Like A Broken Vessel

Psalm 31

This is a psalm of David. This is a psalm written by the man, who, with one tiny stone set in his little slingshot, killed the mighty Philistine, Goliath. This psalm was written by the man who as a shepherd was victorious over lions and bears as he protected his sheep. This is a psalm written by a man who miraculously escaped several plots to take his life, one of which was orchestrated by the king of his own country. This is a psalm that was written by a man who was and is highly regarded by the Jews as someone who was extremely close to the heart of God, and who was a model of faithfulness and integrity. If David were alive today, we would probably have put him on television on a show called “Victorious Christian Living.” David is one of the heroes of the faith, in spite of the fact that we also know that he was a great and terrible sinner. Our Lord Jesus Christ is descended from the blood line of David, and so in the Christian faith, David takes on added status in our minds as a man specially chosen by God to begin a royal dynasty that will never end.

And yet, in this psalm, as David pens the words, he is feeling anything but victorious or wonderful or great. In fact, he’s feeling completely miserable, lost, rejected, ignored, and broken. He’s in really rough shape, he’s suffering terribly, his body, his mind, and his spirit all seem to be rebelling against him, and worse than anything, it doesn’t seem to be a temporary condition that he’s going to snap out of any time soon. It doesn’t seem like he’s on the verge of just perking up and getting better. He’s not about to claim victory over his troubles and get on with the business of life. He just can’t smile and face the world right now.

And it seems like he’s already been in this depressed condition for quite some time now. In verse ten, David says, “My life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing, my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” This is serious stuff, he’s in a really bad way.

And true to human nature, nobody wants to be around a person in this condition. David is keenly aware that his enemies are having a hey-day with this. His enemies are loving it; they’re laughing, he can just about hear them saying, “Serves him right, the old cuss, he’s getting what he deserves, let’s hope he dies soon and we’ll be done with him.”

But probably the most hurtful thing to him is that even his friends and neighbors are avoiding him like the plague. And can we blame them? Who wants to be friends with a miserable person, who wants to listen to a continuous litany of woe? In verse eleven David says, “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.”

People are hiding from him, they run away when they see him coming. They pretend they didn’t see him. And this is so often the case, isn’t it? Most of us really don’t know how to deal with someone who’s life has changed dramatically from what it once was. Maybe we’re afraid, maybe we don’t know what to say, maybe it’s just easier for us to not have to face the difficulties that others are facing. Maybe we’d rather not get involved, we have enough troubles of our own without having to deal with someone else’s problems. And so we stay away or we hide, and we defend ourselves by reminding ourselves that it’s a complete waste of time to spend time with a completely miserable person. And maybe it is, and maybe that’s why we say, “misery loves company.”

And so the end result of David’s experience is that he feels like he has already died. He’s passed out of everyone’s mind, he feels forgotten, left behind, a mere memory. In verse 12 he says, “I have passed out of mind like one who is dead. I have become a broken vessel.”

At our house, we break glasses. We break them getting them out of the cupboard, we break them putting them in the dishwasher, we drop them off the table. Probably if we had a fireplace they’d somehow be attracted to that. But when they break we sweep up the pieces, and we put them in the trash. And that’s because a broken glass is no longer useful. It has stopped being able to do what it was intended to do. And that’s how David feels: like a broken vessel. He has a sense of call, he has a sense of responsibility, he has a sense of purpose, he wants to do the things that he knows that he’s intended to do, that he’s supposed to be doing, but he can’t. At least not right now. He’s broken. He’s paralyzed by his grief and sorrow and misery. He’s depressed beyond his ability to function. He’s in hard shape, ready to be swept up and dumped into the trash.

Is there any hope for this man? Is he doomed to die the early death of a broken spirit? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t look good, what with his friends running away from him at the same time that his enemies are moving in closer, it’s not a very cheery diagnosis. And in his present state, David is very much aware that his future isn’t very promising.

And yet, in the midst of all of the mess, David can still see God. When all else is lost in David’s life, he can still glory in the presence of God. How can he do that? Why isn’t he blaming God for all of his troubles? He can see God’s glory because he has a relationship with God that runs deeper than his present difficulties. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is.

David would sure like to get better. You can feel that running all the way through this psalm. He’d love to break out of his misery, he’d love to overcome his sorrow and grief.

But right now, at least, he’s satisfied simply with the knowledge that God is aware of his problem. In verses seven and eight he says, “I will rejoice and exult in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction, you have taken heed of my adversities, and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy, you have set my feet in a broad place.”

To me, that’s awesome. What a tremendous first step in finding hope, to know that God knows all about our afflictions, and to be satisfied with that. David doesn’t say, “O Lord I will exult and rejoice in you because you have taken away my afflictions,” he says, “I will exult and rejoice in you because of your steadfast love.” I know that I am loved by you, God, with a love that does not waver, and because you love me so much, I know in my heart that you are aware of my troubles, and in that I will be comforted. I will trust you to do the right thing in my life.

David sums it all up in verses 14 and 15. “But I trust in you O Lord; I say, ‘you are my God,’ my times are in your hand.” Come what may, David is willing to trust the Lord. David is willing to give the Lord all of the times of his life; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And I suspect that that means that David is also willing to give his sorrow and his grief and his misery over to the Lord. And that’s probably a second step to finding hope, because don’t we fall in love with our grief and sorrow and misery? Aren’t we best friends with it? Don’t we love to hold on to it, and to nurture it and to coddle it. Isn’t it right that others should feel sorry for us because our lives are so miserable? If our lives and times are in God’s hands though, every last bit of us also needs to be in God’s hands. God won’t take away of our misery until we let go of it.

Amazingly, in the midst of his miserable moments, David recognizes that he isn’t the only person in the world who has problems. And he realizes that for many, God has indeed been a mighty rescuer. And out of the depths of his misery he shifts the focus away from himself and his own problems, and he lifts up words of praise to the Lord for the wonderful things that have been accomplished in the lives of others. Listen to verses 19 and 20, and soar along with David in his high praise: “O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone, in the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots, you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.” That’s probably step three on the path to finding hope. Look around. See what God has done and is doing in the lives of others. Give thanks for what God is doing in someone else’s life.

Finally David acknowledges that life is tough for a lot of people, and so he offers a bit of advice for everyone else that finds themselves in David’s shoes waiting for God to do something.

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage all you who wait for the Lord.”

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