CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of Saint Stephen by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

Feast Of Saint Stephen by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 31

Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (v. 5)

“Into thy hands I commit my spirit” is the most well-known verse of this psalm.  His own hands helplessly nailed to a cross, Jesus quoted it – with the all-important addition, “Father” – as he “breathed his last” upon the cross, (Luke 23:46).  Stephen prayed much the same as he was being stoned to death, the first martyr of the fledgling church: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts 7:59).  With these words of trusting relinquishment at its center, and read in the light of Jesus’s passion and death – really, the consummation of his incarnation – the whole of Psalm 31 takes on a depth of meaning and significance that lends itself to our own use in especially difficult times of trouble or sorrow.  If the Son of God himself found this prayer to be the perfect expression of his heart’s desire for rest in the hands of his Father, could we find any more suitable expression for our own?

The psalmist uses images of God’s hands to convey sanctuary from forces of destruction around him.  To commit yourself into the hands of God is to entrust your whole life to God’s guidance – “Thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me,” (Psalm 139:10); God’s protection – “Thou dost stretch out thy hand against the wrath of my enemies, and thy right hand delivers me,” (Psalm 138:7); God’s mercy – “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great,” (2 Samuel 24:14); and God’s blessing – “In thy presence there is fullness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore,” (Psalm 16:11).  The poet of Psalm 31 is clearly familiar with these and many other depictions of the “hand of the Lord.”

With the change in tone in verses 10–20, the writer describes his depressing circumstances.  He is literally being consumed by the sufferings that have come upon him, as his “bones waste away,” (v. 10).  His weakness, his own iniquity, his enemies, even his neighbors, have all conspired to reject him, even to destroy him.  Still, even in the midst of such dire straits, he confesses his trust in God by confidently declaring that his entire life and all of its circumstances are intimately known to and manageable by God, and not subject to the powers that would harm him: “My times are in thy hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies,” (v. 15).  This is the basis for the unwavering hope he displays in the closing verses of his song.

From The Fathers

God rescues and frees the one who puts his hope in him.  He bends his ear to them, and he snatches them so that they are saved. (Arnobius the Younger)

Lord, there are “hands” that have hold of me, that are too strong for me.
But my trust is in your promise: “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from hands too strong for him,” (Jeremiah 31:11).
Your hand is the strongest of all,
And into your hand I commend my life, today…and always.

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