of the battle unharmed reminds me of Ephesians 6 where Paul speaks of the spiritual battle in which we are daily engaged as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We constantly have to be dressed in the armor of God, knowing that he is our protection.
We are in a battle, whether it is physically right out in front of our eyes, or spiritually in the subtle places of thoughts and temptations. Walking by faith is a daily battle. But God will ransom us. He will see us through.
This can be your prayer whenever you are facing tough times. Use these very words to be your prayer in whatever battle you find yourself.
2) The second place I want to highlight is v. 22, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you, he will never let the righteous be shaken.”
The righteous are those who trust in Lord and do his will. Not perfect people, but people trying to walk in God’s way, paying attention to his commands and trusting him.
To cast means to throw or hurl something. Prayer is a way of taking the cares and burdens we carry and that weigh us down, and throwing them on the Lord.
The promise is that he will sustain us. He will uphold us. It doesn’t say the problem or pain will automatically be solved or go away. It does say that in whatever we have to go through, the Lord will give us the strength to go through it. That’s what it means when it says “he will sustain you.”
In the psalm right before this, there is a verse that says, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Sometimes we just need to be upheld.
One of my “go to” prayers is for the Lord to just sustain me. I’m not superman. I know some things aren’t going to change overnight, and maybe not at all. But I ask the Lord to just hold me up. Don’t let me collapse. Sustain me.
Do you need the sustaining strength of God? Psalm 55:22 is your song.
The disciple Peter wrote a riff on this in 1 Peter 5:7 when he said: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Peter tells us to throw all our cares and anxiety on God. No use to hide or deny the worries and cares we can have. It is not a sign of a lack of faith. We are to open up our fears and place them upon God. We do it because he cares for us. What happens to us makes a difference to God. He sees, he watches, he knows. We show our trust and reliance on the Lord when we give the things that burden us to him.
Jesus Christ invited us to do this when he said, ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
3) The third highlight is how the psalm ends. The Psalm ends, “But as for me, I trust in you.” David affirms that though there are people and things that cause him great trouble, he will trust God.
“But as for me…”
There are a lot of options out there for living. There are a lot of different things we can rely on to face hard things. People will grasp for all kinds of things to deaden the pain, side-step the conflict, or ignore the truth.
Some turn to violence. Some to medications. Some become addicted. Some become bitter. Everyone ends up trusting in something and someone.
David says, “But as for me…”, my choice and what I am going to do is trust in the Lord. “I trust in you.” Those are the last words.
He doesn’t say he has it all figured out. He doesn’t necessarily see an end to the problem. He would love to escape. But given the battle he faces, he will trust in the Lord.
God knows the road can be so hard. He came in Jesus and walked that very same road. Jesus was “despised and rejected by people, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Is. 53:3) He was well acquainted with tough times, and it led to a cross. But Jesus showed the Father can be trusted when he rose again. He showed the Father has the power to do more than we can think or imagine.
Have you settled it in your heart that the Lord is your trust?
The Psalms don’t give any quick or easy answers for why things are sometimes the way they are. But one thing the Psalms always do: in even the deepest despair and hopelessness, they address God alone as the one who we look and pray to. The Psalms always cast every difficulty and agony on God.
David and anyone else who was behind the Psalms did this because they knew God. They placed their lives in his hands. They knew he would sustain them in the battle, that they could cast their burdens on him, and that he can be trusted.
PRAYER: Lord God, when we betrayed, rejected, or hurt, sustain us. Help us to case every care upon you so that we can find the strength you want to give us. Thank you that you care for us and are so attentive to us in this way. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Psalms, 47,48