Wait for the Lord! That’s how Psalm 27 ends. The realistic optimism that exudes from this psalm is tempered by those four words. The admonition to wait comes from a place of deep confidence, a confidence that we can assume was forged in the crucible of distress. David’s life, to whom we attribute this psalm, was not all roses and sunshine.
What might make this psalm difficult to preach is our general unfamiliarity with the kind of mortal peril David experienced. While I do not want to minimize the hardships people in our congregations face, the fact remains that in the North American context, a good many Christians live lives of comfort, abundance, and relative peace. In some of our congregations, the enemy that we believe encamps around us (verse 3) is the opposing political party or immigrants who have come to irrevocably change America and steal our jobs. At the same time, a psalm like this provides the opportunity to name the legitimate evil present in your specific context. What are the besetting issues of your community? Who or what is lurking in the shadows threatening to “devour [our] flesh (verse 2)?”
With the evil named, we can proceed with our response to it. Usually, when we name the sin and injustice plaguing our world, our first response might be to discern how to confront it in a redemptive manner. For instance, when we are confronted with the evil of racial injustice, we are inclined to take measures to promote awareness of the issue and proclaim possible practices that might lead to a more just and Christ-like world. So long as we do those things in prayerful discernment and the power of the Spirit, it’s the right move to make. But something else is at work in the psalm.
The center of this psalm is doxological, and rightly so. David’s past experiences with God’s faithfulness prompt an outburst of praise mixed with calls for God to be faithful again. Amid the turmoil, when the enemy is all around, David passionately seeks to be in the presence of God. We don’t get the impression that David’s pleas for God’s salvation come with offers of David’s continued faithfulness. This is no, the airplane is in serious trouble, so I offer God my allegiance if only God would rescue me from impending death type scenario. No, David is confident in both his decision to live in doxological faithfulness to God and in God’s ability and desire to “hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble” (verse 5). With trouble all around, David lifts his head “making melody to the Lord” (verse 6).
Our praise often takes place after God’s deliverance becomes known. However, we get the sense that David, and subsequent generations in Israel, offer praise in the midst of their suffering. Israel’s praise is not contingent on God’s salvation. Israel can lift up praise amid suffering because they have witnessed God’s faithfulness over and over in the past. God’s faithfulness has been greater than the faithfulness of the most faithful parent. Israel’s praise is a statement of faith.
But what happens when salvation doesn’t come in the form we expect or anticipate? Can we live in doxological faithfulness even as we suffer? Can we sing, pray, or read psalms like this one if we’ve been given over to the will of our adversaries? Do we continue to wait for the Lord?
For those who endure violence and suffer evil, and for those whose suffering is only mild inconvenience compared to actual suffering, the temptation is the same. In both situations, it remains challenging to wait for the Lord. Either we begin to believe that we can solve our problems by the strength of will and so take matters into our own hands, or we believe God has not been faithful. Either way, we are prone to resort to drastic and often violent measures to obtain salvation. When we take things into our own hands and refuse to wait for the Lord, living in doxological faithfulness becomes impossible.
Preaching this psalm, as well as living in doxological faithfulness, becomes more manageable if our regular times of worship include the testimony of praise of those currently suffering through some trial. If we can praise God in the middle of cancer treatments or as we watch our loved one suffer a debilitating stroke leading to a lifetime of disability, if we can praise God as we suffer violence to our person or to those we love, if we can sing songs of praise when all seems lost, then the faith of our churches will be strengthened, and we will be better able to sit and wait for the Lord.