Notes for leading a prayer meeting on Psalm 32:
God forgives transgressions. He covers sins. He discounts iniquity. His hand is sometimes heavy upon people. He listens when people confess their transgressions to him. He specifically forgave the iniquity of David’s sin. He listens to people’s prayers. He may be found. He is a hiding place. He preserves from trouble. He surrounds people with shouts of deliverance. Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in him.
v1-2 If you’ve transgressed… sinned… committed iniquity… if there’s deceit in your spirit… There’s good news. You can be blessed. Here’s how:
v1 “Blessed is the one whose sin is covered…” but it’s interesting to compare that with v5: “I did not cover my iniquity.” – Blessed is the one whose sin is covered, but it matters who does the covering; has God covered it, or are we trying to cover it ourselves?
The pattern we see in this Psalm is that having our sin forgiven by God is connected with our acknowledgement of it, and confessing it, v5.
“I acknowledged my sin to you” – To acknowledge our sin to God, we first have to recognise that we have sinned.
So as with David in v4, it’s a good thing for God’s hand to be heavy upon us if it makes us uncomfortable with unconfessed sin. It’s not a good sign in the Bible when God seemingly lets people get away with sin, and leaves them to carry on doing what they want, because if God doesn’t cause people to repent in this life, they’ll be judged in the next.
So although it’s not a pleasant thing to feel God’s hand weighing heavily on us when we have unconfessed sin in our lives – David said in v3 he groaned all day long and it felt like his bones were wasting away – it is something to be thankful for if it drives us to confession.
v5 Acknowledging our sin to God (not covering our iniquity), involves admitting the full wrongness of our sin. The thing is, we’re happy to admit to generic sinfulness. We’re comfortable admitting that we don’t live up to God’s perfect standards. Nobody’s perfect.
But things get a lot more uncomfortable when we have to confess to specific sins. Ok I might be a bit economical with the truth sometimes, but “liar” is such a strong word.
Then again, we might be willing to admit to specific sins in private when we notice them in ourselves, but sometimes we’re blind to sin in our own lives. Our hearts are deceitful, and sometimes we need other people to point out to us when we’re being selfish, or displaying a sinful attitude. And that’s a whole new level of difficulty, to confess sin that other people have pointed out to us.
We automatically try to find all sorts of ways to justify ourselves. We start comparing our sin to other people’s sin, and of course we’re not as bad as them. We point out all our mitigating circumstances… “I know the Bible says I should do this… but if God had known my circumstances, he would’ve put a caveat in there.”
Essentially, we resist acknowledging our sin. Or if we acknowledge it, we at least try to minimise the sinfulness of it. We try to paint ourselves in the best light. We try to cover our own sin.
If we really grasp the point of this Psalm, we won’t need to do any of that anymore, because if we’ve acknowledged our sin to God and we really believe God’s forgiven it, there’s no need for us to try to cover it up ourselves.
We can admit we’ve sinned, and not just a generic admission that we’ve fallen short of perfection; we can acknowledge real, specific sins, secure in the knowledge that they’ve been forgiven.
v1 “whose sin is covered” – What does it mean that our sin is covered? It’s no longer visible. We struggle with this concept. We believe in theory that Jesus paid for our sin, but the idea that when God looks at us he really doesn’t see our sin? No. That would be too good to be true.
But David tested God’s willingness to forgive transgressions and cover sins – he fully admitted his specific sins to God – and what was God’s response? Did he say “I didn’t realise you’d been quite as bad as that. I can’t forgive that. You’re on your own”? No, David didn’t hide his sin from God, and (v5) God forgave him, and (v7) he welcomed him in to hide in himself, preserved him from trouble, and surrounded him with shouts of deliverance. Can you imagine what it’s like when the God who created the universe shouts “I’ve delivered this person!”? I don’t reckon many people would be up for arguing with him.
Someone once told me a number of people have a high opinion of me. But I know that if those people really knew me – if they knew all my secret thoughts – they wouldn’t have a high opinion of me anymore. They’d be disgusted. You’d all be disgusted.
And I don’t want to lose your respect, so I keep a mask on. I try my best to hide my sin from you.
But we all know a mask won’t fool God. He sees our hearts and knows every thought.
I used to take that as a challenge to work harder at not just behaving like a good Christian outwardly, but also to try to clean my heart up so God wouldn’t be so disgusted by what he saw in me.
But actually, the fact that God sees all the filth in our hearts isn’t challenging, it’s encouraging.
Not only does he see every sinful thought we ever think, he saw it all before we even existed, and what was his response? He chose to love us anyway. In fact, he chooses to glorify himself by forgiving our transgressions, making our sin disappear, counting no iniquity against us.
He fully knows us and fully loves us. That’s encouraging because it means I’ve never taken him by surprise. I can never do something so awful that God will withdraw his offer of forgiveness. Whatever I’ve done and whatever you’ve done, God already knew about it thousands of years before you did, and sent Jesus to pay for it on the cross.
This truth frees us to take our mask off. We don’t need to try to justify ourselves or minimise the badness of our sin by making excuses.
v6 “surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him (who offers prayer to God at a time when he may be found).” – Being fully known and fully loved by God doesn’t mean we’ll never face any trouble. Other people may oppose us – no, they will oppose us – but they can’t ultimately harm us. God won’t let them. Like the wise man who built his house on the rock, when the floods come, our house will not fall.
But God does more for us than merely protecting us from harm, v8 he also guides us and instructs us in the way we should go.
We all realise that having our sin freely forgiven doesn’t mean we carry on sinning so that grace may abound. God’s grace towards us results in a transformed life.
But when God says here he’s got his eye on you, that’s not a threat. This is not “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake”. This is a father keeping a loving eye on his children and wanting to see them flourish.
Sometimes a loving father will have to discipline us, but v9 is encouraging us to listen to his instruction in the first place so he doesn’t have to use a bit and bridle on us. I liked what Spurgeon said about this verse: “We should not be treated like mules if there was not so much of the ass about us. If we will be fractious, we must expect to be kept in with a tight rein.”
v10 tells us “Many are the sorrows of the wicked”, so the obvious lesson is: don’t follow a wicked lifestyle; it won’t end well for you if you do. But I think it’s interesting that David compares “the wicked” with “the one who trusts in the LORD”. It’s not the wicked vs. the morally upright, or the one who tries hard to behave like a good Christian, or the long-standing church member, or the doctrinally sound, but the one who trusts in the LORD.
Steadfast love doesn’t surround the one whose hope of salvation is based on the fact that he or she has faith, or that they’ve prayed the right words; it surrounds the one whose hope of salvation rests totally on God.
Then v11 says “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” – I don’t feel like this applies to me. I don’t feel like I’m righteous or upright in heart. But it doesn’t really matter what I feel about myself. What matters is that God has forgiven my transgressions, he’s covered my sin, and doesn’t count any iniquity against me. In Christ, I am righteous, so I can rejoice. In fact I’m commanded to rejoice, and be glad and shout for joy! And why wouldn’t I? When I’ve spent some time meditating on the fact that God has seen all my sin and yet still loves me, how could I not be glad?
So for this prayer meeting, I think it’s appropriate to conclude with the “therefore…” in v6. David says “you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found…”