The psalms we read today cover a pretty wide range of situations from wise teachings, to the pains of conscience, to the confusion about the right thing to do. The one thing they have in common is that they are part of the ordinary human experience as lived on earth.
Don’t write it off, just because you’ve heard it a lot — Psalm 37 has great wisdom for godly living, great promises about the destiny of the wicked, and assurances to us of God’s help in difficulty:
“Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Psalms 37:3-5, NAS95.
“The wicked plots against the righteous And gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, For He sees his day is coming.” Psalms 37:12, 13, NAS95.
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread.” Psalms 37:23-25, NAS95.
This is great stuff! But there are those who would dismiss it as little more than pious platitudes (a remark or statement, esp. one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful). And these teachings are often repeated in Scripture, which might put them into the “platitude” category; but, listen, just because something might be classified as a platitude doesn’t mean it isn’t true! They get repeated often, because we need to hear them — and often.
“Trust in the LORD…Delight in the LORD…Commit your way to the LORD.” It’s an easy three point sermon, but here’s the catch — do we really do those things? The wicked will face God in the judgment one day — but are we factoring that in, when we see their advantages and envy them? Or do we need reminding? The LORD does take care of his people’s needs — but do we still worry about being able to live in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed? Or do we still need to hear, “Consider the lilies of the field…?” Again and again.
As a preacher I sometimes get criticism from those who believe themselves to be way beyond the need for hearing the basics. And there is a need for meat for those who are mature — I understand the need to preach “meat”. But I also understand the need to keep the basics “shored up”. Some things just need reminders. When I was a high school basketball player, I and other team mates would complain to the coach that we needed to get beyond the basics of dribbling, passing, and lay-ups. He disagreed, and although he did give us new skills, he also kept us well practiced on the basics (despite our groanings). The coach was right; our varsity team went all the way to quarter finals in Texas and lost by a mere point. Not bad for a team that never spent much time on behind-the-back passes, shooting from way too far out, or fancy plays. Not bad for a team that spent a lot of time in simple dribbling, passing, and drilling a simple pick-and-roll play for an easy shot. No doubt it is for a similar reason that Peter wrote, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.” 2 Peter 1:12, NAS95. I’ve known folks who knew Hebrew and Greek, who’d gotten advanced degrees, and knew all the latest theological lines of thought — but who were poor disciples of Jesus. They knew all the fancy stuff, but had dismissed the simpler things as mere “platitudes”, unworthy choices for their reflection.
The weight of guilt — In Psalm 38 we find what I thing is one of best descriptions of guilt in the Bible. And there is only one cure. The cure isn’t denial; that only makes things worse. The cure isn’t “absolution” from a psychiatrist or psychologist — no matter what they say it’s not “all good.” The cure isn’t found in how many other people are also doing it; it’s still wrong. Trying to overwhelm the sin with good deeds (working your way to Heaven), doesn’t work either. The true cure is confession and repentance and relying on the LORD for forgiveness. Want to feel light as a feather? Receive forgiveness God’s way.
Forgiveness for an outburst — I bet you’ve been here before: promising yourself that you would control yourself this time, that you wouldn’t say something you’d regret later, and you actually are controlling yourself — then, something was said, something was done, something that just broke the camel’s back, and your all your fine intentions were rubble in an outburst of anger or words. That’s where David (who is the ascribed psalmist) appears to have been, and interestingly enough he finds a different, a moderating perspective to help him not burst out again in knowing how temporal man (and the rest of creation) really is. He seems to be saying that so many of these things that we “blow our tops” over are all temporary and unworthy of “blowing our convictions” about. And isn’t that the truth? After we get so angry, isn’t it true that after we’ve had a chance to cool off we often judge the thing we got so angry about was really pretty “small potatoes”? Keep it in mind next time you’re tempted to blow your top.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.