God has given us His fully sufficient word to meet our every need in every matter we face in life. We need to be pouring God’s word into our hearts and minds daily. And when we come to Psalm 57, we find words from David that are mind-bending and heart-enriching.
There are two verses side-by-side in this psalm that seem like an odd fit. The background of this psalm is stated in the superscription provided in the ESV, “A miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” Fleeing for his life from murderous Saul, David is out of breath, likely feeling effects of PTSD as he’s hiding in the cave. Will he be found and murdered? Will God rescue him again? He’s pouring out his heart to God.
And then these two verses come out of his mouth – verse 4
My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children
of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
And right beside it, verse 5
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
These are two radically different thoughts. Verse 4 is immanent violence: lions, fiery beasts, spears, arrows, sharp swords – death is near. Yet verse 5 is glory to God: He’s exalted, He’s greater than all the earth, everyone seeing and worshipping Him is highest worth. How strange!
Doesn’t he care that he’s about to die? Does he just sweep reality and affliction under the rug of denial? No, clearly he doesn’t. In another line it’s clear he gets it, “my soul is bowed down.” Ok, if he’s not in denial, then maybe he just doesn’t know how to pray. Shouldn’t he be asking God about something he actually needs God to do? Like, “HELP ME!” Yes, he does that too in verses 1-3, “Be merciful to me…I cry out to God most high…”
But David is telling us something most humans don’t get about prayer, about affliction, and about God. Sure, asking God for help is part of prayer. Genuinely expressing fear is good. But there’s something even more important than those, so important in fact that David repeats it. Verses 5 and 11 is an unexpected thing to be included in a prayer about affliction. It fits in a psalm about praise but not suffering; right. No. For David it fits perfectly in his pleading and it supersedes his pleading. This is what most of us just don’t get.
Focusing on the superior worth of God’s glory apparently has some power over David’s soul, stronger than his need to survive. Sounds like he loves the idea of God’s glory being seen, all the nations worshipping Him. The only way this makes any sense is that this kind of praying actually works. If the focus of his prayer was only on the affliction, on the hopelessness, on the need; there’s something David’s soul still lacks. God may deliver him at some point later on. But what about his soul being relieved in the moment while he’s still in the cave?
Focusing on God’s glory, a thing of superior beauty and worth far above the heavens, apparently brings relief to David’s soul in the moment. His tormented thoughts are lifted above the torment to behold something that brings him solace. His life that can be snuffed out at any moment becomes enveloped in a glory that is eternal. The meaninglessness of his efforts to escape fade away into the unchangeable greatness of God’s majesty that will never be dimmed. The terror of some weapon ripping open his flesh and crushing his bones begins to lose its power compared to the mighty King of heaven who has the power to crush all His enemies in the entire earth all at once. Instead of being consumed with the terror, he looks away from self-focus to God-focus. In that moment his soul is delivered.
Could it be that there is a power in prayer that we are unaware of? Seems like it. Seems like if we were to follow David’s example in prayer and spend time contemplating the beauty of God’s glory, perhaps the things that happened inside his soul could also happen inside ours. Maybe like this, “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory…in Your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63). That kind of beholding God’s glory is capable of producing inside the soul a calm contentment that keeps a person unmovable in affliction.
David’s words say exactly this, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Psalm 63). “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! (Psalm 57:7)” We should take this as instruction as to how we should pray, with deep contemplation upon the glory of God so that the same awe and steadfastness fills our soul also.
Pray the psalms!