This is a Psalm of King David, who was a good example of an Old Testament saint who waited for the Messiah to come.
Doctor Martin Luther said, “The life of a saint is more a taking from God than a giving; more a desiring than a having; more a becoming pious than a being pious.”
Luther understood this well, even though it goes against our fleshly common sense. We want to think that if we are Christians, we have made it. We have our lives together. We are obedient and righteous. But the true sense of the Christian life is one of lack. We do not have righteousness in ourselves. Instead, we are seeking it from God. We are not filled with all we need, but we hunger for it, as the Beatitudes describe us.
So we saints, just like David, are constantly crying out to God in our great need. “Hear my prayer! Give ear to my supplications because of Your faithfulness!” Notice that David, like us, does not appeal to God because of his faithfulness. We do not achieve the right to pray and be heard by the Lord because of our steadfast virtues. Instead, it is because of God’s mercy and grace that we appeal to Him. He has promised us that He hears, and so we hold Him to His promise. We will never be disappointed.
Trusting God’s faithfulness is crucial for us as well as the saints of old. David was constantly harassed by enemies who persecuted his soul. This probably means not only the enemies who physically attacked him, but also spiritual oppressors. These are the proud people of all ages who oppose the saints. By their own carnal wisdom and show of self-righteousness, they cause us trouble. They try to force us to respect their prideful religion. They want us to see them as the lofty, exalted ones because they make an outward appearance of goodness. Those who will not hold them in high esteem, they in turn will slander, reject, despise, and try to put down with every power in their disposal.
But the saints only want to live in the grace of Christ. They want to look to Him in every need, no matter how difficult that is because the world constantly hates them and dishonors them. The saint does not pridefully boast of his own works. On the contrary, the saint thinks himself to be foolish and sinful. That is why the saint is constantly begging the Lord to receive the righteousness that only comes from the Redeemer of mankind.
Yet because of the tortures of the prideful self-righteous ones, the true saints are often miserable in this life. We stretch out our hands to God, as David says. Our soul thirsts for Him like a parched land. Make haste to answer me, O Lord! My spirit fails!
For an Old Testament saint like David, this longing and thirsting for God’s righteousness extended also to the desire for the Messiah’s coming. Until He arrived, God’s promises were as yet unfulfilled. The righteousness that would be fulfilled in the Son of Man had not yet been completed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus our dear Lord. So the saints of old remembered and clung tightly to God’s Word and eagerly desired the coming of the promised One.
In their lives they were constantly growing tired and frustrated. They struggled and often failed at the hard path set before them. Yet they lifted up their hearts to the Lord and called on Him to rescue them speedily.
That is what our lives are like. We are not supposed to have everything under control as if our lives are nothing but happiness. When you are weak and feel downtrodden and hopeless, do not therefore say, “I must be lost because God has abandoned me!” No, this is what is to be expected because it is what the lives of the saints are like. So cry out to God in such times, “Hide not Your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love.” We pray that He send help quickly to us because we are constantly at the end of our strength.
The Lord seems to leave us in our weakness and distress much longer than we think He should. But He knows best. Sometimes He allows us to suffer and be tired and depressed because we need to learn to depend on Him and call out to Him in our weakness. That is why we are not the triumphant saints on earth that are always winning. Instead, we are the downtrodden saints who pray fervently to God to come swiftly to us.
Unlike David, we do not wait for Messiah to come in Bethlehem. But we do await His coming here in the Service of the Word. We await His coming on clouds of glory to end all distress and weakness. So we eagerly await those things and pray for them urgently.
David also says, “Teach me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” This phrase, to lift up the soul, indicates the action of turning over the soul and offering it up to God. We submit to Him and His ways, rather than protecting ourselves and only doing those things that we feel are safe. No, we saints are learning to obey God even when it is dangerous. The path God leads us upon often wins us the persecution of men and the enmity of satan. We could try to preserve our life by pulling away from obedience to God. But in trying to preserve our life, we would lose it. Therefore the Spirit must hold us upon the level path of doing God’s will. He must teach us, lest our cowardly old Adam hides from God’s voice.
As we pray that God rescue us, it is not only on the last Day and in the Divine Service that He rescues. Sometimes, He improves and protects our lives here on earth. He preserves us and brings us out of trouble. For He does not hide His kindly, gracious face from us forever. Although we may suffer long, He will bring relief at the right time. As He has already cut off our enemies at the cross and destroyed our adversaries at the empty tomb, so He will also, in this life, curb the wrath of those who want to destroy us.
And here is the bottom line, at the end of the Psalm: “I am Your servant.” David makes this claim, and we make it as well, since the Psalm is not only David’s but also ours. We surely could not compare to David in courage and obedience in the face of horrendous persecution as he was hunted for his life. We do not stand before giants to slay them. But even David would say to the Lord, “I am unworthy to be Your servant, yet that is what You have made me nonetheless.”
We also rightly say, “What, me? Am I a servant of the most high God? Surely not me, with all my foolishness and sinfulness. Without God’s grace, there is no good in me at all!” This is most certainly true of us all.
But God does not look at us except in His grace. He sees us through the Blood and obedience of His Son. He considers us only in the image of the great Servant who suffered for us. Therefore He names us worthy servants only because His righteousness declares it so.
Woe to you if you consider that you are a worthy servant! Perhaps a person might think about their life and see the good works that God has done in him and say, “See! I am doing very well! God must be proud of me because of all my obedience!” But that person has become self-righteous. Instead, if we should do all things commanded of us (unlikely as that may be), then we should say, “We are unworthy servants.”
But since God declares us worthy in Christ, we may boast of that incredible grace! We boast in Christ, not ourselves. In this way David says, “I am Your servant,” to God, as if David was reminding God so He would not forget.
We are far more likely to forget than God. So our boasting in Christ is more for our benefit. We remind God in order to remind ourselves. So we remember that God will not abandon us forever. He will not really abandon us at all, although it may seem that way for a time. No, He is always mindful of us. He values us, His servants. He thinks of our welfare and sees when we are in distress.
So we pray to God, not to wake our deity from His slumber. He is never asleep at the wheel, so to speak. No, we call upon a loving Father who will always act in love for us and work everything out for good. For He is our Lord, who has come for us, and will most certainly come to us with mercy and grace when we need it.
In His Name and to His glory. Amen.
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