We have watched fear grip our world in the wake of Covid-19. Maybe you struggle a little with fear. The coronavirus is definitely impacting our world and could become a real challenge in our country, but hopefully, with the drastic steps we’re taking as a nation and certainly as God moves in response to the prayers of His people, we will defeat the spread of this danger.
The question we must ask is how do we find peace in the midst of this chaos? What will enable us to embrace faith instead of fear? Can we have the peace of a baby even though we’re tempted to lean toward dread and doom? Yes!
I’d like to share with you a chapter from a book I wrote a few years ago on Psalms entitled Songs from the Heart: Meeting with God in the Psalms. This chapter focuses on Psalm 31. This post will be a good bit longer than something I’d normally post, but I hope it’s a blessing to you.
What to do When You Are Surrounded
But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me. 16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness. 17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You; let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol. 18 Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt. 19How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! 20 You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues. 21 Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city. 22 As for me, I said in my alarm, “I am cut off from before Your eyes;” nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You. 23O love the Lord, all you His godly ones! The Lord preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer. 24 Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.
I think that somewhere hidden within my life is a stifled cowboy. Maybe every little boy wants to be a cowboy, and every man has a secret wish to saddle up and ride off into the sunset. While I was in college, I read every one of Louis L’Amour’s books in the Sacket series. I know I should have been reading about biology and western civilization, but at least I learned how to get out of a crunch when holed up in a boxed-in canyon. I haven’t had to worry about a boxed-in canyon yet, but when it does happen, I’m going to be ready.
One of my favorite movies while growing up was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Let’s forget for a moment that these two were actually outlaws. One of the last scenes shows the two bandits in Bolivia after failing to leave a life of crime. They were discovered in town with stolen mules and money, and the Bolivian army surrounded them. The movie shows the outlaws going out in a blaze of glory with pistols drawn and bullets flying.
Have you ever felt surrounded? So maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid deserved being apprehended by the authorities, but you’re one of the good guys. What do you do when the “besieged city” is actually your life?
David started this Psalm off in verses one and two with these words: “In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; be to me a rock of strength.” Have you picked up on the fact that David seemed to spend his life being attacked and surrounded? Is it any wonder that many of us feel so drawn to the Psalms? Our lives really are lived out on the battlefield, and we find that many days are spent simply firing and reloading. Hopefully, you’re not really firing and reloading, but it sure feels like you are under constant assault. God offers us some encouragement during times we feel as if our lives are under siege.
Today’s scripture picks up in verse fourteen of the thirty-first chapter of Psalms: “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’” It is as if David is saying that it doesn’t really matter how big the army is that is surrounding him, he will trust in the Lord. There are some days that our battles seem overwhelming, and we are not sure we can make it out alive. Our declaration must be like David’s.
In the previous verse (13) he stated that he had been slandered, surrounded by terror, and his life had been threatened. In the midst of that, David pronounced his trust in God. When he said “Lord,” he used the personal name of God, Yahweh. I have already written about this name of God as being connected to Moses’ experience at the burning bush. It is the name God chose for Himself that means “I Am Who I Am.” In other words, He is the God of the present tense.
Note that within this verse, David used two different names for God: Yahweh and Elohim. The second name meant heavenly being or deity. With these two words, David speaks specifically of the God who delivered the Israelites from bondage and says that He is David’s deity. In a culture surrounded by false gods, it is significant that the most powerful man in the world declares that Jehovah God is the One he chooses to trust and serve.
We too are surrounded by numerous gods: materialism, naturalism, personal achievement, sex, etc. All of these gods, and more, are vying for our affection and devotion, but we must make our own declaration stating our devotion to the One true God. Can you connect to a time in your life when you may have felt surrounded? Can you really say with David, “As for me, I trust in the Lord?”
His next statement is significant, and we must share his conviction: “My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.” First of all, it is difficult once again to determine exactly to which enemy he refers. It doesn’t really matter, because we all have various enemies. I’m not speaking of a friend who treated us badly or a spouse who is not acting in love toward us. The Bible says we are in a spiritual battle, and our enemy is not made up of flesh and blood (see Ephesians 6:12). Without trying to fully define our enemy, can we acknowledge that our times are in God’s hands?
