Tuesday Prayer: Against You Only

Once again, I will be away for a week, so please be patient if I do not respond to comments or interact in the blogosphere…

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 

Psalm 51:4

YHWH our God, merciful and gracious are You and how great is Your Name in all the earth! We can search the depths of the sea, the most untamed wilderness, or even the vastness of space and never find the limits of Your power nor of Your steadfast love. You are truly Emmanuel; God With Us, and because You have chosen to dwell with Your people, we can come to You in honesty because You already see and know all things. 

Today, Lord, we wish to ask You to search our hearts, even to the most secret places and the darkest corners and shine Your light into them. Expose any sin we may think we’ve hidden, for nothing is hidden from You, O God. Lay bare our self-deceit and uproot our pride. Open our eyes to places we have allowed what is normal in our culture to become our excuses for sin. Because You love Your servants, do not allow us to remain complacent in sin but goad us to true repentance. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139:23-24

Forgive us, Lord, and give us clean hearts and renewed minds! Cleanse our hearts from the taint of sin and rebellion. Heal our spiritual blindness and give us broken and contrite hearts. Let us not measure our sins against other people but against the perfect standard of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Renew in us the joy of salvation and make our whole being to long for You as a dry and thirsty land longs for the rain. 

Then, Lord, send us out in right standing with You so we may freely share the nature of our depravity and the greatness of our God who is mighty to save us from it. Let Your praise be ever on our lips and let our hearts overflow with gratitude for Your mercy and forgiveness. Make us into a people who are bold for You, who address our own sin with the greatest strictness and ruthlessness and who openly share the evidence of Your redeeming power in our lives with others.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Psalms 51:12-13

Thank You, Lord, that Your hand is not so short that it cannot save. Thank You for patiently instructing us and for the fact that, as John wrote, if we confess our sin, You are faithful and just to forgive us. What a magnificent God we serve! May Your Name be honored on our lips, in our thoughts, by our deeds, and in our heart of hearts, amen. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17


Broken and Restored

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(Psalms 51:4)

Ah, the tale of David and Bathsheba. This story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is certainly not rated G…

But if you’re wondering why I bring it up after opening with a verse from Psalm 51, it’s because this unseemly saga is actually the back story of the psalm.

Here’s the nickel version:

At some point during David’s reign over Israel, his troops were off to war. For some reason, he was not with them but instead was walking on his rooftop (think of a structure more like a balcony, not peaked roofs or shingles). From this vantage point, he saw a beautiful woman bathing.

Though he knew she was the wife of one of his soldiers – a man who was out fighting for his king – David sent for her. And impregnated her.

Attempting to cover his indiscretion up, he brought her husband home from battle, got him drunk, and tried to entice him to go home and sleep with his wife. When the honorable man refused because his fellow warriors were still out in the field, David instead conspired to have him killed and make it look like he was merely a casualty of war.

Lovely story, isn’t it?

Eventually, David was confronted with his sin and he did repent. But there were consequences. Many people suffered for this one selfish act of lust – including King David himself.

And this is what I wanted to share from my reading of Psalm 51 today. Notice in verse 4, David cries out to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned…”

I don’t know about you, but at first glance, this claim seems a trifle insensitive. After all, adultery was committed (and possibly rape, though we aren’t told whether or not she went willingly), a man was murdered, a child died, and much later, a kingdom was torn apart by a prince’s rebellion.

The collateral damage from the king’s evil choices was enormous.

Nevertheless, he did write truth. His sin was primarily against his Creator.

Without fail, sin and its consequences wreak destruction, often bringing pain and devastation to our own lives and the lives of others. Despite this fact, the offence is first and foremost against the One who gave us life.

No matter who suffers for it, sin is ultimately between each one of us and our Creator.

When I began to first understand this concept, it was both the most freeing and the most frightening thing I had learned.

Freeing because it means that whoever may hurt me, no matter how close they are to me or how grievous the wound they inflict, it really has little to do with me at all. Each person’s sin is a matter which will be addressed by God – in His time and in His way. And since I know He is a just Judge, I do not have to worry about vengeance. I only have to manage my response – including making sure I do not repay sin with more sin.

