27th May 2020 APC
Psalm 55 “Managing your anxiety!”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our service of worship.
Today we continue our series looking at some of the wonderful songs and poems we have recorded in the bible. These Psalms are the prayers of God’s people and have been used for centuries as a vehicle for helping people to express their feelings to God. This morning we will be thinking about how we might learn to manage our stress and anxiety as we consider Psalm 55 together. But before we do that, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Gracious God, Lord of all, we thank you that we can come to you in prayer, that for all your greatness, and wonder and holiness, we can speak to you as to a friend.
Hear now our prayer.
We thank you that we can open our hearts to you, that we can pour out our inmost soul and share our deepest thoughts, in the knowledge that you are there, always ready to listen and understand.
Hear now our prayer.
So once more we lay our lives before you, open to your gaze- the bad as well as the good, the doubt as well as the faith, the sorrow as well as the joy, the despair as well as the hope.
Hear now our prayer.
We bring the anger as well as the peace, the hatred as well as the love, the confusion as well as the certainty, the fear as well as the trust.
Hear now our prayer.
Gracious God we bring these things, not with pride or any sense of arrogance, but honestly, recognising that you know us through and through.
Help us to be truthful to ourselves and truthful to you, and so may we discover the renewing love which only you can offer – a love that frees us to live as you would have us live, and allows us to be the people you would have us be!
Hear now our prayer in the name of Christ, Amen.
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Psalm 55 ‘For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.’
1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
3 because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
9 Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.
12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.
15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.
16 As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change--
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.
20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.
22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
will not live out half their days.
But as for me, I trust in you.
Philippians 4 v 4-7 ‘Final Exhortations’
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Reflection Psalm 55 - “Managing Anxiety”
“If you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you….you’ll be a man, my son.”
Those are the opening and closing words of one of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poems. Secretly we probably aspire to be a person who always exhibits the unruffled composure he describes. If only we could sail through the storms of life with calm and peace. If only we could sleep at night no matter what the day had brought or the morning promised. But perhaps as Kipling is suggesting by the title of his poem, to be able to live like that, is all a big “If”.
You see the truth is none of us are like that all the time. None of us are completely unflappable, never mind infallible! All of us are susceptible to anxiety and stress. Sure we’re all wired differently. Some people are so laid back that it’s not a bit of wonder that everyone else around them is tearing their hair out trying to pick up the pieces, yet they still don’t see it! Other people are so highly strung or such perfectionists that the tiniest problem or the smallest mistake will send them into a wave of panic. Most of us are probably somewhere in between. It’s great that God has made us all so different. Yet one thing about us is the same. None of us, no matter how strong we appear or think we are, are immune to anxiety and nervous illness.
That goes for the Christian as well as someone who isn’t a Christian. Christians battle with worry and anxiety just as much as everybody else. Even Jesus experienced severe anxiety as He contemplated His crucifixion and prayed that famous prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “Lord if there be any way for this cup to be taken from me then please take it, yet not my will but yours be done.”
King David also suffered from anxiety- David, the brave warrior who killed a giant as a young boy with just a few stones and a sling shot- David the spiritual giant who was described as, “a man after God’s own heart.” We know he suffered from anxiety because he wrote more than one poem in which He expressed His emotional disturbance to God. Psalm 55 is one of these poems.
As we read this Psalm together this morning it is my prayer that all of us will discover two things. We will see the strong emotions and physical feelings that anxiety can create and we will learn how to manage those emotions when we are experiencing them personally.
But before we look at these two things, I think it is important to try and understand the circumstances that were causing David so much stress. When we understand the seriousness of the pressure he was under, when we examine the depth of personal hurt that he had received, it will become clear to us that his emotions are not in any way irrational and that His way of dealing with them is a reliable example for us to follow.
1 What caused David’s anxiety?
To understand the background to this Psalm we will have to do a bit of detective work. We will have to examine what David writes closely for clues and compare that with the biography of David’s life story in the book of Second Samuel.
