The Rustic Preacher
Desperate and Coporate

Singing the Song of Triumph

Psalm 18

  I love you, O LORD my strength, *
O LORD my stronghold, my crag, and my haven.

  I will love thee

"With strong, hearty affection will I cling to thee; as a child to its parent, or a spouse to her husband. The word is intensely forcible, the love is of the deepest kind. "I will love heartily, with my inmost bowels." Here is a fixed resolution to abide in the nearest and most intimate union with the Most High. Our triune God deserves the warmest love of all our hearts. Father, Son and Spirit have each a claim upon our love. The solemn purpose never to cease loving naturally springs from present fervour of affection. It is wrong to make rash resolutions, but this when made in the strength of God is most wise and fitting. "My strength." Our God is the strength of our life, our graces, our works, our hopes, our conflicts, our victories. This verse is not found in 2 Samuel 22, and is a most precious addition, placed above all and after all to form the pinnacle of the temple, the apex of the pyramid. Love is still the crowning grace." - Charles Spurgeon

And so, David, who has been in grave danger, recognizes the protection of his God in the midst of the crags and sings a song of victory.

Psalm 18:2 - The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

The psalmist reaches deeply into his reserves of imagery to describe the security, stability, and solidity that God brings to his life. He uses, in this verse, only one image to describe his own response: “in whom I take refuge.” There is only one possible response to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of a strong and mighty God who loves us. That response is trust. From the place of faith and trust we proceed to praise, obedience, consecration, and rightful fear. Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. (Job 13:15)” Whatever the circumstances of our lives, the intensity of our senses, or the severity of our emotions,  God is our stronghold and trust is our way of saying “yes” to Him.

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. – Psalm 18:2 

It was 1999 and a tornado had ripped through Moore Oklahoma.  Homes had been destroyed. Families were devastated.  The need was great.

One of the most recognizable architectural features in town was the high and visible cross at the First Baptist Church. It was also the location of an emergency center.

The word went out to all who needed help, “Go to the cross.”

Churches have often been adorned with steeples, towers and crosses. They are present so that the buildings will stand out and remind the community of the majesty and strength of God in redemptive love and unswerving power.

It is God Himself who is our fortress, deliverer, and high tower. He is our strength. He is our shield. He is our salvation.

We can go to Him.

We understand the love of God and how we benefit from His love. What we sometimes overlook is how dependent we are on His strength. No matter how much He might love us, if He were not strong enough to keep His word and save us, it would all be for naught.

But alas, He is strong and loving and we can go to Him.

Psalm 18:3 - I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

There are three vital touch points in this verse. One is the vocal and volitional response of the trusting heart to God. The next is of greater importance. It is the acknowledgement of the worthiness of the One to whom all trusting souls call. The third and least important is the resulting salvation for all who call to God in faith. In what sense and with what intensity have you been calling to the Lord in recent days? Have your desperate and passionate prayers been bathed in a sense of the wondrous worth of God?  Have you been going for God and His glory and letting deliverance follow or have you been shifting the focus to the resulting salvation of your life. Keep your perspective in prayer. It is always all about God. Out of that salvation always follows.

Psalm 18:4-5 – The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.  The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

There is a graver danger than death. It is the denial of death. The psalmist is not seduced by its subtle and intoxicating lure. He looks around and sees, eyes open, the threats that surround him. He does not avoid confrontation, but brings these issues honestly and forthrightly to God. Adopt a strategy of brutal honesty in your life of prayer. In doing so, you bring your awareness of God front and center in the midst of the perils of life and death. Peace and victory are very near the soul that can look death in the face without turning away.

Through Many Snares

(Psalm 18:5)  The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. 

There are snares of the devil and snares of death and snares of those who are threatened by the path we travel. And all such snares are designed to divert us from that path, the way of the Master. We all face them and some of us come through them.

Just turn the word “through” over and over in your heart and mind. Then celebrate. Celebrate because the snares did not finish you off. Celebrate because you either avoided them or, with God’s help, managed to break free of their clutches. Celebrate deliverance. Celebrate strength in times of trial. Celebrate grace!

The psalmist knew the snares of death. He saw them as road blocks. But he also saw them in the past tense. He had come through.

