Where do you go when unknown dangers threaten the wellbeing of your faith? Who do you turn to when loneliness threatens to swallow you alive—and whole—like a thick storm cloud envelops your house? What do you do when the chastening, training hand of God seems so overwhelmingly crushing that you fear you will not survive your present trial of faith? Where do you turn when the sheer pain of loss becomes a blinding fog that hinders you from seeing the goodness of God? What do you do when even God’s ears—the ears of the One who loves you the most—seem deaf to your crying? The answer to each of these questions is found in Psalm 28 and it is the same.
You go to God. You turn to Him. You trust His great love for you. You keep running to the Lord—not away from Him—in prayer. Especially, and most critically, when you perceive God’s ears have closed to your prayers, still you must go to Him—clinging—resting—believing—that in time you will experience a spiritual breakthrough. Your faith will be purified. Your joy will be restored. Your valley will become a mountain. And you will eventually come forth as gold, even if you must wait until the day you see the Lord and you are received into His tender, everlasting arms.
Psalm 28 is what is referred to as a Lament Psalm. To lament is to express sorrow, regret, and mourning. A lament is a song of sorrow. It is a cry for help amid the many threats faced by the individual believer as well as the whole faith community. Since this lament was written by King David, it seems best to understand his words as a lament for both himself, personally, and for the people of God, corporately. Times of sadness and fear are part of our faith-walk through this fallen world. And so is crying…crying out to God.
In the first five verses of this psalm we listen to David cry out to God in his time of crisis. His need is urgent. Just feel how desperate this man is as he begins to cry out to God. “To You, O LORD, I call; My rock, do not be deaf to me, for if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit.”
He voices 3 basic cries to God.
- “Do not ignore me” (vv. 1-2) - The silence of God made the psalmist feel as though he had been united with the wicked in their eternal punishment. Twice he says, “Hear my cry.” John Calvin writes in his commentary, “This repetition is a sign of a heart in anguish….He means that he was so stricken with anxiety and fear, that he prayed not coldly, but with burning, vehement desire, like those who, under the pressure of grief, vehemently cry out.” His heart aches, “Lord, hear my cry for help. Do not turn away from me!”
- “Do not punish me with the wicked” (v. 3) – He is fearful, “No, Lord, do not equate me with the wicked. Do not identify me with unbelievers who will one-day be judged for all of eternity.” This is not a plea for a trouble-free life. No. It is a recognition that God deals with believers differently than He does unbelievers. He does not punish His own, but He will faithfully chasten them. The true believer does not despise the trials of faith that God sends for the purification of his own soul. These acts of discipline are proof of the depth of God’s love. Therefore, the true believer cries out, “Chastise me, Lord, Yes. Correct me.” When overcome with a sense of shame and sorrow over one’s own sin, the believer cries out “Forgive me, Lord. Change me. Purge me of sin. For those whom You love You discipline. But, oh, do not punish me with the wicked. Do not cast me away from Your presence. Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
- “Repay the wicked” (vv. 4-5) - Here it seems he is most clearly praying now on behalf of the people of God corporately, Israel as a nation, and the community of God. The true believer avoids the grave danger of praying for the judgment of one’s personal enemies. No, we do not—we must not—ever seek revenge. Revenge is the Lord’s. We must instead pray for God’s blessing (Rom 12:17-21). But when it comes to the enemies of God as a larger unit it seems from the psalms (especially the imprecatory psalms) that there are times it is legitimate for us to pray that God will repay the wicked for their wickedness. Personally, I have prayed this way for corporate entities such as the abortion industry or the growing trend to euthanize the elderly. Verse 5 makes it clear that their wickedness deserves recompense because of their lack of regard for God and His deeds. The same point is made by Isaiah when he writes, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, nor do they consider the work of His hands” (5:11-12).
In our Christian world of pretending, the honesty of this man’s anguish should be appreciated by us, not despised. He is struggling. His faith is being tried as never before. He hangs by a thread. He knows how frail and sinful he is. But ultimately, and more importantly, he knows who God is. He knows that God is gracious and that He loves him and that that will never change. And the refining work that God is doing in his heart is more important than maintaining some air of respectability among his peers.
Are you afflicted? Is your faith being tested in God’s furnace of suffering? If so, cry out to Him. He cares. He listens. He loves. And if you belong to Jesus Christ then you will one-day come forth as gold (Job 23:10). It’s time to stop pretending.
[The audio sermon from Psalm 28, God Is Our Strong Helper, may also be helpful to you.]