I have not posted any sermons now for a few weeks and so am a little behind. I will try and catch up over the next few days!
This message was preached three weeks ago, on 11 October, and is the next in the series on the psalms. Once again, we see the honesty of the psalms. I you are struggling, you can make this prayer your own – or you can pray it for someone else.
The video is below (recorded in my office), and the notes are underneath.
The Bible does not pretend about the struggles that we face, and the impact those struggles have on our emotions and prayers. One of the glories of the psalms is that they are real; they do not contain platitudes or polite, formal prayers. Rather, they show us the psalmists wrestling with trouble and doubt.
So here you can find scriptural words to express the longings, the disappointments and the battles of faith, as well as joy and faith.
In Psalm 6, like in the previous psalms, we meet a man who is struggling. Here he is concerned about his sin (v1), sickness (v2, v5, v7), sorrow (v6) and sinners around him (v7). He also feels that God has turned away from him (v4) and that is angry with him (v1) – until you get to the last three verses. This is a time of great darkness – even depression.
Yet, in the darkness, he prays. Look at verse 1-4. Five times he uses the covenant name of God – in the darkness and fear in his own heart and mind he is turning to the covenant keeping God.
I) V1-3. Fearing the wrath of God.
Verse 1 is a challenging verse for us because, as new covenant believers, we know that our sins were laid on Christ, He suffered in our place and satisfied the wrath of God. So, how can David talk about the wrath of God? This verse tells us:
- Sin is real. We make a mistake if we assume that sin is not a problem. It is a problem to a holy God and it is only through Christ that we are saved. We don’t need to fear the wrath of God but we do need, because we are saved, to hate sin. And we do need to be willing to submit to the Lord’s discipline, as He teaches us His way.
- While the Lord does not punish us for our sins, the Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Not every trouble is linked to a specific sin – discipline includes training (like an athlete) – yet we need to recognise that He has an absolute right to bring things into our lives to make us aware of our sin and to wean us off our sin. David does question the Lord’s right to bring His discipline but asks Him for him mercy.
- This is a challenge to modern Christianity. While God is merciful, mercy is by definition undeserved. The Christian’s sins are paid for, but when we sin, we do not shrug our shoulders and say “Well it is God’s job to forgive me.” We need to see forgiveness not as our right but as a precious gift of grace. Every Christian receives that mercy, but every Christian needs to see how serious sin is.
- So, sin should cause the believer sorrow. We need to confess our sins (1 John 1:9).
- Sin does not separate us from the Lord (although that is David’s fear – v4 – “turn”). So, while we are wrong to think of sin as unimportant, it is also wrong to see sin as something that takes us out of God’s covenant love.
- Although sin does not separate us from God, sin can lead us to experience loss of the conscious presence of God. We have grieved the Holy Spirit.
This final point is key. No nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, but we can lose the sense of His felt presence. This is why David cries out for grace (v2). He wants to enjoy the presence of God again. He knows he deserves nothing and so he cries for grace.
See how he refers to the impact on his whole being (My bones are troubled (v2), my soul (v3)). This is how important it is that he is right with God. His life is nothing without the Lord.
He confesses his weakness (languishing – I am frail; I am like a dried up plant).
“How long?” (v3). This great cry is the cry of the saints through the ages. How long is the persecution, how long is Covid going to devastate us? How long until this time of trouble is over? How long, Lord Jesus, until you return? The withering plant of verse 2 leans towards the source of life and cries for rain now, here, in this life, but longs even more until the skies are opened and the Son of God steps down to pour those rivers of living water upon His people to satisfy them for all eternity. How long, O Lord?
II) V4-7. Fatigued without the favour of God.
These verses continue to describe the effect of the loss of God’s felt presence. In v4, David asks the Lord to “turn”. This is the same as Moses in Exodus 32:12, where he asks the Lord to turn from (or repent of) his wrath. David is feeling abandoned (even though he is not) and is calling on the Lord to “repent” of His turning away.
He then says something else which doesn’t sit well with us under the new covenant – v5! Isn’t death the way to glory? Yes, but David lived before the resurrection of Christ. The understanding of eternal life was only in part. We live after the resurrection and we have that assurance that death does not lead to silence but brings us into the immediate presence of the Lord.
