A Psalm for the Downtrodden (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 17   |   Sunday, November 17, 2013   |   Code: 2013-11-17-PJ

      We turn to Psalm 17 for our study this morning. This psalm is a prayer to God, and its content suggests it was written during one of the outlaw periods of David's life, either when he was young and on the run from King Saul (who saw him as a threat and wanted him dead)—or it could also be from David's later life, when he was in exile after his son Absalom wrested the throne from him. David's public ministry was bookended by those times of severe affliction during which he was a fugitive, living under severe hardship, burdened with grief, and tormented by every conceivable tribulation. It was the polar opposite of life in the luxury of a royal palace.

      So this is the heart-cry of a downtrodden soul. The title simply identifies it as a prayer of David. And it is the outpouring of David's troubled heart from one of those difficult periods either near the beginning or near the end of his ministry.

      It reminds us that the best of saints often suffer the worst of sorrows, and when they do, it is right that they pour out their hearts to God in perfect, candor. The best prayers are honest and passionate expressions of earnest hearts—and that is true whether the heart is full of rejoicing, or in severe distress. There's never any encouragement in Scripture to stifle our frustrations and disappointments when we come to God in prayer. If there's one time we can be totally transparent, it's when we pray, because God already knows our hearts. And He encourages us to come boldly and pour out our hearts to Him the way a little child would come to a tender, loving father.

      One thing that is instantly obvious to anyone in ministry is that there are a lot of downtrodden people. There are people right in this room who bear unimaginable sorrows. People who struggle with grief and pain and physical affliction; loneliness and despair and overwhelming discouragement; hurts and disappointments—depression and heartache—and troubles of all kinds. Here is a prayer for such people.

      I'm not the type of person who struggles much with melancholy. The Lord has blessed me with a generally cheerful nature. But there are times when I do get gloomy and discouraged—usually when deadlines loom and my workload begin to become overwhelming. That happens at least three or four times a year. So I do know what despondency and discouragement feel like, and I know that a feeling of depression can become an overwhelming, energy-draining burden. In fact, in my experience, a depressed state of mind is one of the most difficult of all burdens to bear. If we're not careful, we get even more depressed about the fact that we are depressed, and life starts to look bleaker and bleaker. The weight of that burden just crushes hope and snuffs out the fire of life. Some of you know exactly what I am talking about.

      David was in that state of mind when he wrote this psalm. Whether this was written early, when he was on the run from Saul, or later, when he was in hiding from his own son, Absalom, he was suffering from the loss of everything that was rightfully his. Those two periods, at the beginning and at the end of his career, had a lot in common. Both times, people who should have supported him, abandoned him. He was cut off from home, family, and friends. He was living the life of an outcast and a vagabond, suffering public disgrace and dishonor that he did not deserve. He was lonely, and disconsolate, and heartbroken. It seemed like his life was disintegrating. In such a state of mind, most of us are tempted to brood and pout. David always turned instead to prayer.

      And this psalm is the result. Actually, it is one of many prayers David recorded while struggling with depression and resentment. And I'm glad so many of these prayers are included in God's Word. I find they're a better tonic than a hundred counseling sessions. Because they show us the way through our miseries. The psalmists never fail to rise above the troubles and refocus our vision on something better, and that is the case with this psalm. It's a wonderful model of prayer—in its candor, its simplicity, its brevity, and its passion. It is full of wonderfully rich lessons about the God to whom we pray.

      Remember that David was a man after God's own heart, and his prayers are probably the best barometer of what that means. He lays his heart bare when he comes before the throne of grace. If you want to understand what it means to be a man or a woman after God's own heart, look at the heart of the psalmist as it is revealed in his prayers.

      This one has four stanzas, and each one is a unique plea. We'll let the stanzas themselves be our outline, and we'll look at them one at a time. The first is:


1. Hear me (vv. 1-4)

      David opens with a cry for God to listen to his plea. Notice how three times in the first verse alone he pleads for God to hear him:

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!

