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Life On The Ledge: Crying Yourself To Sleep, Psalm 6

Crying Yourself To Sleep

Psalm 6


In late 2012 a seventy-five year old woman named Marion bought a Bible in a used book store near her home in San Clemente, California. After making her purchase and returning home, she discovered a couple of folded pages tucked in the middle of the Bible. The contents of the yellowed notebook sheets contained a child’s handwriting that looked familiar. To her amazement, she discovered her name at the top of the first page.


When she looked closer she realized that she was actually reading a four-page essay she had written as a ten-year-old to earn a merit badge for the Girls Scouts in Covington, Kentucky – more than 2,000 miles from where she had just purchased the Bible. Covington is basically Cincinnati on the other side of the Ohio River. 2,000 miles and 75 years, and that essay wound up in a Bible she bought in a used book store.


She was pretty emotional about the whole thing. “I opened the Bible and there was my name. I recognized my handwriting. I was shaking, literally. I was crying.” It’s still a mystery how the essay ended up in a Bible in a used bookstore half way across the country, but one thing is certain. When we look deeply into God’s Word we see evidences of our lives, too. In the pages of Scripture we see people just like us – people who pursue faith and hope in God, people who also battle depression, doubt, lust, and pride. As we read the biblical stories about Abraham, Ruth, David, Mary, and Peter we also recognize our own life story.


As we dig into the Psalms this summer, not only do we find, in the psalm-writers, people just like us, but we also get a look at the inner life of those people. We experience not just the naked events from their lives, but their interpretation of those events and their inner thoughts and emotions as well. We see not just the experiences of people of God, but what those experiences were like for them.


Most of us think of the Psalms as songs of praise, and that they are, but they are not all happy songs. One student, keeping a journal as he read his way through the early Psalms, the ones we’re looking at this summer, stated in his journal: “What is it with these psalmists anyway? They’re such a bunch of whiners!” If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that it really seems like this student is right. If the only psalms we had were the first 50 or so, the overwhelming feeling we would get would be that of lament. Pain. Sadness. Blues.


Psalms is actually divided into five “books,” and the fifth one is predominantly praise. Many of our calls to worship come from book 5 of the Psalms. The book as a whole does make a dramatic turn to praise, but not before it deals honestly with life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And if we read them patiently, they force us to do the same. This is nitty gritty, real life stuff. Life can be hard sometimes. Harder for some than for others, but no one escapes life unscathed.


We experience physical pain through injury and illness. We experience emotional pain when friends hurt our feelings, when loved ones leave, when children begin making bad decisions. Sometimes our own bodies and brains work against us and we’re overwhelmed by anxiety and depression. And everyone who falls in love will experience the devastation of a relationship lost. Lost through breakup or divorce. Even those who “make it” in their relationships don’t escape this pain, for death will eventually separate us all for a time. And even though we know that we will be together again in God’s presence, that pain of separation is very real. Every marriage is headed for one of the two big “D’s” – death or divorce. Ok, maybe that’s a really pessimistic way to look at it, but it’s true!


And then there’s the spiritual pain we experience when we get the sense that something just isn’t right. We may be okay with ourselves at the moment, but we see so much pain and suffering on the news. Ukraine and Russia. The ebola virus. Christians persecuted, suffering, and dying in the Middle East and in North Korea. We see children dealing with debilitating diseases and fighting cancer and we get angry and our hearts hurt and we cry out with the psalmists “Where are you in all of this God? Are you still sovereign? Do you even care anymore? This just isn’t right. This can’t be your plan for your creation! How long?”


That’s the cry of David in this Psalm. Some say that Psalm 6, like the three that precede it, all really fall under the heading of Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.” If that’s the case, then here we find David at his wit’s end. He’s done. He’s tired of dealing with life right now. Others think that maybe the psalmist is dealing with a life-threatening disease or injury. Regardless, he’s clear that he’s done. Turn with me to Psalm 6.


Look carefully at v. 3. He can’t even finish his thought. It seems like he had something else he wanted to say there, like he wanted to turn the Psalm toward praise of God. But something stops him. He has that word “but” in there, like he’s ready to turn a corner. He’s been pouring his heart out to God, and now he’s ready to turn this Psalm, like so many of the other Psalms do, toward praise of God. “But you, O Lord …” is a fairly common formula for doing that in the Psalms. “Life is rough, but you, O Lord …” Feels like that doesn’t it. But he stops as despair overtakes him, he breaks off and just cries out “how long?” How long are you going to hold off God? How long do I have to deal with this? How long until you act? I can’t go on God. I just can’t. How long? He doesn’t even finish that sentence.


