‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace’ (Helen H Lemmel, ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’, 1922)
A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.
1 Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.
18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.
23 In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
24 So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”
In the agony of deeply distressing times (vs 1–11), the psalmist’s cry is fervent and urgent. Like the man who prayed, ‘Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now!’ the psalmist seeks a solution in his time: ‘when I call, answer me quickly’ (v 2).
‘But you, Lord…’ (v 12) is a pivotal point in the psalm; the psalmist turns from his own day of distress to consider God’s day of deliverance (vs 12–22). This turning point becomes a trusting point as he repeatedly affirms that God ‘will’ respond with compassion (vs 13a,17) to bring deliverance for his people (vs 15,16). All this will happen, but only at God’s ‘appointed time’ (v 13). The psalmist is certain of God’s intervention, so sure that he anticipates future testimony about this great deliverance (vs 18–20)! Focusing on his day of distress left the psalmist feeling helpless and hopeless; as he turns his eyes upon the Lord, hope is rekindled.
God’s timing doesn’t always tally with our own. But it is always to be trusted because he is the timeless and changeless one (vs 25–27), ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8, NIV).
‘But I trust in you, Lord … My times are in your hands’ (Psalm 31:14a,15a). Will you affirm this today?
Deeper Bible study
Lord, I praise you for you are not the great I WAS; you will always be what you always have been. YOU ARE THE ONE! (v 27).
First, I review again and again the psalmist’s multiple descriptions of his sad condition – ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ dominate in vs 1–11 and 23–24. Enemies appear momentarily in verse 8; ‘Zion’ in verses 13, 16 and 21; ‘the nations’ in verses 15 and 22; and ‘a people not yet created’ in verse 18; but the overwhelming sadness is the feeling of being ‘dumped’ (see v 10), his life ‘snatched away’ (see v 23). I notice how boldly the psalmist speaks to God, the fruit of a long friendship: ‘Hurry up! Answer me!’ (see v 2).
Second, I will note and remember how the psalmist reframes his long-continued sufferings and sorrows. As he sings and prays, his thoughts rise higher and higher; above his own dereliction; above Zion’s dusty ruins; above the prisoners doomed to die – to ‘you, Lord’ (v 12). I notice how the pronouns change from ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ to ‘you’, ‘your’. God is the eternal God, for ever the same; bigger than the universe, older than time. In the Hebrew, the verbs in verse 16 are in the past tense; but the psalmist is confident that these things will happen!
Finally, Hebrews 1:10–12 quotes verses 25–27 as words of God addressed to his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has shared my flesh, borne my sin, died my death and established his unshakeable kingdom! We long to explain sufferings, ‘like a flock of ducks quacking’.1 This psalm (and Hebrews) does not give us an explanation – but a revelation. Job does not say, ‘Now I understand everything!’ He says to God, ‘now my eyes have seen you’!2 I revel (in tears, if need be) in the magnificence of the psalm’s conclusion – when the universe has been folded up and put away, God’s children and their posterity will be caught up in his never-ending splendours.
I murmur JM Neale’s words from the hymn, ‘Jerusalem the golden’.3
1 Austin Farrer, Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited, HarperCollins, 1966, p146 2Job 42:5 3 Bernard of Cluny, ‘De Contemptu Mundi’, extract by Richard Trench, translated by JM Neale
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 1 Kings 16,17; Psalms 58,59
Pray for Scripture Union
It has been ten years since the coup in Honduras left the country with a corrupt and drug-linked government. People are fleeing to other countries and there is much discontent throughout the population. SU Honduras asks us to pray for justice and a return to peace.