2 From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right!

3 You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.

4 With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

Notice several things about this. First, it is a cry. It is the spontaneous outpouring of a troubled and agitated heart. It's urgent; it's emotional; it's earnest; it's an expression David could not keep bottled up.

      This is not a rehearsed oration. He's not reciting something he had written ahead of time. He's not trying to impress the Lord with eloquence. He isn't aiming for literary style. He is deeply troubled and distressed, and it is the bitterness and pain of those feelings that compels him to cry out to God. Spurgeon said, "A cry is a brief thing, and a bitter thing. A cry has in it much meaning, and no music. You cannot set a cry to music. The sound grates on the ear, it rasps the heart, it startles, and it grieves the minds of those who hear it. Cries are not for musicians, but for mourners."

      A cry is the most natural expression in the world. It doesn't require any special skill or eloquence. It's the first sound we make as infants; it's the most basic way of letting our needs be made known. A cry is full of passion, not ornate language. It's earnest rather than elegant. And that is how all our praying ought to be. The point is to open our hearts honestly to God. We're not trying to achieve a flowery literary style.

      This was the kind of cry that could not be suppressed—and for that reason it is notable for its honesty. In verse 1, David says it comes "from lips free of deceit!" Unlike the public prayers of the Pharisees—unlike too many of our prayers—this one is sincere and truthful and as straightforward as possible.

      He pleads with God to hear his cause because he is convinced it is just. Before coming to God with this prayer, David had already examined his heart and cleared his conscience. These are issues he has obviously brought before the Lord before—perhaps again and again. And he pleads his own uprightness (v. 3): "You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing."

      This is not an expression of pharisaical self-righteousness. David is not claiming that he is utterly free from sin in every respect. He's merely saying that in this instance the troubles that have befallen him are through no fault of his own. There's no conscious hypocrisy or careless taint of wickedness in his prayer. He has examined his heart; in fact, he says God has visited him in the night and examined his heart and brought nothing to light. Whatever the reason for David's misfortunes, it was not brought upon him because of some hidden sin or unconfessed transgression. David had done the hard work of self-examination before he ever brought this petition before the Lord, and his own heart and conscience were clear before the Lord.

      In fact (verse 3), he says: "I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent." Although he might have been tempted to lash back at his enemies, or complain about his circumstances, or murmur against God, or otherwise employ insult or abuse or some other verbal assault in return for the treatment he had received—he had not done that. He had purposed not to let this trial cause him to sin with his mouth, and with the help of God's Word he had been faithful to that pledge.

      But now he could no longer keep silence, so he calls out with this prayer that is really a cry—an outburst of passion. And he pleads with God to hear Him.

      This is significant. What do most of us do when we feel depressed, or weighed down with troubles, or when we start feeling like an outcast? It is a sinful tendency of us all to want to broadcast the complaint—to talk to other people, sometimes as many other people as possible—and seek their sympathy first of all. We can't wait to go to our Bible-study group and pour out our complaints during prayer-request time.

      Now there's nothing wrong with seeking help from others when we are carrying a heavy burden. But that's not the first remedy we should seek. We should do what David did, and take those complaints to the Lord, first.

      In fact, here's a great lesson to learn from David's example in this psalm: While you are seeking the support and encouragement of others, save your complaining for God alone, in your private prayer life. You can be as honest with Him as you like. Pray as David did from an unfeigned heart, and you can be sure God will hear your prayer.


      Stanza 2, starting with verse 5. David's second petition:


2. Hold me (vv. 5-7)

      Here is more evidence that David's plea in verses 3-4 is not a self-righteous boast. He acknowledges that the only way he can keep from sinning is by the Lord's power:

My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.

6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.

7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.

David knows he lacks the stability to walk the path without slipping. So He pleads with the Lord to hold him—to keep him from slipping.

      He's acknowledging God as his Savior (verse 7)—the "Savior of [all] those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand." Not only has God saved him from sin, he acknowledges that God alone can save him from his enemies. Listen to Psalm 33:16-20:

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.

