Shame is a liar. It looks at who we are, the deep parts of us, and identifies us as flawed. Broken. Unworthy. Unlovable.
In my worst days, I have believed the lies of shame. I have believed I have nothing to offer, can do nothing right, will never become anything and should not even bother. On those days I hide myself from the world lest anyone sees what the voices of shame are saying. Lest they find out it is true.
But shame is not true. It is never true.
This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached while I was a student at Denver Seminary on Psalm 3. Since preaching this sermon 8 years ago, over and over again I return to the truth that though voices of shame and the Enemy of our souls will shoot flaming arrows at our hearts, the Lord is for me.
He knows who we are, shields us, restores our dignity, and bestows us with glory. I hope this truth builds you up today. We are going to jump right in:
Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
What is the main threat to the psalmist? Are his enemies going after his life? Perhaps. However, there is another word hidden in verse two that provides great insight into the psalmist’s troubles. While the NIV says “Many are saying of me” the Hebrew word for “me” is nephesh or soul. The nephesh encompasses the essence of a person. In the Hebrew, to speak to your own soul is to speak to the deepest places within you. To your thoughts, emotions, needs, desires, and hopes. If someone else speaks to your nephesh, they are attempting to influence or control you to your deepest level. So, the enemies here are not only making verbal threats, they are attempting to sway the psalmist at the core of his being. At the core of his thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
The word nephesh is closely tied to the statement the enemies make: God will not deliver him. The enemies recognize that David’s identity is found in his relationship with God and they are trying to take that away.
And what are they trying to make him believe? What are they attempting to tear away from his inmost being? They say, “God will not delivery him.” Or, more literally, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” They are attacking his faith. They are attacking his hope in the Lord’s salvation and deliverance.
A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What we believe about God determines so much of who we are. Our beliefs affect how we live our daily lives. They affect our relationships with one another and with ourselves. In our beliefs, whether known or unknown, we function every day. They make up our nephesh. So when the multiplying enemies press in on the psalmist here, they are not merely attacking his life, they are attempting to shake him to the core of his very being to make him completely vulnerable to their attack. To shake the foundation of his identity in God.
Have you been there?
Have you ever felt that you were being challenged from all sides concerning who you are and your faith in God?
We do not encounter many physical enemies here in Denver, CO. We may have had experiences where people jeer our beliefs and mock our faith, but the intensity of the attack probably does not reach the levels described in this passage. No, more often our foe is the Devil himself. He is the deceiver, the Father of Lies, and there is nothing he desires more than to lead us away from the truth about God – from the truth about our relationship with our Savior. He plants lies in our head and tends them so they grow. Their ultimate message: God will not save you. God is not on your side. You are not valuable to him.
These messages are oppressive and they attack the core of our being which is found in our relationship with God, the essence of who we are. Our nephesh. As Christians, this is the Enemy attacking us all. He is the one we should be prepared to take our stand against as Paul warns. His attacks can be subtle, but at times they are as intense as these verses describe. He whispers doubts, accusations, and nagging comments which, when given some ground, can be strongly used against us until we are paralyzed by the attack.
Our only hope is the Truth.
The truth is where the psalmist turns next. In verses three and four, he says:
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
The enemies have brought doubt to David and the question has been raised: “Will God save?”
David answers with a resounding YES!
Verse three affirms three things about God. First, we read that the Lord is a shield, not just protecting the chest or midsection, but protecting us all around – like a force field. Nothing can penetrate it. No skin is left uncovered and vulnerable.
Next, David says the Lord is “my glory.” This statement is less expected. While a shield continues the imagery of a battle from verses 1 and 2, “glory” has more to do with ones value and honor – which is exactly what is under attack. David’s nephesh, his very person has been challenged. Where does the value of his personhood come from? In our culture, we ascribe value and honor to one another based on performance and success. But here, in the midst of an intense struggle, David recognizes that his glory does not come from his own success or actions, but from God. He counters his enemies’ attacks on himself and on God with this simple phrase “my glory.” David’s relationship with God makes up the essence of his being and he affirms that God has given him the glory and value his enemies have tried to take away from him.
Finally, the Lord “lifts up my head.” The use of one’s head to communicate a position of pride or humility was common in the culture. The lifting of the head in public is a sign of dignity and honor. A king would lift his head to show acceptance and approval, whereas the victor of a battle would place his foot on the neck of the defeated to further humble him. If one lifted ones own head is to be arrogant. David has been under attack – he has been humbled. He knows his hope is not in himself, he can do nothing to restore his value, his hope is in the Lord. Yahweh is the one who lifts his head.
The Lord restores David’s honor, his person, his nephesh. The imagery here is a movement from humility to restoration. From despair to hope. His personhood is restored.
I have fallen into the trap of wrestling with the voices that tell me I am worthless. I have wasted time, energy, sleep and tears on the battle. I thought it was mine to fight and mine to win.
The reality is the battle was the Lord’s all along. Instead of crying against the enemies, I should have been crying out to God who answers. To the Lord who saves.
Wherever you are. Whatever lies you are hearing or feeling in your heart. The Lord is the lifter of your head. He is the one who has said, “I see you. I know your soul, your nephesh. I created you and called you. I love you. I have redeemed you. You are mine.”
Repeat this. Own this. Write it down if you have to and tape it on your mirror. Memorize Psalm 3:3 so that it becomes part of you. Stand strong in the face of the Evil One who attacks our souls because:
The Lord is our shield.
He bestows glory on us.
He is the lifter of our heads.
And when we call on Him, He will answer us.
“From the Lord comes deliverance.” – Psalm 3:8