Psalm 38

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This week, as part of the SheReadsTruth Lent challenge, we’ve been reflecting on Psalm 38.

There is an awful moment when the reality of our sin hits our consciousness. The Holy Spirit snaps the word, or deed or thought into sharp focus. At times like this I sometimes feel a deep physical ache in the centre of my chest. Heat rises in the back of my neck and my cheeks. I want to stare at the ground. Shame. Guilt.

In fact, it’s not just the ‘bad stuff’ we do.

Tim Keller puts it this way in The Prodigal God:

What must we do, then, to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

The load of our sin is far too heavy for us to bear. It runs so much deeper than we even realise.

Those who meet God face-to-face simply fall at his feet. Isaiah cries, “I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5); Peter yells, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). John just collapses as if dead (Rev 1:17). The collision of His holiness with our sinfulness causes a gut-wrenching, physical reaction.

David groans in pain, his vision dim and his hearing dull. His sin and his pain is constantly before him. Can it possibly get any worse than this?

But David is able to draw breath again as he remembers the source of his hope – God will listen and God himself is his salvation! Confession and true repentance result in true forgiveness and true freedom.

David anticipated the beautiful, life-restoring forgiveness that Jesus brings.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

And the result:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

I think this verse of the famous hymn by Horatio Spafford sums it up perfectly:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Psalm 130

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If you, O Lord, should mark our iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psalm 130:3-4

If God were to judge us, entirely justly, on the basis of our sins, not one of us could stand before him. Without a truly radical solution, we are all eternally separated from him. There’s no mention of good deeds – it’s no good trying to balance out our bad with some good. One single sinful thought, word or deed is enough to permanently disqualify us from being in a relationship with God. That’s how holy he is. No amount of trying to be good, or do good stuff can fix it.

BUT

There is forgiveness, mercy, steadfast love! God himself has provided the means for sin to be forgiven. The psalmist longs for God’s forgiveness, perhaps longing to hear the words of forgiveness proclaimed over the animal sacrifices, which provided a temporary (and ultimately inadequate) means of atonement. Perhaps the psalmist also sees the possibility of permanent redemption and forgiveness from afar. He waits…he hopes…he clings to the promises in God’s word.

We live in the times he was waiting for! Jesus has come, our Saviour and our Redeemer; the one who has borne our iniquities.

The way of forgiveness is open. And yet, we too wait for that final consummation and restoration of all things. We live in the ‘already, but not yet’.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope… Psalm 130:5

This post was inspired by the SheReadsTruth, Lent challenge 2014! Check it out here.

Rock of refuge

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Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:2

No matter what is happening in life, God is unchanging. He is a firm foundation, unlike the shifting sands of the world. He is a safe hiding place.

Notice that we can come to him continually. In good times, or bad times; whether full or empty; day or night. No matter what else falls away or lets us down, God will always remain the same and he will always be for you.

In these psalms, David is able to proclaim that he will never be shaken. To be honest, there are times when I feel pretty shaken – when fear, anxiety or doubt threaten my peace. However, when I choose to take refuge in God, I can find that spiritual buoyancy which is joy, even in the midst of trials.

Undivided hearts

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Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11

Our natural inclination is not in the right way! We need God to teach us his way.

Our hearts are often fickle, distracted, divided, unfaithful. We try to find peace and happiness but it eludes us because our hearts are divided, seeking after the wrong things.

God, however, gives us new hearts and new desires. He can satisfy the deepest thirsts of our souls. Only when we have new, undivided hearts can our souls find peace. We realise that the things that pulled the pieces of our hearts in the wrong directions actually have no power over us and we do not need to fear them.

We need only to fear God – not in terror, but with an appropriate sense of awe and reverence. Then we can praise him with our whole heart.

I shall always have hope

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As for me, I shall always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long – though I know not how to relate them all.  Psalm 71:14-15

Psalm 71 is an individual lament, a cry to God for protection and deliverance from enemies. The psalmist has a sure and certain hope in God – He is the rock, the refuge and the one who saves. God’s righteousness and total faithfulness are the grounds for hope. The psalmist leaves to God the timing of the answers to his prayers for deliverance. He is already praising God in anticipation of this deliverance!

What and example to us! How easily we can be distracted and dismayed when things are hard and we feels surrounded or overwhelmed. At times like these we can lift our eyes to God and praise him more and more in the sure hope of his ever-present grace. How much more joyful and fruitful the times of hardship could be…

Lord, thank you that your grace is more than enough for my every need today – please lift up my head if I start to look down. Help me and sustain me today – I will praise you because I know you will deliver me.

Amen

Seeking God

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O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:1-8

David remembers. He has seen God, he has experienced his glory, and now he longs for God again with all of his being. He finds himself in a place of dryness and thirst and he knows that God is the only one who will be able to satisfy this need. The language of this psalm is full of a kind of urgent desperation that is perhaps sometimes lacking from our own prayers.

God promises that those who earnestly seek him will find him (e.g. Matt 7:7, Lam 3:25, Deut 4:29). He doesn’t play a cosmic game of hide-and-seek with us – rather, he has gone to great lengths to reveal his truth and character to us in the Bible and through the person and life of Jesus. And once we find him, it is a very good idea to cling to him for dear life! Quite literally. There will be times of dryness when we will need to remember our spiritual mountain-tops, just like David.

But oh, how privileged we are to live in the days that David looked forward to! Our greater David has come:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

John 7:37-39

All the days ordained for me

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I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:14-16

God saw you and loved you long before you were born. He has formed all of our days for us and it is good to remember that as we live them. Some of us have many days on earth, some have very few, but each one is from God – will we make the most of each one?

God is fully in control and knows all the days of our lives. This doesn’t make us fatalistic or passive but gives us freedom to live in the knowledge that the One who is far greater and wiser than ourselves holds our days in his hands.

Lord, please give us the grace we need to live this day you have given us well!

PS For a helpful sermon on the apparent paradox of God’s sovereign will and human responsibility/choices, have a look at this Tim Keller message called Does God Control Everything?