17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,

19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

There's an implicit acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God in all of this. David expresses his conviction that God has the power to save Him from his enemies. He seems to have full confidence that God will ultimately save him.

      So what does that say about the fact that for now, those enemies have the upper hand? David realizes that God in His sovereignty has permitted this. He has a purpose in it. And only God can direct his steps through the midst of it. Verse 5 in the King James and New King James Versions is translated as a plea: "Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip." I like that translation. It's a prayer request, not a boast. David recognizes how dependent he is on God's grace. Unless God himself upholds our steps, our fee will slide.

      And then in verse 6 the psalmist expresses confidence that God will hear him. "I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God." But just the same, he prays once more for the Lord to listen: "Incline your ear to me; hear my words." "Hear me," he prays. Then "Hold me." Here's a third plea (verse 8):


3. Hide Me (vv. 8-12)

      He seeks both protection and comfort from the Lord:

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,

9 from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.

11 They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.

12 He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.

David's situation was desperate. His enemies had him surrounded (verse 11). They were like a hungry lion that had tracked him, cornered him, and now they were crouching, ready to pounce. David was probably holed up in a cave, just out of sight. And so he prays for the Lord's protection.

      I love this expression, "Keep me as the apple of your eye." My dad used to tell my mom she was the apple of his eye, and I wondered what it meant. I always thought it had something to do with a shiny red apple that he had his eye on because it looked good—or something like that.

      But that's not the idea. He's speaking about the eye itself. The eyeball. It's actually even more specific than that in the Hebrew. It's a reference to the pupil—the black spot in the center of your eye. The Hebrew word is an expression that means "the little man." It's literally, "keep me as the little man of your eye." Here's something you may never have noticed: If you look into someone else's eye, right into the pupil, and look very carefully into the dead center, you'll see yourself reflected back in a miniature mirror image. So if you look in the pupil, it actually looks like there's a little man in there looking out at you. So in the Hebrew language, the pupil was known as the "little man" of the eye.

      So David says, protect me like the pupil of your eye. That's one of the most tender, most delicate, and most sensitive parts of the human body. And because of that, God has built into us a series of defense mechanisms to protect our eyes. First of all, the eye socket itself is surrounded by bone. Your eye is set back into your head so that your cheekbone protects it from below and your forehead protects it from above. It is further protected by eyelashes and eyelids. And there's always a thin film of tears to lubricate and protect it, too. It's so sensitive that it feels the tiniest dust particle. There aren't many other body parts that would be sensitive enough to feel a microscopic speck.

      But the remarkable thing is the reflex that causes you to blink when anything comes close to your eye. It's almost an involuntary reflex, and it is the quickest reflex you have. The blink of an eye. Your natural human instinct is to protect your eyes no matter what. If you wear contact lenses, you probably know what I mean. When I started wearing contacts in college, it was very hard for me to learn to stick something in my eye. To this day, I have to hold my eyelids open in order to get my contacts in. If I tried to insert a lens without forcing my eyelids open, I can't do it. The urge to blink is too powerful.

      David is pleading with God to protect him the way a man protects the pupil of his eye—without delay, without hesitation, the moment the threat of danger appears, reflexively, swiftly—in the blink of an eye.

      And then he switches metaphors (second half of verse 8): "Hide me in the shadow of your wings." That speaks of the protection a bird, like an eagle, would give its young. It evokes the idea of shelter, warmth, hiding. David is asking that God not only hide him from his enemies; but he also wants a place where he can hide so that he doesn't have to see the threat they pose to him. He doesn't want them to find him; but more important, I think he wants to be sheltered from having to see them or think about them. He'd prefer to be like a baby bird under its mother's wings—unaware of and unconcerned about the dangers that hover overhead.

