There are several verses I keep taped up above my desk. “Life Psalms,” I like to call them; little reminders of truth staring me in the face, even as I type these words.
One of them is about identity: “My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is a mighty rock, my refuge.” -Psalm 62:7
One of them is about security: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O God, endures forever–do not abandon the works of your hands.” —Psalm 138:8
But my favorite is about priority: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” –Psalm 34: 12-14 (emphasis mine)
I posted on my Facebook page earlier about how this was going to be my “life verse” for the year. Because, let’s face it–not all days are good. Not all weeks are good. Heck, I think 2020 even proved not all YEARS are good. But this verse reminds me that good can be found even in the midst of bad–but we have an active role to play. The peace of God rarely just falls in our laps–we must pursue it.
Even on the bad days. Even when we’re tired, grumpy, stressed, overwhelmed, sick, fed up, or burnt out. When the kids are acting up, our spouse is snippy, the car is making a funny sound again, or the boss is breathing down our necks.
When the diagnosis surprises us.
When unexpected news flattens us.
When loss shatters us.
How do you see the good on a day like that? How do you even begin to seek peace when you barely have the strength to get out of bed? To take a breath?
The answer lies, not only in the words of Psalm 34, but in its context. This particular passage was written by David during a time in which his life was anything but good.
He was on the run from Saul, a man in whose home he had been a welcome guest for many years and who, inexplicably, had turned against him. He had gone from feasting at the table of a king to fleeing from the sharp end of his spears. He had just had a grievous parting with his closest friend (and the king’s son) Jonathan. He’d sought security and comfort in Nob with Ahimelech the priest, only to retreat once again at the appearance of one of Saul’s servants. In his desperation, he fled to Gath in Philistia.
Philistia. Home of the Philistines.
The irony of David–champion of Israel–seeking refuge in the land of the enemies of God.
But even there he found no relief; the Philistines had not forgotten the the young shepherd who’d felled their giant. Fearing for his life, David pretended to be insane, “making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13b) and thus escaped to seek refuge in a nearby cave.
Remember, this is David. Giant slayer. Anointed king. A man deemed by God as “a man after my own heart,” now drooling on the floor and clawing at the gate of an enemy city like some sort of wild animal.
Not exactly David’s best days.
So why would David write Psalm 34 at a time like this? Why would a man suffering one bad day after another write that his “soul will boast in the Lord” (vs. 2) and command us to “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (vs. 8)
More importantly, why should we take his advice that “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days…seek peace and pursue it.” David certainly hadn’t been seeking peace or pursuing it. So why would he tell us to do so?
Because David had tried the other way. He hadn’t sought peace; he’d sought to save himself. And the lies and the fear had gotten him nowhere–in his distress, he’d not only fled from Saul, but he’d fled from God–straight to into the presence of his enemies, where deception and humiliation were his only means of escape.
He’d been looking for a quick fix. Seeking shelter with the enemy of his enemy seemed an easy enough route. But he found no salvation there. He found no rest there. He found no peace.
Because only God can give us those things.
We may not be running into a giant’s lair when we’ve had a bad day, but how often do we seek out a “quick fix” when we’re lonely, bored, hurting, or scared? Do we log onto social media, put on a garbage TV show, or pour a glass (or two) of wine? How about retreating to the pantry or pulling up our Amazon app?
Those things may offer a momentary distraction, but they will never offer us the peace we are actually seeking in those moments. At our lowest moments–days, weeks, months–when all we truly want is to again “see good days,” the only source of true salvation, rest, and peace is God.
If we want to truly see good days–even in the midst of the bad–we must be intentional about our pursuit of peace. We cannot spend our time running after band-aids when our wounds require stitches. Opening Facebook when I’m stressed may be a whole lot easier than opening my Bible, but it will never leave me feeling as tranquil afterwards. Ordering a pizza may fill me up a lot quicker than praying—but I’ll soon be hungry again.
David was able to write the words of Psalm 34 because he’d experienced the pain of seeking his peace elsewhere; he knew what it meant to be with God–and without. His words offer hope and encouragement to us in our own times of struggle, a reminder of where we need to find our hope for days to come.
“A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19)