A Request for Refuge

Psalm 31

July 18, 2015 | Brian Bill

The words of this psalm are raw and they are real.  David moves from praising God to focusing on his problems and then ends up praising again as he goes from anguish to assurance.  We could call this a psalm of lament but it could also be categorized as an imprecatory psalm because David asks God to unleash judgment on the wicked.  Ultimately though, this is a psalm of trust as we see David in a fight for his faith.

We know from the heading that David wrote Psalm 31 but we don’t know the exact context in which he penned these words.  It was either during the days in which he was fleeing for his life from King Saul or more likely it was during the rebellion of his own son Absalom who was seeking to overthrow him.  Actually, it’s good that we don’t know exactly because it may make it easier to apply this psalm to our unique situations. 

Because I see two main movements or prayer cycles in this psalm, I’m going to preach up through verse 8 and then we’re going to pray those verses back to the Lord.  We’ll then walk through verses 9-24 and pray that part of the passage to the Lord.

Prayer Cycle #1

1. Ask God for help. 

The first place to start is to run to God for refuge and ask Him for help.  Look at verse 1: “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge [a shade and shield]; let me never be put to shame [guilt or disgrace]; in your righteousness deliver [rescue] me.”  Aren’t you glad that God’s grace covers our guilt and shame?  I love watching how God uses Celebrate Recovery, our ministry of hope to those dealing with hurts, habits and hang-ups, to give grace and mercy to those dealing with the shame of addictions and sinful behavior.  And I love it when the CR band leads us in praise during our weekend services, don’t you?  If you have served in CR in the past, are serving right now, or have benefited from this ministry, would you please stand?

Check out how earnest David’s prayer is in verse 2: “Incline [extend, stretch out] your ear to me; rescue me speedily [at once, hurry up]! Be a rock [large rock, a mountain; an immovable foundation] of refuge for me, a strong fortress [a center of military force] to save me!”  His prayer is also very personal as the word “me” is used four times.  Notice that he says “to me”“incline you ear to meand “for me”“be a rock of refuge for me.”

So here’s a question.  Are your prayers passionate and personal?  

2. Acknowledge who God is. 

When you’re unsteady and uncertain, affirm the truth of God’s steadiness.  We see this is verse 3-4: “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; [this reminds us of Psalm 23] you take me out of the net [network of wires; a trap] they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.” 

3. Affirm your trust in God. 

Start by pleading in prayer and then call on God’s character.  David next settles the surrender issue by affirming his trust in God in verse 5-6: “Into your hand [represents strength and power] I commit [place into the care of; used of depositing valuables] my spirit; you have redeemed [ransomed] me, O Lord, faithful God.”

That phrase, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” was the prayer that Jewish boys and girls prayed before they went to sleep at night.  It’s a prayer of ultimate commitment.  It would be similar but much deeper than one of our childhood prayers, “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  Jesus quoted these words from the cross as He demonstrated his submission to the Father, entrusting Him with everything (Luke 23:46).  In this closing cry from the cross, Jesus died with Scripture in his mouth.  Stephen also quoted this psalm as he was being martyred (Acts 7:59).

Look at verse 6.  As David sees others giving their lives to false idols, he is deeply grieved, yet he clearly commits himself to the Lord: “But I trust in the Lord.”  No matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do, he will trust in the Lord.  To “trust” means to rely on and to lean on, to have confidence in.

David moves from asking to acknowledging to affirming and then to adoring God in worship.

David can’t help but be joyful and glad even though his pain and suffering are severe. 

4. Adore God in worship. 

Notice verse 7: “I will rejoice and be glad [to gloat with an agitation of joy] in your steadfast love [loving-kindness], because you have seen my affliction [oppression, discomfort, misery]; you have known the distress [anguish and trouble] of my soul.”  That means that God sees your suffering and knows all about the blows you’ve taken.  David can’t help but be joyful and glad even though his pain and suffering are severe. 