      I can certainly relate to that, can you? It's one thing to turn your worries over to the Lord by faith; it's another thing to really be rid of those worries, to forget about our concerns so that we are truly and genuinely "anxious for nothing." We quote these verses: 1 Peter 5:7 ("Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.") and Philippians 4:6 ("Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.") But I think we all have a sinful tendency to want to hang on to our anxieties, as if we don't really trust the Lord to be concerned enough on our behalf.

      So David prayed that God would shelter him in a way that kept him hidden from those who sought to trouble him, and kept them hidden from him as well.

      This was a huge request, because David was at that very moment surrounded by enemies (v. 9)—"deadly enemies who surround me."

      And look at verse 10: "They close their hearts to pity." The literal Hebrew expression says, "They are enclosed in their own fat." Smug, self-satisfied, self-sufficient—from a human perspective David's enemies seemed to have the upper hand against him. Their hearts were callous and fat and totally closed off—hostile toward David. They wanted only to destroy him. They had chased him until he could run no further, and their hearts were set on his destruction. Now he desperately needed God's help.

      And that is his fourth supplication:


4. Help Me (vv. 13-15)

      This petition brings us to the real point of David's prayer. It is a desperate plea for God's help.

Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,

14 from men by your hand, O LORD, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Several things to notice about this: first, we see David's great faith even in a seemingly hopeless situation. He has just described how his enemy had surrounded him and was crouching like a lion ready to pounce. Now we see that he has complete confidence that the Lord can deliver him out of even so hopeless a situation.

      The Lord wields a sword that no wickedness can stand against. In fact, on second thought, the Lord doesn't need a sword (v. 14); he can deliver David with nothing but his hand.

      Second, notice how David describes his enemies as men whose vision is totally earth-bound. They "have their portion in this life." They are rich with treasure, and their houses are filled with children. And they have received these blessings from God. But they don't see beyond the earthly value of the blessings. Verse 14, "they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants." They are planning how to divide the family estate among their children. That is as far into the future as they can see. They have thought no further ahead than that. All their hopes and expectations are tied to this life and this temporal world. They are utter worldlings, with no hope of heaven and no concern about eternity. In that myopic vision lies the seed of all their wickedness. They are infatuated with this world, and therefore they are enemies of God.

      David's worldview is totally different. And verse 15 is one of my favorite verses in all Scripture: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness." My hope is beyond this life and beyond this world. What I am looking for is something that will not come in this life. I will be satisfied, but not until I awaken with your likeness. The center of his greatest hope and longing was something that could only be realized only in eternity. It's not something that pertains to this life. And therefore it is not something that can be shaken by the troubles of this life.

      This is the climax and the culmination of David's prayer. This is the real and ultimate answer to his frustrations. See, it's true that God was able to deliver him from his troubles. It's true that God had the power to thwart his enemies' murderous plans. God could solve his earthly problems once and for all. But you know what? If that happened, it would still not be as satisfying as the ultimate thing David longed for. And even if it didn't happen, the day would certainly come when David beheld God's face in righteousness and awoke in His likeness—and that would more than compensate for all the temporal troubles David was enduring.

      Here is an anchor for any believer who is downcast: Keep your center of focus in eternity. Don't be distracted by the anguish and hardship of this life. A time is coming when all of that will be done away, and we will be perfectly and eternally satisfied. Cling to that hope.

      Hope is the biblical term for this perspective on life. When Paul lists faith, hope, and love as the three supreme virtues, this forward-looking expectation is what he means by hope.

      When we use the word hope, we're often speaking about a vague desire that may or may not be fulfilled—and probably won't. You know: for a lot of people the idea of "hope" is tied up in the vain wish that they might one day win the lottery. Or you might occasionally even hear someone like me say, "I hope the Cubs have a winning season." Maybe that kind of hope will be realized—but it probably won't be. That's actually a corruption of the biblical concept of hope.

      In its biblical sense the word hope means something sure and steadfast—and that was the original connotation of the word. It is a sure and certain expectation. The true meaning of "hope" is filled with assurance and certainty and conviction. Notice how emphatic David is (v. 15): "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness." There's confidence and security in those words. That is what Scripture means by hope.

