A Prayer To Seek The Way Of The Lord
1. We've gone into the Passion season. Today, for the first Sunday in the season, we have given to us Psalm twenty-five. An explanatory note of "An Acrostic Psalm" is added in the New Common Bible Translation. That's right, barring a few exceptions, it is basically like "The ABC's Song [The Syllabary Song]," we have in Japan. It is like that because it makes it easy to learn and it must make it easier to sing along together. And the very end of this Psalm closes with the words, "O God, please redeem Israel from all its suffering. This part is believed to have been added later. When you look at the whole thing like this, these are words of a strong prayer with a very individual tone. Ultimately we understand that this prayer of an individual was shared by the Israelites, memorialized, and became a prayer presented in common during services. If we said it another way, "my prayer" was turned into "our prayer." And the words of this ancient prayer are being given to us who are present here as "our prayer."
2. Today, let's pay particular attention to the words of the brief prayer in verses four and five of this psalm, "O Lord, show me your way and teach me the way to follow you. Lead me in your truth." I would like for us to consider together what this means and for us to pray together with these words.
Show Me Your Way
3. To begin with, what is the particular situation he is in that he is praying like this? Obviously, this prayer is the prayer of a suffering person, but we see right away that this suffering is given to him by his "enemies" (verse two). But then, we're not sure who his "enemies" are. In verse three they are called "vain deceivers of men." "A deceiver" can also be translated "a backstabber, a traitor." Thus, this was probably some friends he used to have. Any way, it seems his tormentors were people close to him. When you look at verse nineteen, he makes the appeal that these enemies of his are increasing more and more. They hate this psalmist, initiate injustices, and plot to trap him.
4. How are things with us? Have we ever been troubled by the disloyalty of those around us? Have you ever shed tears over a friend's betrayal? Surrounded by people with an attitude against you for no real reason, have you ever been taunted so hard you couldn't sleep? More or less, I suppose everyone has been there. In the Psalms we find many prayers of persons afflicted by their enemies. And though they are the prayers of people separated widely by time and place what is said in them seems very familiar to us. It was Jesus who said "Love your enemy." But, when you give it some thought, his saying presupposes the existence of an enemy. Therein lies the real world of humanity. It is not that we live always surrounded by friends. Even if we are not as obviously aware of our "enemies" like this psalmist, I don't think I am mistaken that the sufferings and miserable situations we experience, many times, come from relationships with people close to us.
5. But, please incline your hearing to the voice of this man as he suffers like this. What does he do? Does he curse his enemies or his own fate? No, he does something else. Looking to heaven, he cries out, "O Lord, my soul looks to you in hope, o my God, I trust in you," (verses one and two). The phrase "my soul looks to you in hope" originally was "I lift up my soul to you." The Israelites prayed lifting up both hands towards heaven, and they did not only raise their hands, but also raised their souls to heaven. We have the phrase, "At a dead end." But, heaven is never blocked off to us. He cries out towards the ever opened heavens. He calls out addressing him as "O my God," and puts his trust in him.
6. That's how the words he prays go in the prayer in verse four which we read earlier. There he prays, "O Lord, show me your way." Many people just look for their troubles to pass. But, he is not seeking in prayer that his troubles would just pass. He is not seeking in prayer merely to be saved from his enemies. At the time of his suffering because of disloyalty by humankind, he prays, "O Lord, show me your way. Guide me in your truth."
7. He is looking to be led into God's truthfulness and sincerity so that he will keep living in God's fidelity. In putting his trust in a faithful and true God who would never betray him, he is seeking to live with God. The psalmist expresses his faith with "You are the God who saves me." However, just escaping out of a predicament alone is not salvation. True salvation lies not in escaping from something, but in being led into God's truthfulness to you.
8. His prayer takes us in one direction. We should never lose hope no matter how much disloyalty we encounter in this world or how much we might have suffered from human betrayal. We should not be half hearted and despair in life at this temporary level. Don't get stuck in the mud of living by paying back betrayal with betrayal or hatred for those with a hateful attitude against you. Because that's really the time we had better know who this never betraying and faithful one is. Because that's the time we should really be seeking for him who is faithful to us. At such a time indeed is the time we ought to pray, "Lead me in your truthfulness."
Forgive Sinful Me
9. But, we really should think more deeply about what it means to pray, "O Lord, show me your way. Lead me in your truthfulness." Because when we begin to pray like that it means that we are no longer able to take issue with only our enemy. Until then, he probably condemned those around him and made his appeal to God. But, in praying "show me your path," it changed from holding someone else accountable to holding his relationship with God as the issue. Because, as you might expect, we are the ones who walk the path and not someone else.