In verse 8 he’s grateful that he’s not been given over to his enemies.  Instead he exclaims, “You have set my feet in a broad [spacious and large] place.”  The meaning here is that God has not just barely saved him and given him a narrow piece of shifting sand to stand on.  No, God has granted him a large and spacious place where he can be safe and secure.  This is similar to Psalm 18:19: “He brought me into a spacious place.”  

Let’s pray now, using the first eight verses as our outline. 

  • Ask God for help
  • Acknowledge who He is
  • Affirm your trust
  • Adore God in worship

Prayer Cycle #2

If the psalm were to end here we would think that David has resolved everything, never to have problems again.  But he cycles through stress and suffering again…just like we all do.  After committing our spirit and our stress and our stuff to the Lord, it’s quite common to go through difficulties and despair and even depression.  As a result, David’s prayer takes on a greater sense of desperation.  He still asks for help from God but this time he is more descriptive about the depth of his agony.  

1. Ask for help.

When David cries out in the opening verses he uses 41 words, here in verse 9 he can only get out six words.  Sometimes when we pray all we can say is this: “Be gracious to me, O Lord…”  It’s like the brief prayer the tax collector prayed in Luke 18:13: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  This reminds of the song by 7eventh Time Down called, “Just Say Jesus.”  Perhaps you can relate to the lyrics:

Life gets tough, and times get hard 

It’s hard to find the truth in all the lies

If you’re tired of wondering why 

Your heart isn’t healing 

And nothing feels like home 

Cause you’re lost and alone just screaming at the sky 

When you don’t know what to say 

Just say Jesus

2. Articulate your agony. 

Listen to David’s raw assessment of his situation in the second half of verse 9 and verse 10: “…For I am in distress [hemmed in, narrowness and tightness]; my eye is wasted [destroyed] with grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent [consumed and exhausted] with sorrow, and my years with sighing [moaning], my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.”  This agony is similar to Psalm 6:6: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” In Job 3:24 we read that his groanings are “poured out like water.”

This has been a week of weeping in our country.  I was greatly grieved to hear about four Marines who were murdered on Thursday in an act of terrorism.  Earlier in the week I wept when I watched a video that showed the senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood admit that they sell body parts from babies after they do abortions…all while sipping her wine and eating a salad.  I found it barbaric and repugnant and deeply disturbing.  I not only watched the 9-minute video, I forced myself to read the full 60-page transcript of the almost 3-hour complete video.  I literally felt nauseous when I finished. 

Albert Mohler ended his commentary on this gruesome story with these words: “We must pray that this video will mark an important turning point in our nation’s conscience.  Images and words can become seared in our minds.  The horrifying knowledge of harvested baby hearts must lead to our own broken hearts.  A nation that will allow this, will allow anything.”  Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is calling upon Christ-followers to do four things.

  1. Contact lawmakers and call for an investigation (check).
  2. Shine the light by sharing this story on Facebook and Twitter (check).
  3. Support Pregnancy Resource Centers (check).  The next Walk for Life is September 19th.
  4. Pray for those who work in the abortion industry (check).

Church, it’s time for the reborn to stand up for the unborn!  If we don’t who will?

In verses 11-13, David is further grieved because he has become marginalized.  Public opinion has turned against him.  He once enjoyed influence and was well respected but is now on the run.  He is God’s anointed but society treats him like an enemy.  Sounds a bit like the evangelical church in America today, doesn’t it?  

Listen to his agony: “Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach [taunted and scorned], especially to my neighbors, [those who are closest can stab the sharpest] and an object of dread [terror] to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee [snub] from me.  I have been forgotten [out of mind] like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel [useless].  For I hear the whispering [slander] of many – terror [horror, impending doom] on every side [surrounded]! – as they scheme [organize and fix] together against me, as they plot [devise] to take my life.”

David has sunk into the depths of despair but notice that he doesn’t stay there.

