God Calms Our Distress
Lately, I’ve noticed being distressed has become popular. Blue jeans come straight from the manufacturer with holes already in them. It’s hard to find new jeans without holes in the fabric. It’s also a trend for furniture and picture frames to have a worn, used look.
Just because it’s popular now though, doesn’t mean it always will be. The trendy, worn look will slowly go out of style and we’ll want new things to look new again. A different style will come along, and that’s good because we all like a little change.
It’s not good though when we become distressed.
It comes upon us in various ways. We may lose someone we love in a terrible, unthinkable way. We might discover the pain of betrayal. Distress can come from dealing with aging parents or from our own beloved, rebelliouschildren. We might find ourselves with a gaping wound in our hearts or our minds due to a number of issues.
When we’re distressed, we get no rest. We’re uneasy and can’t calm down. It’s in this unsettled place that we must trust God. We beg Him in prayer for relief.
“Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1 NIV)
When everything seems crazy, out of control — He is in control. He doesn’t always take away our heartache or end our deep grief. Truth is, we often must go through it.
Three Ways God Calms Our Distress
When we feel deeply troubled, our natural instinct is to tell someone about our problems. We may need to vent and get everything off our chests.
The best person we can talk to is our Heavenly Father. He actually wants us to go to Him with everything, especially problems in life. There’s nothing we’re going through that He doesn’t already know about, but humbling ourselves and seeking Him in times of trials is the best way to relieve distress and calm our spirits.
2. His Word
The Bible teaches, comforts, and reassures us when we’re going through difficult times. Thank goodness God gave us such a beautiful love letter.
The Psalms are so comforting in times of distress. When I went through a dark valley in life a few years back, I memorized the 23rd Psalm and repeated it to myself in my mind each night before I drifted off to sleep. It gave me great comfort. Truly, I still do this to this day.
God sometimes speaks through other Christians at distressing times.
It can be helpful to confide in someone you trust who is older and wiser. Those who have been through some life with its difficulties can give beneficial advice because they’ve been there, done that. They also know how you feel because they’ve experienced distress themselves. Sharing with a trusted Christian can bring comfort and calmness to our souls.
Just like fashion trends come and go, our trouble won’t last forever. Eventually, it will come to an end and God will do something new. Until then, we trust Him, knowing He is faithful to answer when we call out to Him. He will calm our distress.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.” (Psalm 3:3-4 NIV)
I love the Book of Psalms. They are authoritative models of prayer and worship and therefore we return to them often for help. “When we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes for us…” — and read some psalms. And in my experience, it’s the easiest book to short-circuit meaning for application. Because the theology is so relevant, we can subtly gloss over what the text says to focus on us and our situations. But remember it’s only for us — by God about his Son for us.
So how might it look if we read like this? Say, Psalm 4? How would it look if we asked first, “what does this text say?” and then second, “what does it mean for me right now?”
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
7 You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
What It Means
Prayer is an important theme in this Psalm of David. It begins with the plea, “Answer me when I call” (verse 1). Again, “hear my prayer!” Then, “the Lord hears when I call to him” (verse 3). It’s an amazing picture of fellowship. David talks to God and God hears David. And he keeps David. He sustains and guards him (Psalm 3:5; 4:8).
Now these are observations. They are all by the way of discovering what the text says. But don’t think we’re blank-slate readers. Jesus has let us in on an important tip: the whole Bible is about him (Luke 24:25–27; John 5:39, 46). So an integral part of discovering what this psalm means is seeing how it’s connected to our Lord.
Consider again the amazing picture of fellowship: that David prays and God hears him. This is evident in Psalm 3:4 as well. David cried to the Lord and he gets an answer. This access mirrors Psalm 2:8 where the Lord invites his Son (and King) to ask whatever he wants and it will be given to him. The common thread in these first few psalms is that God hears the prayers of his king and no enemy will stand in his way. The Lord hears and ensures his King’s dominion (Psalm 2:9–12). Though foes are many, the Lord lifts David’s head (Psalm 3:1–3). Even when he’s in great distress, David can trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:1–3).
David is undoubtedly a pointer to Jesus. The eternal kingdom promised in 2 Samuel 7:13 sets in motion a greater longing for the Messiah to come. David will have a son who is king forever (and it’s not Solomon). We begin to see that God’s fulfillment of his promised Messiah is wrapped up with his faithfulness to David. God cuts off David’s enemies because he is keeping his promise about Jesus (2 Samuel 7:9; 8:1–13, 14). And this is why David is able to trust God amid his enemies in Psalm 4.
David indeed has enemies, but he says not to sin. Be angry, sure, be agitated or perturbed, but do not sin. David knows the promise and he trusts the Lord. Therefore, being the model of a faithful Israelite, he offers right sacrifices (Psalm 4:5). He believes. God is enough for him. Material stuff turns immaterial. Circumstances, come what may. His joy is in the Lord who keeps him (Psalm 4:7–8). David’s faith — his trust that the Lord will keep his promise of an eternal throne (i.e., the reign of Jesus) — propelled him fearless when distress abounded. That’s what is happening in Psalm. That is what it means.
