If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
Psalm 37 v 23&24
These words were written by David, the shepherd boy, giant killer, outlaw, singer-songwriter, king, adulterer, schemer and thief: the man whose wonderful songs reflect every aspect of his rich and varied life. He is one of the great characters portrayed in the bible narrative, and although it can be tempting to focus on his good qualities, we are never allowed to forget his faults. The hero of his story is not David himself, but the God whom he worshipped, trusted, disobeyed and before whom he often had to repent and confess his sins.
Why is his story given to us, along with many other records of the rulers of Israel and Judah over the years? What can we learn from their histories for our lives in faith in the 21st century, where kings are largely powerless, and it is money, politics, sport and show-business which provide our major influential figures? I believe that the verses quoted from the psalm give us one insight into the lessons to be learned – that while they may stumble into sin, the man or woman whose heart is right with God will not fall and be lost. The records of the kings of Israel and Judah are full of phrases like this:
‘ Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life’ and, ‘ but Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him’. (1 Kings 15v14; 16v25)
Their stories are a record of how fallible human beings have always lived – making mistakes, having good intentions yet failing to completely carry them out, but always on the basis of a fundamental attitude of the heart. Either they have rejected God’s authority over them – in the case of many of the kings, they deliberately adopt other gods- or else they are seeking to follow the ways which God had revealed to the nation, putting themselves as well as their people under the rule of God. These stories encourage me to be compassionate towards those in authority, remembering that they are no more able to rule perfectly than David or Solomon could. Even the wisest, most talented politician or business leader will not always get it right; and while I should pray for them to remain close to God, to submit to his authority in their lives and use their power for the good of others, I must allow them to fail, as I do! The ultimate hero of all our stories is God, and no human being can bear the weight of such a responsibility.
We can also take great personal comfort from these records, because the hero, the God who was rejected and disobeyed so often, is also our God. He demonstrated his love over and over to these flawed servants, and it is that faithfulness which is celebrated in our Psalm. David was well aware of his own weakness and knew quite well that in all his sin, it was God who hurt most deeply. But rather than dwelling morosely on his failure, and hiding in despair, he cries out his repentance, affirming his faith in God and delighting in the grace which pours out forgiveness and restoration in abundance. How should we not be filled with praise for this God who looks upon the earnest heart of his child, and quietly puts away the things done amiss!
I find sweet comfort in this truth, that although I will spend the rest of this life in a process of transformation, never entirely free of sin, yet my Father God has provided complete forgiveness through Jesus, and I need not carry the weight of that failure. If I choose to focus on what Christ has done well, instead of what I have done badly, then I am able to rejoice even after failure. His grace is such that every moment of every day is a fresh start, and I am free to live and love and delight in him. The following words by the great Charles Wesley are a prayer of response to this amazing grace, and a fitting conclusion. May they be our prayer this week.
O for a heart to praise my God, a heart from sin set free;
A heart that always feels Thy blood so freely shed for me.
A heart resigned, submissive meek, my great redeemer’s throne,
where only Christ is heard to speak, where Jesus reigns alone.
A humble, lowly, contrite heart, believing, true and clean,
which neither life not death can part from Him that dwells within.
A heart in every thought renewed and full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good: a copy, Lord, of thine.
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart, come quickly from above;
Write thy new name upon my heart, thy new best name of love.