HUMILITY AND PENITENCE
Lord, teach me how to discern Your ways more precisely.
Read PSALM 38
A psalm of David. A petition.
1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they scheme and lie.
13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
14 I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 Lord, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”
17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
19 Many have become my enemies without cause[b];
those who hate me without reason are numerous.
20 Those who repay my good with evil
lodge accusations against me,
though I seek only to do what is good.
21 Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.
a Psalm 38:1 In Hebrew texts 38:1-22 is numbered 38:2-23.
b Psalm 38:19 One Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript; Masoretic Text my vigorous enemies
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“The sacriﬁces of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (1 Psa. 51:17, KJV).
It is Lent as I write. We recited this psalm on Ash Wednesday, a centuries-old practice in liturgical churches. This psalm is one of the seven penitential psalms (Psa. 6,32,38,51,102,130,143). The most deeply personal of them, it is an appropriate start to the Lenten focus on repentance. The psalm suggests that David, following old-covenant thinking, considers his affliction to be a punishment from God for his “sinful folly” (5). We have just ﬁnished our journey through Galilee with Jesus, learning that Jesus does not necessarily equate sickness with apparent punishment. We live in a fallen world, exposed to damaged genetics and indiscriminate pathogens that cause disease. Much of the sickness we see all around us is not our fault—but neither do we especially deserve God’s favor. If God has not ordained David’s affliction, David’s penitence is still the most appropriate response. David has both physical and emotional symptoms. Overwhelmed by both pain and guilt, he approaches God with the realization that his sin renders him even less-deserving of God’s blessing.
We also must approach God with humility. We must avoid being lured into the belief that when bad or good things happen to us, God is punishing or rewarding us for something—a doctrine based on a self- centered misreading of the Bible, particularly the Scriptures of the old covenant (e.g., Jer. 29:11; Mal. 3:10). We must also consciously avoid becoming like David’s friends, who “stand afar off” (11, KJV), because we conclude that the homeless or the unemployed or those who have feared illnesses probably brought their situation on themselves. To turn away from them is to reject those whom Jesus does not reject, those whom God loves. God has already blessed us more than we can ever comprehend by sending his Son to die for us and open the gates to eternal life. We can approach such a God only in penitence and gratitude.
“We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings. The remembrance of them is grievous unto us… Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father” (The General Confession, Book of Common Prayer).
Lord, I acknowledge that You have dealt with me far more kindly than my sin would ordinarily allow. Thank You for Your mercy toward me.