Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Prayer for Forgiveness: Learning to Pray Psalm 6

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
    Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.
Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
    they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Psalm 6 is another individual lament, but it is a new type of lament. Psalm 6 is the first of seven psalms that the church has traditionally understood as prayers for the forgiveness of sin. The others are Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. So far the laments of Psalms 3-5 have assumed the innocence of the psalmist. In Psalm 6, the source of the problem is the psalmist himself. In this psalm, he offers a model prayer to help us in those times that we have fallen short in our love for God or neighbor.

As we read this prayer, let us recognize the costly effects of sin and recognize that God hears our prayers. As followers of Jesus, we know the familiar words of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is a promise of grace. But such promises are not a license to sin. Our sin is costly both to ourselves as individuals, to our communities, and to the world that God calls us to serve.

The psalmist begins with the consequences of sin in view. He pleads with God that the consequences be lightened by mercy. Verses 2–3 describe the psalmist’s internal anguish over his actions. Whatever the psalmist expected to gain from his wrong actions have not proven worthwhile in light of the suffering that his actions have brought. Verse 3 is poignant, “My soul is in deep anguish.” We may understand “soul” as “my being.” The psalmist is in torment and pleads for grace, “How long, LORD, how long?”

Verses 4–7 give the specifics of the psalmist’s prayer. In verse 4, the pray-er roots his hope for grace in the LORD “unfailing love.” This is one of the core attributes of God and means “faithful love” or “love that won’t let us go.” It is the basis for the relationship that God has with his people.
The psalmist is desperate for God’s grace because he has reached the end of what he can endure. His sin has produced bad fruit: fear of death, weariness from groaning, weeping rather than sleeping, and exhaustion. Furthermore, v. 7b suggests that he is also suffering at the hands of others. It is not clear whether these are more enemies such as we’ve seen in Psalms 3–5 or if the foes here are members of God’s people who are heaping guilt upon their fallen brother or sister. Regardless, the psalmist lays it all out before God.

The psalmist anticipates release from suffering and sin in verses 8–10. Scripture is clear: God forgives sin. This is true in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. It is good news for the psalmist. The psalmist looks forward to the scattering of his accusers. The psalmist also now testifies to the grace and mercy of God. This is good for all creation. Once sin becomes past tense the story of God’s forgiveness becomes a powerful testimony to a world in need of recognizing that God invites all to come to him for healing and restoration.

How has the psalmist’s sin affected him?

How does this psalm teach us to pray when we have sinned?

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