A lonely season
On a cold and dreary late afternoon one winter, I stared out the window of my third floor apartment as dusk settled in. A set of train tracks lay on the other side of a barren field.
I was suffering through depression, so I sat, stared, and smoked a lot in those days—my sophomore year in college.
I remember thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if I could just jump out this window and soar off into the night, leaving all my problems here in this apartment?
Since I obviously couldn’t fly, my next thought was, What if I just ran across the field to the tracks and hopped aboard the first open box car, letting it carry me away to some unknown destination?
Surely that would be the escape I needed from the depression and anxiety plaguing me.
Reality set in. There was no point in dreaming any longer. I couldn’t fly, and I wasn’t about to climb into an empty train car.
I guess I was stuck here—in a drab, gray, mid-winter existence— confounded by depression and boredom with no hope for the future.
Those were the words I thought to myself, and perhaps even voiced aloud, so many years ago.
King David was depressed too
King David had similar thoughts. He wrote many psalms, in fact, reflecting these same sentiments of loneliness and depression.
Psalm 55 paints a vivid picture of David’s anguish. Although most bible scholars agree that we can’t know with certainty what exact circumstances prompted King David to write this psalm, he may have been dealing with a rebellion of some sort, as well as betrayal by a trusted friend or confidant.
In verse 1 of this psalm David begs God to hear his prayers and not hide Himself.
We read in verses 4 and 5 that because of his enemies, his “heart is in anguish…Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.”
Certainly these powerful descriptions of David’s mental state ring true with many people today. I know they do for me.
And then it hit me…
I was driving home recently, listening to a narrator read Psalm 55 on my bible app, when suddenly I heard verse 6: “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”
My mind instantly shot back to that lonely afternoon in my apartment almost 30 years earlier. Even though I’ve read Psalm 55 before, hearing the Bible read often has a whole different effect on me.
Suddenly, God’s word resonated inside me with the effect of powerful poetry, not just ordinary words I’d read before.
It became alive to me right there in my car as I was driving down a busy road. I realized that I’d felt the exact same emotions as King David had written about over two millennia ago.
Both of us had longed to fly off into the sky like a bird and far away from our many troubles and fears!
Charles Spurgeon describes David’s thoughts this way: “If he could not resist as an eagle, he would escape as a dove.”
Even Jesus had His moments
Another point most bible scholars agree on is that King David is a type, or a shadow of Christ. David’s lament on his tumultuous situation parallels the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He is arrested and taken captive.
In Matthew 26:38-39, Jesus tells three of his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” After He walks away from them alone, He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
Even Jesus felt alone and despondent!
Keep on keepin’ on
If we stopped reading at this point in Matthew we might begin believing that it’s OK to let ourselves stagnate in depression, anxiety, and fear—hiding from our problems and doing nothing.
However, in verse 39b Jesus continues praying: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
He knows what must be done. He allows Himself a moment to express the depth of pain in His human heart, but then He musters the strength He needs to endure the horrible events that will soon transpire.
Jesus knew He couldn’t run away.
Even David ultimately knew he couldn’t run away.
Lean on God
Later in Psalm 55 David realizes God had heard his prayers after all. He writes in verses 16 and 18, “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me…He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage.”
David even gives us sound advice to follow in verse 22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
Commenting on Psalm 55, Spurgeon writes, “Inward grief knows nothing of place. Moreover, it is cowardly to shun the battle which God would have us fight…We need not depart; all will be well if we trust in him.”
That’s all there is to say, I believe.
There’s nothing more I can write on this topic that could add anything to the holy prayers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit-inspired poetry of King David, or the scholarly commentary of Charles Spurgeon.