If anything can be said about musicians and lyricists is their music can evoke a wide range of emotion and lyrics can stir the deepest longings of the heart. Is it any wonder that God chose the passionate singer/songwriter, David, to contribute a large part of the inspired repertoire of songs which we know as the Book of Psalms? In fact, it was king David who revolutionized Old Testament temple worship to include music, dancing, and singing. Filled with passion and praise, singing the psalms became central to Yahweh worship and a focal point in the early Christian church.
“… be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” Ephesians 5: 18,19 ESV
Even a cursory look at this esteemed worship leader’s life and the songs that flowed from it will tell you one clear thing about him…this man was a passionate individual. Anyone who can stare down a nine foot, fully clad battle-ready warrior with just a slingshot is either crazy or impassioned about what he believes. A few observations about the shepherd boy who would become king may throw some light on why God said of him that he was a man after my own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). What was the reason why David’s psalms carried deep passion in his worship of God? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I will hone in on two of them. He had an almost rapturous desire to be caught up in the grand vision of God’s glory, and he lived realizing his desperate need for God. One caused his spirit to soar above the heights, the other was borne out of the depths of some of the most darkest periods of his life. Whether he strained to touch the hem of heaven’s glory or felt himself walking through the darkness of hell itself, he was a man who desired for his heart to be drenched in Yahweh God.
Let’s talk a moment about what it means to have a heart that is desperate…that is, for the Lord.
There are many emotional undercurrents that churn beneath the vocal hymnody of the Psalms. I’m sure you have felt them. Those surging currents like praise, exaltation, exuberance, sorrow, and even depression. They course their way from the mind to the heart, filling the soul and then emptying out into our lives. But there is one that most always is swirling about: Desperation. I want to be clear. I am not talking about being frantic or having a hopeless sense of panic, though sometimes that may be a part of it. But there is something that flows deeper in the well of Christian souls. Allow me to explain.
Psalm 1 begins with great delight, describing a person’s life as a lush and fruitful experience as God prospers the upright soul.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:3 ESV
Psalm 2 is a Messianic psalm. It extolls the the sovereignty of God’s anointed Son and King, and the subjection of all nations to his supreme authority.
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Psalm 2:10-12 ESV
Right off the heels of Psalms one and two which proclaim the delight of the righteous and high veneration for the Sovereign King we are immediately plunged into a life of desperation! Just listen to a few of these heart ripping words:
“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God.” (Psalm 3:1, 2)
“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress.” (Psalm 4:1)
And once more,
“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.” (Psalm 5:1)
Can you feel that strong undercurrent of desperation beginning to swirl beneath the surface of the psalmist’s life? Here we witness the most celebrated future king of Israel bearing his heart before God. But this is how king’s are made…at least it is how God fashions his leaders. They are made through the toil of life. They are forged on the hot anvil of desperation. Before God’s man will sit on the throne of Israel he will learn to plead on his knees! It is hard for us to imagine someone of this stature and renown, especially in American culture, with most every need and comfort taken care of, having a heart of desperation. Once more, this is not just mere emotional desperation, but it is a spiritual plea- a desperation for God. It is a heart-cry for the Lord to intervene and direct the course of his life. A few examples may help illustrate the kind of desperation I believe the Psalms emote.
A surgeon works with haste and desperation to save a gunshot victim from dying on the operating table. In this sense, desperation is a good thing; it motivates him to gather all his medical and surgical expertise to save a human life.
How about an example from sports. You’re down by 3 points. 5 seconds remain. One play is left. You’re fifty yards away from winning the game, and it’s all up to you. The ball is snapped and you take off like a lion chasing a deer. The defender is toe to toe with you as you speed toward the goal. The quarterback throws the ball and it fires from his hands like a bullet from a gun. You calculate the ball to be overthrown flying just beyond your reach. And now you’re really feeling it- desperation! You muster all your ability and leap, stretching your body mid-flight to make the catch and land in the zone for a win!
In both these instances desperation served as a means of bringing about some greater good or accomplishment. The apostle Paul used a sports analogy to illustrate the Christian life:
“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13,14 ESV
Sometimes desperation can take us from common ability and move us towards something beyond our ability, thereby reaching the goal of what we desire. That is the kind of desperation which had beat in the heart of the Psalmist and pumped life into his personal worship. Even though David was a mighty king and had the benefits that are befitting of royalty, he understood his finitude and humanity. With most every worldly possession at his disposal, he remained humbly desperate before the true King of Heaven and Earth. His status in the world did not define him, his love for God did, and one of the means by which a heart flourishes in relationship to God is when it is desperate.
In today’s American culture, many of us have comforts and entertainments of every sort. We may view self-sufficiency as a virtue, meaning we rarely go without and have need of nothing. We don’t really know what it means to be desperate. Worshiping God then becomes an exercise in religious duty and not a heart-cry, desperate to acknowledge the greatness, goodness, and blessings of God.
