Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbours
and an object of dread to my closest friends –
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
‘Terror on every side!’
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, Lord;(Ps. 31:9-18 NIV)
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
The Psalmist turns again, out of his fear, to seek the favour of the Lord. The question may spring to mind, ‘how can the Psalmist be on a high level of confidence and then moments later he plunges into the depths of despair’. If we look at how our feelings ebb and flow, then we should be able to easily identify with the Psalmist. The Psalmist is reduced to a flood of tears. He is in a state of distress, his eyes are weak with sorrow. His body and soul are weak with grief. The years of his life have been taken away by anguish and groaning. This is so helpful to hear the Psalmist describe how he feels. When we feel like that, we have further grief because we wonder what type of Christian we are if we can feel this low. We can fear over many things: the fear of death, the fear of family members dying, the fear because of poor relationships, the fear of ill health and fears related to unemployment or even the fears that arise within employment. It doesn’t help much when we read Christian biography and we read of people describing their wonderful happy life or their triumph over adversity. This very positive image can make us feel guilty because we haven’t triumphed in the same way. If this troubles you, turn to the biographies recorded in Scripture to see a true record of people’s lives. The characters in Scripture including the Psalmists turn our eyes away from them towards the grace and mercy of God.
The Psalmist’s grief is compounded because people don’t understand him. Everyone who has not experienced what the Psalmist is going through has a theory about what could improve his lot in life. His enemies are spreading rumours about him, and sadly neighbours are beginning to believe the propaganda, and sadder still his friends dread the sight of him because he is such a picture of woe. When people see him on the street they try and dodge him. They’re afraid to ask him how he is because they don’t want to listen again to his tale of woe. After all, they reason, there is only so much you can take. His desperation has led to a physical collapse. He has lost his joy in life. He is forgotten, no-one reminds him anymore that he is prayed for. Job comes to mind as you think of this description. He feels like broken pottery, of no use for anything. It is possible to experience so much difficulty and you never seem to be able to rise out of it, that you are embarrassed to ask for any more prayer. You feel it is better for your reputation, what is left of it, to keep your continuing grief a private matter.
Everything has been taken away until there is nothing left but the Lord. The Psalmist says that he trusts in the covenant LORD. The covenant LORD is his God and his times are in the hands of the covenant LORD, even these difficult times. He needs deliverance from those who pursue him. Those that pursue him are not necessarily literally chasing him. They are pursuing him by writing about him, briefing against him, gossiping, spreading half-truths. Recently a friend of mine found themselves been written about in the Newspaper, the topic of investigative shows on radio, photographers and journalists following their car, photographs being taken as they leave work. The stories were twists of the truth. They were later exonerated but that didn’t receive the same headlines. Speaking to them during the weeks that this story trailed through the media, the personal reaction was they couldn’t eat, or sleep, they lost weight, they couldn’t face meeting up even with friends. It is really possible for someone to very quickly to be reduced to the state of distress that the Psalmist expresses.
The Psalmist calls upon the Lord to turn has face toward him (we have become familiar with this phrase in the Psalms). He calls for God to save him in His unfailing love (hesed). There already feels like there is a sense of shame, but he asks that he is not put to shame. His prayer is may his enemies be put to shame and be silenced from giving that criticism by sending them to the grave. These enemies have lied against the Psalmist and he calls for them to be silenced because they have spoken proudly and arrogantly against the Lord’s people. Ultimately the lying voices of the enemies of the Lord and the Lord’s people will be silenced, except their voice will be heard when they confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Life can bring many sorrows to us. We have to learn to trust in You Lord. Sometimes we have our self-confidence shattered so that we learn to trust in You. Lord it hurts when others spread rumours and half-truths about us. Help us to wait upon You to deal with these matters and help us not to be guilty of spreading rumours about others. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.