Whether it’s your overwhelming responsibilities, family pressures, or uncertainty about your future, desperate moments leave you feeling hopeless and helpless—drowning in a sea of anxiety. All you want to do is escape, and you’re on the verge of doing something crazy to get out.
David found himself there. On the run from Saul, the king of Israel, David seeks refuge in Gath, a Philistine city (1 Sam 21). Soon, rumors start to fly: “Isn’t this David?” “Isn’t this the guy who slew more Philistines than Saul?” (v. 11) Realizing that he is in a desperate situation, threatened from Saul outside the gates and the philistines inside the gates, David is out of options. In desperate attempt to escape, David pretends to go insane by vandalizing the gates and drooling all over his beard, hoping that his display will prompt the philistines to kick him out of the city.
The fact that David went to such lengths to preserve his own life shows that he was desperate for options. You may not be threatened by murderous kings or philistines, but I’m sure you have first-hand experience of desperate situations.
I don't know what you're going through, but Psalm 56 has been incredibly encouraging to me, and I'd like to encourage you with it as well. David wrote this Psalm in response to his desperate situation in Gath. His honesty concerning his pain and his heart toward God provides us hope.
Your Struggle is Real
Intense. Persistent. This is how we would describe the trials that produce such despseration in our hearts. It's how David describes his situation in Psalm 56. He said that “man tramples on me” (vv. 1-2) and it goes on “all day long” (vv. 1-2, 5). It’s when the trials of life are intense and persistent that we start to consider desperate measures to escape desperate times.
David doesn’t paint a rosy, care-free picture of Christianity. The Bible acknowledges that pain and sorrow are very real experiences for the Christian. Your struggle is real. Don’t feel like you have to hide it or be ashamed of it. Don’t feel like you have to pretend like everything is ok. Describe your desperation to God. Be honest about the intense, persistent pain you are experiencing.
Your Emotions are Normal
Just as he is honest about his situation, David is also honest about the emotions he experienced in response. He experienced fear. Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid,” not “If I am afraid.” David experienced sleepless nights full of tears (v. 8). These are all normal emotions in response to desperate situations.
Do you feel afraid? Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Do you identify with David’s words in Psalm 6:6-7, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” ? Your sorrow, tears, fears, sleeplessness and restlessness are normal. Are you feeling desperate? It’s ok to say so.
Your God is Faithful
David doesn’t dwell on his fear and sorrow very long, however. He immediately shifts his attention to his God, and he doesn’t look back. As David explains his normal emotional reaction to desperate situations, in the very same breath he turns to God: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” When he is overcome by fear, he cried out to God. When he was overwhelmed with sorrow and tears were flowing down his face, he quickly remembered that God catches every tear in his bottle (v. 8). In the face of uncertainty and restlessness, David brought to mind the one thing he knew: “that God is for me” (v. 9; cf. Rom 8:31).
It’s as if David used his normal emotions as a prompt for dependent prayer. The moment he felt fear, he put his trust in God. The moment tears came, he reminded himself of who God is. Don’t be alarmed by the emotions you experience during desperate times, but don’t yield to them either. Instead, train yourself to use those emotions as a cue for prayer.
This was David’s practice, and the crazy thing is, this practice actually changed his emotions. He speaks about his fear in Psalm 56:3, puts his trust in God, and concludes, “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). Verse 8 speaks of “tossings” and “tears” and verse 11 concludes with “I shall not be afraid. What can man to do me?” Your emotions will adjust to dependent faith.
We live with this wrong idea that if we fake the right emotions, our beliefs will follow. But that never works. It only leaves you hollow. You can either let your belief bend to your emotions, or you can let your emotions bend to your belief. Don’t try to force the correct emotional response onto yourself. Don’t force yourself to be happy or paste on a smile. Don’t try to use emotions to change your belief—let your beliefs change your emotions. Recognize that your tears, fears, and turmoil is a normal response to your desperation situation, and then simply rehearse what you believe to yourself. Simply go to God in praise and petition. And keep doing that until the fear starts to fade. Keep doing that until you can “both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psa 4:8)
Your Response is Simple
God’s children can have peace in the midst of chaos, and because of this peace that only God provides, we are free to stay focused on what he has called us to do. David concludes Psalm 56 with a commitment to thankful obedience in response to God’s faithfulness (vv. 12-13).
You don’t know what God’s will for your future is. You have no idea how he will direct your steps or guide you through this desperate situation. But there’s one thing you do know: God is for you. Because of this unchanging reality, you can stop being fearful about the unknown and focus on what God has made known to you. Because of the peace God provides, you are now free to ask, What would thankful obedience look like in my work responsibilities, my family situation, or uncertain future? Freed from the paralyzing effect of fear, you can now focus on God’ revealed will to you in Scripture while you wait for him to perform his sovereign will in your life.
Understand that desperate times will come. Understand that you will naturally respond fearfully and tearfully. But if you use those initial emotional responses as a prompt for dependent prayer, you may see your emotions start to fall in line with your beliefs. You may find yourself experiencing the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). And it’s this inexplicable peace from God that allows you to respond to your desperate situation with thankful obedience.
Yes, times of desperation will come, but through Christ you can handle these times in a way that honors and glorifies your loving Father.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University and most recently completed his MDiv at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI, where He, his wife Hanna, and daughter Brooklyn, currently live. He also serves as the Director of Recruitment at DBTS and is a pastoral assistant at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @AaronMBerry
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