Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” ii
Psalm 55:22David wrote this psalm because he experienced a great difficulty. He calls it a burden. The weight of this difficult problem was extremely heavy.
Every child of God knows the heaviness of trials and problems. In addition, the burden of sin can be very heavy. Every sheep of the Shepherd walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is required to take up a cross.
But the question is not whether the child of God will have a burden; it is what does he do with the burden. The natural instinct is to try to deal with our burden by ourselves. Some try to carry it as quietly as possible, and others groan loudly under the weight of their burden. And when the burden seems to become too great for us to carry, then we all wish that the burden would just go away—or that we had wings, for then we would fly away and find rest. David wished just that (v. 6). But such efforts never succeed. Avoiding the difficulty or problem never solves it.
Rather, we are taught by God through David’s experience to cast our burden on the Lord. To cast one’s burden on the Lord is to pray. Not only is the whole psalm a prayer, but our text is a command to pray. This is not merely advice. Not even as the best of advice. It comes to us in the imperative, as a command: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord.”
David had a burden that he was bearing. He was going through one of the most difficult times in his life. His beloved son Absalom had seized his throne from him. It is a most horrible thing to be removed from your position by a stranger. But when the treason is committed by your own son, to whom you have given only love, then the sword thrust into one’s soul is deep indeed.
Added to David’s grievous burden was the fact that Ahithophel, a wise counselor and close friend of David, turned his back on David to go with Absalom. The relationship between David and Ahithophel must have been very close. David speaks of him as “a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company” (vv. 13, 14). If David was severely wounded by Absalom’s treason, then the turncoat actions of Ahithophel poured salt into those deep wounds.
The burden of David was heavier still. What greatly aggravated these wounds was David’s knowledge that they stemmed from his own terrible sins. When David confessed the sins of adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah and was told that God had forgiven him, then God used Nathan the prophet to inform David that his deeds would bear dreadful consequences in his own family. Yes, he was forgiven, but “the sword shall never depart from thine house”; and God would “raise up evil against thee out of thine own house” (cf. II Sam. 12:10-14). It was the knowledge of his sin, and that it was committed against the Most Holy and Most High Majesty of God who had only done good to David, that made David’s burden so heavy.
Every follower of Jesus Christ has a burden. To be a disciple of Jesus requires not only self-denial but also the willingness to take up one’s cross (Matt. 16:24).
A part of our burden can be physical difficulties. Some of us come into this sin-cursed world with bodies and/or minds that are deformed. All others learn quickly that their apparently healthy bodies have innate weaknesses — even great frailty. When a flu bug strikes or we bend or lift wrongly, then an upset stomach, a severe headache, or a pulled muscle shows us how weak we are. We live in earthly bodies that are made out of the dust, and they evidence this fact in many ways as old age steadily creeps up on us. The body can quickly or gradually break down with illnesses, cancers, strokes, etc.
Another part of our burden is mental and emotional struggles. Anxiety and cares raise our blood pressure. Fears, doubts, and questionings can plague us. Worries about our job and the economy, along with a pile of bills and school tuition, can become a very heavy load for our minds. Also we have burdens that arise out of relationships: marital strife, difficult children, poor parenting, the refusal of someone to forgive. All of these and many more define “burdens.”
The heaviest part of the burden of God’s children is the consciousness of his sin. The spiritually sensitive child of God is always aware of the fact that if he were not a sinner he would not have a burden. In fact, as the child of God matures in the faith, this realization grows. The knowledge, not of others’ sins against us, but of our own sins and sinfulness makes us realize that we justly deserve eternal condemnation. This is a truly heavy burden!
What is most striking is the fact that David is inspired to use the word “burden” to describe his difficulty. As we have noted, this word emphasizes that we are carrying a load whose weight is extremely heavy and we feel ourselves being crushed beneath it. But less obvious and more important is the fact that the Hebrew word translated “burden” is rooted in the word “gift.” David is inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak of our burden as a gift! In two senses is it a gift (according to this particular Hebrew word). First, our burden is something that is given to us by God. It is God’s gift, the lot He has chosen to give us, His appointment for us. Whatever the burden may be (physical, mental, or spiritual) and whatever its weight, it is measured out to us by the all-wise, infinitely loving, and gracious God. And secondly, our burden is something that we are to ascribe or give to God. When we receive our burden as a gift from God, then we are to return it to Him.
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord.” David is inspired to command us to cast our burden upon Jehovah.
We have to be commanded to do that. Our nature is to try to take care of our burden by ourselves. Some of us try to avoid problems and trials by flying away. We try to make ourselves believe that they do not exist, either permanently or temporarily. There are many ways we do this. Some get high on drugs or alcohol, and for a while their burdens seem to have been taken away. Sometimes we try to forget our burden by seeking pleasures that can distract us, so we don’t think about the problem. Or we try to avoid even thinking about the burden, hoping that it will then just go away. Sometimes we are unable to admit the existence of emotional or mental burdens or addictions to pleasures.
Or we try to deny that the burden is ours by excusing ourselves and blaming others. We can become very adept at accusing and excusing, justifying ourselves, never wanting to acknowledge what we have contributed to making the burden, or to making it heavier. We can easily become so busy blaming others that we never admit and confess our sinfulness and sins that lie at the bottom of the problem.
