In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
(Psalm 57:1 ESV)
King Saul and his mightiest mercenaries relentlessly pursue David. The king seethes with a toxic mix of jealousy, insecurity, and power. He wants blood.
Meanwhile, David shelters in a cave. He knows he can only hide from Saul so long. It’s just a matter of moments until Saul’s warriors overrun his rocky retreat.
How does David pass the time? Does he fear and fret? Is his heart filled with worry and dread? Does he imagine the gory details of his impending demise? Not quite. In fact, he pulls out his guitar and sings a song of praise to the Lord. Don’t believe me? Look at Psalm 57. David knows he is vulnerable, and he knows the power of the enemy. He says, “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to live among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” He knows that he is the object of their violent search.
Nonetheless, into a long night the fugitive David sings, “My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.”
How is it possible for a man like David to sing, a man with a price on his head, a man with a target on his back, a man whose face adorns wanted posters along every road? The secret is in the condition of his heart. “My heart is steadfast,” he says. To be honest, I’m not sure if my heart would be steadfast in a predicament like David’s. At best, I might claim steadfastness like the cowardly lion claimed courage. Say it enough times and it comes true.
We all could use some steadfastness right about now. As I write we are in the midst of a shelter-in-place order from the government due to the threat of a microscopic enemy with pandemic power. Public gatherings are halted. Weddings are postponed. Schools and churches are confined to the internet. No concerts. No ball games. Just four walls and endless news reports. Of course, there really is no comparison. I’d much rather be sheltered at home with my family and modern conveniences than in David’s cave, but, I can learn a thing or two from his steadfastness.
The word for “steadfast” can also be translated “established”, “fixed”, or “confident.” David’s confidence is so great that he makes music. His creativity excels in the darkness and acoustics of the cave.
How is it possible to be steadfast while on high alert? David leaves no doubt in the Psalm he composes. This isn’t self-confidence. David’s confidence is in the Lord, his God. He sings, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
David’s well-being is established in the mercy and protection of God. He fully embraces the assurance that King Saul’s toughest men don’t stand a chance against the armies of the Almighty. So, David breathes deeply, rests in the refuge of God’s shadow, and sings full-hearted praise to his Lord. The combination of his meditation, his prayer, his song, and his faith, fixes his heart securely to God’s heart.
As a teenage camp counselor in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, I learned the power of singing from a trembling heart. One night a number of counselors were awakened from our sleep and pulled from our cabins. There was a fire at Blue Ledge, a popular hiking destination with a breathtaking view overlooking the Hudson River. Someone neglected to fully extinguish their campfire. A number of us were charged with the responsibility of strapping heavy tanks of water on our backs to head down the trail and battle the fire. Together, as we hiked the roughly two miles to Blue Ledge with sloshing backpacks, we had strength in our camaraderie and flashlight power. We arrived to a root fire, mostly burning below the ground. We carefully began to drain our packs through the attached sprayer hoses. When my water was empty, I turned to my head counselor and asked, “Now what?” I kind of hoped he would say, “Go back to bed, we got this.” Instead, he said, “Go back to camp. Fill your tank, and return.”
I hit the trail by myself. It seemed much darker without the posse. Just me, a winding trail, and a dead flashlight. I trudged through the darkness trying to keep my eyes on a trail lit only by moonlight, my ears full of strange scurrying sounds in the woods around me. Probably squirrels, but in my imagination, definitely bears and wolves. Strangely enough, in that moment, the Lord brought a song to my mind. I learned the song at camp, and led it around many campfires, but now it emerged as a weak solo from an unsettled voice.
“My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. Strength for today is mine always, and all I need for tomorrow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.”
The more I sang the more confident I became. Until another counselor ran up the trail behind me. He didn’t see my embarrassed face in the darkness, but he did join his voice with mine as we sang our way down the trail. I don’t know how many times I went back to refill my tank that night, but I do know I saw the sunrise.
Your steadfast heart can sing words of praise into thick darkness, and God will be your light. David puts it this way, “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me-- God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.”
Here we go again, trudging through the gloom of an uncertain time. Fearful thoughts echo through our minds. What will the future hold? Let’s not give in to fear. Let’s take courage in the Lord. He knows the way through the wilderness. Let’s follow. Let’s sing into the shadows. He’ll send forth His love and faithfulness. He’ll establish your steps. He’ll awaken the dawn.