Psalm 13 and the Wrestle

David worshiped with such audacity. 

At my church we’ve been looking at the life of David thematically (as apposed to chronologically) over the last several months.  In the month of August we explored the topic of worship in the life of David.  One of the texts that we focused on was Psalm 13.  Psalm 13 is this incredibly painful and brutally honest Psalm in which David questions, wrestles, doubts and even accuses God.  Psalm 13 is by no means an outlier.  Many Psalms, by several different writers, contain a similar struggling with God. tumblr_lzuri1lU2k1qkfikoo1_500

If all Scripture is inspired by God (which I wholeheartedly believe), why would God inspire human authors to accuse Him within the pages of His own word? And yet, the entire Bible, not just the Psalms, contain graphic narratives, poems and proverbs of struggling. 

I realize these questions and observations are nothing new or special.  But as I studied Psalm 13 I was again struck by the painful words of David, I was struck by his direct accusations against God and I was struck by the seemingly senseless transition from struggle to hope at the end of the Psalm.

Most of all I was in awe of God’s gentle invitation to David to release everything to God.

God initiates every interaction with man.  Therefore, any interaction of man towards God is by necessity a response.  Worship is no different.  Worship is always a response to who God is, what God has done and what God has said.

Psalm 13 is God initiated. 

Watch the incredible invitations that God extends to David:

An invitation to long: (v 1)
How long, O Lord?

An invitation to question: (v 1)
Will you forget me forever?

An invitation to accuse: (v 1)
How long will you hide your face from me?

An invitation to ache beyond words: (v 2)
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

An invitation to question God’s justice: (v 2)
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

An invitation to challenge God: (v 3,4)
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

These are the words of David, the man after God’s heart, the great worship leader of Israel.  Jesus is reigning on the throne of this David.  And God was pleased as his son struggled with Him. 

Worship can be so brutal because it’s impossible to remove emotions from it.  God is an emotional God and our emotions are a reflection of His own.  It can be a real temptation to remove emotion from worship for the sake of “truth” or even for the sake of self-medicating.  But, truthful worship will always be deeply emotional and often painful.

David’s life was filled with suffering.  He lost children, he was betrayed, he was a refugee, he was slandered and persecuted.  And in the midst of all of this, God called David to worship.  Had David not included these honest doubts, then his worship would have been a shadow of what it was.

I think that we often want to worship around our pain, or over it, or under it, but hardly ever do we desire to worship through our pain.  But this is the example of David, and most of all, this is the example of Christ.

My generation (millennials) think of doubt as a good destination to arrive at.  (Check out this podcast for some insightful thoughts into this) We want to arrive at a place of skepticism, believing that doubt is the ultimate validation of faith – that’s how we often try to balance science and faith.  Doubt, however, can never be the destination, instead, it’s an important part of the journey.  Everyone doubts because everyone lives in a broken and fallen world.

But, when we worship through our doubt, rather than around it (ignoring it all together), or with the ridiculous notion that doubt is a healthy destination to walk towards, a supernatural, nonsensical transaction takes place between God’s Holy Spirit and our own.david dancing

Watch what happens to David.  Keep in mind, he has just been beating on the chest of God with everything that’s in him.

An invitation to rest: (v 5)
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

An invitation to be filled with joy: (v 5)
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

An invitation to respond in worship with a steadfast heart: (v 6)
I will sing to the Lord,

An invitation to see as God sees, and feel as He feels: (v 6)
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

That transition between verse 4 and 5 just doesn’t make sense.  David’s circumstances certainly didn’t change in the moments between the time he wrote the first four verses and the last two…and yet, his emotions do!  This is really remarkable stuff.  David experiences spiritual healing and freedom as he worships through his doubt and as he struggles with God.

My friend Jay McCumber, who also blogs for TheoCult, often says something along the lines of:
“The end result of worship, the destination of worship, is to be at rest with God.”   (Check out Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4)

 As he worships, David’s heart is transferred from a place of striving with God to a place of resting with God.

Psalm 13 English Standard Version (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

4 thoughts on “Psalm 13 and the Wrestle

  1. I listened to that podcast this morning before reading this. I though what Drew said was pretty good defining wise: a fetish of doubt that is a bipolar reaction to the fundamentalist view of never doubt anything.

    Our small group is going through the emotions of the Psalms starting next week. Might pull some of this for us to read.

    As an aside – I wonder if we fall back on David as a man after God’s own heart too much, freezing time on that one phrase, and even when he does wicked things not allowing him to be a wicked person during certain years… kind of like he was static inside even if dynamic outside.

  2. Justin, I’ve thought about that with the “after God’s heart” thing quite a bit. Part of being “after God’s own heart” is how he dealt with his being a really fallen dude. In-other-words, his “after God’s heartness” may have been most revealed because he was a wicked person who confessed, repented, received correction, laid down his life repeatedly and deeply worshiped – even if he needed the help of community to arrive at a point of repentance. So, I think divorcing the after God’s heartedness from David’s sinful years cheapens God’s grace and relentless mercy towards David. Certainly God knew all of what David would be (David was still a kid at the time he was described as such) and do when He declared David to be this. For those who belong to God, through grace, they can only be defined by the consuming grace of God. I may struggle with greed – but God will still call me righteous (even as He asks me to repent and confess) because I belong to Him, I’ve been bought and am being consumed by Him. In-other-words, even though I’m still a wicked dude, I’m only ever defined by who and what God says I am. For David, no matter what the situation, God declared him to be a man after His heart…even if God demanded that his behavior change.

    Perhaps, these musings aren’t fully formed…further thoughts?

    That’s awesome that you listened to that podcast this morning! Nice timing!

  3. I greatly appreciate your thoughts here. I used to feel very ostracized in the Christian community for possessing what I’ve determined to be the Gift of Lament. My personal experience has been that many in the church fear doubt and struggle because they feel such ideas/emotions somehow undermine God’s greatness or goodness – and personal faith. But what is faith without acknowledging that struggle and doubt? While I don’t believe my worship of God should rely on my “feelings” in the general sense, when I fail to allow emotion to become part of it, my worship is not very true. Maybe that’s just me.

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