The most powerful thing art can do is create a relationship with us. That’s why character development in TV shows and movies is compelling—we’ve been there before. That’s why observational humor is so popular and so successful—we can relate to the humor of regular life. That’s even why blog post like this works, when it uses anecdotes and images that you can relate to.
The most popular music today seems to be music that we can relate to. My friend Sean showed me the number one song in America at cell the other day, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” She’s made her fortune off of songs that are this relatable. The song is troubling in some ways, and maybe you can agree.
It’s not that complicated of a story. Taylor is heart-broken, and finds a fella with hella good hair to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. It’s redundant. It’s low-context, meant for consumption. And the reason that it is so consumable and popular is because it’s relatable. She has a great voice and she’s talking about something that people understand. People get hurt in relationships and they don’t know what to do. Taylor Swift’s advice to them is simple: “shake it off.”
David has another way. His Psalms show us that degree of vulnerability too, but offer a solution other than shaking off.
Read Psalm 40 and see if we can relate to David.
David says he is waiting patiently for his savior, but it seems like he has no choice. The world around him isn’t working. He is stuck in a slimy pit. He is grimy. He can’t get out. God puts him on a solid foundation and he praises him. He sings him a new song—his old dirge is done. Now it’s a song of praise!
We can get into the context of David’s suffering. But isn’t it enough to hear the imagery? How often do we feel stuck and jammed up? How often do we need a new song to sing in the monotony of our lives? How often are we sick of our isolation, our depression, our stress and anxiety? David is using general lyrics here and we can relate to them profoundly.
David is so thrilled with the transformation that God does in his life, he promises not to withhold it. So far, we are getting a very basic Christian message, but I hope it is written in a way that compels you. We want something new, we want to get out of the slimy pit, Jesus gets us out, and we praise him for it. All he wants is for us to want him.
Now that we’ve been liberated, we want to share that good news with other people.
But the story does not end there. We always wish it did, I think. I think that’s kind of where we have programmed it to end. But there is more.
Much like David saying that the works of the Lord are unending, so is his sin and his trouble, like ours. He has been redeemed. He has been put on a solid rock. But his sins overwhelm him. He is blinded by it. Overtaken. He cannot bear it anymore, again.
You can feel his agony, and maybe you can relate to it, in part. Perhaps your despair isn’t as intense—but maybe it is. Maybe you really count your sins or troubles. I certainly can. Sometimes my ego is so big, I cannot take it anymore! I’ve created these systems around me to make my dwelling in the slime easier. Sometimes I can’t see anything but them. You might have something similar to David’s urgency for God to save him. “Come quickly,” may be your prayer.
David leaves his Psalm kind of where he started. As a poor and needy person who needs to be saved in a hurry. Isn’t that how we often feel? I know I do. Desperate for God, not patient for him to change me.
I was just having this fantasy this week. Frustrated at my lack of progress and inability to grow past my limitations, and constantly being reminded of them, and needing God to bridge the gap.
I think the key here is not just to relate to David’s Psalm as an individual might, but rather to discern that the world is in need of such transformation and similarly longs, or yearns, for something better. I hope that people are not just left on their own to figure it out. We actually have a solution.
You can demand that someone believes the right thing, but the answer is in relating to them. It might take time, but the intellectual assent alone might not save them. We might just end in verse eight of the Psalm “Your law is within my heart.”
That’s just the middle of it. There’s more that comes. Not only do we share what is in our heart, we share the fact that the struggle doesn’t end so easily. I think when we demonstrate that vulnerability, we actually help people follow God.
But it seems to me like most of the time we are trying to be perfect, or make the Bible writers seem perfect too. The trouble with that perfection is that our faith is ultimately weakened. We have high expectations for what following Jesus brings us, and when the inevitable suffering comes, we are disappointed and might leave him.
I think that’s why I couldn’t be a Christian by myself. I need to be in a body of people with whom I can relate and find encouragement. One really simple way to spread the encouragement is to write a new song yourself. Let the Lord put a song on your tongue and write it and sing it. Tell your story and help others to relate to it and ultimately find that Jesus fulfills them, not just shaking it off.