Have you ever been at someone else’s mercy? In a work situation or at home; maybe at school or in personal relationships? Or perhaps it feels as though you are at the mercy of a situation that won’t change or has changed too much: circumstances beyond your control. These are hands down some of the worst experiences a person can go through. Today’s Scripture reading encapsulates this neatly:
Psalm 3 (NIV)
A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
The third psalm has a byline that reads, “A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.” This psalm was written in response to a situation where the author felt they had lost control and that they were at the mercy of others and changing situations. “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’” These are cries of powerlessness.
Can I tell you something I’m discovering as I work through my own period of feeling powerless? Powerlessness is a lie that sinks its teeth deep, into the very heart of our worst fears and less pleasant memories. It seems prophetic: I knew this would happen, this always happens! What am I going to do? But as I grappled with this in prayer, I realised it felt like something fanged really had lodged onto me. And when something feels that way, you know it’s not from the Toys R Us catalogue.
I believe this is why the psalter wrote, “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” This fear is something that needs to be kicked in the teeth. But at the same time, we need to ask ourselves – is this fear being exploited by Old Nick’s lies because we believe, somewhere in the backs of our minds or the depths of our hearts, that we need fear being at God’s mercy? We’re not great with power imbalances, and here we are faced with the mother (or, father) of all power imbalances: between ourselves and God.
Is this the way the psalter of Psalm 3 experienced God? The opposite, actually: “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” The author felt what we have all experienced, when we drop ourselves at God’s feet, exhausted from our own fears, worries and efforts: the Creator does not crush us under his feet – he stoops low, picks us up, lifts our chins to meet his eyes. What an amazing thing this is: true power, true love.
Is it any wonder that the only creature who cannot meet God’s eyes will try to convince us that those same eyes don’t see us, don’t see the teeth puncturing our souls and trying to drag us down, down, down?
Is it any wonder that, through any worldly means possible, he will try to keep us under the thumb of people or situations we think are too heavy to shift?
Is it any wonder that these are all lies?
Power ultimately resides with God. Everything else is a distortion or a weak imitation. Unfortunately this does not make our experiences with these kinds of power any less scary or oppressive. Understanding who distorts power will probably not magically make miserable in-laws less miserable, or your mean boss any less mean. What we do begin to understand, though, is that these things are not of God; and if they’re not, then who are they from? And if they are from our old enemy, then where does that leave us?
In John 16 we read, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v33). It’s from this place of Jesus’ triumph that we pray and act. His triumph over sin and death is what plants a boot squarely on a tightly clamped jaw and breaks teeth and holds. His sacrifice, resurrection and ascension are what leaves us fearless, “though tens of thousands assail [us] on every side.”
As we go into this week, let’s pray Psalm 3 into and over our lives, for “From the Lord comes deliverance.” Let us “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).
A note on abuse: if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse (whether emotional, physical or otherwise), please know that this situation is not God’s will for your life, your relationship or your marriage. Understand that abusive behaviour stems not from love, but from fear, and take steps to separate yourself from any abusive individuals. Please see this page for more resources (South Africa).