Teach Me Your Paths: Fearing the Lord

August 1, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Psalm 25 |


Teach Me Your Paths: Fearing the Lord | Psalm 25
Brian Hedges | August 1, 2021

Well, let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 25. At Redeemer Church, our general practice is to study through books of the Bible or portions of books of the Bible, and we vary from Old Testament to New Testament and different genres of Scripture. We need all of it. We need the letters and epistles; we’ve been in the book of Romans for the last 12 weeks or so. We need that kind of practical instruction about the application of doctrine to the Christian church. We need Old Testament narrative, and Ashton gave a wonderful message last week talking about David and how he faced his trials with faith in God. We need those stories.

We need the Gospels, and in about three weeks we’re going to begin the next leg of our journey in the Gospel of John. We’re going to be looking at John 13-17, the Upper Room discourse, and some of the most important teaching of our Lord.

And we need the Psalms. We need all the parts of Scripture. But this morning and for the next three weeks I want us to focus in the Psalms. This morning we’re in Psalm 25.

The Psalms are so important for us because they are the “prayerbook of the church,” they are the hymnbook of the nation of Israel. Even though we don’t generally sing the Psalms, we do sing songs that are rooted in Psalms, just as this morning that new song we sang was really rooted in Psalm 46, right, “the battle belongs to the Lord.” We’re singing about God as our fortress. That’s Psalm 46. We’re singing these words back to the Lord. The Psalms are given for this purpose, to help us in our walk with God, to teach us how to worship and how to pray.

This Psalm 25 is I think is a wonderful psalm. Some of you may have heard a single sermon I preached on this about a year ago. This was still during the shutdown, so it was a Wednesday night livestream. Maybe you saw it; probably a lot of you didn’t, and that’s fine. But I want to return to Psalm 25, I think for three Sundays. We’ll see how the Lord leads. But at least for this morning we’re going to look at Psalm 25, and I want to begin by reading through the psalm. I don’t have a clever outline or anything, but what I want to do is just make some observations that I hope will be practical and helpful for you as you think about your own life and how a psalm like this can teach you how to pray.

Psalm 25; let me read it to begin. It’s a psalm of David, and it 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.”

This is God’s word.

I want to make six observations. Some of them will be really brief and some a little bit longer; six observations about this psalm.

1. The first one is simply that it is a psalm; it is a song or a prayer. That’s what the psalms are; they are songs or prayers that would be sung to the Lord. Generally when we read the psalms we’re using them for prayer. The Psalter was the prayerbook of Israel.

This is the record of a man talking to God. That’s what this psalm is. There are different aspects to the psalm; this is part lament. There are aspects in which he is lamenting his trials, bringing those before the Lord. This is also what you might call a confidence psalm, because it expresses deep trust in God. And it’s part wisdom psalm. In fact, in the Hebrew of this psalm, it’s an acrostic, which was a mnemonic device to help with memory, so that of these 22 verses, with just a little bit of variation, each of the 22 verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That was the way the psalm was written; that’s part of Hebrew poetry and characteristic in this kind of literature.

Then there are wisdom themes in the psalm as it reflects on the fear of the Lord and on humility and on the ways and the paths of God. That’s all language that you find used often in the wisdom literature. That’s what this psalm is.

It’s helpful for teaching us how to pray. Someone once said that while all of Scripture speaks to us, the psalms speak for us. That’s why the psalms are so precious to God’s people, because they give us language for how to talk to God. That’s what this psalm will do.

That’s the first observation: this is the record of a man talking to God. It’s a prayer.

2. Here’s the second thing—notice this—that it was written by a man in trouble, probably by King David. There are lots of indications of the kinds of trouble he was facing.

