Psalm 31 - Lead me, guide me

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For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1) In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2) Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3) Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4) Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5) Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

6) I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7) I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8) You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

9) Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10) My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
11) Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12) I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13) For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.

14) But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15) My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16) Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17) Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18) Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

19) How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20) In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.

21) Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
22) In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

23) Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24) Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31 (NRSV*)
9th Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, verses 1-5, 19-24
6th Sunday of Lent - Liturgy of the Passion, verses 9-16
Holy Saturday, verses 9-16
5th Sunday of Easter, verses 1-5, 15-16
Proper 4, Sunday between May 29 and June 4, Year A, verses 1-5, 19-24

Lead me, guide me, along the way,
for if you lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with thee;
Lead me, O Lord, lead me.

The words of the familiar hymn express both a prayer and the hope that God will be our guide, and a testimony that God's guidance is sure.

"Guidance" does not say the half of it. The person praying says "I am in distress," that there is a trap laid for them, that they receive the "utter contempt" their neighbors, their friends avoid being being with them. "I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery," discarded as worthless, useless.

The Lord's guidance may be sure, but it is not always easy. Sometimes we follow the Lord into the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes our attempts to do justice earn us the enmity of others. Whatever anguish and affliction being suffered is magnified by the rejection of those who are (were?) our community. Aside from those things which directly threaten life, or inflict significant physical pain, rejection is the most serious problem we can face. No one truly exists alone. We are social creatures. As a matter of history and of scripture, "it is not good" for humans to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Even when cut off from their supports, the one praying these words is reaching out for the One who will listen. "You heard my cry for mercy," we say to the Lord, still in distress but not without hope. "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord." While the psalm is a plea for help, it is also a testimony of hope.

In Christian churches, this psalm is read in connection to Easter, because it contains a verse spoken by Jesus from the cross: "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (in the Gospel according to Luke 23:46). That evokes a particular meaning within the drama of Jesus' death and resurrection.

But we might read it as words for ourselves. "Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God."

If we are going to ask the Lord to light our way, to lead us, if we are going to trust God's to guidance, is there any reason not to go "all in"?

We are accustomed to hedging out bets, to trusting God a little bit, maybe at times a bit more. But this is God, the One whose love is unfailing. How about we take a deep breath and trust 100%? Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Paul Stafford, A guide leading a hike through Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Credit: Used under (CC BY 2.0).
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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