Scrambling for Refuge

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Sometimes when we read the psalms it seems as if David never had a good day. He was seemingly always under the rod of affliction and frequently prayed for divine deliverance. Sometimes, the superscriptions of the psalms afford us insight into the particulars of those afflictions. Often, as in Psalm 61, they do not.

We don’t know the specific circumstances that led to the writing of this psalm, but we know how David felt. “Hear my cry, I God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint” (vv. 1–2). If these words were written by a Jew in exile, we might understand the feeling of being at “the end of the earth.” But the prayer was one of David, who was never distant from the Promised Land. But even though he was surrounded by God’s covenant people, there were times when he felt distant—when he felt as if he had been cast to the end of the earth and was calling God from there.

Do you know the feeling? For all practical purposes, you have no rational reason to feel like an exile. Your Bible remains on your bedside (or in your pocket), you regularly attend the church gatherings, and you may even be joining others in prayer and study. Yet, in the midst of this, you feel distant—as though God has cast you to the end of the earth. You feel utterly alone. How should you respond?

First, recognise that you are not alone. David expressed these same feelings and countless Christians have traversed the same dry land. Volumes have been written about the Christian experience of darkness and distance. That thought might not make you feel any better, but it should at least encourage you that your standing with God is not dependent on your feelings of connectedness.

Second, seek God. You may feel distant, but don’t give up. Plead with God for restored fellowship. Pray with David, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer” (v. 1). With him, ask to be led “to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 2). We have seen this time and again in the psalms. Over and over, God’s people have felt cast off and have pleaded with him to restore them. They have not known how long the feeling of distance will last but have persisted in prayer for relief (see 13:1–2; 90:13–14; etc.). Don’t give up because the sense of alienation has been prolonged. Persist in your prayers that God will show himself to you.

Third, remind yourself of God’s past mercies. “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (v. 3). David knew by experience what it was to receive divine favour and reminded himself of the times that God had previously proven to be a refuge. Christians can all testify to times when fellowship with God has seemed sweet. In the periods of spiritual drought, remind yourself of the springs of living water from which you have liberally drunk in the past.

Fourth, wait with anticipation. “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (v. 4). While he felt distant in the moment, he anticipated a time when that distance would be a thing of the past. He was confident that a time would come when he would once again experience the great joy of God’s presence and he eagerly anticipated that. There were other times when David found himself bogged down in despair (Psalm 40:1–2) but he experienced then God setting his feet on the firm rock (Psalm 40:2–3) and he was willing to wait for the same thing to happen now.

When he felt down, David scrambled to the rock that was higher than he for hope and refuge. In your feelings of disconnectedness, follow David’s example. Pray fervently and faithfully in anticipation of the day when you will once again “sing praises to [God’s] name” (v. 8).