I have often been helped by a man hiding in a cave.
Lest you think I've lost my marbles, it is David’s scared prayer (Psalm 142) to which I refer. A prayer he gasps like a drowning man as he trembles in unwanted exile in the dank darkness of a cavity in a mountain’s edge.
He’s being hunted.
He’s hankers for sanctuary.
And incarcerated in a makeshift refuge while an unhinged King Saul tracks him in an ancient pre-cursor of the Hunger Games.
Of course, David knows that neither the stone-walls in the crease of a mountain nor the camouflaging darkness of his out of the way abode would ever prove to be the haven enough. For that, something stronger than a mountain was required. Or Someone.
So he whimpers for God to do something. And doesn’t let himself be afflicted by wondering if his love for God is pure enough to have sanction to pester him in the middle of his soul-emaciating terror. He knows that Kierkegaard was right to insist:
“Woe to the presumptuous who would dare to love God without needing him!... You are not to presume to love God for God’s sake. You are humbly to understand that your own welfare eternally depends on this need.” (Christian Discourses, 188)
Well, David has aptly discovered both his eternal AND his present welfare depends entirely on his need for God. A clamoring requirement for God’s intervention at least as great as his lung’s demand for oxygen.
And near the end, this prayerful poetry is squeezed from the most frightened and blighted neighborhoods of his heart: "Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name."
I have plagiarized David in my own scared prayers.
His rationale and request for release intrigues me for its desperate but strangely reassuring insistence that our adoration of God is always going to depend on his prior action for us.
Each morning circumstance “comes crashing through our walls like a train” and taunts us with a never-ceasing dependence on God which is loudly demanded of us but strenuously resisted by us. In such trying and undoing conditions, it has seemed fitting for me to learn to make this phrase from David's cave prayer my own. Perhaps you’ll see its allure in a minute as well?
“Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name.”
This petitionary demand winds up being a skeleton key to unlock all sorts of crushing cells of trouble in which we find ourselves incarcerated.
See how it might work:
Lord, set me free from the prison of my pre-occupation with what other people think of me or I'll never be able to think most of you.
Lord, set me free from the prison bars of my present which presents to my vision only gigantic fears of what might happen to my children and those whom I adore. If you don't, there's no way I'll be able to present to my children or to anyone else, the enormous reliability of the God who cares for them more comprehensively than my atrophied imagination can picture.
It also aids me in liberating confession of my claustrophobic corruptions (from discontentment to acidic bitterness), which swing wide a door of divine reassurance for my locked up life:
Lord, I am incarcerated by my appetites which are such a rip-tide in my soul that they threaten to drown all the good parts of my life. They convince me that this one thing I think I must have is something I cannot live without. Convince me, by setting me free from this deceptive but real imprisonment that you alone are the one I cannot live without.
Lord, I am locked up in a snowstorm of flurrying frustration, in a downpour of perennial discontent, so that all I seem able to do is complain and lash out. Set me free from my prison that I may lead my own heart and those of others to bask in the warm, healing rays of your sun of refreshing warmth.
Lord, I am jailed by my constant jealousy, and entrenched by my envy so that it's nearly impossible for me to be happy for the happiness of others and in fact, it appears my only possibility for happiness comes at the expense of the misery of my friends, I'm ashamed to say. Set me free to have such an enlarged heart that I can join my laughter with the laughter of others and mingle my tears with theirs too.
Lord, I'm handcuffed by my hatred of what he did to me, and bound by my bitterness of what she said--I'm in a penitentiary of my own guilt over things I know I should never have done and over things which I'm sure I should have done but didn't have the courage--from all these imprisonments and more, set me free with all the wealth and wonder of your strenuous care so I may be a walking alleluia from head to toe!
And it even gives me words when the darkening gloom settles, squeezing out the remembrance of hope:
Lord, I am held in detention by a cruel warden of depression and know that my suffocating soul will never be able to sing of your new mercies each morning when they arrive afresh unless you pry this sinewy stranglehold of sadness off my neck.
Maybe David’s desperate diction can assist us in the exiled places we’ve been plopped, often against our own choosing. And of course, expected answers to our pleas are implied and should be counted upon with the result being we become so liberated from our various incarcerations that we cannot help but herald with happiness the alarming goodness of our Redeemer who rescues us from all sorts of caves of trouble in which we find ourselves frozen.
No wonder Charles Spurgeon once insisted, “The caves have heard the best prayers.”
This implies of course, it may just take being stuck in some cave or another, of loneliness, sickness, worrisomeness, aggravation, or desperate despair for us to discover how reassuringly valuable our Lord is to us. May we not despise the places we'd rather not be, but instead use them to force us into the arms of the Only One who emancipates us.
Perhaps that’s why Walker Percy once insisted that “men do their best work in prison or exile.” Locked in lonely places creates the hungry conditions for any clamoring soul to insistently demand for a divine break-out.
For it was this same cave-cramped and shivering David, who could elsewhere, prison-broken for good, give the thrilling report for which we all crave:
“He brought me into a spacious place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”
This is the relieved discovery of many who start out calling from caves.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at firstname.lastname@example.org