Psalm 31 is a song about being strong and waiting for God to come through in the midst of the darkest of times.2 When all hell breaks loose in your life and you can’t see three feet in front of you because of the mushroom clouds of conflict and chaos, this is when David, the author of this Psalm, encourages us to be strong and wait for the Lord to show up.
TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID. 1In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! 3For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; 4you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 5Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. 6I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. 7I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, 8and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. 9Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. 10For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. 11Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. 12I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. 13For I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. 14But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! 16Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! 17O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. 18Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt. 19Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! 20In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. 21Blessed be the LORD, for he has wonderfully shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. 22I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. 23Love the LORD, all you, his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. 24Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!
Be strong and wait! We see this main idea in verses 23 – 24 when David says “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!”3
So the challenge here is to be strong and wait for the Lord when everything seems to be falling apart. But the question is: How do we do this? How do we stay strong and wait for the Lord?4
#1: STAY STRONG AND WAIT BY PRAYING IN FAITH (VV. 1 – 8)5
Praying in faith is the first thing David does when the bombs start dropping in his backyard. He tells the Lord in verses 1 – 8 that he is looking to him for refuge and safety and he begs God to deliver him so that he doesn’t experience the shame of defeat (v. 1). Like a man who is hanging by his fingertips on the edge of a cliff, he asks God to listen to his cries for help, to come to his rescue quickly, to become a solid rock under his dangling feet, to be a fortress that shields him from the hailstones and to save him from complete destruction (v.2).
After David petitions the Lord for help, he proclaims the steadfast faithfulness of God when he says that God is his rock and his fortress and when God is leading him, he leads him in a direction that makes God’s own name famous as the rescuing and redeeming God that he is; God always shows up when his people fall into the snares of the enemy (v. 3 – 4).
This recognition, that God loves to rescue his people from the snares of the enemy, is what enables David to say, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God” (v. 5). You and I might remember that Jesus found some special comfort in these exact words as he hung on the cross after being trapped by the smooth words of Judas the betrayer who sold him out to his enemies (Luke 23:46).
With this kind of faith, the kind that completely trusts in God’s eventual rescue, David can proclaim that he despises anyone who bows down to worthless idols that cannot save because he knows that the God he trusts in will always come through when the mushroom clouds of Satan, Sin, and Death come knocking on the door (v. 6).
This entire prayer of faith strengthens David as he waits on God to show up and it even causes him to experience a deep abiding joy and gladness amidst his afflictions because of the image of God’s steadfast love (v. 7). And David even acknowledges that God’s love is not some kind of impersonal affection; God’s steadfast love is so intimate and close that he totally knows and understands the distress and turmoil that is welling up in David’s soul (v. 7).
God doesn’t just see your anguish; he knows and feels your anguish right alongside you and he has not delivered you into the hands of your enemy for all of eternity; God will set your feet on solid ground when everything else seems to be melting away (v. 8).
So, if you and I are going to stay strong and wait for God amidst the storms of this life, we can do it by praying in faith to the God who always redeems, always shelters, always helps, always rescues, always loves, and never leaves us alone in the darkest and scariest of times. But praying in faith is only the first step. We also need to pray for God’s grace.
#2: STAY STRONG AND WAIT BY PRAYING FOR GRACE (VV. 9 – 18)6
Whenever I think about God’s grace, I am reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he says that God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” which then lead to the apostle Paul responding to God by saying that “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (NIV). The apostle Paul knew that his weaknesses created a spotlight for God’s power to work in and through him in miraculous ways.
In this same way, David cries out to God in verses 9 – 18 to be gracious with him in the midst of his afflictions, which he describes as taking a physical and emotional toll on him from the depths of his soul to the redness in his eyes to the weakness he feels in his body (v. 9). David is literally spent from the inside out, from the top his body to the soles of his feet; he feels sorrow and sadness deeply; he is out of breath and his strength is gone because of his own sin and his body feels like it is nearly wasted away and ready for the grave (v. 10).
