Opposition and Expectant Hope
At times, the psalms can be frustrating. They are not like New Testament letters for example, where the writer explains situations and gives some details about the problems as well as guidance to address them. Many of the psalms are just short and raw cries of the heart with no context. We are left wondering what is happening that caused these words to be written, which I think would help us understand them more.
But on the other hand, not having the specific details can be an advantage because we can relate more easily to what is being written. If, in our psalm this morning, Psalm 5, David wrote, “God here is what is happening and here is what I would like you to do about it” there would be a level of detachment for us the readers. But here, in this cry from the heart in suffering, we can relate it more easily to whatever may be causing us to feel the same way. So not having the details from David’s life allows us to fill in the details from our own experience and relate on a deeper level to the psalmist. And I think that is the reason behind the vagueness of many of the psalms. The words are meant to be taken up and used personally by people in all kinds of situations and to cry out to God and say, “Yes, exactly! God this is how I am feeling right now!”
In Psalm 5, again, we don’t know what is happening exactly. We are told this is a Psalm of David, but that’s it, no other details. We can gather from his words that there was suffering being inflicted upon him by evildoers, his enemies. But what form that took we don’t know and that’s not important, if it was than God would have revealed that to us. Instead, we are meant to see and relate to the suffering of the righteous and what should be our response. We are to put our own experience into this psalm and allow it to transform our hearts, minds, emotions, actions, every part of us in how we react to our suffering. To put it simply, I think we are meant to take away this idea:
There is serious and painful opposition in the way of the righteous, therefore pray and watch.
1. Serious and Painful Opposition
Let’s start first by examining what I mean by opposition in the way of the righteous. As with many psalms, Psalm 5 contrasts the way of life of two groups of people: the wicked and the righteous. The way of the wicked, how they live their lives, is described here in many different terms like evil, sinful, and prideful. And this way of life is against God. If you remember from Psalm 1, we looked at those words, righteous and wicked. The wicked are all those who do not submit to God, they do not follow his will. In turn, God, as it says here in verses 4-6, will destroy them, he hates those who do evil. Those who do not follow him, who do not submit their lives to him come under his wrath and judgement; they will someday bear their guilt.
But, and here’s the problem, that day has not yet fully come. As long as this earth continues, there will always be wicked people; not everyone will submit to God and his will. And while they live, they will live against God and against his people. Those who seek to follow God, known throughout the psalms as the righteous, they will meet opposition and oppression from the wicked. Very real, serious and painful suffering will come in this life for God’s people from those who stand against God. That is a consistent message throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus said the world hates me and they are going to hate you. Paul said that everyone who desires to live a godly life will be persecuted. It doesn’t get much more clear-cut than that.
And David’s words here are a very real look into the heart of someone meeting that serious and painful opposition. David desires to be righteous, to follow the will of God, but the world is against him. Evildoers, the wicked, are standing in his way, causing him pain and suffering and it leaves him groaning and crying out to God for help. Again we don’t know what is happening exactly we just know that it hurts him deeply. It could be anything, even things that we also suffer today. You can fill in the blanks with your own painful experience caused by the sins of others. Such as being unjustly spoken against, betrayed by a loved one, rejected or despised due to your faith, seeing your child wander from Christ, whatever your experience may be. The sins of other people cause us great pain, there is very real opposition in the way of the righteous. Sin and wickedness exist and it hurts.
But there is another layer to this suffering I think we are meant to see as well. There is serious and painful opposition in the way of the righteous from the outside; other people will hurt us. But the same is true from the inside as well. What do I mean by that? In verses 9 and 10, like verses 4 through 6, David describes the life of the wicked, those who do not follow God. This is a life characterized by sin and rebellion against God.
