Praying Our Heads Above Water

If there was ever a song written in the minor key it would have to be Psalm 38. Not much to cheer the soul here. What’s entitled as a song for “the memorial offering” recants the nearly crushed soul of someone who feels the heavy hand of discipline of their God. Between the internal burden of knowing his sin and the external persecution he is experiencing at the hands of his enemies, it’s no wonder there is a sense that the psalmist feels near to drowning in his circumstance and situation. But what’s grabbed me this morning is the manner in which he prays his head about water.

O LORD, rebuke me not in Your anger, nor discipline me in Your wrath! . . . O Lord, all my longing is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You. . . .Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!

(Psalm 38:1, 9, 21-22 ESV)

Whatever the situation about him, it was bad. His enemies were ready to pounce (v.12). His foes were aggressive, they hated him, and would not have hesitated to take advantage of his weakened condition (v.19-20). But, in a sense, that is the lesser of the songwriter’s worries because it’s what’s going on inside his body and soul that poses his greatest threat. Whatever the sin committed, whatever the psalmist is thinking of as he confesses and repents of his iniquity, it is that for which he is suffering–both physically and emotionally–the most. He’s getting hammered from all sides, inside and out.

Try and sing his song and you can’t help but come way thinking this guy’s a mess. He is overwhelmed. He is sinking. And what do you do when you’re about to go under for the third time? Grab for a lifeline. Biblical translation? Pray! Cry out to the LORD!

And cry out to the Lord he does. And each time he does the burden seems to be somewhat eased and lifted. Each time he averts his eyes from the darkness within and the pressure without to the God who reigns above, rays of hope seem to break through the darkness of lament. From “not in Your anger, Lord” to “I’m laying it all before you, Lord” to “Hurry and help me, Lord”, David, despite his sorrow for his sin and his suffering of its consequences, turns his face to rescue . . . and refuge . . . and redemption . . . and reconciliation.

He starts by seeking God’s mercy, “not in Your anger.” He concludes by anticipating God’s grace, “Make haste to help me.” He prays his head above water.

Despite his transgression and failure, He never doubted His Father’s love. Even at his loneliest, He ever expected His Father’s abiding presence. Even when the words seemed to hit the ceiling, he believed that heaven heard. He wouldn’t hold back. He would lay it all on the table knowing that nothing was hidden from his God. Despite having brought at least some of his situation upon himself, he would still make his requests known to God and, it seems, that the peace of God which passes all understanding began to guard his heart and mind (Php. 4:6-7).

There might be an inclination to avoid approaching His throne of grace when we know the calamity is of our own making. We might just keep it to ourselves when we know we’ve transgressed. We could be prone to just trying to gut it out when we know we’re reaping what we’ve sowed. But if this minor key psalm hints at anything, it’s that we need to confess our sin and go to our Father. That we need to trust in the Son’s finished work on the cross. That we need to believe in the interceding help of the Spirit who lives within. And we need to pray our heads above water.

All because of unfailing grace. All for His unfading glory.

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