TEXT: Psalm 31
TITLE: “ Dealing with the Feeling “
DATE PREACHED : 08/11 /2009
Here is another problem which frequently contributes to Christian depression: A lack of understanding the proper place of the feelings in the life of the Christian.
To help us to understand the nature and the pitfalls of this problem we turn to Psalm 31. The Psalms in general are a mixture of thrilling , joyful , God centered affirmations of faith and truth on the one hand , and on the other hand they often reflect extreme despair and depression . Both of these aspects happen to be found in this 31st Psalm. Follow me now in reading the Psalm , and see whether you can identify these elements , before we consider, by way of application what David’s solution to his emotional turmoil might be.
This Psalm is an emotional outpouring of David’s soul to God in prayer (31:2, 17, 22). This is a great example of real prayer. The Psalmist begins with God (v.1) and ends with God (v.24). There is much that we can learn from that in terms of dealing with our emotions before God!
Background to this Psalm
There appears to be a group of enemies who have conspired together to kill David. They have instigated a widespread campaign of slander and lies. As a result, his name has become a reproach, even among his neighbors and former friends.(v.11) When they see him coming, they turn and avoid him . Perhaps they fear being identified with him. Perhaps because they think that he is on his way out. Perhaps they don’t want to be implicated with David by association.
Not only that, but in addition he realizes that many of his troubles stem from his own sin. (v.10) . So, in addition to everything else, he is wrestling with guilt.
We note that this experience has taken its toll on his health (v.10). His bones are wasting away. Wherever he looks, it seems that terror is staring him in his face.
As a result of these problems, he is struggling with depression.
We can’t be sure what the exact situation behind this Psalm is. Some commentators think that because David mentions being in “a besieged city” (v. 21), that this might refer to the time in 1 Sam. 23:7-14 when the people of the city of Keilah conspired to hand David over to Saul, who was trying to kill him. Others, like
Charles Haddon Spurgeon think that David’s reference to his own sin in v. 10 points to the fact that this Psalm was written in connection with Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 15 ( which is as a result of a prophecy spoken by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 after Saul’s adultery with Bathsheba ) .
Whatever the case may be , the Psalm is here for every Christian to meditate upon , to identify with , and to find an answer for our own particular set of emotional challenges that may threaten to overwhelm us .
The Psalm in greater detail:
He begins with the affirmation “I take refuge in you.” This thought is expressed repeatedly. In the midst of his emotional turmoil , David declares God to be his refuge ( vv 1, 2,4) ; his strong fortress ( vv 2,3); his rock ( vv2,3) .
Incidentally, the Greater Son of David, the Lord Jesus, in His hour of greatest need, in His hour of abandonment upon the cross, as He bore our sin on the cross, uses the very words of verse 5: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” In the hour of abandonment the Son of God does not abandon Himself to fate and uncertainty. He abandons His spirit into the hands of the Father!
That is where the faith of the believer is anchored! You are not in the hands of your enemy or your emotional trauma. Child of God – you are in the hand of God the Father!
So , in the midst of this emotional turbulence , David strongly expresses his faith in the fact that he believes that God has seen his affliction ; that God knows the distress of his soul ( v. 7b) which is caused by his enemies ( vv. 8,11,15) . He is not denying that all this causes him great emotional turmoil.
Please note again the effects which this distressing time has on his physical, emotional and spiritual condition :
- V. 7 “ You have seen my affliction ; you have known the distress of my soul”
- Vv.9 -10 “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. “
- V. 12 “ I have become like a broken vessel “
But, it is the thought expressed in vv 21b and 22a that helps us to see that David was almost overcome by his emotions: “When I was in a besieged city… I had said in my alarm, I am cut off from your sight…”
We know of course that he says this with hindsight (see vv.21a and 22b to get the perspective), for God has brought him through this time of emotional turmoil.
Verses 23 &24 are a call to believers to take this Psalm and to learn from it. He calls all emotionally battered believers to “… Love the Lord, all you 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. “ He closes this Psalm on the same note with which he began in verse 1.
Understanding the nature and place of the human emotions through Psalm 31
What do we learn from this Psalm in terms of “dealing with our feeling “?
