Our times are in God’s hands
(Psalm 31 / March 22, 2020)
The early years of adulthood can be difficult to navigate, and that was certainly true in my case. I think I was twenty-one when I first met with a Christian counselor. I remember him drawing two concentric circles on the whiteboard, and what he said next has stayed with me ever since.
The first circle he drew was very large in size. This he labeled our “area of concern”. The second circle was much smaller than the first, and he drew it within the larger circle. “This circle,” he told me, “represents our “area of control.” He added, “People get out of sorts when these two areas become confused.”
If, for example, two people get divorced, the concern we have for them is valid and real. But if we react to them from our circle of control, our emotions tend to get out of hand. Think of how much fear, anger, anxiety, and despair we create for ourselves by trying to control matters that are uncontrollable. Children cannot control their parents’ marriage, and parents cannot control their children’s marriage. While at times we may wish we could, this is something that lies in our area of concern.
Now take a moment and think about your own life. Which struggles of the past did you mistakenly place into your area of control when in reality they were part of your area of concern? Think also of your present life. Which matters are under your control, and are you doing something about them?
If you’re honest with yourself, a great deal of what bothers you about life lies in your area of concern. You and I cannot control what happens with the Coronavirus. Nor will we determine when it will end. While we can practice social distancing and wash our hands (an area of our control), we can’t individually force our district’s schools to stay open or worship services to be held.
Then you think about the stock market. If there is ever an area of life that is outside our control it is the arena of world economics. How one reacts to its ups and downs will depend much on which area he or she has placed their financial hopes and dreams into. To be sure, there is an area of control when it comes to retirement planning. But it is very small. Much larger is the area of concern that hopes our financial portfolio remains sound.
The most humbling lesson of life is that you are just you. I don’t say that in a pejorative tone of voice, but the sooner we embrace this truth, the better off we will be. We are just finite humans, and as such, so much of life happens beyond the limits of our humanity. Yes, we can put a man on the moon. Yes, we can create vaccines that cure new viruses. But which man has ever been able to overcome the evil in his own heart, much less tame the terrible evil of his tongue?
King David was a mighty warrior King. When we read about his heroic courage in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel, it is easy to see why the Bible lauds him as Israel’s greatest king apart from Christ. Much of it has to do with his understanding of which things were within his control and which things remained entirely under God’s control.
For example, David understood that the battle against Goliath was the Lord’s to fight and not his. He did fight, but he knew God would give him the victory.
When King Saul tried to kill him, David likewise knew that his future rested in God’s hands and not his own (1 Samuel 24). He could have killed Saul on one occasion, but he spared his life not wanting to lay a hand on the Lord’s Anointed.
And when his own son, Absalom, took over the kingdom through a coup d’état, David said, “If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes he will bring me back … But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you, then I am ready, let him do to me whatever seems good to him” (2 Samuel 15:25-26).
We don’t know the occasion that prompted David’s writing of Psalm 31. Was it when he feared for his life at the hands of Saul or when his own son Absalom tried to kill him? Probably the latter. Regardless, Psalm 31 expresses David’s sturdy trust as he places his very life into the LORD’s hands.
Notice that David begins with a declaration of confidence. “In you, LORD, I have taken refuge” (v. 1). Our God is a mighty fortress (Psalm 46), and when we stand within his fortified walls, we are safe from danger. Indeed, we could even say that God’s fortress is his “area of control”. But unlike our area of control, God’s circle is not tiny in size; rather, it encompasses all of life.
God mercifully controls all things in heaven and on earth. Nothing happens beyond his watchful eye. If it is true that not even the sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will (Matthew 10:29), we can be certain that the current virus is under his all-knowing control.
So, the question for us is not whether God is on top of things. He is. The question is how does that translate into our own peace of mind so that we can let go of our own control and be content to say, “Thy will be done”?
The answer is through faith and prayer. Faith is the entrance into God’s walled fortress, and prayer is the way we tap into God’s peace whenever we find ourselves momentarily shaken by life’s events.
Notice how David himself turns to faith and prayer for his own inner peace. The entire psalm is characterized by alternating trust and petition. In verses 4-8, for example, we see David’s confidence (faith).
“Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth. I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the LORD. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.”
Why does David have such confidence in God? Because of verse 3. “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name you will lead me and guide me.”
David is not confident that God will save him because he is without sin. That much is obvious when we read the following psalm. Psalm 32 is a psalm of repentance where David admits his guilt and hides nothing from the LORD. But having confessed his sin, David then lives in the joy of God’s forgiveness. He knows that he has been redeemed (bought back) by God.
A special feature of this psalm that sets it apart is the fact that Jesus used the words “Into your hands I commit my spirit” as his own prayer on the cross (Luke 23:46). Many Christians, from Stephen (Acts 7:59) to the present day, have adopted this prayer as their own when they think of death. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:12 also reflect the spirit of this prayer:
“I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
When we are afraid we can confidently entrust our souls and our children’s souls into our Father’s hands.
His hands, after all, are much bigger than your hands. That is why he is able to come to your rescue. It is also why we remain safe despite the many dangers around us. God’s hands are his fortress. They are an impenetrable wall against Satan. God’s hands are also the source of his salvation. Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced for your sins and mine. Can God then ever forget about you? If his hands were pierced for you, is it really possible for you to escape his loving gaze? He sees his hands, after all, every day in heaven. Even in heaven Jesus retains his body so that for all of time both he and we can know “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
And the apostle John reminds us: “The blood of Jesus ... purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).
Since you are purified, God is not angry with you. If you do happen to get the Coronavirus, know that God is not angry with you. And if the market crashes and you do lose your savings, know that God is not angry with you. And if (God forbid) you lose your job due to all the businesses closing, know for a fact that God is not angry with you.
But if your conscience does bother you, confess that sin to God, and be done with it. For he has already punished that sin on the cross, and therefore he is not out to “get you”. He is present to protect and comfort you.
So, as God’s redeemed children we say with David, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15). Would we really want it any other way? When we think of how small our area of control is in comparison to our area of concern, would we want it any other way? God’s areas of control and concern are one and the same. There is nothing that concerns him which he cannot control.
So, relax. Take precautions. Do the necessary things that are within your control to keep you and your family safe. And then pray. Pray that God will give you the confidence King David had in God’s promises. Then praise God. Praise him for having taken you into the fortress of his love through faith. And then worship him. Worship him because although you are just a man or a woman, you are not alone. God, who has no limits, and whose love knows no bounds, is your God! Blessed be his holy name. Amen.