3. Affirm your trust. 

No matter what anyone else does or says, I can still choose to trust in the Lord

Even though he can’t change what others think or do, he can make sure that he is trusting in the Lord.  Look at verse 14: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’”  No matter what anyone else does or says, I can still choose to trust in the Lord.  We see this in the word “but.”  I often remind myself of this phrase: My response is my responsibility.  I like how David declares out loud: “You are my God.”  Let’s say that together in unison: “You are my God!”  I’m going to state a few things and you look up to heaven and say, “You are my God!”

When you’re ambushed by anxiety.  “You are my God!”

When you feel alone and empty.  “You are my God!”

When you see our society becoming more godless.  “You are my God!”

When you wonder if things are ever going to get better.  “You are my God!”

When you feel ashamed and guilty.  “You are my God!”

When you feel like you can’t go on.  “You are my God!”

David next affirms that God is sovereign and acknowledges everything that happens to him is filtered through His loving hands.  We see this in verse 15: “My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!”  Even though the “times” in which we live are uncertain and unstable, God is sovereign.  

In the “Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens wrote these words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

Our times are in His hand.  So here’s a question.  What are we going to do with the time we’ve been given?  In every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent and greater opportunity.  In times of darkness, light shines the brightest.  Team, let’s be like those described in 1 Chronicles 12:32 who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”  Let’s not only understand, let’s be a people of action.  We could certainly make the case that we are living in a post-Christian society.  But I would rather say that we are living in a pre-revival society!

Our times are in His hands.  Let’s be His hands and feet by going with the gospel message to those in desperate need of it!

Look at verses 16-17: “Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!  O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you…”  This is a plea for God to smile upon David and reminds us of the benediction found in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”   Listen.  You will be OK if people shame you as long as you know that God shines on you.  Because God shines on you, you can handle any shame that comes your way.  

David does some more venting in the last part of verse 17 and verse 18: “Let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol.  Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently [excessive pride and arrogance] against the righteous in pride and contempt [scorn and disrespect].”

4. Adore God in worship. 

It doesn’t take David long to get grounded again as he busts out in worship in verses 19-21: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up [like a treasure] for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.  Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.”

5. Appeal to others. 

We’re not to keep our praise private, are we?  While God is very personal to David, he wants others to encounter the living God.  Look how this psalm ends in verses 23-24: “Love the Lord, all [everyone] you his saints!  The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride [God will sort everything out].  Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”

As Christ-followers who have become increasingly marginalized, let’s live on mission as never before!  When the early church was persecuted they proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ even more courageously.  Acts 8:4: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”  

I read a post this week called “Bruce Jenner, Gay Marriage and Planned Parenthood: The Self-Deification of a Nation” by Mike Riccardi that I found convicting and energizing.  Here’s part of what he wrote: “That means that our mission, my fellow followers of Jesus, is not to retreat from this depraved culture, but to go into this depraved culture and herald the message of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  To tell a world drunk on its own arrogance that God is God, and they are not.  That He makes authoritative declarations and pronouncements and judgments, and they do not.  It is to tell this lost world that their sovereign Creator has made a declaration, and it is this: that all people everywhere must repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. And that on that day, at the name of His Son, the Lord of all the earth, Jesus Christ, every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ—not themselves—is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I find it interesting that even though David seemed to resolve his issues, in verse 22 he suddenly becomes alarmed and cries out, “I am cut off from your sight.”  And it was prayer that brought him back to what was true: “But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.” 

Let’s go to prayer, utilizing verses 9-24 as our outline.

  • Ask for help
  • Articulate your agony
  • Affirm your trust
  • Adore God in worship
  • Appeal to others

Let’s make our closing song our commitment today.  May the “sound of this music” put a smile on God’s face as His face shines upon us.  Let’s hold our ground, seeking refuge in Him.  He will come through…always.

My foes are many, they rise against me

But I will hold my ground

I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm

My help is on the way, my help is on the wa

Oh, my God, He will not delay

My refuge and strength always

I will not fear, His promise is true

My God will come through always, always


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?