When we read the account of David’s life and reign as King of Israel in the book of Samuel we discover that he was plagued by people trying to kill him so that He would not be King. At one point in his life we even discover that his very own son Absalom led a conspiracy and a rebellion against him in order to try and become King. I believe this is the most likely period of David’s life when he writes this Psalm. It was obviously written at a time when someone was trying to harm him and bring him down. That’s why he writes, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy.” It seems that this enemy and their followers were spreading viscous rumours about David in the city in order to try and stir up a military coup against him. So he writes, “Confuse the wicked O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets.”
Probably the most painful thing about this attack is that it is being led by someone very close to David. It may well be the time when his own son Absalom led a rebellion against him to try and topple David from the throne. That’s why David writes, “If an enemy were insulting me I could endure it. If a foe were raising himself against me I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.” To add insult to injury, not only was David being stabbed in the back by his own son, but as he twisted the knife, Absalom was publicly pretending to be best friends with his father. David describes this hypocrisy by saying, “My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.”
So, not only was David having to cope with a threat on his life when he wrote this Psalm; he was also having to deal with the emotional pain that his betrayer was his own son. It is no surprise then that when he writes this Psalm, David is full of anxiety. But what does his anxiety feel like, how does it express itself in his life, and what does he do to prevent himself from cracking up under the pressure of it all?
2 The Strong feelings Anxiety Causes:
It is not too strong to say that what David is experiencing here is a full blown panic attack. His thoughts and emotions are all over the place which is why the psalm is written in a chaotic and disjointed way. He shifts wildly between lots of different feelings.
In verse 5 he admits that he is afraid that the end is nigh. He says, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me, horror has overwhelmed me”.
In verse 15 he rages in anger against his betrayers saying, “Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave, for evil finds lodging among them.”
He expresses grief at his betrayal saying “If an enemy were insulting me I could endure it” and in verse 17 he says, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress.”
He is paranoid and suspicious of everyone around him. In verse 3 he writes, “I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger.”
And in the midst of all these negative emotions he suddenly announces a great confidence in God. In verse 22 he says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you, He will never let the righteous fall.”
The wild and conflicting emotions that David expresses here are typical of someone experiencing severe anxiety. It may well be that with these emotions, he was also experiencing serious physical symptoms- jumpiness, twitching or trembling, sleeplessness, a racing mind and heart, headache or a tight knot in his stomach, breathlessness and a fear that he was going to die. Some of us will know exactly what David is experiencing here. Many people who have had such an anxiety attack say, “I’d rather die than have another one!”
His circumstances had upset him so badly that all he wants to do is run away. So in verse 6 he writes, “I said, Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- I would flee far away and stay in the desert. I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and the storm.”
You know, the truth is all of us are the same as David. All of us experience anxiety and stress. There will be periods in life when those worries are serious and on-going. We might be facing redundancy and struggling to find new employment. Maybe our business isn’t doing well and we are kept awake at night wondering how we are going to pay the bills. Perhaps we are experiencing serious illness or we’re worried about someone in our family who is sick. Perhaps we are concerned about important exams or we’re afraid and upset because people are being nasty to us at school. Maybe we are having problems in our relationships at home or at work. Perhaps we are worried about growing old or about how we will manage to care for our elderly parents. Maybe we are concerned about our children and the road that they are taking in life. You know, one thing is for sure, in this life we will have trouble, and with that trouble we will experience anxiety. That anxiety may express itself in so many ways. We may feel sad. We may feel worried. We may feel afraid. We may be irrational. We may feel very angry at others, at ourselves or even at God. With those feelings we may experience all sorts of strange physical symptoms.
I want to encourage you this morning. If that is how you are feeling at the moment, do not despair, if you are experiencing severe pressure, it is deeply unpleasant but it is also normal. It is part of being human. You’re in good company for both King David and Jesus experienced it. It can happen to anyone, even people who appear to be strong or think that they are spiritual or strong. It in no way means that you are any less of a person than anyone else. And even if the stress we experience never reaches that sort of level, there will be times for all of us, if we’re honest, when we will experience serious anxiety and all the emotional and physical feelings that go with that.
It’ important for us to admit that, because if we don’t, we may try to deal with our feelings in ways that long term will be destructive. So how did David deal with his anxiety and what can we learn from that?
