“Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O LORD, You preserve man and beast. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 36:5–7

Christians are called to do God’s work in a fallen world. It is very hard to be faithful to such a high calling when doing so is often a thankless task and lasting fruit seems to take so long to produce. The obstacles are many and discouragement seems to be always just around the corner in every endeavor. How is a Christian to keep going on when the enemy seems to be everywhere? How is the Christian to keep up the good fight when it seems he must always retrace his steps and put out “brush fires” sparking up behind him? How is a Christian supposed to keep his nerve when so many other “believers” retreat and fall by the wayside? And how is the Christian supposed to strive for spiritual depth when to do so makes the divide between right and wrong grow ever wider in his sight?

Psalm 36 contains the answer to these questions. There are three sections to the psalm. The first section deals with the sinful condition of man in verses 1–4. The second focuses on the majestic virtues of our good God in verses 5–9. The final section is a prayer for protection and perspective.

The stage of the psalm is set by its introduction: “to the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.” The psalm finds its place following verse 35:27: “Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause; and let them say continually, ‘Let the LORD be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.’” I like the footnote in the MacArthur study Bible concerning the word servant, “the terminology was also used of an [Old Testament] disciple regarding himself as bound to the Lord.” How true that a servant is not one in status only, but in his own mindset, bound to serve! I think this is the encouragement all believers need in the face of an unforgiving world. You must daily remind yourself that you are bound to serve! You do not serve at your convenience. You do not serve for your own purposes or gratification. You and I serve because we are served by our Lord in heaven! We serve because we have been bought. We serve because we are commanded to do so. We serve so that His will is done!

The first section (verses 1–4) was certainly in Paul’s mind when he gave his “Sinner’s Snapshot” in Romans 3:10–17. Again, MacArthur’s Study Bible points out the parallels between Psalm 36 and Romans 3, regarding the sinner’s character, communication, and conduct. In both passages human depravity finds its full voice of sinful reason, rage, and resolve. These are the obstacles produced by the human heart to every impulse for good. Verse 1 uses the word transgression, the Hebrew word is derived from the same root as rebel.

Paul quotes the truth that there is no fear of God before a wicked one’s eyes; this fear is God-consciousness. The wicked have no sense of dread of God that would naturally check evil impulses. The wicked man indulges in self-flattery that God will neither find out his sin, or hate his sin, or hate him. He thinks he can get away with evil and so he acts accordingly. His mouth speaks words that belie and betray his wicked heart. Any spiritual wisdom he has known from his younger days, his heart has abandoned; he is unable to do spiritually-obedient good. After rejecting wisdom, he can no longer reject what is wrong. Then, verse 4 tells us that his thoughts tend toward evil and he takes a firm stand in a way that is not good; he knows evil and yet he is unable to resist it. The last phrase says “he spurns evil not ever!”

At this point your heart should be crying out “Enough!” David also agrees. There is only one antidote to the overwhelming oppression of sin and sinners surrounding the beleaguered servant of God. It is to focus on the excellencies of the Most High God! His attributes are beyond human measure, but they are identifiable and dependable! God’s lovingkindness of His covenant loyalty in faithful care takes center stage. His mercy, steadfastness, beneficence, and His justice are to be a servant’s constant nourishment for the soul, confidence in the conflict, and guard for his conduct.

Verses 7–9 are noteworthy in their protection for your heart. Memorize them and employ them often. Healthy eternal perspective can only be preserved by breathing heavenly air. God is sovereign in His protection (verse 7), His abundance (verse 8) and His life and light (verse 9). These are the meditations of a servant that will persevere because he is constantly satisfied with God’s lovingkindness. Only in this heavenly atmosphere of heart will the prayer of verses 10–12 make practical sense.