Recognize God’s Presence
Lesson Focus: This lesson is about the presence of a powerful and faithful God, whom we can trust even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Rejoice in God’s Faithfulness: Psalm 31:7-10.
 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,  and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. [ESV]
This psalm impressed itself on more than one biblical character deeply enough to come to mind at moments of supreme crisis. Jonah’s prayer draws upon verse 6; Jeremiah was haunted by a phrase from verse 13; verse 5 gave words to Jesus for His last utterance on the cross. And in old age the writer of Psalm 71, possibly David himself, opened his prayer with the substances of verses 1-3. It illustrates the role of the Psalms in meeting a great variety of human needs beyond the bounds of formal worship and the original experiences of the authors.
The psalm opens with a prayer of an emphatic declaration of trust. The psalmist has taken refuge in the covenant-keeping God. The psalmist pours out his heart before his Father, who has promised to take care of him. He trusts in Yahweh because he knows that he will not be put to shame when he is trusting in the Lord. The psalmist’s confidence rests in two convictions: Yahweh will deliver for the sake of His name, and He is the rock of His covenantal people. The many synonyms for the Lord’s strength express confidence in deliverance. The Lord is known as the rock of Israel because of His readiness and ability to deliver His people.
[6-8] The second section of the psalm expresses trust in God. This trust has been anticipated in verses 1-5, but it comes to a fuller expression here: but I trust in the Lord . This trust is not simply a feeling that the psalmist has. David gives his reasons for his expression of trust in Yahweh. He was in trouble, and the Lord did four things. First, God has known the distress of David’s soul. That is, God took note of his trouble and identified with him in it. Second, God saw David’s affliction. This means more than that God merely took note of it. It means that God did something about it, that He came to David’s rescue. Third, God did not hand him over to his enemy. He protected him and kept him from the destruction the enemy wanted to bring upon him. Finally, God set his feet in a broad place. In other words, God was faithful to deliver David from affliction. Since God did that in the past, David is determined to trust Him now. The memory of past deliverance bears fruit in present confidence.
[9-13] The emotional heart of the psalm is the lament found in verses 9-13, in which David tells the Lord of his present distress and danger created by David’s enemies. The best way to read the stanza is backwards. David starts with his personal distress and works outward to its cause. We do better if we begin with the cause and work inward to the effect it had on David. The chief problem  is that his enemies had surrounded him on all sides and were conspiring together to take his life. This was literally true during much of David’s reign. The kingdom was surrounded by hostile neighbors. But David may also be thinking of plots within his kingdom by Jewish enemies or of the days he had to flee from King Saul. Because of the enormity of this danger and of his own apparent weakness, David was scorned by his neighbors and was even deserted by his friends [11-12]. Many people have experienced this. As long as we are successful or influential or rich, everyone wants to know us and be considered our friend. But as soon as we lose these advantages, people desert us. This is the way of the world. We should not be surprised at it. We should only be thankful that God is quite different. Finally, because of his precarious position and of being deserted by his friends, David was affected physically. His strength seemed to fail, his bones and eyes grew weak, and his body filled with grief. These words may be poetic exaggeration, but they describe real affliction. They describe the weakness, sorrow, and grief of many.
Trust in God’s Power: Psalm 31:14-16.
 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God."  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!  Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! [ESV]
The body of this psalm moves from the emotional crest of praying to God down into a trough of sorrow and then back upward to a crest of praise again. In the last section [9-13] we were in the trough. In this section [14-18] we are starting up the other side. To many people the most striking sentence in these verses is the first sentence in verse 15, which says, My times are in your hand. What times are these? Well, all times. The times of our youth are in God’s hands, times when others make decisions for us. Some of those decisions are good decisions, some are bad. But God holds both the good and bad in His hands and works all things out for the good of those who love Him. The times of our maturity are in God’s hands, that is, days in which we are (or should be) about our Father’s business. In such days we probably have successes, but we also have defeats. Even in spiritual work everything does not always go well. Does that mean that God has abandoned us? Not at all. The times of defeat as well as the times of victory are controlled by God. Finally, the times of our old age are in God’s hand, days in which the strength of youth has faded away and the opportunities for starting new work are past. God cares for us also in old age, and He is able to bless those days as much as any others. In brief this means that God is present in all the circumstances of your life. Nothing ever comes into your life to surprise Him. Indeed, nothing can come into your life that has not first of all passed through the filter of His good and acceptable and perfect will [Romans 12:2]. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, Paul says in Romans 8:28. Therefore, like Paul, we can also say, I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content [Phil. 4:11].
