Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4 captures a prayer from David calling out to God. Many believer that this Psalm was paired with Psalm 3, which he wrote as he sought safety and fled danger from his own flesh and blood. 2 Samuel 15 teaches us that Absalom, David’s son, ‘stole the hearts of the men of Israel’ and conspired against his own father to overturn his throne and make himself King of Israel.
This prayer is heavy with grief and sorrow mixed with hopeful belief after King David had spent time wandering in the wilderness with a broken heart and discouraged spirit.
I’ve been there before. Have you? Where things were going well but all of a sudden you find yourself blindsided by a change in circumstance. It feels as if a rug has been yanked from beneath you, and you find yourself falling hard and fast onto the ground below. David’s prayer is a beautifully human combination of honest yearning and desperate belief.
David knows in his head that he can trust the God that he’s praying to, but in his heart, he’s calling out in desperation for help, joy and peace that only God can provide.
I find it so helpful that David seems to have an inward battle in his heart while he prays to the Lord. In verse one, David cries out, “Answer me when I call, O God… Be gracious and hear my prayer!” which shows us the need he felt to be close to God in his distress. But just two verses later, David claims, “the Lord hears when I call to him.” And all the while, he is reminding his soul to, “be angry and do not sin” (verse 4) as he wrestles honestly with this inner turmoil.
David isn’t crazy. He is simply experiencing the battle of head versus heart knowledge here, which we’ve all experienced! Our head knows that God is faithful – He has been faithful before and we can remember His presence. But our heart is hurting, fearful and agitated that we’re here in this place of need again – so we call out in the depth of our emotions and long for an immediate answer.
David often connects with our hearts because he experienced the very same emotions we feel today. But something beautiful stands out in the story of David that points us to Jesus.
As we read on in 2 Samuel 15, we learn that as David traveled into the wilderness, “David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.” (2 Samuel 15:30).
A few hundred years later, Jesus himself would sit on the very same Mount of Olives just moments before his betrayal (Luke 22:39). And much like David, betrayed by His own people, Jesus would wrestle with the head and heart belief that can cause us to feel like we’re being split in half.
“And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:35-36) “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Our Savior Jesus knows exactly what it feels like to face hard times and cry out to God in need.
Christ knew in His head that His Father would be faithful, and yet His heart was desperately crying out to God to rescue Him from this moment of sorrow and the troubles that were about to come. David prayed on the Mount of Olives many years before, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8) and now Jesus, the true and better David, was living out this same head knowledge in spite of the heart fear.
What David taught us to pray points us to a deeper faith in God, even when the circumstances don’t change. Jesus further fulfilled this obedience when He went to the cross on our behalf, in spite of His prayer to God for a change in circumstances.
Christ’s honest prayer was that something different might happen, but His heart was trusting in God for peace even if the circumstance didn’t change.
Hebrews sums up the beauty of Christ’s obedience:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Jesus prayed that His circumstance would change.
He was honest with God about His fears and concerns.
He prayed with tears, offering up cries and petitions to the point of sweating drops of blood.
And even in all of His greatest prayers, God didn’t change the circumstance.
God heard His child’s prayer, but God had something better in store than what His Son was praying. And Jesus faithfully fulfilled the plan His Father had laid out for Him, learning obedience and offering life to you and to me.
Praise God for Christ’s obedience in spite of His fears! David’s words in Psalm 4 are fulfilled in the life of Christ. Jesus believed that joy came from God alone, that peace would be found only in following the will of our Heavenly Father, even when our minds cannot comprehend how on earth things could work out. God hears our prayers, but He also sees what’s best for us.