He references his enemies in verse 1, he asks not to be put to shame in verse 2. He says he is lonely and afflicted in verse 16; he says, “The troubles of my heart are enlarged,” verse 17. He speaks of his distress. When you see the word “distress,” just think of the word “stress.” That’s what it is. To be distressed is to be in stress. So here’s somebody who’s under intense pressure. He speaks of his affliction, his trouble, his sins and his foes (verses 18-19). Here’s somebody in trouble!

Here’s the question: What do you do when you’re in trouble? When you’re under stress, when you’re under pressure, when you’re afflicted, when you’re suffering, when you’re facing difficulties and trials at work, in home, in your soul, in your health—wherever in life—what do you do? How do you respond?

This is what this man did: He took it to the Lord. That’s what this psalm teaches us how to do. It teaches us how to pray when life is hard.

In fact, he gives us a rhythm. Don’t you remember the old Johnny Cash song, what do you do when you get the blues?” You "get rhythm," right? Well, just think of rhythm in a different sense of the word; not so much musical rhythm, but there is a rhythm to prayer. When you get the blues, when you’re struggling with life, there is a rhythm to how you pray, and this psalm shows you the rhythm. The rhythm can be seen in the alternating requests and reflections, where the psalmist will make some requests of God and then he’ll make statements about God and the way God interacts with people.

You can see this in a pattern. Verses 1-2 are requests: “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.”

Then he reflects, and he says, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”

That pattern continues through this psalm. There’ll be a few verses of requests made to the Lord, and then he reflects and he thinks about how the Lord acts and how the Lord works.

For example, in veress 4-7 you have more requests, as he’s asking the Lord to teach him so that he will know his ways, and remember him in mercy. But then he reflects on the Lord in verse 8. “Good and upright is the Lord.” See, now he’s speaking about the Lord in the third person. “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 to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”

Then another request in verse 11. “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Then another reflection in verses 12-14. Then from verse 15 to the end of the chapter it’s all request.

There’s this alternating pattern: reflection and request, meditation and petition, supplication. This is the rhythm of prayer. If you ever struggle and don’t know how to get yourself into a praying state of mind, this is how to do it: you open up your Bible and you take Scripture and you reflect on who God is and what he has said, what he has promised, what he has done; and then you turn that into a prayer. That’s exactly what the psalmist is doing here.

3. So, it was written by a man in trouble, it teaches us how to pray when we are in trouble; and then, number three, it models for us specific expressions of the heart that are appropriate to prayer. I don’t know about you; sometimes I don’t know how to pray. Sometimes I know that I need to pray and I don’t know what to say. Do you ever find yourself in that situation? I even start sometimes with, “Lord, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to pray right now.”

I’ll tell you, the word of God (and especially the psalms) will give you the kinds of things to say. I want you to notice the language he uses, the expressions that he makes.

“I lift up my soul to you,” verse 1. That means, “I put my life into your hands.” That’s what he means. “I lift up my soul to you; I give myself to you.”

“I trust in you,” verse 2, also verse 5. “I take refuge in you.” To take refuge in something is to find shelter, to find protection, it’s to flee into a place that is safe. So he’s saying, “I take refuge in you. You are my safety. I find my safety in you.” That’s verse 21.

“I wait for you.” Here’s the posture of patient waiting before the Lord in verse 22.

But he’s also asking God for certain things, and notice what he asks God to do. “Teach me,” verse 4; “lead me,” verse 5; “remember me,” verses 6-7; “forgive me,” verses 11 and 18; “turn to me and be gracious to me,” verse 16; “consider me,” verses 18-19; “guard me and deliver me,” verse 20; “let me not be put to shame,” verses 2 and 20. I mean, that’s very practical praying. That covers pretty much everything! There’s almost nothing that you can pray for that doesn’t fit under those various requests.

When you don’t know how to pray, when you don’t know what to say, when you can’t find the words, when you don’t have the language, you can open this psalm, Psalm 25, and you can just start praying that to the Lord, and say, “Lord, I lift up my soul to you, and I trust in you, and I take refuge in you. Would you teach me? Would you lead me? Would you guide me? Would you forgive me? Would you remember me? Would you consider my affliction and my trouble and my problems? Would you help me, Lord, and be gracious to me?” That’s the way to pray.