But David isn’t making a point about life after death, he is making a point about the impact of death upon earthly praise. He’s saying that I won’t be able to stand in the congregation of God’s people if I am dead. There is no praise in Norwood Cemetery, but there is praise in Lansdowne, a living congregation of God’s people. That’s the point that David is making.
All this shows that the reason to live on earth is to glorify the Lord. Often, the reason we seek to cling to life on earth is that we enjoy it so much. However, the reason that David gives for wanting to live is that so he can glorify God. So Paul would say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
In the next two verses, David expands on the depths of his distress:
- v6: he is moaning or sighing.
- v6: He is constantly weeping so that his bed is swimming and even dissolving because the tears are so great.
- v7: He is physically weak and drained. He is weary (v6a).
If we face such overwhelming distress, it is not because there is something wrong with us. Here is the great king, David, completely broken, weeping so much that he cannot weep any more. Brothers and sisters, take comfort from this. Don’t condemn yourself for weeping, or for feeling overwhelming despair.
But let’s also see what David focused his praying upon – let’s go back to v4: The basis of David’s cry is the steadfast love of the Lord. This, as we have seen before, is His covenant love; His unchanging love.
We might face many troubles that might affect our sleep and our health, but they do not have the final say because we have the steadfast love of the Lord. This is where David goes in His distress and this is the foundation of change.
III) V8-10. Faith through the acceptance of God.
The whole perspective in this psalm changes. We’re not told what the answer is, but we know that there is an answer because he is now full of faith.
The enemies he referred to in v7, he now tells “go away, turn aside, you have no place to attack me because the Lord has heard me.” This may not be something that he does face to face – that might look quite strange – but it is something that he expresses in confidence in prayer.
Often, when we are under pressure, temptations (which are our enemies) are attractive. But as we turn back to the Lord, and we see that He is with us, and we sense His presence with us, and we see His grace again, then we have the confidence to turn away from those temptations and the compromise of the flesh.
And that leads him to the assurance of v10. This is not a prayer as the NKJV has it, but a declaration of faith, that God will in due time turn the troubles around against those who have troubled him. The Lord will bring vindication, the Lord will exercise justice in the final day. It will come (as it says at the end) “in a moment.”
Yet, as new covenant saints, we can use this verse to pray also for mercy. “Turn back” in v10 is the same word as “Turn” in v4. There David is asking the Lord to turn to him. While in v10 David is confident that his enemies will be turned back from attacking him, as new covenant people we can also pray that they would “turn back” from sin before it is too late.
The reality of v1 – the wrath of God – is the situation for everyone who has not turned in repentance to the Son of God. Here again we have the two ways of Psalm 1 and the choice of how we respond to God’s chosen king of Psalm 2.
Notice the foundation of David’s confident praying here: v9. He has heard and he “accepts” my prayer. That word “accepts” means “take to Himself.” This is so precious. Your prayers, through Christ, on the basis of His steadfast love, His grace, are taken by God to Himself. It is like He receives them personally – and that is the confidence we have whenever we pray.
We can have that confidence even when we can’t form the words – He hears the sound of our weeping (v7)! Spurgeon: “Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers.”
Yes, we sin. Yes, we should hate our sin. Yes, we should grieve over our sin. Yes, we should respect the Lord’s right to bring things into our lives to teach us about our sin.
But, no, we don’t need to be fearful, we don’t need to think that the Lord has turned His favour away from us. We are eternally accepted; even when we don’t feel His tangible presence, it is only for a season. And we are assured of the fulness of His presence because of the One who fulfils this Psalm – the One who wept in the Garden, see Hebrews 5:7.
We have one who has tasted the bitter cup fully. He prayed that the cup would be taken from Him. Yet He said, “not My will but Your will be done.” We have One who has suffered the judgement of our sins, and that judgement affected His soul and His body and led to Him going to the grave. Through His resurrection, He was vindicated against the lies of His enemies and now He reigns until His enemies are made His footstool.
So also, for us, the grave holds no fear of silence but only the glorious prospect of entry into the glory that Jesus purchased for us.
And so, when we do sin, we go to Him. We cry out for mercy. We cry out for restoration. Because we have One who has been through this, and has defeated death. He is at the right hand of God and He ever lives to intercede for us and we have nothing to fear.