3 How to deal with Anxiety:
The first thing we realise that David does is that he finds a way to express his anxiety and all the strong emotional feelings that go with that. Wisely, David doesn’t try to repress his feelings. He doesn’t try to pretend they don’t exist or that his circumstances aren’t affecting him. And even though he feels like running away from them, he resists that temptation and he faces them square on. You see that’s what Psalm 55 is. It is not an article in a psychiatric journal giving guidance on how to manage stress and anxiety. It is a diary entry from a person of faith describing what they are going through and how they are feeling.
You know there is a really important lesson here for all of us. When we are worried about something consistently, when we are afraid or angry at someone, when we are deeply hurt or confused about life, we must not deny those feelings. We must not try to ignore them, suppress them, pretend that they do not exist, or try to run away from them. If we do that, then we are likely to cause ourselves or others even more harm. We may turn to alcohol or drugs to try and block out those feelings. We may try to lock them away somewhere in our sub-conscious. But they will only begin to show themselves in other ways such as depression, psychosomatic or stress related illness, high blood pressure, an ulcer, personality changes or a breakdown in our closest relationships or even contemplating suicide.
So how can we express our deepest emotions and anxieties and still maintain our sanity or our public credibility? Well, part of the answer is, we need to pray. For in a nutshell, that’s what Psalm 55 is. It is the written prayer of a man who was going through one of the most painful and traumatic experiences in life that any of us could ever imagine. This is how David copes with his crisis and if we will follow his example it will enable us to cope as well.
They say that a problem shared is a problem halved. Isn’t it fantastic to have a partner or a trusted friend that we can offload to and who will not judge us? We must never be too embarrassed or too proud to do that. We must always make ourselves available to listen to others without judging them as they pour out their hearts. Let me encourage you to make the effort to develop those sorts of friendships with people you get to know in your family, your work colleagues and in church.
But as well as allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to open up to our family and friends, we also need to be humble enough to talk to God. The great thing is that God loves us. He is always there for us. He is never too busy to listen to us. David had learned that lesson and that’s why he talked to God regularly. In fact, it seems he may even have followed Daniel’s discipline of praying 3 times a day. So in verse 17 he says, “Morning, noon and evening I cry out in distress and God hears my voice.”
The apostle Paul gave the Christians in the church in Philippi the same advice when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul isn’t telling these Christians that they should feel guilty about being worried. What he is saying is, “When you are anxious, pray!” That’s what David did.
When we are overwhelmed by worry, fear, anger and so many other emotions that’s what we need to do too. We need to tell God about it, just like David.
But how did David pray?
Well, he certainly didn’t pray like the prayers you hear on a Sunday morning or on one of our online services. That’s because there is a huge difference between public and private prayer. Public prayer needs to somehow try and express emotions and requests that everyone can identify with. It needs to be considered, measured and sensitive.
But private prayer is to be different. In a nutshell, it is to be as honest and as frank as possible. That’s one reason why reading the Psalms is so helpful. They teach us how to pray. Even though David obviously wrote down this prayer, it is clear that it is
something that was private, honest and intimate. It was originally intended to be something between himself and God.
In the security of that relationship David doesn’t hold back. He tells God exactly how it is. He’s not embarrassed to tell God how afraid he is. He’s not too proud to tell God that what Absalom is doing to him really hurts. He’s not afraid to tell God how angry he is at what these people are trying to do to him. He’s not ashamed to ask God to step in and sort things out even if that means coming in Divine and righteous judgement. In a sense, there’s nothing nice about this prayer. It’s not considered, it’s not ordered, it’s not pretty or measured. It’s just David blurting out his emotions and feelings in the presence of someone he knows is listening and is listening without judging Him. That’s why David can be so honest.
It’s interesting that David also uses prayer as a way of saying the things he wants to say to Absalom but can’t bring himself to say face to face. At one point he actually talks to God as if he is talking to Absalom. In v13 he writes, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.”
