- When You Can’t Stand Yourself
- Psalm 51
- Lyndol Loyd July 22, 2018
Sleepless nights are awful. They are bad enough when you can’t sleep because you’re worried about how you’re going to make ends meet, or because one of your closest friends is ill.
But sleepless nights are worse when you’re awake with regret and remorse for having done something that betrayed your deepest beliefs and values.
King David was having one of those sleepless nights. David was undisputed king of Israel, and when it suited him, he took what he wanted whether it was his to take or not.
One day he looked over his balcony and saw Bathsheba—the married woman next door. Her husband, Uriah, was a deployed soldier, fighting David’s war. David forced her to have an affair with him and she got pregnant. That’s bad enough, but it got much worse.
David then ordered that Uriah be sent into the most dangerous fighting with the intention that Uriah would be killed in action to cover up what he had done. That’s what happened.
One day a prophet, Nathan—a man of God—confronted David with the abject ugliness of what he had done. David finally realized that he wasn’t the man he thought he was.
I imagine he paced the floor that night, unable to sleep, a broken man, begging God for help. That’s just what Psalm 51 is, a cry for help from someone who knew that he could not help himself. It’s the prayer of someone who is trying to figure out how to live with himself when he can’t stand who he has become.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:1-17) NIV
Let’s not kid ourselves, David sinned. We don’t like to admit that something we’ve done could be categorized as sin. But there, in the sleeplessness of that dead night, David knew he couldn’t call it anything else.
“Have mercy on me, O God … and cleanse me from my sin.”
Some people today would tell David not to feel so bad, that he only made a mistake. There’s something terrible about committing sin; but making a mistake doesn’t seem all that bad. Making a mistake has an air of innocence about it—to make a mistake is to blunder, to misstep.
Playing the wrong note is a mistake. Knocking on the wrong door is a mistake. David’s action was no mistake—it was sin. He willfully and deliberately did what he knew was wrong.
So maybe it wasn’t a mistake; maybe it was an error in judgement. But an error in judgment is something that happens when we’ve pulled information together, considered our options, and then taken a course of action that we thought was best but didn’t turn out as we had hoped. This was no error in judgment. This was sin.
Sin is an intentional act of rebellion against what we know to be God’s best for us and everyone else concerned. David confessed what he knew to be the truth: “Have mercy on me, O God … cleanse me from my sin.”
But there was more to it than a single act of doing what he knew was just plain wrong. He said, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” That is a rather melodramatic way of stating a pretty harsh reality—his problem wasn’t just that he had sinned. The problem was that he was sinful.
His act of adultery and treachery erupted from a heart and soul corrupted by years of sinful actions. One sin piled upon another until his very nature had changed. He was no longer the innocent shepherd boy of legend—he was corrupt, a sinner trapped in sinfulness, and he knew it.
It’s hard to admit that we have sinned; it’s even harder to admit that what we’ve done is really a part of an ongoing pattern in our lives.
The good news is that through God’s intervention, we can learn to live with ourselves again. Not learn how to accept our sin as ‘just the way it is.’ Not how to compromise or give up as if we are powerless against sin. Not how to tell ourselves that it was just a mistake or a lapse in judgment and not to feel so bad about it.
God’s Word never shies away from our sinfulness, but the good news is that God does not give up on us. God’s Word teaches us how to live with ourselves again.
To live with ourselves we have to do something about our sinfulness. But why? Why do we have to deal with the sin in our lives? Why does God care if we can live with ourselves?
Because when we deliberately rebel against God’s best for us not only does it hurt those around us, but it also has a long term impact on our hearts, souls and minds.
Some of you will remember a television show, “Dirty Jobs” which starred Mike Rowe, performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees. One of the episodes featured the job of a chimney sweep. It definitely falls in the category of a dirty job.
If your home has a chimney then you need to be aware that after a period of usage, chimneys become coated with a sticky, yellowish-black, tar like substance known as creosote. Years of accumulated creosote can cause a chimney fire. This is why it is important to have your chimney cleaned.
The bad news about sin is that, like creosote, it leaves a residue that sticks to our heart, mind and soul. Over time, that residue of sin changes the way we look at the other people—they become objects to be used, not people to be respected and loved.
Over time, that residue of sin obscures our deepest beliefs and our highest values and we come to believe that what we’re doing isn’t really that bad or if it is bad, it isn’t really our fault.
