Seek Ye First ... - by Richard Neufeld
Psalm 60 is written to David’s choirmaster; it reflects his conflicts and, in this case, his defeats at the hands of the nations surrounding him, most likely found recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-8. David begins by lamenting his sense of rejection by God, whom he acknowledges as angry and not having given His help in certain conflicts, probably for the sins of Israel. David is careful to realize that though the Lord is always victorious, Israel had conducted themselves in a way that went outside of what He wanted them to do. A Psalm and narrative such as this is most likely condensing events, drawing themes and verses together around their ultimate cause(s) and not just their immediate effects. Whatever the case may be, David acknowledges his despondency before the Lord who has made His people see hard things.
David then hits a hopeful chord (pun intended?) as he remembers the goodness of God, His power to save, and that Israel is still the Lord’s beloved. David speaks, as an inspired prophet, the words of God and shows Him as one who will rejoice in His lordship over Israel, portioning and caring for the people of Israel while bringing low their enemies. The final four verses recognized again that it is only through the Lord and acting in His will that victory is assured, that no man can provide salvation, and that trusting in Him is the only means by which man may prosper and thrive.
This Psalm follows a path with which we ought all be familiar by now. There’s the recognition of error accompanied by lament and acceptance, a turnaround to hope in the Lord, reminders of His goodness, promises, and sovereignty, then ended on praise and promise. They say that if you can’t or don’t know how to pray, read the Psalms – that’s true even if you do know how to pray.
I very much doubt that any of us who are reading this blog (nor the one writing it) have ever been in such tight spots as David. We’ve probably not been chased from our house and home for years at a time, hunted for having done what is right; we’ve not been responsible for the lost lives of hundreds or thousands; we’ve not ruled over a nation chosen by God to be His special people. We tend to read Psalms like these through our modern eyes and draw themes between them and our own lives. Perhaps a foe or enemy is a specific person you have to be around every day that just winds you up, or maybe it’s the way your workplace as a whole deals with some moral issue completely backwards and suddenly you find yourself under fire for trying to do the right thing. We parallel our lives to that of David or Elijah and draw comfort from the promises of God in whatever given circumstance we find ourselves. We can empathize with them having enemies on all sides or them feeling abandoned by God and are content to orbit the stories in the Bible around our own lives.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with reading like this, it doesn’t exactly put our focus where it should be. I’m not saying we can’t correlate Biblical characters and their struggles or praise with our own lives, but that we shouldn’t only draw our connections one way. Instead, we should draw that arrow of connection both ways. If we feel under siege at work or alone or hurting because of the way someone treated us here or there, imagine how David felt to have an entire nation out to get him! If we feel rejected by those who should have loved us most, imagine how Jesus felt in His own hometown, or standing in front of the High Priest before being condemned to death! Instead of only taking the titanic struggles we find in Scripture and scaling them down (and yes, we might very well have titanic struggles of our own), let us also scale our own empathy to those in the Bible who, probably being in much tighter spots than we might find ourselves, could still praise God in sorrow, could still affirm His goodness when He seems far off, and could still declare His goodness even when all good has disappeared from sight!
This is a difficult but vital exercise. It is vital because it takes our focus off ourselves and angles our hearts somewhere else; it is difficult for those exact same reasons. You and I come to the Bible for guidance, comfort, wisdom, and so much more, but remember: we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto us. To surrender even our most difficult trials and to pour out even our most sensitive feelings and sins to the Lord as a friend and father, purely for the sake of building intimacy with Him and not to feel the warm fuzzies, is pure worship. To seek to glorify God in our time alone with our Bibles and keep our hearts angled upwards is to seek first the kingdom of God; then all these things will be added unto you. It is a subtle and difficult exercise, but could very well be the next step in our heart’s alignment to the Lord’s. I don’t claim to be good at this at all, but I do recognize my own struggle and maybe this helps you with yours.
David could confidently stand upon the promises of God even while feeling broken and rejected by that same God; he was in the habit of putting the Lord before his own anger and turmoil. It was this way of living that let him declare God the Father as our only true salvation.
Thank you, Father God, for being so close at all times. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might see you before ourselves. Teach us to put you first and trust that you know exactly what we need before we say a word. Teach us to trust you as the Good Father that you are; to pour out our hearts before you that we might do away with our self-exaltation and idolatry, putting you on the throne of our hearts where you belong. Forgive us for having been so selfish and inwardly focused, and grant that we might just forget ourselves a little bit more each day, trusting you, that we might reflect the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, to everyone around us. Amen!
Song: The Lord is My Salvation (Shane & Shane)
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.