Have you ever felt worried, distressed, or anxious?
Yes, I know that might seem like a ridiculous question. In one way or another, we have all experienced worry, distress, or anxiety. These real experiences of our lives are the sort of things we encounter throughout the Scripture. In fact, the writer of Psalm 4 expresses thoughts we all likely relate to:
Answer me when I call to You, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)
Where do you turn to find peace in these times? Often, we turn to friends or family for support, or look to distractions like television or reading a book. In themselves, none of these things are bad. However, within Psalm 4, we are directed in another way. The psalmist instructs us in the way we should turn in our distress.
God’s Strong Presence
First of all, the psalmist shows us to whom we should turn. “Of course,” you might say, “you are going to say that I should turn to God.” Yes, that is true, but it is not enough of the truth in this case. The psalmist says he turns to “my righteous God.” The two modifiers of God, “my” and “righteous,” are key words here. First off, in our distress, we do well to remember that God is personal and wants to be known: “my God.” God actually wants to be ours in the same way that a husband might say “my wife,” a mother might say “my children,” or close friends might refer to one another as “my best friend.” There is a sense of intimate and personal connection here. The second modifier, “righteous,” directs our attention to the character of God. In our distress we often forget who God is and what God is like. We may think that He has abandoned us or that He is not good toward us. The psalmist reminds us that we are turning toward the sort of Being who is completely right and trustworthy in His character. Unlike any other person, activity, or substance, God will do what He promises to the highest degree. In distress, we do well to turn to our righteous God.
Moving Toward Peace
The psalmist also gives direction about how we can move toward peace. When worries rise up like a fog around us, we often slide into the mire of discouragement, self-doubt, and anger. It does not take long for that mire to engulf us in negative choices or sin-laden activities. But the psalmist exhorts us toward something else:
Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the LORD. (4:4-5)
In the quiet moments (“on your beds”), we should not slip into sin. Instead, we should allow God to search through our interior thoughts and exterior actions. We must make a willful decision to turn from sin and “offer the sacrifices of the righteous” that flow from a trust in God. This is not easy. Trust is a choice. Right action is a choice. We must turn from what leads us away from life, and turn toward what leads us into life. When we are in anxiety, however, it becomes hard to see what is going on and where life is found. Because of this, in the midst of distress, we need God to lead us and search through us at every level. This need for searching arises in another place in the psalms, Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Experiencing God and Peace
Sitting in distress is painful and tiring. Most often, we wonder what will bring an end to it. So the psalmist writes: “Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’” (4:6). Who is it that will bring an end to distress? Who is it that leads us to life? As I said before, the expected answer in this venue is “God,” but knowing the conceptual answer in itself is not enough.
Let the light of Your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety. (4:6-8)
Go back and read those words again. God is not merely One who brings relief from distress. More than that, God is the bringer of light, joy, peace, rest, and safety. Grappling with distress, the psalmist moves through the criticisms of his opponents and weary thoughts about himself to a true experience of God. He is calling out to God as His only hope from the beginning to the end of this psalm. He is asking God to shine light into the dark places. He is turning with his whole being toward God as the source of joy. He is seeking abundance from God and not from other sources. He is finding rest and safety within the presence of God knowing that such things cannot be found elsewhere.
What situation in your life threatens to overwhelm you with anxiety? What relationship is throwing you for a loop? What distress looms out over the horizon of your future?
Even in the depths of our distress, as we turn toward the Lord who holds all things, we will find true peace.