Pain is no phantom. It is a real enemy and a persistent goad to our souls. If it isn’t always excruciating, it is, at least a burr buried in the weave of our hearts, annoying and inescapable.
David wrote Psalm 56 out of pain. In this case his present pain was more than irritating; it was a spike of the highest order. It was “when the Philistines seized him in Gath,” according to the ancient title ascribed to the psalm text (cf. 1 Sam. 21:10-11). Life was at its lowest ebb for David. He had fled jealous King Saul’s murderous plots and in desperation had sought refuge in the hometown of Goliath (17:4). What is worse, David strode into town with the giant’s own sword strapped to his side (21:9; 22:10)!
How bad must things be to find your last best hope in the hometown of the fallen hero in your greatest military exploits?
Things didn’t go well for David in Gath and he had to play the madman to get away (21:12-15). Fleeing to a cave, he threw himself within and cried out to God (22:1a). Psalm 56 is the result.
The prayer-song is predictably laced with anguish. But there is faith as well. Twice David prayed, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (vv.3-4, cf. vv.10-11).
Did you catch that? “When I am afraid … I shall not be afraid.”
Umm … what?
How’s that work? It could come in handy.
The full answer is beyond the scope of this short article (see chapter 2 of my book Praying Through for a longer answer), but a good bit of it comes from the truth about God that David worshipfully rested upon. Simply stated: He knows.
David prayed, “You have kept count of my tossings.” In his heart of hearts he believed that not one step of his wanderings, not one anxious flip-flop in the midst of a sleepless night had gone unnoticed by God.
David told God, [You] “put my tears in your bottle.” Every tear that David had shed was kept as a treasure, precious to God, somewhere in His great bottle of sorrows.
David confidently asked, “Are they not in your book?” David knew that every salty drop meticulously had been noted down and divinely kept in a sacred record of all his distresses.
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
To deeply for mirth and song;
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?
Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep might shades
Does He care enough to be near?
The hymn writer’s answer is an echo of David’s own conclusion and exudes his full confidence!
Oh, yes, He cares;
I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
There are moments when that’s all we have – the confident knowledge that whatever else may be true, He knows. And, wonderfully, that is enough for now.