[This is Week 2 of a 4-week preaching series on Psalms.]
Preaching text: Psalm 69:1-16; accompanying text: Matthew 7:7-11
Disorientation: When the Floods Rise
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.”
No image better captured for the ancient Israelites what it feels like when the bottom drops out, than the image of flooding waters. That image is prevalent in the Psalter’s prayers of disorientation (also called “prayers for help” and “laments”), and not just in Psalm 69. For example, Psalm 130 begins with the famous cry, “Out of the depths, I cry to you.” Psalm 42/43 despair, “all your waves and your billows have passed over me” (42:7). And Psalm 88 cries out, “Your dread assaults … enclose me like a flood” (verses 16b-17a).
The image still speaks with surprising force. When have you felt like you were “up to your neck” and couldn’t take any more? When have you felt like you were simply “drowning” in stress or crisis? We still speak this way.
And we still have a God who listens to us in crisis. Who hears us when we pray.
The Psalter’s prayers for help give voice to the deepest expressions of human pain, crisis, and doubt. But they do so in a way that claims the promise of God’s presence in the midst of our suffering and also the promise that the God-who-is-with-us will preserve us.
Psalm 69 speaks of the alienation of the psalmist from “those who hate me” (verse 4), from “my kindred” and “my mother’s children” (verse 8), from the psalmist’s own body (verse 3), and most importantly from God (verse 17). But again, the psalmist nevertheless pleads “do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me without cause” (verse 15). And it does so because it believes that the Lord’s very heart is made up of steadfast love and faithfulness: “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good” (verse 16).
The psalms of disorientation admit that life is not as well-ordered as a simple Sunday school faith may pretend. They acknowledge that life is really messy, and they protest to heaven that things should not be as they are. But these psalms, through prayer, evoke action from God — they help move the sufferer to a new place. They give us words for the deepest, darkest nights of our lives — when the bottom drops out, when the pain seems too much to bear. They tell us that God is big enough for everything we’ve got — our pain, our anger, our questions, our doubts. They even suggest that genuine biblical faith is comfortable challenging God. And that God is present with us precisely when it feels like God isn’t there.