Because of this – and because of the enormity of forgiveness I have received – this fact makes forgiveness much easier for me.

For the same reasons, it is also frightening because it means whatever sin I commit is between me and the Almighty Creator. And once again, because He is a just Judge, He will see justice done.

However…

The most amazing part is, God actually exacted the penalty for my sin – for all our sins – from His Son. Justice has been done, and in place of my well-earned destruction, I am instead offered forgiveness and eternal life. We all are.

No matter how horrendous our crimes have been, we can receive forgiveness. This fact, too, makes forgiving others much easier.

But first, there must be a true heart change which begins with a truly broken heart. It is called repentance. 

To be honest, if we truly see the gravity of what it is the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) did on our behalf; if we truly feel the loathsomeness of our rebellion against the One who created and loves us, our hearts will break. Like David, we will find out the truth behind these words:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalms 51:17)

And once we feel honest sorrow and begin to despise our sin, longing to imitate our Father instead; once we understand the rift our crimes have created between us and the One who loves us so much, He offered Himself as ransom in order to purchase our freedom from sin –  well, David’s agonized plea pretty well sums up the appropriate result of this understanding:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalms 51:9-12)

Not a bad prayer to start our year with, eh?

 

Freedom in Forgiveness

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Psalms 51:4

**I encourage you to read all of Psalm 51 today before reading further.**

The first time I truly grasped the sentiment penned by David in Psalm 51: 4 was also the first time I tasted the freedom that Christ died to provide.  But first, I experienced a heart-rending grief; the kind of grief that produced repentance, leading me to a salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10).

In all honestly, my heart was not crushed until I truly began to fathom Who God is and to love Him.  Naturally, I also had to understand what sin was before I could understand the need to repent. Still, until I truly revered Him, all my understanding of sin was merely intellectual assent. Not until my love for God caused me grief at the damage my sin (even the “tiny,” private ones) did between us did I experience the searing pain of a “broken and contrite heart.”  Once I did, I could share in David’s heart-felt plea: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalms 51:1).

If my sorrow over sin was crushing because of my love and appreciation for the mercy of God, how much more intense was the joy when I comprehended the forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of the Son! How much more passionately do I now worship Him and how ardent my praise and elation at  the undeserved pardon I have received now that He has made me aware of sin’s cost  — and of His own willingness to pay it!]

What a deterrent that has been to me in my struggles against sin, and how closely do I share David’s sorrow on those sad occasions when I again cloak my heart in deception and take up the deadly ways of the old, worldly self. How strongly I now desire to grow so close to my Lord that the temptations of this world appear stale and tasteless!

As if that priceless freedom from sin borne of a repentant heart wasn’t enough, I also found embedded within the concept a second, almost secret freedom; a freedom in my relationships to others. I found that I was able to forgive more freely not only because of the forgiveness that had been extended to me, but also because of the simple fact that the sin of others has nothing to do with me.

And that, my friends, is where this useful freedom lies. I learned that if sin can be committed against God alone, than I am free to allow God alone to deal with that sin. Even if I am hurt as a consequence, all I need to do is take my pain to God and allow Him to heal it.  I cannot claim retribution for sins committed against me for the simple fact that sin cannot be committed against me.

This does not mean I do not recognize sin: adultery is adultery whether it is in action or thought; lying is lying, thievery is thievery, and so on.   Nor does it mean that I am never hurt by others. However by understanding that if I am stolen from, the sin is actually committed against God, well…  I suppose I find it easier to let go of my grievance when I know that the transgressor is in far more just and stern hands that my own.

At such times,  I now feel sorrow for the transgressor;  now that I can take myself out of the equation, so to speak.  There is no sin which affects me that is worse than any I have committed and afflicted others by; I am a fellow transgressor. And so, instead of anger against a slight, when my mind is rightly focused on the God of my Salvation I find I am freed to pray that the person who hurt me will also experience the grief of their sin, the cleansing pain of repentance, and the joy of being restored to a right relationship with the Almighty God.

Then, perhaps, we can both lift up our voices in praise!