An Interrupted Prayer
(H) For the director of the choir, to be accompanied by stringed instruments. (A Psalm) of David. (1) Answer me when I call, O my righteous God. You have relieved me in my distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer. (2) O sons of men, how long will (you turn) my glory into shame? How long will you love vanity and pursue deception? (Selah) (3) Know that Yahweh has set apart the godly for himself. Yahweh will hear when I call to him. (4) Tremble and do not sin. Meditate in your hearts on your beds and be silent. (Selah) (5) Offer sacrifices of righteousness and trust in Yahweh. (6) Many are saying, “Who will show us any good thing?” Lift up the light of your face upon us, Yahweh. (7) You have put joy in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. (8) In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, Yahweh, cause me to dwell in security.
One way to arrive at the message of Psalm 4 is to observe who is being addressed in which verses. What we have in this passage is actually an interrupted prayer. First, David speaks directly to God, asking him to hear and respond (vs. 1). Although this verse does not give us the specific reason for David's prayer, his statement, “You have relieved me in my distress,” implies that he has endured a period of great pressure and spiritual suffering.
We then receive more information when David interrupts his praying and speaks directly to his enemies, asking them two rhetorical questions each beginning with the phrase, “How long” (vs. 2)? In other words, their continued animosity has stretched him almost beyond the breaking point. David then warns his tormentors to be careful how they treat those who have Yahweh on their side (vs. 3).
David next addresses those who, like himself, are seeking to honor Yahweh in the midst of such difficulties (vs. 4 & 5). He suggests three ways to cope with life’s stressful times. First, a healthy fear of Yahweh keeps us obedient (vs. 4a). Then, meditation quiets our troubled spirits (vs. 4b). Finally, worship deepens our trust in Yahweh (vs. 5). David finishes his interrupted prayer by asking Yahweh to bless him (vs. 6), by acknowledging that God has filled his heart with joy (vs. 7) and by expressing a deep sense of assurance in God’s abiding presence (vs. 8).
I. [addressed to God] Hear and answer me in my distress. (1)
II. [addressed to enemies] How long will you trouble me? (2 & 3)
III. [addressed to fellow sufferers] How to cope when troubles come (4 & 5)
IV. [addressed to God] Give me blessing, joy, and peace. (6-8)
We turn our anxieties into joyful calm when we turn our problems over to Yahweh’s gracious care.
In one brief verse, the Apostle Peter summarized the message of this psalm: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). But how can we do this? How can we actually stop worrying?
One of David’s exhortations, “Meditate in your hearts on your beds and be silent” (Ps. 3:4), suggests a spiritual exercise we can put into practice when we are troubled. Pastor Rick Warren in his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, offers this insight: “Meditation is simply focused thinking – a skill anyone can learn and use anywhere. When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that’s called worry. When you think about God’s Word over and over in your mind, that’s meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. You just need to switch your attention from your problems to scripture.”
The next time we find ourselves worrying, especially when we lie awake at night wishing we could fall asleep, we should try focusing our thoughts on a verse or a passage of Scripture, perhaps Psalm 4. We then can ask the Holy Spirit to calm our hearts, re-direct our thoughts, and give us the peace which he has promised to those who trust in him.