4. This psalm not only teaches us how to pray, but it also gives us right ways of thinking. It models for us right ways of thinking about God and about ourselves and about our circumstances. That’s point number four.

The psalms are the best prayers because they are the prayers that God himself inspired in his word and gave us to pray back to him. They not only give us language for prayer, they give us theology, which is the foundation for prayer. Now, you may not think of theology as being practical, but the reality, as R.C. Sproul once said, is that everybody’s a theologian, which simply means that everybody has thoughts about God. You think something about God and you think something about yourself and you think something about the world in which you live. Whatever you think, you put all that together, that makes up your theology. That’s your worldview.

The question is, do we have the right view of the world? Are we looking at the world through the right set of lenses? This psalm, as all the psalms do, gives us a right set of lenses for thinking about God, ourselves, and our circumstances. Just consider each one of those things briefly.

First of all, God. What does it tell us about God? Well, of course it uses the names of God. He is God, he is the Lord, he is Yahweh. He is the Lord. But it’s very personal. He says, “You are my God,” in verse 2; “You are the God of my salvation,” in verse 5. And then he describes God in terms of his different characteristics. He ascribes to God mercy and steadfast love. He says that God is good and upright and faithful; all of that in verses 6-8.

When you really read this psalm closely, in light of everything else in Scripture, it becomes clear that the psalmist is at least in part reflecting on the character of God that God himself revealed to Moses many years before in Exodus 33-34. This is when the children of Israel had committed idolatry with the golden calf. God was ready to wipe them out; he said he wasn’t going to go with them into the promised land.

Moses said, “Lord, I’m not going if you’re not going. Show me your glory.”

God said, “You can’t see my glory; you can see my face and live. But I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and I’ll pass before you, and I’ll just let you see the reflection, just the back parts, the hind parts, the trail of my glory.”

In Exodus 34, when Moses was up there on the mountain, the Lord passes before him, and the Lord himself declares his name, and when he does, right at the heart of that self-revelation is that the Lord is characterized by steadfast love and faithfulness.

That’s the language that’s used here. This is God revealed in his covenant love and faithfulness to his people. This is who God is! He is the God who has revealed himself in mercy and in goodness and in righteousness and in steadfast love and faithfulness to his people.

Is your view of God like that? When you put the lenses of this psalm on, the character of God comes into focus and you begin to see what he’s like.

It also helps us with how we view ourselves. How do you view yourself? Do you think of yourself as entirely independent and autonomous and in charge of your life? Or do you think about yourself as a creature in relationship to God, your Creator?

That’s how David here thinks about himself. He thinks about himself in relationship to God. “You are my God and the God of my salvation.” So he views himself in this relationship. His prayer is needy and honest; it’s raw. There are these honest expressions of need.

Look at what he says in verse 16: “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.” That’s a man in need! He’s in trouble, as we’ve already seen, and his trouble is not just external trials, troubles, foes, afflictions; his problem is also internal: sin. He’s bringing it before the Lord.

In other words, there’s no pretense here. He’s not pretending that things are better than they are. He’s raw and honest and he just comes as he is before the Lord.

But he’s also coming humble and teachable, and he’s asking God, “Would you teach me? Would you lead me? Would you guide me? Would you protect me? Would you deliver me?”

He’s also coming with trust, so that, though he’s facing these incredible difficulties, there’s no despair here. Instead, “Deliver me. I wait for you. I trust in you.”

When he thinks about his circumstances, it’s the same thing. He’s honest about how difficult and threatening the circumstances are, the enemies and the afflictions and the stress. But there’s no glibness to it, right? It’s not the old, “Turn your frown upside down; put on the happy face.” “Rejoice in the Lord; there’s no room for Christians to be sad.” That’s not the portrait that the psalms give us. Not at all. Instead, he’s very honest and yet hopeful in the midst of his trouble.