1. We begin with the facts: We do have feelings! We are people created by God with emotions. David profoundly portrays his emotions in this Psalm. The emotions are therefore an important component of our humanity. Emotions and feelings in themselves are not sinful , and we will never be helped to cope with our emotions and feelings if we keep suppressing them or ignoring them . God does not resent us sharing our depth of despair with Him. And the emotion of Christian joy is meant to be an essential part of our Christian emotional experience. You cannot read through your New Testament without seeing that joy is an essential part of your Christian experience. And when the gospel comes to us , it engages us holistically - all of us – mind , will and emotions . So, dear Christian friend, thank God for those emotions and use them for the glory of God – as they were designed to be.
Having said that …
2. We remember that the fall (Gen 3) has affected us in all spheres of life, including the realm of our emotions and feelings. The fall has distorted our capacity to live holistically under God’s rule. David was a fallen man, living in a fallen world. Not only did he have to cope with his own sinful nature (v.10) – which would cause some of his emotional highs & lows ; he also had to cope with what was being done to him by his enemies( vv 6,11,18 ). Remember, that apart from God at the centre, we are confused about who we are , and we are confused about our purpose in life . Without God at the center the balance and the relationship between minds, will and emotion is lacking and confused. Frequently therefore, people will interpret life through their emotional framework. The opposite extreme to this is people who completely squash the emotions and insist that only the mind can be a reliable guide. But they forget that their mind is also affected by the fall. Both extremes are bound to lead you into emotional trouble. Therefore we need a biblical framework to cope with our entire being.
3. The solution: Bring the mind, will and the emotions under God and his Word. We are specifically interested in the aspect of the feelings. In this regard we must remember that our emotions / feelings are impacted and influenced by our life situation ( where we have come from) , our personality or temperament ( introvert or extrovert ) , our thoughts ( true and false ) and of course by our bodies ( sick / tired or healthy and fit ) . Nobody comes from, and nobody lives in ideal circumstances. Life in a fallen world throws us many “curve-balls“. We must be prepared for them . We must be realistic about these things . Remember that feelings, while they are real, must not control us. Our feelings are powerful stimuli to our thought life and consequently to our actions. They will easily control us. David felt as if he was a in a besieged city, and he felt cut off from God (21b, 22a). But it was not so! God was in control, and David gives testimony to the fact that he had been delivered in response to his prayer. The steadfast (covenantal) love of God did it! David’s feeling was wrong. He wasn’t cut off! Think about your own experiences in this regard . How many times did you not feel something strongly, and afterwards you find that you were wrong? Do not let your emotions rule you. They are not meant to rule you. What then must rule you? The truth contained in the Word of God as you apprehend it with your mind must rule you. The truth as it is in Jesus is God’s supreme gift to man. So you must never ask in the first place: How do I feel about this? The first question is this: What does God have to say about this ? What does the truth of God’s Word have to say about this? So , settle your disturbed soul first by settling the truth in your soul. That is precisely what David does. That may not necessarily produce an immediate feeling of peace or sense of joy. But be assured, that joy will come eventually as you make the right choices. Joy is a by-product of making right choices.
So , when your feelings and emotions are threatening to get hold of you , speak to yourself and say to yourself : “Who is in charge here ? “ And you tell yourself : “ God is in charge here ! “
David did that . He was in emotional distress , but his prayer expressed in Psalm 31 teaches us that he does not get lost in his emotions and feelings that come as a result of these terrible trials .
Yes , David does give free ventilation to his emotions . But he does so in the face of the God of truth , and by reminding himself of the truth . And so David places his confidence in the truthful God who hears Him – and who eventually answers him .
We have seen that this Psalm begins and ends with the thought of God .
And from our New Testament perspective with Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament we know that the peace of God comes only when we have Christ between us and God . He is our Mediator . He is our peace , our joy and our happiness , our life , our everything .
He went to the cross to bear your sin and guilt and shame . He came to meet all your needs : physical , emotional and spiritual . He is the Way, the Truth , the Life . Look to Him and not primarily to your feelings.
And now , let us demonstrate our faith in the finished word of Christ as we draw near to the Communion table , as we remember that Christ died for me , the whole of me . Draw near then in full assurance of faith . Amen .