When the Holidays Bring Heartache: Encouragement from Psalm 18


Perhaps no other season exposes our suffering, sin, and shame, more than the holidays. Family and friends, food and fun, mistletoe and magical lights surround us, and yet they often accentuate our suffering instead of relieving it. The same family and friends that can be such a source of comfort can also be a source of heartache. The food and fun that can be a wonderful blessing can also remind us of loneliness and pain. The mistletoe and magical lights that brighten our homes cannot brighten our hearts. So the holidays often come and go leaving us weary instead of refreshed. That is why Psalm 18 is such an encouragement as we head into this time of year. It is a reminder that sin, suffering and shame will not have the final word.

                Our Rock (18:1-3). Our love for God is forged in the heat of life. It is when we are weak that we learn God is strong, sinking in sand that we learn God is our rock, fighting for our very life that we realize God is our fortress, in despair that we realize God is our deliverer, facing our enemies that we fall to our knees and call upon the Lord in prayer and praise. We don’t praise the Lord based on our circumstances, but on our confession. David had come to learn this truth well. Whether hard pressed by his enemies on every side, or enjoying peace in his kingdom, his heart worshiped the Rock.

                Our Rescuer (18:4-19). In David’s deep distress, he confessed his need for help to the Lord. In words laced with allusions to God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, fighting for Israel against the Canaanites, delivering Israel from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and parting the waters of the Jordan for Israel to cross on dry ground, David declared that the Lord rescued him from his enemies. Don’t miss the reason why. The Lord delighted in him! The covenant King delights in His people, and delights to rescue them from distress.  

                Our Righteousness (18:20-24). David was not a blameless man (he committed adultery and murder), but in these verses he testifies of his innocence before his enemies. Though at times he fell into sin, he mostly feared the Lord. We cannot read these verses without recognizing how Christ has fulfilled them. The Lord rewards us according to Christ’s righteousness, not our own, and according to the cleanness of His hands that were pierced for you and me on Calvary.   

                Our Reward (18:25-29). David knew that his reward was the Lord himself—His mercies that showed themselves new every morning, His blameless character, His purity, His judgment of the Enemy (and enemies), and His light that illuminates all darkness. Christ is our reward and the hope of our redemption. He is the light that illumines our darkness, and the strength that carries us through each day. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Christ we can run against the biggest army and leap over the highest wall threatening to undo us.

                Our Refuge (18:30-45). David credits the Lord with dressing him for battle and giving him victory. From his feet to his hands and arms, the Lord armed him so that David became the head of the nations. Of course, it is David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, that has made the Enemy turn his back to us and who has become the head of the nations. As those who are in Christ, we have been given a battle plan. We must buckle on truth, put on righteousness, walk in the gospel, cling to the faith that has been passed down to us, guard our minds with the truth of our salvation, fight in the Spirit, and pray that we will stand firm against the Enemy (see Eph. 6:10-20).

                Our Ruler (18:46-50). David closed the psalm with how he began. The king sings to the King! The Lord is the living Rock who has saved him from his enemies and shown his steadfast love, his covenant kindness, to him and to all his offspring after him. We not only sing to our heavenly Father, we also sing to Christ, our living rock that has subdued the Enemy on the cross and in whom we are exalted. He is the Ruler of all rulers! Great salvation He brings to God’s people.

For the suffering soul searching for a source of sustenance this holiday season in the midst of searing circumstances, look no further than Psalm 18. Marinate in it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and make it your own. No matter the trial, Christ is where your hope must rest. He is your rock, rescuer, righteousness, and your reward.


About the Author:

Sarah Ivill

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina and is a member of Christ Covenant Church. She is the author of Hebrews: His Hope, An Anchor for Our SoulsRevelation: Let the One Who Is Thirsty Come; Judges & Ruth: There Is A Redeemer; 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith; and The Covenantal Life: Appreciating the Beauty of Theology and Community (forthcoming).