In 2 Samuel 15, we have the record of one of the most stressful times in King David’s life. In verses 30-34 he receives bad news on top of the bad news. It was the kind of day where rough things were piling up. He was already fleeing for his life, and then he heard that his most skilled and trusted counselor had joined a rebellion against him. When it rains, it pours. Maybe later that night, it seems, he decided to pour out his anxiety onto a piece of parchment. A lot of people think that Psalm 55 was a poem or a song David wrote in response to the news. And it’s not just a song—it’s a written prayer. David’s response to the bad news was to pray—and in fact, to work on composing a beautiful, poetic prayer. And right in the middle of the prayer poem, David does something very interesting—he tells us why he’s doing this praying and writing in the first place. He tells us to do the same thing, whenever we face trying times: “Cast your burden on the LORD,” he says, “And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”
So, David says, if you have a burden, cast it on the Lord. Throw it onto His back. Drop it into His hands. Give it to Him. And then God will sustain you. How? David says, “He won’t permit you to be ‘moved.’” That is, He won’t allow you to be shaken, to slide off the path you’re supposed to be on. There’s a passage that’s helpful to put alongside of Psalm 55:22 for even deeper insight. It’s 1 Peter 5:6-7. In this passage Peter quotes from the Greek translation of Psalm 55:22, and writes, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Peter and David, writing God’s words in the Old and New Testaments, lead us into a simple and powerful truth. Do you have cares or anxieties? Cast them on the Lord, and then leave your situation to Him. And don’t miss what Peter wrote in verse six. The things that stress us make us feel like they’re going to ruin our life, but Peter tells us that we can know that we will be “exalted” in God’s timing—meaning lifted up or honored. It’s kind of what we mean when we use the word “success.” The way to attain the kind of life would God would consider successful is to understand that we don’t have to run our lives and make sure they’re successful all by ourselves. All that stress is a burden too great to bear, and it’s exactly what worry makes us think.
Instead, we’re supposed to take that burden, and cast it on the Lord. But how exactly are we supposed to cast our burdens or stress on God? These verses imply it, as if we’re almost supposed to already know. We do it in prayer. Philippians 4:6 says it directly—“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Take that burden of stress, and give it to God by praying.
Is that usually your first reflex when you’re stressed? It’s not my natural reaction. Mine is to talk about it to the people around me. That used to mean mainly friends, but after I got married, my go-to person to talk to became my wife. (She’s great to talk to. The best, really.) A little while ago the Lord really addressed this with me, and showed me some things about how this works for me personally. I realized that my tendency had been, whenever something was stressing me out, to the most natural thing, and talk to her about it. It seems totally innocent. We talk about everything, so why wouldn’t we talk about this negative-feeling stuff too? But what I discovered is that sometimes in these situations, maybe even most of the time, when I “got things off my chest,” or just “talked it out,” I could leave the conversation feeling better, but she left it feeling worse. She might feel bad for me or angry at the situation, or just agitated by the stress I was describing. In that situation, what had just happened was that I took the agitation I was feeling and I used my words to unburden myself onto her. All I did was hand the burden or the stress to her with a conversation.
I had kind of known that I did this. Pieces of this realization had already been slowly coalescing in my mind, but then, a couple years ago, they all came together for me. I love how God does this when we’re actively following him—using all kinds of ordinary things to create the daily school in which he’s constantly teaching us. In this case it was the “speaking” aspect of both conversation (with other people) and prayer that provided the connecting point for me, and gave me my light bulb moment. The Lord brought these two verses to my mind, from Psalm 55 and 1 Peter 5, and I realized that this language of “casting my burden” or “casting my cares” perfectly described what I was doing to Veronica. And of course, what do these verses invite me to do instead? They invite me to cast my burdens on God. In other words, God Almighty is asking me to use my words to talk to him about my stress. Literally, in the same way that we might tend to use other human beings to unload on, God says, “Unload on me.” And when we see that, I think we have to also see that there’s probably an unspoken, silent acknowledgement of the other side of this coin. “Unload on me, and not so much on other people.”
