This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
When emotions are strong, I find comfort when reading Psalms.
The heart of a Psalmist is familiar with suffering and consistent in hope. This pattern emerges time and time again. The writer expresses an honest struggle, makes a request, and ends with a choice to trust in God. Some Psalms focus on lament, which means to grieve the loss of something or someone. Some focus on praise. But many combine the two, even when several verses reveal the pain of suffering.
One of my favorites is Psalm 34.
The New Living Translation says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
Eugene Peterson interprets this verse in the Message as, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.”
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What Does Psalm 34:18 Mean for the Brokenhearted?
A brokenhearted person can literally feel the pain of brokenness. We have physiological responses to loss, grief, and hurtful situations. Emotional pain can be felt in a very real way, in the body, the mind, and the heart. Our bodies are actually wired in such a way that emotional pain affects us physically. This is one reason it’s so vital to get honest with our emotions and pursue healing because it impacts all of who we are and how we live.
Brokenheartedness can feel so intense because we do not have what we once did, or what we thought we should have. We have lost something or someone. Also, we may feel all alone. Our body reacts to grief, anger, sadness, and fear.
When we are in this place, our need for something beyond ourselves becomes more evident.
Our enemy would love to keep us from knowing God’s love deeply and receiving the courage we need to move forward when life is hard.
God loves to help us know Him and know His presence with us, especially when life is hard.
Psalm 34:18 reminds us that God is not only present with us, but near. Near to the pain we feel. Near to the loss we can’t fill. Near to the needs we have and can’t yet express.
For the brokenhearted, God gives nearness.
God is not removed from knowing about the pain, or from our experience of pain. He is always available and close to those who suffer. Not only is He near, but he stays with us and will help us get through. He is not surprised or deterred, no matter how deep the brokenness feels.
God gives us the courage we need to breathe again.
Emotional pain sometimes leaves us speechless. This Psalm provides words to remind our hearts and talk to God when we cannot find the words ourselves. God’s presence with us in our messy moments is of great comfort.
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What Does Psalm 34:18 Mean for the Crushed in Spirit?
I love the way Eugene Peterson describes how God saves, or rescues, us when our spirits are crushed. When we feel kicked in the gut, He helps us catch our breath. When everything has been knocked out of us, and we are depleted, He has what we need to take that first step of getting up again.
God sees and knows the impact of a soul that’s weary and worn.
Consider the following verses:
Proverbs 18:14 “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”
Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 15:13 “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”
These verses help me feel seen by God because He gets what it feels like to be crushed in spirit. He’s been there, all alone at the Garden of Gethsemane preparing to suffer and die for us. He knows it is painful. It can feel like you’re emptied out and dried up because there’s nothing left to give.
It’s time to receive.
God rescues, or liberates, us from great pain and a weakened spirit, through His great love for each of us. He sees the distraught places in our hearts and offers to fill them up again.
When we receive His love and the gift of His presence, our hearts are calmed, which frees us to move forward.
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What Is the Context of This Verse?
According to several Bible commentators, this Psalm was written when David reflected on a tough situation with King Abimelech. He pretended to be mentally unstable. It is believed the incident referred to at the beginning of this Psalm occurred in 1 Samuel 21, where the king is named as Achish.
David was in a tight spot. Verse 11 tells us what happened when David met the king’s men.
“But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”
Verse 12 tells us how David responded.
“David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”
Before this happens, it is interesting to see how this chapter opens up in 1 Samuel 21:1.
“David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”
David was alone on a mission. Further in the chapter, we read that David had run out quickly and did not have a weapon. It seems David was fearful when caught without anyone or anything to help him escape.
I don’t know about you, but when I feel something that fuels fear (like being alone) and someone points out the very thing that’s causing fear, I feel even worse. Maybe David did, too.
Psalm 34 is full of reassurances of God’s goodness. It’s David speaking the truths he needs to know. God meets David in his fears and provides radiance instead of shame.
Verses 4-5, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
Perhaps David was reminding his heart that He was not truly alone. He is literally speaking words of courage to a time where he reacted in fear.
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What Else Can We Glean from Psalm 34?
Encouragement and praise permeate Psalm 34, especially for the worn-down individual.
Verse 2, “I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”
Verses 6-7, “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
Verse 15, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;”
Verse 17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”
David also invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (verse 8). Because when we seek refreshment for weariness, we find goodness in God that renews us. And it’s available as often as we need it.
God hears. And He is near.
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How Can We Apply Psalm 34:18 Today?
To know God’s comfort in difficult moments or seasons, we must seek it. We also need to receive it.
David took time to reflect on God’s goodness and presence through this Psalm, even though his actions revealed fear and a lack of trust. It encourages me to know we can mess up and still make choices that help us experience more of God.
Consider what helps you feel God’s presence. If you don’t feel it today, maybe you have in the past. How did it impact you then? If you can’t fathom knowing God’s presence with you, ask God to help you see and know it.
For me, quiet moments help me connect to the truth of what’s going on in me so I can meet the truth God has for me. I also enjoy worship music, prayer, journaling, and a tool I created called Unleash: Heart & Soul Care sheets. This tool facilitates processing life’s challenges with God, practice hearing from Him, and experience His nearness.
Another way we can experience goodness in our brokenness is to engage in something we enjoy. It helps us see beyond the pain of a situation. Many experience God’s presence through nature.
It is vital to the healing of hurting hearts to engage with people. A community can be a vessel of healing and presence with us. When seeing people in person isn’t an option, don’t give up finding ways to connect and cultivate relationships. God designed us to need Him and to need others.
When lies fill our minds, another person can speak words of life and truth. Just like our bodies can feel physical pain when we are emotionally wounded, our bodies can receive calm through the calmer states of another person. Though our hurts may have come through people, we need people to bring healing and help us experience present hope.
Reaching out to receive care from others can be especially challenging for the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. It is easy to want to give up. I pray these words of David help you feel God’s presence and give you strength for your next breaths. May you find the strength to take the next step. May you cultivate connection with God and empathic connections with others.
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Praying For the Lord's Closeness When You Are Brokenhearted
If you’re feeling brokenhearted today, my heart grieves with you. For what you’ve endured and the pain you feel. I’ve been there many times, and it’s not easy. It can feel so heavy that breathing takes work.
There is hope. If you cannot see it today, I see hope for you. More than that, God does too. He reminds us through the Psalm that he is near. Remind your weary heart by praying this verse, and even the whole Psalm, aloud. Also, I have a prayer for you:
Lord, I need you. Your presence is not always felt, but your word tells me you are near. Help me know this in the depths of my being. Help me receive what you give me, even if it’s not what I’m expecting. May I not reject the ways you reveal your presence to me.
In this place of heaviness, I beg you for mercy as all else feels relentless. Thank you that your mercies are renewed daily and given to me as I need them. Your strength, too. Psalm 84:7 speaks of going on strength by strength. I need some of that today, Lord.
Thank you for being near. When I remember you are near to my heart, I am reminded that I am not alone. I am strengthened when your Spirit speaks to mine. Help me to hear you, notice you, and receive from you.
Like David and other Psalmists chose to do, I will tell you my complaint (which is ______), I will make my request known (which is ________), and I will choose to trust you. Give me courage to keep choosing you and to know peace because you have chosen me.
With you, Lord, I can know nearness and relief. I can have newness and aliveness. I choose to see this hope with you. Amen.
Dear one, brokenness does not last forever, even when it feels like it. I pray you are encouraged today. God’s nearness is for you.
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Originally published Wednesday, 26 August 2020.