I LIFT UP MY SOUL
MAY 28, 2006
Psalm 25 has been described in a number of ways. One older writer referred to it as “this most beautiful of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Another observed that “some of the most precious treasures of the church have been drawn from this psalm.” And still another said, “It contains some of the most admired spiritual thoughts in the book of Psalms.” You will notice it, I think, as I read through the prayers that this passage offers.
The writer says, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”
You may have observed as I read that passage that some of its phrases mean so much to us that we sing them fairly often. We are going to do so today.
When the psalmist refers here to his lifting up his soul, he is talking about his worshipping God, especially probably in prayer. In Psalm 24 at verse 4, the blessing had been pronounced on the one who does not lift up his soul to what is false. In other words, the one who worships the true God, who prays to a God who is alive and real, that is the one who will be able to draw near to the Lord. In Psalm 86 there is a similar plea to this one. Beginning at verse 3 you can see a little of what it means to lift up one’s soul. He prayed, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good at forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” Lifting up the soul was the same as crying out to the Lord or calling on him, that being a way of life. What we have then in this psalm are the longings of the heart of the man who truly worships the Lord. Remember in the beginning of our study that if we want to learn how to express our worship we turn to the New Testament and we read about the church as it meets to remember the Lord and the Lord’s Supper, to sing and to pray, to look into his will together, to give so that we might be able to work together. But if we want to learn what worship is, what it is that we are expressing, what kind of messages there are that we want to offer up to God or to send up to God, then we read passages like these psalms. Here is what we really learn what it means to be people who do draw near to God, who approach his throne with our hearts and our lives. Now within this psalm there are five particular desires that this worshipping man has. Five petitions in his prayer show what is on his mind and what he needs his father’s help with and what he needs to come into his life because he has been to worship, so to speak.
Notice in the first place he prays in verse 2 for his enemies not to triumph over him, for him not to be put to shame. What he means by that is that his trust in the Lord has been proclaimed. It has been clear to everyone that he is the servant of the Lord, that he in his life is depending on the Lord for his help. The Lord has been his refuge and his strength. He has written songs about it, and that has been something that has been the nature of his whole life. And now if his hopes prove to be in vain, if it turns out that it looks like God has not been a sufficient refuge for him, if he is humiliated, if he is disappointed, if he is embarrassed by having trusted in the Lord, then his enemies will be made to gloat over that. This is not merely a selfish prayer on his part. He is concerned about the name of God and about what it will mean for all Israel, as verse 22 says. If you notice in Psalm 13:3-4, you get a glimpse of this very concern as it works itself out: “Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God. Light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” In other words, David did not want the enemies of God and of his people walking around and saying to the Lord’s people, “Where is your God? Where is that one you have been praising all of this time?” In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul writes about his own circumstance. He is in prison and in chains and he is concerned about how his brothers and sisters in Christ at Philippi will feel about that. And so he says to them in verse 20, “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death.” There is his desire that he not be put to shame. In Isaiah 49:23, God talked about that time when the kings and the queens of the nations would come to Israel, the people who had been delivered from slavery and from bondage, and he says “they will lick the dust of your feet and they will know that I am God.” It was God’s reputation which was at stake in this whole situation. The first prayer is then that the cause in which this man has invested himself and his life and his devotion, that being the name of God, that that won’t let him down, that his hope will not be ruined, and that he will not be ashamed.
Secondly, he prays in verse 4, “teach me your paths.” (Show me your ways, in other words). “Lead me in your truth,” he prays. “Teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.” Any of us who have ever struggled with hard decisions, who have ever wanted to know, tried to discover, tried to figure out exactly what we should do and what course we should take in our lives, we have all known what it is to pray this prayer. This is a man who knows, as Jeremiah said, it is not in man who walks to direct his footsteps. (Jer. 10:23) And he is praying that God will help him to go in the way that he ought to go and help him to do the things that he ought to do. When he prays “teach me your ways,” he is uttering a prayer that we find often in the psalms again. Psalm 143 is an example. At verse 8 in that psalm, the psalmist prays this way. He says, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” There is the “make me to know the way I should go.”
Now in the scriptures this works out in two ways. One obvious one, of course, is that man might be able to know what the Lord has said, that he might be able to understand it and to apply it wisely. In Psalm 27:11 it says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” And in Psalm 86:11 it says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” Here is the desire to walk in God’s truth. But walking in God’s ways also means to be like God. In Exodus 33:13, Moses prayed that God would show him the Lord’s ways “that I might know you.” This is saying that for this prayer to be answered we have to know not only what the scripture says, but also the heart of God behind that - what God meant – who he is.
Notice that the psalmist prays for God “to teach me your paths.” That word for paths is one which referred to a road or a trail which had been traveled repeatedly by a wagon, and the wheels had gone in the very same track over and over and over again. You and I might call it a “rut.” This psalmist is actually praying, “God, show me the trails you are habitually traveling over.” Put me in your rut, if you could say it that way. Notice verse 10. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” This is God’s habitual way of dealing with man. This is who he is. He practices love and truth, mercy and truth. That is the kind of an individual one becomes as he is taught by the Lord. For this prayer to be answered, notice what verse 12 says. It says, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” For me to pray, “God, teach me your way, lead me in your path,” that prayer can’t be answered unless I respect God more than anything else in life. In Proverbs 3:5-6, the wonderful statement of wisdom says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” There is the idea then of him teaching us his way.
