Moral Earthquakes and Secret Faults: Restoring Joy - Part 12

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Psalm 51:12

Psalm 51

The red tape of bureaucracy drove the official in charge of rebuilding the earthquake-shattered city of Kobe to commit suicide. Government spokesmen reported that Deputy Mayor Takumi Ogawa — who was in charge of reconstructing the city after the worst natural disaster in Japan in the 20th century — set himself on fire after a frustrating year of rebuilding. Local officials had long criticized the central government for being too slow to respond to the disaster with money to help the city recover.

Apparently, Ogawa simply was unable to see how things would — or even could — get better.

Anyone who has ever suffered a moral earthquake might be tempted to sympathize. A kind of smothering grief attends such a disaster. Often the aftermath can be as bad or worse than the original event.

It is not surprising then to see David crying out to God — in the aftermath of his moral earthquake — to bring him relief from his unrelenting agony: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).

It is a prayer of the heart — one that any of us who have suffered a moral earthquake can readily identify with. The fact is while we can’t lose our salvation, we can certainly lose our joy. And in the face of a moral earthquake, we inevitably do. David did; therefore, he cries out to God for relief. In so doing, he provides a model for us to do likewise. We need not end our lives in despair. We can recover the great joy of our salvation and find our support in the gracious and generous trusses of the Spirit.

His joy

David does not ask for God to restore his salvation. Believers — those of us who live this side of Calvary, who put our faith in Jesus Christ — are eternally secure in Him. But even though we can’t lose our salvation, we certainly can lose the joy of our salvation.

David prays this great prayer of repentance and confession because he has gotten his life out of order. He has put himself first in his life. As a result, he has done something very selfish. So now he prays for the joy of God’s salvation to be restored to him.

King David takes his depression to God. He knows it was caused by sin, and he admits as much. Some people never have their joy restored, even though they spend a fortune going to counselors and reading every book they can read. We live in a world where it seems that our troubles are always someone else’s fault; someone else is always to blame. Very few people want to take personal responsibility for their foolish actions, for their deliberate transgressions, for their blatant sins or for their brazen iniquities. But David does not even hesitate. He knows the truth of his own heart. He knows that his troubles are all his fault. He understands the fact that his moral earthquake was set off by secret moral faults that lay hidden beneath the surface of his seemingly very successful life. Thus, he confesses to the Lord, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4).

But now David asks God to let him know the peace and rest that he once enjoyed. Joy is one of the real characteristics of a Christian. However, when we indulge in sin, we jeopardize that joy. Sin and rebellion inevitably cost us the inheritance of joy that is ours in Christ. A Christian may lose the joy of his salvation without losing his salvation.

The joy had left King David because he had sinned, and because he had tried for a period of several months to cover over that sin.

The same thing happens to each of us when we fall into the clutches of temptation and sin. Those of us who know Christ as our personal Savior, who nevertheless live in sin, will most assuredly lose the joy of salvation. To try to cover up our transgressions, iniquities and sins — to minimize them, to excuse them or to justify them — will undoubtedly lead to heartsickness, sorrow and sadness. Perpetuating sin only leads to a loss of the joy of God’s gracious and glorious work of salvation.

So, how can the process be reversed? How does the restoration of joy take place? In a word — grace. This amazing notion is illustrated all throughout David’s great prayer of repentance and confession, as we have already seen. The new heart David needed to receive joy could only come from God. The cleansing, the purging, the blotting and the hearkening that needed to take place in his life could only be accomplished by the sovereign work of God’s gracious hand.

Notice precisely what it is for which David asks. He says, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” It’s God’s joy, it’s God’s salvation that is at issue here, not David’s joy, not David’s salvation. All the attention is on God, not on the poor helpless sinner. The focus is shifted to the One who can make a difference, the One who can make all the difference. No one but God can give us the kind of joy David seeks.

Sustenance

In addition to the restoration of God’s great joy, David asks for the sustenance of His hand and His Spirit. He prays: “And uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).

King David realizes that his only hope is for God to keep him, for God to uphold him. He cannot do it on his own. He wants to never again fall into that situation, so he tells God he will depend solely and completely on Him. He asks God to uphold him by His generous spirit.

The word translated “uphold” here is quite interesting. It is an architectural term for a pillar or column. For instance, it is used to describe the way Samson took hold of the two pillars upon which the great Philistine palace was borne up (see Judg. 16:29).

In a sense, David is asking God, “Uphold me, just like a father would uphold his child when teaching him to walk — not just letting him grab his fingers so he has to hold on, but reaching down and grabbing him by the wrist so that when he stumbles, he holds him up along the way.”

