Psalm 31 (CEB)
For the music leader. A psalm of David.
1 I take refuge in you, LORD.
Please never let me be put to shame.
Rescue me by your righteousness!
2 Listen closely to me!
Deliver me quickly;
be a rock that protects me;
be a strong fortress that saves me!
3 You are definitely my rock
and my fortress.
Guide me and lead me
for the sake of your good name!
4 Get me out of this net
that’s been set for me
because you are my protective fortress.
5 I entrust my spirit into your hands;
you, LORD, God of faithfulness—
you have saved me.
6 I hate those who embrace
what is completely worthless.
I myself trust the LORD.
7 I rejoice and celebrate
in your faithful love
because you saw my suffering—
you were intimately acquainted
with my deep distress.
8 You didn’t hand me over to the enemy,
but set my feet in wide-open spaces.
9 Have mercy on me, LORD,
because I’m depressed.
My vision fails because of my grief,
as do my spirit and my body.
10 My life is consumed with sadness;
my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me
because of my suffering;[a]
my bones dry up.
11 I’m a joke to all my enemies,
still worse to my neighbors.
I scare my friends,
and whoever sees me in the street,
12 I am forgotten, like I’m dead,
completely out of mind;
I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.
13 Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping,
terror all around;
so many gang up together against me,
they plan to take my life!
14 But me? I trust you, LORD!
I affirm, “You are my God.”
15 My future is in your hands.
Don’t hand me over to my enemies,
to all who are out to get me!
16 Shine your face on your servant;
save me by your faithful love!
17 LORD, don’t let me be put to shame
because I have cried out to you.
Let the wicked be put to shame;
let them be silenced in death’s domain![b]
18 Let their lying lips be shut up
whenever they speak arrogantly
against the righteous
with pride and contempt!
19 How great is the goodness
that you’ve reserved
for those who honor you,
that you commit to those
who take refuge in you—
in the sight of everyone!
20 You hide them
in the shelter of your wings,[c]
safe from human scheming.
You conceal them in a shelter,
safe from accusing tongues.
21 Bless the LORD,
because he has wondrously revealed
his faithful love to me
when I was like a city under siege!
22 When I was panicked, I said,
“I’m cut off from your eyes!”
But you heard my request for mercy
when I cried out to you for help.
23 All you who are faithful, love the LORD!
The LORD protects those who are loyal,
but he pays the proud back
to the fullest degree.
24 All you who wait for the LORD,
be strong and let your heart take courage.
Music seems to be the one thing everyone has an opinion on, and are more than willing to tell you about it.
There’s something about music that gets under people’s skin, moves them to do something, feel something, think something, and experience something that speaks primarily to you, and nobody else. Music is incredibly personal, and yet utterly communal. That a piece of music can evoke both different emotions in everybody and yet similar emotions among certain people is remarkably profound.
I think about music a lot, because I love it so much. I may not be particularly great at music, but I can get by pretty easily on drums or vocals. I’ve taken a class on music theory, so I know at least a little about the logic of music. I am no master; just an earnest student.One of my favorite movies of all time is the John Cusack movie “High Fidelity.” For any music nerd out there who is obsessively philosophical in their experience of pop music, this movie is the ultimate music snob manifesto. The movie revolves around Rob Gordon (played by Cusack) who drifts through life and relationships in a state of constant misery and self examination, all through the lens of pop music enthusiasm and criticism. He runs a vinyl record store that specializes in rare and hard to find prints, and the store is very much an extension of his personality. The core of the movie is based on the question: “Do I listen to pop music because I am miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?” A highly critical thinker, he’s also profoundly unmotivated to do anything with his life, or change anything, or even be happy with what he has. Eventually it’s brought to his attention by his girlfriend Laura that he needs to recognize that he is doing something good with his life, and he has the power to make it better because of this recognition.
It’s a nice tale, and it reminds me that even while I’m highly critical of myself, being critical doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be miserable. In fact, there is good in my life, and there are people who care for me, as much as I might dwell on the negative. I can’t ignore the negative, but i have to hold the positive in tension with it in order for anything to make sense. All of this, through lens of music.
I’m currently taking a class on the relationship between music and preaching, and it has proven thoroughly formative and challenging so far, but one thing that I have received from it is about the emotional scope of scripture, and the regrettable state of a lot of “church music” today that gets nowhere near the range depicted in the Bible.
I love this psalm, for many reasons, but primarily today for the very reason I just mentioned: the range of emotions it evokes is astonishing in just a mere 24 verses of poetry and song. Stability, pleading, violence, profound depression and sorrow, ultimate hope and trust despite the circumstances of persecution, death and struggle, and then finally rejoicing and invitation. IN 24 VERSES. I defy you to find a contemporary worship song, or even a song on the radio that spans the range of emotion in just the words of this psalm.
This song speaks to me rather specifically, especially in its depiction of a person going through depression, sadness and frustration. There are few passages I can think of that so accurately describes what it feels like to be in the midst of depression. You feel blind and numb to everything. It takes an incredible amount of energy just to get up and do anything. You’re tired all the time. You fail to see the point in doing anything, because it’s just going to lead to more depression. You feel thoroughly rejected and unloved, even though you may have many people willing to help you get through it. You feel broken, disjointed, out of place, and it all goes through a big cycle until you feel like just giving up and never doing anything else again.
But through all that, peeks hope and sustenance. You may not be able to see the good in the world, but the good remains. For Christians, it’s important to remember that even though it may not be evident, you are still loved, and loved most of all by God. God can be your fortress, your rock, your stability when you feel like you have nothing left to hold on to. I need to be reminded of that constantly, and reading or praying through the psalms is an excellent way to do that.
I may feel like a Rob Gordon sometimes, but I am also reminded that in being a Christian, there is always hope through it all, even if it’s not apparent or easy to see. In fact, it may be hard to see. That’s why I need my friends and family to remind myself of the love that I do have, through them and from God.