I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Psalm 25. It’s on page 459 in your pew Bible if you choose to use it. As you’re turning there, let me offer to you a word of thanks. My family and I are very grateful to you for your prayers on our behalf. Last week we went to visit my father who is eighty-two years old and has been declining with dementia and is in an Alzheimer’s care home and last week he had two strokes that have left him paralyzed on one side and is now under hospice care. And we’re praying for the Lord
Let me read to you the psalm that we’re going to look at and then we’ll ask God’s blessing on our study together. Psalm 25:
“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions, according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”
This is God’s Word. Let’s go to Him in prayer.
Father, we pause and are reminded afresh that Your Word is alive and powerful, that it is sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, that it’s able to judge the hearts and the intentions of our heart. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. And may that certainty regarding the character and the power of Your Word, not drive us away from You but draw us near knowing that by Your Spirit You are even now preparing to do soul work within each one of us. So by that Spirit, through whom we are known and loved and accepted, brought near, make Jesus more and more precious to us. In the places of confusion, in the places of uncertainty, heartache and loss, make the Gospel our great treasure, for the sake of Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.
This past week I received an email from one of our missionaries which included the following words. And I should say briefly, while I won’t identify him he is one of our very best, a man for whom I have a great deal of respect, a man that I would very much want to be more like, but here’s what he wrote, just a part of it: “Honestly, my world is spinning. I feel so confused and tired and numb. I struggle because the ones I need to be loving most right now are getting nothing from me but a hurting man. And I’m also struggling because in my mind I feel somewhat together but there’s something deeper. I suppose it’s my heart that is aching and grieving. Would you please pray? Beneath it all I do feel that Jesus is strong and relentlessly working. I feel like He’s there, but man, I’m struggling.” A few days later I had a conversation with someone who said to me something very similar. He said, “I just don’t know what to do. I haven’t felt this confused in a long, long time.”
I wonder if those words ring familiar to you – confused, struggling, weary, just not sure what to do. None of the choices look like good options; no good exit strategy. You’re here. You didn’t sign up for this, you didn’t ask for it, you didn’t train for it, you don’t feel experienced, you’re in way over your head. What do I do? That’s why I turned to Psalm 25; one of my favorites, actually. It’s very closely connected to the Psalm I preached on last time I stood in this pulpit and it, like Psalm 34, is one of the nine acrostic psalms in the Psalter, meaning that each verse begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet signaling us that this is a psalm to be memorized, designed to shape the person who learns it and takes it to heart. These are the truths that need to anchor our souls. The outline as we’ll look through this psalm is very straight-forward, just two points. One, the obstacles to the opportunities; the obstacles that keep us from the confidence that we really want, the obstacles that put us in places of real confusion, weariness. And then the opportunities that that confusion invites us to embrace.
The Obstacles that Confuse Us
So first of all – the obstacles. I see three of them in this psalm. The first is obvious. It’s fear. And the psalmist uses a variety of different images to talk about the fear that these obstacles have brought to his experience, obstacles that lie behind the questions, “What should I do? What if I do the wrong thing? How do I know what God’s will is in this? And how long before I understand it or see it clearly?” In verse 19 he says, “Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.” Verse 17, “The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distress.” Verse 2, “Let not my enemies exult over me.” He’s talking about the stress, the threats, the crises, the sweaty-palmed, heart-pounding anxiety that is so common to our experience. But suddenly, when we’re in those places the confidence we really want to know and experience is absent. And it’s not just the enemies without that he’s talking about; it’s the enemies within as well. Often the fear that we experience is rooted in the question, “What if I find out what God’s will is and I don’t like it? What do I do then? And where do I turn?” Sometimes we wrestle with what God’s will is and what He’s calling us to do so that we can determine whether or not we’re going to be obedient. “Show me so that I’ll decide, Lord,” and that doesn’t work. There’s an old Puritan prayer in the book, The Valley of Vision, that includes the words, “I bless you, O LORD, that you have veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.” In a sense, it is a blessing that God doesn’t let us see what lies around the next bend in the road because He’s not yet given us grace to imagine what that will be like and how we’ll get through. He gives us grace for today. But the fear is there and it’s the first obstacle that keeps us from the confidence that we have been redeemed to know.