I want to encourage you all this morning to begin to pray privately like David. Don’t feel that your prayers have to sound nice or have to include certain words or phrases. Just say it as it is. Say it as you feel. Say it as you really want to say it. Let me also encourage you not to feel guilty about expressing any kinds of emotions to God. It doesn’t matter if you feel like punching someone, it doesn’t matter if you’re so ashamed you can hardly say the words. It doesn’t matter if it’s something that sounds silly. Just say it! God can take it. God can handle it. In fact he knows it’s in your mind already. So blurt it out because it’s better out than in! Let me also encourage you not to be afraid to say to God the things that you have to leave unsaid publicly. If you need to speak to God as if he is the person you need to say the things to, then go ahead.
Because that’s what prayer is all about. It’s not just about getting what we want from God. It’s not just a happy pill or a form of magic. It will not necessarily take the problems we face away. But it will give us a context to work through those issues. It will give us a safe haven to work through and come to terms with our emotions. No, prayer is so much more about sharing every little detail of our lives with God. And as we do that, we will discover that prayer will unite us even more closely with Him. It will help us to become more aware of what He is like. It will strengthen the sinews of our faith and help us to trust God more completely. That’s what it did for David who concludes his prayer with the words, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. But you O God will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.”
How do you cope in a time of crisis? How will you cope when your next major crisis comes?
Will you worry and then think to yourself I should not feel this way. Or will you realise that it’s normal from time to time to feel anxious, afraid, angry or hurt?
Will you try to suppress these feelings or pretend it’s no big deal with the consequences that may have for your mental or physical health?
Will you try to carry those emotions like the African lady that a missionary gave a lift to? When he looked in his mirror she was sitting in the back of the truck still carrying the heavy load on the top of her head! Or will you cast your burden on the Lord and allow Him to sustain you?
And when that crisis comes and all the emotions with it, will you remember how to pray?
Will you blurt it out? Will you tell God exactly how you feel? Will you even dare to talk to him as if you are talking to your enemy?
May God help us all, to learn these lessons and to His name be all the glory, Amen.
Prayers for Others
Lord of all, we pray for all who are searching for peace in their lives – those burdened with anxiety either about themselves or their loved ones, facing difficulties and problems to which they can see no solutions.
God of peace, reach out and still the storm.
We pray for those wrestling with inner fears and phobias, torn apart by emotional and psychological pressures.
God of peace, reach out and still the storm.
We pray for all of us as we live among the change and upheaval that the Covid 19 pandemic has brought. We pray especially for all whose lives are threatened by violence and warfare.
God of peace, reach out and still the storm.
To all of those in chaos and turmoil, all who are restless and troubled, grant your calm, your tranquillity, your quietness, and your peace which passes all understanding.
God of peace, reach out and still the storm.
Take a few moments now to pray for yourself and for others you know who need God’s help particularly at this time…
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. If you are struggling with deep anxiety at the minute then please don’t bottle it up. Talk to someone you trust and who you know will listen. If you need to talk to me then please pick up the phone and give me a call. It may take time but I assure you there is help available and in time you will begin to feel better once you reach out for help.
Currently the government has set a provisional date of the 20th July for the reopening of Masses and church gatherings. Since that is a Monday we are currently considering reopening on Sunday 26th July. Please do pray for our church leadership as we pray and plan for this. I hope you can tune in again on Sunday morning as we reflect on the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit. I want to thank Alison and our growing virtual choir for all their efforts. Its been lovely to see whole families joining in and new faces voices and faces appearing every week. But there is still room for more to get involved. So if you haven’t already joined our choir please do click the button on our website to pass on your interest and contact details to Alison. They will be singing another beautiful piece for this coming Sunday. Also, I want to bring to your attention a very special upcoming event. It is an online streaming of the formal election and installation of our new Moderator the Rev David Bruce. David has been a great supporter of the Irish Mission and Home Mission churches like ourselves so I hope that many of us can log on and give him our virtual support. This event will be live-streamed from Church House in Belfast from 6.45pm on Monday 1st June 2020, and is available for everyone to watch by following the link that will be on the main PCI website (www.presbyterianireland.org).
But to close, let me share the benediction, after which I invite you to say the grace together…
The peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds
in the knowledge and love of God,
and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
remain with you always.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.