A Song of Agony & Trust
It hurts to be misunderstood. It hurts to be falsely accused. It hurts to have our faults and failures exaggerated by others. It hurts to be conspired against by others.
In agony of soul, David writes in Psalm 31:9-13: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.”
For more than 2000 years, the title of Psalm 31 has included the instruction, “For the leader” or “For the chief musician,” indicating that the psalm was used regularly as part of the worship service. When I choose hymns for Sunday morning worship services, I generally pick hymns that I hope will fill people’s souls with hope and joy and confidence in God. I don’t tend to pick hymns in which the hymnist whines about the struggles in his or her life because I fear that I will ruin people’s worship experience if I draw their attention to problems that they may struggle with as well. But for more than 20 centuries, Jewish worship has seen no problem with inviting worshipers to sing their agony as well as their praise. Indeed, Charles Spurgeon points out about Psalm 31, “The dedication to the chief musician proves that this song of mingled measures and alternate strains of grief and woe was intended for public singing, and thus a deathblow is given to the notion that nothing but praise should be sung.”
In Psalm 31, along with expressing his agony David casts his hope on God. Verses 1-2 declare, “In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.”
While David was experiencing spears of gossip and disdain flung at him, and while his strength was failing because of his misery (verse 10), David felt the need for divine protection. He felt the need for God’s shelter.
Ancient cities protected their citizens by building large surrounding walls, creating a fortress that kept enemies and chaos out, and that kept peace and security within. That’s what David needed, and he hoped that God would provide it, that God himself would be a protective wall around him, that God would establish within David the peace and security he longed for.
One writer points out, “Building a secure ancient fortress was not an overnight process. It happened day by day, brick by brick.” We should not imagine that one prayer will create in our soul a sense of God’s fortress surrounding us. One prayer is one brick. Add to that brick another prayer, and another, and another. Keep coming to God, pouring out your heart to him. Keep turning to God’s Word, finding more and more comfort and hope and strength in it. Keep coming to worship. Keep that fortress growing so that God’s peace and security will grow within.