“I just want to run away from it all.”
That familiar longing when life feels too much. Maybe it’s the unpredictability of this post-pandemic world; maybe it’s the complexity of relationships in your family or your church; maybe it’s the constant worry about money, or the relentlessness of life with small children, or the ongoing fight against that sin that you can’t shake off.
Maybe it’s painful suffering that is crushing you day and night or just a weariness with life in this confusing world full of darkness as well as light, grief as well as joy.
If you have ever wanted to run away from today, you are not alone.
Psalm 55 is the testimony of a man who felt overwhelmed. In verses 3-5 he describes an avalanche of difficulty – the ESV translation, with its repeated phrase ‘upon me’, captures the sense of a person weighed down and crushed by the pain he is carrying. ‘Horror overwhelms me’ (v5).
And what does this overwhelmed man long for? ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest…’ (v6).
Yes. Me too. That is my heart’s longing when this world feels too much. I just want to run away.
This desire, beautifully depicted as a dove in flight so the image lodges in our minds, is common to man and woman. It is also known to God. In God’s word, the overwhelmed person finds an arresting reflection of their own experience. The person who longs to escape from it all is not shamed for their weakness or lost without trace under the weight of their burdens. Instead, the person who just wants to run away finds that God’s king, David, felt the same. In the maelstrom of being overwhelmed, there is an anchor. From within the relentless noise and heart-pounding anxiety (v3-5), God’s voice speaks clearly, saying ‘You are seen. You are understood. You are not alone.’
And while Psalm 55 describes a particular experience at the hands of a human enemy (and worse, an enemy who was once a friend), David’s prayer from within the eye of the storm contains God’s wisdom for all who wish they could fly away from today and be at rest.
Rest in the Lord, not in the wilderness
What would a real rest feel like for you? David thought he might find it in a place far away from his enemies where he could shelter ‘from the tempest and storm’ (v8), a ‘wilderness’ of peace and quiet where the fear and the fighting would stop. Before we go on, this might be a good place to pause and consider – where might you run to today, to find relief from the noise of life? You might long to hop on a plane, but make do instead with the contents of the fridge or shopping online. Maybe you turn to a secret addiction, find solace in exercise, or lose yourself in the latest series online.
The idea of a rest away from it all is like a mirage on the horizon. No one has ever found true and lasting rest by fleeing to a refuge they have created for themselves. The spa, or the fridge, or the screen always leaves us wanting more, and the struggles coming at us or from within us continue. Your refuge of choice may be a good gift of God, but when life gets too much, he offers you something better – himself.
In the course of Psalm 55, David shows us that real rest can be found within the storm. The psalm begins with a torrent of pleas and woes but ends with a simple phrase that expresses the heart of rest: ‘But as for me, I trust in you.’ (v23b).
While the battle is still raging, with his heart stinging from the pain of a friend’s betrayal, David counsels us: ‘Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved’ (v22).
Jesus, God’s kindness incarnate, invites us to come to him with our burdens and walk alongside him through whatever the day holds (Matt 11:28-30). Here is that anchor in the storm once again: you are not lost, you are not alone; you are walking beside the gentlest and most humble person who ever lived.
David found rest in trusting God, because he knew God could be trusted to deal with his enemies. ‘God…who is enthroned from of old’ would do what is right (v19). Like David, we can bank on these promises: the LORD will sustain you (v22). God was responsible for the fate of David’s enemies; David’s task was to keep hold of God’s promises.
Don’t run away: stay and pray
David’s first instinct is to run. But instead, he stays put and prays, matching the round-the-clock struggle with round-the-clock prayer (v17). As we eavesdrop on his prayer, we hear a desperate man pouring it all out to the Lord, sharing not just his needs but his hurts (v12-14).
How can we cultivate a prayerful relationship with the Lord when we feel overwhelmed? How can we train ourselves to stay close to the Lord, praying ‘evening, morning and noon’, rather than running away?
Naming the places where we instinctively run is a good place to start. Bring them to the Lord. Repent of running away from him to that false refuge and ask him to help you find your refuge in him.
Make use of the arrow prayer. David describes his prayers as complaining and moaning (v2, 17). Our prayers can be short, urgent, heartfelt cries for help. Better to cry a single word to the Lord than continue struggling alone. ‘Casting your burden’ does not mean telling the Lord how to fix the problem – it means taking the problem off your shoulders and putting it onto the Lord’s.
Ask the Lord to help you see false refuges for what they are. And take time to gaze instead at the gentle, humble face of your Saviour, who was so committed to carrying your burdens that he took them all the way to the cross:
‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt 11:28).