If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 142. This psalm is a companion of Psalm 57 and it's very similar to psalms 140 and 141 where we find a faithful person praying for protection from persecutors. Now this psalm is what is called a complaint or an individual lament, which means that it is a poem about a distressing situation which a believer has encountered, and in that poem, the believer is offering a prayer, a plea, a help to God with no inhibition. He is bearing his heart before God, pouring out his distress and his need before the living God. And this is called a lament or a complaint. That's what's meant by the word, if you look in verse 2, complaint. “I pour out my complaint before Him.” In other words, the psalmist is not griping against God, he's not griping about God, he's not blaming God; he's passionately pleaing his case, his situation, to God. So the complaint isn't against God, it's about his situation and his plea for help is directed to God. That's a good complaint. There's a kind of complaining against God that's not good. This is a very good kind of complaint. In fact, God wants us to bring these kinds of complaints to Him.
Now you and I probably have no idea how the persecution that David experienced from Saul affected his heart, but I can tell you this, he wrote eight psalms about it. You think that got under his skin? That the father of his best friend was bent and determined to destroy him? Track him down like a mongrel dog in the wilderness, left him huddling in caves and far from his home, outlawed in his own land. This deeply troubled David and he wrote psalm after psalm after psalm about that experience. Psalm 34 is about this. Psalm 52 is about this. Psalm 54 is about this. Psalm 57, the companion psalm to this one, is about this. Psalm 59, Psalm 63, and here in Psalm 142 — eight psalms all arise from the experience of Saul's unjust persecution of David. Clearly this got under his skin and was deep down in his soul.
Now I want you to think about that for just a minute before we read God's Word because almost all of us have something in our lives and in our experience and it's gotten up under our fingernails, or worse, it's gotten lodged in our hearts and we don't know how to get it out. David understood that, and God had him write it down, and we're going to hear that tonight. Let's pray before we hear it.
Our heavenly Father, You are so kind to prepare Scripture for us thousands of years before we were conceived, that is perfectly designed to speak to us in the most difficult trials in our lives. We wait expectantly, then, to hear from You, in this Your Word. You have inspired this Word by Your own Holy Spirit so that every syllable of it is breathed out of the mouth of God, and You have appointed Your Spirit to open our eyes to understand it. We beg, we pray Your Spirit tonight, that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word. And we’ll give You all the praise and glory for it because we ask this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God in Psalm 142:
“A MASKIL OF DAVID, WHEN HE WAS IN THE CAVE. A PRAYER.
With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him.
When my spirit faints within me, You know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.
I cry to You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Your name! The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Is there a problem in your life that you have had a hard time letting go of? An experience in your past, perhaps, that follows you like a shadow? You've prayed for peace, you sought comfort, you've gone to the Lord — you just can't get it out of your soul. Pastors get to talk to Christians all the time that are in exactly that circumstance. And you know, sometimes even pastors get worn down by the repetition of the story because we know we can't fix it and we love the person that we're talking to and it frustrates us. We kind of don't know what to do with that, but the Lord knows what to do with that. And He told David, “Write a psalm about it. Write another psalm about it. Write another psalm about it. Write another psalm about it. Write another psalm about it. Write another psalm about it. Write another psalm about it!” And we're at that eighth psalm right here in Psalm 142.
DAVID’S URGENT PLEA AND PRAYER
And I want you to see four things from this psalm tonight and the first thing is the prayer. Really, of course, prayer is emphasized throughout this psalm. There's hardly a verse in this psalm that doesn't in some way or another emphasize prayer, but especially I want you to look at the first three verses — 1, 2, and the first half of verse 3 — because here you’re going to see David's plea and prayer. And the first thing that is very apparent is that this is urgent prayer. David is not casually going to the throne of grace and throwing up a few intercessions; he is prostrate before the Lord, he is desperately in need, he fully understands the gravity of his circumstance, his soul is troubled, and he is urgent as he goes before the Lord. “With my voice I cry out to the Lord,” so he's crying out to God in prayer. Have you ever done that? Have you ever been in a place, you’re by yourself, you’re in an inner room, there's no one else around, and you just scream out to the Lord. “I plead for mercy to the Lord,” he says. “I pour out my complaint before Him. I tell my trouble before Him.” Is that not an instructive sentence? Do you do it enough? Do you tell your trouble before Him? Not vague generalities but you spell it out; you tell your trouble before Him. David says he does. His spirit is fainting within him. David is in trouble.
And it's so important for us to reckon with this because very often we have the idea, especially when we're starting out on our Christian journey, that if we love the Lord and we trust in His grace and we believe the Gospel and we know Jesus and we study our Bible, those troubles aren't going to come. And then they do. And it knocks the breath out of us and it takes our feet out from under us and we're lying on our backs wondering, “What just happened to me?” The very best people, the very finest believers may be easily and frequently brought into circumstances of overwhelming grief and need and this can come about in the most unexpected way.
