************ Sermon on Psalm 13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 28, 2011
Shortly after arriving at the first church I served in Ontario the vice-president of Consistory gave me a list of six names. "We hope you will visit these people on a regular basis," he said. "They have all been hospitalized for depression and need comfort through Bible reading and prayer."
The first five visits went very well. I was able to bring smiles and conversation and comfort into their homes. The sixth visit did not go quite as well. The woman I was visiting had a son – her oldest son – who died of heart disease two years before. He was only 19 or 20 years old. He was interested in farming and it was hoped that someday he would take over the family farm. After his funeral his mother retreated into a silence that no one could get her out of. She stopped eating. She started smoking. More than once she overdosed on medication. By the time I saw her she had lost 30% or more of her body weight, she spent 20 or more hours every day in bed or on the couch, she no longer practiced any personal hygiene, she did not bother with a simple thing like combing her hair or putting on a touch of makeup. She was my biggest challenge in that church. What could I say, what Bible passage could I read, what prayers could I offer, that would help her begin the healing process? It was during my ministry of compassion to her that I discovered Psalm 13.
It is not necessary to read Psalm 13 more than once to detect a note of depression in David. Like the woman in the first church I served, David felt down and forgotten. He had the "no one seems to care" syndrome. David was in a state of despair. He felt absolutely miserable in his soul.
The Psalm does not tell us why David felt this way. But when we search through 1 Samuel we can take an educated guess.
I think we all remember that when David killed Goliath he became the man of the hour, the hero of Israel. King Saul rewarded him. David went on to become a successful soldier – so successful that the people praised him more than the King. This aroused King Saul's jealousy. How Saul hated David's popularity! The end result was attempted murder. David fled for his life and for the next dozen years or so he was hunted by Saul in the same way as a man hunts for a wounded deer.
Those were not easy years for David. He was forced to live in the hills of Judea. More than once he barely escaped with his life. He had to hide in caves and under bushes and in ravines. He faced hunger, thirst, filth, and dirt. Here he was, the anointed future king of Israel, existing like a beast in the wilderness.
In such a situation wouldn't you, like David, entertain moments of doubt, despair, despondency, and depression?
It is against this kinds of setting that David wrote the words of Psalm 13.
The psalm itself is a cry to the Lord. It begins in the pit of despair, moves to a time of hope, and ends on the mountain peaks of joy.
A Swamped by the burdens and trials of life we hear four expressions of David's despair and depression.
First of all, David complains that God has forgotten him – forever: "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?" (Ps 13:1). I am sure every family has a story like the one I am about to tell you.
My family lived about 10 miles from the church building. One Sunday after the service we got all the way home before realizing that my youngest sister was missing. Dad raced back to town to pick her up. She was sitting on the steps of the church building. Though she was only 4 or 5 at the time, was she ever mad. "How could you forget me?" she yelled at dad and gave him the cold shoulder all the way home.It is not nice to feel abandoned, is it?
"How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?" (Ps 13:1). So many today are forsaken. Babies are abandoned on someone's doorstep or in a park or garbage dumpster somewhere. An increasing number of people abandon or forsake their marriage partner. Elderly parents are abandoned in a nursing home or hospital – rarely thought of or visited.
"How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?" (Ps 13:1). I know there are some in our church family who have gone through tough times or tense situations. In the midst of those circumstances they have felt forsaken by all. Even in these worst possible moments of life, though, when all seem to have forsaken us, we can usually comfort ourselves with the thought that our parents or our spouse still understand and care. And, if even those closest to us forsake us, we know there is always One – God – Who will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5b).
But David, like the Lord Jesus upon the cross, doesn't even have the comfort of the Lord's presence. Remember Jesus' cry of anguish from the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). David felt that way. David has been tested for so long that he wonders if God has abandoned him. David has gone so long without any hope of relief that he wonders if God has deserted him.
"How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?" (Ps 13:1). These words of David are nothing less than perplexing. I say this because time after time God is presented on the pages of Scripture as being so faithful. His promise to His people is,
(Heb 13:5b) Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Cf Deut 31:6)Remember how the Apostle Paul puts this?
(Rom 8:35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?Never once did God fail to live up to this. When Israel cried out to God because of the cruel bondage they suffered in Egypt, He heard and delivered them. When the children of Israel stood helpless between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, God came to their defense and delivered them from their enemies. But here in the wilderness, being chased and hounded by King Saul, David feels abandoned and forsaken.
B Second, David complains that God doesn't care about him. "How long will you hide your face from me?" (Ps 13:1). Not only has God abandoned him, but David feels that God has lost all interest in him too. "You said You would take care of me, God, that You would bear my burdens and lift my loads, but that certainly does not seem to be the case." As far as David is concerned, God wants nothing to do with him.
