I quite like the idea of white water rafting. It looks fun, it looks exhilarating. I like the idea of a group of you in a flimsy little raft taking on massive rapids and powering your way through. What I don't like the idea of is being thrown out of a flimsy little raft into the massive rapids and being spun around like you're in a washing machine…I don't like the idea of gasping for air one moment, and being dragged back down the next…just praying for it to stop.
But the truth is, you don't have to go white water rafting to experience those feelings do you? That feeling of being overwhelmed, of your head spinning, of feeling like you're going to drown. That feeling of coming up for air, but then as soon as you feel like you've caught you're breath…being dragged under again. You don't even have to be in the water to have those feelings. Sometimes those feelings are just part of everyday life.
We don't know when David wrote Psalm 31, we're not told. But what is clear as we read through the Psalm is that David was going through both Highs and Lows. One minute he feels like he's drowning, and the next he's coming up for air. And as we study this Psalm together tonight, and as we go through those feelings with David, we're going to see how he coped, what he did, and what lessons he learnt from the Highs and the Lows.
Look at v.1-5 . It's clear, isn't it that David is in trouble. He faces shame, and needs deliverance, he needs to be rescued, and needs a refuge and a fortress, he needs help and guidance, and he needs to escape from a trap. His life is in trouble. And what does David do when he is afraid and in need of help?
He does two things. He reminds himself of who God is, and he reminds himself that he has placed his life in his hands. That's the first lesson for us…
1) Low – Preach the Truth to Yourself. (v.1-5)
Look at v.1a when the Bible writes the word Lord like that, in capital letters, it's showing us that the word in Hebrew is 'Yahweh'. Yahweh is the personal name for God. It's the name that God explained to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3.
The name Yahweh translates to something like, 'I am who I am' in English, And it reminded the Jews that God was, 'The promise making, promise keeping God.' And that's who David is praying to, or singing to. He could have just said, "in you O God, I have taken refuge."
But he doesn't. He reminds himself that he has taken refuge in the LORD, Yahweh. The promise making, promise keeping God. He reminds himself that God always does what is right. That he is his rock and his fortress, and he is the God of truth. In the middle of his desperation, David reminds himself of who God is and what he's like. And he reminds himself that he has put his life into God's hands.
He has pinned his hopes on God. He has placed his life into His hands. When life is hard, and busy and overwhelming it's easy to lose sight of what we know to be true. It's easy to lose perspective and to forget our faith. We must learn to preach the truth to ourselves.
The first lesson, is that in our lows, you must preach the truth to yourself.
2) High – Look Back and Count Your Blessings. (v.6-8)
In v.7 David's mood seems to change. He's ready again to be glad and rejoice in God's love. Why? Because he looks back and remembers what God has done for him in the past. God has cared for him in the past. He has seen his need. He's saved him from his enemies, he has blessed David. It's as if, in the middle of all the trouble and turmoil of v.1-5 In the middle of feeling overwhelmed and drowning David comes up for air.
In v.6-8 he comes to the surface and breaths in great lungfulls of air as he looks back and remembers what God has already done for him. It is incredible how quickly we forget God's goodness and start to doubt his love, isn't it? Yet all we ever need to do is look back…and we usually don't have to look very far. We can look back and we can look around us at all the ways God has already blessed us.
That's our second lesson. We need to learn to look back and to count our blessings.
Now some people over the years have struggled that Psalm 31 doesn't stop there. Many of the Psalms start with a problem and then find a solution and then end. But not Psalm 31, because in v.9-13 we're going to plunge back into a low. So some people have suggested that perhaps this is really two psalms that were accidentally joined together? And others question whether David was genuine in his change of heart in v.6-8.
But isn't this exactly what our lives are often like? And isn't this exactly what our hearts and minds are often like. We don't just have problems and find solutions; we swing from one to the other. We struggle, and then we remind ourselves of the truth, or we speak to a Christian friend or we come to church and we are reminded who God is and what he has done for us… But then it's not long before we're struggling again.
Again we're not given any context. We're not told what has happened to make David feel like this, all we know is how he feels. He's filled with distress and sorrow and grief, his whole body feels like it's packing in. And it feels like everyone around him has deserted him. And so he cries out to God. And that's the next lesson we learn.
3) Low – Pour Out Your Heart to God. (v.9-13)
Do you ever pour out your heart like this? Perhaps we don't because it's not very British?! We grow up being told not to complain, or to whine, after all what can good can that do? Instead we're told to grit our teeth and get on with it. Or perhaps we don't pour out our hearts to God because we imagine he won't want to hear it? God in our minds is more like a stern headmaster than a best friend. Is there anyone who you can turn to and say, "It's just too much! Life is too hard! I don't know what to do! I feel like a failure."