Over time, that residue of sin causes us to blame our loved ones, our enemies, our upbringing, the unfairness in life that everyone experiences, or God for the wrong we do. That whole blame game—that’s evidence of sin in our lives and it’s easy to spot.
Worst of all, that accumulated residue of sin—that pattern of sinfulness—can get to the point where we no longer see just how far we have drifted from what is good, right, and honorable.
That’s the power of sin in our lives—the power to blind our heart, mind and soul to the truth of what we have become. That’s what had happened to David—that’s the bad news of sin.
That’s what David was praying—that his sin and sinfulness would be cleaned out. Listen to his words: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.…Purge me… and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Chimneys can’t clean themselves—it takes a chimney sweep. We can’t purge the sin from our lives—we need someone to scrub our heart, mind, and soul of the built up residue of all those sinful actions.
David poured out his heart to God and begged God to cleanse him from his sin because he knew that he could not do that for himself. The good news we believe as Christians is that we have a Savior who does that for us.
In a way we can’t quite comprehend, Jesus took all our sin and sinfulness on Himself, took it to the cross, and when He died, our sin and sinfulness died with Him. When we confess our sin for what it is and ask God to forgive us, the power of sin is broken.
Through the mysterious power of God’s Holy Spirit, all that residue of sin and sinfulness can be cleaned from your heart.
Earlier we were talking about the impact of creosote on the chimney of a fireplace. The good news is that creosote can be cleaned out. The bad news is that if creosote has been left in place for too long the damage it leaves behind even after it has been cleaned can be extensive.
One of the things that a chimney sweep often discovers after removing the creosote is that a chimney fire has already taken place and the owners of the home didn’t even know it, leaving them with cracked chimney tiles which are a huge fire hazard. In such cases, this isn’t something that can be patched. The chimney has to be completely retiled.
Likewise, it’s not enough to be forgiven—to have the residue of sin cleansed from our lives. Sin not only obscures, it corrodes our very nature. We have to be remade from the inside out.
That’s just what David prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Living with ourselves isn’t as simple as confessing our sin. Confessing our sin is the starting point, but learning to live with yourself is a matter of God rebuilding your heart, mind and soul from the inside out.
We are forgiven in an instant but rebuilding takes a lifetime. That is the life of being a follower of Jesus. That’s why we need to have a life of worship, not just go to church occasionally. That’s why we need to pray, to read the Scripture, to serve the poor and hurting. That’s why we need to confess our sin on a regular basis.
Do you ever find it hard to live with yourself? Maybe you need to be rebuilt from the inside out. Maybe you’re suffering from the obscuring and corrosive effects of sin.
Truth is, all of us are. Every single one of us. The Apostle Paul said that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s best intention for our lives. It’s a universal condition—and it has a universal solution.
Jesus Christ died to forgive all the sin of all of us. But His death doesn’t do you or me any good if we don’t confess our sin and ask Him to come and rebuild our lives.
It’s funny—David pours out his heart and begs God for mercy, for forgiveness, to be rebuilt. Then, at the end of Psalm 51, he knows he is forgiven, but instead of saying thanks to God—he speaks to us, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Our prideful hearts are the biggest stumbling block to living with ourselves again—not the particular sin we committed. Learning how to live with ourselves requires that we give up any excuse for what we’ve done, that it wasn’t just a mistake or an error in judgment, we have to quit blaming others for what we’ve done and admit to ourselves and to God that we sinned and then ask forgiveness.
Let’s do that today. Let’s do that together. We are going to join together in a unison prayer of confession of sin. The words we say together might not paint the exact picture of what’s keeping you up at night, but allow these words to become your confession.
Know this, if you confess your sins, God is swift to forgive; and if you call out to Christ, He will begin to rebuild your life so that you can live with yourself again.
Prayer of Confession:
We confess to you, all-knowing God, what we are.
We are not the people who we like others to think we are.
We are afraid to admit, even to ourselves, what lies in the depths of our souls.
But we cannot hide our true selves from you.
You know us as we are, and yet you love us.
Help us not to shrink from self-knowledge.
Teach us to respect ourselves for your sake.
Give us the courage to put our trust in your guiding power.
Raise us out of the paralysis of guilt and sin
into the freedom and energy of forgiven people.
Silent Prayers of Confession
Words of Pardon from 1 John 1:5,7:
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 7…If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.