But what is interesting is that the apostle Paul takes the second half of verse 9 and he uses it in his letter to the Romans in chapter 3. And if you are familiar with Romans 3 you know that is where he builds his case for the universality of sin. This is where he takes lots of scripture quotations and puts them together to show that everyone, Jew and Gentile, all people of all time are born sinners. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
What Paul is telling us by using Psalm 5, is that this does not just describe some wicked people out there, standing in our way of a righteous life, this is talking about me and this is talking about you and what is very much at work inside each and every one of us. All of us have a sin nature. All of us without exception are naturally guilty, wicked and rebellious against God and the way of the righteous from conception. Now, thanks be to God that for those who come to him in faith, he has given us a new nature. He has not treated us the way our sins deserve when we come to him through faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are given a new heart where he raises us to a new life that has the ability to walk in his righteousness. But that new nature lives alongside the old, the wicked, sinful, rebellious nature.
Which means that opposition to the way of righteousness, this very real and serious pain and suffering we face, is not always going to come from the outside, someone out there. It will also come from within our very own hearts. We are going to be met with resistance to following God and his way from right here in me. And that is extremely difficult and painful. That is real opposition and suffering. That is going to cause us pain! As we wrestle with sin and the desire to follow God and the way of righteousness, we will be met with resistance from our own sinful hearts that leave us groaning and begging God to help us! Pleading with God to once and for all destroy the pride that keeps popping up in my heart. Praying that he would uproot the lust that continues to rear its ugly head. Begging, through tears, that God would keep my lips from gossip. The way of righteousness will be met with opposition and resistance from within our very own hearts.
And I want to challenge you this morning with this thought, that if you have never felt that tension, that painful opposition from within yourself, that should give you great pause. If you never have to say no to yourself, if your sin nature doesn’t seem all that bad and you can’t relate to David’s words here of pain and groaning because of what is happening inside and out, then maybe you have let your rebellious self rule for far too long. Or worse yet, maybe you haven’t been given a new nature and heart through faith in Christ and you are living with only the sinful, condemned self. I ask you to consider that, dwell on that today, tomorrow, this week. If you can’t relate, please talk to a trusted, godly friend, or me or one of the other elders. We’d love to dive more deeply into this.
But, if you can relate to that, if you can put yourself into this psalm and you want to know what is the best way to respond to this pain from the outside and within, there is great hope found here in these verses.
2. Therefore Pray
The way of the righteous is met with serious and painful opposition from both outside and within, therefore, and here is our proper response: pray. The first thing we should do in response to this painful opposition is pray. That is what this entire psalm is; it is a prayer to God, a cry of the heart begging God for deliverance from wickedness as well as his blessing for the righteous.
And one of the many things that the psalms teach us, this one especially, is that prayer should not be treated as a last resort. We do not pray as a last resort. This is not, “when all else fails, pray.” Instead, prayer is meant to be the first reaction of our hearts because we know it is the only way we can come before the one who can do what we cannot. Prayer should flow naturally out of a heart that sees its need and groans under the weight of inability. That is beautifully exemplified for us in this psalm. David is met with opposition and he feels the weight of it, he feels the pain deeply within him. But he doesn’t wallow in self-pity; he doesn’t try to fix it himself in his own strength; instead he comes before the one who can do what he cannot. It causes him to groan and cry out to God.
And we see several things he prays for in response to his suffering. David has been treated unjustly so naturally he wants justice to be done. But he knows he won’t find that perfectly in this life or from within himself, so what does he do? He prays.
David also, needs to be shown the way and given the strength to continue walking in righteousness, so he cries out to the only one who can lead him and make his way straight.
He wants to experience blessing, joy, peace and security so he bows down before the one who promises it to all who come to him.
In everything he gives it to God through prayer; he turns his suffering and opposition into a heart-felt cry to the one who can do what he cannot.
Prayer puts us on the most sure, solid and safe ground imaginable, which is reliance on God. And suffering and opposition from outside and within is meant to drive us there, to wake us up to our need for him. As one author said, “Trials will hit our lives, not to keep us on our toes, but to keep us on our knees in humble dependence on God.”
That pain you feel in your heart? Let that act as an invitation, a reminder and call, to come before the only one who can help us, to the one who wants to cover us with favor as with a shield.
