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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

How to Cling and Sing in the Wilderness of Life


“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you;

your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:7-8

The title of this morning’s message is ‘How to cling and sing in the wilderness of life’. Depending on your personal experience, life consists of seasons. It’s unusual for life to be consistently abundant or consistently bereft, usually it’s somewhere in the middle and then there are seasons.

Seasons that are abundant and seasons that are bereft. Some of our lives will encounter more seasons of wilderness than they know seasons of rest, but if we have learnt anything from Jonah, we have learnt this: all our days are in God’s hands. He sends the seasons. Daniel says, ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons…’ (2:20-21).

The Conspiracy Against David

Psalm 63 is a Psalm of King David, and we are given the title of the Psalm: ‘A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah’. Many of David’s wilderness psalms were written about his time on the run from Saul, before he became king. But verse 11 shows us that this psalm is not about that situation; we know that because David refers to himself as king here (v.11).

So, the wilderness event that’s the occasion of this psalm is something different. The most likely events are those recorded for us in 2 Samuel 15 - 17; when Absalom – David’s son – conspired against David to take the throne of Israel.

This is the scene: Absalom, having gathered to himself sympathisers, instructed the tribes of Israel to declare him king and he obtained the advice of David’s councillor Ahithophel. When David heard the news he immediately gathered his officials and his household and fled from the city.

Chapter 15, verse 23 says ‘the whole countryside wept as all the people passed by’. And verse 30 says: ‘David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up’. This was a heart-breaking turn of events for David – not only had his own son turned against him, but he was distanced from his favourite place – the place where God presenced himself in those days – the tabernacle.

But that’s not all: King David continued to move away from the city. En route, a man from the clan of Saul called Shimei came out and cursed David. He called him a murderer and a scoundrel, and told him that God had given his kingdom into the hands of Absalom because of the blood he had shed in the household of Saul. And he picked up stones and pelted David, and he also showered him with dirt as he proceeded along the road.

So, you can imagine David’s heart in all of this. You can imagine how heavy he must have felt – how weighed down; even despondent. It is a very bleak situation for him. And that’s the background to this psalm; that’s the condition David is in when he pens this song.

If that’s the case, and we also find our own lives beset by wilderness seasons – perhaps more than we can comprehend sometimes - then it will serve us really well to see how David approaches his wilderness circumstances. After all, the song he wrote in the midst of them has not been relegated to the fleeting memories of time, it’s been preserved by God in his everlasting word. God loves what David wrote in the midst of his wilderness season and that means it’s got lots of good things to say to us now. So, let’s see them.

David’s Feelings

Verse 1 is a summary of everything I just told you about - the circumstances of David’s life at this moment. But, it’s not a factual summary, it’s a feelings summary. David is telling us how he felt in the wilderness. He’s not telling us how dirty he is – though he must have been very dirty after Shimei had thrown all that dirt on him.

He’s not telling us how bruised he is – though he must have been bruised from the stones that had hit him.

He’s not even telling us how thirsty he is – even though he refers to a dry and parched land in verse 1; where there is no water.

He’s telling us how all that, and the betrayal by his son, and his distance from the sanctuary, made him feel.

‘You God are my God’ – nothing can change that. God is a faithful God and David knows it. This transformation of his circumstances doesn’t change this one unwavering reality – ‘God, you are my God’.

But when unforeseen things happen in our lives, they disrupt the apple cart – easily. They serve to knock our confidence. Where we might have been standing full square on the rock that is our God, all of a sudden everything may feel uncertain. Those kinds of unsettling events can often serve to make us feel exposed, precarious, anxious, unnerved, lonely. God is still our God, but he doesn’t feel quite so near any more. Verse 1 is David admitting that reality in his own heart. But it’s also David admitting that he wants to regain that closeness with his God.

When we’re in the midst of these kinds of troubles, the soul pants for security. The soul is searching to find contentment again – in other words, it wants to move from disturbance to rest.

The trap of the devil at this point is to trick the soul into thinking that anything – no matter how temporary – will do to rest in. That’s a lie! And falling into that trap has devastating effects on our spiritual lives. We need to follow David’s example and know that the only fitting and lasting rest the soul can find is in God. Psalm 62:1 – ‘Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.’ There is no meaningful rest to be found in anything else – all else is escapism and escapism leads to death.

Listen to David’s language: ‘earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you; my whole being longs for you’. Oh, how we need this mentality – that when we feel on shaky ground, nothing at all can satisfy our souls except God himself. We simply must have our souls happy in God, and not settle for empty cisterns that can hold no water - Jeremiah 2.