God is so generous in his gifts to us, so forgiving, so full of grace and so full of tender mercy. In this dispensation of His grace, we never have to pray, “Don’t cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” Why? Because we have been afforded the great privilege of praying, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit.”

Notorious repentance

When is a man usable? When his repentance is as notorious as his sin. The prophet Nathan boldly confronted David in the spirit of grace and truth. Almost immediately, David’s heart was broken. His eyes were opened. And, after a year of sinful rebellion, he suddenly turned in humble repentance. He fell on his knees and began to pray a prayer that was subsequently recorded for all posterity — the prayer of repentance and confession we find in Psalm 51.

His repentance was notorious, as notorious as his sin. As a result, God was able to use him again.

Some people try to make deals with God. They say, “God, create in me a clean heart and don’t cast me away. Restore the joy of your salvation to me. If you do all that, then I’ll teach transgressors; I’ll sing your praises and my tongue shall sing aloud of your business; my mouth shall show forth your praise.” David was not making a deal with God here. Instead, he simply said, “Not until I’m washed clean, not until I have a new heart and a steadfast spirit within me, not until I’ve been restored unto the joy of your salvation, not until then will I be able to do what I want to do: teach transgressors your ways, letting my mouth and my lips sing forth of your praises and your righteousness.” There is no deal here. There is simply an acknowledgment of what grace produces in a life fully yielded to God’s good providence.

The fruit of forgiveness

What happens when one finds the forgiveness of God? David’s great prayer portrays not only our dire need of grace and mercy, but the happy result of grace and mercy in our lives.

In the first half of the prayer, David pours out his heart: “Wash me,” he says. “Blot out my transgressions. Cleanse me. I acknowledge my wickedness. My sin is ever before me. I was brought forth in iniquity. Wash me and I’ll be whiter than snow. Hide your face from my sins. Create in me a clean heart.” Over and over and over David issues forth a constant cry for God to forgive him of his sin. He uncovers himself so that God can cover him. But the second half of the prayer portrays a threefold commitment to a new life of dedication, a fresh hunger to undertake three essential discipleship tasks: education, exaltation and exhortation.

When we’ve come clean before God and have received cleansing, one of the results is that we begin to live a life dedicated to education. David says, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways” (Ps. 51:13).

The school of hard knocks

There is nothing more dynamic about someone who has just tasted the forgiveness of God than the desire to tell others. One of the reasons Simon Peter was such an effective preacher at Pentecost was that it was just a few days after he had tasted the forgiveness of God. It was fresh to him, so he spoke, preached and taught with a greater sense of urgency and unction, due to his  experience. He had just tasted the forgiveness of God. He knew what it was to be forgiven.

One of the problems in churches today, in Sunday school classes and in pulpits, is that it’s been too long since people who are teaching the Word of God have tasted the forgiveness of God themselves. If we are to be effective in our testimony, in our witness, in our education and in our proclamation, then we are going to have to regularly revisit the well of forgiveness. We are going to have to know the fresh touch of His grace and mercy.

The fact is only the forgiven man is fit to teach transgressors the way of the Lord. David knows about what he’s going to be teaching. A man cannot teach what he does not know. Someone who is computer illiterate cannot teach a class on computer skills. A man can’t lead somewhere he has never been. A tour guide can’t lead a group of people, for example, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land if he has never been there before. If he has not seen it, not known about it and not studied about it, then he needs to be led. He certainly should not be leading, because he just may lead others astray. There is nothing more frightening than to see the blind leading the blind.

To the transgressors

King David had been taught in a school of experience. The best teachers are those who teach from personal experience, so David says, “Then I will teach.”

Who will he teach though? He answers, “Then I will teach transgressors.” Look at his audience. David’s heart is heavy for transgressors. That’s his target audience. That’s who he’s interested in teaching. If he couldn’t edify the saints, he could certainly teach the sinners. He would be speaking from personal experience to people who were caught in the death throes of sin, just as he once was.

In some churches people have gathered in their own groups for so long that they can hardly remember a time when someone came to grace afresh. In some churches, it has been so long since anyone has been newly converted and has been forgiven that the congregation has all but forgotten about the power of the gospel. For some believers, it has been so long since they have tasted the forgiveness of God themselves, that there’s little dynamic in their witness, their teaching or their preaching.

It is a great help when counseling a person to be able to say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.” There’s nothing like personal experience. David said, “Then I’ll teach transgressors.” He openly — even notoriously — acknowledged his transgressions. Who better to teach transgressors but a forgiven transgressor. There’s just something about someone who’s been there. There’s nothing like personal experience.