10. Then what happens? He then can't help turning his eyes not on other peoples' sins but on his own. Since he is seeking the light, he has to be exposed to the light. He must see himself exposed to the light. And since he is exposed to God's light, it is not someone else's disloyalty that is then put out into the open. It is not the sin of the enemy. It is the sin and filth that belongs to no one but ourselves.
11. As a result he continues and prays like this, "O Lord, please remember your eternal mercy and lovingkindness," (verse six). When we recognize our sins in God's light, we see how the only thing we can do is trust in God's mercy and lovingkindness. Thus, while he continues seeking the mercy of the Lord, he prays some more as follows, "Do not remember the sin and rebellion of my youth, but on behalf of your lovingkindness and grace please be mindful of me," (verses six and seven). This request may seem so selfish and self-centered, but, if a person really seeks to be borne in mind by God, that's the only way to pray. Because, when you get down to it, being remembered by God is also to have our past and all our sins remembered as well, and since that means destruction (hell) it means no salvation whatsoever.
12. We must listen very carefully to the words of this man. He expresses his past as "the sin and rebellion of my youth." He doesn't just mean his past sin when "I was carried away by the folly of my youth." He does not call it mere folly and weakness. We often times put off our sin as some foolishness or weakness. That's why we don't get the seriousness of this poet's prayer at all when he says, "Don't remember the sin and rebellion of my youth." He clearly expresses his past as "rebellion." That means he was mutinous towards God. It is hostility towards God. He saw in his past that he was in rebellion with his back towards God and that he was at enmity. It means that, if we put it using the picture in the Gospels, he did not consider himself among the sick healed by the Lord Jesus. It wasn't that way for him, instead it was like he saw himself among those who crucified, ridiculed, and abused the Lord. When we notice ourselves like that, we can't avoid waking up to the fact that we can no longer bring any type of self-righteousness before God.
13. Praying like this, "O Lord, show me your way. Guide me in your truthfulness," is nothing but as a sinner to seek for oneself the leading of the Lord. We are not to seek the leading of the Lord as if we alone are the only righteous people, like some kind of victim troubled by an enemy lying in the sin and disloyalty of this world.
14. Thus, the message of the Bible that the Lord is deeply gracious unmistakably comes to have major significance because it means that the Lord is even more graciously concerned for the sinner who seeks the way of the Lord. "The Lord is gracious and righteous, and shows his way to the sinner. In judgment he guides the poor and teaches the poor the way of the Lord," (verses eight and nine). That's what the Bible teaches. The Lord is not just "righteous." Since the Lord is also gracious, he does not give up on the sinner, but shows and guides the sinner in his way. I am speaking very particularly, but in verse four "way" is written in the plural. "Way" in verses eight and nine is singular. It is one way. The Lord doesn't give up on the sinner, but shows him or her the one sure way he or she ought to walk, the way of the Lord. That's really where our hope is at.
15. "The sinner" here could also be called "the poor." "A poor person" is not just someone in economic distress. Some have translated this as "the humble person." It is the person who admits his or her own sinfulness, who admits he or she has no power at all to save himself or herself, and who humbles himself or herself and trusts only in the Lord alone. They are like the tax collector in Jesus' parable. They are like the tax collector when he wouldn't even lift his eyes to heaven, but while striking his chest he prayed, "O God, have mercy on me a sinner," (Luke 18:13). Jesus said it was this man who had returned home justified. That's right, God has mercy on the person who humbles himself or herself and seeks for his mercy. God teaches his way with mercy. Therefore, the prayer of this psalmist reaches its climax in verse eleven. "O Lord, for your name's sake, please pardon sinful me," (verse eleven). It is these words of the prayer that are at the heart of this psalm. He just trusts in the name of God and seeks for forgiveness in his prayer.
16. We have thought together about the meaning of the words in the prayer, "O Lord, show me our way, and teach me the way to obey you. Guide me in your truthfulness." And we saw in this psalm that this prayer cannot be separated from the prayer that seeks for forgiveness of sin. Since that's so, the only place the words of this prayer can bring us is no where but the place of the Christ who was nailed to the cross. Because it is at the Christ of the cross where the forgiveness of the sins of we sinful ones can be found. And it is at the Christ of the cross where we are shown the one sure way, the way of the Lord. As we look to the cross, we thus are led to the truthfulness of the Lord and we will live trusting in the God who would never betray us or abandon us, but is true to us.
17. "O Lord, show me your way, and teach me the way to obey you. Lead me in your truthfulness." Amen.