“If I keep my eyes on God,
I won’t trip over my own feet.
Look at me and help me!
I’m all alone and in big trouble.”
When I was a young man (which feels like about twenty minutes ago), I was in constant need of support. I often stayed over at my brother’s house on a sofa, and for a long while he patiently stored a load of my stuff whilst I er..sorted myself out. And a variety of friends and family members did the same.
And if you’re in that select company, all I can say is thanks and sorry for breaking the vase.
The situation in Psalm 25 is roughly similar. It’s a cry for help from someone who not only needs an immediate hand-out, but who knows that it’s all his own fault.
I’m not coming out in a good light here, am I?
But that was my story. Have you ever been in a difficult spot and you knew that you were in it because of your own foolishness? Maybe you knew that you should cry out to God for help, but you were afraid to do precisely because of what you had done. Or, maybe your problems were not due to deliberate sin, but rather because of immaturity or stupid decisions. What should you do at such times?
It’s strange to say that sometimes the very situations that cut us off from God and from the fellowship of God’s people are the times we need Him (and them) the most. So the Psalm says this: Seek God in the hard times, no matter for what reason we are in those hard times. It reminds me of James 1: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”
Now is the time for faith-filled help-seeking.
The phrase “faith-filled” is important. It simply means knowing that the one you have turned to will come through. That’s why, when I read the Psalm this morning, I immediately thought of my brother. When I turned up, again, I knew he would sigh, roll his eyes a bit, and then put some extra bacon on.
And that – though I’m probably flattering him a wee bit- is what God is like.
This psalm is an acrostic, where each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which they sometimes did to help people memorize the words. Also, there’s a strong theme of learning or instruction, which fits with the alphabetical arrangement. So perhaps it’s a kind of school-book lesson on how to live so as to please God and be blessed by him when things go wrong.
Because the truth it, even in the smoothest of life’s operators, things often go wrong. Here it seems to have edged towards the frightening. He has treacherous enemies that are seeking to exult in his demise (vv. 2-3). These foes are many in number and they hate him with violence (v. 19). They have gained the advantage, because he describes his feet as already caught in their net (v.15). He feels lonely and afflicted, and his troubles are growing worse, not better (vv. 16-17). And, his repeated requests for God to teach him (vv. 4-5, 8-9, 12, 14) imply that he is confused in the midst of this mess.
And no one is exempt. No one can say ,“I’ve been following the Lord and seeking to be obedient. Why am I experiencing all of these trials?” Do you think that if you obey God, He gives you a free pass from trials? Think again.
Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal… 1 Peter 4:12)! Or perhaps you’re not surprised at all. Because you know that it’s your own fault!
That’s the gist of Psalm 25. The writer’s guilt runs through it like an ugly rash. In verse 7 he prays, “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.” Perhaps his troubles later in life dredged up the sins that he had committed in earlier years. In verse 8, he refers to himself as a sinner. In verse 11, he again cries out, “For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” In verse 18, he again asks the Lord, “forgive all my sins.”
Here’s Steven Cole, reflecting on the classic line “Remember not the sins of my youth”:“The older I get, the more I relate to the prayer that God would not remember the sins of my youth. The closer you draw near to the Lord, the more hideous the sins that you committed when you were younger appear to be. Some of the sins from my youth keep coming back to haunt me. I think, “How could I have done those things? What was I thinking?” Answer: “I wasn’t thinking! I was pretty much running on hormones! Only God’s grace kept me from doing some things that could have had far more serious consequences!
I try not to dwell on those sins, because they are now under the blood of Christ. But when they come to mind, they remind me of how corrupt my heart not only was, but still is (because I am still susceptible to the same sins). And, I thank God for His great love that sent His Son to bear my penalty for those sins. And I realize both my own enormous need for grace and my need patiently to extend God’s grace to others, as He has done to me.”
If you conclude that your trial is directly related to your sin or to your stupidity, what should you do? The tendency is to try to cover it up and bluff your way through. But that’s a wrong approach. There is a better way:
In whatever trials we find ourselves, seek the Lord and His wisdom for what to do.
One of God’s main reasons for allowing such trials into our lives is to get us to seek Him as we recognize in a new way how dependent on Him we really are. And, if our trial is due to some sin that was previously a blind spot, He wants us to confess it and turn from it. Calvin makes the same point ”We must know, that as often as God withdraws his blessing from his own people, it is for the purpose of awakening them to a sense of their condition, and discovering to them how far removed they still are from the perfect fear of God.”
So, how do we seek the Lord in our hard times? Anne Lamott once said that there are really only three essential prayers: Help, Thanks and Wow. This is definitely a Help prayer.
First, to seek the Lord, be open about what’s gone wrong, and say sorry.
The writer is only too aware of his shortcomings, not only in the current situation, but going back to his youth. He doesn’t just shrug off his sins by thinking, “What do you expect? I was only 22!” He doesn’t compare himself to his enemies and say, “I may have my faults, but these guys are evil!”
He simply says: “For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” God’s name refers to His character, and how He reveals Himself. Moses “called on the name of the Lord” ( Exodus 34:5). Then we read (Exodus 34: 6-7), “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’”
Maybe this is all in mind when the Psalmist asks God to remember His compassion and lovingkindnesses (v. 6).
This is all of grace, and don’t forget it!
Throughout the psalm, David asks God to teach him His ways or paths (vv. 4, 5, 8-10, 12, 14). The Hebrew word for “paths” refers to ruts made by wagon wheels passing over the same ground often. God is consistent in His paths or ways, which stem from His holy nature. It’s silly to ask God to teach us His ways or paths if we were not seeking to walk in them. But, thankfully, God instructs sinners in His way (v. 8)! So we qualify!
To walk in God’s ways includes several things according to this psalm. It includes prayer (the entire psalm is a prayer). It means to wait on the Lord (vv. 3, 5, 21), because His timing is not always our timing. It means being teachable to grow in understanding God’s truth. It includes humility (v. 9), because God gives grace to the humble, not to the proud. To walk in God’s ways means to obey Him (v. 10). It means to fear Him (vv. 12, 14). It means to look to the Lord continually (v. 15). It requires walking with integrity and uprightness (v. 21).
In short, the writer is saying “JUST TRUST”. It all boils down to that.
If the Lord lets him down and those enemies triumph, not only his own honour, but also the Lord’s honour, is at stake. Here is a man who trusted in the Lord and just knew that the Lord would turn out trustworthy.
So, no matter how difficult our trials, I trust that the Lord is able to deliver us from them, for His glory and our good.
Our task is to affirm by faith, as the writer does here, that the Lord is always good, loving, and compassionate (no matter how things look). He is fully able to deliver us from our trials, (no matter how things turn out) even when we were the cause of them because of our sin or stupidity. Let’s pray the words of the Psalm in closing (from Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message):
“Show me how you work, God;
School me in your ways.
Take me by the hand;
Lead me down the path of truth.
God is fair and just;
He corrects the misdirected,
Sends them in the right direction.
He gives the rejects his hand,
And leads them step-by-step.
From now on every road you travel
Will take you to God.”