Thou Hast Been A Shelter for Me
Recently I visited a couple who had quit attending worship services. Problems at home had overwhelmed them. In this particular case, problems generally had that effect on them. When things in their life seemed bright and cheery, they were present at the worship services; however, when the clouds of life appeared on the horizon, the infrequency of worship was in direct proportion to the ominous nature of the clouds. Theirs is not a unique case.
There are a good many saints who decide to quit worshiping God when problems face them in life. Some blame God for their problems; others place blame on everybody except themselves. They think that the elders, deacons, preachers, and other faithful saints have never experienced problems as great as theirs. Consequently, no one can understand their problems or sympathize with them; most importantly, no one should condemn them for not worshiping regularly because they do not know how bad life is for them. I have heard this story enough times to know that this attitude toward life's problems affects a good many of us.
Studying the lives of some of God's great saints is extremely helpful in learning how to cope with life's problems. One such example of that is the manner in which David handled his problems. On one occasion, he wrote,
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed:
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For thou hast been a shelter for me,
And a strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever:
I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah (Psa. 61:1-4).
What a difference in David's attitude and that of those who, in the face of troubles, decide to quit worshiping God.
This psalm does not explicitly relate what particular problem David was facing. He faced many during his lifetime, most of which were greater than any I have faced. The problem was bad enough that he called his prayer to God a "cry" to God. He offered his prayer "from the end of the earth."
In trying to learn the physical circumstances from which David cried to God, a good bit of attention has been given to the phrase "from the end of the earth."
We know that the center of the affections and devotions of the pious Israelite was the "holy city, Jerusalem; whither the tribes went up, even the tribes of the Lord, to testify unto Israel, and to give thanks unto the name of the Lord." The country of which this city was the capital, was to the Jew the world; it was the world within the world; the earth within the earth; the whole globe beside was to him a waste, a place out of the world; an extraterrestrial territory, beyond the limits set up by the Lord Almighty. This in Holy Writ what is called the world, or the earth, frequently signifieth only that part thereof which was the heritage of the chosen people . . . . "The end of the earth," then, as referred to the psalmist, would signify any place of bodily absence from the temple where the Deity had taken up his special abode, or any place whence his spiritual affections were unable to reach that temple (Alfred Bowen Evans as quoted by C.H. Spurgeon, Treasury q/'David, Vol. 111, p. 108).
Assuming that Evans is correct in understanding "the end of the earth" to removal from the location of the Tabernacle, this psalm was probably written during the period of Absalom's rebellion; however, it could also be referring to any of the period when David was hounded by Saul.
Whichever it might refer to, David surely faced problems as great as or greater than those faced by most of us. Frankly, I have never had anyone chasing me to kill me; I have never been forcefully removed from the assembly of God's people. As a matter of fact, when compared to the lives of Job and David, my life has been relatively free from problems; most of us would have to say the same in comparison to these two persevering saints.
David's Method of Handling Problems
The particular thing of interest to the saints of God should be what is the correct manner to handle one's problems in life. There are times when a person gets into a situation which he can only endure. Some of us are running to psychiatrists for pills to enable us to cope with life's problems. That is not the way David handled his problems; here is how he handled them:
1. He prayed to God. His heart was overwhelmed (Psa. 61:2). He cried to God. The Father in heaven has a heart and is open toward his children. Like our earthly fathers, He is touched by our tears. Describing Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the writer of Hebrews said, ". . .who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared" (Heb. 5:7).
Though we sometimes do not think about it, tribulations sometimes drive us to God. They draw us closer to God. Faith's greatest triumphs are achieved in her heaviest trials. Consequently, James wrote, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (1:2-4). Pouring out of our heart's desires to God is pleasing to God. The person who understands the nature of God should realize that there is more to be gained in laying his problems on God than in taking some kind of pill to numb us!
2. David expected help from God. He cried to God because he had found that, in the past, "thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy" (Psa. 61:3). Perhaps your experiences in faith have been so limited that you cannot say that you have personally found God to be a shelter and a strong tower in the past. If so, please consider how God has helped His people in the past. God was with David on repeated occasions, delivering him from a lion and a bear, from Goliath the Philistine, from Saul's spear and his army, from the Philistine king Achish, and from others. Hence, when David faced this new trial, he would turn to Him who had delivered him in the past.
God delivered Daniel from the lion's den, the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace, Hezekiah from the invasion of Sennacherib, Peter from Herod's attempt to kill him, and He can deliver us from our problems. There is no problem so great that God cannot deliver me from it. If He could deliver Jonah from the belly of the great fish, He can deliver me from any of my problems.
Sometimes, however, God does not deliver us from our problems. In such cases, God gives us the strength to endure them. When Paul prayed to God for help in removing his "thorn in the flesh," the Lord replies, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Consequently, Paul wrote, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Frankly, I have more admiration for this approach to life's problems than that offered by pagan sources.
David's Concept of God
1. The rock that is higher than I. The comparison of God to a Rock which is higher than the author is probably to be taken from the manner in which a high rock stands out of in rising tides. As David saw himself sinking in the problems of life, he called for help from God who was the Rock that is higher than himself. Help must not be a mere rock; it had to be a rock higher than himself. For the king of Israel to refer to help from someone higher than himself, he can only be referring to Deity. "The rock that is higher than he, must be higher than any man; for David was a mighty monarch" (Ibid., p. 110). David, therefore, looked upon his God as a rock which could save him from any tide of troubles which tended to engulf him.
2. The shelter. David said, "Thou hast been a shelter for me." God was the shelter from the storms of life. Whenever a man is caught in a storm, he looks for a shelter; when David was caught in the storms of life, he fled to his God as a shelter to protect him from the storm.
3. A strong tower. He added that his God was "a strong tower from the enemy." David had seen his God protect him from his enemies so frequently that he compared Him to a strong tower built around a wall of a city. A strong tower was a place of great protection from which soldiers could drive invading troops from the wall of the city. God was David's strong tower; He protected him from the enemy.
David's Trust In God
Because of the these concepts toward God, David said, "I will trust in the covert of thy wings" (Psa. 61:4). Even as baby chicks flee to the hen with her wings spread out for protection, so David fled to the cover of God's wings for .help in time of trouble. Faith in God involves this trusting relationship with God: one does not trust God only in times of peace and prosperity; he especially trusts Him in bad times. One might be inclined to think that he could conduct his own affairs in periods of peace and prosperity; however, even the most foolish of us recognize his need for divine grace during trials.
The man who never walks with God through good times will not likely find the strength he needs from God in troublesome times. The troublesome times test a relationship at best. We need to walk with God day by day in order to find the strength to make it through difficult periods of our life.
We still sing this psalm of David regarding our need to learn to trust in God. Our modern songwriters have written it as follows:
O, sometimes the shadows are deep,
And rough seems the path to the goal;
And sorrows, sometimes how they sweep
Like tempests down over the soul.
O, sometimes how long seems the day,
And sometimes how weary my feet;
But toiling in life's dusty way,
The Rock's blessed shadow, how sweet!
O, near to the rock let me keep,
If blessings or sorrows prevail;
Or climbing the mountain way steep,
Or walking the shadowy vale.
O, then, to the Rock let me fly,
To the Rock that is higher than I;
O, then, to the Rock let me fly,
To the Rock that is higher than I.
- Wm. G. Fischer
Let us grow in faith to practice that about which we sing!
Let us find our strength to endure the storm in God. The relatively little which other sources can give should drive us to God. Only through faith in God can we look forward to the future. Present times look ominous at best. Rather than worrying about what the future holds, let us flee to Him who holds the future!
Truth Magazine XXIV: 16, pp. 259-261