Psalm 34 was written when David was desperate. It helped me when I was desperate.
The key thing in starting to know God is a sense of our need for God. This need is itself planted by God in our hearts, often, though not always, through suffering and pain. When we realise our own desperate situation then we turn and look to God. If we think everything is fine then why bother?
All of this I find extremely useful because when you are seriously ill the ultimate "fallback" is God. I don’t understand why God allowed my illness to happen, but nonetheless I must and I will trust in the Father that he knows best.
Where must we start in suffering? We must never forget to say, "thank you" and tell others of God. Look at verse 1 "I will extol the Lord at all times": at all times, but most of all in times of great suffering and trial. We Christians must also tell others how God has helped us - tell others how great God is!
Note the words David uses "“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears"(v4), "This poor man called and the Lord heard him" (v6), "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.”(v15)
God is like a parent straining to hear a crying baby: he is highly attentive to our prayers. Both His eyes and his ears are attuned to us! God is not as we are, who fall asleep and forget things. I am easily distracted and once even lost a friend’s young son on a busy beach! But the Lord God Almighty is not like us. Ceaselessly, unwaveringly, every second of our life, his eyes are on us and his ears are listening to our cries. What must we do when we are in trouble? We must cry to him for help (prayer) and hear his voice, the Bible.
JM Boice says of Psalm 34 "David's circumstances did not change. He was still a fugitive, still in danger, still alone. But God had preserved his life...prayer does not mean God will change every difficult thing, but he will preserve you as long as he has work for you to do and will transform the most difficult circumstances by his presence". He has done that for me.
This true and certain hope will deliver us from our fears. I am not ashamed to say I was and am afraid, as was David. But God is with us if we trust in him. "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.“ (v7)
Many Christians (though I don’t think we can be absolute about this) argue that appearances of the angel of the Lord were manifestations of Jesus before His incarnation. Whatever the case, it is clear that the angel of the Lord promises to stay with us, actually to camp with us and around us and be with us every day of our life. This promise is renewed directly by the Lord in the New Testament “look I am with you always even to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20)
This verse reminds us of the story of Elisha in Dothan in 2 Kings chapter 6. His terrified servant, full of fear and surrounded by enemies, has his eyes opened and sees the hills around him full of the armies of the Lord. “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v16). May our eyes too be opened to the way in which the angel of the Lord daily encamps around us on all sides.
Almighty and everlasting God, in mercy look upon our weakness and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.