If you have your Bibles now, turn with me to Psalm 143. Psalm 143 is the last of what the church has called, for hundreds of years, the penitential psalms. There are seven of those psalms that have been grouped together and called penitential, meaning that when you read the psalm you find a prominent theme of self-confessed guilt. The psalmist realizes he's guilty and that he deserves God's judgment, and so he calls out for mercy with a repentant spirit. And that's a prominent theme in those penitential psalms. Psalm 6, Psalm 25, Psalm 32, Psalm 38, Psalm 51, Psalm 130, are six of the penitential psalms and this is the last of those psalms.
And it's especially, as you might have guessed already, verse 2 that puts this Psalm into the category of a penitential psalm. Verse 2 of Psalm 143 is one of those incredibly important sentences in the Psalter because it helps you understand a lot of other things that David and the other psalmists say. You know, when you run across passages in the Psalms where the psalmist calls on the Lord to deal with him according to his righteousness, not according to the Lord's righteousness but according to the psalmist's righteousness, sometimes as protestants, descendents of Luther, we sort of squint when we see those lines and we wonder if the psalmist, when he says that, has an adequate understanding of his sin. Well this sentence lets you know that he does. He's not ever forgetting that if the Lord were to judge us according to what we deserve, we would be in trouble. And so this sentence, Psalm 143 verse 2, is very, very important for understanding all of those other statements. We’ll make some comments about that later tonight.
But other than verses 1 and 2 — in verse 1 the psalmist cries out for mercy, in verse 2 he acknowledges his guilt — other than verses 1 and 2, this psalm looks very much like a psalm of lament where the psalmist is lifting up a complaint about his condition to the Lord, he's lamenting his condition, and asking the Lord to intervene, not unlike Psalm 142, the psalm that we studied last Lord's Day Evening.
Now to outline what we're going to do tonight, be on the lookout for this. The psalm begins with a plea, a plea for covenant mercy. You’ll see that in verses 1 and 2. That is, David asks for God to deal with him on the basis of God's covenant fidelity, not on the basis of what he deserves. So it begins with a plea for covenant mercy. Then, the second part of the psalm is found in verses 3 and 4. There, David describes his predicament and he spells it out specifically. Then the third part of the psalm is in verses 5 and 6. Here, David is beginning to fight back. He's fighting back in his heart against that fainting spirit and that parched soul and that dread of what his enemies designs against him are and might accomplish and he fights back describing his pattern of spiritual warfare. So you have a plea in verses 1 and 2, you have the predicament described in verses 3 and 4, and then you have a pattern of spiritual warfare that is outlined in verses 5 and 6. And then the fourth part of the psalm, finally when you get to verses 7 to 12, you get the specific petitions that David is going to lift up. They are very specific and they are very urgent. So there's the outline; be on the lookout for it. The plea, the predicament, the pattern, and the petition. Let's look to the Lord in prayer before we read His Word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You again that at the end of the Lord's Day we can be together with Your people in Your house. We thank You that as we gather tonight we are in a room full of people who know what it is to find themselves in a perplexing predicament. We’re not here with people whose lives are perfect. We’re not here with people whose every step forward in providence has been predictable and pleasant. We’re here with people who've had their hearts broken in this life, who have had things happen to them that have taken their breath away and sometimes left them feeling hopeless in despair, dark and alone in the middle of the night. And they’re Your people just like David was Your man. And we thank You, Lord, that he recorded yet another one of those seasons of life, one of those circumstances, one of those predicaments that left him gasping for air and waiting for dawn and hoping for help and crying out to You. If that's where we are, tonight, O Lord, rescue us with Your Word and with Your Spirit. If that's not where we are tonight, Lord, we're soon to be there soon, so prepare us for it. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“A PSALM OF DAVID.
Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In Your faithfulness answer me, in Your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not Your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to You for refuge! Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God! Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
For Your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in Your steadfast love You will cut off all my enemies, and You will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am Your servant.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
David is again teaching us how to pray, how to think, how to believe, and how to respond when we find ourselves in circumstances that are desperate. Do you ever feel desperate? David understands that. He knew that feeling of desperation and he records it here. And I'd like you to see four things, very quickly, as we walk through this penitential psalm. The first thing I want you to see is this. David banks his hope on what? Now just think about that for just a second. When you’re in a place of desperation, what do you bank all your hope on? What do you rest everything on? What's the one thing that you’re going to count on?
DAVID’S PLEA FOR COVENANT MERCY
The first thing that I want you to see from verses 1 and 2 in this psalm is that David banks his whole hope on God's character and God's covenant. He banks his whole hope on God's character and God's covenant. What you see in verses 1 and 2 is a plea for covenant mercy. “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In Your faithfulness answer me, in Your righteousness!” Mercy, faithfulness, and righteousness. David is absolutely convinced that his God is merciful, faithful, and righteous, and it is that, that he is counting on in this time of his predicament, and so he cries out to God and he asks for the Lord to hear him in His mercy, faithfulness, and righteousness. But even as those words come off of David's lips, it's almost like a dark thought flashes across his mind. Because if the Lord is merciful and faithful righteousness, one thing for certain is, David is not. David is not faithful, he's not righteous, he's not merciful. Ask Uriah. David's not a fraud, he's not a hypocrite; he's a true believer, he's a true believer that is capable of falling badly.
And so this thought flashes before his mind and you see it in verse 2. “Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You.” As he calls out to God, “Lord, You’re merciful, You’re faithful, Your righteous, but by the way, please don't deal with me as I deserve. Don't give me what I deserve; give me what I need. Don't deal with me on the basis of what I'm like; deal with me on the basis of what You’re like” his whole hope is not on his goodness but on God's goodness. And as he confesses his sin, and it's that second verse that makes this a penitential psalm, “Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You,” suddenly you understand that when he is asking God to deal with him on the basis of faithfulness and righteousness, he means covenant faithfulness and covenant righteousness. God has made a promise to him — 2 Samuel 7. “Lord, be faithful to that promise. Be righteous; keep Your Word.” So David's plea is based on God's character – He is merciful, He is faithful, He is righteous — and it's based on God's covenant promise to him. He's made a promise to David never to leave him or forsake him. He's not going to withdraw His Holy Spirit from him in the way that He would remove the operation of the Holy Spirit from Saul. And David is banking everything on that, on God's character, on God's covenant.
My friends, we have no greater bulwark for our hope, no greater ground for our confidence, than the character and covenant of God. And when we find ourselves in desperation in the corner of our predicament, it's to God that we go. It's so evident here that David is not going through rote, liturgical motions. He isn't just praying a perfunctory prayer. There's nothing pro forma about this. He wants an audience and he wants an answer. And he's asking the Lord not to deal with him on the basis of his merit but on the basis of the Lord's character and the Lord's promise. It's almost like he says, “Lord, give me the help I need, not the sentence I deserve. Give me the help that I need, not the judgment that I deserve. Give me the help that I need, not the condemnation that I deserve.” That's the first thing I want you to see, this plea for covenant mercy. And isn't it interesting that in the midst of a predicament, even that predicament can drive David to realize that if God were to deal with him on the basis of his own deserving that predicament would be a bigger predicament than the predicament that he's in. And so before he even goes on to lift up his petition to the Lord about the predicament that he's in, he pleas to the Lord about that bigger predicament that he could have been in had not the Lord been merciful to him and made covenant promises to him.
Second, he specifies the predicament that he's in. You see this in verses 3 and 4. He spells out his situation to the Lord. “The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me and my heart within me is appalled.” David doesn't candy coat anything. He tells you exactly how this has made him feel, how low it has brought him, and it is a solemn thing, my friends, that many of the words that are used here by David to describe his heart's response to the pursuit and persecution of his enemies are used of your Savior in Matthew and in Hebrews. But he doesn't play down how bad it is. He spells it out before the Lord. Do you do that? Do you spell it out before the Lord what you’re in or do you just give kind of a one sentence generic summary? Spell it out. But you say to me, “The Lord already knows.” Yeah, I know. He knows. David knew that too. David told Him anyway.
