Reverence may be the road to the sacred,and wisdom may be the natural song of the spirit, but story is the text of God, and the groundskeeper of prayer.
Phyllis Tickle The Shaping Of A Life
If 2 Samuel were the script of a play, King David would be the main character: courageous, talented and ever popular with the masses, though his personal and family life often suffer from his lack of insight and judgement.
This ancient script (like all good stories) has a sub-plot. One that’s played out beautifully in David’s personal songs and psalms. These poems are enduring works of art and meaningful liturgy to many but they are more: at times rant, sometimes confession, deep theological argument, heart-felt praise, history lesson. Above all, they are the story of one (less than perfect) man’s relationship with God.
I confess that without the benefit of this sub-plot, I would be still metaphorically holding the character David at ‘arms length’, hoping that one day I would understand why he did some things and acted in certain ways. The psalms and songs written by David don’t necessarily provide any answers, but they do allow a window into David’s internal world. Here is a man who grieves over his wrongdoings, who seeks God passionately, who prays earnestly, whose ego is firmly surrendered to his maker.
In reality we have one ‘life story’. A relationship with God is a game-changer in most people’s lives, where the ‘God life’ in us materially changes how we live out our ‘stories’ in this age and drastically alters outcomes.
Having a ‘relationship with God’ is a curious thing. To a psychiatrist it could be seen as frankly delusional, to the atheist irrelevant and to many more a euphemism for a rather alternative take on religious life.
But to others, who may have a growing inkling that there is more to life than the physical or scientific, a relationship with God speaks to a common spiritual need which ‘religion’ and philosophy fail to answer.
King David’s poems and songs offer a unique perspective on relationship with God
A Habit To Be Formed.
David wrote words …to God. It was a habit he formed while still a young shepherd and which he resolutely continued throughout his eventful life. There is something very intentional about a relationship with God and it’s not something we drift into or which ‘happens’ to us simply by attending church. How we communicate with God may be our personal preference (written words, spoken prayers) but the quality of our relationship with God is directly proportional to the time we spend communicating with Him.
An Authenticity To Cultivate
The notion that a relationship with God, is cosy, comfortable and perhaps a little mystical is disabused by the brutal honesty of David’s poems. We see much less the image of a struggling child being nurtured by a loving father and more the wayward, ranting teenager negotiating with a strong, reliable parent. Making sense of the life God has given us can be perplexing, a necessary ‘developmental step’ in moving into the ‘adult world’ of relationship with God. God’s presence is a place to process doubt, to learn to forgive, to accept our own failings, to reconcile the imperfections of our actual life with the ‘God life’ within us.
An Inequality To Grapple With
A relationship with God is is NOT a relationship of equals. David learns how to appease a Holy God:
To the faithful you show yourself faithful
To the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure,but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down
2 Samuel 22, 26-28
David understood clearly that a relationship with God was on God’s terms.
I have been blameless before Him…The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness.
2 Samuel 22,25.
Maybe this apparent ‘one-sidedness’ of such a relationship is something you struggle with. David didn’t. He completely understood the transforming nature of a relationship with God, on his security, his success, his future.
The Lord turns my darkness into light..
2 Samuel 22,29.
A God to learn about
Many of David’s psalms and songs amount to him telling God about God. In this relationship, David is learning who God is as much as God is listening to David’s troubles and woes.
David learns about God in the ‘stuff’ of ordinary life. He comes to believe in a God who:
…arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle
You, God, give me your shield of victory
You stoop down to make me great
You, God, broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn over.
2 Samuel 22,33-37.
In other words, David learns how God intervenes in human history – through individuals. The God who could move heaven and hell for his purposes stoops down to steady and support this lonely warrior in battle.
A relationship with God helps us recognise God’s ‘signature’ in our lives and our world. For me, this does not mean I ‘see God’ in every little minute (and in the grand scheme of things irrelevant) circumstance such as providing a parking spot in a crowded place or helping my child to win a random competition. God’s gift of freewill to us all means I take my chances with the rest of us. I do however believe that God still…
….reaches down from on high and takes hold of us, drawing me out of deep waters and rescuing me from my powerful enemy’
2 Samuel 22, 17-18
Prayer, in the context of a relationship with God is especially powerful. I would argue, however, that God intervenes less in the miraculous today than in the beautiful work of restoring broken people to Himself.