Of course, some of them have caught you. Whether they caught you off-guard or whether you moved headlong in their direction, eyes wide open, the same grace is for you. Others simply hindered you and brought you discomfort and disquieting, sleepless nights. Whatever the circumstances, look in the mirror. You are still here. You have come through.

What next?

How will the snares of the past prepare you for the snares of the future? Are you wiser in Christ? Are you stronger in Him? Do you have a greater hope and a more solid faith? Is your resolve more resolute than ever before now that you have stared down the snares of death?

You can make it because you have made it. You can make it because others have made it. You can make it most of all, because you have a forerunner, Jesus Christ, who has finished the race and stands at the finish line to welcome you.

Neither hell nor death, nor the defeated one who wields them as weapons against the elect of God can defeat you. You are passing through the snares. They are not eternal. Nor are they all powerful. You are much more than a conqueror through Him who loved you.

Psalm 18:6 - In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

It is not stress that threatens our souls, but distress. And even distress is not the end of the matter for one who is working out his or her trust in God. “That soul who on Jesus hath leaned for repose …” is not hesitant to cry out to God for help. The lessons from the Twelve Steps of A.A. are modified to say that we admitted we were powerless over sin and human frailty - that our lives had become unmanageable and came to believe that only God in Jesus Christ, who is far  greater than ourselves, could restore us to sanity. In my distress and out of my distress, my cry is to God who hears me. Let these words challenge and comfort you.

Psalm 18:7 - The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry.

God is not to be toyed with. When He hears the distressed cry of those whose trust is in Him and releases His power to deliver, there are repercussions. Peter Marshal once preached that prayer is a very dangerous business. Things get shaken. The quaking of the earth is an awesome voice, but it is the voice of God that truly gets the attention of a complacent world. Don’t stop praying, but never succumb to the delusion that prayer is merely a benign exercise of religious sentiment. It is not. It is a trigger that may release the anger of God through agreement with Him and His purposes. Though His wrath is ultimately redemptive, its delivery can be very frightening. When you pray, be prepared to tremble with the earth.

Psalm 18:9 - Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.

God wants us to know some things about Himself that we may tend to overlook if the extent of our theology is “Jesus loves me; this I know.”  That is a true and faithful summary statement, but it is amplified by the prior knowledge that He is a holy and awesome God who is intolerant of anything that goes against Himself, His purposes, and yes, His love. Again, do not toy with God. Do not reduce Him to a simplistic formula or a divine, cosmic grandpa. We must know enough to fall down prostrate in His presence before we can crawl into His lap as beloved children. The two may happen simultaneously, but one will never be without the knowledge of the other. He is God and we are not.

Psalm 18:10  - He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 

God is not sequestered in Heaven. Neither is He confined to a dogma or a domicile. At any time, He can and does part the Heavens to come in judgment, deliverance, and grace.  This image of God “coming down” is not a contradiction to the truth of the immanence of His presence. This is a functional description of His intervention in our affairs in response to the cry of a trusting soul. God responds to your response to Him through prayer. Never minimized in your mind the significance of your prayers. When you pray, you are on holy ground.

Psalm 18:11 - He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.

The heart thrills at the music of these words. The vision of God mounting the cherubim and soaring on His very wind is dramatic, inspiring, and comforting at the same time. In the previous verse we saw dark clouds under His feet. That tells us that this vision of “God-to-the-rescue” can only be seen by the trusting soul whose sight penetrates the darkness and views reality from the eyes of faith. Let us number ourselves with such as they whenever we look upon the deathly dangers and antagonistic arrogance around us. Thus we shall prayerfully maintain our focus while the world stumbles in despairing darkness.

Psalm 18:12  - He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him-- the dark rain clouds of the sky.

Darkness is not a characteristic of God. However, He clothes Himself in darkness. He does not fully disclose Himself for to do so would overwhelm even the faithful. Through the eyes of trusting faith, we receive His self-disclosure of light and truth, but only through a glass darkly. Apart from faith, all we see are dark rain clouds. Do not be deceived – not all that is obscured is the harbinger of death. Behind the clouds, there is light. Learn to look for God in every crisis of belief. He is present.