This psalm will help you with that. It’ll help you think rightly about God, about yourself, and about your own circumstances.

5. At the very heart of this psalm is a certain quality of heart, a certain attitude of heart called “the fear of the Lord.” We might define the fear of the Lord as “joyful reverence for God.” This is not abject terror before God. This isn’t the kind of fear that you feel of something that is terrifying and threatening without any kind of delight. It’s not like that. It’s more a sense of awe and wonder before majestic greatness that’s good.

Look at verses 12-14. This is one of his reflections. He says, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in wellbeing—” that means his soul will flourish “—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.”

Those three verses about the fear of the Lord, with this wonderful promise that the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him; he makes known to them his covenant. Well, what is the fear of the Lord? It is this joyful reverence of God, and, as you probably know, the fear of the Lord is a cornerstone to wisdom literature in the Bible.

Proverbs tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” In other words, the very first step to having wisdom and knowing how the world works and how life works under the rule of God is to fear the Lord; it’s to have this kind of reverence for God.

The fear of the Lord is the key to turning away from sin and evil (Proverbs 16:6). “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” This is the greatest motivation, or one of the greatest motivations, I shall say, for repentance. It’s because we realize that we are under the gaze of God. God sees you and he knows you. He loves you, but he is opposed to evil, and therefore we cannot sin with indifference to God.

When you find yourself sinning, there should be something in the back of your mind saying, “God sees. This is wrong, and I need to turn to him again.” The fear of the Lord will lead you to do that.

But the fear of the Lord is not just a threatening thing; the fear of the Lord is an inviting thing, because it promises life. Proverbs 14:27, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn from the snares of death.”

There’s a wonderful new book by a British theologian named Michael Reeves. The book is called Rejoice and Tremble. It’s on the book table. It’s a great book, one of the better books that I read last year. One of the things that Reeves is doing is trying to show how the fear of the Lord and joy belong together, so you have this sense of the awesomeness and the greatness of God and awe and reverence before him, but it’s combined with wonder and delight and joy. This is what he says.

“This right fear of God is not the minor key, gloomy flip side to proper joy in God. There is no tension between this fear and joy. Rather, this trembling fear of God is a way of speaking about the sheer intensity of the saints’ happiness in God. In other words, the biblical theme of the fear of God helps us to see the sort of joy that is most fitting for believers. Our desire for God and delight in him are not intended to be lukewarm; our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled, yes fearful, joy, for the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him. What more befits his infinite magnificence than an enjoyment of him that is more than our frail selves can bear, which overwhelms us and causes us to tremble?”

Trembling delight. Awestruck wonder and joy. That’s the idea of the fear of the Lord.

Now, I think maybe the best illustration that I can think of for this comes from C.S. Lewis’s Narnian books. Some of you have probably heard me say this before, but it’s been two or three years, so I’m going to read it again. This is from The Silver Chair. There’s a scene where this little girl, Jill, encounters Aslan, the lion. Aslan is there, lying in front of this stream of water, and Jill is intensely thirsty. She’s dying of thirst, and the lion says, “If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

I want to just pick up and read what Lewis said, because I can’t narrate it better than he can say it.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.” So the lion is speaking. Lewis says,

His voice was deeper, wilder, and stronger, a sort of heavy golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in a rather different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to do anything to me if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that without noticing it she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” said Jill.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry; it just said it.

“I dare not come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I supposed I must go and look for another stream, then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the lion. No one who had seen his stern face could do that. Her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.

What a beautiful picture of what it is to be in relationship with this God! This God will not stoop and bow to your wishes—he’s God—but he does offer the fountain of living water, and if you’ll take the risk of coming into his presence, he is good, as Lewis says of Aslan in another one of the books. “He’s not safe, but he is good.”

