Singing of Failure

Sermon by David Felker on Jul 28

Psalm 32

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Please turn with me in your Bible to Psalm 32. Psalm 32. The passage begins on page 462 in the church Bible in front of you. If you’re visiting, again, welcome to you. This is the last sermon in a July mini-series, a Sunday night mini-series in July. We’ve been looking at different psalms on the first book of Psalms, psalms 1 to 41, and tonight we’ll be in Psalm 32, “Singing of Failure.” And before we jump in and read, something to consider and to help orient us to our text tonight.

When I first starting dating my wife, Lauren, it was the fall of 2009. I was living here in Jackson; I was working at the church. Lauren was living in Oxford; she was working with RUF at Ole Miss. And I had taken her out at this point on just a few dates, maybe two or three dates, and it was still pretty early. And one weekend I took her out on a Saturday and then that next Monday I got a phone call from a friend. I got a phone call from Brian Sorgenfrei. Many of you know Brian; he is a son of this church. And Brian had helped set us up and he was rooting for it. And after every date, Brian had called me, just kind of checking in and making sure I didn’t mess anything up. And when Brian called that morning I was in a meeting and so I wrote a text that said: “Date was great. The girl is great. I really care about her and I think this is going somewhere.” And I wrote that text that was intended for Brian - it was about Lauren - and I didn’t send that text about Lauren to Brian, I sent that text about Lauren - you know where this is going! I sent that text to Lauren! And I was the kind of guy that you have to play it cool early, and so those were things of course that I had not yet said to Lauren. And so after a lot of pacing and a lot of counseling - I probably bugged all the ministers on our staff that day trying to get counsel - and a lot of insecurity, I recovered. We’ve now been married for nine years so I recovered! That is a fun story now. That was not a fun story in the fall of 2009, but that is a fun story now. We laugh now about “the text message.”

There are times, there are times for all of us aren’t there, when what gets out, where what gets found out, where what you were hiding that was a secret that was kept in the dark, there are times where those things are exposed and you’re unglued. And it’s not fun and light, but it’s heavy and there are real consequences. This psalm is written after that happened to King David. So Psalm 32, “Singing our Failure.” Let me pray for us before we read. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we pray that You would help us tonight as we actually are, not as we pretend to be but as we actually are. We pray that You would help us, that You would pursue us, that You would restore us back to You. And we pray that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Psalm 32. This is God’s Word:

“A Maskil of David.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. 

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

We’ve been saying that the Psalms are inviting you, they are this invitation to bring all of you. Not the Sunday you, not the dressed-up you, but the real you. The Psalms are this invitation to bring the real you. The Psalms say, “Do not hide. Bring every part of yourself.” We’ve been saying even the most desolate and desperate and the deepest places. And so they are prayers and songs that are expensive, they aren’t cheap, where you leave a piece of your heart with God. And we’ve looked at Psalm 1, a wisdom psalm. We looked at Psalm 1, “The Front Porch of the Psalms.” So, “Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” We’ve looked at Psalm 13. Psalm 13 is a lament psalm. “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?” - “Singing of Sadness.” We looked at Psalm 23 last week, “The Shepherd’s Psalm,” a psalm of confidence. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And so tonight we come to the most famous psalm of repentance in the first book of Psalms. Martin Luther called this psalm “a Pauline psalm.” And of course we know the apostle Paul didn’t write Psalms and David wrote this psalm, but what Martin Luther meant by that was that this psalm really preaches and proclaims, it preaches and proclaims the free and unmerited grace of God towards sinners that Paul so clearly wrote about in books like Galatians and Ephesians and Romans. It’s a Pauline psalm.

And the context is familiar. Psalm 32. It’s psalm written by King David. It’s a psalm paired with Psalm 51. They’re bound together. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love.” And they’re bound together because the context of the psalm is 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. It’s the familiar story when the Israelites were at war and David should have been with them but he was not. And he saw a woman bathing on her rooftop, Bathsheba, and he called for her and he impregnated her and then to cover it up he had her husband, one of his best and most loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite, he had him killed on the battlefield. And for at least nine months - I think this is helpful language, chilling language that Sinclair Ferguson uses - for at least nine months David apparently lived with “a quiet conscience.” He lived with a quiet conscience. He hid and he covered it up and he pushed back the guilt and the shame. And then God forced the issue in 2 Samuel chapter 12 when Nathan exposed his sin to him. And as a result of that confrontation, David wrote Psalm 51. Many believer that Psalm 51 was first penned by David as a result of that confrontation, and in Psalm 32 we have a later reflection.