Think of David's situation — he's in a cave now, but not many weeks before hand he wasn't in a cave, he was in the palace! And the reason he was in the palace is because he had been called from herding sheep and ended up in a situation where he defeated Israel's greatest enemy! He was the toast of the town, he was invited into the court, he became best friends with the heir apparent to the throne, in perhaps the most ironic and tragic friendship in the history of the world — Jonathan who's soul was knit to him. How in the world could you have anticipated David going from there to a cave? But that's where he is. “You know, Lord, all I did was come out and fight Goliath! All I did was encourage Your people against their enemies! All I did was try to go into the court of Saul and soothe his crazy spells! And here I am in a cave. What did I do? Why is this happening to me?” It can happen to the finest believers. Do you find yourself in a circumstance like that now? Are you in some kind of straight, some kind of perplexity? Well so was David in this case, and the Lord heard and helped him and He will hear and help and come to the aid of all who, with like faith, take themselves to the throne of grace. David pleas with the Lord in prayer in his time of trouble.
And I want you to think about that for just a few moments because David is teaching us so much about prayer in this psalm and I want you to understand that there is absolutely no possibility of passing safely and comfortably through this world without prayer. David over and over finds himself in circumstances where he admits, as he does in this psalm, there is no other hope but in the Lord. He's in a situation where his only deliverance can come from the Lord. And the only way, then, to live, is in prayerful dependence upon the Lord. But the flip side of that is this — there can be no situation that we face in our life, however distressing, however perilous, however disgraceful, however disheartening, in which our faith will not derive comfort by going to God in fervent prayer. And doesn't this psalm tell us that?
Now in these verses, and you see it especially in verse 2, David pours out a complaint before the Lord. Now the very next phrase defines what that means. “I tell my trouble before Him.” That's the good kind of complaint that we're talking about. Now we're told by the apostle Paul that one of the reasons that the children of Israel were struck down in the wilderness is that they complained. So why is this kind of a complaint okay and that kind of a complaint got them killed in the wilderness? Because the complaint in the wilderness was an expression of unbelief, and because it was an expression of unbelief, what did the children of Israel start doing? You can always see unbelief in a complaint how? Because it starts looking for somebody to blame. “You did this to us, Moses! This is your fault! The situation we're in is your fault!” Unbelieving complaint always has a tendency to find and locate and shoot at someone who's at fault. Sometimes it's at God Himself. The finger of blame is pointed to God. It's a very dangerous kind of complaint.
That's not what David is doing here. David is complaining in this sense — he is telling his trouble to the Lord. He's not complaining about the Lord to somebody else — and we hear that a lot. I was with a member of this congregation not long ago who's been ministering to a family member who's undergone a heartbreaking trial and she just said to me a couple of Wednesday nights ago, “You know, this family member of mine, she's angry at God and I can't say anything to her without her firing back with blame against God.” Well I understand with what she has gone through how hard that might be, but that will not go well with her. You've heard it before. Perhaps you've been tempted to do it; perhaps you've done it. That's not what David is doing here. David's not pointing a blaming finger at God. He's saying, “Lord, look at this mess of a situation that I'm in! And the only person that I can come to is You and so I'm telling my trouble before You!” So he's not complaining about God to other people; he's complaining to God about his situation. He's aiming his complaint, he's pouring out his heart, he's spelling out his situation before God and he's saying, “Lord, You’re the only one who can do anything about this.” In other words, his complaint is an expression of faith. He believes God can do something about it, and so he goes to the Lord in prayer. It's a desperate complaint, not against the Lord, but to the Lord, for aid. And so we learn something about prayer in this psalm as we look at David's prayer and plea in verses 1 to 3.
DAVID’S PREDICAMENT AND GOD’S PROVIDENCE
And then in verses 3 and 4, we see something of David's predicament and God's providence. David, in verses 3 and 4, if you look at the second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4, David spells out a little more of his predicament and he talks about the path that he's on. “In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see: there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.” David feels alone. He feels uncared for, abandoned, even betrayed by human friends. And so he cries out to God in that predicament about the path that he's having to walk on. It's a lonely path, it's a dangerous path, because his enemies are trying to trap him. And as he cries out to God about that predicament and about that path, behind it is a pervasive sense of God's providence. How do I know that? Well just look at what he says back in verse 3. “When my spirit faints within me, You know my way.” There may be no one who takes notice of him, there may be no one who cares for his soul in an earthly sense, it may well be that they have hidden a trap for him, but he knows that the Lord knows his way. As he spells out this predicament, behind it is a pervasive sense of God's providence. When you feel that no one cares for you and that everyone is against you, you need to remember your God. He knows your way. He knows it past, He knows it present, and He knows it future. No enemy can lay a snare for your feet apart from your Father's knowledge and will. His providence is pervasive.