One of the things that I used to do when C. Everett Koop was still coming to the meetings of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Philadelphia is I would take him to the airport after the meeting was over. And it was fascinating hearing him telling stories of traveling around the country with Frances Schaeffer when they were showing the film, “How Shall We Then Live?” I need to tell you the story about what happened when they came to Jackson; that's a really funny story. But one of the most interesting things he said was it was always an experience to pray with Frances Schaeffer in the various hotel rooms around the country because when Frances Schaeffer was in private, his prayers were very direct and very intimate and very frankly a little bit eccentric. They would get in a hotel room after they had settled in and Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, and C. Everett Koop and the companions that would be with them would get ready to pray and Schaeffer would turn around and kneel at the bedside or at a chair or at the sofa and he would say, “Well, Lord, it's Fran.” And C. Everett Koop was thinking, “Well, Fran, don't you know that He already knows it's Fran who's praying to Him?” And he's say, “We’re here in room 516 in the such-and-such hotel.” And Koop was thinking, “God already knows that, Fran! Why are you praying that to Him?” But he’d be very, very specific about these incidental little details. If Frances Schaeffer could be that specific about those kinds of incidental details, don't you think you need to be specific about the predicament that you’re in when you’re praying to the Lord? David did. He tells the Lord exactly how he feels, exactly where he is, exactly what's going on. The Lord knows it already, but by following the example of Scripture, we learn that we need to spell it out. David spells out his situation to the Lord.
DAVID’S PATTERN OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE
And then, in verses 5 and 6, he shows us how he begins to fight back. He describes his response to these circumstances. And he gives us a summary of his pattern of spiritual warfare and I want you to see it in two parts — verse 5 and then verse 6. Verse 5 — “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands.” In other words, David says, “I go back and I remember how You delivered me and my fathers and my fathers’ fathers and my fathers’ fathers’ fathers and so on, all the way back. I remember that and I meditate on what You've done and I ponder the work of Your hands.” He's acknowledging all his deliverances in life and all his people's deliverances in life as the work of God's hand and he remembers them. Do you remember the Lord's deliverances in your life?
Brister was visiting a member of our congregation who’d lost his wife and they talked about lots of things when they’re together but this was not long after the loss of his wife and Brister didn't know exactly what they’d talk about that day; he had some ideas in his mind. But when he got there, the gentleman wanted to talk with him about eleven deliverances in his life. This man had catalogued the deliverances of the Lord in his life and they spent an hour talking and they only got through two of them. Are the deliverances of the Lord in your life that ingrained in your heart and mind that you can articulate them? David spent time pondering, remembering, meditating, turning those over in his mind, what the Lord had already done.
Then, look at verse 6 — “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.” The first part of his response to his circumstance is remembering. The second part is saying, “Lord, what I need is You. What I need is You. I remember what You've done,” but now he says, “I stretch out my hands to You. My soul longs for You. You’re what I need. You may or may not get me out of this circumstance, but You’re what I need. You may deliver me by removing the circumstance or You may remove me from the circumstance. You may bring me through it, You may bring me around it, You may make it disappear, but whatever You do, what I need is You. The worst thing possible for me, Lord, would be to be delivered from this circumstance and not have You because You’re what I need.” And in any predicament what's our temptation to think? The greatest need in our life is to get out of that predicament. That's the greatest need in our life. “Lord, the greatest need in my life is to get out of this mess!” And here's David, before he's even gotten to praying to get out of the mess, saying, “No, no, no, Lord, the greatest need in my life is not to get out of this mess; the greatest need in my life is You. You’re what I need. My soul longs for You. I lift up my hands to You. You are what I need.” And every Gospel deliverance begins with that recognition.