I want you to look with me at the text. You notice at the very beginning of the psalm we read that this is a maskil of David. And a maskil comes from the word for “teaching.” And so it’s building upon David’s promise - think about this - David’s promise in Psalm 51. You remember what he said? “Lord, if You do these things in my life, then I will teach transgressors Your ways?” You remember what he said? “Open my lips that my mouth might declare your praise.” And so this is David’s song. This is David’s song of what God has done with his failure and how God has brought him home. 

And what I want you to consider tonight is this - where are you? Where are you? Do you ever wake up, at a heart level, do you ever wake up and think, “How did I get here?” Do you ever wake up and think, “How did I get here? How did I get so far away? How did I drift? How long has it been? How long as it been? How did I get in this funk? How did I get here?” And you know well the fatigue of pretending and posing and playing a game. You know well the fatigue of a busy life and a busy heart and you feel stuck. You wake up and you feel stuck in your failure. You feel stuck with your life and with your shadows and with your secrets. If that’s where you are tonight, you feel like you’re in a prison and you cannot escape, you’re desperate to get home - how do you get home? Is there a way home for failures? How do you get home? How do you get home when you have lost your way? “Do you not know? Have you not heard? He gives strength to” - whom? “He gives strength to the weary. He gives power to” - whom? “To the faint.” 

And so if you’re here tonight and you would say, “That describes me. I want to change. I’m desperate to change. But I know that I can’t change myself.” Well if that’s what you would say, that is a good place to be. In fact that’s the best place to be because God loves the one who comes to Him with empty hands. God loves the one who comes to Him and says, “You should not love me.” And in this psalm we will see that David, after he had been so lost, after he had failed, we’ll see David find his way home. And so that’s what we are going to look at tonight. We’ll first - and we’ll spend most of our time here - we’ll consider the journey home. We’ll consider the journey home in verses 1 to 5. And second, verses 6 to 11, the joy of home. And so the journey home and the joy of home. The journey home, verses 1 to 5, and then the joy of home in verses 6 to 11. 

The Journey Home 

And so first, the journey home. David begins the psalm, look with me at the text. The psalm begins taking the form of a beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It takes the form of the beginning, you may remember, it takes the form of the beginning of the Psalms. Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord.” And so David begins the psalm by saying, “I want to take you down a path. I want to take you on this long road that we’ve got to go. I want to take you on this road home.” But as we begin on this road, the first stop and the first thing to do, as we’ll see in verses 1 to 2, is confession. The first stop on the road home is godly sorrow. It’s sorrow because there are tears, there are regrets, there are failures, but it’s godly because David finally turns to God. 

And there’s a symmetry in verses 1 and 2. I want you to notice this. There are three words for David’s sin, for David’s sin and for our sin - you see it in the text. “Transgression,” in verse 1, “sin” in verse 1, and “iniquity” in verse 2. So transgression, sin, iniquity - three words for sin. This anatomy of sin. And then God gives us these three words of grace for David and for us. So transgression, sin, iniquity; transgression, sin, iniquity, and then these three words of grace - forgiven, covered, and not counted. And so these three words of grace that overwhelm that sin. And so the three words for David’s sin. Transgression - which means our resistance to God, our rebellion. It means “crossing the boundary.” This is what the prodigal son did when he left the father’s house and he left his heart and he left his ways, that he crossed the boundary. He left home. A turning away from God. Transgression. Then second, the word “sin” - an archery term; “to miss the mark.” To miss what God has called us to aim at in our relationship with Him, in our relationship with one another. And then this third word, “iniquity.” This refers to how sin is “a twisting.” So David is saying this is the twisting of a heart, of his heart. And so in other words, David is saying that, “What happened to me, my failure was not a fluke. I was not a random fumble. It was not out of left field. It’s actually very explainable. Here’s the explanation - my heart is corrupt. My heart is bent. My heart is twisted. And so those are the three words for sin in verses 1 and 2. Transgression and sin and iniquity.

And then look, David brings these three words of grace that overwhelm every facet of our sinfulness. And so look with me at the text. God first forgives our sin and then He covers our sin and then third in verse 2, He refuses to count our sin against us. And so there’s not only removal of guilt, that our sin is forgiven, but there is obliteration of our past record. It’s been covered and not counted. And so not only that God forgives me in the high court of heaven - no matter how tall or wide or deep my sin is - it’s not only that God forgives me, that God has removed my guilt, but it is that the whole record of my past performance is taken out of my file and thrown away. It’s as if it never happened. And so David, in the first two verses, he covers the waterfront first of types of sin to remind us how comprehensive is our need of His grace. 