One way

But, what would David propose to teach these transgressors? He says, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways.” The ways of God. That Hebrew word literally means “your road,” “your path” or “your journey.” David will offer the lost a map. He will provide them with emergency road service. And the result of this teaching? He says, “Sinners shall be converted to You.” Once they know the way, those transgressors will return to God.

What is the result of finding the forgiveness of God? It has been a long time since many of us have tasted it. We have harbored resentments and never asked God to forgive us for it. We have had broken fellowship with other believers in Christ and never asked God to forgive us for them. But once we do ask for forgiveness, what is the result? We’ll have a life dedicated to teaching transgressors, to using our own life experiences for good. We will have the providential opportunity to use our moral earthquakes as a part of our testimony for God’s glory. We will be able to take the tragic circumstances of our failures and foibles and use them to minister to others. To what end? So that folks might know God’s way. And, ultimately, so that sinners might be converted to Him.

Exaltation

The fruit of forgiveness includes a new dedication to education. But, it also includes a new dedication to exaltation. Thus, David prays: “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise” (Ps. 51:14–15).

King David says, “If God forgave me — and He did — then I will surely sing and I will praise His name.” I will praise. That word literally means “a song” or “a hymn of praise.” Only the man or woman who knows the forgiveness of God has a song in his or her heart. Those who don’t know the forgiveness of God just go through the motions. They may come into corporate worship, mouth some words and make some noise, but they don’t sing from their hearts.

David’s lips had been sealed for a year. He was in a barren foreign land of the soul. He was wandering in the parched desert land of Nod. When down in Babylon, the children of Israel asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” and they hung their harps on the willow trees.

There are a lot of folks like that. David couldn’t sing for all those months. He had no song. He refused to admit that he had done anything wrong. His lips had been sealed by shame. He knew that if he sang praises to the Lord, those in that inner circle who really knew would know what a hypocrite he actually was. But after his prayer of confession and repentance, a song began to well up in his heart. After wanting to teach others, his first reaction was to sing praises to God. This had once been his very life.

From the shepherd’s fields outside Bethlehem to the anguished royal courts of King Saul, he would take his harp and sing songs of praise. This was the heart of the legacy he ultimately left, exemplified in the Psalms. No one knew the songs of praise more than David.

Note that he says he will sing of the righteousness of God. One would expect him to sing of God’s mercy, but no, he says he will sing of God’s righteousness. He realized that God’s mercy was only possible through the righteous demands of the law being met.

So, what happens to a man when he finds the forgiveness of God? First, he wants to teach transgressors God’s ways.  Then his life becomes a testimony and sacrifice of praise. And where does that lead? It leads to a life dedicated to exhortation.

Exhortation

The final fruit of forgiveness takes the form of an exhortation. The sacrifice King David had to bring before the Lord was a broken and a crushed spirit. This is indeed an exhortation to us.

What does the Lord desire from us? Our sacrifices? Our service? No, he wants us — a broken heart and a broken and contrite spirit. He doesn’t want gifts. He wants the giver.

David closes his great prayer of confession and repentance, saying: “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion. Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar” (Ps. 51:18–19).

One might say, “Hmmm, is that a contradiction? Didn’t he just say, God didn’t want sacrifices?”

Indeed, David asserts, “You do not delight in burnt offerings, or else I’d give it to you.” But there is no contradiction at all. What King David asked for Jerusalem, we should ask for the church. What God did for King David, God will do for any and all of us — forgive us, make us healthy spiritually, and make us happy and whole.

There’s a sense in which King David looks forward here to a millennial city. He anticipates the dawn of a new day, when repentant Israel will find safety in the Lord Jesus Himself. Thus, he says, “Then you shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.” The restoration of the levitical sacrifices in the millennial reign of Christ — offered again on the temple mount — will not be intended to merit salvation. Calvary took care of that once and for all. They will be a memorial — like the Lord’s Supper is to us — so that His redeemed people will never forget that supreme sacrifice. They will be resurrected in that day to memorialize the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God. They will memorialize the great cost of Calvary.

Thus, we can indeed pray with fervor, “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion.”

When we get right with God, our energy and our prayers move past our own selfish interests and are directed to the entire family of faith. And when we are cleansed and restored with the joy of salvation, that will be our prayer, “Do good to Zion, by your own good pleasure.” It will be our greatest pleasure to edify the body of Christ.

The fact is it is more important what you are when you pray than it is what you pray. And thus, the greatest of the fruits of forgiveness is the fact that God makes us anew. He makes us new creations. He enables us to be what we are supposed to be, so that we can, in turn, do what we are supposed to do.

Moral soundings

  • Is there evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling in your life?
  • Do you still experience the joy in your relationship with God?
  • Do you attempt to make deals with God?
  • Do you counsel others who have had similar trials and struggles as you?
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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