Reader: “The Lord will answer”
Response: “when I call to him.”
Scripture: Psalm 4
Answer me when I call to you,
O God who declares me innocent.
Free me from my troubles.
Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?
You can be sure of this:
The Lord set apart the godly for himself.
The Lord will answer when I call to him.
Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
Think about it overnight and remain silent.
Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,
and trust the Lord.
Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”
Let your face smile on us, Lord.
You have given me greater joy
than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Have you ever prayed and it seemed like you were talking to yourself? God was on another call and you were on hold. You wanted to leave a message and get a call back. You and the psalmist are in the same place. What I appreciate in this psalm is the openness and honesty of David’s words. His heart is bare before the Lord. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if God immediately granted every request you made? What a disaster! Among other things, you would have no sense of patience. No real maturity. Children want things right away and want what they want! They can’t wait. “Free me from my troubles” and please do it now. Lord have mercy!
The next two sections continue the lament with the question of “How long will you people ruin my reputation?” The godly one is suffering from lies being told about him, treacherous plans being made against him in an effort to destroy him. Does that ever happen now? The godly suffer from the wicked in every age. The good news is that God sets apart the godly for himself and he does respond to his own in his time.
What follows are two lines that every person on earth should take to heart. Don’t let anger control you. If we are honest, we have seen anger and hatred be the driving, controlling force of political activity world-wide in recent times. How many times have you sent a “hot” email or spoken out of anger “just to get it off your chest.” Did you feel better afterwards? Did it make the situation better? I know I sound like your father or mother! The psalmist here is trying to help us. When you are about to lose control, sleep on it. Don’t do anything now. Think about it overnight. Write that email. DON’T send it. Sleep on it. Read it again in the morning. Then delete it. Then go to the Lord and put your trust in him. But then there are times after a night’s sleep and more thinking and praying when you do pick up the hammer and nail the “95 Theses” to the door.
The concluding portion of the psalm leaves the lament behind as David acts on trusting God. He gives us the beautiful image of the face of God smiling on his people. The Scriptures make a point of describing God’s blessing as turning his face toward his people. The opposite is also true with the displeasure of God being described as his turning his back on his children. But here we are reminded of the glorious Aaronic blessing where we read “may he make his face to shine upon you” or “may he turn his face toward you.” Such an action is an indication of God’s favor. In this particular blessing peace follows.
A word about that peace. In the early 1970’s my father was killed in a farming accident in Illinois. We were all out of the house by then and my mother, who was fifty-six at the time, lived alone. Since we were living in California at the time, I remember asking her some months after the funeral if she was ever afraid to be alone at night. She told me a few days after the service she read this psalm. When she came to the last sentence she said she claimed it and went to sleep and never worried about being safe the rest of her days. She died at ninety-eight. The Lord was her Shepherd.
Where there is agitation and unrest at the beginning of the psalm, David finds comfort, safety and shalom at the end. The Lord is near and brings inner joy. The outward circumstances have been put in their proper place. The trust and closeness to God frees the inner being. Anger, lies, jealousy, and bitterness never have and never will produce godly peace. God will take your call now. You never were on hold.
Music: “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” Xara
Prayer: (From Psalm 138) I thank you, Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard all I said. In the sight of angels I sing to you, and bow low towards your holy Temple. I thank your name for your faithful love, for you made your promise greater than your name. When I called to you, you answered me, and made my soul wax strong. From far above the Lord you see the lowly, but from far away you mark the proud. Though I am ever in distress, you keep me alive, infuriate my foes. You stretch out your hand and keep me safe, your right hand does all things for me. Lord, your love is an endless thing, do not forsake me, whom you have formed. ―translated by Laurence Brett, In the Presence of My Father, p.224, adapted Daniel Sharp