Psalm 18:13  - Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

It is no wonder that God clothes Himself in darkness. His brightness is so brilliant that no human could bear the storm. Someday, we will be enabled to see fully as we are seen and to know fully as we are known. Until then, we view with unveiled face through the glass, the glory of the Lord.  Unlike the great and mighty Oz who was merely a mild mannered professor from Kansas behind the veil of thunder and lightening, our God is so very much more that we can see or know. As Rich Mullins, who now sees very clearly, sang, “Our God is an awesome God.”

Psalm 18:14  - The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.

Sound is a phenomenon, in the natural world, that is centered in vibrations of various frequencies. These vibrations cause ripples in time and space that reverberate and resound to the human ear. Like thunder, vocal sound gets our attention. The voice is refined sound. God’s voice is heard because God will not be silent and has something to say to us. If we will listen, His voice will thunder in our ears. Otherwise, we will deafen those same ears to truth and love. We must remain alert, even if that makes us vulnerable to be startled, for in that startling, we are awakened to hear God at new frequencies of reality.

Psalm 18:15  - He shot his arrows and scattered [the enemies], great bolts of lightning and routed them.

With the same conviction that we affirm that God is not to be toyed with, we are reminded that God does not toy with us. His anger at sin is unambiguous. His wrath is without prejudice. It is not an emotional outburst from a temperamental potentate, but a proportional response to all that blasphemes His name and oppresses His people. Evil is a bully. Its only strength is in numbers. Only truth stands alone and God is truth. When the oppressors of all that is godly “gang-up” on God’s children, He comes with arrows, lightening, and all that is in the arsenal of truth to scatter them and render them impotent. Do not be afraid of Satan though he commands a host of demons. One Word of God will route the enemy. Align yourself with Him and be secure.

Psalm 18:16 – The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

The poetic imagery speaks for itself, but the truth is grasped in meditation. Nothing can withstand God’s rebuke. He has the final word

on all matters: moral, ethical, spiritual, and intellectual. He will not bow to our perceptions or opinions and He will not withhold His judgment. He breathes truth. All that comes forth from Him is true and sometimes that truth scrapes away the veneer of falsehood with such ferocity that the effect can only be described as wrath. But with His relentless insistence upon fidelity to Himself, His purposes, and His ways, He breathes also, love. And when we behold it, we know that it is the real thing.

Psalm 18:17  - He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.

Here is God, breaking through the resistance, piercing the darkness, rebuking all deceit and wickedness, and relentlessly pursuing His purpose. Here is God, thundering forth His voice, blasting the clouds with bolts of lightening, God who is pure and fully integrated, God who judges all that is against His ways. This God stoops low to lift us. He bursts through the clouds to rescue His beloved. He draws us out of the deep waters where we are drowning. He is the God who saves. We have come to appreciate His anger. Now we can fully appreciate His saving love.

Psalm 18:18 - He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

Think for a moment of the strong enemies I your life whether they are habits, attitudes, discouragements, or addictions. How often have you underestimated their power over you and your powerlessness over them? What have been the results of overestimating your strength?  Christianity is not about us being strong; it is about God’s strength within us. Pride is that enemy which empowers every other enemy to conquer our souls. Release pride. Expel it from your life. Admit your powerlessness and trust in God to rescue you from your enemies within and without today.

Psalm 18:19  - They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.

When you are down, you are also vulnerable to every enemy that lives around you or inside you. Temptations surface when our pain is most acute and our weakness most profound. Satan comes to accuse, deceive, and allure in our disaster. The foes of our souls are looking for opportunities to get in our faces and sneer us into subjection. But the Lord is our support. Consider it today and rely upon it. Make it the subject of your prayer and stand in the assurance.

Psalm 18:20-21 - He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

God’s delight in His children is what moves Him to rescue us. As we would seek to protect the ones we love, so He reaches out to us. It is about a relationship. That’s what righteousness is – something being rightly related. Our filthy hands are made clean because of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. It is on that basis that we are rewarded. It doesn’t seem fair because it is not. It is grace.

Psalm 18:22-24 - For I have kept the ways of the LORD; I have not done evil by turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin.