DAVID’S SPECIFIC AND DESPERATE PETITIONS
And then finally comes this catalogue of specific and desperate petitions. David here recounts his prayer. And look at them — “Answer me…hide not Your face from me…let me hear of Your steadfast love…make me know the way I should go…deliver me from my enemies…teach me to do Your will…let Your good spirit lead me…preserve my life…bring me out of trouble…cut off my enemies…destroy the adversaries of my soul.” You could number them different ways but maybe eleven petitions. And accompanying those petitions are specific words in which David indicates the reason for his confidence in the Lord hearing his prayer. “Answer me quickly because Lord my spirit is failing. Don't’ hide Your face from me or I’ll go down to the pit. Let me hear You in the morning for in You I trust. Make me know the way that I should go, for to You I lift up my soul. Deliver me because I've fled to You. Teach me, for You are my God. Preserve my life for Your name's sake. Bring me out of trouble in Your righteousness. Cut off my enemies because of Your steadfast love. Destroy all my adversaries for I am Your servant.” Over and over he's providing arguments. “Lord, here's my petition. Do this because, because, because…”
But it's the prayer for guidance that I want to concentrate on in just the few minutes we have together. If you’d look at verses 8 and 10, it fascinates me that though David does indeed pray for the deliverance and the destruction of his enemies, at the core of what he prays in this predicament is a prayer for guidance. “Lord, show me what I'm supposed to do.” And look at how he does it. It comes in three parts. Second line of verse 8. “Make me know the way I should go.” Then 10, “Teach me to do Your will. Let Your good spirit lead me.” I want to think with you for a second about those three things.
“Make me know the way I should go.” When you’re in a moment of desperation, do you find yourself befuddled sometimes as to what to do? “Lord, I don't even know what to do next. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to respond.” I remember when I was eleven or twelve my little brother, Mel, had a seizure and my father handed me the phone and said, “Call Margaret Wyatt,” our pediatrician. And I stood there frozen. I was immobilized. I had seen my two year old brother blue in the face, not breathing, and my mother almost blowing his lungs out giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then switching him from a hot tub to a cold tub trying to get him breathing again. And when he handed me that phone I was paralyzed. I couldn't do anything; I didn't know what to do. I couldn't have dialed it if you had held a gun to my head and said, “Dial the phone.” And here's David saying, “Make me know what I should do. Show me what to do, Lord. I don't know what to do.”
And then the second aspect of his prayer for guidance in verse 10 — “Teach me to do Your will.” Now we're getting somewhere. “Lord, I don't know what to do but I always know the right thing to do is Your will.” This is getting back to the “Thy will not my will” thing. “Lord, I don't know what I'm supposed to do but I do know this — I'm supposed to do Your will, so teach me to do Your will. I want to do what Your will is. I don't want to just do what I want to do.” When you’re in a predicament, the temptation is, “Whatever I have to do to get out of this I'm going to do.” And David says, “Nope. The most important thing for me to do is Your will.”
And then third, he says, “Let Your good spirit lead me.” Ah, what's the spirit going to do? He's going to lead. How's he going to lead? By making David want to do the Lord's will. John Stott once said, “Ninety percent of knowing the will of God is being prepared to do it once you know what it is. Ninety percent of knowing the will of God is being prepared to do it once you know what it is.” And that is exactly what David is praying here. “Lord, let Your good spirit lead me so that I want to do what You want me to do, so that I can pray with my Savior, ‘Not my will but Your will be done.’” And in a predicament, especially in a predicament, we are tempted to turn that around. “Lord, I don't know what Your will is, but my will is that I get out of this thing and any old way will do.” And David says, “Lord, let Your good spirit, in the midst of this predicament, lead me not to respond that way but to say, ‘Lord, we're going to do it Your way and I want Your spirit to make me want to do it Your way and I want You to guide me in the way that I should go. I have no idea what to do right now.’”
Do you know what it is to be desperate, to be cornered, to be in that kind of predicament? David did, and Jesus did, and they prayed, “Not my will but Your will be done.” Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You again for the beautiful confession of this psalm and for the honest lament of this psalm and for the wise petitions of this psalm and we ask that by Your Spirit You would make us to believe it and to understand it and to inwardly digest it so that this is our reaction in a time of desperation. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Would you stand and receive God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.