The third prayer that this one who is lifting up his soul to God asks for is “remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions.” Actually, the psalmist asks here for God to remember something and not remember something. He says in the first part of verse 6, “Remember your mercy and your steadfast love, your longstanding mercy and love.” On the other hand, “Don’t remember my longstanding sinfulness.” What sin here means is to turn on the wrong road or to fall short of the right goal or to fail. He can look back and see in his youth those things that were done by lack of wisdom, by impulsive choices, by not considering what the results might be. The word transgressions, on the other hand, means rebelliousness – those actions of an older person who knew full well what he ought to do and still chose not to do it – who intentionally took the wrong turn. And then notice in verse 11 he mentions the word “iniquity.” Some versions translate it “guilt.” But here he understands the “he” in his own person has become a sinner. Who he is has been affected by what he has done in those days past. You put all of those together and then you can see why he is asking for mercy and steadfast love, can’t you? In this passage the prayer that he makes for God’s mercy is so much like some of the most vivid scenes in the Bible. In Psalm 51:1, a penitent David, after his sin with Bathsheba has been found out, cries out, “O Lord, have mercy upon me.” In Luke 18:13, the publican would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven, but he smote himself on the breast and said, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” The prodigal son returns home in Luke 15:21 and as he had determined he would, when his dad ran out to meet him he said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” He said, “I am no more worthy to be called your son.” He intended to ask to be made a hired servant, but the father received him back. There is the mercy and the steadfast love that is already extended to this young man. You and I will be lead to pray for mercy many times by the mere fact that we sin. All of us do. Because of that, the prayer of this man lifting up his soul to God needs to be ready on our lips.
The fourth petition that he makes is found actually at the end of verse 17. He says here, “Bring me out of my distresses.” There are five different words for distresses that are used in this general part of the psalm. He talks about being lonely. There is nothing like feeling friendless or feeling like there is no one to stand with you. He says he is afflicted. There is the idea of maybe this pain has been brought to bear on him. The troubles of his heart are mentioned in verse 17. The word distress means to be pressed. Then he mentions afflictions and troubles again in verse 18. And worst of all, the end of the verse suggest that maybe some of this has come on him because of his own sins, his own failures, his own poor choices. In Psalm 69 there is a similar type statement to this and a similar lifting up of the soul. Psalm 69:13-15 says, “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.” What must a man be going through to pray like that, and yet he does. Bring me out of these distresses, he prays. In verse 14 of this psalm, there is the idea that the secret things of the Lord, here taken as the friendship of the Lord, the close communion of the Lord, is for those who fear him. He makes his covenant known to them. There is the idea that this prayer is answered in the friendship of the Lord.
And the fifth petition, verse 20, is “guard my soul, Lord.” Guard my soul! The soul is the life of the person, his heart, his inner being, his entire personality. Guard my soul. Guard the part of me which last, in other words. To be guarded means to feel in danger and to feel like someone who is able to watches over you and can help you. In Psalm 23, remember he said, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” There is the comfort of the guard. A rod to defend against predators and a staff to rescue and to put back in line. Guard my soul. In Philippians 4:7 we learn that when someone has poured out his cares before God, the peace of God which passes understanding will guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Here are the five longings of the worshiping heart. It is interesting that every one of them is something the New Testament says provides for us through Christ. Do we want to not be ashamed and for our enemies not to triumph over us? Then in I Peter 2:6 we will be glad to learn that God has laid a precious stone and whoever believes in him will not be ashamed. Do we long for him to teach us the way in which we should go? We will be glad to learn that he has shown us the way and that he is the way (John 14:6). He promised to send his spirit to guide his apostles into all the truth. You and I need not wonder for the way in which we should go. Do we long for mercy toward the sins of our youth? Do we want them to not be remembered anymore? Then we will be glad to know that through his blood we have been given forgiveness and the redemption of our sins, and that God cast these things behind his back and remembers them no more against us. Do we want him to bring us out of our distresses? Remember that he gave himself to deliver us out of this present evil world (Gal. 1:4), that he delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of his dear son (Col. 1:13), that Jesus has done the work necessary to deliver us from the wrath to come even (I Thess. 1:10). And then do we long for one to guard our soul? Paul said that he knew the one who believed him and he was persuaded that he was able to keep that which Paul had committed to him against that day. To keep means to guard. And in I Peter 1:5 we learn that there is an inheritance, a living inheritance kept in heaven for those of us who through the power of God are guarded through faith.
What the worshipper most desires and longs for and lifts up his soul for is answered by what God has given us in Christ. Throughout Psalm 25 there is a repeated emphasis on who God is. God’s faithfulness! God’s mercy! God’s steadfast love! God’s truth! God’s graciousness! All are mentioned. And then on the other hand, there is a repeated emphasis on the kind of a person who will respond to that. He mentions three times waiting on the Lord. He refers at least twice to having trusted in the Lord. He says “my eyes are ever toward the Lord;” he mentions fearing the Lord or reverencing him. And he mentions keeping the Lord’s testimonies. There is grace and faith. That is the same thing the New Testament says it takes to be blessed through Christ. Often when I sit down at the table, Kay has provided a meal that is delicious that I have not deserved in any way. She says, “Pass your plate.” There is grace and faith. We live in a country where this weekend we are supposed to be remembering what so many people have given to provide us freedom. And yet, we are told to be free. There is grace and faith. In Christ, God says, “I have paid the price.” I have an answer for the longings of your soul. You need to believe that enough to repent and to be baptized and to live faithfully. Maybe today the only answer to the longing of your soul is the grace of God. We encourage you to respond in the kind of faith we have been learning about here and let God make those things real in your life. If we can help you with that, will you come this morning while we stand and sing together?