The fear of the Lord. That’s at the heart of this psalm, and I think what this psalm is showing us is what it looks like for someone to live in the fear of the Lord. He’s reflecting on this. The man who fears on the Lord, his soul will abide in wellbeing, the Lord will instruct him in the way that he shall choose.

Then he’s praying, “Lord, teach me, instruct me, show me,” and he’s crying out to God for mercy. So the prayer is therefore a prayer of someone who fears the Lord.

Let me ask you, do you fear the Lord? Have you experienced this delightful awe, this reverent wonder, this trembling joy in the presence of God? Or, to change the metaphor, are you thirsty? Do you long for more? The fear of the Lord is the fountain of life, the stream of living water, and the invitation is to draw near and drink.

6. The reason why we can draw near and why we can relate to the Lord in this way is because of his character and his covenant. That’s the sixth observation from this psalm. This psalm shows us what God is like. I’ve already mentioned some of this, but let’s just read verses 6-10 once more. Notice here all of the characteristics of God.

“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.”

The reason why we can be in relationship with God, the reason why we can bring our troubles to the Lord, bring our sins before the Lord; the reason why we can pray and come before God, is because God is merciful, because he is characterized by steadfast love and goodness and righteousness, and because he instructs humble sinners in his way.

It’s very similar to Psalm 130 in our assurance of pardon this morning. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Listen, if the Lord marked all our iniquities, if the Lord tallied up all of our sins this morning and gave us what we deserved, we’d all be in hell. That’s what we deserve. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be feared.”

You see, the fear of the Lord isn’t something that is a contrast to God’s forgiveness. It’s actually the fact that God does forgive us that enables us to come in this reverent, delightful joy and worship. But it requires us to cast ourselves on his grace and mercy.

I want to end with a hymn from Martin Luther. Most of you probably know “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Luther. My favorite hymn by Luther is based on Psalm 130, and it has similarities here with some of the themes of Psalm 25. The hymn is called “From the Depths of Woe,” and I just want to read some of the verses and you can read along on the screen. This is a hymn or song that expresses our deep need for God’s grace on one hand and our deep confidence in his grace and mercy on the other. Luther said,

“From the depths of woe I raise to thee
The voice of lamentation.
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication.
If thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O, who shall stand before thee?

“To wash away the crimson stain
Grace, grace alone availeth.
Our works, alas! are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth.
No man can glory in thy sight;
All must alike confess thy might,
And live alone by mercy.

“Therefore my trust is in the Lord
And not in mine own merit.
On him my soul shall rest;
His word upholds my fainting spirit.
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort, and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.

“Though great our sins and sore our woes,
His grace much more aboundeth.
His helping love no limit knows;
Our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is he,
Who will at last his Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.”

Of course, the greatest demonstration of this steadfast love and faithfulness of God is where? It’s in the cross, because there we see God incarnate, with arms stretched open wide, nailed to the cross in order to welcome us. He bears the penalty for our sins, he welcomes us into his fellowship by his grace. There is forgiveness with him so that he can be feared. That’s the heart of this psalm. That’s how we are to relate to God.

This psalm will give you language to pray, and I hope you’ll take it to heart, meditate on it, and use it in your life. Let’s pray together.

Lord, we thank you for your word, we thank you for your grace, we thank you that there is forgiveness with you so that you may be feared, because none of us could stand in our sins.

As we come to the table this morning, we come remembering what Jesus did. I pray that as we take the elements of the bread and the juice that we would do so with our memories stirred so that we will think about the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the price of our forgiveness, the price of entrance into your presence; but that we would also reflect on the incredibly magnificent love that stands behind the cross, that you loved us from eternity, and because of your love you sought us out. I pray that we would do it in conscious dependence on your Spirit so that with real dependence on Christ we would take the elements and we would know your presence with us.

Lord, we need you this morning; we ask you to draw near to us as we draw near to you, and we pray that you’d do it for Jesus’ sake. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.