The second obstacle is loneliness and even isolation that the psalmist speaks of in verse 16. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” You know what that’s like, right? It’s the loneliness that is coupled with the affliction, that is, the debilitating loneliness that brings you to just weariness and you think, “How long do I have to travel this road alone?” Frankly, if you’re going to be committed to walking with the Lord Jesus you’re often going to find yourself in a place where there isn’t a whole lot of applause, there isn’t any endorsement, there aren’t a whole lot of people walking along with you. And you think to yourself, “Why am I on this road by myself? I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t train for this.” But it’s desperately lonely. Think of Peter who, after the resurrection when he was talking with Jesus and Jesus says to him, “This is what it’s going to cost you to follow Me and this is what the end of your life is going to look like.” And Peter, obviously distressed, looks over his shoulder at John who’s following and says, “Lord, what about him?” And Jesus’ answer in John 21 is this, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow Me.” There’s not going to be a crowd cheering us on as we do the hard things that obedience is often going to call us to. You will find yourself lonely, even isolated, in a lot of those places.
Guilt and Shame
The third obstacle that the psalmist speaks of is guilt coupled with shame. We’ve talked about this before – the distinction between guilt and shame is really important to see. Guilt is more about your performance; shame is more about your identity. Guilt says, “I feel bad about what I have done.” Shame says, “I feel bad about who I am.” The psalmist addresses both of them in how they become an obstacle to the confidence that he longs to have. Verse 7 he speaks about guilt. “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions” – “my rebellious ways,” another translation puts it. Or verse 11, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Verse 18, “Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.” And then from guilt he shifts over to shame. Verse 2, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame.” Verse 3, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; but they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” And then at the end of the psalm, verse 20, “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I rake refuge in you.”
So you see the equation. You take the fear that’s so often a part of our lives, you couple it with the loneliness and the isolation within which we find ourselves, and then you add it to the guilt and shame that’s part of living in a broken world where we continue to do what we don’t want to do and don’t do what we do want to do, you end up with real confusion and we say, “How did I get here? What do I do with what I’m facing right now? There doesn’t seem to be any good option. Where do I go and how do I know?”
The Opportunities that Confusion Invites Us to Embrace
Aren’t you so glad the psalmist doesn’t leave us there because from the obstacles he turns to the opportunity that this confusion brings to our experience. In that confusion that grows out of this fear and loneliness, guilt and shame, he says this in verse 4 – “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Four opportunities that our confusion invites us to embrace.
The first of which is to repent. Look at verse 8. This isn’t the logical opportunity but it’s clear in the psalm. Verse 8 says, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in His way.” Now that to me is such great news because what the psalmist is telling me and us is that your sin and my sin does not disqualify us. It doesn’t disqualify us from being those whom God leads with His gracious and tender and shepherding hand. But the psalmist makes this more specific. It’s not being a sinner that qualifies us to be led; it’s being a forgiven sinner, which is why he goes again and again to his repentance and his asking for forgiveness. Verse 7 for example, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgression; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” Verse 11, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Verse 18, “Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.”
Do you want to know God’s will? Repent. You start there. You always start there. Repent for your unbelief, your hard-heartedness, your ingratitude, your distrust, your hiding, your blaming, your rationalizing, your denial. Repent. From the very beginning, when God made a perfect man and a perfect woman, put them in a perfect world and said, “You have freedom. Do what you want. Enjoy this world in which I placed you except that one tree; that’s off limits. There’s the prohibition.” And when that man and that woman decided not to obey and they ate that fruit from the tree that had been forbidden to them, their first awareness was their own nakedness and their first emotion was shame and their first response was to cover up and hide. It’s been that way ever since. When we sin, we feel shame, we hide, and we blame. And it is to people like you and me that God says, “Come back.” You see, at the end of the day we’ll either hide from God or we’ll hide in God. Those are your only two choices when it comes to dealing with your own sin. You hide from Him or you hide in Him. This is why David says in Psalm 32, “You are my hiding place. You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. You are my hiding place.” And then God, as we learn to hide in Him, says this, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” See, if you’re confused, uncertain, if you need the Lord to shape and guide your steps, your first step is to stop hiding, take off the fig leaves, and learn to hide in Him – repent. That’s the first step. That’s why Jack Miller, a pastor who is well-known in Philadelphia, now with the Lord, one of his favorite questions to ask of people he knew and loved was this, “Of what sin has God led you to repent lately?” How would you answer that question? And if you have to sit and think, scratch your head for a while, “Man, I can’t remember the last specific sin I’ve repented of” – not just repented before the Lord but before your wife or your kids, your coworkers, your neighbor – something’s wrong. And is it any wonder then that you’re in confusion? So the first opportunity that our places of confusion invite us toward is to repent.