Why It Matters
I was irritable a couple days last week when I got home from work. It was the crunch of deadlines and tasks and the feeling that I never seem to get enough accomplished in a day’s time. More snappy than angry, my family caught the brunt of my displaced frustration. Then I read this psalm.
David was surrounded by enemies — real enemies. That is enough to make someone angry, or agitated or perturbed, but he says not to sin. He didn’t try to take things into his own hands. He trusted the Lord, which included, as I said above, a hope in the future messianic king. The Lord’s faithfulness to David concerning Jesus was the foundation of his fearlessness. That’s why enemies may annoy him, but they won’t lead him to sinful unbelief (Psalm 4:4).
Might this same reality bear the same implications for me? Sure, there are pressures. Responsibilities abound. Concede that point. But be stressed out and do not sin. God is faithful. His care for David in reference to his promise secures care for me. Right there with David, the object of my hope is the same. I look to the same Messiah. God’s unfailing love for me in Jesus reaches down into the details of my life and wields them for my good (Romans 8:28). So rather than blow off steam toward my kids, I can ponder in my own heart and be silent. I can trust in the Lord. I can bank on the fact that he’s got all this under control. And that makes me a different person.
A Prayer to Soothe an Anxious Heart
Feelings of worry and nervousness will inevitably pop up as you travel your life’s path. Things will happen that you don’t understand. You will be called to do something even when you don’t have a clue about the outcome. Anxiety will present itself to your uncertain mind. But you don’t have to live there. The answer to anxieties is to go to God as soon as you sense a worry. Don’t wait. Pray immediately and ask for His strength to carry you.
Philippians 4:6 has the first three steps to talk to God about your anxiety:
1. Pray about everything. Does it say only pray about the big problems? I know I have the tendency to try and muddle through in my own meager strength until I can’t go on anymore. But if I do what Philippians says and pray about everything, that really does include everything. God is strong enough to handle ALL my worries. Whereas, I often break from the pressure that I put on myself.
2. Tell God what you need. Don’t use the excuse that He already knows. Of course, He knows already. He’s God. Actually, He knows even more than you do. I tend to get so caught up in my wants, that my real needs are often hidden from view. God may already know what I need but He wants me to always come to Him about everything. Even when I ramble on, He probably just smiles and listens and is glad that I felt comfortable talking with Him
3. Thank Him for all He has done (and will do). Gratefulness goes a long way to cover my anxieties. When I keep a long mental list of all that God has blessed me with, they often crowd out my anxieties. Also, I can keep a mental list of hopes and promises for my future, that also takes up the space that fears try to live. Doubts may seek to fill my mind but thoughts of comfort give me renewed hope and cheer (Psa 94:19).
Go straight to the psalms. The psalms are a great place to go when anxieties seek to overwhelm you. They often begin with a problem and a crying out to the Lord. Then they explain what they want. Finally, the Spirit within the author remembers the truths about just who God is and extreme comfort is the result. The situation may not go away but the attitude changes.
Bring your emotions; don’t hold back. In Psa 31, David comes to the Lord with tears blurring his eyes. He feels as if his body and soul are withering away. He feels sadness is shortening his years. His strength is gone. Like David, we should come to God with all our emotions showing. God knows about them anyway so why should I try to hold something back from him?
Remember that God is very near to you. Psalm 23:4 says that even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, when I remember that the Lord is close beside me. I can remind myself often of this fact that God is indeed very near to me. Then, I don’t have to worry about fighting off my enemies. I can simply let God be God.
Remember that the Lord is your light and salvation. Doubts, fears, and anxieties seek to surround me with darkness—so much that I can’t keep moving forward on my journey. This is Satan’s goal—to stop me from living out my faith in God. But God is my light always, especially when anxiety threatens to darken my path. With that much light all around me, why should I be afraid (Psa 27:1)?
Be desperate. Psalm 34:6 tells me that when I pray out of desperation, the Lord listens and saves me from all my troubles. I can be real and honest with him and I can come to Him like my life depends on it. Just like a parent runs to their child’s cries of distress, God will run to mine. And the more brokenhearted I am, the closer the Lord seems to me (Psa 34:18).
Remember that He is a Good, Good Father. God is indeed a Good Father. Like a mother eagle to her eaglets, God longs to cover you with His feathers and give you full refuge along with a warm place of safety to rest your head (Psa 91:2-4). God promises that He will rescue those who love and trust Him (Psa 91:14). He really does want the best for me and you.
Trust that He has overcome the world and its trials and troubles. Trials, and even sorrows are inevitable in this fallen world where evil so often appears to be winning. But I can have peace despite those troubles. I can take heart and have courage because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). And His Spirit lives within me so I am an overcomer too!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psa 27:8)