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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Get a Handle on Your Heart

What are the things that routinely test your temper? What parts of everyday life that can prompt you to, even momentarily, to rage? Maybe one irritant is Reddit. If so, brace yourself, here are some top irritations offered by Reddit users.

"Someone trying to talk to me while I eat at work. Come on, just let me have these 10 minutes to myself."

"Hitting back-to-back red lights."

"Grocery store etiquette. Get out of the middle of the aisle!

"Websites loading slowly."

"When a car pulls out right in front of me and then goes 20 MPH under the speed limit anyway."

"Bumping my head on something when I stand up. It takes me by surprise and angers me."

"When I bite into a delicious sandwich and all the insides fall out of the other end. I call this 'Sandwich Rage.'"

"If someone shushes me or puts their hand in my face. "

"People using their brightest screens on their phones to check texts and social media during movies in a theater."

"When someone chews loudly beside me, especially if they chew with their mouth open."

"People who try to get on an elevator before anyone has a chance to step off."

"Someone telling me to go do something that I was going to do anyway. If you tell me to go do the dishes as I'm walking to go do them, I no longer want to do the dishes."

"People who use speakerphone in public."

"Telling me the endings of stories or movies I haven't read or seen."

"When people spell 'lose' as 'loose'. Seething rage ensues."

"People who leave the microwave with one second left on the timer."

"When people give me advice I didn't ask for."

What’s clear is that life holds many irritations. What’s important is not avoiding them but dealing with them in a godly manner. How we respond to life’s troubles is both an indicator of our character and an opportunity to improve our character. This morning we turn to Psalm 4 for insight into this aspect of life.

In troubling times, we settle our hearts by trusting the LORD.

CONTEXT = Psalms 1+2 are introductory psalms. They function like gates admitting the worshiper to the temple courts. Psalm 3 is a “morning prayer” because of verse five and Psalm 4 is called an “evening prayer” because of verse eight. Evening, just prior to bed, is my time to reflect on the course of the day and see what I have learned.

1. When my heart troubles me, I cry out to God. (1-2)

Was David anxious about God hearing him or was something else on his mind? Verse one gives us two clues. First, we observe David did plead with God to ANSWER him. In this case, the answer he was looking for was to be declared innocent and be delivered from his enemies. That does seem to express anxiety about getting any response.

However, David had faith and by faith, he saw the LORD hearing his prayer as an act of MERCY. His question “HOW LONG?” (v. 2) has a note of desperation to it. That question is asked ELEVEN TIMES in the Psalms and by authors other than David. It is also used by John in Revelation. There it is asked by the martyrs and the persecuted faithful, hoping that it will not be long before their suffering ends and their faith is vindicated by the 2nd Coming.

Reflecting on these clues, I think it more likely that David is anxious about his enemies; his faith in God is secure. He knows God hears and answers his prayers. What he doesn’t know is HOW God will answer them (v. 1) or WHEN He will answer them (v. 2).

What David asked of the LORD is also instructive of his mindset. These requests reveal faith in God and trust that He hears and answers prayers. David asked God to...

- Declare his innocence. (1) He literally wrote, “O God of my righteousness.” This petition makes perfect sense as his big concern is the damage being done to his REPUTATION by false accusers and liars. (2)

- Free him from his TROUBLES. (1) TROUBLES is translated from the same word as ENEMIES in 3:1. David’s TROUBLES were caused by his ENEMIES.

- Have MERCY on him. (1) MERCY would, in this case, be vindication in the face of slander.

- Save him from attacks on his reputation. (2) In 3:3, this word is translated as GLORY. It word refers to the dignity and respect owed to persons of high position, a king being the ultimate example.

2. When my heart troubles me, I rely on God to gain control. (3-8)

What David affirmed about the Lord can also set our hearts at ease. Faith is finding a way through the turbulence life offers.

- He has SET APART THE GODLY. (3) This fits with our doctrines of election and the nature of the Church – the “called out ones.”

- He answers prayer. (3) There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.” That expression is used by people who don’t care for the answer God has given or are unwilling to wait.

- He shows favor to His people. (6-7) He bestows BETTER TIMES (prosperity) and GREATER JOY than what worldly people can feel with their material wealth. His PEACE and safety (8) are far superior to what can be achieved with worldly means.

For my part, I will do as David did...

- Trust that the Lord has chosen me. (3) David’s concern about attacks on his REPUTATION may not sound like something to get this wound up about but remember two things. One, David is king. The greater the person is, the wider their authority, the deeper their power, the more they depend on the REPUTATION to get things done. Two, remember an occasion where someone attacked your REPUTATION by means of GROUNDLESS ACCUSATIONS (not to mention gossip, back-biting, or lying). How did you feel? I’d guess the ANGER mentioned in v. 4 is how you reacted.