The second opportunity is humility. Verse 9, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” See, one of the primary questions when we’re dealing with places of uncertainty and confusion is this – “Which of these options is most going to lead toward my humility?” And in all likelihood, whatever is going to bring about greater humility in your experience is likely to be the response God’s calling you toward. One of my favorite Old Testament pictures is that of King Jehoshaphat in chapter 20 of 2 Chronicles. He gets word that there is this huge army coming up from the southeast around the Dead Sea and bearing down on the city of Jerusalem where he and his people are and they’re halfway there and it’s a vastly superior fighting force and he knows they’re in trouble and his people know they’re in trouble, they don’t know what to do, and so he proclaims a fast for his entire kingdom, gathers the people in Jerusalem, and they pray. Listen to his words. 2 Chronicles chapter 20 verse 12, “O LORD, we are powerless before this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” I can’t tell you how often his words have made their way into my prayers. “Lord, I’m powerless. I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” God brought about a tremendous victory to His people that day and He’s promised to intervene in our lives as we humble ourselves and declare our absolute dependence on Him in our places of confusion and uncertainty. That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 5 verse 6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time.”
And so our confusion is an invitation to repent, it’s an invitation to humility, third it’s an invitation to obedience. But a certain kind of obedience – it’s covenantal obedience. You see that in verse 10. David says, “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Now if you’re like me, you read that verse, you scratch your head and think, “Man, I don’t think I’ve kept His covenant and His testimonies very well. As a matter of fact, if you ask my wife or my kids I’ve done a really poor job of keeping His testimonies and my end of the bargain.” But see, that’s the beauty of covenantal obedience. It’s God saying, “I have taken responsibility not just for my end of the deal but also for yours. I’ve taken responsibility for your failure and for your inadequacy. And if you’ll just come to Me and allow Me to shape within your heart a desire to fulfill My commands, to obey My Word, I will give you a capacity that is outside of yourself. I will give you power to do what you cannot do on your own.”
And it begins again with repentance. The next four verses, verses 11 through 14, describe this covenantal obedience. It begins with admitting our guilt and our shame and asking God to pardon our guilt, forgive our sin. It follows with the humility of seeking God’s glory and not our own. “For your name’s sake, O LORD, do this.” It follows with walking in the fear of God. Verse 12, “Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” And then it follows with delighting in the Lord and drawing near to Him, the one who enables us to do what is otherwise impossible. Verse 14, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant,” or, “The secret counsel of the LORD is for those who fear him.” What he’s talking about is an intimacy that comes as we lift up our eyes and say, “My hope is in you. You call me your friend. Man, I want to draw near to you as you draw near to me.”
A Certain Expectation
Confusion invites us to repent, it invites us to humility, it invites us to obedience that is covenantal in nature, and finally it invites us to expectation – a patient but certain expectation. Listen to the patience in this psalm. Verse 3, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Verse 5, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” And again at the end of the psalm, verse 21, “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” A triple emphasis on waiting. We don’t know how long “this,” whatever it is that I’m experiencing, that you’re experiencing, is going to last or how long it’s going to take, but we’re called to wait, to wait patiently but also to wait expectantly. Verse 15, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” He will deliver. It may take a long time, certainly longer than you or I would wish, but He will deliver us. It’s a straightforward, confident expression of faith.
The question stands though, “How can we be sure? How do we know for certain that God will make good on His promise?” The answer, I believe, comes from one verse where the psalmist makes a slight shift. The whole psalm is a moving back and forth between what David needs and what God does, except for one verse. In one verse the psalmist talks about who God is, and who God is, is the guarantee of what God does. It’s verse 8 where David says, “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” Think about this. “Good and upright is the LORD.” For God to be good deals with His mercy, His kindness, His faithfulness, and His grace. For God to be upright deals with His justice. The two are different, really. We’re drawn to that image of God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy and His kindness, but the idea of God’s uprightness, His justice, His demand that holiness be pursued, that we be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, we wrestle with that. Yet in this psalm the psalmist puts the two together. “Good and upright is the LORD.”
