How often is life hard? How often is it seemingly more than we can bear, or at least more than we want to bear? For most of us, the answer is probably more often than we would like to think. Life in a fallen world is hard, because sin is disastrous. Whether it is our own sin leading to a broken soul or the sin of others and its effects being heaped upon us, the trials of life often rise up and choke the life out of us – leaving us tired, filled with anxiety, and thirsty for relief.
The Bible has much to say to us when we are in these times, and one place we can consistently go is Psalm 143. In this Psalm, David is in the midst of one of those tough times. His prayer and pleading to our Heavenly Father provide the balm for the wounds of the world.
Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
Notice how David starts. He highlights the righteousness and faithfulness of God as the grounds for God hearing his plea in this time of distress. David, as a servant of God, knows God is righteous and faithful and will hear his prayer and He will answer that prayer.
Notice also what David doesn’t ground this plea for help in – his own righteousness. David knows he has no righteousness of his own that would allow him to approach God and cry out for help; it is solely because we have a faithful and righteous God who loves us in spite of us that we can approach His throne and cry out to Him. David, and we, don’t approach God on our own merit as if our goodness would compel God to act. God will act on behalf of His people because He is a good, faithful, and righteous God; and that is good news for you in your time of distress - God will work in and through you for His glory because He is righteous and faithful toward an unrighteous people.
3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
David then identifies his problem. He is facing an enemy that has pursued his soul, has crushed him to the ground, and has caused him to feel in his soul that he is sitting in darkness like those long dead. This evil, this enemy, has caused him to feel as though he has been buried alive.
Isn’t this so often what evil and sin feel like? It pursues us, and not just outwardly, but gets at our very soul. This is the innermost being of who we are. Sin and its effects attack the heart, mind, and soul. It has left David feeling hopeless. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or some combination of these, David says his heart is ‘appalled’ – it is desolate and dry. So, what should we do when (not if) life leads us to feel similarly to David – we are pursued, crushed, and sitting in darkness?
5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done;I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
David’s next step is two-fold. It is to remember and to pray. David grounds his hope for God working in his life presently by remembering all God has done in the past. David says he will remember the days of old; he will meditate, think deeply, on all that God has done. He will ponder (again, think deeply) about the works of God’s hands.
This is a constant refrain in Scripture – remember what God has done! When we remember how good God has been so many times in the past, it should quicken our downtrodden spirits that God will work again – he is faithful and righteous! This is why I am a proponent of keeping a prayer journal. When you can look back over the years at how many times God has answered your prayers, intervened, and moved in ways you wouldn’t have even guessed, it is a storehouse in your heart to remind you of the goodness of God that you can trust again and again.
David then prays – ‘I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.’ This stretching out of his hands is simply a way of saying he is going to earnestly look to God. When you feel like you are falling off of a cliff, you will stretch with all your might to reach the one who can save you. David does that towards his good Father in prayer. Prayer shouldn’t be a last resort, but rather our first move on the chess board when we feel we are totally surrounded and all hope is lost.
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge.10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
These next four verses show David’s plea. He asks God to answer. He asks God to let him hear of his steadfast love. He asks him to make him know what to do and where to go. He asks God to deliver him. He asks God to teach him to do what God would have him do, His will not David’s. Finally, he asks God to lead him in the midst of the storm to some level ground.
One thing is consistent in all of David’s pleading – it is all dependent! In his crying out to God, David recognizes again and again he can’t fix this evil. He can’t resolve it. But he knows the One who can. Answer me God; speak to me; tell me where to go; tell me what to do; teach me; lead me.
Do you pray to God in this way when you are struggling? We might, but it is usually after exhausting our independence and trying to solve or fix it ourselves. Psalm 143 would rather us start here – your audience in prayer is the God of the universe, the One who is faithful and true, the One whose righteousness has saved your soul. Your audience in prayer is God and the One who answers you in prayer is God. If you know Him, what better place to turn?
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.
Lastly, we see the conclusion of David’s plea. He asks God to preserve him and bring his soul out of this trouble, not primarily so things can get easier, but for His name’s sake. David prays that in this, God would get glory. God, move and work in this for your sake! God, would you get glory from this for your great name!
This is a radically God-centered view of suffering. God, I am helpless and hopeless. But you never are! Move and work so that, in my life and to a watching world, You would get much glory, honor, and praise. You are righteous and your love is steadfast – show it off again, Lord, that you might receive the praise and glory that only you are due.
He then closes this plea in confidence. You will cut off and you will destroy, for I am your servant. David is confident in God. He knows that because he is a child of God, he can trust that God will move and work. It might not be how we always expect, but we can always trust our faithful, righteous, and loving God.
Life is full of pain, sadness, sin, sickness, and evil. We shouldn’t expect otherwise. But when life is hard, we have a God who is faithful and righteous, a God whose steadfast love for you never waivers. When your soul is thirsty, turn to the One whose water will always quench it.