“From the end of the earth I will cry to You. When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me. A strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever. I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah.” Psalm 61:1-4

One of my favorite dishes is French onion soup, especially homemade with red onions. I first attempted making my own when my children were small. I remember buying all the ingredients, making the special bread and toasting it just right. I even purchased Asiago cheese for the finishing touch! I pulled out the onions and started to slice them and prepare them for the caramelizing pot. Before I got very many onions sliced to my liking I realized I had about driven all my children and my wife out of the house. The onions were pungent and gave everyone else stinging and watering eyes. I couldn’t figure out what was so devastating to the senses because I was wearing contact lenses. The potency of the onions did not get to me until I happened to rub my eye; then I knew!

It is amazing how scents, flavors, and richness is released when things are bruised and crushed. An herb may seem like any other plant until a few leaves are bruised. There is no true gauge of potency until the bruising and crushing takes place. In much the same way the strength, fortitude, and worthiness of a Christian is not measured until the bruising, crushing, and testing times come. He may be a renowned prayer warrior, have a sterling reputation, speak with great devotion about His Lord, and know the Scriptures backward and forward, but his most effective testimony will be how His God has treated him and borne him through his trials.

Authentically beautiful prayers, as opposed to flowery public prayers, are forged in the white-hot crucible of heavy trials and are given voice by the saints who have submitted themselves to the molding of God’s grace. King David prayed such a prayer in Psalm 61. He was going through a crushing time while he was on the run for his life. It may have been written while he was evading King Saul or perhaps when he was fleeing his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15–18). Though he had one advantage we do not, a covenant from God promising divine protection over his throne and his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:1–17), he still feared the loss of his life. He was doubtlessly crushed but the resilience of his faith shines through. His psalm becomes a worthy prayer for any saint going through a season of brokenness before God.

A simple outline of the psalm is reach out (verse 1), request (2), recall (3), resolve (4), rest (5), rely (6f), and restore (8). The outline provides a roadmap for every believer who is suffering and waiting upon God for aid even when He appears to be afar off and help is slow in coming. The bone-weary saint will find his heart strings retuned by a fresh reading of Psalm 61.

The first reminder that David leaves for the struggling believer is to reach out to God. Verse 1 is a simple, yet poignant, plea for help. The word cry is emblematic of the sharp desperation a saint feels in real crisis. Sometimes all a Christian can do is pray; there appears no way forward and there is nothing more to do but pray. Spurgeon rightly said, “Praying breath is never spent in vain.”

David’s reaching out is from the end of the earth. He has been driven far from the presence of God and His service and far from any connection with God’s law in the land and so his request flows forth from his lips. His spent heart utters the words of verse 2. He has been overwhelmed, like many mighty men might take down a lone enemy, or like a tsunami might devastate a seashore village. His soul struggles for breath, his strength is drained away in his exertions, and his heart gives up. It is at this moment he cries out to God to be led to “the rock that is higher than I” (literally, that is otherwise too high for me).

Again, Spurgeon picturesquely tells of a preacher, living along a northerly coastline with dangerous waters where crashing breakers meet high, chalky cliffs. The preacher desired to aid shipwrecked sailors gain the safety of the higher rocks and so he carved steps down the cliff side so that they might climb up from the pounding breakers and find protection. David’s request is to be led, for the storm still blinded and his strength was small.

While his strength was exhausted and heart was broken, his thoughts were his companion. He recalled other times he had found solace in God (verse 3). One of the great advantages that seasoned Christians have over new converts is knowing by long experience that God is faithful (if they have been obedient and made their stewardship of time spiritually profitable). David knew personally the refuge and strong fortress that God had been every time before.

David’s resolve is recorded for us in verse 4, to remain close-in to God and trust in the shelter of God’s wings (Exodus 19:4, Deuteronomy 32:11, Psalm 17:7, 36:7). In the darkest of life’s storms the saint’s eyes will always be drawn to the glow of the presence of God and will always seek the warm and welcoming shelter of the wings of the Almighty. Pray in faith believing. Trust and obey.