No matter what it is we face in life, we are called to pray, to pour out our hearts to him. To tell him our sins, our sufferings, our grief, desires and needs. To unburden ourselves and cast it all on him, the only one who can carry it. The words of the famous hymn ring true, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer!”
Prayer is something we so easily take for granted, myself included but it is such a gift to us from God. David captures this in verse 7, which, if you think about it, is amazing because he is speaking hundreds of years before Christ, he has a very limited Scripture, and yet he has this deep theological insight into prayer. David knows that the only way he can approach God, the only reason he is able to bow down before him and be heard, is because of the abundance of the steadfast love of God. It is not because of his own holiness or worthiness. In ourselves we have no reason that God should ever even hear us when we pray. We have no right coming before a perfect, holy and just God; we are unclean, impure sinners. He should rightly take no notice of us. But God, out of the abundance of his love for us, has given us a way to him and he hears us when we pray to him.
We know clearly through the New Testament that Jesus Christ is the one who has opened the way into the presence of God for all who have placed their faith in him. Jesus is the picture and proof of the abundance of God’s steadfast love for us. Our Father wants us to pray to him and he has proven that by giving us his son to provide a way for us to know him, to cry out to him and cast our cares upon him. What a gift and privilege!
We can’t afford to think of prayer as a last resort. We can’t ignore it or go any great length of time without taking part in this gift. Prayer is a blood-bought life line for us! So let’s make it our front-line of defense against the painful trials we will face in this life from outside and within; let’s walk in the abundance of the steadfast love of God by praying to him in all of our joys, all of our hurts and live in dependency on him for all things.
There is serious and painful opposition in the way of the righteous, therefore, pray.
3. And Watch
And when we pray, we also watch. I love that phrase in verse 3. David says he pours out his heart to God, in his groaning and crying he knows God hears him. So he is going to watch, he will wait and see what God is going to do. He has expectant hope that God will answer his prayers in a real, mighty and amazing way.
This praying and watching isn’t a type of inactivity. I think that is one of the reasons why so many of us don’t pray, right? I know that is true of me. Prayer and watching and waiting on God feels like inactivity. I need to be doing something. But when viewed rightly through the lens of Scripture, we find that prayer and watching is asking God to do as verse 8 says, making our paths straight, leading us on and watching to see what he is going to do in each and every step of the way.
It makes me think of George Muller who ran several orphanages in England in the 1800’s. He was known as an amazing man of prayer with tremendous faith. And he exemplified this expectant hope, this watching to see what God would do in every step. There was one morning before breakfast, where the staff came to George and told him there was no food or milk for the hundreds of orphans and they didn’t know what to do. He stood up and told them he would take care of it. He went and found his wife and he said to her, “Come and see what God will do.”
They went to the dining room and there sat three hundred children with empty plates and glasses. So he prayed. And he prayed with this expectant hope saying, “Thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.”
At that moment someone knocked on the door of the orphanage. It was a local baker who said he couldn’t sleep last night because he just had this overwhelming sense that he needed to bake for the orphans so he brought them some bread.
Right after this, someone else came into the orphanage and said their milk truck had broken down outside and he would need to unload a lot of the milk in order to lift the truck to fix it so the orphanage could have it if they wanted. Three hundred orphans had their hungry bellies filled that morning.
How amazing is our God? What joy there can be in our lives when we humbly depend on him through prayer and watch to see what he is going to do!
As you consider the words of David in this psalm and sense the pain and opposition in your own life, whether from outside or within, will you pray and watch? Do you have expectant hope that God can and will do more than we could ask or imagine right there in the midst of your hurts and sufferings?
And we know that we can trust God with all of our pain, all of our sorrows, all of the opposition we face from inside and out. We know that he can handle it all, he can conquer it all, he can comfort us and cause us to rejoice through it all.
Again, he has proven this to us already by sending us his Son. He has demonstrated to the uttermost his abundant and steadfast love for us. We can rest secure in him and know that in everything, when we cry out to him, he will hear us and he will lead us and he will spread his protection over us and cover us with his favor so we will ever sing for joy in him.