C Third, David complains that he has to work things out himself. "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?" (Ps 13:2).
The Hebrew word translated as "wrestle with my thoughts" means to "plan." David has begun to plan his own way out. He has been forced to take matters into his own hands.
Is this the Biblical way of dealing with adversity? Is this how the Christian is supposed to deal with the troubles of life? Are we to help ourselves? It would do us good to be reminded of what the Bible says:
(Prov 3:5-6) Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (6) in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.As in all of life, in times of trouble too we are to depend upon the Lord.
(Prov 16:3) Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
What happens when we, like David, take matters into our own hand? Take a look at what the second part of verse 2 says: "and every day have sorrow in my heart." When you depend on yourself, you can expect sorrow, strain, frustration, and worry.
Instead of helping ourselves, instead of depending on our own efforts, what we must do is depend upon the Lord.
D Fourth, David complains that he is being humiliated. "How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Ps 13:2). David's pride is speaking here. After all, he is God's chosen servant. He has been anointed as king. So what is he doing in the wilderness being hunted like a wild animal?
E Four times in verses 1 & 2 David asks, "How long?" It becomes clear that it is not the trial itself, but the length of the trial that is getting to David. David has been under the gun for such a long time already. He is beginning to grow weary and tired. "How long?"
There is nothing new about this cry, is there? More than once the woman I mentioned at the start of my message asked, "How long?" Her husband asked this with tears in his eyes. Her three other children asked this as they struggled with their mother's illness. And, when we or our loved ones face trials that becomes our cry as well.
David is doing one thing right here. He is right in asking this question of God. You see, God not only designs the depths of our trials but their length as well. The length of our trial is in God's hands.
A When we read the psalm we notice that something has happened between verses 2 and 3 that causes David to change his tune. Perhaps he reread the words he had written down and suddenly realized they were filled with self-pity. Maybe one of his companions took him to the side and told him to grow up and stop feeling sorry for himself and to no longer have a pity-party.
B Three changes become apparent as we read verses 3 and 4.
First, instead of viewing the Lord as being distant and unconcerned, David says "Look on me and answer" (Ps 13:3). And, don't miss what he calls the Lord in verse 3: "my God." It seems that David no longer feels that the Lord has abandoned him.
Second, David asks the Lord to "give light to my eyes" (Ps 13:3). I am sure you have heard it said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. When one feels overwhelmed, it is the eyes that always give you away. David's eyes had lost their shine. They had no sparkle or light left in them. His eyes had become hard, flat, and dull. When inner joy leaves, so does the "shine" in one's eyes.
Third, instead of worrying about the enemy, David now releases his enemy to the Lord.
(Ps 13:3-4) Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; (4) my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall.Notice, David, in his prayer, puts his enemy into God's hands.
A The first word in verse 5 is "but." That alerts us to a contrast. David was complaining. He was despairing. He was depressed. His eyes had lost their shine. But now, now he is trusting and rejoicing in the Lord.
(Ps 13:5-6) But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. (6) I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Think about this. David's circumstances have not changed. King Saul was still chasing him. He was still grubby and grimy and tired and being hunted like a wild animal. Nothing around David was different, and yet David's conclusions were totally the opposite of what he had just complained about. What has changed is David's attitude. So David can now say, "The LORD ... has been good to me."
Do you know why this change began to take place in David's heart and life? It began to take place when David looked upwards rather than outwards. It began to take place when David looked to God rather than to himself and his circumstances. It began to take place when David's focus became God and God's salvation and not himself.
What is true for David is also true for us. All we need to do is focus on Christ and salvation in Christ. Don't have a pity-party. Don't feel sorry for yourself. Don't go around saying, "Woe is me!" Because when you look to God in Christ nothing else counts, nothing else matters, and all your problems seem as nothing.
B This reminds me of why God allows trials into our life. Trials are designed for us, not for our surroundings. God uses them to train us, to mold us, to make us grow.
When it comes to trials, we have not learned what God wants us to learn until we can say, "The LORD ... has been good to me" (Ps 13:6).
I have always liked what Psalm 119 says about trials and suffering:
(Ps 119:71) It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.Did you catch that? Trials are good for us. They are for our good.
(Ps 119:75) I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Remember when the Apostle Paul came to realize this? He struggled with a "thorn in the flesh." He tells us what God said when he asked God to remove this thorn:
(2 Cor 12:9-10) But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (10) That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When we face trials and hardships and sorrows, it is easy to complain, to despair, to become depressed, to have our eyes lose their shine.
This little psalm in front of us teaches us at such times to look to God and find in Him what we need. It teaches us to count the Lord's blessings. It teaches us to look especially at salvation and grace and mercy and forgiveness in Christ.
Then and only then can we learn and grow from what God allows in our life. Then, and only then, can we start on the road to recovery and healing and wholeness.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page