And this leads us to a couple more insights. Both David and Peter tell us things about God’s ability to handle our burdens that show us why he’s really a superior burden carrier when compared with anyone else. David says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved,” and maybe implies, “and remember, whenever you’re talking to other people, they can’t sustain you, and they have no power, ultimately, to make sure you won’t be moved. Only God can do those things.” And Peter says, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” and we can imagine him saying, “No one else has the same kind of love and concern for you that he does. His love is actually big enough to handle all of your stress, and his desire to help you isn’t limited by any human limitations.”
It’s not negativity; it’s just realism to finally notice that no one around me can handle the stress of my soul. I can’t, so why do I keep expecting other people to be able to? In fact, what realizing this actually does for me is free me up from being disappointed with people all the time. It frees me up from feeling like people have let me down if I make them handle my stress and then (surprise, surprise) I don’t actually feel sustained and strengthened afterwards. You know what it’s like—no matter how much you talk about it to other people, at some point the stress comes rushing back and then you’re just looking for a few more minutes to make someone listen to it all again. But when I’ve relieved others of the duty of carrying my stress, it frees me up to have much more realistic expectations for my relationships.
The fact is that God did not make my wife or my friends to handle all my stress. That’s not why he led her to marry me. That’s not what they’re for. And that’s the craziest part of this whole thing—God says that’s what he wants us to use Him for. God presents Himself as Someone who understands that we live in a world filled with things that overwhelm us. And what he says to us, really through the whole bible, is that his solution for that reality is himself. It’s like he’s saying, “you were never meant to face the world without me. Come talk to me about that world that’s stressing you out.” The follower of Jesus learns to handle stress by telling God—unloading on God—about everything. And then we leave it with him. We get up from telling God about the situation, and we let the words of David and Peter shape our thoughts. We think things like, “Ok, I told God. He won’t let this destroy me. He’ll get me through. He cares about me.” And then we go about our day with that confidence.
This way of operating becomes habitual. God becomes the main person about whom we think: “I can’t wait to talk to Him about this.” And think about it—He will never get tired of listening. We never have to worry about gossiping if we’re alone with Him. He loves everyone else we talk to Him about. He knows everything about us and about any situation we’re in, and he has total power and wisdom to do whatever should be done about the situation. And none of those things are true about any of our friends or family.
I just relearned this again, the other night. I haven’t been particularly stressed out about the situation we’re all in right now—but I have been pretty aggravated at people in authority. And people around me have been hearing about it. My wife has been getting loads of my opinions about everything going on. So here I am again, with you all, having the Lord walk me through this again, like he’s saying, “Are you agitated about your situation? Unload that burden on me. Not on your wife.”
Now, I’m not saying that any of this means we can never talk to another person about something that’s messing with our heads. That would just be weird. And of course, God does use other believers to bring his grace to us, and to help us with all kinds of things. That’s why Paul writes to the Galatian church, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” If we love each other, we want to help each other out with hard things. That’s not the issue. The issue is what I do when I’m feeling stressed out. Yes I want to help other people. And they want to help me. But that doesn’t dictate what to do when it’s my issue I’m dealing with.
I think the key to see how all this goes together is to understand that, if we let Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7 do their work on us, and we learn to use prayer to handle stress, it’ll enable us up to use our relationships the right way. We will be the kind of people who can talk about difficult things, when necessary, without loading burdens on others. We won’t expect other people to do things they could never do or bear weight they could never bear. We can ask for prayer, or advice, or help, and do it in a way that we’re actually asking people for things God will enable them to do for us. We’ll use the community of Christians in the right way. Our relationships will be healthy. We can go through hard things with each other, and, when we each let God be God for us as individuals, we can be the body of Christ for each other.
So let’s all grow in this simple act of obedience. Let’s turn to prayer—talking to God and letting Him be our burden bearer. Let’s be quick to unload on Him—let’s spend as long as we need actually telling him about the things that trouble us. Let’s give other people a break. I suspect that nailing this down early in life will save us a lot of relational pain down the line. And we’ll find that our burdens are actually getting carried, too—and not by us.
Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. —Psalm 62