God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.Psalm 46:1-3 (KJV)
A Very Present Help in Trouble (Psalm 55)
What do you do when you are overwhelmed and afraid?
In Psalm 55, we see David in the throes of these emotions. He’s been betrayed and is surrounded by enemies, in fear for his life.
Some commentators believe this Psalm was written during his son Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 15-18), but whenever David wrote this Psalm, it’s clear that he was as overwhelmed and afraid as anyone could be.
What’s more, David seems to feel that God is distant, that his prayers aren’t being heard, because he begins the Psalm pleading with God to hear and not be hidden.
David writes that his heart is pained, that he is seized with terror and trembling, and that horror has overwhelmed him.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.Psalm 55:6-8 (KJV)
Who has never felt the same? Who has not longed to fly somewhere their troubles cannot find them?
Physical danger might trouble us, but more often our troubles are shaped by worries over work, school, social anxiety, or simply the dread of an unknown future. Suffice to say, the world is full of trials that leave us desperate for escape.
But there is no escape – not like David describes. We have no desert refuge waiting for us, where we can retreat and rest. We have no wings to take us there.
And even if we did manage a physical escape, our troubles would surely follow us. Leaning only on ourselves, we are trapped and without hope.
Responding with Prayer
And yet David, similarly trapped and distressed, is not hopeless. He cries out to God. “As for me,” he writes, “I will call upon God…Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud…” (Ps. 55:16-17)
Even when he felt God was distant, David took all his fear, anguish, and trouble, and brought it before God, persistently mourning and making noise (Ps. 55:1) for God to help him.
David’s persistence echoes the persistence shown by the widow in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1-8. In this passage, Jesus tells a story about a widow who was being denied justice by the judge overseeing her case.“David, much like the widow in Jesus’ parable, refuses to be ignored and instead prays day in and day out for God to help him.’
The judge did not fear God or care what people thought. He had no interest in giving the widow justice. But she refused to give up and kept coming back to the judge.
For some time, Jesus says, the judge refused to help her, until finally he was so sick of her pestering him (and afraid that she would eventually come and attack him!) that he gave her the justice she deserved.
David, much like the widow in Jesus’ parable, refuses to be ignored and instead prays day in and day out for God to help him.
We can and should do the same, persisting in prayer evening, morning, and noon when we find ourselves in trouble, no matter how distant God may seem.
Responding with Faith
But what next? As we pray, what can we expect or what should we do? Will God come immediately to storm the gates and rescue us unharmed?
Sometimes, yes! In Psalm 18, for instance, David describes calling out to God in his distress and God parting the heavens, mounting cherubim, and flying down to rescue him.
But this will not always be the case. As David makes clear…
As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.Psalm 55:16-17 (KJV)
Notice what David doesn’t say here. He doesn’t say that God has saved him; he doesn’t say that God has destroyed his enemies; he doesn’t even say that God has heard him.
He says God will. Over and over, throughout this Psalm, David says he will call on God and that God will answer him.
In fact, the only thing David says God has done is give him peace: “He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me…” (Ps. 55:18)
In the midst of the danger and terror, David cries out to God and then has to have faith that he knows who God is and that God will answer.
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus is teaching the assembled crowd about prayer. He says,
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?Matthew 7:9-11 (KJV)
If the widow in Luke 18 could convince an evil judge to give her justice and if a son can rely on his human father to feed and care for him, then we, like David, can have full confidence that God, who loves and cares for us far more than either an evil judge or an earthly father ever could, will save and hear us.
Not only can we rely on God to save and hear us, but we can rely on him (as Paul says in Ephesians 3:20) to do so exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think.
David yearned to run away to the desert and escape his problems, but he knew that God would come to him and rescue him in the midst of his troubles. That not only would he escape danger, but that God would not suffer him even to be moved (Ps. 55:22).“David didn’t take justice into his own hands. He was surrounded on all sides by treachery, but he didn’t respond with his own cunning.”
What’s more, David knew that he could trust God to fight for him. He was in mortal peril and called for decisive justice and judgment on his enemies and betrayers.
Yet he didn’t take justice into his own hands. He was surrounded on all sides by treachery, but he didn’t respond with his own cunning.
Instead, he leaned on God to do the judging and restoring and was at peace knowing God would do what is good.
Let us rest in the same knowledge. We do not need to flee and we do not need to fight – we need only trust God. As Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
Whether or not the enemy David is referring to in this Psalm is Absalom, ultimately, we know his enemy was defeated.
God rescued David and kept him on the throne of Israel to the end of his days. When he died, it was not at the hand of his enemies, but from old age, and his throne was passed to his son Solomon.
David may have had to wait for God to act, but his faith was not in vain. David is among the great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12, whose testimony together urges us to have the same faith.
We are hopeless, relying on ourselves; trapped, beaten down, and afraid. But in the moments when all is lost and all we long for is escape, we need only look to God – our Savior, Rock, and Portion forever – and echo David’s prayer “but I will trust in thee.” And God will come.
He will always come.
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David: “Oh, that I had wings like a Dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.” Psalm 55:6, 1865. Frederic Leighton (British, 1830-1896). Oil on fabric. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1986.74.