V.3 is two unfinished sentences mashed together. It’s the raw emotion that accompanies a really difficult time in his life. And he’s clear that this has gone on long enough. He isn’t writing this on a bad day, or at the end of a bad week. It’s been a long time. “How long God?” Maybe a bad year. Or two bad years. Or three. “How long God?” If you’re dealing with a serious chronic health condition, or you’ve had the same really bad experience in life more than once, or you’ve gone through real trauma and your life is still pitching back and forth on the waves caused by that trauma years later, you know the feeling. Broken bodies. Broken relationships. Broken lives. The pain just doesn’t go away. “How long God?” That question is filled with hopelessness, desperation, and despair.


Look back up at v. 1. Things have been so bad for so long that David entertains the notion that God is getting him for something he’s done wrong. He knows he isn’t perfect. He’s messed things up badly before. I mean, think about David’s life. Scandal. Lies. Murder. A cover up. Ego. Arrogance. Maybe this is some form of God-ordained karma coming back around to get him. You do reap what you sow after all. That’s a biblical principle and one that David knew well. After his episode with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan had informed him that the sword would never depart from his house. So maybe this was it. The end. He was finally getting what he deserved.


We think God is creating all of this evil around us, all of the terrible things people are going through. Pain and suffering and evil are NOT, and never were, a part of God’s plan for his creation. They’re foreign. God does use them for good in the end, because GOD is good, but pain and suffering and evil aren’t good in and of themselves.


You see, God wants relationship, not robots. He doesn’t want a bunch of computer controlled robots who do his will simply because that’s what they’re programmed to do, and that is what we would be if we had no choice other than to serve him. He wants us to choose him freely. And if we are to choose him freely, the ability to not choose him must be real, a truly viable option.


Humanity has from the beginning been choosing to move away from rather than toward God and his will for his creation. And that choice has introduced pain and suffering not just into the individual lives impacted by the mistakes and choices of others, but also into the very fabric of the cosmos. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves … wait eagerly for … the redemption” (Romans 8:22-23). The Psalms make us come to terms once and for all with the overwhelming WRONGNESS of pain and suffering.


So often, in trying to understand why so much pain and suffering exists in the world, we have nothing but empty words for those actually going through the suffering. We believe some of the same things the heart of the psalmist was in danger of believing. Things like “if bad things are happening to you over and over again, you must deserve it.” Or maybe it’s more personal. “If bad things are happening to me over and over again, maybe I deserve it. I’m a bad parent. I’m a bad spouse. I’m a bad friend. I’m a bad person.” So often we want to blame the sufferer for their suffering, and yes, sometimes the suffering is deserved. But it isn’t here, and it isn’t always. Or with better intentions we want to fix the suffering. We want our friend, our relative, our coworker, to “get back to normal.” Sadly, so often, even though our intentions are good, we, like the “foes” in the psalmists life here, offer empty, even hurtful words.


Look at v. 7. What foes? And what are they doing? It’s tempting to assume, especially if this Psalm IS referring to David’s flight from his son Absalom, that these enemies are Absalom and the people faithful to him – the people who are pursuing David. But in the language of this psalm, these “foes” aren’t the ones who cause David’s affliction. These foes are people who are exacerbating his pain with their words, maybe exploiting it – this pain and suffering being caused by his son’s rebellion. They’re the people who turn their backs on you when you’re down, figuring you deserve what you’re getting. They’re the people who jump ship on you when life gets rough, not wanting to be associated with someone who is really, desperately hurting. Now look at the language David uses here, because he’s really hurting.


Look at vv. 2-3. And then down at vv. 6-7. His pain is impacting every part of his life. He’s exhausted and in physical pain. He’s also in psychological pain. His emotions have him wrung out. And he’s in spiritual pain. His circumstances are causing him to wonder about just who God is. To question God’s goodness, mercy, and grace. His body, his mind, and his soul are in great pain. Overwhelming pain. He hasn’t stubbed his toe, literally or figuratively. No. A sharp knife is piercing his very soul, impacting every part of his being. David is impacted in mind, body, and spirit.


