I memorized Psalm 20 back in the day as well, mainly because I thought life was really hard and complicated and frustrating, and David’s musings here were comforting. Life surely looks different at 55 than it did at 19 or 20. As scary as it can be hurdling headlong toward the fulfillment of my mortality (that’s death, in case you’re one of those 21st Century people who think it can be avoided if you just eat the right stuff, exercise and don’t smoke and drink), I would not want to go back to 20 and have to learn everything all over again. It’s like being in a valley, then going up on a mountain viewing that same valley. The perspective is completely different. One looses the forest for the trees, the other sees exactly how those trees fit in the forest, and the rest of the valley.
The Psalm starts with, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress.” I often felt such distress back then, but saw the possible answer as either getting what I wanted, or making things clear. Verses 4 and 5 were especially poignant:
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
Really? God cares about the desires of my heart? He cares about my plans? My aspirations? This is important. Too much of evangelical Christianity thinks in almost gnostic or Buddhist terms. Having just read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture, I saw very clearly where this suppression of the self came from, and that was the Christianity I was born-again into in 1978. The less self, the more “spiritual” you supposedly are. The more you empty your self, the closer to God you will supposedly be. The more surrendered to God, whatever that means, the more you can fulfill the godly life, and so on.
It took me a while to work through all this, but I realized over time that God doesn’t want me to empty my self, but he wants to make the self everything it can be, i.e. like Christ, in the context of who that self actually is. This includes all the desires, aspirations, talents, likes, dislikes, personality, etc. of the self. I’ve heard sermons and talks where it is said in this regard, that the more I seek and become like God the more his desires will be my desires. Maybe, but that implies my own, unique, one-of-a-kind desires are somehow wrong, or unclean, or less than pure. If “I” am associated with it, it must be wrong. But God works his sovereign will through secondary causes, so each person’s unique desires, ambitions, etc., are in effect God’s. He didn’t give each human being their own unique consciousness to make us all robo-Jesuses, who do the same, act the same, look the same.
I love David’s celebration of another’s victory, lifting up banners in God’s name. Instead of envy, we can be truly happy for another’s joy. But this again is much bigger than just what I want in my life. It is in fact part of the bigger picture of redemptive history. God’s anointed are his chosen people, his elect, those he promised to save from the moment of the fall until Christ said it is finished. The salvation we need most, and the one David I’m sure understands is from sin and death, and I don’t just mean mortal death, but death to God, death in our sin which is alienation from him. Our salvation is in fact a resurrection from spiritual death; we were dead in our sin, as Paul says, and made alive with Christ. And as David says here, it is “with the saving power of his right hand.”
And the most important lesson I’ve learned these last 35(!) years? That would be found in verse 7:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
The name of the Lord is in effect his character, which includes not only the power of his ordering of the universe and his purposes for everything, but his love for me, the ultimate expression of course is what he did for me in Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5:
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We are constantly tempted to trust in chariots and horses, so to speak, and God in his love for us has to continually disabuse us of the notion that these things are worthy of our trust, that they can bring any kind of contentment or peace or fulfillment or purpose outside of him. They are all important and good in and of themselves, but they are not ultimate in any sense. Only he is, and only in him do they have their true and relative value to us. Verse 8 says what happens when we do trust in them:
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
What a fantastic juxtaposition! Those good things that are objectified as ultimate things (i.e. become idols) can only serve to ultimately weaken us because these things in the nature of reality, the way things actually are, were never meant to be ultimate things for us. In Him, regardless of the circumstances, we can rise up and stand firm because we can trust his ultimate intentions toward us. We only need look to Christ!