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9 Have mercy on me, LORD, because I’m depressed.
My vision fails because of my grief,
as do my spirit and my body.
10 My life is consumed with sadness;
my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me because of my suffering;
my bones dry up.
11 I’m a joke to all my enemies,
still worse to my neighbors.
I scare my friends,
and whoever sees me in the street runs away!
12 I am forgotten, like I’m dead,
completely out of mind;
I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.
13 Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping,
terror all around;
so many gang up together against me,
they plan to take my life!
14 But me? I trust you, LORD!
I affirm, “You are my God.”
15 My future is in your hands.
Don’t hand me over to my enemies,
to all who are out to get me!
16 Shine your face on your servant;
save me by your faithful love!
17 LORD, don’t let me be put to shame
because I have cried out to you.
Let the wicked be put to shame;
let them be silenced in death’s domain!
18 Let their lying lips be shut up
whenever they speak arrogantly
against the righteous with pride and contempt!
19 How great is the goodness
that you’ve reserved for those who honor you,
that you commit to those who take refuge in you—
in the sight of everyone!
20 You hide them in the shelter of your wings,
safe from human scheming.
You conceal them in a shelter,
safe from accusing tongues.
21 Bless the LORD,
because he has wondrously revealed
his faithful love to me
when I was like a city under siege!
22 When I was panicked, I said,
“I’m cut off from your eyes!”
But you heard my request for mercy
when I cried out to you for help.
23 All you who are faithful, love the LORD!
The LORD protects those who are loyal,
but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.
24 All you who wait for the LORD,
be strong and let your heart take courage.
More than a third of the psalms (over 50) were “laments” like this one—Hebrew poems that expressed sadness, depression, or fear. This psalm described depression, limited vision, humiliation, anger at foes, and panic. Those emotions are part of being human, not a reason to give up on life. (For a deeper study, see Christian counselor Dwight Carlson’s book Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? Another good resource is makeitok.org.) The psalmist chose to handle his awful feelings by staunchly trusting in a God bigger than he was. (If you can, take the time to read Psalm 107, noting the repeated refrain “God saved them from their desperate circumstances.”)
Lord God, like the psalmist, I want to “be strong and let my heart take courage.” Teach me your kind of honest strength. Guide me in building my trust in you as I respond to your calling. Amen.
Summer schedules kept Dr. Oden from writing today. Here's a reflection on Psalm 31 that Pastor Glen Shoup first wrote in 2010:
I’m glad God decided that Psalms like Psalm 31 had to be in the Bible. There are other Psalms raw in their expression of both anger and pleading with God, but this Psalm—especially if you read it all—pretty clearly communicates the desperation and brokenness life sometimes delivers. I can imagine somebody like Job—bankrupt and having just stood at the grave of his children—praying this Psalm. I can imagine David—on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him—praying this Psalm.
This Psalm certainly is not a one-size-fits-all reading, but when you’re hurting deeply enough, when you’re minted with the pain life sometimes stamps out—when hope seems gone and God seems far—then a Psalm like this one naturally resonates from the deepest level of the soul. And what I appreciate about David (or whomever the author might have been) is that this cry for God’s attention is one-on-one. This is not collectively spoken from the third person on behalf of a group of people. No, this is a Psalm of individual lament—this is first-person authenticity: God, I’m seeking a refuge in You and need you to show up! I especially love the first part of verse 2: “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily”…translation: PAY ATTENTION TO ME AND DO IT NOW!
Have you ever been in a verse 2 kind of place? Have you lived long enough, have you hurt deeply enough, to know what it feels like to demand God to pay attention and—by all means—do it now! Maybe you’re in that kind of place today. Maybe your heart gravitates towards the raw emotion that only honesty can capture. Maybe you know the pain of a childless Job, or the injustice of a fleeing David—maybe you’ve wondered why (and what) anybody could honestly pray when they’re hurting that badly. Today’s Psalm was placed in the heart of the Bible for you and all those like you—including Jesus himself.
You see, Jesus had his own verse 2 kind of place where—with raw honesty—He cried out before God to PAY ATTENTION, AND DO IT NOW (both in the garden and on the cross). Jesus, too, knows what it is to feel abandoned and ignored by God (see Matthew 27:46) and during that time in Jesus’ life, we find out from the Son of God what it looks like to pray authentically. In those most barren of moments—when Jesus was hanging on a Roman cross suspended between heaven and earth—Jesus prayed from the very Psalm that we are thinking about today. "Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5 & Luke 23:46) is what Christ prayed in the most broken and painful place imaginable.
I suspect God might have put this Psalm right smack in the middle of the Bible so that when we walk similar roads, we’ll have a guide for something we can honestly pray as well. This Psalm isn’t for everybody all the time, but when it’s for you at the place on the journey when all seems lost and God seems absent, remember that the very God who seems gone from you has been where you are. He made sure this Psalm was right smack in the middle of your Bible so that you would have a prayer that you could honestly pray…just like Jesus.
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