13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O LORD, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.Psalm 51:13-19
I cannot speak for everyone, but I have struggled through our study of repentance. I have struggled because, ultimately, repentance is not something that comes naturally to me. I have struggled because I like to believe that I have no need to repent. I have struggled because I am a sinner. But, sometimes, it is good to struggle – at least if you make it through to the other side!
We have been looking at the example of King David, seeing how repentance is an act of worship. David’s song of repentance, Psalm 51, has been our guide as we have discovered that we have sinned against God and are in need of Him alone as Savior. And, last week, we moved to some good news by discovering what it means to be restored to the joy of salvation. Today, as we wrap up our study of repentance, it is my prayer that we can look once again at the example of David and see how sweet it is to return to serving the Lord.
Even though David sinned against God – coveted, committed adultery, conspired to murder, and so on – he was still the king of Israel. When Nathan the prophet confronted him in his sin, he was the king. When he wept bitterly on the floor over the sickness of his child, he was the king. And when sat down to write Psalm 51 – you guessed it; he was the king.
Now, through most of this he was not in right standing with the Lord. Through most of these events, he was not worshiping the Lord. He was, for the most part, serving his own evil, sinful desires and not the Lord. And it is the same for us in our sin. We cannot serve ourselves and the Lord. We cannot succumb to temptation and seek Him. One excludes the other, just as the one act compromises the other.
But, while we would all most assuredly want to be restored to joy in salvation, we seem to lack joy in serving the Lord. I speak from experience in this area. I absolutely love that I get to serve the Lord today, but – not too many years ago – I literally begged God to let me not have to keep preaching and leading in worship. I hatched a grand, orchestrated scheme to leave ministry behind and get a regular job (or so I thought). I wanted to find joy in anything else, but I just did not want to serve.
I wish that this were untrue. I also wish that this did not show the sinful selfishness of my own heart. In those moments, I was more like Satan than the Jesus I claimed to serve. In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he depicts Satan in a similar light. There is a line in that poem that reads: “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” I absolutely hate the fact that these words echoed my sinful heart!
In Psalm 103:2, David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits….” We want to be forgiven of our sin and have our diseases healed (103:3). We want to be rescued from “the pit” and crowned with the love and mercy of God (103:4). We want to be full and have our “youth…renewed like the eagle’s” (103:5). We want this, that, and the other. But what about wanting Him? And, in that wanting, serving.
This is where David is at the end of Psalm 51. Verse 13 shows us that once he had been restored he would “teach transgressors” the ways of God – and that those “sinners will return” to God! His reasoning for being cleansed is so that he have the opportunity to “sing aloud of [God’s] righteousness” (v. 14). David saw the opportunity to get to return to the service of his God and King as a privilege. He understood that he messed up.
It is good news for David – and for us – that our God specializes in sinners and mess ups! David, even though these words had not yet been written, knew and could testify to Jesus’ words in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Praise God for that truth! It is in these truths that we can echo David’s words in Psalm 51:15: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise”!
You see, God is not interested in keeping the status quo. He is not worried about appearances. Last Sunday, my pastor, John Goldwater, made the statement (while talking about God’s response and attitude toward sin in Jeremiah) that God is not an enabler. An enabler is one who – through their own inaction – ends up encouraging (enabling) bad or dangerous behaviors in a person. An enabler sees the negative things that happen and does not intervene. No, our God is not an enabler. Instead, he grants us the opportunity to repent of our sin and turn back to Him (2 Timothy 2:25).
For David and Israel at the time, keeping with the status quo would have been the ceremonial acts of worship and sacrifices. David makes it clear in v. 16 that God had no desire to receive a sacrifice or burnt offering from him in his sinful state. Instead, God preferred the sacrifice of “a broken spirit” (v. 17). God knows that we are good at keeping up appearances. He knows what is in our hearts. And it is for that reason that he delights more in “a broken and contrite heart” than in the sacrifice of a whole herd of bulls. He delights more in repentant hearts broken over sin than a thousand sermons. For he knows that, if we truly love Him, our heart will show it; for it was God, Himself, who said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
For me, those years ago, I had to come to a place of genuine repentance before I realized that I was not truly serving the Lord. I had to quit to begin working. I had to be humbled before I could serve. And, while I would not recommend the process, I am immensely thankful for it now.
I had to realize that I was not a sufficient Savior (Psalm 51:1-2). God did not save me so that I could be a major workhorse for Him. His Kingdom was not lacking in anything and in need of me. I was lacking and in need of the King (Acts 17:24-27)!
I had to be broken and find myself in despair before I could seek after the joy found only in Christ (Psalm 51:3-6, 11-12)! I had to be torn down and laid low before Christ would heal me and lift me up (Psalm 51:7-8)! I had to look into the mirror of His Word and see the filth of my sin that covered me before I ever sought to be washed clean (James 1:22-23, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 51:9-10)!
But part of the journey is the perspective that it brings. I dare say that, if David had it all to do over again, he would have gone out with his troops to battle and stayed away from high vantage points above where beautiful women bathe (2 Samuel 11:1-2). If only going back in time were to be an option! Alas, it is not. But going back to God in repentance and relishing in his everlasting, steadfast love and mercy is!
I wish I could talk to my younger self. But that is not an option either. So, I rejoice that I get to talk to you now. I share what God has done in His Word and how He has blessed me. Where I once hoped to never have to serve again, I am now blessed with second-third-fortieth chances that I am not worthy of. I get to serve my King. And, while I am most assuredly not worthy of such a gift and opportunity, He loves me. And He loves and offers the same to you, as well. Know that you are loved and prayed for. May you heed the call of Isaiah 55:6 and “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near….”