And if you find yourself in a circumstance in life when your wisdom is nonplus, and your reason is confounded, it is for a joy for you to know that your Lord God, your heavenly Father, knows all mysteries, He fathoms all depths, He knows all hearts, and He controls all causes. And that's why David says, as he's lifting up this prayer, “You know my way. They don't care about me; they don't take notice of me. They’re laying traps for me but You know my way, Lord. That's why I'm going to You in this predicament.” Do you have that kind of a sense of God's providence in your life? Do you understand that nothing happens by accident? Do you know that you are never the victim of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and fate? That not a hair can fall from your head apart from the knowledge and will of your heavenly Father who loves you and gave His Son for you? Does that kind of a sense of His providence pervade you in your times of predicament? Or do you quickly forget who He is? I think many of us are tempted to forget who He is. We can teach a Sunday school lesson about Him and walk out the door and the cell phone rings and suddenly we forget everything we've just taught about. It's a matter of an exercise of faith, isn't it? But David is teaching us here. He goes to God in this predicament; he talks about the hard path he's on because he believes in God's providence.
DAVID’S PORTION AND PRIZE
And then if you look at verses 5 and 6, David speaks of his portion or his prize. So we see David's prayer and plea in verses 1 to 3, his predicament and path in verses 3 and 4, and then in verses 5 and 6 — 5 and the first half of verse 6 — we see David's protection and his portion. “I cry to You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” There's no other refuge, he said, but the Lord is my refuge. “You are my refuge.” And then he says these very important words. “You are my portion in the land of the living.” David is acknowledging that the Lord is his prize — exactly what Josh was talking to the children about in the children's sermon about that commandment. You see, if the Lord is your prize, He's your ultimate prize, He's the portion that you want, He's what you’re in it for in life, then no matter your circumstance, no one can take that away. They can take your family silver, they can take your reputation, they can take your marriage, they can take your job, they can take all your hopes and dreams, but they can't take Jesus from you. They can't take the heavenly Father from you. If Jesus is your treasure, if God is your desire, if the living God is your prize, no one can take that from you.
And David's saying this in part because he's not just using God as a divine bellhop to get him out of trouble. “Lord, quick — come here and get me out of this mess!” He's wanting to make it clear, “Yes, I'm coming to You, Lord, and I'm asking for help, but understand this — You’re what I really want. I'm not using You to get something better; You’re the something better that I want. I do want out of this predicament, but I want You more than anything else.” And you know, if we’ll approach our predicaments that way, the Lord will become more precious to us and our predicaments will become opportunities for the promotion of real spiritual growth because we're prizing the Lord. So David's points us to his prize in verse 5 as he prays to the Lord for protection. “You are my portion; You’re what I care about. You’re more than anything else; You’re number one in my heart. You’re the thing that I want above everything else, Lord, just You; that's what I want, just You.”
DAVID’S PERSECUTORS AND HIS PRISON
And then, David describes his persecutors and his prison in verses 6 and 7. “Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Your name! The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.” David speaks in faith because this problem that he's facing has prompted him to total dependence upon God. And isn't that just like God? When we won't just go to Him and depend on Him, He’ll put us in circumstances where we have to. And this circumstance has prompted David to total dependence upon the Lord. He recognizes, “My persecutors are too strong for me. There's nothing I can do about this. I've got to go to You, Lord. I'm I prison. I can't break myself out. I've got to go to You, Lord.” But he's confident. “Lord, when You get me out I'm going to praise You! I'm going to be the first one at church! I'm going to be right up in front of the temple. I'm going to be praising You while they’re offering the sacrifices. I'm going to give You thanksgiving in front of everybody and the righteous are going to surround me because You’re going to deal bountifully with me. I know it; I believe it!”
Have you ever felt weak or poor or hopeless or friendless in a situation that was never going to get fixed? Do not despair. Hope to the end. Your situation cannot be worse than David's, and he was a man after God's own heart. Your situation cannot be worse than David's. Hope on, hope ever, hope against hope, in the darkest hour expect better times. That's the way it is with the believer. The best is always yet to come with the believer; the best is always yet to come. Even if there is no resolve in this world, yet there will be in the world to come. And my friends, the victory of the crucified settles a thousand problems and difficulties in our hearts and minds if we will but believe. God has appointed it that in the life of the believer, the cross is the way to victory and the grave is the way to life. And if humiliation was our Savior's way to glorification and exaltation, need we wonder that that is not our path too? David prayed and taught us to. David believed in God's providence and teaches us to. David prized the Lord as his portion above everything and beckons us to. And David depended on the Lord and urges us to. Believe and hope. He will not fail you.
Heavenly Father, oh we thank You for the evening psalms, to end our day thinking of You and of Your refuge, stacking up every grief, every heartache, every hidden trial, every public disappointment, every humiliation, every problem, and seeing that it doesn't measure up to the mountain of who You are, that You dwarf it with Your infinite size and wisdom and love and grace and provision. Lord, help us to prize You as our portion more than anything, and so put all our predicaments in proportion to the One who is our real portion, and so find comfort and hope from Yourself, from Your Word, from Your Son, from Your grace, from Your Gospel. We pray it in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.