How is that possible? Answer – it takes a cross, because only in the cross does the goodness of God and the uprightness of God come together perfectly and beautifully. David is already looking forward to the coming of a Redeemer who, in Himself, would display both the goodness and the uprightness at the same time of this God whose counsel and direction he is seeking and even pleading. The question is, “Do you believe that this God who has rescued you from an eternal punishment that you deserve has rescued you from an unending wasteland for which you are headed apart from Christ? Do you believe that God, who has already rescued you from that, will also rescue you from your confusion and the uncertainty in which you find yourself today?” And Paul says it very plainly – “He who spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” The point is this. You can’t receive Jesus as your Savior, your atoning, redeeming Savior, without at the same time receiving Him as your authoritative counselor, guide, and Lord. The two are inseparable, so much so that in embracing Him as our Redeemer we are freed and empowered to listen for the voice of the one who in Isaiah 30 promises, listen to this promise, he says, “So that whether you turn to the right hand or to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way. Walk in it.’” Are you listening for that voice?
It was in 1990 that Georgene Johnson, who lived in Akron, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, turned forty-two and she decided that she wanted to spend the second half of her life living in a more healthy fashion than she had lived the first half of her life. And so she decided to join a gym and begin exercising. And someone talked her into walking and someone talked her into running. And so she decided she needed a goal toward which she was working in her running so she found a 10K race, that’s 6.2 miles, signed up for it, paid her money, wrote it on the calendar, began training for that 6 mile race. The day arrived, she showed up early, there was a large crowd much larger than she expected to be there. She stretched and warmed up, ran her paces back and forth, got ready, the horn sounded, the crowd surged toward the starting line, a few instructions were given, the gun went off, and everybody took off – 6 mile race; 3.1 miles out, 3.1 miles back. They got close to the fourth mile marker and she, confused, said, “Aren’t we supposed to be turning around somewhere around here?” And the man next to whom she was running looked at her and said, “Lady, are you for real?” And then it hit her. On the registration form you had to pick either the 10K or the Cleveland marathon. And it hit her that the marathon started at 7 o’clock and the 10K was supposed to start fifteen minutes later and she was in the marathon and she began to weep. And she said what you and I often find ourselves saying, “I didn’t sign up for this! I didn’t train for this! I don’t want to be in this place! I didn’t ask for this! What am I going to do?” And so she kept on running. She assumed that someone at the 13.1 mile turn around would be able to give her a ride back, but she got to the turn around and felt pretty good and her pride kicked in and said, “Well maybe I can make it back,” and long story short, did.
I wonder how many of us find ourselves in her shoes today. You look at your experience and you say, “I didn’t sign up for this. I am way in over my head. I am out of my depth. This is not what I asked for, this is not what I trained for, this is not what I was expecting. Had I known then what I know now I would have never started.” Yet Georgene said, “What made the difference for me was I said to myself, ‘For better, for worse, this is the race that I’m in.’” And she kept plugging. We don’t have to say, “For better or for worse, this is the race that I’m in.” We get to say, “Because Jesus loves me and because He knows me better than I know myself, this is the race that I’m in. This is the race that by His divine appointment and by His gracious providence, this is the race I’m in. And He is enough for me. And as I deal with the swirling confusion and chaos within me and chaos outside of me, I’m invited to repent, I’m invited to humble myself, I’m invited to obedience, a covenantal obedience within which God does for me what I could never do for myself and enables me and empowers me to finish a race that had I known it would mean all of this when I began it I ‘m not sure I would have started.” And we’re invited to live with expectation, an expectation that at the finish line there is one who awaits us with nail-scarred hands, with a smile on His face saying, “Well done, well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your reward.”
Father, Your Word is true, it’s alive, it’s powerful; it is our hope and our confidence. You are enough for us, so lift up our eyes to the hills from whence comes our help. Our help is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. But lift up our eyes even higher where we are seated already with Christ in the heavenly realms, where we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, where our spiritual warfare takes place in the heavenly realms against spiritual forces of evil there, where You are displaying Your glory and beauty and power and wisdom and might. So lift up our eyes to where we are already seated with Christ and bring confidence, bring joy, bring humility, bring dependence, and enable us to live with patient and certain expectation. We pray in Jesus’ precious and holy name, amen.