The guest response for Psalm 4 comes to us today from Renah Thompson. Renah is a member of Faith Free Lutheran Church, where I serve as pastor. She serves on our Christian Education Committee and is a regular accompanist for our Sunday worship services.
Today was a long, chaotic day. A day of responsibilities to be fulfilled and expectations to be met—and a day when my need to be in control of circumstances and events may just have spiralled slightly into the realm of subdued panic. A day, in short, where moment-by-moment trust in God was at best a briefly remembered abstraction. Precisely the kind of day when I need to remember—meditate on, chew and swallow and digest—Psalm 4.
I didn’t see a theme in this psalm at first glance. It seems like David is jumping all over the place—talking about the righteousness of God, then about those who utter vain words, then a verse later covering anger, and then wine? What is that about? Well, I think trust is the theme here—David is essentially talking about trusting God in a variety of circumstances.
In verse one, David’s cry underlines the foundation for a life of trust. “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!” This is remarkable, extraordinary. Don’t forget—naturally, you are God’s enemy. Naturally, God should pursue you not in love, but in vengeance. But remarkably and astonishingly, everything about your salvation, your righteousness before him, is taken out of your dead hands and flung on his shoulders. And suddenly your relationship with God becomes one of trust. God is no longer your enemy, but father and brother and friend.
In this context the rest of the psalm suddenly (to me, at least) makes a little more sense. God is my righteousness, the One I trust; therefore I can call on him when I am in distress. He has saved me, becoming my righteousness; I know he will “be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” I’ve been deliberately using the word “trust” instead of “faith” to describe the theme of this psalm. Prayer, according to O. Hallesby, is helplessness and faith. There’s often an emotional component to that—a realization that I am helpless, but also a feeling of helplesness—and trusting God in those circumstances when I feel absolutely helpless sounds to me like implicit, childlike trust in my Father. Yes, I may be in distress; yes, I am in the midst of a culture where men “love vain words and seek after lies.” But I know that “the Lord hears when I call to him,” (verse three).
When I first read verses four and five, I thought of vengeance. “Don’t sin in your anger,” they seem to say, “and trust that God will avenge himself on your enemies.” But wait—wasn’t I God’s enemy? God avenged my sin, avenged himself against me by his own death.When I “put my trust in the Lord” (verse five), when I’m angry, what I’m really asking, whether I realize it or not, is that the person I’m angry with will be saved. I’m asking God to love my enemies.
Ps. 107: 9 says, “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” I forget this all the time. It’s so tempting to look at everything around me, the lure of success or money or shallow, self-serving “love” or….the list goes on and on. It all looks so beautiful, so worthwhile, so….satisfying! It’s far too easy, in a busy week like this one, to assume that satisfaction and meaning will be found in getting everything accomplished, by avoiding failure—by meeting my own standards. But verses six and seven are an affirmation that God is what I need. “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound…!” I need God to show me the light of his face; I need to trust that God—not getting to school on time despite traffic—is the satisfaction of my soul.
Finally, David seems to conclude, we can rest in the one who allows us to sleep in peace and safety. There is nothing for us to do but be still and trust this God who transcends circumstances and reveals himself as the one capable (as if that word begins to describe it) of being our righteousness, our rock, our all-in-all.