One way to overcome an angry reaction is to take your burdens to the LORD, to pray, as David did in v. 2, “HOW LONG?” Another way to contain anger is to be certain that the LORD is trustworthy; He will prove His faithfulness. He has SET the GODLY APART from the ungodly. Since you are His, you can be sure He will save you. Be assured He will ANSWER you when you CALL TO HIM in prayer.

- Another way to calm my anger is by thinking things through quietly. (4) Some parents attempt to discipline their kids by putting them in “time out.” What David advocated here would be a case of putting yourself in “time out.” There are at least two advantages to following this strategy. Getting away from the person you’re angry at prevents you from saying something in anger that will have bad consequences. And when you take time to think, you’re using the logic circuit of your brain, not the emotion circuit. This will clear your mind of the influence of anger and allow you to see the situation more clearly and find the best course of action going forward.

The word translated as THINK literally means “say in my heart.” It implies that the conclusion of reflection is heartfelt remorse, repentance. So, if you stop and consider the situation, you may find you are in the wrong and are the one who needs to apologize.

- Offer my worship in the right way, at the right time, with the right motive. (5) The sequence of having right human relationships in v. 4 followed by a right divine relationship in v. 5 echoes Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:23-24. He said, “If you’re on your way to worship and remember an offense between you and another person, set your sacrifice down, go reconcile with them first, then go to worship.”

You can’t have a RIGHT SPIRIT with God and nurse a grudge against your neighbor. Also, worship and TRUST in the LORD go together. You must trust that the RIGHT SACRIFICES you’re offering do make a difference, now and in eternity. Let God take care of His end, you take care of yours.

The sacrificial system used animal sacrifices to restore one’s relationship with God by giving the animal’s life. It also provided for restoring relationships with others by inviting them to join you in a meal made of the sacrificed animal.

- Look forward to better times as His face smiles on me and gives me joy. (6-7) Imagine God smiling at you. How do you fail to smile back at Him? David’s insight into human nature can be seen in the question MANY frustrated PEOPLE pose, “Who will show us better times?” If you have faith, the answer is obvious. God will show us BETTER TIMES. People cannot be counted on to do so. Those TIMES will be so much BETTER, it will feel as if the LORD has smiled on us!

This will be the source of the GREATER JOY to which David testified in verse seven. Note that the GREATER part of the GREATER JOY is in comparison to those who have all the signs of worldly success: ABUNDANT HARVEST OF GRAIN AND NEW WINE.

One way to get a handle on your heart is shift your focus from yourself to God. Know that it is His SMILE, His favor, that is the GREATER JOY, not worldly success or material goods. With your focus on God, you will be less likely to take offense, or feel envy, things that often result in becoming angry.

- Finally, rest and be at peace, knowing the Lord keeps me safe. (8) May we all be able to lie down tonight with the ultimate peace that only God gives.

In troubling times, we settle our hearts by trusting the LORD.

One of the things that makes the Psalms so appealing is their emotional accessibility. Everyone has, like David, suffered from a time when falsehoods were spoken about us or a secret betrayed. We’ve felt the outrage and the temptation to fight back in kind. In short order, our emotions get out of control, and we say or do things that increase the hurt.

By way of contrast, we have the example of Jesus, who, under trial for His life, did not answer those who maligned Him and accused Him falsely (Matthew 27:12). As David suggested in this Psalm, Jesus kept silent and entrusted Himself to God. His confidence was in God the Father and no other.

Self-control is a virtue. More than that, it is a fruit of the Spirit. More than that, it is an aspect of the character of Jesus we can replicate in our daily life. Self-control begins by getting a handle on your heart. It involves not allowing your emotions to dictate your words or deeds. Instead, your words and deeds come from your relationship with God. Your life gives the best evidence for the existence of God in you, so it is important we choose carefully.

This psalm suggests four ways to get a handle on your heart as you relate to other people.

1) Remember you belong to God; behave in ways that honor Him.

2) Stop before you speak. Take all the time you need to think about it before you give an answer to anger especially.

3) Bring God into the relationship and the conversation and you will change the tone from competitive to cooperative.

4) Make it your chief desire to behave in ways that gain God’s approval.

5) De-escalate the situation by regaining a broader perspective. This is based on trusting God to keep you safe.


Temper testers gleaned from, retrieved on 6 October 23.

Tremper Longman III, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vols. 15-16, Psalms, 2014, pp. 67-69.

Mark D. Futato, Cornerstone Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, The Book of Psalms, 2009, pp. 40-42.

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