When he used the word “times,” he was saying that both his entire life and the unique circumstances of his life were under God’s control. If we are going to overcome all of our enemies, we must be able to state with David that we have fully trusted God with the days, minutes, and seconds of our lives. Life is lived in seconds and milliseconds, and spiritual battles are won in the tiny clicks of life’s clock. We have a tendency to focus on the larger passages of time, but spiritual faithfulness and victories are experienced on a much smaller scale. If you want to win the spiritual battles, you must defeat the enemy in the seconds of life. These seconds of victory eventually make up an hour, a day, a year, and ultimately, a lifetime. All of your times must be in God’s hands.
In this prayer, David calls out to God for help with what I will simply call a prayer for proximity. He is asking God to be near. The great news is that as Christians, we now have the wonderful abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which means we always live in close proximity to God. We can thank God that not only does His face shine upon us, but He also shines from within us. I believe that David’s prayer actually contains symbolic words asking for God’s favor, but from a New Testament perspective, we know that God’s favor comes as we yield to the urging and pleading of the Holy Spirit Who lives within our hearts. We realize this favor as we yield to God’s sovereign control over our lives.
Verses nineteen through twenty-one present David as the supplicant and worshipper focusing on the character of God. He first declared God’s goodness, which God has “stored up for those who fear” Him and for “those who take refuge in” Him. Think for a moment about a God who is good. This means that He does not have the capacity for anything contrary to goodness. To say God is good is to say He is pleasant, agreeable, excellent, valuable, benevolent, and kind. This means that there are no defects or contradictions in God. You cannot add anything to His nature to make Him more complete or to cause Him to act in a better way.
This truth also means that He is the source of all things that are good. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This verse means that when something good comes into your life, it is a reflection of a good God who gives good gifts to His children. David exclaimed that God’s goodness is “great.” It is difficult to describe or categorize the goodness of God. It can’t really be measured nor can it be understood. He could just simply say it is “great.”
One thing God does out of His goodness is to provide us protection. David said, “You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man.” I wrote previously about being “concealed” by God, but note in this passage we are hidden in “the secret place of Your presence.” This is really a great thought. We find security and protection from being in the presence of God. It is true that every human being lives in God’s presence. Even the Psalmist pointed to the omnipresence of God in Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
There is a difference between God’s omnipresence and God’s realized presence. God is everywhere at the same time, but while this is a reality, it is also true that not everyone realizes the presence of God. Even for us as believers, there are times that God’s presence seems more real than other times. I do not think it is necessarily that God is actually more present at one time than He is at others, but rather, I think it is that we are more aware of His presence because our spiritual senses are more tuned in and cognizant of God’s manifestation of Himself. It is this realized presence that offers comfort and security to the believer who is in the midst of a spiritual conflict.
The Psalmist overflows with gratitude and worship in verse twenty-one when he acknowledged, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city.” The translation of the last two words has brought about considerable debate, and you will find translators use different English words in an attempt to capture the meaning of the Hebrew text. The word literally means “under siege,” and this makes some scholars wonder if David is making a specific reference here to real struggles of Israel at a specific time. It is possible that the Psalmist was simply using the imagery of a city under siege to give the readers an image of the spiritual conflict that is inevitable for one who follows God.
God’s mercy and grace is “marvelous” in response to the spiritual attacks and conflicts believers face every day. At times, our lives must feel like a besieged city, but God always comes through and brings deliverance. Do you ever feel surrounded by your spiritual enemy – kind of like a besieged city? While you could respond in a variety of ways, one of the best responses you can give is to stop and worship God.
In response to this spiritual siege, David challenged those who follow God to “be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” God wants us to be strong in the midst of conflict and challenge. He wants us to be courageous and not give in to the gentle calls and strong temptations around us. Instead of placing your hope in things that are sure to change and do not hold the answers for eternity, the Psalmist calls us to “hope in the Lord.” If your hope is in other people, you will eventually be disappointed. If your hope is in the government, you will eventually be let down. We can take courage if our hope is in the Lord. What gives you hope? Your circumstances may be overwhelming and your future prospects may be less than optimal, but you will find great strength and courage when you place your trust in the Lord.
How would you describe the enemy in your life?
Do you ever feel besieged or surrounded by the enemy? What do you do?
Do you agree with the Psalmist that your times are in God’s hands? What does that mean to you, and what difference does this knowledge make in your life?
Can you think of a time when you put your hope in something or someone other than God? How did it go?