“In Your righteousness deliver me …” (Psalm 31:1b)
As David calls out to the Lord for deliverance in Psalm 31, this is an important little statement because of its correct perspective about our prayers and what we “deserve.” David asks God to hear and answer because HE is righteous (“In YOUR righteousness”); not because David himself is. We see the same thing a bit later in :3, when he says: “For YOUR NAME’s sake lead me and guide me.” He is asking God to do something for him which he knows that he does not “deserve”.
We need to be careful when we are praying for people — I have heard people do this, and I have to admit that I have been tempted to do the same sometimes — that we do not pray something like: “Lord, this person is good; they deserve for You hear them and help them.” But the fact is, as Psalm 14:2-3 teaches, that all men are sinners. Verse 2 there says: “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have ALL turned aside … there is no one who does good, not even one.” This is the Biblical doctrine of the depravity of man. We are NOT basically good. People sometimes say things like: “Well, he got in trouble, but he’s basically a good person”, but Biblically that is not correct. We are NOT basically good at heart; we are sinners, and we shouldn’t ask God for what we deserve — we’d best ask Him for MERCY!
In perhaps my favorite Shakespeare play, “The Merchant of Venice”, one of the characters says:
“Though ‘justice’ be thy plea, consider this: that in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation; we do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”
And so David says here: “In YOUR righteousness deliver me.” In other words, he’s saying, Lord save me NOT because of MY righteousness, but because of YOUR righteousness and grace. And thankfully that is just what God will give us in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He gives us His grace. So Psalm 31 helps remind us that it is not justice for which we need to ask, for ourselves or for others, but for God’s grace and mercy. “In YOUR righteousness deliver me.”