How do you respond when slandered or unjustly accused of something? How do you react when the ‘world’ conspires against you; when the forces within our systems and institutions crush us rather than protect us? How do you respond?
Are you a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ kind of person? Do you rail against the injustice and come out swinging regardless of the odds? Or do you retreat into your shell hoping that it will all just go away? Or do you do what David did?
David is being slandered –‘For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues’ – and being openly and unjustly attacked – ‘They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause’. And how does David respond? He does not ‘flee’ nor ‘fight’, instead he ‘prays’ – ‘but I give myself to prayer’ – literally, he says ‘I am prayer’ (ESV note).
I have said it before and I will say it again, the genius of the faithful Jew – and of the faithful Christian- was that he responded to calamity by praying! By devoting himself to prayer! I found myself challenged once again this morning by this fact.
But notice, as well, how David prayed. He begins by ‘railing’ against his foes to God (v. 6-20). The lectionary suggests that we can safely ignore the bulk of this rant, as if it is too salty for our sensitive cultured ears. And it is pretty brutal stuff: ‘Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand….. May his days be few…. May his children be fatherless… Let there be none to extend kindness to him… May his posterity be cut off…’ – and we could go on.
This is brutal – honest, but brutally honest. And even though David argues his foes deserve it – ‘For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death’ – the only good thing to say about it is that at least David prayed it! In situations like this, if you must vent, at least vent to God!
This is where David begins his prayer, but he goes on. In v 21-29 he finally prays for himself. Having vented about his enemies, he now cries out to God for help –‘But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake…. Help me, O LORD my God…. Save me according to your steadfast love’. First comes the explosive venting, and then the anguished request. It seems we need to get rid of our emotional eruption before we can come to our reasoned desperation.
But David goes on further: he begins by venting, he proceeds to requesting, and he ends with praise.
‘With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng’, And why?
‘For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.’
What is going on here? How is it that David can go from ‘desperate request’ to ‘confident praise’? My only answer is that God showed up. God answered his prayer. Together they would leave that holy ground and go out to face the situation at hand.
Have you and I learned to ‘give ourselves to prayer’?
If not, it’s time we did.