Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 11. Prayer of Testimony (2)
Psa 3:4 I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.
A Witness: Yesterday we looked at the first line of David’s testimony in verses 3 t0 6. I say ‘testimony’ because it is what David says he knows about his experience of God. I love the language of the apostle John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 Jn 1:1) This is the language of testimony. You find the same sort of language with Luke as he explains why he is writing his Gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning I too decided to write an orderly account for you.” (Lk 1:1-3) This is the sort of stuff you hear in a courtroom.
We have already referred to David’s testimony to Saul about how the Lord had looked after him and provided for him when he was a teenage shepherd boy (1 Sam 17:34-37), and I suspect we so often take for granted the language of the psalms when the psalmist is comforting himself with what he knew of God. Do we do it I wonder? The early church did. Listen to this prayer: “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David…” (Acts 4:24,25) i.e. they remind themselves who God is, Sovereign Lord of the Universe, the all-powerful Creator of all things, and yet One who intervened in the affairs of men and had spoken through His prophets, hence Psa 2 which they go on to quote. Testifying to what we know, speaking out the truth we have found, this is surely a key aspect of the Christian life.
If you regularly read these writings, you may remember one of my favourite sets of verses from the Old Testament (perhaps because I am aging a bit!) is, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) There it is again. The righteous, as they age, may feel limited but one thing that they can still do is testify to what they have learned, that God is as straight as can be, God brings security, and God is utterly good. They are not only the words of Scripture but they also become the words of our lips as we testify to the truths of life with God.
Prayer of Desperation: “I call out to the Lord.” Some versions have it, “I cried out loud to the Lord.” How we take such words for granted when we skim through these psalms. Even the simple, ‘call out’ speaks of an urgency, a desperation. I would like to think that prayer is an element of our everyday life, a part of every facet of our experiences, but the truth is that so often we get so embroiled in the affairs of life that we don’t actually pray in every context, we wait until a crisis hits and then, oh boy, do we pray! History seems to intimate that even atheists in their desperation cry out to God in prayer in their times of desperation. Is it because deep down – even though pride and ego for so many so much of the time subdue this – there is that thing that God has put there? Solomon expressed it, “He has also set eternity in the human heart,” (Eccles 3:11) So, it is a natural thing to cry out to God in desperation for the truth is, He is there and sometimes He is the only one who can help us.
Answers? “and he answers me from his holy mountain.” Wow! How do we take that for thoughtless granted? In Christian conversations we sometimes hear the language of ‘God answering prayer’. Of course He answers, but the trouble is so often we are not expecting an answer and so don’t hear it. Our ‘answers’ tend to be changes of circumstance and we are grateful for that, but our gratefulness verges on complacency that expects nothing else, and yet God is a communicating God – the whole Bible testifies to that truth – and I don’t know if you have ever noticed but one-way conversations are not good. If my wife is sharing something with me and my mind is elsewhere, she will pause and say those words that are probably heard in families across the globe, “Are you listening to me?” Why does she say that? She says it because she has taken my non-response as an indication that I am not with her! So if we pour our all our troubles to the Lord, why don’t we expect Him to say anything back? Relationship, I would suggest, involves communication – two-way communication!
We’re going to hear this sort of language again and again in the psalms, for instance, “the Lord hears when I call to him,” (David in Psa 4:3) or, “Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly,” (David in Psa 5:3) and “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer,” (David in Psa 6:9), or “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,” (Psa 10:17) and, “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer,” (Psa 17:6) and, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psa 18:6), and so we could carry on. It is the language of expectation and hope. It is expectation in that he knows that when he prays, God ‘hears’ and that doesn’t mean God just sits back, it means He will respond and do something. It is ‘hope’ because in almost every case David is under pressure and is crying out of desperation and so he is putting his trust in a God who, he has learnt, not only hears but will come and deliver him; he has that assurance and that confident assurance is what we call hope. Yet let me emphasise hope is seen in the context of trial and tribulation. David has learned the pathway through and out of such times – to cry out to God in prayer and then just wait for Him to move – and He will! May we have that same confidence.