“A Song from the Pits,” Psalm 43

Songs of the summer are supposed to be fun, right? That’s the whole idea, it’s a song that gets us excited for the season, something that makes us feel good when we hear it on the boat or during the cookout, a song that is supposed put a smile on our faces. The Psalms we’re going to look at over the next few weeks might not do that. This one in particular probably falls short of that, it literally begins in a pit. And not just any pit, a slimy pit, a pit of mud and mire. We actually see a pit like this described elsewhere in the Bible. Jeremiah, after he angers a king with his prophecy, is thrown into a well that doesn’t have water in it but hasn’t completely dried up yet so the bottom is filled with mud. And we can read about how Jeremiah sinks down in to the mud to the point where he’s stuck. So we can get the visual here, I think: try to imagine for a moment being down in a well, walls all around us, with a good distance between you and the way out (which is also the only source of light), and your feet are stuck in mud and slime and every time you try to move it seems like you get sucked down deeper and then the claustrophobia and panic start to sink in, that’s the kind of feeling we’re seeing described. We probably didn’t need the visual to get the idea though, we know what its like to be in the pits. We know what its like to work and work and work and yet the bills keep coming in and the bank balance doesn’t seem to be going the way we want. We know what its like when nothing we do seems to make the kids happy and its only 10 in the morning and we’re already at our wits end and we find ourselves wishing school would start back and then we feel shamed because we’re know we’re supposed to be cherishing this time. We know what its like when we go to doctor after doctor and everyone has a different idea and no one knows what to do for us for sure and we just want relief that doesn’t seem to come. We know what its like when weeks and months and years have gone by since a loved one left us and we think we should have moved on but we just can’t shake the sadness and the longing for more time, we know what its like to be in the pits. And that’s where the Psalms can help us where the songs of the summer can’t, because here we find a word for us when we find ourselves in the pit.

David has two responses to this experience in the pits. Both of them might be hard for us to hear in the moment, but there’s power in them to help us through those tough times. The first is patience. “I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned and heard me.” I’m not saying anything profound I don’t think when I say we are not a patient people. If you ever want a prime example, come over to our house one day when its time to eat. Because if Davis sees us go to the refrigerator he starts to cry. If we put him in his high chair before we have food ready to give to him, he starts to cry. Y’all, they have to arrange meals at daycare around him because if he’s sitting at the table and other kids have food and he doesn’t he will steal it. Patience is not something we’re born with, and its something that’s getting harder and harder to develop because so much comes quickly. I never had to get up from my chair to change the channel on a tv, I was always able to do it with a remote. Davis will never have to watch a commercial, everything will be on the DVR or Netflix. He’ll never have to hunt down something in an encyclopedia if he wants information. We have fewer and fewer opportunities to practice patience, and it hurts us. Particularly when we find ourselves in the pits. We aren’t happy about our weight so we jump on the fad diet and deny our bodies what they need instead of changing our lifestyle. We don’t like the answer the doctor gives so we jump at the idea of surgery that promises quick results and we ignore the risks. We aren’t happy with how business is going so we pour our money into some sort of get rich quick scheme. We don’t want to take the time to mourn and process grief so we jump into a new relationship that isn’t good for us. Remember this: squirming around the pit only makes us sink deeper. It is like getting caught in a strong current in the ocean – what are you supposed to do with it? Don’t fight it right? You remain calm, you move out of it as you can, you don’t try to swim against it because you’ll wear yourself out and be in even bigger trouble. David has the patience to make his way out of the pit instead of letting himself get caught deeper. God does not leave us in the pits, but sometimes we find ourselves there longer than we like. Have patience, trust that the pit is only temporary.

The other thing that David does is cry out to God, and what I think that reveals is humility. David, despite the fact that he’s a king, is humble enough to realize when he can’t get out of the pit by himself. Impatience can lead to struggles that sink us deeper, refusal to ask for help can do the same thing. We won’t get out of the pit without a rope. Sometimes that comes in the form of other people, sometimes that comes as a break through, sometimes that comes miraculously but however it comes we won’t get out of the pit without a rope and we won’t get a rope without crying out. No one can help us if we let our pride keep us silent. There is no shame in crying out when we find ourselves in the pits, in fact there is power in knowing that other people care.

David’s entire life is a picture of the power of humility, David’s big issues come from moments where his pride gets in the way, one of the best illustrations, I think, comes from early on in his reign, you can find the story in 2 Samuel 6. David, after being crowned king and winning several major military victories decided to bring the Arc of the Covenant home to Jerusalem. The Arc has resided in a border down near the land of the Philistines for years because they captured it at one point, tried to put it in their temples, that caused plagues on them, so they sent it back to Israel to the first town they could get it to. David plans a giant procession to celebrate the Arc coming to Jerusalem, it’s going to be a big parade with the army marching, him on a white horse, you can see very quickly that this parade is as much about celebrating David as it is anything else. And as part of that he has the Arc placed on a cart, so that the whole process will go faster (in Deutoronomy there are specific instructions on how the Arc should be carried by priests on foot, David ignores those). Impatience is getting tied in here as well. The roads at this time are little more than paths, and at some point in the procession one of the wheels goes into a dip, the Arc falls, a man reaches out to grab it and dies (people aren’t allowed to touch the arc). David’s pride and his impatience have led directly to this man’s death. Weeks and months pass, finally they try again. This time the Arc is carried the way it is supposed to be. This time they stop and offer sacrifices every 6 steps. David wears sackcloth. Its slow and its humbling, but it brings glory to God, its successful. Humility gets a bad rap sometimes, its easy to mistake it for weakness, its easy to be drawn more to folks who put what they have on display, but when we’re humble we often find success. And when we’re in the pit, being humble enough to cry out for help is the only way we’re going to make it out.

There’s a catch with patience and humility, they’re pretty hard to learn when we’re already in the pit. The moment we need them isn’t the time to try to learn them. We need start when we’re on solid ground. That way we’ll have when the time comes. Learn the songs before midnight. Practice now so you won’t be taken unaware. Trust that God can give us new song to sing even in the pit.

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