Perhaps the psalmist felt he had done no wrong. Perhaps his definition of “doing no evil” was limited. Or maybe he understood blamelessness in terms of a fresh and up-to-date righteous relationship with God where God’s mercy and grace make up for the deficits in our spiritual accounts. A Christian reading these words must filter them through the teachings of Jesus and the reality of the cross. All have sinned; all have turned away; and none is blameless. However, God is willing to see us as blameless through a right relationship with His righteous Son. The important factor is that we are turning to God and He gives us confidence in His presence by His own merit. Thus we can understand a pray the prayer of the psalmist with calm assurance.

Psalm 18:25-26 – The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

The difficulty with this verse is the same as the previous. From what we know from the rest of scripture, our righteousness does not carry enough clout to purchase a reward. Our cleanest cleanness is filthy. Our faithfulness is fleeting. We have much blame. But that is not the whole story. The slightest overture of response toward God, the tiniest demonstration of faith, the simplest suggestion of sincere seeking is met with God’s adequacy and provision. God rewards the little we bring to Him by supplying all that is deficient in us. It is the song of grace that resounds from these verses and it is a precious song indeed. He makes us righteous, clean, faithful, and blameless that He and we might enjoy a relationship of love and joy together.

Psalm 18:27 - to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

Our purity comes from God. Having said that, let us consider purity as an attitude through which we approach God. The idea of purity evokes images of brilliant light shining through a diamond revealing the full spectrum of colors. It calls to remembrance the embrace of a child, the song of a sparrow, and the penetrating sincerity of an eager student on the first day of class. Purity is a condition of the heart, focus of the mind, and consecration of the body. It is undiluted devotion and singular commitment to a one and only center which gives everything else meaning and perspective. The pure in heart will see God because God is pure. Ask God to purify your soul and spirit today.

Psalm 18:28 -  “For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.”

The psalmist declared that God’s Word was his light and his lamp. John declared that in Jesus, Light came into the world when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus illumines the world with His coming and illuminates the Word of God with His very presence.

Just one candle, Jesus, lights the world with brilliance and truth.

These are days of escalating attempts at spectacular light shows – synthetic lights, exploding lights, psychedelic lights – all designed the baffle, amaze, and bewilder.

Yet, when Jesus came, aside from one great burst of glory with a shepherd audience and a star that only some wise men noticed, He presented Himself as one tiny candle, a baby. And that was enough to light the world as John said, “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5)

In shining forth as a candle in the dark, Jesus made sense of hundreds of years of sacred scripture, He revealed the mystery of the ages, He brought hope to the dark hearts of men, and He called us to join Him as the light of the world, not to be hidden under a bushel. He was and is just one candle, but out of that one, many. As you light your Christmas candles, remember that it only took one to light the world forever.

Psalm 18:28-29 – You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

Humility is a prerequisite to salvation. No one who is promoting her own resume of righteousness can expect to benefit from mercy. No one bragging about His lack of need will find the place of neediness needed to receive grace. Haughtiness may impress those whose mantra is to win by intimidation, but it commands no respect from God. God will have none rise except those He raises. He will exalt none but Himself and those who He brings alongside Himself. Our only aura is darkness, but God turns the darkness of the humble into the light of Heaven. Humble yourself before God today and He will lift you to the realm of eternal inextinguishable light.

Psalm 18:30 - With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.

My great grandfather, we are told, was at Gettysburg in Pickett’s charge. He survived that blood bath though scores of Confederates fell around him. As they ran up that hill against a line of blazing guns, they must have been chilled with fear and numbed with dread, but for some reason, they proceeded – as did the freemen in South Carolina immortalized in the film, “Glory” and the heroes of Normandy. At the command of a leader and for love of country or cause, many a soldier has advanced against a troop and scaled a wall that required more strength, courage, and skill than he or she possessed. In life, in our battles and skirmishes with sin, self, and sickness, we are called upon to give more than we have and extend beyond our abilities. It is then that God helps us with His external encouragement and internal power.

Psalm 18:31-32 - As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?