Learn the lesson from David, we can pour out our hearts to God. It's ok to cry out to him, it's ok to shout at him. It's ok not to start your prayers with "Dear Heavenly Father…" But just to say "Help, Lord! Help!" It's ok to admit to God how we feel. I don't know if David was really the utter contempt of his neighbours as he says in v.11, or if people really ran away from him when they saw him walking down the street.
But that's how it felt. And so that's what David prayed. Was there really terror on every side, v.13? We don't know, but David knew that he could pour out his heart to God, because God cares for us, and loves us and wants to hear from us.
But the Psalm doesn't stop there.
There is one more lesson for us, and that is that we should cast ourselves upon the LORD…
4) High – Cast Yourself Upon the LORD. (v.14-18)
Again David is reminding himself of his relationship with God and preaching the truth to himself. In v.5 he committed his life into God's hands, and now he reminds himself that his life is in God's hands. And so in v.16-18 he casts himself upon the LORD.
He casts himself upon the LORD's love and kindness and justice. He trusts his life into God's care. Up and down, up and down; highs and lows, highs and lows. David swings first this way, and then the other. And we might read Psalm 31 and think the David is being fickle or inconsistent. That he's prone to mood swings, or at least very forgetful. But we know, don't we, that this is what we're like. This is what our lives look like. This is what our weeks look like.
If we're honest, this is what some of our mornings look like! We have highs and lows, times when we're up and times when we're down. But in the down times, we need to learn to preach to ourselves, and to pour out our hearts to God. mAnd in the times when we're up, we need to look back and remember what God has done for us in the past. We need to count our blessings and cast ourselves again upon the LORD.
Down and up, down and up. That's not strange…that's life. And that explains why Psalm 31 is one of the Psalms that is most often quoted by people in the Bible. We don't know who the writer of Psalm 71 is, but he or she quotes v.1-4. Jonah in the belly of the fish quotes v.6. And Jeremiah takes v.13 as one of his favourite sayings.
Do you see? These aren't strange experiences, they are common to believers. Our lives have ups and downs, highs and lows, peaks and troughs. Which is what makes v.19-20 so great. You see we go down in v.1-5, and come up in v.6-8. Then we go down again in v.9-13 and back up in v.14-18.
So when we come to v.19 we're expecting David to go back down again, but he doesn't. David imagines God's goodness like a vast warehouse, full of his love and his grace and his mercy and his kindness and his patience and his wisdom and his comfort. Which he showers on his children. Even the world around us can see the blessings that come from knowing God as our Father, the peace the joy the hope that we have. God does keep his children safe, v.20, he does protect us and shelter us.
So even though our lives are full of ups and downs, and we do go through highs and lows. For those who have put their trust in God, ultimately our lives will end in joy. They will end in singing not weeping. We will know God's goodness and his favour and his safety and his love. And the reason we can be sure of that is back in v.5.
You see it's not just Jonah and Jeremiah who quote Psalm 31. It's also Jesus. We read earlier in Luke 23, that as Jesus hung on the cross, just before he died, he quoted v.5, "Father," he said,
Into your hands I commit my spirit.
But notice what he didn't say. He says the first half of v.5, but he doesn't say the second. He cries out "Into your hands I commit my spirit." But he doesn't say, "Redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth." Jesus cast himself upon his Father. He puts his life in his Father's hands. He is totally obedient to his Father. But he doesn't ask God to save him.
Why? Because he chose to die. He went willingly to the cross. He didn't want to be saved, he wanted to save…you and me. Jesus died to pay the price for the sins that we commit, so that we never will. Jesus died, he chose to die, so that you and I can live.
That's how we know, for sure, that if we have put our trust in Him, if we have bowed our knee to Jesus and we're living with him as the King of our lives… Then one day the ups and downs of life will stop and we will experience God's blessing forever. Of course, if you've not done that. If you're not living with Jesus as King, if you haven't yet handed your life over to him, then you have no reason to hope. Why not? What is stopping you? For those of us who have put our trust in him, the outcome is certain.
At times we may feel as if God has forgotten us, and that we're cut off from his sight, v.22. But the truth is, we never are. He is always with us, always loving us, always caring for us. He has our lives in his hands.
That's why the only right response, v.23, is the love the LORD. We can be sure that he will preserve the faithful, and that one day he will pay back the proud.
A friend of mine went white water rafting not so long ago. And the instructor told her, "If you fall out of the boat…don't try to swim.When you're in the water, and it's tossing you around, you'll be so disorientated you won't even know which way is up! You could end up swimming in the wrong direction.But you don't need to worry," he said, "Because your life jacket will always bring you back to the surface, and you'll be safe." If you have put your trust in the God of the Bible… If you are trusting in Christ and have put your life into his hands…Well then it's like you've put on a life jacket. And whatever life may throw at us, no matter how deep the lows, no matter how desperate we may feel when we're down. God will always bring us back up, he will always keep you safe, and one day there will be no more lows.
So, preach to yourself when you are down, and look back and count your blessings to bring you up. Pour out your heart to God when you are down, and cast yourself upon the LORD to bring you back up.