Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by. (Psalm 57:1)
There are times in our Christian walk when calamity strikes, when crisis overwhelms us, when catastrophe seems the only visitor at the door. At times like this, it’s natural to find ourselves questioning ourselves, our faith, our blessings, even our God. We find ourselves wondering what we did wrong – did we miss what God was saying? Did we ‘get it wrong’ or is there some unconfessed sin lurking, and this is the consequence?
The introspection, in and of itself, can be debilitating – not only are we struggling with the situation or the circumstances, but we’re now struggling with ourselves as well. We may battle self-condemnation, we may find previous, confessed sin rearing its ugly head with whispers that we were never really forgiven, we may feel that we’ve failed, or that our faith is weak and we simply don’t have what it takes – we’ve let ourselves down, and we’ve let God down.
These are all very natural, human responses to difficult times, and mature Christians may encounter them as well as new Christians. Sadly, the prevalence of ‘comfort Christianity,’ the ‘feel-good’ sermons that we hear in so many churches only exaggerates the crises of faith we should come to expect in life – the preponderance of teaching that emphasises God’s love at the expense of realistic trial and persecution, that suggests that the Christian walk is all glory and no gore, or that we will spend our time on earth swanning around like ‘super soldiers’ with total victory at every turn.
God’s love and lovingkindness is very real, and we should never lose sight of this. But it doesn’t mean we will never encounter hardship or suffering. In fact, if we believe the Bible and the teaching of Christ, we should be prepared for it. Having the ‘victory’ involves first having a battle, and battles are nothing if not messy, difficult, painful, uncomfortable, dirty and downright unpleasant. There is also no way of avoiding them. They are, and we simply have to ‘gird the loins’ and leap into the fray.
Consider David, for a moment. He penned this psalm whilst hiding in the cave of Adullam. Keep in mind that Samuel had already annointed David as the next king of Israel. God’s hand was upon him. He’d been chosen from among his older-handsomer-maturer-better brothers. He’d faced off to Goliath and won, and he’d enjoyed the favour of King Saul. Now here he is, skulking in a cave, his mentor hunting him for the express purpose of killing him. He’s a fugitive, running for his life, and it must have seemed that everything God had said was worth nothing. He must surely have had moments of dread, despair and total despondency.
Like us. Surely this isn’t what God promised? I must have got it all wrong, and now God is punishing me. I missed something or made the wrong choices, and now God has abandoned me. I don’t have enough faith, so I’ve clearly messed up. And on, and on, and the night grows darker and longer, and it feels like the harder we cry to God, the more distant He becomes. Our thoughts spiral and batter us harder than the physical circumstances, and we simply don’t have the strength or the will or desire to continue… if I simply give up now, at least I won’t have the stress of all this too. I might as well. There’s no point in trying.
That’s the point when we need to take time out, like David, and adjust our thinking. This verse teaches us a couple of things. Firstly, that there’s nothing wrong with crying out to God for mercy. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to limit our time of trial, and to grant us mercy – to provide the grace, the strength, the faith we need to get us through. We know from the Bible that He wants to do it, and He wants us to ask Him to do it. In crying out for His mercy, we are acknowledging that He is in control and that He is the source of all we need.
The other wonderful thing it teaches us is the ‘father-heart’ of God. The Abba in Him to which we can cry through the sacrifice and the blood of Jesus. Have you ever seen a bird shielding its young with a wing? It’s the most incredibly simple yet deep response, one of love, of protection, of comfort. It reminds me of the Spirit of God ‘brooding’ over the waters, birthing, as it were, the creation of the world. It reminds me also of the two cherubim who stand on either side of God’s throne, known as the ‘cherubim who cover.’ What an awesome picture!
David’s cry for mercy is not simply a desperate response. It’s one founded on the faithfulness of God, on His eternal love and mercy for His children. But it’s also founded on the sure knowledge of God’s protection – not removal from the situation, but protection in it. It’s absolute faith that God knows the danger and is in control, that He is there, ‘covering’ us, throughout it all.
Finally, consider that the preservation is for a purpose: that the ‘young’ will grow strong and will fulfill their potential. Each of us has a purpose. The trial, the hardship, the circumstance and the battle are part of the ‘growing up.’ They shape us, strengthen us and teach us. In his struggles, David learned wisdom, he learned generalship, he learned statesmanship. But, most importantly, he learned the real nature of the God he served. He learned that he could trust Him, and he learned that fellowship with Him went far beyond ‘having a good time.’
It is at times like these, when the vanities and distractions of the world are stripped away, that we truly come face-to-face with God. Without the need, we would never learn what it is to climb under the shelter of our Father’s gentle but powerful wing. We would never know the comfort of having the God of the universe shield us and hold us close to His heart, so close that we can feel His heartbeat and know that He loves us so much that He is willing to die to bring us close to Him. This can only be learned when we take shelter from the storm in the shadow of His wings.
Abba, Father, Your mercy and Your love are beyond our comprehension. Draw us close to You in our times of trial, so that we will know the shadow of Your wing. Teach us to turn to you, to lay down our doubts and fears and hide ourselves in You.