In the Shadow of Your Wings

Curled up on the sofa, I gazed out at the little bit of visible sky that I could see from my typical urban London flat. The building stood solid and firm as the traffic rushed by, every day, and every night. It was never quite dark here. The lights of the cars and the lampposts and every other illuminated thing would make the sky a purpley grey colour at night. But it wasn’t that colour now. I had sat there motionless, as the sky turned from its darkest colour to a blue, paler and paler. Now as I looked up I saw the pale grey of a miserable, drizzly day, a fitting metaphor of the day I assumed I would once again have to make it through. So very tired, yet as the sun rose somewhere behind the dreary crowds and workers across the city were waking up to a new day, she remained sat there, curled up on the sofa, waiting for sleep to come.

‘Disturbed sleep’ is a very common symptom of depression. In itself, it doesn’t sound so bad, our sleep gets disturbed all the time. But once more those two little words don’t seem to account for hours and hours of sleepless exhaustion.

It is often in times of sleeplessness, of long nights and drawn out darkness, that we can feel the loneliest. But there is great comfort to be found in the words of the Bible that are written below.

On my bed I remember you;

I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to you;

your right hand upholds me.

  • Psalm 63:6-8

This Psalm was written by David, King of Israel and a man who loved God. It was written when he was in the Desert of Judah, on the run from enemies who wished to kill him. It is a Psalm that praises God in the midst of struggles and suffering, a psalm of thankful confidence in God and a psalm that is centred around the greatness of our God.

Whilst we might expect David to cry out and despair of his situation, questioning God and his purpose, this Psalm instead shows a content joy in God, a longing for his presence and a steadfast confidence in the goodness of God and His will.

Let’s go through, step by step…

‘On my bed I remember you…’

There are many times when I catch myself in a situations of panic or fear, not knowing where turn and then I remember ‘of course, God’. The fact that I can pray and trust that my Heavenly Father is listening is amazing, and yet it so easily escapes my mind. And yet I don’t think that’s what David means when he says ‘remember’, instead I think he is speaking of a deeper and lengthy form of remembering. He is learning to fix his mind on God, to dwell on His glory and grace

At first this phrase might seem a little strange, what exactly is David trying to say? Notice, however, that whilst beds are to be slept in, David is not sleeping. He is instead remembering God. In the long hours of sleeplessness that inevitably worsened and was worsened by my depression, it was comforting to remember that I am not alone in such sleeplessness, that this struggle was not outside the common Christian experience. What is more, David’s focus upon remembering God continually challenges me not to despair or wallow in sleeplessness, but instead turn to God in such times of need, and rest upon Him in my weakness and exhaustion.

‘….I think of you through the watches of the night.’ 

There were three night watches that took place during the hours of darkness. From sunset until 10pm, from 10pm until 2am, and from 2am to sunrise. David fixes his mind on God throughout all of the watches of the night, from sunset to sunrise, he is awake and thinking of God. As I would watch day turn to night, and night turn back to day, having had no sleep in between, I would not hold the same focus upon my saviour God. I might have tried to pray, but so often would find myself unable to, too preoccupied with the feeling of resolute awake exhaustion. And yet, to fix our minds on God does not require lengthy words of prayer or visible joy and motivation. I have come to learn that these words don’t demand constant prayer and deep thoughts about God from the moment the sun sets to the moment the sun rises. Instead in these words I see a reminder of the hope in the darkest hours, of the strength that we can know in the depths of our weakness, and how much God is delighted to hear even the smallest of our prayers, to hear the call ‘Help me Father’ and to answer it in ways that we would never have imagined.

‘Because you are my help…’

Why is it that David’s mind is so often on God? Because he knew that it was God from whom help came, it is God who is our saviour, our rescuer and the only one we can truly rely upon, our rescuer. David knew that God listens to the cries of His people and is not without concern, that he sees those in need and he acts. He knew this because he had again and again experience the compassion of God in such away. In a different translation of the Bible, this verse reads: ‘Because you have been my help.’ In the same way I can trust in the goodness of God and the certainty that he cares for me, because this has been made evident in my life. As I read these words I am reminded to look back to the times in which God has revealed his grace to me and to trust him all the more because of it. And I am challenged too, by David’s contentedness to rejoice in what God has done for Him and not simply command that God rescue him from his present situation and provide an easy means of escape, as I find it so easy to do.

‘…I sing in the shadow of your wings’

This verse, for me, is a beautiful picture both of protection, and of holding to joy through pain. David is singing through his suffering, he is praising God in the midst of his struggles. We are reminded of God’s presence, as a mother bird comes down to shelter her young chicks, so does God come down to us, protecting us in the midst of our pain. He has the power to bring us through suffering, and the love to bring us closer to him. David is learning not to depend on the fleeting fortresses of the world, but instead to depend on the certain refuge that we have under the wings of our Heavenly Father.

‘I cling to you…’

To cling is to hold tightly, to grip on, to use all our strength to hold the bond of which we wish never to let go. David is holding fast to God. He is standing firm on the rock that will never disappear. But as he holds onto God, there is something yet greater that David points us to…

‘…Your right hand upholds me.’

As David clings to God, he is upheld by God’s right hand. David does not cling as though to a rope that is slipping through his hands, but instead clings to the God who clings yet more tightly to his children. Because it is all God’s work, and God shields all those who take refuge in him.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.

Psalm 42:8

So I’m waiting for the King
To come galloping out of the clouds while the angel armies sing
He’s gonna gather His people in the shadow of His wings
And I’m gonna raise my voice with the song of the redeemed
‘Cause all this darkness is a small and passing thing

– Andrew Peterson – The Dark Before the Dawn