In thinking about what it means to be desperate for God a very well known scripture comes to mind:
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Psalm 42:1 (NKJV)
I had never thought of it as a “desperation” scripture before until I thought about how David might have, through a real life experience, seen himself in a similar relation to Yahweh God. David describes a deer as panting. We don’t know the specifics about why the deer was panting but we may venture a fairly good guess. I believe that there was a very good possibility that the deer was panting because it had escaped the life threatening chase of a predator. David doesn’t say the deer was just thirsty but that it was panting. This word tells me that it might have been running in fear, with such exertion it was out of breath and dehydrated. If it was running in desperation for it’s life it makes more sense to me why it was panting for water. As a young shepherd boy keeping flocks in the hills of Judah, David saw and faced many dangers with wild animals (1 Samuel 17:34). It is not hard to imagine that in the wild he observed the chase between predator and prey. Watching a deer flee from the teeth of a lion and narrowly escaping would have created a visual that would have been stamped in his memory forever. To see the panting deer refreshing itself by drinking at the water brook would provide, later in his life, a perfect illustration of how he felt as he was constantly being chased by enemies of his own, only to be refreshed by the Lord his God. In this scripture he describes himself in ways that are reminiscent of the panting deer.
“My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” Psalm 57:4,5 ESV
“Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. 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?” Psalm 56: 1-4 ESV
Like the deer panting from a life threatening chase, David knew that he could hydrate his soul in the water brook of his Lord after running like prey from his enemies.
Even though the expression of David’s heart towards God often reflected one of desperation, he also had a deep passion for insight into God’s glory. From early in his life I believe this shepherd-king fostered a high view of God. He knew that there was nothing greater than Yahweh and sought to live in the light of making the power and wonder of God known to others. As a young boy he would have been instructed in the Torah, the five books of Moses. But out on the pastures I believe he had a lot of time to think and reflect on God through nature. The universe and the things God created, for him, became lessons in theology. For young David, creation itself spoke of the magnificence and beauty of God. Is it any wonder that this young man was staggered at the majesty of God and grew to be known as a man after God’s own heart when you read such words as these:
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” Psalm 8:1 ESV
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3,4 ESV
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1 ESV
David’s theology was forged not only by the Word of God in the Torah but by the revelation of God through nature. As he gazed at the night sky, the heaven’s were declaring the glory of God. They were proclaiming the Grand Architect and Creator of it all. Every day and night he heard and saw the witness in nature of a glorious, powerful deity. Through this witness he gained a knowledge of God which captured his mind and enlarged his passion for Yahweh. The New Testament as well affirms this through the pen of the apostle Paul when he wrote:
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Romans 1:19,20 ESV
It was this knowledge of God that impressed upon David an exalted and transcendent view of Yahweh. His heart over-flowed with an all-consuming love and adoration for the Sovereign Creator. This ever-growing understanding and revelation of God’s glory, I believe, is what played an important part in his facing off with the Philistine giant, Goliath. Let’s return to the story of how a shepherd boy, once smitten with a large view of God, could become so fearless as to stand with daring and confidence against Philistine’s finest decorated war hero and shout him down with taunting:
“This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.” 1 Samuel 17:46
How did he size up the situation with the enemy of Israel? If we are not careful we might think his confidence came from his own ability and past experience when he overpowered predators while on watch as a shepherd.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV
However, the shepherd David recognized that it was God who gave him deliverance from being torn to pieces by ferocious beasts.
And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:34-37
This sense of courageous desperation was not something David found within himself, but it came from his deep musings and meditations on Yahweh God. So when he heard Goliath spout off against God he knew that the Lord would give this blasphemer into his hand.
Again, it was David who wrote:
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.“ Psalm 103:13,14 ESV
David sized up the situation. He knew himself and all men to be, in comparison to the Creator, nothing more than a clod of dirt. David’s view of God had become so gloriously huge and magnificent that Goliath was just a little bit bigger clod of dirt than most men. If the heaven’s were the work of God’s fingers (Psalm 8:3), David knew it was nothing for God to blow this piece of dust to the ground. For us it is like standing at the vista of the Grand Canyon and then picking up a handful of dirt. If God is like the majesty and grandeur of the canyon, what is a dirt clod by comparison?
What grew in the heart of this shepherd boy was an invincible and marvelous God. A God whom he loved and of whom God said this is a man after my own heart.
Maybe like David, you have escaped the teeth of the lion (excruciating life challenges), and you can identify with what it means to be desperate for God when he says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” It is good for us to remember that it is not our past experience, our ability, or even the size and accuracy of our slingshot that matters. It is the size of our God that brings confidence in a situation that may look desperately hopeless. It is when the knowledge of God awakens us to a revelation of his magnificence and power that our hearts swell with a sublime vision of our loving Creator.
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:17-19 ESV
Copyright © Steve Covarrubias 1/2015