In Psalm 56, David talks about an experience that he had with fear. He writes “O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me. My foes attack me all day long. I am constantly hounded by those who slander me, and many are boldly attacking me.” (Psalm 56:1 – 2 NLT) Now, when David talks about enemies hounding him and attacking him … this wasn’t hypothetical. Throughout his life he had literal enemies seeking to kill him.
The history of this Psalm is based upon the story of when David was seized by the Philistines in Gath. This story is found in 1 Samuel 21. David is on the run. King Saul had been trying to kill him for some time. And, as David is running from Saul, he does something unexpected. He runs away from one enemy and in to the hands of another. 1 Samuel 21:10 – 11 reads, “So David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. ‘Isn’t this David, the king of the land?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands?’”
Then we come to verse 12. This verse is interesting to me. Here we have David … and if you know a little bit about him, you know that he’s quite the warrior. He was brave enough to kill a bear … bold enough to kill a lion … courageous enough to face and kill Goliath. David has killed his “ten thousands.” He seemingly wasn’t afraid of anything. But, in 1 Samuel 21:12 we read this: “David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him.” There was obviously something about Achish or the situation that David was in that made him very afraid.
In my own experience with fear, I often find that facing the unknown is what often produces the most fear in my life. An “unknown” is always followed by a “what if.” What if this happens and my life ends up in shambles? What if I do this and I fail? What if I’m left all alone? What if I let someone down? What if others think poorly of me? What if my family suffers? What if I can’t do it? What if? What if? What if?
For David, I believe the fear was, “What if I’ve made a mistake in coming to this guy for safety? Could this be the mistake that ends my life?” So, what did David do? 1 Samuel 21:13 tells us: “So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.” (ESV)
That doesn’t sound very brave, does it? That doesn’t sound like a man who people sing songs about. It does sound like a man who is afraid and it causes me to ask one simple question: How do I change my behavior when I’m afraid?
It’s really easy to trust God when things are going well and when life is stable. But, when the storms come and the foundation begins to shake, I can easily find myself living differently. Fear has a way of shaping what I believe, which will in turn begin to shape the way I live. When that happens, I notice that I often stop living in faith and I start living in fear. What does that look like?
Faith trusts. Fear panics.
Faith stands. Fear retreats.
Faith endures. Fear rejects.
Faith believes. Fear deceives.
Faith liberates. Fear enslaves.
Faith anticipates. Fear worries.
Faith moves mountains. Fear sees mountains.
Faith says, “Why not me?” Fear says, “Not me.”
Faith believes God’s word. Fear believes my own eyes and ears.
In this story, David’s fear began to shape his behavior … and if it can happen to David, it can happen to any of us. But fear, like any emotion, can actually be something God uses. When our fears are surrendered to Him, we discover that God begins to shape us even more than our fear.
David wrote Psalm 56 as he reflected back on this entire situation. I can’t say this for sure, but I wonder if, as David was looking back on it all, if he thought to himself: “What was I thinking? Why did I change my behavior? Why did I live in fear and not in faith?” As he is writing out his thoughts to God, he begins to remind himself of a few things. In Psalm 56:3 – 4 David writes: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”
It’s almost as if he is saying, “If I’m put in the same situation again, I will respond differently. When I was afraid, I made a foolish decision and ran to the Philistines. Next time, I will put my trust in God. When I was afraid, I made a fool of myself in front of the Philistines. Next time, I will put my trust in God.” He surrendered his fear to God. This led to him being shaped by his God more than his fear.
In Psalm 56, David reminds himself that he has a lot of enemies … and those enemies are after him. Most of us do not have actual enemies seeking to kill us, but life does throw a whole lot our way. None of us are promised tomorrow. None of us have complete control over any situation. We’re all only a tragedy away from life being completely turned upside down. In life, something will happen that causes us to be afraid. So, the question isn’t, “Will I be afraid?” The question is, “What will I do when I am?”
In verse Psalm 56:10 – 11, David once again says, “I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”
Just because we may not see God working doesn’t mean He’s not working. What this means is that we can be afraid and yet still step toward things with a confident hope. We know that we do not place our feet anywhere that God has not already been … and we can trust that He is for us.
Are you afraid today? Is that fear causing you to “change your behavior?” Is it shaping the way you live? It can happen to the best of us. If it’s happening to you right now, take some time to pray through Psalm 56 and surrender your fear to Him. Ask God to remind you of who He is and to shape you through this surrendered fear. What you choose to believe and who you decide to trust will make all the difference in the world.