Psalm 61, follows the anticipation of better days found in Psalm 60. Psalm 61 ends with what will be true when those better days come. God’s people have had low points as a nation and they have had their own personal low points, like David, Asaph, Paul and perhaps you. We are given this psalm to learn from and not because it is a direct overlap of circumstances and since the circumstances do not directly overlap with our own, it’s important to know that the results will not be a direct overlap either.
We can often read descriptions as prescriptions and we can often read in such a way, where we can expect God to answer our prayer in the same way he answered for instance the prayers of David. But we live at a different time within the purposes of God; and that matters because God isn’t with us simply to attend to our personal wants, He does care for us, but it is always within His overall purposes. This helps us to frame life properly, it shapes what we pray for and what we can expect. God is intimately involved and so we should never feel or believe that we are overlooked, simply because God is at work in other areas as well.
This psalm highlights both requests and response in anticipation. Hear me, listen to me, lead me are the first and basic requests v1-2. The contrasts between hear and listen is seen in the cry and the prayer. Hear my cry, listen to my prayer, in others words I am praying because I am crying out. God hears your tears and He responds to your prayers. As a crying child will look for her Mum, the mother then listens to the reasons for her crying. While David’s cry may not be one of tears it is one caused by the circumstances he is in, which is different to taking that to God in prayer, which he does.
Being asked to be led to the rock v2 is how we come to understand the source of insecurity and security at the same time. The reason then for approaching God is answered by the answer to another question, which is will God be there when I need him the most. This doesn’t mean that God is absent at other times, but will God give more if I need more. Will God help when I am helpless? David shows us that it is because of the past, v3 “for you have been” that he has confidence in God for the present and future.
We are caused here to recognise the benefits of a long term relationship with God, properly understood. For the length of relationship is no indication of the quality of that relationship, the marriage certificate is no indication of the health of the marriage, and so the length of time that you have been a Christian is no definite indication of your life with God. So having said this, we really ought to recognise the benefits that come with a long term relationship with God if indeed it’s been healthy for a long time.
V4 is where we see the difference between requests made to God in prayer and God blessing David with His response. V5 is the rational for making such requests of God, the vows that David has made and what God has called him to be and do. He also understands that if God looks after David this is turn will benefit the people of God he is called to rule over v6-7. We then learn v8 that the fullness of God’s presence is always in the place of public worship. This is especially important for people who have a long term relationship with God but who may not have a relationship which is healthy. The psalm is a good reminder that God’s help happens within relationship.
Understanding the source of insecurity
While it may be simple to think that difficulties are the source of insecurity, that they are the cause. David allows us to see that this is not the case. Before we get to saying why directly, let’s see this in terms of relationship. If your relationship with God runs along the path of only praying in times of trouble, then what often follows is that the source of insecurity is the trouble, the worry. But if you believe that God is greater than any trouble you could face, then the real source of insecurity is not having God in that trouble.
As David says v2 “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” he acknowledges that troubles are troublesome, but what we see is that the source of security is not the removal of those troubles but being with God in those troubles. In other words the real source of his insecurity is being anywhere that is away from the rock.
Will God be there when I need Him the most? This should be a question that we already know the answer to, but the reason why we may not might be indicating the current health of your relationship with God. When we live believing that the circumstance is greater than God and worry being the symptom of that. This provides the necessary reflection on our relationship with God that we need.
Getting back to the heart of worship
Worship as expressed in v8 as singing praises to God and preforming vows, may look like an individual activity but this is to confuse the individual with the activity. It’s true that worship is performed by an individual but it is performed in the congregation of God’s people. Psalm 73 is a particular example of this. The activity of worship involves individuals who are together in their worship to God. In saying all of this we are not saying that individual praise has no place, it does, but it must be defined as something different from the worship of God’s people.
A psalm like this one is one is one that tests the efforts of God’s people. It’s all about what you will do when things get difficult. For David, his distress is caused by a person, Absalom. This leaves us with either a desire to balance and separate (deciding to handle some things ourselves and hand other things over to God) or simply to go to God in all matters. Do we then make the effort to bring all things to God in prayer, if we do then we have well trained ourselves for the day when we are to make the effort to take those things we can’t handle to him.
We shouldn’t overlook just how important it is to make the effort in the areas that we are meant to. The importance of learn things before you need them seems obvious and the temptation is to think we have learnt them until that is that we are tested in them. Suddenly the effort is greater than we really knew it was and we didn’t think that the Christian life required so much effort, to simply trust in the Lord, to pray to Him, to worship Him.
Those who live with disappointment in God may not have made the important distinction between the cry in v1 and the prayer. What God, of course hears, but what you say to God in prayer. The anticipation of better days comes from the memory that God has answered his prayers in the past. David may have just be written this psalm in the better day he was anticipating, this may be a walk down memory lane, reflecting on what was and now he is enjoying the benefits of his long term relationship with God.
This is not to say that there are greater blessing for those who have been in relationship with Him for the longest, but rather it is a focus on David’s confidence in God. If David was asked the question what must I do to trust God in a difficult time? His answer would be to trust God in the difficult time. If you are finding it difficult to pray, you must pray through those difficulties, finding it difficult to worship God, and then worship God through those difficulties. How do you learn to make the effort, by making the effort?
This psalm encourages us to identify what we might not see, but once it is pointed out were not quite sure why we couldn’t see it before. All Christians have low points and high points and so the question is what we do in those times. It requires no effort on our part to go downhill spiritually and we might just need to learn to save our breath for going uphill. Which is just another way of saying that we need to live the Christian life, one step at a time, which is just another way of saying that we can’t get to where we want to be from there, we get to there from where we are.