      And here's the amazing thing about this prayer: It started out as a prayer for help. It ends up as an expression of hope. While David was praying, his help came. In Isaiah 65:24, God makes this promise: "It will . . . come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear." That is exactly what happened here. While David was praying for help, the help came.

      But it didn't come in the form he might have envisioned. It wasn't a miraculous deliverance from his earthly troubles. The clouds didn't open for a bolt of lightning to consume David's adversaries. The crisis wasn't swept away. But something even better happened: The Lord used this prayer to refocus David's heart. Then He filled him with a supernatural hope and confidence that lifted him above those problems.

      Some of you might be saying, "Well, that's not the kind of answer to my prayer I want. I want the Lord to take the problems out of my life. I'd rather be rid of the problems than to be filled with hope in the midst of them."

      Then you don't appreciate the power of this sort of hope. This is a greater deliverance than deliverance from an external enemy. It was a spiritual deliverance from David's own fear and frustration. It was an uplifting, energizing baptism of hope and earnest anticipation. It focused David's vision where he needed to be focused: on eternal things, on the assurance of ultimate victory, on the confidence of a final outcome that would make all of this worthwhile.

      And as David clung to that hope, his fear and frustration were overwhelmed with confidence, and gratitude, and a wonderful spirit of assurance and reliance on the Lord.

      This kind of hope is a panacea for human woes. No matter what kind of depression or anxiety or fear or distress you suffer, here is the cure: fix your gaze into eternity and set your hope on the assurance that a time will come when you will see the face of God Himself in righteousness, and you will bear the perfect likeness of Christ.

      The apostle John wrote of this hope. First John 3:2-3: "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."

      If you struggle with sinful thoughts, evil imaginations, fears, doubts, worries, depression, anxiety, or other sins related to a downcast heart, here is the answer: fix your hope on the guarantee of that future triumph, and you will find it has a purifying effect.

      Notice five things about hope—this virtue that keeps us gazing into eternity:

      1. It is the cure for envy. David contrasts himself (verse 14) with "men of the world whose portion is in this life [filled] with treasure . . . satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants."

      Here are men who have every kind of earthly blessing you could crave. They have treasure; they have children; they have more than they will ever need, so their greatest worry is how to divide the legacy between the kids. Sounds like a secure and comfortable life, right?

      Wrong. It's emptiness. These men "have their portion in this life." That is their portion. That's the only bequest they will receive from the Lord. It's all temporal. It's all earthly. Moth and rust will eventually eat it away to nothing, and within a few generations, it will all be forgotten. It counts for nothing in eternity.

      These men are like the rich man in the story of Lazarus in the afterlife. Remember? In this life, that rich man "was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." He had every worldly thing he could ever want, and he was satisfied with it. He didn't know the Lord; he didn't care about eternity, and he didn't care about the righteous man Lazarus outside his gate, covered with sores, who was so poor that he would eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. But instead, those scraps were given to dogs, and Lazarus's only earthly comfort was that those dogs licked his sores. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? He was as miserable and downtrodden in this life as it is possible to be.

      But in the afterlife, it was a completely different picture. Lazarus was exalted—carried into Abraham's bosom. In other words, he was given the place of highest honor at Abraham's table. And the rich man was reduced to begging for a drop of water in hell.

      That's how it would be with David's enemies. David does not envy these men. He doesn't seek what they have and wish it was his. His focus is set on eternity, and it cured him from the tendency to covet earthly things.

      Have you ever found yourself fantasizing about what you would do if someone gave you a winning lottery ticket? You plan how you would spend the money, and you entertain yourself with imaginary thoughts about what it would be like to be rich?

