David is one of the most amazing and famous biblical characters known. His life story is one full of tragedy, failure and achievement. He is the one human who suffered a lot of distress, stress, depression, shame, sin and guilt. However, in contrast, he also enjoyed great success, both physically and spiritually. David was the second king of Israel but we first meet him as a young shepherd boy who initially gained fame as a musician and later, and probably the most well-known story, by killing Goliath. He then becomes King Saul’s favourite and a dear friend of Jonathan, the king’s son. But tables turned when Saul became insecure, fearing that David was after his throne.
We see David in distress, crying out to God and telling how danger threatened him, waves of death swirled about him, torrents of destruction overwhelmed him, cords of the grave coiled around him, snares of death confronted him. In short, he was in real trouble and clearly very distressed. And rightfully so, Saul was trying to kill him to prevent him from taking over his kingship. Saul and Jonathan got killed in battle and David was anointed the second King of Israel. Later, we meet a happier David singing a song of praise to God. There is a sense of gratitude in his voice, strength and confidence oozing out of his voice as he loudly declares:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge”.
His attitude had changed from a desperate, negative and overwhelmed one. He had become proactive in his stress management and had called out for help. He had stopped looking within and now was looking upwards to God.
This is when his deliverance began, when he took his eyes off himself and focused on God.
“In my distress, I cried, unto the Lord… from his temple he heard my voice”.
It is important to note that David did not deny his grief, problems or deny his reality. Instead, he acknowledged it saying:
“In my distress”, and then David confesses that he asked for help because he needed it. “I cried unto the lord”, and finally, he tells of the results, “and he heard me and delivered me from my enemies”. The dramatic rescue shows God reaching down to David in aid, drawing him out of deep waters and rescuing him from powerful enemies, from the hands of Saul, in 2 Samuel 22. David emerges on the other side of his troubles transformed into a confident and hopeful David declaring:
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation. My stronghold, my refuge and my Saviour”.
David enjoys a time of peace, success and victory. He conquers Jerusalem and takes the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ into the city, which was an amazing achievement.
All was going well until craziness came knocking at the door of the well- loved and famed king. We meet David again, this time in a different kind of trouble. One would think that David would forever revere God and stay in good terms with him for having saved his life… And all the songs he had sang to and written about God. However, the spring was early arriving that year; the spring warmth and sun had appeared as early as March. The clear skies lengthened the days making it perfect for the time when kings normally conducted wars. David sent out Joab with his soldiers and the entire Israelite army; he did not go himself. I imagine Joab and his soldiers wanted to question it but they weren’t about to fuel any gossip about the king. They fought well and won the battle.
But David had stayed in Jerusalem, working on his little evil plan; master- minding the murder of an innocent man called Uriah in order to take his wife, Bathsheba. This is the same David who a few years earlier had been chosen by God from among many others. God had saved him time after time and showed him his favour and greatness. Besides, as king, David could have had any woman he desired and he had many wives. How did he get caught up in such a fateful action that night? Although seemingly trivial and a slip from otherwise reverent life, the consequences are devastating and widespread, affecting not just David but his family and the entire nation. After having been caught, David became very depressed, in emotional turmoil and in distress when he realises the consequences of his actions. His song completely changed to one of desperation and repentance:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions…
Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. Psalm 51:1, 10
Listening to this psalm, we can tell that David was depressed and probably suicidal when he asked for a willing spirit to sustain him. Things only got worse and we meet David later in the desert hiding; remember he is still king at this point. His son, Absalom, had tried overthrowing his government, causing him to flee for his life in fear. He’s been in the desert for a while with about six hundred of his people, he has had time to think and repent. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, supposedly regretful and scared, he writes Psalms 63. His tone of voice completely changed, his expression is different. Although he is still in a lot of trouble, he is now worshipping God, not asking for anything, but just adoring God. His heart is changed:
“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you”
Later, he manages to recover his throne. It is believed that it was at this period that he also wrote the well-known Psalms 23.
When David thought he’d seen it all, had enough trouble and family drama, his young daughter gets raped by his other son, Amnon. The drama continues as the angry brother Absalom kills Amnon for raping his sister. The worst family drama. I can only try to imagine the misery, the shame, feeling of failure as a father, the depression and total burnout that follows. It was after this time that he wrote Psalms 40:
“ I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along…”
Looking at David’s story, I think everyone would sympathize with him. It’s been a long painful journey, heart breaking, heart transforming and heart rebuilding. As he writes Psalms 40, we see him matured, his heart changed, he has a confidence he didn’t have when it all started. Although still going through very difficult times with his family, he is singing a different kind of a song. He is recognising what God has done and is confident that he would do it again. His ability to come back to God, despite his guilt, failure, shame and sins is astonishing! He has come to believe in God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. No wonder God speaking of David said he was:
“A man after my own heart”.
Through his political, social and spiritual failures, through burnout, depression, stress and distress, David still emerges a changed person, loved by and loving God. David is seen time and time again going back to God; he has discovered his peaceful dwelling place, which he sums up in Psalms 46:
“God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”.
This sense of a protecting canopy or defence is featured prominently in the psalms and repeatedly in the whole of Psalms 91.
David clung to this theme many times as he went through the different experiences of stress. In fact, he frequently referred to this place as his hiding place, his shelter, protective cover, his refuge and his peaceful dwelling: Psalms 61:3, 31:20, 27:5, 119:114, 32:7. Basically, David had found a ‘place’ in the presence of God. Accordingly, I would like to reiterate that there is a ‘place’ of taking cover, from where we can manage stress from God’s perspective, where we can retain his peace despite the stressors. In this place, the great shepherd guides, feeds, corrects and consoles us as we dwell in his presence.