Monday, August 3, 2015

"O LORD, How Many are My Foes": Learning to Pray Psalm 3

With Psalm 3, we move from the security of Pss 1–2 to the world of lament. Psalm 2:12 read “Happy are all who find refuge in him.” The state of happiness promised in Ps 1:1 and 2:12 is now long gone. Psalm 3 begins “LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” The psalmist feels overwhelmed and surrounded by enemies. So what does the psalmist do? He prays to the only Being who can help him–the LORD. This is the heart of lament. The God of Scripture invites us to come to him in our time of need. Our journey through the world will have times of triumph in which we can celebrate the victory of God, but sometimes we will find ourselves in need of a victory.

In Psalm 3, the psalmist faces the crushing challenge of foes on all sides. Moreover, the psalmist’s enemies are taunting him about his own faith. In their view, there is no hope for the psalmist because God will not deliver. Reflect for a moment on a hopeless situation that you’ve experienced. Have you ever wondered if God would help you? There are always doubts during times of suffering. In Psalm 3, these doubts are compounded by the faith-quenching cynical words of the enemies.

What is the best answer for a desperate situation and the taunts of opponents? The psalmist refuses to take his future into his own hands. He cries out to God, but notice that he cries out not in unbelief but in deep faith. In verse 3, the psalmist affirms his belief that God is a shield around him against his enemies. There is a future because God will lift up the psalmist. Verse 4 declares the psalmist’s confidence that the God to whom he prays not only listens to his prayers but will answer them. The psalmist may be surrounded by enemies, but he has a key ally who reigns from “his holy mountain.”

How then does this declaration of faith serve the psalmist? Verses 5–6 announce the psalmist’s state. He is surrounded and from human eyes his situation may appear hopeless, but in the midst of chaos, he will sleep. What a statement this is! How often during a difficult time do we lose sleep and toss and turn in the endless torment of worry and doubt in the dark of night? Even more the psalmist confesses a lack of fear regardless of the odds. He knows that there is a future because he knows the LORD.

Verses 7–8 record the specific content of the psalmist’s prayer. He asks God to rise up and smash his foes in the mouth. This violent language may sound harsh but this is the beauty of the psalms. They are raw. This is because life often raw. The psalmist relinquishes violence by his own hands and trusts that God will do what is needed to save him. Why the prayer to break teeth? It is a request to reverse the circumstances of verse 2. Remember that the psalmist’s enemies were taunting him with words. He is asking God to shut them up. The prayer ends with a move from the individual cry to a vision for all of God’s people. It is a confession of God’s ability to save and the request for blessing not merely for himself but for all of God’s people. This is a model prayer because even in the midst of suffering the psalmist never becomes self-centered.

What is the relationship between the psalmist’s faith and his cry for help?
How does this psalm teach us to pray when surrounded on all sides by overwhelming obstacles?

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