Thursday, August 6, 2015

How to Respond in Times of Crisis: Learning to Pray Psalm 4

Psalm 4 is another individual lament or prayer to God for help. Psalm 4 divides into three sections: vv. 1–3 describe the psalmist’s situation and trust in God, vv. 4–6 offer advice from the psalmist to those afflicting him, and vv. 7–8 conclude the psalm with a statement of faith. 

1 Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods[b]?[c]
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.
Tremble and[d] do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.
Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety. (NIV)

The psalmist’s situation is more ambiguous than in Psalm 3. In Psalm 3, the psalmist faced the overwhelming experience of being surrounded by multitudes of enemies. In Psalm 4, the focus is more on the psalmist’s faith and response to his enemies than on the actions of enemies or even on specific requests for action by God.

In verse 1, the psalmist begins his prayer by crying out to God for an answer. The psalmist addresses God as “my righteous God.” We often assume that righteous and righteousness are primarily legal/moral terms. In the Hebrew, these terms are relational. In other words, the psalmist is not praising God for his moral character. He is address God as relationally dependable. God acts “rightly” in relationships. That is, God can be counted on by those who are in relationship with him. This is the source of the psalmist’s trust that is evident in verses 3 and 7–8.

Since God is dependable, the psalmist asks for God’s grace and mercy in the form of answered prayer. The prayer implied in the psalm is not so much against the psalmist’s enemies but for the psalmist and the rest of God’s people that they prosper as they live faithfully for God in a world that does not yet know the LORD.

Verse 2 presents the problem but unlike most laments, the psalmist addresses the people causing his problem. The psalmist’s opponents are dishonoring his good name, and they are following after what is false. This may be literally “false gods” or more broadly a way of life that stands in opposition to God’s will. In verse 3, the psalmist affirms his confidence of his relationship with God and of having God’s ear.

Remarkably, instead of calling on God to thwart his opponents (cf. 3:7), the psalmist offers instructions for those who afflict him (vv. 4–6). He responds with an invitation to live as God’s people rather than following in false practices. The persecutors need to end their plotting and actions against the righteous (v. 4) and instead submit to the true God by joining God’s people in offering sacrifices and trussing in the LORD rather then in their own schemes. It is in the LORD alone that we can find true prosperity and security. There is no need to exploit others and act unjustly to make it through life.

The psalmist ends his prayer by affirming his trust in the LORD. God has provided joy in the psalmist’s inner being. This sense of happy contentment is worth more than the abundance of his opponents material riches. This joy leads to a true peace marked by a secure sense of well-being. Thus, the psalmist can enjoy the gift of sleep knowing that his life is secure in the LORD.

What makes it possible for the psalmist to sleep securely in the midst of his troubles?
How does Psalm 4 teach us to respond to persecution?

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