When I think of David as being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), somehow I get a different impression of him than his psalms sometimes give. I mean, really, would a guy who obviously brought God such pleasure, have the sharp mood swings David had? Shouldn’t one of God’s closest friends be a bit more steady and stable?
You probably want some context.
Recently I’ve been re-reading the Psalms. Instead of reading them one at a time, as I usually have in the past, I’ve been reading five or six at a time. Reading them in the bigger picture has brought some surprises. Such as David’s roller coaster emotions.
David often starts his Psalms full of faith and praise. These psalms reinforce my perception of him as a spiritual giant, rock-solid, perpetually upbeat, utterly steadfast. Like this one:
“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens” (8:1).
Or this one: “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High” (9:1).
But then I turn the page and start reading the next Psalm and this is what I get: “Why are you so distant, LORD? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1)
How could the spiritual climate change so quickly for David? One minute he’s full of whole-hearted praise for God’s wonderful deeds and the next he accuses God of being distant, hidden, and unavailable.
The same thing happens again a couple of psalms later when David complains, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (13:1)
I think to myself, Who are you and what have you done with the David I thought I knew? I mean, personally my emotions often run hot and cold like that, but David’s?
Thankfully, he comes around, and by Psalm 18, He’s praising God again: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (1-2).
I heave a sigh of relief. That’s how I think God’s Man should pray.
But wait a minute! I turn a couple of pages and come to this doozy: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (22:1) I’m uncomfortable again. It makes me uneasy to think of David (much less Jesus, who quoted this psalm from the cross) feeling so God-forsaken. Can feeling abandoned by God go hand-in-hand with faith? Those are hard emotions for me to reconcile.
But apparently they weren’t for David, because the very next Psalm—one of the most quoted Psalms ever—has David contentedly praising God again: The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (Psalm 23:1)
As I’ve pondered the ups and downs of David’s prayer life this past week, I’ve realized that being near to God’s heart must mean something different than I used to think it did. Maybe it’s more about being honest, vulnerable, and humble with God than it is about being steady and upbeat.
That’s reassuring, and definitely a more accessible goal. My prayers may not be a constant stream of mountaintop praise, but they can include my honest emotions. Whatever state I find myself—soaring on the clouds or sinking in a pit—I can go after God’s heart and bring Him pleasure. Maybe that’s why God enjoyed David’s company so much. Which means—isn’t this cool?—that I can be a woman after God’s own heart, mood swings and all.