Even David’s neighbors and friends think he is a lost cause; so much so that they avoid him in public and act like they have forgotten him as though he died or became a shattered pot that has been swept into the trash (vv. 11 – 12). His enemies are whispering about him and scheming about the ways they want to take him out for good (v. 13). But despite all of this, David says that he is trusting in God not in some abstract kind of way but in a very personal way when he says, “I trust in you… you are my God” (v. 14).
No abstract god will come through in the midst of our afflictions. No abstract God can extend the healing and comforting balm of grace amidst our struggle with Satan, Sin, and Death. Only a perfect and holy and personal God who gave his one and only Son to pay the price for our war against him… only this kind of God who gave it all to remove the obstacles that we placed between us and him… only this kind of God could offer the true, free, gift of unearned favor in our darkest of times.
This is why David is able to say in verses 16 – 17 that his entire life (all of the time he has left on this earth) is in God’s hands as he trusts God to rescue him and to shine the presence of his steadfast love and saving grace upon him.
It is a sheer act of grace that God, the one who once was our enemy when we rebelled against him in our sin, would step in and remove our sin and its consequences and then also shield us from the shame and the defeat of any enemy who attempts to defeat us.
This is the kind of grace that David is asking for when he begs God to protect him from the shame of defeat and to put his enemies to shame, to put them to death, to silence their lying lips, and to crush them in their pride and their contempt (v. 17).
So, if you and I are going to stay strong and wait for God amidst the storms of this life, we can do it by praying for continued grace from the God who makes his enemies into family and then goes to war on their behalf against their enemies too. But praying in faith and praying for grace are not the only steps we take in staying strong and waiting for God when all hell breaks loose. We also need to praise God amidst the storm.
#3: STAY STRONG AND WAIT BY PRAISING GOD IN THE STORM (19-22)7
I don’t know about you, but it seems really hard to praise God when the dark storm clouds of Satan, Sin, and Death are looming over my head. When Satan’s accusations become too much to bear… when Sin’s temptation seems too hard to resist… when Death’s fearful doom sets into my mind… it is hard to praise God because it seems easier to just give in to the accusations, the temptation, and the fear.
But that isn’t the model that David sets before us. In verses 19 – 22, David shows us what it’s like to stay strong and to wait upon God by praising him amidst the storm when the full weight of his enemies feels like it is crushing the breath out of his lungs.
David praises God by proclaiming the over abundance of God’s goodness even in the midst of hardship; from his place of refuge in God’s presence, David can see that God is always working out our suffering so that he gets the glory in front of all humanity (v. 19). God is the one who covers his children with his preserving presence so that they are hidden from the deadly plots and venomous lips of human enemies (v. 20).
These theological truths are what continues to drive David’s praise amidst the storm when he proclaims that God is blessed because his love never ends; God’s love towards his people never changes (v. 21).
Even when David and you and I begin to wonder where God is at in the midst of our suffering against Satan, Sin, and Death, we can rest assured that when it’s really hard to see God through the mushroom clouds, he can still see us, and he hears our cries for help, and he will act on our behalf (v. 22).
If you and I are going to stay strong and wait for God amidst the storms of this life, we can do it by praying in faith, by praying for grace, and by praising God amidst the storm.
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION (VV. 23 – 24)…
When I think about David writing this Psalm, I see a man who killed a lion and a bear and giant and who ruled an entire nation and defeated more enemies in battle than I ever will. It’s hard to think of David as a man who not only dealt with fear and betrayal but also faced the consequences of his own failures and sin and then through those experiences, learned how to be string and wait for God to go to work.
When I hear David praying in faith, and praying for grace, and praising God amidst the storm clouds of his enemy’s assaults, I am encouraged to apply the closing words of this Psalm the same way; I want to pray in faith, and pray for grace, and praise God amidst the storm as I heed this call to, “Love the Lord, all you, his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” Pray in faith. Pray for grace. Praise God amidst the storm. Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 James A. Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord is King, Vol. 1, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 317.
4 Ibid., 317 – 318.
5 Ibid., 318 – 321.
6 Ibid., 321 – 325.
7 Ibid., 325 – 326.