Psalm 4 NRSV
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
Here we find a psalmist who is not having a good day, to say the least. If we let it, the extreme language draws us into the experience. Have you ever been there? You might be there now, crying out to God, “Answer me! Hear my prayer!”
When one finds themselves in such an intense place, it is easy to fall into sin. Yet this psalm addresses just that. Verse 4, “When you are disturbed do not sin.” You see, sin is the easy route in life. It’s easy to do what feels good. When we are shaken to our core, as this psalmist seems to be, we are often sent into a state that makes us vulnerable to give into the temptations that may seem harmless, but in fact will cause immense harm down the road. It’s easy to seek out things other than God when the world has beaten us down and we are distressed. It’s easy to lash out or seek revenge or wish ill upon others. It’s easy to seek comfort from gossip, chemical substances, or toxic relationships and the like.
Look at the progression of the verses. 1-3 have a rhythm of complaint and remembrance. The psalmist is clearly in distress and cries out to God. Amidst this cry he recalls God’s faithfulness in past events. Verse 4 offers a change of direction. The grammar of the sentence changes from personal pronouns to outward facing commands to you; “when you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent.” One can almost hear the psalmist give himself a mini coaching session here. Be upset. Be angry. Be distressed. But do not fall into sin. Don’t give yourself over to it.
This message is apropos for us today. There is much to be anxious about. Concern and anxiety are pressing in on all sides. We do well to acknowledge those feelings—not repress them—for they turn us to God and his faithfulness. In a single moment of intense anxiety we can feel it and also welcome God to be present in the midst of it so that we do not turn outward to things that aren’t good for us.
Instead we can look to verse 5. Turn to God, and when you need something to do, worship God. Verse 6, pray for God’s face to shine upon us. Verse 7, tap into the gladness, joy, and gratitude for God’s goodness and abundance we have already seen in our lives. Verse 8, remember that God is the Lord of our lives. God offers us peace and safety as we rest in God’s spirit.
Gracious and loving God, bring us deeper into your presence in these moments. When it feels like things outside of our control are bigger than us, show us just how big you are. Help us release our concerns to you that we might have room in our minds to remember your faithfulness, your love, your care. Amen.