Think of the things David could have asked for: deliverance, victory, vindication, defeat for his enemies; but he asks for none of that, only to be close to his God.

I see him employing five strategies to move himself towards God and each builds on the previous. The aim of all five steps is to cling with all his might to his God – I get that from verse 8: ‘I cling to you’. David is not going to drift like a hot air balloon on the prevailing wind of gloom, he is going to cling – even if only with finger nails – to his God, because he knows that is his only source of lasting hope.

And by clinging, his hope is that clinging will give way to singing. In other words, his soul will come to rest confidently in God again, and when that happens, his soul will sing. Listen to verses 4 & 5, this is what he anticipates will happen if by clinging to God his soul once again finds rest in God: ‘I will praise you as long as I live’ – as long as I go on in this mortal body my lips will make much of you O Lord.

A soul that is satisfied – as with the richest of foods (v.5) - in God overflows in praise to God. A soul that is satisfied in God, lifts up its hands at the sound of His name and with singing lips, its mouth praises Him (v.5). This is where David wants to be. This is where we want to be. Where we want to reside for as many days as we can, until our breath runs out and we see him face to face.

Meditate on God

So, that’s the goal, but there’s clinging to do first. Here are the five ways David clings to God in the midst of his trouble.

The first is verse 6: ‘On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night’.

He applies himself to meditating on God. He makes God the object of his attention. Even if he remembers God’s works, he’s meditating on them so that they lead him back to who God is and what he is like. David’s meditation doesn’t rest until it fixes it’s gaze on the person of God. ‘I remember you…I think of you’.

The temptation here would be to fixate on the events that have transpired in the immediate context of his life. His natural mind would have drifted to thoughts of: How could Absalom do such thing?

After all I’ve done for him, how could he treat me like this?

His natural mind would compute all kinds of scenarios, and he would play them out over and over – trying to determine the best course of action, or imagining how he could get the justice he deserves.

But David marshals his thoughts. He takes hold of his drifting mind and focusses it on the object of greatest value to his soul – the Lord his God. And he does it with diligence, he doesn’t let his eyes see rest until he has wrestled his mind onto God – on to his character, on to his ways, on to his nature and his disposition. Why? Because these are the only things that can effectively sustain his soul, and he knows it.

This is what we need to be like, and we need to practice this kind of meditation often so that when wilderness seasons come along we are really well trained at mediating on God. Drifting minds need to be trained to focus on God. And if that just seems an impossibility to us, then we go back a step and we cry out to the Lord for help to focus our minds on him.

Look to Jesus

The second thing David does is in verse 2: ‘I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory’. This is an extension of the meditation in step one, but there are some specific things that he turns his attention to. David recollects his vision of God in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is the place God presenced himself during David’s reign. And in seeing him he beheld two surpassing realities about God – his power and his glory.

God does not manifest himself in the physical realm in the age in which we live, but we know that the person of Jesus is God in the flesh – manifest here below.

And even though Jesus is not here with us today, the record of his life on earth testifies in tangible terms to us, the power and glory of God. Jesus said, ‘If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him’ (John 14:7). To know Jesus is to know God.

So, for example, to know how Jesus responded to his enemies on the cross, is to know the glory of God’s grace and kindness. And, to know that Jesus spoke a word to the wind and waves and they were calmed, is to know the power of God over all of creation.

Because Jesus came in the flesh, even though he isn’t with us now, when we read about him, we’re reading about God in tangible terms – terms we understand.

We understand something of what it would take to forgive people who had just tortured you, mocked you and subjected you to an agonising death on a cross. We understand the impossibility of taking control of things as chaotic as wind and waves. When we see Jesus doing these things, we perceive his surpassing power and his exceeding glory.

So, for us the equivalent of David’s mediation on God’s presence in the sanctuary where he sees him in his power and glory, is for us to meditate on what we know of Jesus and how his life testifies to his power and his glory.

Our meditation must be on Jesus – he is powerful over the circumstances of our lives, and in those circumstances his glory and honour are seen. Meditating on Jesus will cause us to see the wilderness circumstances of our lives in a way that we simply can’t by turning the events over and over in our minds. In a way that we simply must see them.

Love over Life

The third thing David does is in verse 3 where he declares to God a fundamental truth: ‘your love is better than life’.

Romans 8:28 can be such a throw away verse, and it can be the most empowering verse in the bible.

