Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.

“Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.”

Psalm 119:116, 117

As we begin a new year, it is best that we do so with a prayer. Our text is a prayer for God to preserve us with His promised upholding.

It is our desire to be obedient to our God in this new year. We want to be more faithful in the doing of His will. But we face much opposition. Our obedience is hindered from without: “evil-doers” (115). And the desire to obey is interrupted from within: “vain thoughts” (113). It is the knowledge of the greatness of the difficulty to be obedient that leads us to pray. We cannot faithfully do His will in our own strength or in the power of our will. So the prayer is necessary. And the prayer is urgent.

Throughout this psalm, as well as in this fifteenth section called “Samech,” the psalmist makes sincere resolutions to live not only according to some, but according to all the commandments of God (Heidelberg, Q. 114). The resolutions found earlier in this section are the following: “I hate vain thoughts.” “Thy law do I love.” “Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” “I hope in thy word.” “I will keep the commandments of my God.”

In the acute awareness of his spiritual weakness the psalmist accompanies all his resolutions with prayers. His resolutions do not arise out of self-confidence. That is why he told the evil-doers to depart from him (115)—so easily and quickly they are a snare to him. We make our resolves to reject the ungodly and to adhere to God and His Word, but just expressing this sincere desire is not sufficient. We need help—divine help. Therefore the psalmist salts his resolutions with cries to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit that he may be more and more conformable to the image of God (Heidelberg, Q. 115).

As long as we live on this earth in the body of this death, we in ourselves are as unstable as water. If the angels stand only as they are upheld by God, much more do I, who am pressed on every side with daily conflict and temptation, and am weak and prone to fall, need God graciously to uphold me. Mindful of his weakness, the psalmist commits himself to God’s upholding grace.

“Uphold” means to support, and thus to hold up. “Hold up” means to support, sustain, establish, strengthen, and comfort. The picture portrayed in the Hebrew words is that of a mother holding up a little child who is just learning to walk. The child easily falls. He is very unstable on his feet. He is insecure and unsure of himself at such new heights. He even refuses to try to walk unless his mother’s hand is holding him up. If the mother lets go of him, then he quickly wearies of his ability, convinced that he will utterly fall (Is. 40:30). He wants his mother’s hand holding him up. Only then does he believe that he can walk and not fall.

Likewise does the child of God know that he needs God to uphold him. God upholds His children by working in them to will and to do His good pleasure. He upholds when He opens our eyes to the horribleness of sin and sinfulness so that we repent. He upholds when He strengthens the gift of faith in our complete justification in Christ. He upholds when He manifests again and again His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

When we ask God to hold us up, then we are really asking Him to keep the promises He has given in His Word that He will uphold us: “according to thy word.” In giving us spiritual life, God promised all that is essential for sustaining that life. We can simply plead the fulfillment of His promise. God has promised that as the days of His people, so would be His strength for them (Deut. 33:25). He has promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.

The purpose of our requests for divine upholding are two.

First, we desire to be upheld “that I may live.” Our physical life must be continually sustained by God in order for us to continue to exist. Spiritually, too, God must continually sustain what He gives. Regenerated life in Christ is given and sustained only by the power of God’s gracious favor. To live by faith in Christ the Savior requires God working in us to will and to do His good pleasure.

If God does not hold us up, then we will not live in God’s ways and keep His commands. We would fall under the slightest difficulty and collapse under any discouragement. We would certainly fall away completely and lose our salvation. But when God upholds us, we live. The good work that He began He will perform until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

And, second, it is only divine holding up that keeps us “safe.” The idea of being safe is to be secure in the present and in the future in spite of many dangers and enemies. Safe are all those who are in the hands of Christ, enclosed in the arms of His everlasting love. Safe are all who are upheld with the right hand of Jehovah, supported by His promises and grace, surrounded by His power, sustained by His love, and preserved in Christ Jesus.

Uphold us, Father. Then we will live and be safe.

The fruit of the assurance of divine preservation is the vow to “have respect unto thy statutes continually.” When we experience our safety because of God’s gracious, upholding hand, then we express our gratitude and joy by continually striving to keep all the tasks God has prescribed for us.

An ungodly response to the knowledge and assurance of God’s upholding, preserving grace is that we can live as we please. This is never the response of the sincere Christian. The converted, while knowing that they have only a small beginning of obedience to God’s commands, are sincere in their resolution to live according to every one of God’s commands. They “have respect unto” God’s statutes, that is, look at and upon them, even gaze on them. No one will outwardly keep God’s law for long unless he keeps considering it—and this will never happen unless God is perpetually holding his heart in holy love. Nothing more strongly helps us to maintain a constant regard for God’s laws than a sense of His love, with its consequent safety and security.

We are resolved to regard God’s statutes “continually.” Our striving to obey is a persevering to the end. Being upheld by God’s loving and sure hand we desire to walk obediently, not for a while, but for as long as we live.

Another fruit of our being upheld by God’s grace is that we shall not be ashamed of our hope. To be “ashamed” is to be disappointed for not obtaining what we hope for. This “hope” is the believing heart anticipating with eagerness and with expectancy the experience of partaking of glory with Jesus. Our hope is based on the promises God has given of the experience of full justification and redemption in Christ. In verse 114 the psalmist said that his hope was founded on the Word. So now he asks for the fulfillment of that Word, so that his hope might be justified in the sight of all. We will be ashamed of anything that comes from ourselves, but never if our hope for it springs from God.

Praise the Lord that our hope will be realized, for we are upheld by God’s powerful preserving grace!