David hasn’t been captured and tortured by his foes. He hasn’t been physically beaten, but he feels like he has. In fact, he’s in anguish. The word translated as “anguish” here has the sense of withering leaves or crops. Kind of like our grass this summer. Or maybe the withering drought in a once lush region, too much heat and not enough rain. It refers not to the weakness present in the weak but of the strong brought low. Pictured here is the weakness of the strong. It’s the unapparent weakness of those for whom life seems to be okay, but who, in private moments, are in agony.


Most of us wear masks as we go through life. And those of us who are men are experts at putting them on and keeping them on. All I have to do is look in the mirror. I HATE to appear incompetent. To not know what I’m talking about. And that trait drives Becky nuts. There have been many times during our 25 years of marriage when I have been waxing eloquent about something and I had no idea what I was talking about. The problem was that Becky’s really smart and she knew that I had no idea what I was talking about. She always knows. It’s like she has a “dumbdar” or something. I think most wives have it. And so she stops, and she looks at me with that look that says “Just shut up you idiot.” It’s the “My husband the idiot” look. You all know what it is. In fact, I’ll bet those of you who are wives here can give it on demand. So here, go ahead and look at your husband and give him your “My husband the idiot” look. Here at Christ Church we talk about taking the masks off and being authentically yourself, regardless of what that is in a given moment.




David, the king, the warrior, has taken his mask off here and given us a glimpse into the insecurity and vulnerability of his hurting heart. But something changes. I want you to realize something. The pain doesn’t stop. It doesn’t go away between verses 7 and 8. And he doesn’t put his “I’ve-got-it-all-together-I’m-the-king-you-can-count-on-me” mask back on, the mask I’m sure his closest advisors wish he would put back on. Nope. But something shifts. You see, he’s lost God, but God hasn’t lost him. Maybe an image of God’s faithfulness to him in the past has flashed through his mind. Or maybe in a moment of worship or contemplation he has seen God clearly again, even if just for a moment. And David goes from hopeless desperation to a hope-filled view of the future. Hope. That’s what he has. His circumstance hasn’t changed. The pain is still there. But he’s gone from hopeless to hopeful.


Look at v. 8. You know, Jesus actually pulled language from this Psalm in HIS darkest hour. Look at John 12:27. “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Jesus, facing the darkest of days faced by anyone in human history, the day he would become our sin-bearer, the only day on which God the Father would turn his back on anyone anywhere, turned to this Psalm for comfort and hope. “Now my soul is troubled.” And because Jesus faced that day truly alone, you and I can face our dark days, our dark months, our dark years with knowledge not just in our minds but in our hearts, for the Psalmist writes not just from his mind but with his heart, that we “Do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Tempted in every way that we are. Not just to lie, or to cheat, or to erupt in anger in inappropriate and unhealthy ways.


Have you been tempted to quit? So was Jesus. Have you been tempted to give up? So was he. Have you forgotten that God is there, or wondered if God was still there at all? He experienced that so that you and I don’t have to. And because of that we can come before him IN CONFIDENCE, knowing that he hears. The promise isn’t that we’ll feel like he hears. You might feel like your prayers are stuck in the drywall on the ceiling and aren’t going anywhere. The promise is that he DOES hear them. And he responds to our plea, just as he did to David’s, “How long?” not with a number. “Oh, you’re going to suffer for another three days and then the clouds will lift. Or two more months. Or until this time next year.” We can handle a lot if we know it will end and when. No, God doesn’t respond with a number. He responds with his presence. It may not be his FELT presence. But you have his presence regardless, and he is holding you together while you feel like you’re falling apart.


God is holding you together, just like he held David together. I can prove it. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Take another one. Feel your breath on your tongue. Feel the life-giving air fill your lungs. You’re still breathing! You’re still here. He’s holding you together, whether you like it or not. And in the moment you take your last breath here you will take your next one with him. He is holding you together. He is holding us together. Just as he held David together through his many days of darkness. And with David we can proclaim “The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer!” Let’s stand together and proclaim that not to God, he already knows it. Let’s proclaim it to each other as we close. The words are on the screen …


“The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.


The LORD has heard my plea.


The LORD accepts my prayer.”


This IS the Word of the LORD.