And then he doesn’t stop there, but he gives us this picture of comprehensive forgiveness. That’s the first stop on the way home. It’s always the hardest. This is step number one. You see, you tell the truth. You confess. You confess that you are broken and bruised and bankrupt before God. This is step one. You see, David was holding this deep secret. This is his secret. This is the road home. You see in verses 3 and 4 that David was holding this deep secret and he was silent about it for at least nine months. And David, he provides this summary of what it was like to hide his sin. He says in verses 3 and 4, “When I kept silent my bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” And so you see what David is describing. He’s describing - this is his story of hiding. Nine months of hiding. This is the way that sin works in our lives and invites us to hide.

One of the favorite games in our house right now that I play, especially with Finley, is hide-and-seek. And we live in a Belhaven home that’s less than 2,000 square feet and so the game doesn’t get that complicated, but Finley is giddy when we decide to play this game. And it’s amazing to play hide-and-seek with a two-year-old because I’ll count for thirty seconds and I’ll yell out, “Finley, ready or not here I come!” and almost immediately I can hear her giggling. And then I’ll hear her breathing loud and then I’ll hear her bumping into things. And then as I approach her, her leg is, you know, it’s hanging around the bed where you can see it or her head is above the table. Sometimes when I finish counting she’ll actually say, “Daddy, I’m in here! Come get me!” And so she doesn’t yet understand the strategy and goals of the game, but she does this essentially because Finley loves to hide. She loves to play this game. She loves hide-and-seek. But more than her love for hiding, she really loves to be found. Finley loves to be found.

And you see, there is a thread that runs through Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, that runs through King David in Psalm 32:3-4. It’s a thread that runs through Finley. It’s a thread that runs through me and through all of us. We spend so much time hiding. We spend so much time hiding. And we are so afraid of being known, of being found out. We are so afraid of being in the light. And yet, we are longing for someone to really come after us. We’re longing for someone to pursue us, to find us, to bring us out of the dark, to bring us out of our hiding. See, so much of the Christian life is learning to actually believe verses 1 and 2, to actually let that voice, the voice of God, to let that voice lead us home; that you are forgiven, your sins are covered. They are not counted against you. So much of the Christian life is learning to let that voice become the higher and the louder and the truer voice. The voice that leads us out of our hiding, our hiding that is wrecking our lives. And so where are you tonight? There’s a way home, but you have to own it. You have to confess your sin. You have to break the silence. You have to bring your failure into the open, into the light, and to no longer hide. 

I want you to see the turning point of this psalm. The turning point is in verse 5. “I acknowledged my sin to You and I did not cover my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.’” And I want you to notice there are musical notations within this psalm. That little word, “selah.” It’s a word you’ll find seventy-one times in the Psalms. It’s a word you’ll find three times in this psalm. It’s a break in the flow of what is being said or what is being sung. So you see, there’s one at the end of verse 4, there’s one at the end of verse 5, and there’s one at the end of verse 7. And most commentators say that the “selahs” break up the themes with a pause. So they break up the themes of the psalm with a pause. I want you to see this. I think there’s a rich blessing for us in seeing that there’s no “selah” in the middle of verse 5. There’s no pause. “I will confess my sin and You forgive the iniquity of my sin.” There’s no break. There’s no pause. There’s no “selah.”

In other words, you cannot fun far enough, you cannot run fast enough, you cannot dig a ditch deeply enough for your life, there’s no limit to His mercy for you. You cannot exhaust His resources of kindness. He doesn’t have to ration out His grace to you, that when you call to Him, when you confess, there’s immediate forgiveness. The song that’s being sung - it’s as if the whole point of the psalm - the song that is being sung is when we confess our sins, He is faithful and He is just to forgive us of our sin immediately. There’s no break. There’s no pause. 

I wonder if you heard about this beautiful event that happened years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics where, for the 100 yard dash, there were nine contestants. And all of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun they took off. All nine of them took off. But one little boy, he stumbled and he fell and he hurt his knee and he began to cry. And the other eight children, all of them, they immediately heard the cry and they turned and they came and they took care of this boy. All eight of them. They immediately, when they heard the cry, they turned back, they ran to him, and one little girl with Down Syndrome, she famously bent down and she kissed the boy’s knee and she said, “This will make it better.” And the little boy got up and he and the other eight children, they locked arms and they crossed the finish line together. 

