When Life Is Overwhelming, We Can Find Hope in the Lord’s Steadfast Love

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Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. 8It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. (Psalm 130 NRSV)

Key Observation: When we are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, we can find hope in the Lord’s steadfast love and forgiveness.

Psalm 130 is the sixth of the seven psalms recognized as guides for praying for forgiveness (cf. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143). This psalm serves as a model prayer combining a poignant cry for forgiveness with deep trust and an intention to testify to the wider community about the Lord’s goodness. The psalm has played a significant role in the life of key leaders in the church. The sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther believed this psalm summarized the gospel. On May 24, 1738, the day when John Wesley experienced his “heart strangely warmed,” he also listened to a choir sing this psalm at St. Paul’s cathedral.

Psalm 130 is memorable for its desperate opening appeal to the Lord (vv. 1–2). “Depths” is shorthand for the “depths of the sea” (Isaiah 51:10; Ezekiel 27:34). The psalmist feels as though he is drowning. How many times have we experienced life in a state of being overwhelmed and fearful? Psalm 130 testifies to a hopeful ending in such times. The bleakness of the psalmist’s outlook in the moment does not blind him to an alternative possibility. In fact, the psalmist hedges all of his bets on a truth that he holds tightly within his being.

Verses 1–2 remind us that we can always turn to the Lord in prayer regardless of how extreme or hopeless our situation may appear. Verses 3–4 speak of the profound mercy of God. The Lord is a God who forgives. This is at the heart of the gospel. John reminds us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9 NRSV).

What does this mean for the psalmist and for us? We can pray to God in our most desperate times with the assurance that our sins do not prevent him from helping us. The Lord is not some great bookkeeper in the heavens who watches us only to record our sins. Instead, the psalmist affirms that he is a God who forgives. We can thus fear and revere the Lord because of his mercy rather than out of a fear of punishment.

How do we live in times of desperate circumstances? In the second half of the psalm (vv. 5–8), the psalmist shows the way. In verses 5–6, the psalmist affirms a deep longing for the Lord. He waits in eager anticipation of deliverance in the same way that a night guardsman watches for the dawn. Psalm 130 concludes by testifying to the entire community of faith (vv. 7–8): put your hope in the Lord. In God alone, you will find steadfast love, redemption, and forgiveness. This is good news. You can bank on it even in your most desperate hours.

  1. What does Psalm 130 teach us about praying for forgiveness?
  2. What is the basis of the psalmist’s hope? How would such a perspective impact your life?

Are you interested in learning more about the Psalms? Consider taking a deep dive into the book with a dynamic teacher, Brian Russell. The book of Psalms is often quoted and clichéd, but much less often contextualized. When we understand the Psalter relative to the circumstances in which it was written, we find a rich resource for God’s people. Through these prayers, God both speaks to us and models how we might speak back to Him. At its core, the book of Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. Get the book and accompanying videos in our store here.

In these pages you’ll:

  • Discover how the psalms of the Bible can translate to your daily life
  • Allow the psalms to help you find words to express yourself to God when you are unsure of how to pray
  • Learn the historical context in which the psalms were written, adding to their richness

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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