      That's not a healthy fantasy to indulge in. It's covetousness. Next time you catch yourself thinking that way, remind yourself that as a believer in Christ, you have an even greater hope. And it's a certainty, not a wish, like winning the lottery. You will see God's face in righteousness. You will awake with his likeness. That's what will truly satisfy you. If you want to feed your mind with thoughts of what it would be like to be rich, feast on the hope of what will surely be yours in eternity. It's a great cure for covetousness. Second,

      2. It's a cure for fear. No longer is David fearful of what his foes might do to him. What is the absolute worst they could do? Kill him? Then he would awaken satisfied.

      Could they torture him and cause him earthly pain? For awhile, yes. But he was guaranteed an eternity of perfect blessing. Psalm 118:6: "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?" Psalm 56:4: "In God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me." Psalm 3:5-6: "The LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about." The psalms are full of similar expressions. Listen to Psalm 27:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2  When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

3  Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

How could David, in so many desperate situations, rise above his fear? Because he clung to an eternal hope that overwhelmed all temporal fear. Hope is a great cure for fear. Third,

      3. It's a cure for doubt. Listen to his confidence: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness." I am certain. I know this will happen, no matter what else happens to me here on earth. This much is sure: I will behold thy face; I shall be satisfied. You can hear the hope in David as it overpowers and erases all doubt and uncertainty about his future. Fourth:

      It's a cure for depression. Nothing lifts me out of depression faster than some careful reflection about the promises God has made about an eternity where there will be no more tears or sorrow or crying or pain. Romans 8:22-23: "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." But, verse 24: "We are saved by hope." Now, "hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? In other words, if you insist on seeing the fulfillment of these promises before you lay hold of them, then you forfeit the virtue of hope. One of the reasons God delays His help is for this merciful and gracious purpose: he wants us to learn the blessing of hope. Verse 25: "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

      So hope is the cure for envy; it is the cure for fear; it is the cure for doubt; it is the cure for depression; and finally,

      5. It's a cure for frustration. Notice how in the brief course of this short prayer, David has moved from frustration to perfect satisfaction. He begins by pleading with God to hear as he sets forth what he is convinced is a just cause. He is frustrated by the injustice of the undeserved calamity that has surrounded him. But by the end of the prayer, he is satisfied by the undeserved blessing that will be his in eternity.

      We see this same pattern in lots of the psalms. David often begins with a tone of frustration and anxiety, only to end with an expression of confidence that stems from solid hope. What changed? Was it David's circumstances? No, it was only his perspective. In the beginning, his own troubles filled his vision, and that was all he could see. But in the process of his prayer, God refocused his vision, so that he could see more clearly, further into the future, and anchor his soul in the promise of the ultimate, so that he could let go of the frustration of that which is merely immediate.

      Such a hope is only possible through Christ, because He redeemed us from sin and secured the hope of heaven on our behalf. If heaven were a reward for my own righteousness—something I needed to earn by my own merit through good works, my life would be dominated by an oppressive sense of dread—"a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries." Because, frankly, I know I don't deserve heaven. If (as Jesus taught) "You . . . must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"; if the only standard God approves is perfect righteousness; if (as James says) "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point [is guilty of] all"—then I would be doomed. My own heart would confirm that verdict.

      But heaven is the sure hope of all who believe because Christ met that standard of absolute perfection, and he died to pay the price of sin so that believers, united with him by faith, could be covered by his righteousness. That is the gospel: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). And 1 Peter 1:3: "According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope."

      That very hope is what David was expressing in our psalm. Romans 8:24: "in this hope we were saved."

      If you lack that hope, you need to lay hold of Christ by faith. And if you are in Christ but feeling the weight of this world's troubles, you need "to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul." That's Hebrews 6:18-19, and it describes precisely what this psalm celebrates: the hope of eternal redemption that stands as a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul—even in times of the worst earthly distress. Remember that, and let your mind go to that truth every time you find yourself burdened by the cares of this life. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." That hope is the cure for life's troubles, and it points us to the true satisfaction of all our desires. That glorious moment will come when I awake in the Lord's presence, with my heart and soul and mind and will all perfectly conformed to His likeness. And I shall be satisfied with that forever. That puts all the troubles of this life in perspective, doesn't it? "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."