A Prayer in Time of Trouble Psalm 6

Psalm 6 A Prayer in Time of Trouble

A part of us clings to the naïve notion that God’s love for us is tied to our behavior: good behavior earns God’s love and acceptance; bad behavior means divine rejection. That’s a diabolical lie and the psalmist knows it! Finally, with eyes wide open, David readily admits his sin and begs God’s mercy anyway. Sin darkens human vision and alienates the soul from God, from self, and from others. Sin’s greatest danger is its ability to make us doubt God’s love and willingness to forgive.

Poetry is best read slowly, allowing each new phrase to enhance and gently adjust the sense that author had left with us before. That is certainly the case with Psalm 6 as its meaning unfolds bit by bit. This particular Psalm is one of a collection of seven Penitential Psalms, drawn together in Christian tradition at least as early as the sixth century and possibly earlier. Jewish tradition makes this Psalm a key element of a daily morning service of prayer that reflects a desperate calling out to God. David offers us a tragic, tense situation filled with insight into the sufferings of a person of faith.

We all recall the back story of this Psalm from reading II Samuel 11 where David, having caught sight of the wife of Uriah the Hittite bathing is unable to control his ardor and commits adultery with her. Following his failed attempts at hiding this elicit liaison he compounds his guilt by employing the swords of the Ammonites to commit murder. Nathan reveals the truth of the matter making David’s sins a matter of public record. Can you imagine what David’s political enemies did with this juicy slander? Psalm 6 introduces us to King David, but not the David of his adventurous youth or his Royal presence but rather a person who is frightened, desperate and depressed. In that state of mind David prays to God – this Psalm is his prayer.

Listen as Eli Gilbert reads Psalm 6 for us:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, and do not chastise me in Your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, because I languish; heal me, O Lord, because my bones are frightened. And my soul is very frightened, and You, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; save me for the sake of Your loving- kindness. For there is no memory of You in death; in the grave, who will thank You?

I am weary from my sighing; every night I sully my bed; I wet my couch with my tears. My eye is dimmed from anger; it has aged because of all my adversaries.

Turn away from me, all you workers of iniquity, for the Lord has hearkened to the voice of my weeping. The Lord has hearkened to my supplication; the Lord has accepted my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and very frightened; they shall return and be ashamed in a moment.

David is so frightened and unsettled that he asks God to ‘heal’ him and wonders how long he will suffer this fear that he feels down to his bones. David’s prayer reveals his incessant weeping as he lay in his bed at night, unable to sleep due to his nagging and relentless fears. This seems so out of character with our perception of this man who fought lions and bears and beheaded Goliath; who dispersed the Philistines, destroyed the armies of Ammon, Gath, Moab and Zobah. Why now, in his own bed at night, is David unable to feel secure in the Lord’s protection? I guess it’s pretty simple. David feels unworthy of God’s protections. Unable to sleep, he rolls and tosses and weeps in the night because he fears the consequences of his wrongdoings. It’s an interesting bit of our shared humanity that we can feel that if we fail to meet our responsibilities to God we can then no longer safely rely on God’s protection. We become vulnerable to the multitude of threats and dangers to which we are constantly exposed.

A part of us clings to the naïve notion that God’s love for us is tied to our behavior: good behavior earns God’s love and acceptance; bad behavior means divine rejection. That’s a diabolical lie and the psalmist knows it! Finally, with eyes wide open, David readily admits his sin and begs God’s mercy anyway. Sin darkens human vision and alienates the soul from God, from self, and from others. Sin’s greatest danger is its ability to make us doubt God’s love and willingness to forgive.

David’s saving grace is his refusal to let sin drive that wedge between him and the Lord; in fact, it’s his painful awareness of his sin that draws the psalmist nearer. We often think we can approach God only when we’re “good” and have our lives in order. The psalmist knows that were we to wait for a “worthy” time, we’d never pray. So we don’t defer prayer; we don’t wait until God is in a better mood. Scripture tells us to pray whenever there is the need. And need is greatest when we are mired in sin.

It doesn’t sound like good news to us at all but it really is. In God’s mercy, God does not spare us the consequences of our sin. To spur our prayer, to draw us closer when we might otherwise sulk or hide, God lets sin impact our lives. The consequences of our sin is not God’s punishment. They are simply the natural result of our decisions. And, in God’s love, if we let God, God can use them for our good. The psalmist is well aware that his own sin has brought into his life both emotional and physical distress and vulnerability to the attacks of enemies. Yet he prays with out shame. As a child who has disregarded a parent’s injunction to not venture far from home comes running to the safety of home when the playground bully threatens. David knows where home is. He knew where were the strong arms and loving embrace of a loving and forgiving God and he demonstrates that we need not wait to come home until we feel worthy, but while we are still steeped in sin.

The Psalm ends with the assurance of God’s protection but it is a searing reminder of the tension between conviction and reality, a tension that dominates the desolation of this person of faith who finds himself living in a daily relationship that keeps his sinfulness before him constantly. For David it became so intense that he found himself accusing God of being the source of his problems and then expecting God to resolve them. That’s a problem with monotheism – it leaves no one on whom we can place blame for our own shortcomings. This Psalm stands against our human impulse that we only merit God’s love and mercy through our goodness or obedience. No, David testifies “for the Lord has hearkened to the voice of my weeping. The Lord has hearkened to my supplication; the Lord has accepted my prayer.´ Now there is some good news for us!

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