Express Your Love for God: Psalm 31:21-24.
 Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm, "I am cut off from your sight." But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.  Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.  Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! [ESV]
[19-22] First, the Lord is good for He works things out righteously for those who fear Him. Those who are wise put their confidence in Him. They believe that He does not put them to shame [19-20]. Even when they are oppressed like a besieged city , they are protected in the cover of your presence . The author uses verbs expressing the hidden but full enjoyment of God’s benefits by repeating the verbs stored up and hide. The Lord retains His goodness for those who fear Him , and He keeps His own safe in His dwelling . While He may hide them in His shelter , He nevertheless makes it clear in the sight of men that the godly are under His protection. The godly on earth are under His guarded protection and are assured that the Lord will openly demonstrate the fullness of His love. The psalmist reviews the various ways that the Lord expresses His covenantal concerns. His righteousness comes to expression in the context of injustice and adversity . He manifests His wonderful love in the midst of one’s loneliness and abandonment . He is also a God of compassion and favor who hears the cries of His children . The formula of blessing, Blessed be the Lord , expresses the joy of the redeemed after having experienced his salvation. Second, the Lord is good to His people [19-22]. He relates with love and fidelity to the godly so that they may enjoy the benefits of His loving acts. But His people are those who submit themselves in fear to the Lord, they take refuge in Him . The godly, who persevere in love and loyalty, will be the beneficiaries of the Lord’s loving acts.
[23-24] The psalmist confesses his frailty in having questioned God by despairing in his alarm . But he was proven wrong, and the Lord triumphed. He did hear and did come to the psalmist’s rescue. The psalmist thus encourages the godly to learn from his experience. He exhorts them to persevere in trusting the Lord, regardless of their circumstances in life. They must respond to him in a commitment of faith and love. Faith is not a one-time commitment. It is a radical call for a lifetime of commitment. Commitment is abandonment to the living God, who has promised to guard His own . Such is the life of faith. The outcome may be uncertain; but faith lets God be God – by responding to Him in love, by living in the strength of faith, by obeying His word, and by waiting in the hope of redemption.
These last two verses call upon the people to love God as well as praise Him. It is significant that the psalm should end this way. For although love has not been mentioned before this, it is nevertheless true that love and trust go together. It is true in regard to human relations. It is true in our relationship with God too. The very last lines encourage the saints of God to be strong, and let your heart take courage, which is a way of saying “keep trusting.” The point is that we will do this only as long as we keep close to God and thus continue to grow in our love for Him. Thus the practical application is: Don’t ever lose faith in God. Faith will not be lost if love keeps burning. You can never love God too much, and you can never trust God too much. But you will do both well whenever you reflect deeply on the degree to which He has loved you.
Questions for Discussion:
1. In verses 6-8, David puts his trust in Yahweh because of four things the Lord has done in the past. List these four things. Think about times in your past when God has done these four things for you. David responds to God’s faithfulness to His steadfast love (hesed) by rejoicing and being glad. Make it a practice in your spiritual life to remember God’s faithfulness and rejoice in His steadfast love that He shows to you.
2. What is happening to David in verses 9-13? Note the shift in verb tense in verse 9: from rejoicing in God’s past actions to now sharing present concerns and troubles.
3. In verses 14-16, what is David’s response to his present affliction? Note the strong affirmation of faith expressed in the little word But. In effect, David is saying that, even though overcome by the troubles of life, nevertheless he will trust in God. How can David do this? What enables him to make this affirmation of trust when his bones are wasting away ? This psalm gives us the answer. It is because David remembered in verse 7-8 the four things God had done for him in the past. And David acknowledged that the reason God had done these things was due to God’s faithfulness to His steadfast love and not because of anything in David. Ask God to enable you to have this response the next time you are suffering through overbearing troubles. Ask God to enable you to utter that great word of faith: But I trust in you, O Lord!
4. In verses 21-24, why does David praise God? Note first of all that David does not forget to praise and thank God for his deliverance. Second, note how we have another strong affirmation of faith built around the word, but: But you heard. Thank about what a tremendous blessing it is that God hears your cries for mercy. And note throughout scripture, whenever God hears the cries of His people, He always acts on their behalf according to His sovereign goodness and wisdom. See Romans 8:28; 12:2.
5. What instruction does David give all believers in verses 23-24? Ask God to enable you to make this instruction to love the Lord … be strong … take courage … wait for the Lord the focus of your life.
Psalms, Volume 1, James Boice, Baker.
Psalms, Willem VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.
Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner, Tyndale, Inter Varsity.