Suffering comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is like a sharp sword that pierces and quickly retreats. More often, though, suffering is like being in a pressure cooker — it is not so much the intensity of the pain that is hard to endure, but thelength of time that we are forced to endure that makes it hard. “Pressure cooker” suffering wearies us, and often people who have suffered for a long time begin to show signs of despair and even resignation. God seems distant and uncaring, and the words, “I should just give up” are frequently entertained.
David had evidently been in his own pressure cooker for quite a while when he wrote Psalm 61. As he vividly puts it: “My heart was overwhelmed” (v.2). However, David also shares with us some unique (and inspired!) insights into how to persevere when we find ourselves in our own personal pressure cookers.
Call upon God in prayer — David seemingly felt that God was distant and inattentive as Psalm 61 began: “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed” (v.2). Even though he felt a great distance from God, David still prayed (v.1). A couple of insightful lessons result from verses 1-2. First, it is both possible and necessary to pursue God, even when it feels like we are at the “ends of the earth” in terms of distance from Him. Second, prayer is an essential element of faithful living, especially when we don’t feel like it! Worship may never be more necessary than when we are in the pressure cooker of suffering; the times when we least feel like worshipping are the times we most need to pursue God!
Contemplate God’s care — Giving up often seems to be the only way to successfully endure the pressure cooker, but David found a way much less traveled: contemplating God. David first calls God, “the Rock that is higher than I” (v.2), meaning that in God we find a place to rise above and make more sense of our troubles (cf. Rom. 8:18ff). David next calls God his, “strong tower” (v.3), which is built for the purpose of protecting troops against the enemy, just as God’s purpose is to protect us in the midst of our own pressure cookers. Next, David contemplates nearness to God being like a hospitable, “tent” (v.4). Finally, David likens God to a bird who brings His endangered servant under His affectionate, “wings” (v.4). Thus, God is seen by David as a refuge, a stronghold, a companion, and a protector. When suffering, do you intentionally contemplate God?
Claim God’s promises — As David prays and contemplates God, his mind naturally begins to think about God’s promises to him and to Israel (v.5-7). He recalls the promised inheritance (heritage) of those who are faithful. In the pressure cooker of suffering, it is vital for us to claim the everlasting promises of God.
Cling to your purpose — Psalm 61 begins with David feeling distant and alone because of his suffering. Now in verse 8, David reveals his renewed resolve before God: First, he focuses on eternity, “I will sing praise to Your name forever.” Second, and just as important, he focuses on present duty, “that I may daily perform my vows.” When in the pressure cooker, O how we Christians need to cling to our purpose in the Lord (Col. 3:17). David resolved to do what God wanted every single day, remembering that his praise of God would continue eternally.
Psalm 61 teaches that God should be pursued, especially when we feel distant from Him! —JB