And that is a beautiful picture, I think even still a pale comparison to the immediacy, the immediacy of the Lord’s forgiveness. There’s no pause. Jesus stands ready to save you. He stands ready. “Come ye sinners, poor and wretched. Weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you.” And so we confess and we immediately receive forgiveness. We run back to Him and we are immediately embraced by our Father. We can rest in His arms. We can really rest. You see, you are so preciously loved that He immediately forgives. You are so preciously loved that you can name your failure, you can name it and you can bring it to Jesus and you do not have to be good enough. You just have to believe that He is good enough and there is nothing more to be done. There is the immediacy of the grace of God. It’s being promised here. This is our road home. So that’s the first thing. 

The Joy of Home 

Secondly and very briefly, there is this joy. So the journey home in verses 1 to 5 and then this joy. The joy of home in verses 6 to 11. You see in this section, you see David turn what he’s learned, you see him turn that theology of verses 1 to 5 into teaching. And so he says in verse 6, “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found.” And in this plain language in verse 9, “Be not like a horse or a mule.” In other words, don’t be stubborn. Don’t waste any more time. Today is the day of salvation. In the rush of great waters, David is saying, “Come home.” David is saying, “Come home, even tonight.” And when you do, what will you find? You’ll find joy. Verse 7 - the joy of home. You’ll find that God is your hiding place. 

I want you to see these contrasts in this psalm. Look first at verses 3 to 5. We talked earlier about the language of hiding. In verses 3 and 4 David is hiding. He talks about when he was silent. This is language of hiding. And then in verse 7, in verse 7, “You are a hiding place for me.” So you see, the heart of the Gospel is this invitation, as one pastor said, “to quit hiding from God, to quit hiding from God and instead hide in Him.” That’s the first contrast. 

There’s another contrast. I want you to see when David didn’t confess his sin, verse 3, what did he do? He groaned in verse 3. But when he confessed - look at verse 7 - when he confessed, what happened? Shouts of deliverance. “You surround me with shouts of deliverance.” And who was shouting? God. 

Some of you have heard me tell this story before. You may remember a few years ago when the family of Steven Curtis Chapman experienced a nightmare and there was the tragic death of one of the famous Christian musician’s children when Steven Curtis Chapman’s teenage son, Will Franklin, accidentally ran over his sister and killed her in the driveway. And months later as he was recounting the events in an interview, Steven Curtis Chapman said that as they were rushing to the hospital he remembered saying something to his son. He remembered saying something to Will Franklin, the son that had just ran over his sister. But he couldn’t remember what he had said. But one of the other children remembered and said that when Steven Curtis Chapman was rushing his daughter to the hospital, he rolled his window down and he said to his son, “Will Franklin, your father loves you!” He said, “Will Franklin, your father loves you!”

“You surround me with shouts of deliverance.” Maybe you’re here tonight and you have failed, but you believe that God has forgiven you. You believe that He has cleansed you. You believe that He has obliterated your past record and you even believe that He can be a hiding place for you. But you have trouble believing that He’s not ashamed of you. You have trouble actually believing that He could have joy in you, that He could have gladness in you. Believer in Jesus, your Father loves you. You are His child and He surrounds you with shouts of deliverance. And so where are you tonight? That’s the second question in the Bible - “Where are you?” in the garden when the Lord said to Adam, “Where are you?” The Lord called to the man who was hiding. Genesis chapter 3 verse 9, “Where are you?”

Let me close with this. I have a print of Rembrandt's painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” in my office. And it faces my desk and so when I sit at my desk I see it. I look at the painting every day. And there’s a phrase in that parable that I think about a lot. You remember the parable. Luke chapter 15 verse 20, “And he arose and came to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced and kissed him.” The phrase that I think about is, “while he was still a long way off.” How could he see him if he was still a long way off? If he was a long way off, how did the father see him? And it must be that he was waiting for him. But it’s got to be more than he was waiting for him because the parable says he saw him. So he wasn’t just waiting for him, he was looking for him. And if he was looking for him, then he must have been longing for him. While he was still a long way off, he saw him. 

Where are you? If you feel tonight that you are a long way off - Do you not know? Have you not heard? There is a ring and a robe for you. There is a calf being fattened for you. There is a party about to start if you would just come home. Return in repentance and rest. Amen. Let me pray for us.

God of all grace, we pray that You would rescue us tonight, that You would heal us, restore us, and forgive us, that You would be our hiding place, that You would help us tonight, all of us, to hear You calling us Your beloved. Help us to hear shouts of deliverance tonight. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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