If God is working all things – all things – together for the good of those who love him, then is that not love? If God is orchestrating all the events of your life – I don’t think that is a wide enough definition of all things – all things surely includes even things that don’t appear to directly affect our lives. And perhaps that’s not broad enough a definition either. Would all things not include all the events of the past and the present, even the smallest movements of atoms and the largest revolutions of planets? How they are working for our good we don’t know, but we know that all thingsare working together for our good, and I certainly wouldn’t want to limit the scope of all things. Let all things mean all things, unless we have good reason to discount some things.

Now if God is working all things to the end that our good is achieved, then I ask is that not love? If I change my schedule so that I can spend an evening with my wife and buy her dinner because I know it will make her happy, is that not an expression of love?

Sometimes I say to my children, you can’t go there or do that and they get unhappy with me, but if I prevent them from doing what they want to do because I know it will be bad for them in a way that they can’t yet see, then is that not love?

God works wilderness into our lives for our good, because he works all things for our good. And if that’s true, then the circumstances David finds himself in here are not God withholding his love from David, they are God working good for David. And therefore they are the expression of God’s love for David.

But what if these circumstances were to result in the unthinkable - what if they were result in David’s death? That’s a possibility that crossed David’s mind and we know that because he refers verse 9 to ‘Those who want to kill me’.

In David’s mind God could have designed these events to result in Absalom’s victory and David’s death. Would God be loving on David, if those circumstances were to transpire – if David were to die?

Verse 3 is an unequivocal acknowledgment by David to God that to have God for Him and not against him is better than his very life.

So, we must acknowledge that God’s love for us which we believe is demonstrated even in these wilderness circumstances, is better to us than anyalternative – even life itself. That’s important to say. And it’s important to say it to God in prayer.

Leave Justice to God

The fourth thing David does is in verses 9-10. Remember David is not being treated according to justice. Absalom is a usurper of God’s anointed one. David’s rightful place is on the throne of Israel and he’s being mistreated. His own advisor has rebelled; his own son has set himself up in his place. These are very wrong things that have been perpetrated against David.

We know from 2 Samuel 18:5 that David instructed Joab the commander of the army to be gentle with Absalom and to spare his life. Absalom ends up dying, only because Joab disobeys the king’s command.

Verses 9 and 10 here then are not the desire of the king for the death of his son, rather they are an acknowledgement that God is just and right, and the vindicator of all who are mistreated.

God is the just judge of the earth and he will do all that is right. The main lesson here is that David is happy to hand over to God the matter of justice. He doesn’t spend his time figuring out how he can get even, or how he can get justice.

The fact is, we live in a sinful world, where sinners mistreat sinners. The step David takes here, is to commit into God’s hands the matter of justice.

In fact, even when David gets the upper hand and he is in a position to exact justice on Absalom, he still doesn’t take that right into his own hands but leaves it with God. So much of our soul’s unrest in wilderness moments will be owing to an unwillingness to hand justice over to God.

Lean on God

The fifth and final approach David takes is in verse 7, where he declares to God: ‘you are my help’. It strikes me that David has still got a lot of resources at his disposal when he writes these words. He still has officials and a security detail; he still has military men and advisors. Yet, here he acknowledges, ‘you God are my help’.

In times of unrest and difficulty the temptation is to work with all the resources available to restore equilibrium, but David’s example is to acknowledge that God is our help. God is the one who alone can restore our soul’s rest. He alone can help us to persevere in times like these. And it is crucial to acknowledge that that’s the case.

Clinging Gives Way to Singing

The result of all this clinging, is singing. In other words, as David clings to the Lord, the Lord restores his soul’s restfulness, verse 7: ‘I sing in the shadow of your wings’.

At the beginning, David’s soul experience was one of unrest, loneliness, and exposure. But the image has shifted. Here his experience is shelter, protection, safety, rest and joy as he takes refuge under the wing of God.

Just how big is a God sized wing? How strong is a God strength wing? Well, big enough to envelope you and strong enough to protect you against all the attacks of even the devil himself (2 Tim 4:18).

God’s right hand upheld David (v.8) and it will uphold us too if we cling to God in times of wilderness, until our clinging gives way to singing.

David’s experience is summed up in verse 11: ‘all who swear [allegiance to] God will glory in [God]’. David didn’t allow his circumstances to cause him to lie about God’s love, or his character, or his sovereignty, or his ability to fully satisfy his soul, but by clinging to him, he declared his allegiance to him, and so his final experience was to glory in his God with rejoicing and happiness once again.


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