Or we try to solve the problem by finding a way out by ourselves. This is trying to carry the burden ourselves—in our own strength. We think that no burden is too heavy for us. We convince ourselves that we can tough it out. By sheer will power we will take care of it. But whenever we try our own strength we only make the burden heavier and more complicated. Also, we set ourselves up to be sifted by Satan. Very often it happens that the Lord patiently shows us, in time, that the burden will crush us whenever we try to carry it in our own strength.
Instead we are commanded to cast our burden upon Jehovah.
The removal of our burden as a burden requires that we acknowledge the presence of a power that transcends our power. This greater power cannot be found in drugs and alcohol, nor in mystic religions or astrology. This power is Jehovah. It is only Jehovah.
The name “Jehovah” emphasizes to us that He is the sovereign I am. The Self-existent and Self-sufficient I am is the all-wise and almighty Lord of all. He created all. And He controls all—also (even) our burdens. And His control of all things is unto His own great and glorious ends, namely the glory of His name and the spiritual well-being (the good) of His children.
We are called to look up to the one who has gifted us with our burden. The presence of a burden in our life is not a mistake. It is not something given to us by the humans around us. It is not something the devil has planned to give to us. Each and every burden of each and every child of Jehovah is given by the all-wise and infinitely loving Jehovah. This God, who has established and who alone maintains a relationship of friendship and fellowship with His chosen children, is able to save to the uttermost. He wisely distributes burdens to His children so that each one of His children, upon experiencing the burden, will run to his heavenly Father, the Giver, the Helper, the Savior. By means of the burden each child is called to come experientially closer to his Father, to look nowhere else but up to his Father.
To cast our burden upon the Lord is literally to throw it. This is a most striking word to describe prayer. This whole psalm emphasizes prayer. The very first verses are a prayer about prayer. “Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication. Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise.”
The command of the Spirit in our text is to go to God in prayer, to enter His presence, and to come before His throne of grace. Prayer is the burdened believer unburdening himself onto his God. Remember that the activity of praying (or even wanting to pray) is an act of faith. It implies that we believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him. I added the words “or even wanting to pray” because there are times when the burdened and weary child of God does not know what or how to pray or has concluded that he cannot pray. Scripture encourages us to call then for the elders so that they can pray with and for us. The point is that prayer is the God-given (another gift from our Father!) means by which His children find relief.
We are to cast our burden upon the Lord. This is especially the case when the burden is the experience of our sin and sinfulness. Then our casting upon the Lord is our admitting and confessing that we have sinned, our expressing sorrow for offending Him, and our asking Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.
Casting our burden upon the Lord, when it consists of grievously heavy circumstances, means that we realize that He is Lord, that He is the Giver of the burden, that He is the God of all grace and comfort, and that He has promised to give grace that is always sufficient unto each day and for each burden. When we cast our burden upon the Lord, then He enables our faith to see that He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, and that He is able to do exceedingly abundant good with every trouble and trial. Then we see that He not only is able to make all things work together for good to them who love Him, to them who are the called according to His purpose, but He actually does so!
The promises God gives to those who cast their burden upon Him are truly wonderful. They are burden-lifting and burden-bearing.
First, the promise is “and He shall sustain thee.” To sustain someone is to support him, to hold or bear him up. It also has the idea of being provided for or nourished. As God uses food to sustain or nourish us physically, so here God promises to nourish us spiritually.
The heart of God’s promise to sustain is Jesus Christ. He and all the blessings of salvation that He merited in His life and death are the nourishment. We are sustained when we are forgiven and are assured that we are forgiven. We are sustained when we realize that we are not only forgiven but also are made to be righteous. We are sustained when we believe that God chose us in Christ precisely to be conformed to His image, and that our Almighty God and faithful Father uses all things (our burden too) to work unto the end of conforming us to the image of Christ, so we spiritually look more and more like Him. We are sustained with the gift of stronger faith in the wisdom of our Father, whose ways are higher than our ways. We are sustained when we lean not on our own arm of understanding but trust in Him to do all things right and to keep us in perfect peace.
The second promise is “He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” In this, God promises that nothing will happen in the future that will take away His support and nourishment. The reason this promise is so sure is that those who cast their burden upon the Lord are “the righteous,” that is, those who are given righteousness by God. Of them God has made a declaration that their sins are completely removed and that they are perfect, as if they had never done anything wrong, but only that which is right in God’s sight.
Those who are thus righteous will never be moved. They will never be moved from election. They will never stop being justified. They will never fall from grace. Oh, yes, the righteous, while on earth, still sin. And because of their sinfulness they will be surrounded by problems, and as disciples of Christ they will always be bearing a cross. But while the righteous are troubled on every side, they are not distressed; they may be perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed!
The result is that the burden is removed as a burden—it is no longer seen to be a burden. This is because the righteous are given to see, by faith, that they are given the ability to bear the burden. So, instead of being crushed by it, we find ourselves strengthened to carry or endure it.
On this side of the grave we will always have a burden. Cast your burden upon Jehovah. Give the gift to the Giver, and in doing so taste and see His goodness to sustain you.