I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 1 Peter 1–5, Psalm 39, Ecclesiastes 8.
The Psalms simultaneously model for us and teach us. They show us how we ought to approach God, and teach us who God is. Psalm 39 is no exception: it does both, through and through. David opens the Psalm by expressing a sentiment we have all shared at some time or another: holding our tongue around those who are actively causing us grief or harm, lest we sin, and finally coming to a point when we can hold back our frustration no longer. Unlike my typical response, though, David did not lash out at those who frustrated him. As is typical of the response the Psalms record, David turned instead to God. It is a striking turn:
As I mused, the fire burned
then I spoke with my tongue:
The rest of the Psalm is addressed not to David’s enemies (mentioned in verse 1) as a rebuke, but to the one who can deliver him from those enemies and from his own sin. It is not a quiet, passive Psalm, but a loud and forceful request (though not, notably, a demand) that Yahweh be gracious and deliver David from his own transgressions. There is acknowledgement, to be sure, of fault, but also bold importuning of the sovereign God of the universe to act in a certain way in David’s life when David had sinned. Even to those of us who stand on this side of the cross—we who are enjoined to come confidently before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)—this kind of boldness is a bit shocking.
The Psalms are full of this kind of thing—and frankly, it tends to make most of us uncomfortable. The idea that we could thus address God seems out of line or inappropriate. It seems remarkably bold to say to God, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, / and give ear to my cry; / hold not your peace at my tears!” More: it seems on the verge of untrusting, not to recognize that God always has his right and wise reasons for acting as he does and allowing (even ordaining) the things we experience. David has no qualms about this, though; in fact, it typifies the way he and the other Psalmists address God in the midst of trouble.
I wonder if perhaps we struggle with these kinds of prayers precisely because we do not know or trust God as we ought. (And that we? It points mostly at me here.) David could come beseech God to be merciful and kind to him by delivering him from his own sin because he knew God to be merciful and gracious. He could plead boldly with God because he knew that God is both all-good and all-wise, and that God’s answer would be right. In short, he could come boldly before the throne of Yahweh Almighty because he knew Yahweh Almighty. How much more can we who have seen Yahweh’s mercy writ large in the grotesque humiliations of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus be confident in his goodness and wisdom and mercy toward us? When we see our own sin, and when we taste discipline for that sin, are we able to go to our Father in heaven and plead for deliverance from our own folly with this kind of confidence?
If not, it is only because we do not know him or trust him as we ought.