God’s perfection is the only hope of any person for anything that approximates perfection. His flawless word is the standard by which all truth may be evaluated. He is God, pure and simple and for those who come to Him to find refuge and help, He never falters or fails. He is steady; He is sure; He is solid; and He is faithful. He is the Rock. In prayer today, put absolute trust in Him for He alone is trustworthy.

Psalm 18:33 – It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.

The psalmist was never bragging. He has known all along that his blamelessness, faithfulness, and righteousness all come from God. He understands that God’s perfection is the essence of any personal holiness that might ever be visible in our lives. His strength is all that can make us strong. Paul came to know this reality when he declared that when he was weak he was strong because Christ’s strength could be made manifest. Only God can equip us for the challenges, battles, and difficulties we will face in this life. Only God can complete our lives as we draw upon His perfection and strength. Live in faith and dependence today.

Psalm 18:34-36  - He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.

Who would not opt for solid ground upon which to stand in every situation? Only fools love battle and seek out conflict.  Having made both of these statements, one must acknowledge a contrasting truth: only cowards always flee and only chronic whiners always require ideal conditions in their lives. Our spiritual feet are made for the rugged places of life. Our arms are trained for battle. God is preparing us for the adversities of life, not for virtual ease. He knows what we must face and He knows that we must face it with Him or fail. Greatness does not result from minimalist thinking or avoidance of adversity. Greatness comes as the God of the universe stoops low to lift us up in the midst of fiery trials and contentious circumstances.

Psalm 18:37-39 - You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet.

As we pursue the enemies of truth - prejudice, lust, discouragement, bitterness, and so many others – we do so with ruthless commitment to follow through to the end. We perform beyond our capacities and with courage that we do not possess in and of ourselves. We are assured of an ultimate victory that may often appear allusive and distant. So often we sense that something beyond our sight is occurring to straighten the way before us. At times we have been running with patience and speed and our ankles have turned throwing the balance of the race to our opponents. This does not need to be the case in our spiritual battles. God protects us against frivolous injuries to the end that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.  Do not be afraid of freak accidents along your spiritual path God is winning this thing and He is doing so through you,

Psalm 18:40-42 – You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them-- to the LORD, but he did not answer.

God ‘s strength is an awesome thing indeed. David was a military man, but only by necessity. By profession, he was a shepherd who was called upon to shepherd a nation. Immediately, he was besieged by the foes of God and forced to take up battle. He paid a high price for being a man of war. But sometimes, he saw a reality that escapes the self-sufficient: God goes to war before us and for us. He has the capacity to fight our battles and cause our enemies to cringe with fear and turn away. Satan is our great enemy-accuser and we are equipped to go to battle with him. He will bow at our feet, but not because our strength is so strong; God is strong and His strength makes us strong. It is out of our relationship with God that we may call upon Him when we are under attack and He hears. No other cry reaches His ears. Stay up-to-date with God and you will be prepared for anything.

Psalm 18:43-45 – I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind; I poured them out like mud in the streets. You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me.

Never underestimate the power of God at work in and through you. You will be utterly amazed at what He can accomplish through your life and the impact that it will have upon others. If it is your goal to impress people with your own strength, agility, cleverness, and wit, you will be disappointed. If you desire wealth, fame, power, or respect you might be tempted to work toward those ends. You will fail or find a miserable success. However, if you seek God and His ways, He will bring you more than you could ever hope for and broaden your influence beyond your wildest imagination.

Psalm 18:46-48 - They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds. The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me.

Loss of heart is inevitable for those who oppose God. Exaltation is the shared inheritance of the saints. Praise God and lift up your head. Resist the temptation to avenge yourself against injustice or assert your own dignity. God is your champion. You will not win your spiritual battles through clever speech, biting comments, or skillful rhetoric. You will not be exalted through a show of human strength. Your hope is in God. Seek to understand His power and glory in the context of an intimate relationship with Him and leave all of your issues to Him.

Psalm 18:49-50 - Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name. He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

We are establishing a pattern of reflection, praise, and thanksgiving on the last day of the month. Let this be no exception. Meditate upon theses words and apply them to God’s providential acts in your life. Record them in your journal and sing unto the Lord with all your heart and soul. His unfailing kindness is praiseworthy. So praise Him!